The kid is looking at me. The whites of his enormous eyes glisten in the gloomy room. He is three and beautiful. He has been picking his nose for the last ten minutes with one hand whilst squeezing a banana to gluey mucus in the other and is now looking for a place to wipe his fingers. He grins up at me with sudden gleeful inspiration.
My face must be a rictus of polite horror – a truly British expression- but I am counselling his mother, am midway through a complex problem and have no training in non familial toddler wrangling.
The child’s mother waves a hand vaguely in his direction murmuring something unintelligible but the child doesn’t even pause and I suddenly feel his small warm palms on my kneecaps. I close my eyes and thank various gods I am wearing jeans and have tied my hair back.
Sticky fingerprints are on every surface in the room including the computer monitor, my magnifier, the walls, the telephone and now me but its not the kid’s fault. We are in the dingiest counselling room in the Citizens Advice Bureau building . It is also the smallest. To be frank it has pretensions to be a stationary cupboard but the charity is desperate for space so somehow someone has squeezed in three chairs and a battered computer desk although the room is too small to actually pull out the keyboard from the sliding drawer. Two adults can barely fit – add a rampaging toddler and things will get sticky.
We are in the room for over an hour, opening the door every now and then to let in oxygen and allow the small boy to race frantically around the waiting room. Its been a long day. I have seen one other case, debt, but its complications took up the entire morning and this one is no better. Cambridge at the moment is a particularly joyless place. Debt, redundancy, domestic abuse, mental illness…
I slouch homeward and as I walk through the desolate shopping centre I note how people’s eyes slide away from others or rise in challenge and anger. I walk faster and stumble and get my cane out. The sky is low and grey, the light harsh. Crossing the road I feel as if everyone in every car is staring at me People are every where, looking tired, anxious and I am sick of the endless concrete, the smell of piss and old cigarette ash.
At home I look around my flat and make a decision. It is time to move again. I don’t know where and I don’t know how but I know another year here won’t work. Having made the decision I feel better. I take deep breaths and whatever it is gripping my heart lets go. I look down and notice the tiny sets of fingerprints on the knees of my jeans. Two perfect sets, five prints on each knee where the little boy came over and leaned on me, looked up into my face and smiled unaware of the grotty room, the distress of his mother, the tension in my face. I remember the smile now and it makes me grin too. I remember I am an idiot. That all this will pass and that if you look for misery you will find it. Sometimes ones perspective needs a good tweaking by a snotty, banana encrusted three year old.