By the fourth day the man was exasperated. Rounding the corner from King William Street, heading east on North Terrace about five steps in, he’d locked eyes on a cloudy glob of spit on the pavement, almost identical to those of the previous three crisp autumn mornings. Each day’s glob had been a variation of the last, but the similarities were there – a larger and juicier circle of saliva attached by a thin strand to a smaller round abomination staring up at him from the grubby pavers. Mocking him. They’d all been fresh too, like if he’d rounded the corner seconds earlier he would’ve bumped head-on into the culprit, mid-loogie.
Later, on his lunch break, the man walked down the street to a run-of-the-mill café serving cheese-laden focaccias and bland dessert slices. His friend—a mature-age university student with a wobbling gut—was waiting for him at a dimly lit corner table, in between lectures. Talk, naturally for the highly-strung marketing consultant, drifted towards the uncanny globs of spit.
“No one’s got any manners any more, it’s ridiculous,” the man railed. “And it’s not just the spit. Did you know I’ve had to brush other people's skidmarks off the toilet at the office twice in the past week?”
“Why the hell would you do that?” his friend replied with a grimace.
“What’s the alternative? See, I’ll head in there, busting for a piss, and see a mean dollop of shit on the porcelain, just waiting for me. And not even a steady stream will make a dent in it. Then what? I just know that the one time I don’t scrub it off I’ll walk out the door and my manager will be standing there waiting to go in. All of a sudden, I’m the guy who’s been leaving the big stains in the dunny. The whole office dynamic would change. So instead I grab the toilet brush, look the other way and do what needs to be done.”
“Am I though? See, that’s what’s wrong with the world! You should be incensed at the fella who’s been leaving the skiddies there, not the guy who’s taking one for the team—as usual—and cleaning up after him!”
“Yeah, I s’pose,” said the friend, who was looking around the room vacantly. He brushed some flakes of pie pastry off his lap and took a gulp of his ice coffee. The marketing consultant continued his diatribe.
“I’m too nice! Every day I’m stepping in puddles to let people have a clear run at the footpath, with not even the slightest nod of acknowledgement. I’m letting cars in front of me in peak hour traffic – no one waves! Man, I tell you – on the streets you’ll see a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with the world today. Greed, apathy… just general dickhead-ness that’s a spanner in the works for the general functioning of society. And every little slight pisses someone off whose kindness will be chipped away at until they’re reciprocating rude shit to scores of other folks who don’t deserve it. And so the cycle continues.”
The friend checked his watch. His next lecture started in ten minutes. “So who do you reckon’s behind the footpath slag?”
“It’s gotta be a delivery truck driver or a courier of some sort. The shape of the spit tells me he’s basically stationary when he does it, and its location’s not close enough to the traffic lights or the road for it to be someone waiting to cross the street. Nah, this guy’s forced to pause in the same spot each morning – probably pushing a sack truck or something and waiting for a door to be opened. If I catch him in the act you better believe I’m gonna give him a serve.”
“Whatever you say, mate.”
“I mean it. I’m really gonna let him have it – get one back for all the shit-scrubbers out there.” The friend shook the man’s hand and made vague plans to catch up on the weekend before he slipped out of the bustling café to his lecture, leaving the thinner man to finish his flat white.
The next morning the man rounded the corner absentmindedly, just as he had the previous four days, when the sight of a heavyset figure—whose pylon-thick arms were bursting out of a high-vis vest—rocked him to his core. Tattooed forearms leaned confidently on a blue sack truck, which was piled high with boxes to the worker’s cigarette-sucking jaw. Another, scrawnier, man in a high-vis shirt fumbled with a set of keys at a delivery door. It was as if the scene had been ripped from the corner-rounding man’s imagination in every minute detail.
Just as he was processing the intense strangeness of the scene, the surlier worker—as if in slow motion—drew his head back and emitted an animal guttural rasping, deep from his throat. The office-bound man stood on the corner, mouth agape, and watched the surly man’s head flick forward, followed by a cloudy sphere of phlegm arcing gracefully towards the pavement. The glob hit concrete, bounced slightly and then settled into the formation for which its creator had become more than adept.
“How ya garn, mate?” The fluoro-vested man beamed at the marketing consultant.
“Not bad,” he replied chirpily, hands in pockets and striding stupidly and resolutely towards the office.