The Old Dairy

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

“He is coming undone,” Barry said, taking a sip of his tea from the plastic cup.

“You what, mate?” John asked who just entered the leisure room at The Old Dairy.

“Steve over there,” Barry indicated with both his eyes and the cup in his hand to a middle-aged man dressed in a white overall, sitting in the corner of the room with his head hanging forward. “He is coming undone.”

“What are you on about?” John asked while pouring himself a cup of tea from his metal flask.

“Tell him Steve,” Barry mocked with a grin on his face. “Tell old John, what does the doctor say?”

Feeling sorry for himself, Steve didn’t move.

John raised his eyebrows, looking at Barry, whom in turn whispered that Steve had left his cigarettes at home. John, twice the size of either two companions, walked the four steps to where Steve was sitting, and held his own packet out with one cigarette drawn.

“Do you want a fag mate?”

Without looking up, Steve just shook his head, declining the offer.

“It’s no use, John,” Barry said with a hint of amusement in his voice. “I’ve offered him one, he doesn’t want it. He is coming undone.”

“Goodness me!” John lashed out at Barry in irritation. “Honestly mate, what are you on about?”

“Ask him,” Barry replied laughing. “He is the one all grumpy and moody.”

John looked at Steve but realized he will not be getting any explanation from him within the fifteen-minute tea break.

Even though Barry and John’s blue overalls indicated that they work in a different section of the dairy, the three of them have been processing milk for over a decade, and has consequently grown to be more than mere colleagues. Drinks after work in the pub came as natural as the British tradition itself, and they all knew Steve’s stubborn nature.

“All right then,” John said when he saw the situation was bordering on hopeless. “Let’s have it then!”
Barry who was waiting for the moment, enjoyed every second of it. “First it was ADHD. Then that got sorted with some pills. Then it was Bipolar disorder. Then that was under control. Although the man could hardly stay awake with that medication. And now it is coming undone. Steve got some new pills.”

Barry gave John a broad smile.

“Are you serious?” John retorted. “Coming undone is not even a psychiatric disorder!”

“It is now!” Barry said still filled with amusement.

“Says who?”

“Steve’s doctor of course! Is it not so Steve? Tell him Steve. Did your Doctor not tell you that you are coming undone and that you need some more pills?”

Steve still didn’t lift his head, but mumbled, “Not exactly.”

“What is it then Steve, what did the doctor say then?” Barry asked surprised.

The self-pity could not have been more audible when Steve finally spoke up and said; “He asked me what was wrong, so I didn’t know what to say, and so the only word coming out of me mouth was that I was coming undone.”

“And then?” Barry pressed him.

“Then he said it’s no problem and gave me some meds.”

The two men in blue overalls were not sure of how to respond.

“Who would have known,” John said wide-eyed, struggling to believe what he was hearing. “In this day and age, medication for coming undone.”

They sat in a moment of silence, thoughtfully drinking their tea.

John, the more sensible of the three, found the situation equally amusing but did not venture to make fun of Steve. He knew full well how irritated Steve must be by now, not having smoked a single cigarette since they started their shift at six that morning. He then decided to take a cigarette out of the packet for himself, and place the packet on the bench next to Steve, where he knew it was within Steve’s sight.

“Why are you coming undone, mate? What happened?” John asked in a respectful tone.

Steve didn’t answer.

“It’s his cousin,” Barry answered for him.

“You stay out of it!” Steve snapped at Barry, evidently having received new life.

“What is it Steve?” John kept prompting, while he noticed Steve’s eyes, fixed on the box of cigarettes.

Steve took a moment before he mumbled; “My cousin got married this weekend. ‘Wasn’t even invited.”

“It happens mate,” John said sympathetically. “I suppose it happens to all of us, isn’t that right Barry?”

Barry, who did not have the least sympathy for Steve’s pathetic condition, concurred with a low tone that he to suppose that it happens to everyone, at least once in a lifetime. Just then, he took out of his shirt pocket, his own soft pouch of cigarettes and lit one.

“It’s ridiculous!” Steve cried out startling his audience of two. His determined face looked straight on to the tiled floor somewhere in the middle of the room, and he had his tensed right hand open in front of him, as if to make a point. Holding the exact position, eyebrows raised and not looking at either of his friends, he continued; “The family is here. All the friends are here, but no, they have to get married up on’t bloody Yorkshire!”

“Oh!” John tried to be friendly by sounding interested. “Where in Yorkshire?”

“Up on’t Barnsley!” came the reply ever so quick and snappy.

John and Barry looked at each other before Barry asked; “But Steve, isn’t Barnsley your home town then?”

“Yes it is!” Steve blurted out in anger.

“And do you not still have most of you family there? Uncles and aunts and such?”

“Yes I do,” Steve replied, not very happy.

John and Barry looked at each other utterly perplexed, and without a word agreed that there would be no more sense in pursuing the logic of this conversation, as Steve’s reasoning just didn’t make sense. They both thought that it might perhaps be the new medication that seriously intervened with Steve’s thought processes, but having known him for such a long time, also realized that he didn’t need much medication for his thought patterns not to make sense.

Conversations in the leisure room has in times past varied greatly between topics such as historical British wars, to disputed geographical subjects.

Thus, Barry decided to put an end to the nonsense. “Is the meds working?”

“Don’t know” Steve mumbled.

“Sure as hell doesn’t look like it.” John remarked.

Steve, staring at the cigarettes next to him, couldn’t hold it longer and took one from the packet. Not having a lighter, he was too proud to ask, and waited until Barry lit a match and held it out to him. He pulled hard and deep, and with a shaking hand, blew the smoke out in an uncontrolled manner.

The door opened and a man in an untidy, grey suit came in.

“G‘morning,” he greeted them.

“Morning Dave,” John and Barry greeted their supervisor instantaneously.

He, while pouring his tea, looked at Steve, who resumed his despondent, head-hanging position in the corner of the room.

“What’s with him?” Dave asked the two.

“He is coming undone,” they replied in chorus.

“I beg your pardon?”

*****