It was one of those Saturday mornings when I instinctively knew that I couldn’t stay in bed for the extra hours I had promised myself at the beginning of the week. A glance around the house the previous night, as I switched off lights and locked doors, told me that the house was showing signs of neglect. I had been away for a few days and while nobody owned up to the fact, I knew there had been a party of sorts in my absence. The container that I used to collect my old plastic was filled to overflowing. Empty green, white and brown bottles lined up outside the backdoor like a small battalion of soldiers awaiting their marching orders and I knew that I was the only one who would move them.
At nine o’clock I was almost outside my recycling centre in Coolock, the car filled to capacity with the remnants of one party I knew I had not been invited to.
‘Thank God!’ I whispered, as I approached the gates, ‘I’m early.’
Looking up at the opening hours I realized that the centre did not open until ten o’clock. I set off back to the house with the sound of jingling glasses and moaning plastic coming from the back seat. After a brief sojourn at home, too short to even have a cup of tea, I started back to the recycling centre aware that I probably should have stayed there for the hour. That awareness was confirmed for me when I arrived to join the end of a lengthy queue. The edge was beginning to wear off the spirit of enthusiasm that had motivated me to get out of bed some hours earlier.
I have been to Coolock Recycling Centre over the past number of years and while I don’t know any of the workers personally I know them to see and they are always friendly, helpful and efficient. By the time I managed to drive thought the gates, the gentleman guiding the cars nodded and directed me to the only vacant space. I didn’t smile at him and he didn’t smile at me. The job was done and dusted in the space of five minutes. I got back into the car and set off home, the car now relieved of the burden of waste.
Just as I drove out through the gate I noticed, seated beside a wooden hut, a giant stuffed panda bear with a big wide smile stitched across his face. He was dressed up in one of the worker’s florescent jacket. He had obviously been rescued by one or all of the workers at the centre, further evidence of their kindness and sense of fun.
I looked from the bear to the man at the gate. He looked to the bear and back at me. Our faces broke into the same wide smile. I drove away from the centre smiling. As I stopped at the traffic lights at Cadbury’s I was still smiling and unconsciously looked at the man in the car beside me. Suddenly he smiled back at me.
What a lesson in recycling. I had received a smile and I was passing it on and all because of a rescued bear at a recycling centre with a smile that can never be erased.