“I don’t like the look of the new cleaner much.” Helen scowled at the little man fluttering around the CEO’s office.
“There’s something a bit funny about him, yes. I can’t quite see what it is. He certainly cleans well though.” Robert looked up briefly. The little man was sweeping the parquet with delicate precision. “They don’t usually brush the floor before mopping it.”
“Yes, why is he doing that? Nobody else did it like that? There’s something odd about him.” Helen continued to stare at the apparently effeminate man.
“And, more to the point, why does he dress so well?” Robert applied only slightly more thought to the issue.
“He has very good skin, have you noticed that? Why does he have such good skin? Cleaners normally have eye bags and drooping jawlines from the chemicals.” Helen screwed up her face. “Do you know what he said to me the other day?”
“No?” Robert was losing interest, and leafed through his BMJ.
“He suggested that I had a subconscious desire to retrain as a nurse. Can you imagine?”
“He spoke to you?” Robert was suddenly irritated. Cleaners were not supposed to speak. Especially not to encourage his wife to do something other than concentrate on him. “He isn’t supposed to converse with other staff.” Robert felt suddenly threatened. “Good grief, woman, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, I was speaking to Margaret about my dream. You know how you hate it when I talk about dreams. I had a dream that instead of booking people in to see the nurse at the reception desk, I was able to simply deal with them. You know, in a sensible way where they weren’t having to wait for a fortnight to get a skelf removed.”
“We can’t have that. People train for years to remove skelfs. There is a union for dealing with people like you, that think they can simply remove skelfs or recommend that people stop having a daily Mars bar without guidance from a proper nutritionist. You will upset them. You don’t want to be dealing with an upset nurse, I can tell you.” Robert shuddered. “I do hope he hasn’t spoken to Physiotherapist Ian about anything like this. He is most unpredictable. He might start to think he is a counsellor, or worse an actual expert in something.” Robert had the GP’s usual disdain for three year degree courses in occupational therapy, podiatry or physiotherapy as being essentially worthless, resulting in hugely overpaid jobs to tell you to buy yourself a better chair, or whatever. The NHS was in many ways, the last bastion of useless unionism. Apart from the doctors of course, it wouldn’t do if they were cheated out of their inflated pension scheme.
“Anyway, the queer little man looked up and said he liked listening to dreams. He actually smiled at me you know. I must find out what he is using to exfoliate. He has the most marvellous skin. He said I have a repressed desire to help others, and my dream indicated that what I really want to do is be a nurse. Preferably in charge of a department apparently. I quite fancy it, what do you think dear?”
“Madness. You would have to give up yoga.” Robert was now irritated. “I hope that bastard isn’t looking at the medical records. We can’t have him actually curing anybody.” He viewed the cleaner with increased suspicion. “What age do you suppose he is?”
“Well, that’s just it dear. I wondered too, so I called the agency that sent him, and apparently he is 65! He looks great, doesn’t he?” Helen flushed with excitement. “What does he know that we don’t?”
“Pass the bran flakes, dear, I don’t want my diverticulosis to get any worse.” Robert growled and issued a surly glare in the cleaner’s general direction. Some uncomfortable rumblings in his abdomen told him that he needed more dry and unpleasant fibre today. “You can put the butter away. I might be tempted to actually eat it.” His mood was becoming worse, and his arthritic wrist was starting to flare up as he became more irritated. “I will deal with the cleaner later.”
Physiotherapist Ian swallowed another steroid as he left the gym. The guys were so much nicer to him now. The only downside seemed to be his uncontrollable need to touch people. He had become quite handsy with the other men, of late, so desperate was he for physical attention. He wasn’t sure he really liked the oily film over his skin, or the need to shower three times a day. He liked having a waist for the first time ever, however, and the steroids had certainly enabled that.
He had also found that he could not stand much in the way of conversation. People were so – challenging. They never seemed to respond the way he wanted them to. The girl in the bakery was way down his food chain, and she barely noticed him. He had had to actually attract her attention. Why was this fair, when he worked so hard in the gym to obtain a more masculine shape than merely blob, as he had been for decades before?
The cleaner had smiled and recommended that he gave up meat. What madness was that? Telling a man to give up meat? What else were men for, but to impregnate and consume lesser beings? What kind of world did the little man inhabit, where men were polite, had good skin and cleaned clinics for a living? The bastard. He would fix him later. He had noticed him enjoying a mouthful of sugarsnap peas. The bastard. What kind of person ate sugarsnap peas for lunch? Ian could feel a wave of aggression as he met the challenge of dealing with the irritating cleaner, who just wasn’t right, somehow. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. The cleaner even knew how to perform a clinical clean down. He had caught him the other day. What kind of cleaner had that kind of knowledge?
