The seats were filthy, threadbare. I didn’t want to sit on them.
I clung to my basket and scuttled past, so as not to touch them. I tried not to think about how the dark stains got there or of how all the filthy bodies that might have sat there created them.
I placed my basket on the bench and looked for a spare machine.
They looked industrial. Sharp-edged with large knobs, capable of withstanding a heavy hand.
Mine had soft curves, a clean, white finish and electronic display. I missed it. I missed the whole laundry. I missed my kitchen, my bathroom, my lounge. I missed my bedroom. I missed my house.
These machines looked like they hailed from the 1950s. I tried not to think about how much of other people’s dirty laundry had cycled through them. The grime and grot, food stains, shit stains and … other bodily fluids.
I selected the shiniest looking machine and loaded it with the few clothes I now possessed. They had a history too. Of other bodies. I’d plucked them from the piles of donated goods that flooded the community centre.
I tried not to think about that too. Who had worn all that I was about to wash clean.
I was meant to feel grateful.
I didn’t. I wanted my stuff.
I breathed hard with the effort of trying not to think about what brought me here.
The machine door closed with a heavy thud when I slammed it shut. I shoved coins in the slot but nothing happened.
I bashed at those big buttons. Nothing happened.
I stifled an urge to kick the shit out of it.
“You gotta turn the dial first,” said a man’s voice from the back corner.
“Turn the dial first, then press the button on the left,” he said. “Here, I’ll show ya.”
A small, disheveled figure shuffled towards me. He was wearing a grotty t-shirt, holey pants and bare feet. He looked like he needed to get in a machine. His top lip sunk into his bottom lip and I spotted a toothless jaw when he opened his mouth to consider the dial.
“Gentle, normal or hard?’
“Um … I don’t know.”
“You’re not too dirty, by the looksa ya,” he chuckled to himself. “Normal’ll do, don’t make a difference anyhow,” he mumbled to himself.
He turned the dial halfway, pressed the button on the left and the old machine whirred to life.
“I seen a few of ya come in now. From the fires.”
“Oh?” I said. “How can you tell?”
“Well, when you’ve sat here for fifty years, you learn a thing or two … ‘bout people, what their laundry says ‘bout ‘em.” He shuffled back to his chair. “I’m sorry for what ‘appened to ya, what ‘y’all lost. I don’t ‘ave much, but I got me own place at least.”
Tears welled. I sniffed, then walked to the corner and sat next to him.
We sat in silence and watched as my adopted clothes rose, tumbled and fell in the soapy water of the normal cycle.