The Janitor and Five Minutes

The Janitor and Five Minutes

By Veronica Robbins.

He pushed his cart silently
Every day, without fail
Never absent, Never late
He worked slowly and deliberately
Completely focused on his work
Never stopping to chat or share pleasantries
With students or librarians
He was a fixture there and had been for years
They say he was always the same
Hadn’t changed over decades
Except that maybe he moved slower than he used to

His face was badly misshapen both by an accident of birth
And the unbearable pain he wore on his face
As he went about his work
Dragging his left leg behind him
Its nearly useless foot pointed in an unnatural direction
He rarely looked up or smiled, but when he did,
It seemed that smiling caused him more pain than anything else
So no one greeted him or talked to him
Lest they feel responsible for hurting him even more
Some just stayed away because they were afraid

Except Annie

Annie the reference librarian talked to everyone
Even in her hushed small library voice
Her joy burst through the room loudly
Every day the janitor rolled his cart up to the reference desk
If she was busy, he waited
They’d talk for five minutes
Five minutes exactly
No more, no less
And everyone knew that interrupting was out of the question
Because during those five minutes
The janitor changed

He was still recognizable by his cart and his uniform
But almost nothing else
He stood taller
He smiled broadly
His voice sounded light and joyful
No trace of pain
Even his face looked normal, almost handsome
For five minutes a day Annie treated him with dignity
And he became more than he was for the other
twenty-three hours and fifty-five minutes of each day

One day the janitor didn’t come to the library
Annie started making phone calls
Although there were few calls to be made
There was no family listed on his emergency card
Only his landlord and a lady named Ethel in HR
Ethel knew nothing, not even who the janitor was
But the landlord told Annie that the janitor
Had shot himself in the head that morning.

Annie quickly reached for a wastebasket and vomited in it
Still holding the phone to her ear

The landlord kept speaking
“I guess the pain was finally too much…..
He left a note for someone named Annie….
Sure, I can read it to you….
It says…..Thank you…and it’s just signed…Joe”

Annie nodded as if the landlord could hear her
Affirming what he said
Acknowledging what he said
All she could say was “thank you” before hanging up

A group had gathered there at the reference desk
Librarians, assistants, students
All watching Annie
Waiting
Without looking up she said
“Joe killed himself this morning”
From the back of the group one of the students could be heard
Whispering, “Who’s Joe?”
Annie threw up again.
“He’s the janitor, stupid”
Gasps, moans, sounds of recognition
I wondered how many never knew his name.

Annie turned and looked at us all sternly,
Eyes full of pain, blame, contempt, sadness
She didn’t say a word but it felt like she was screaming that
We killed Joe.

Those of us who watched everyday thought that Annie
Had magical powers
Her voice was an elixir
Her face had healing properties
Whatever it was, it was all about Annie
She changed the monster into a prince

As Annie stared at us through her tears that day
I understood
It wasn’t about Annie
It was those five minutes every day
Five minutes
Five minutes that no one else could spare


Ver 083014 smallVeronica Robbins is a published author of both fiction and nonfiction who has been writing professionally for the last 20 years. In addition to writing fiction and poetry (her first love) she is also an expert grant writer and copy writer.  When she’s not writing, she’s watching baseball, enjoying her children, reading, and trying to train her dog, Handsome, who so far has been very successful at training her. You can follow Veronica on Facebook or through her blog, A Writer’s Journey.

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