Every week, I pick the five-year-old up from swimming. When I arrive this week, there is an unfamiliar face on reception. It is wrinkly, sprinkled with bleach-blonde hair and adorned with gold-rimmed glasses. It has a slither of a top lip, with no discernable bottom, and the mouth is taut and pouty, like an anus.
“Hello”, I say, “I’m here to pick up *****.”
“And who are you?” asks the face, quickly pointing its pupils at me.
“I’m ****, I… look after her.”
“Right, well I wasn’t told you were coming to get her, so…”
“So you can’t take her.”
“Really? I pick her up every week.”
“That’s irrelevant. I can’t let you take her unless I talk to her mother.”
I am now the focus of the foyer. People are looking at me, accusatorily, over the tops of their broadsheets.
I call the mother. She doesn’t answer.
“She’s not picking up her phone”, I say. The face ignores me.
The five-year-old appears.
“How did you get out?” the face barks.
The five-year-old rolls her eyes and points to the door she emerged through.
“How was swimming?” I ask.
“Let’s go”, she responds, tugging my sleeve.
“You can’t leave with him”, says the face, suddenly floating officiously towards us.
“Why not?” asks the five-year-old, bemused.
“Because I don’t know who he is”, says the face.
“He’s my manny.”
Sniggers are omitted from behind the broadsheets.
“Well, I’ve never seen him and your mum didn’t mention him.”
The five-year-old sighs, grabs my arm and drags me to the door. The face seizes my other arm and pulls in the opposite direction. I am being fought over by two matriarchal morons from opposite ends of life’s rainbow. It is a visual metaphor for the stasis in my own life; caught between age and youth, unsure whether to flee or stay.
“Give him to me!” shouts the five-year-old.
“No!” shouts the face.
I escape both their clutches.
“Look”, I say, “her mother is playing tennis and won’t be available for a couple of hours. So what do we do in the meantime?”
“Well, she’ll have to wait with me at reception”, says the face.
“That is more than fine by me.”
I pop my headphones in and spend the afternoon in Starbucks, reinforcing neither my age nor my youth, neither fleeing, nor staying: Stasis.
The Male Nanny