The next morning I dropped my rent payment in my landlady’s mail slot on my way to work. It was still dark out and the temperature dipped below freezing. I pulled my coat tighter around me but it didn’t help with the chill.
I walked to the bus stop and waited. The normal crowd gathered waiting for the bus. A few of the others searched eyes of fellow passengers looking for understanding from last night’s events. So I wasn’t the only one affected. But one thing I learned in my years working in the mines is not to communicate anything. I dropped my head and kept my eyes to the ground to prevent anyone reading or misreading my eyes. No story here.
The bus pulled up and we boarded and sat in our usual seats.
I watched the sunrise and closed my eyes. There was no warmth from the sun but I imagined there was. I needed to feel some kind of warmth.
We arrived at the HUB and disembarked in our usual order. I noticed the chemists were ushered into a certain door by a man wearing a suit. Another suit led the clerical staff away. A third suit spoke to us miners.
“Hello,” he said cheerfully. “Before you begin your shift we need you to come with us.” I noticed the ‘we’ pronoun. That was typical HUB speak. Even though there was no communication that didn’t prevent them from avoiding singular pronouns. It was as if they were trying to convince us we were a team. I hated it.
We walked into a room and the woman from last night stood at the front.
“Hello miners,” she said. “Your bus had an unfortunate incident last night and we are here to talk about it.”
I worked there long enough to know we weren’t going to do much talking. She was going to talk and we had better listen.
“Sometimes people are fragile and unable to handle the demands put upon them,” she said. As she spoke she looked at each miner in the eye. I knew I needed to meet her gaze and communicate nothing. So I watched as her eyes made their way down the row of miners and I did my best to look impassive when she reached mine. I held her gaze and didn’t look away. It felt like she hesitated before she looked away.
Don’t blow it. I can breathe when I’m in the tunnels again. My palms were sweaty but I didn’t move to wipe them. I stood as motionless as possible.
“Does anyone need to discuss last night’s events?” she asked beginning her eye search over.
Please, I thought, no one say anything. Don’t say a word. Hold her gaze and keep quiet.
But that didn’t happen.
A young man made a clicking noise and drew her attention to him.
A couple of miners looked at him.
I bit my bottom lip and fixed my stare forward.
She walked over to him. “Would you like to say something?” she asked.
He exhaled and looked around at us. “Well, it just seems that he was trying to tell us something.”
For Pete’s sake, stop talking!
She nodded in understanding. I’m sure she did understand. She understood all too well. “It did seem like that, did it not?” she asked and snapped her fingers. Two men dressed in suits walked over to the young man. “These men here will take care of you and help you through this difficult time,” she said and the young man was led out of the room.
She looked around again. “Perhaps, a couple of you need to join him?” she asked and looked at those who had turned to face the young man. “We are only here to help,” she said as they were also led out of the room.
After the small group was escorted out she looked around the room again making eye contact with those of us that were left standing in a row. Involuntarily, I held my breath and met her gaze. She again hesitated and then looked away.
“If any of you need anything, please contact your supervisor. We will be able to assist you in anything you require.” She looked around at the room again and then turned on her heel and walked out.
I worked hard to keep my composure until I could duck into a restroom stall. My hands were sweaty and I used some toilet paper to wipe them dry and my forehead. It was gross but I used some water from the bowl to splash on my face to cool it off. I only had a few moments and I did my best to look unruffled and calm when I walked out of the stall. Even though I didn’t know for sure I felt like my life depended on it. I needed to get down into the dark mine and stay hidden for the rest of the day. If I could do that, I might just make it another day.