I’m humming along to the radio as I drive up the ramp to the tip but all I can think of is Jake’s betrayal. For three years he was my whole life. I thought we’d be together forever, then, six months ago, he walked out and broke my heart. Now at last I’m doing something to get him out of my system forever.
The Civic Amenities Site, more often referred to as the Recycling Centre, has elevated parking bays overlooking a vast dumping area. I back up to the ‘General Waste’ bay, next to the ‘Paper and Cardboard’ section.
I turn the engine off and move towards the back of my hatchback, pausing to check on Darcy. She is safely strapped in her seat playing with her favourite pink pig, the one that plays a tune when she pushes its nose. Darcy loves noisy toys.
Satisfied that she’s okay I open the boot and walk to the throwing area. I peer over at the mountain of refuse below me. It’s huge. At one end a bright yellow bulldozer is pushing household waste into a pile, at the other end a mechanical grabber is scooping it up and dropping it into a metal container ready for removal. A yellow sweeper lorry zips back and forth keeping the path clear. The noise is deafening. It looks like an advert for construction toys, you know the ones where the toys look a lot more exciting than they actually are. It’s a different world up here.
I take a deep breath of pungent air and check Darcy again. I put her sippy cup of juice within reach. She giggles as her pig snorts and vibrates in her tiny hands.
I’m ready to start. I clench my jaw in determination. This isn’t going to be easy.
The first black bag of Jake’s assorted clothes and shoes goes to the Humania Bin. Two more bags contain mementos of our life together: photos, letters, postcards, souvenirs chosen together to remind us of the happy times, love notes he wrote that turned out to be lies.
I hoist the first one into the air and heave it high. I feel a sense of liberation as I watch it sail over the tip and land ignominiously with the other discarded rubbish. I do it again with the second bag throwing it with all my might. As the bag leaves my hand I imagine all the bitter memories it contains going with it. I take a deep breath.
I lift the assortment of electrical items I’ve bought from the boxes. There’s a special place at the site marked ‘Electricals’.
A man approaches. He tips his hat, a battered looking flat cap. The stench of the dump clings to his heavy tan overalls. He’s a Civic Amenities Site worker, who’s so polite I want to rename it the Civil Amenities Site.
‘Need a hand?’ he asks.
I smile. He takes the broken desk-top computer and carries it to the Electrical section. I follow with a PlayStation II and an X-Box Jake left behind when he moved on to pastures new.
The cardboard boxes with dried up roses and other gifts I’d cherished are a doddle. Again I feel exhilarated as I fling them over the wall as far as I can. That’s it. He’s out of my life forever. There’s no turning back.
Darcy begins to grizzle. I realise it’s time for her feed and her nap. She probably needs changing as well. I slam the boot shut and open the drivers’ door. Where are my car keys?
With a sinking feeling in my stomach I stare at my empty hands. I had the keys when I opened the boot and began throwing things out. They were gone when I got to the boxes.
I stare again at my hands. There’s a jackhammer in my chest.
The man who took the computer wanders over. ‘Everything all right?’ he says.
Dumbly I shake my head. ‘I’ve lost my car keys,’ I manage to say. ‘They were in my hands before I… I glance over at the now forbidding mass of rubbish.
He follows my gaze.
His eyes widen in disbelief. He stares at me then walks to the wall to stare over at the tip below.
Darcy wails and throws her pig to the floor. She starts to cry. Big fat tears roll down her soft cheeks. My heart lurches. I unstrap her and lift her out. ‘It’s all right baby,’ I whisper, trying to sound more confident than I feel.
Powerlessness washes over me. I’m stuck at the dump with a howling child and no way of getting home. My head throbs. The noisy activity of the world around me fades into insignificance. All I can think about are my keys, lying somewhere in that huge pile of garbage.
‘Do you have a spare set?’ the Civic Amenities guy asks.
I nod. ‘Indoors, at home,’ I say.
The silence stretches between us.
‘I can run you,’ he says. ‘If you like.’
I have visions of arriving home in a dustcart. He reads my thoughts. ‘My car’s parked over there.’ He points to a row of cars below, next to the office.
