"So, how much is it gonna cost this week?" I ask.
"I'm not sure I can say," is the reply.
"How am I supposed to pay you then?"
"Well... how much was it worth to you?"
"I honestly couldn't put a price on it. Maybe thirty three pounds? Thereabouts?"
"Yes... that's what I used to charge." He looks down at his clasped hands, and sniffs pointedly.
"Listen, mate, is everything alright?" I ask.
"Um, no. Nah, not really, since you ask." He exhales. "I'm having a bit of an existential crisis, if you know what I mean."
"I'm familiar with the work of some of the key figures of the philosophical movement, your Sartre and your Camus, yes. But how is this reflected in your line of work?" I'm not sure I really care enough to hear the answer, but it's already 12:19. Loose Women is on soon, and I just want to get inside.
"No, you don't care," he says. You're right.
"Of course I do, c'mon, just tell me what's on your mind?"
"Its just... it hasn't all been so easy since Shelley died. I mean, that dog was my life. We did everything together. Now, with no-one to buy bones for, and stacks and stacks of Cesar-in-gravy just going to waste in the pantry... you just start to wonder: what does it all mean? These metal discs and sheets of paper we revere so much, they just don't have her soft fur, her wet nose, her tongue. Oh god!" He starts quietly shaking and a tear trickles down his cheek. I look out the window. "I'm sorry to pile this on you," he sniffs, "I know its not your jurisdiction, but she was the one I went to with all my problems. And now she's just not there. And now she's not there, I feel like I'm not there. Everything I hold is just passing through my hands without even considering my broken, broken heart; every smiling face I pass sees the wall behind me. I'm not here any more. Without Shelley, I'm not here."
12:23. "I'm so sorry, I can't imagine how difficult this must be for you," I say. "But you need to be strong. There are other Shelleys out there, and as much as it hurts to hear now, just think: she would have wanted you to move on. To find new fur, a new tongue to make you whole again. You just have to be strong."
He wipes his eyes and looks up. "Yeah... yeah, I guess you are right. Its just such a strain, y'know?"
"Thanks for listening."
"Well," he clears his throat, "that added another half hour onto your driving lesson, so at eleven-pound-an-hour, that brings today's total up to... thirty-eight pounds, fifty pence." He holds out his hand. "Whenever you're ready."