I first met Gabriel in the security lodge. An affable French Algerian, always smiling. One of the jobs he had was searching our bags as we left. Gabriel or Gabe as I took to calling him, was a nice guy. We started there about the same time, and he didn’t speak a lot of English, so I spent a little time chatting to him at the end of my shift, teaching him phrases and such. It got so we started a competition to see who could learn the best insults in each other’s language, though the more complicated ones he taught me only stayed in my head as long as it took me to get to my car each night.
As the weeks dragged into months, the job began to batter me down. The starts got earlier, the finishes later, my eyes itched from the chemicals we made.
‘My friend,’ Gabe said, watching me slump away one night. ‘You look like the job is, how you say, doing you in the ass.’ He laughed.
All I could offer was a tired ‘Putain de merde,’ in reply.
By the second year Gabe chatted fluently with the students we employed on summer placements. I hurried through the lodge, arriving with a brief ‘Ca va? Tres bien, tres bien,’ I didn’t have the energy to teach or learn any more insults, I was slowly falling apart. Late night takeouts and cheap wine after shift just to get to me sleep were taking their toll in weight gain and giving me a teenager’s complexion. I swapped notes with my wife, she left me messages every now and then reminding me about appointments for the kids and plays I’d missed at their school.
One uncomfortably warm night, I’d finished late as usual and Gabe was on shift. ‘Hey,’ he said. ‘Ca va?’ He appraised me, like a dog crawling in the heat and began taking an idle look through my bag. ‘You look knackered,’ he said, his accent still heavy on the end of each word. He stopped his search and placed his hand on my shoulder. ‘My friend this is not good.’ He pulled me to him, his rough cheek on mine. ‘Do you ever think,’ he whispered ‘we are passing through, Dante’s Hell? Huh? Seneca said, treat each day as a separate life. Each day – is a new day, huh?’
I thought about my wife, the kids I didn’t see, about jacking the job and doing something else with my life and then he laughed, a big throaty roar. ‘Ha! This is all bull crap, yes? I got it from the students. They are all…’ and he whirled a finger round his temple for effect,’ …crazy.’ He laughed and pushed my belongings back into place and turned to me, smiling.
‘Until tomorrow’ he said, and almost as an afterthought, pulled the zip tight on my bag.
First published National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2017, Sleep Is a Beautiful Colour, Gumbo Press. 2017. Available to purchase here.