The Culpable Adult

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May 18, 2016 by downwardlymobilewoman

I sat down at the only free laptop booth in the library, noting with displeasure that the woman occupying the next desk had stolen one of my plug points. A black flex trailed over the wooden workspace divider, ruining its clean lines. I craned my neck to check that she had a socket on her own desk. She did. Both ports were occupied. Her desk was scattered with technology. 2 phones, a heavy laptop, a pair of big yellow headphones.

How greedy, I thought, to take three sockets and leave me only one. I had equipment of my own in need of charging.

I comforted myself with the thought that Plug Thief looked like a self-satisfied Jabba the Hutt.

Then I got absorbed in my work and forgot about her for a while.

I was focused and words were flowing. I was only peripherally aware of the young child chirruping for attention in the background. It was not an unpleasant sound, nor particularly loud considering the obvious youth of its creator, but it became gradually more insistent.

Plug Thief straightened up, less globular and slug-like. She looked around the large room with a stern expression.  I could almost hear her thinking: ‘This is a library. It’s not the children’s section. It’s supposed to be for quiet studying. Shut up or get out. Who’s in charge of you anyway?’

I must admit I was thinking the same thing. I too looked round for the child and the culpable adult who was failing to provide proper care and control.

I spotted the child immediately. He was circuiting the room at a trot, talking to himself in a singsong voice with just the slightest undertone of whine. He was a very attractive little boy. Tea-coloured skin and smooth dark hair. Maybe 3 and a half years old. I liked his navy blue jacket with orange trim. It was a parka with fake fur round the hood.

I watched as he put the jacket on and then took it off again, sharing his pleasure in the swooshing sound of the zip going up and down. Then he climbed onto a chair, apparently trying to reach a high shelf. He was a well-made little boy and gave every sign of being a co-ordinated climber. The chair was stable and sturdy yet he wobbled precariously. I rose up in alarm, about to rush over and catch him. I was only an inch out of my seat when he righted himself with a quiet squawk and jumped neatly down, landing on the mid-blue carpet with a muffled thud.

Plug Thief tutted. She and the boy both looked in the direction of a woman, who was focused intently on a library computer screen. The boy looked hopeful, Plug Thief baleful.

There was no objective evidence that either the boy or Plug Thief had registered on the woman’s consciousness at all. But they were looking at her, at her specifically. She was large and curvy. Big breasts and stomach, rounded cheeks and chin.  Her edges were amorphous. She was like a cloud of concentrating candy floss. A pram was parked near her workstation, a lightweight crocheted baby blanket hanging down from its hood.

I identified her as the mother, as the culpable adult.

She’s working, I told myself. She’s studying. She needs her own life. She can’t access any childcare. It’s not her fault. Her husband is a nightmare. He must be. Because where is he anyway? Why isn’t he here looking after his son, giving his wife some space to herself, some time to fulfil her own needs and dreams? She’s researching how to leave him right now. This is her only safe space to plan her getaway. That is why she cannot, dare not, attend to her child until the task is completed.

Plug Thief tutted again and looked at me, trying, I felt sure, to co-opt me into her disapproval of the culpable adult.

‘Who are you to judge?’ I asked her in my head. Or maybe I was asking myself. You are grasping and greedy with the best of them, Plug Thief. You put your own needs first just as much as this mother, if not more so. Look at how you have stolen my plug socket. Is that fair? No, it is not.

Libraries are for everyone to share. From each according to her ability, to each according to her need. Mothers and young children need more support than you. You don’t need three plug sockets. This little boy is too young to not to squawk and jump but you are old enough not to tut and steal. I am old enough to ask you to remove your fucking plug from my socket before I stick it where the sun don’t shine, come to that.

But I didn’t. Instead I looked reprovingly at her. The next time the little boy made the run from one end of the room to the other in my direction I grinned at him.

He gave an adorable smile back. A proper delicious beam that lit up his eyes. Beautiful luminous brown eyes.

I was smitten.

But he was not smitten back. Not properly.

He had other things on his mind. He looked at his mother again. She was squinting at her computer screen.

‘What’s she doing? What’s she doing?’ he said. Maybe to me, maybe to himself.

‘Yes, what IS she doing?’ I asked, quite loudly with an exaggerated shrug. His mother did not look up.

Plug Thief looked at me and gave the loudest tut yet.

I was rewarded with another enchanting smile before he ran off again. His running, like his noise, was somehow half-hearted.

Oh darling, I thought. You’ll need to put some welly in it to attract that one’s attention. You need a proper drama or you’re never going to get out of here. I think you might need to fall over and hurt yourself. And cry. As loudly as you can.

It was as if he’d heard me. There was a muted crash and a stifled wail.

Come on, baby, I thought. You can do this. More, more! Louder, louder! You’re in a library, remember. In the quiet zone. Proper noise will put a rocket up her arse, surely.

Come on, kid! Come on. Make her pay attention.

And you, Plug Thief, stop your tuts, please. And remove your plug from my socket, while you’re at it.

He obeyed.

(She did not. The tutting, plug-hogging scumbag.)

Definite audible sobs came from his direction. Reasonably loud ones. And finally, just as I was about to sabotage everything by going over to comfort him as best I could, his mother got up and lumbered over to him. She pulled him to his feet, patted his head absently, without concern.

‘You’re alright. Be quiet now,’ she said.

She led him to a chair near to her computer, facing away from her. She handed him a smart phone and sat back down at her screen, becoming instantly reabsorbed.

The little boy seemed pacified by the phone.

There was silence.

Everyone immersed themselves in their screens.

Faint snuffling started up from the pram next to the mother. She leapt out of her seat and gathered up a fat sausage-like baby. She spoke words of loving, soothing, solicitousness to it.

‘Come on,’ she said to her son over her shoulder. ‘Quick. Put that phone away. Can’t you see we’ve got to go?’

The little boy handed her the phone and started to push the pram competently towards the exit. His mother followed, cooing at the baby in her arms.

Plug Thief smiled and put her headphones on. Tinny music leaked from the yellow cans and she hummed along audibly.

‘This is a library,’ I thought. ‘It’s supposed to be for quiet and study. Shut up or get out. In fact, just get out. Now. And take all your crap with you. Especially whatever is plugged into my socket.’

I tutted in her direction but she seemed oblivious.

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