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  • Writer's pictureEric Rushton

Lost And Found

After a few seconds, he looked up at me and said:

“I’m sorry, mate, say again?”

I said again.

“Check in there under the sink,” he said, pointing. “That’s the only place we put things.”

He looked back down at his phone. It was an iPhone. I’m not sure which model, but I would say at least 10th generation. He’s on company time, a customer is in need, and he decides it’s okay to be fannying about on his iPhone 10, 11 or 12.

Ridiculous. But no, you carry on, mate, just look at your little Whatsapp group. Share your little football memes with your mates or whatever it is you’re doing. I’ll just stand here like a dickhead. I love football banter memes as much as the next person, but that’s not the point. If someone comes to you, struggling, you put down the football banter memes for a second and you be a human being. You say to yourself, right, my primary function on this planet isn’t to laugh at hilariously relatable football funnies – as great as that is – my purpose is to show compassion for other people.

His name was Mike. Fuck it, I’m calling him out. Publicly. On this huge platform. I read his nametag and he wound me up so much that I’m willing to share the contents of it. His name is Mike and he works at The Gym in the centre of Birmingham.

I waited for a second in case Mike was gonna lead me into the kitchen, but it became increasingly apparent that wasn’t on the cards. I walked on through by myself. I guess it was possible he was doing something important on his phone. He could’ve been dealing with something serious, a family crisis, a relationship issue, his stock in a digital currency might’ve been nosediving. But his posture seemed too relaxed for any of that. He had that glazed look in his eyes, like he’d been mindlessly scrolling since the start of his shift. The memes weren’t even penetrating anymore, but he kept grabbing for them like popcorn. Salty, sweet and addictive, but ultimately unsatisfying. Sad, really.

I was in the staff kitchen, by myself. Not very good security, is it? I could be anyone. Not as in I-could-be-anyone-if-I-put-my-mind-to-it. I couldn’t. I’ve tried for many years to be someone not riddled with crippling self-esteem issues. Turns out you can’t will yourself into being someone you’re not. Although, weirdly, the acceptance of this has improved my self-esteem, and I feel a lot more comfortable in myself, which makes me doubt what I just said.

But I mean from their point of view I could be anyone. I could be a thief. I could be someone who pretends to have lost their jeans at the gym just so they can get access to the staff kitchen unsupervised. What if a member of staff decided to leave their bag in the kitchen? It would’ve been a little bit careless of them, but it’s the staff kitchen. They trust their colleagues; they trust there to not be a random member of the public left alone with their bag. What if there was a laptop in that bag? Then all of a sudden they come back to find me logged into BBC Goodfood on their laptop, cooking what’s been left in the fridge.

Fortunately, there were no bags lying around. The kitchen seemed pretty empty, possibly because everyone knew what Mike was like. I have to believe this is just a Mike-problem and not something more systemic.

There was a cupboard labelled “lost and found”. It wasn’t the cupboard under the sink. It was actually the cupboard two cupboards to the right of the cupboard under the sink. Another thing to add to Mike’s list of faults – shit at giving cupboard directions.

I went to open the cupboard. It’s a tense moment, opening the lost and found cupboard. Part of me didn’t want to know the answer to the question “are my jeans in the cupboard two cupboards two the right of the cupboard under the sink in the staff kitchen of the gym?” I didn’t know how I would handle them not being there. At least focusing on Mike’s incompetence gave me a distraction.

The jeans I lost were my back-up jeans. My out and about jeans. I have two pairs of jeans. Jeans for social occasions where it matters what I look like, and my back-up jeans for everything else. The back-up jeans are an essential part of this two-jeans system, more than just an understudy. The two pairs of jeans have equal importance. My main ones were more expensive and they’re in much better condition, but my back-up jeans have soul man. They’re frayed, they’re faded, they have ketchup stains all over them. I feel more like myself when I’m wearing them

When I realised I lost them I was gutted. These were jeans I had a history with. Jeans that had got me through a pandemic. It’s much easier to replace nice jeans than back up jeans – you can’t buy jeans with ketch-up stains already on them.

I opened up the lost property cupboard, slowly at first, as if opening the cupboard fast would make jeans any less likely to be there.

Finally I got the cupboard completely open and… Fuck.

All that was there was a cap and a pair of shorts. No back up jeans. No nice jeans. No jeans whatsoever.

I’d already checked the changing rooms. Surely no one would steal a pair of back up jeans. Especially after everything we’ve been through collectively over the last 18 months. I thought that would lead to a fundamental shift. I thought we’d all look out for each other; we could be a bit more trusting. Having been deprived of human connection for so long, I thought maybe now we’d realise how important to each other.

Half of me even thought the reason I’d been left to wander into the staff kitchen alone was because it was now accepted we were moving to a new human epoch of looking out for one another.

Yet here we were, only a few weeks into our freedom and already stealing each other’s back-up jeans.

I walked back through to the office to look for Mike. He was sat at the desk still on his phone. He didn’t even look up at me.

And now I stood there lost, waiting to be found.

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