Every morning on my way to work, I cycle past the same smiley guy handing out free copies of the Metro to everyone he sees. It doesn’t matter whether I zoom past at 7:15, 8:30 or 9:30, come rain or shine he’s out there donning his red coat, black cap and big ol‘ grin for everyone to see.
There’s only one time I’ve ever not seen him there, and on this occasion in his place stood an old man with greying hair and the opposite of a smile on his face. I don’t want to be dramatic or anything, but I almost died.
The fact that the Metro Man wasn’t there, where he was supposed to be, completely threw me. I hit a pothole in the lane, lost a screw from the rack thing on the back of my bike, and had to swerve to avoid a small huddle of commuters who really should have been looking anywhere other than their phones at 7:30 in the morning. My day went downhill from there and, while I can’t remember specifics, it was probably on par with the day I found out S Club broke up. Very dire.
The next day he was back and – I imagine, though I can’t be sure as I don’t actually know the guy – better than ever. As I cycled past him, we exchanged our regular and oh-so-predictable exchange of “No, thank you“, “Have a nice day!” and, I kid you not, it felt like the universe was at peace again. I cycled the rest of the way to work humming a merry tune and singing duets with birds, Snow White style, I smiled at strangers, and I didn’t angrily at pedestrians walking in the bike lane!
It’s funny because I’ve never actually taken a newspaper from the Metro Man, despite having the opportunity to do so at least 4 times a week, yet the fact that he wasn’t there where he was supposed to be bothered me a lot more than it really should.
And, I mean, what’s to say he’s even supposed to be there?
He’s probably got a lot more going for him than just a part-time job filling people’s mornings with joy (okay, maybe just mine…). He probably goes to Uni. He probably has friends, and a family, and maybe even a field full of cows somewhere. Who knows?
But for me, he IS supposed to be there, standing at the bottom of the bridge going over the train station at exactly 7:15, 8:30 or 9:30 every day.
See, as somebody who travels a lot, unpredictability is pretty rife in my life. Last year I was hopping from one country to another like it was nobody’s business, swapping and changing from $$$ to ¥¥¥ to ₹₹₹ on the daily, not knowing which language I’d be saying goodnight in. I’d stay awake for 26 hours straight on a bus, then take a power nap and be up fresh as a daisy and ready to climb a volcano*.
*Big lie, I was never ready to climb that volcano. It destroyed me.
Now I’m back in the U.K. and honestly, things haven’t really changed that much. I work two jobs, neither of which have what you’d call a predictable shift pattern. I sleep when I drop, and often end up having to make a midnight dash to the gym because it’s the only time I can fit it in. Meal times depend on when I’m working — sometimes breakfast is at 6:30am, sometimes it’s 11am, more often than not it’s never. Or actually, it’s whatever time I leave my house, banana in one hand, Special K cereal bar in the other, feet pedalling furiously to make it into work on time.
For as long as I remember, it’s been like this: unpredictable.
No schedules, no set times, no rules to play by. And it’s always worked out great for me (mostly because I struggle to be on time for anything I don’t get paid for — oops) but I think, as I’m getting older, and life is starting to move in a different direction, I’m starting to unknowingly crave a little bit of predictability in my life. A little something that stays the same no matter what.
And, bizarrely, right now that is the Metro Man.
Maybe I’ll get a dog one day, so my subconscious won’t have to rely so much on a stranger giving out free papers. But for now, Metro Man is doing a fine job of making every morning seem like Groundhog Morning.