Another Planet

The atmosphere of the unit always seemed pregnant with something other than air, almost as though we were breathing in the atmosphere of an alien world; something similar to Earth, but not the same. The combination of cigarette smoke, residual urine and faeces, sweat and yeasty chronic infections hung around the unit like a London smog, eating into the carpets and wallpaper, settling into filing cabinets as a fine dust, and bonding with the fibres of your clothes with the tenacity of a biological washing powder. Even our new wall-mounted, electronically operated deodorant sprays were beginning to give up the ghost, and at the end of the day my lungs felt like two bags of sand. Still, at least an extractor fan had been fitted in the smokers’ room, which was an improvement over the previous ‘policy’ of opening the windows and fire doors for ventilation. It was quipped at the time that the only way the fire doors would ever be closed, would be when we ran out of spoons to chock them open. But it was less of a joke, perhaps, that we went home at the end of each shift having smoked ten to twelve involuntary cigarettes.

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