I remember the last time I was in a pub and the staff moved between the tables like they were on roller-skates picking up the empty glasses and bottles. There is a system to their routine. They remove the finished product and you replace it with a new one, a fresh one. As I watched them weaving between the tables, making increasingly impossible loads of empties balanced on their free arm, I began to question whether they would reach their limit before they reached my table. The calculation went through my mind quickly. Then, suddenly I realised that they are on a different agenda to me. There was a moment when I saw them coming directly for me and I knew what they are going to do, so I reached out, but I was too late – the bottle has been whisked away.
'Hey,' I say indignantly, ‘I hadn’t finished that.’
The staff member donned their most scornful look as they turned back to me with my unfinished drink in their hand. They looked at me, then at the bottle. The bottle was turned slightly towards the fading light that came through the window behind me in the cosy alcove.
‘Oh,’ they said, and then a reluctant obligatory apology without any real meaning, ‘sorry, I thought it was finished.’ Then they tipped the bottle towards me and feeling embarrassed but determined to hold on to my position, I reach for the bottle. I no longer want the bottle as they put their finger in the neck of it but it's at this point I begin to feel that it’s the principle that matters.
‘Thank you,’ I say, while wondering why I am thanking them when I know that they have just done me a disservice. Nevertheless, I still feel as if I should not have let the bottle go.
I reclaim my drink and feel just how light it is. I’m not sure that there is even a full mouthful left in the bottle, but I know I was right to claim it. The drink was mine, I had not finished with it. I know that I’ll give it up when I am ready, and not before.
The people with me smile those knowing smiles and shake their heads at the staff member who has decided that they will wait for the bottle that I have reclaimed.
‘It’s ok,’ I say sheepishly, ‘I’ll just hang on to it …’
‘Are you sure?’ comes the sarcastic response, ‘I could just wait, as it’s nearly done anyway …’
Suddenly this has become about more than the dregs of liquid in the bottle.
This is unfinished business.
I am not ready to let go. My time for closure with my beverage has not arrived. But another person has decided that they have a prior claim on the drink and they, without consulting me, have decided that my business is in reality now finished.
I sat there wondering how to resolve this ordinary situation that had somehow become extraordinary and was the focus of not just my attention, but several people on my table and the adjoining tables.
Did someone else really have the right to decide that my short connection with this bottle was over? Surely it was only down to me.
The pressure was building. Light conversations began around me but my only focus was on the soiled bottle in my hand and the overbearing staff in front of me who was becoming uncomfortable with the load of collected empties that they had already gathered.
I asked myself '... at what point am I willing to let go of things in my life or would I always hang on to remnants of the past?'
I could not see myself as a rat in bags of rags that I refused to let go of so I sighed deeply and accepted the truth. I had a tendency to burrow in the past but I needed to face the present and the future. I accepted what they said. It is finished now anyway, I thought. I smiled reluctantly and handed the bottle back to the staff. I had not made the decision but that didn’t matter any more. Circumstances meant that closure came - although not on my timeline - there was no going back.
‘It’s ok,’ I said with a resigned acceptance, ‘yeah, you’re right – it’s finished.’
Anyone involved can call time on the business. When it’s over for them, it’s over.