Vigilance

I'm surprised when we're re-tasked early in the shift. I'm in full wet-weather gear, escorting guests back and forth across a dark, windswept car park to the medical building. I've volunteered for this, geared up and fully focused, but it's a duty a lot of people would prefer to avoid - and we're being swapped with another team who have requested retasking from something worse. For a second I assume it's going to be toilet-scrubbing, but our Green Badge leads us over to the hut at back gate of the school that we're temporarily transforming into a homeless shelter.

The security building is tiny, but it's warm and well-lit, and we're quite happy to relieve the current detail of comfy chairs and reflective vests as well as their duties, which they tell us don't amount to much. In fact, they point to the button that opens the gate, but tell us that they haven't had to use it yet.

We get ready for action, figuring out that turning off the booth's lights gives us a clearer view of the gate, checking that the phone works, familiarising ourselves with the radio. It's raining hard and the car park and street outside are both deserted. We turn the lights back on and wait. Eventually I find a copy of the Metro in the corner of the booth. My colleague leans back in his chair.

Time passes.

Something bangs into the window, hard, right next to us. I drop the Metro. There's a car parked in front of the gate, headlights on, unmissable. The driver has given up on waiting for us to react, left the vehicle, and walked over to thump on the front of the guard booth. We have the lights on in the booth so we can't see the driver, or hear anything through the thick glass, but I jam my beanie on as Jim presses the button that opens the gate. I stand outside in the rain as the car goes through, just to feel like I'm doing something, but there's no need: the driver knows where he's going and the gate closes automatically.

Time passes.

A man approaches on foot from the car park side. He gives us some complicated reason about why he needs to be on the other side of the gate, but all we really need to see is his volunteer badge. I find a box set of the Oxford Library of English Poetry, but it's hard to focus on.

Time passes.

Voices come through on the radio. There's a fire alarm in the main building and they're evacuating everyone into the gym. We're to stay put. We do.

Time passes.

A guy who we half-recognise gets out of a car parked in front of the gate. Wasn't he the one going to get his wife's jacket, or something? Why is he back with a car? Neither of us remembers. He seems to be OK. We let him in. Jim goes back to sleep.

Time passes.

Our replacement detail appears suddenly, crowding into the booth, ready for action. We show them the button, and the light switch, and wander back to the main building for retasking.

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