Margaret the nurse was also annoyed. She had spent hundreds of pounds on private treatment for her symptoms of menopause, which included a weight loss clinic, since NHS advice was no help, hormone treatments, since NHS treatments actually made her feel worse, and, to her horror, alternative medicine, which she of course did not officially believe in. She was aware that if any of her colleagues found out, she would be laughed at, but she did it anyway, because it was the only thing that made her feel better.
Thus she would laugh scornfully when discussing such therapies with her colleagues, yet sneak off and use them when she did not think they could see her. There were rules about that sort of thing. You must maintain the illusion of authority, so that people had confidence when clinical decisions were made on behalf of the patient, to act in their best interests. It would not do to admit to an alternative, even if you actually used it yourself.
She too, was annoyed with the little cleaner, in this case for recommending that she ate more pineapple to deal with her persistent cough. Five times more effective than cough medicine indeed! He was clearly a liar. He was also too smart. Everybody knew that only pharmaceutical companies could be trusted with medical matters. You should never eat anything that wasn’t out of a packet, in line with NHS hospital policy. Everybody knew that.
She did not feel like being smiled at and having conversations with a cleaner. He was supposed to be part of the furniture. Perhaps she should bring it up at the clinic meeting?
When the Tuesday meeting rolled around, Helen, Margaret, Robert and Ian agreed that there was something odd about the cleaner. Robert made the decision that he would ‘speak to him’ to pin down the problem.
The cleaner was finishing up when Robert asked him to come into the office. Robert could not think of a reason for firing him, so he tried simply lying.
“The staff are complaining that you smell. Are you having problems at home?”
The little man did not smile “What possible connection would problems at home have with me smelling?”
“Well, perhaps you lack running water or something.” Robert felt suddenly uncomfortable.
“Are you a little inflamed? You look a little inflamed? Any joint pain, coughing or general fatigue?” the cleaner looked concerned about Robert, and blissfully unconcerned about his allegation.
“Now look here!” Robert was suddenly furious. “I am not sure who you think you are, but I am the doctor here!”
“Experience tells me that that does not mean that you know anything at all about health. How is your diet?” the little man remained calm, and remarkably patient for someone who had just been maligned. “Perhaps you should try eating more vegetables?” he folded his arms. “You know your physiotherapist has a steriod problem?”
“That isn’t your concern.” Robert blustered. “We are all professionals here.”
“Apparently not. Apparently you are busy talking about other people.”
“What qualifies you to talk about my diet?” Robert spluttered.
“What age are you Robert?” the cleaner cocked his head.
“You need to pay some attention to your diet, and I don’t mean following NHS guidelines, unless you want to be really ill. The problem is Robert, that there are too many doctors and not enough concern about health.”
“Who are you?” Now red in the face, Robert stared at the little man.
“I used to be a nurse, then a psychologist, then I got interested in alternative medicine. Then someone very much like you ruined my career, so now I am a cleaner. You needn’t worry, I am fully trained in dealing with confidential information. Why did you take a career in medicine if you aren’t interested in health?”
“How dare you!” Robert started to shout. “You are fired!”
“Oh, I’m well aware of that. I’m just not sure why you felt the need to have this meeting.” the little man continued to stare at him. “You are aware that you have bowel cancer?”
“You can see it in your eyes. Go and get it checked, there’s a good chap. The NHS won’t pick it up until it is later stage. Likewise your type 2 diabetes, which they won’t diagnose because of your low blood sugar. You will need to go private for them to perform the necessary tests. Luckily your over-inflated NHS wage is more than sufficient for you to pay for it. Your nurse also needs help. Those hormones they are prescribing her have started off the beginnings of breast cancer. Even private healthcare has its problems. None of you are trained properly.”
“Get out! Get out!”
“With pleasure. Sort your health out, Robert. And let your wife do what she wants. She is bored, and no wonder.” the little man smiled at him. “I will be going to have a nice long magnesium bath.” He got up and adjusted the perfect seam in his linen trousers. “You will need some nice chemical solutions for the next cleaner by the way, I only use safe solutions. You will notice a difference in the smell.” he smiled unpleasantly again. “Don’t forget about your bowels, although I imagine by now you already have difficulty forgetting.” he laughed. “Don’t be accepting too many antibiotics and X rays now, will you?”