A flutter of relief flits over me, then my heart sinks further. ‘My house keys are with my car keys,’ I mumble. ‘I can’t get in even if I do get home.’ My frustration turns to anger. How could I have been so stupid?
‘Does anyone else have a key?’ my would-be saviour asks gently.
I take a breath. ‘My mother has a key but she lives 300 miles away,’ I say.
She not the only one, I think, Jake still has a key but there’s no way I’m going to contact him. We stand helpless as the minutes tick away.
‘What about a neighbour, friend, anyone?’
‘My neighbour’s away in Scotland. Two weeks touring. I don’t know anyone else here.’ That’s not strictly true either. Jake and his air-head, apology for a Barbie Doll, girlfriend live a few streets away. It might as well be Timbuktu. I wish it was.
Darcy’s wailing starts up again. I jig her up and down in my arms to pacify her. I know exactly how she feels. I feel the same.
The bin man takes out his mobile phone. ‘I can ring a locksmith if you like,’ he says. ‘He’ll come out in an emergency and if you give me your address he can meet us there.’
Pound signs flash through my brain but I’ve been meaning to change the locks every since Cheating Ratbag left. I nod.
He makes the call then goes to get his car. I watch over the railings as he removes his cap and steps out of his thick rubber boots. His overalls follow. He throws everything into the back of his nifty looking red Nissan and puts on trainers. He turns to wave and the earth stops spinning on its axis. Without his cap I see a mop of unruly brown curls above a tanned smiling face. In his t-shirt and jeans he looks different – stunningly different. I remind myself that I’ve sworn off men for life.
He parks his car alongside mine and transfers Darcy’s seat. She whines. He produces a packet of biscuits which he hands to me ‘I didn’t know if…’ he nods at Darcy who, seeing the biscuits has turned from a grizzling monster into a giggling flirt. I hand her one. She’s immediately placated.
On the way home I notice the smell of the dump has completely gone, replaced by a pleasant citrus tang. I notice his intelligent eyes are hazel flecked with gold and his smile is pure magic.
‘I hope you won’t get into trouble leaving the job like this,’ I say.
‘No. It’s no trouble. I’m Tim by the way.’
‘Ali,’ I say.
‘Ali,’ he repeats softly. The way he says it makes my insides flutter and brings a warm glow to my cheeks. He glances at me and grins. ‘I’m not really a bin man,’ he says. ‘I work two days a week at the Civic Amenities Site while I’m studying for an MA.’
‘I never thought you were,’ I lie. ‘Anyway, nothing wrong with being on the bins. It’s a noble profession.’
‘It is,’ he says. ‘Since I’ve been working there I’ve come to have tremendous respect for them. They do a difficult job with humour and commitment. You can’t ask for better than that.’
We arrive at my flat and half-an-hour and £150 later we’re on our way back to pick up my car.
‘What about you?’ he asks. ‘I didn’t see any sign of anyone else living at the flat. Is it just you and your daughter?’
‘She’s not my daughter,’ I say. ‘She’s my niece. I’m looking after her while my sister’s in hospital giving birth to Darcy’s little brother.’ I swear his face brightens.
‘So you’re –’
‘Foot loose and fancy free? Yup,’ I say. Even as I say it I feel a tinge of regret. This is not how I envisaged my life would be.
We arrive back at the site. I want to let him know how grateful I am. ‘You’ve been so helpful I guess I owe you a drink or something,’ I say.
‘Something would be good,’ he says with a speculative gleam in his eye.
I smile. He’s been kind and I feel completely at ease with him, but my heart is still bruised. I don’t want it broken again.
‘I was thinking more of a drink,’ I say fishing a tenner out of my bag and offering him to him.
He shakes his head. ‘I’ll only take a drink if you come and have one with me,’ he says.
My stomach knots. I swore I’d never get involved with anyone ever again.
It’s just a drink I tell myself and he’s not Jake. I write down my phone number and hand it to him. ‘Give me a ring next week,’ I say, ‘when Darcy’s back with her mum.’
He holds a giggling Darcy while I transfer the car seat. I’m kneeling in the back to strap it in and glance over into the boot. There, in the corner, nestling behind the rear light fitting, are the keys I thought I’d lost. I grin broadly as I realise they’ve been replaced and, like my bitter memories of the past, I no longer need them.
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