A few days ago I was driving to work in Warsaw, the Polish capital, when I ran into a traffic jam. Now, Warsaw and its three-million-odd inhabitants, if we count it as an agglomeration, is well-known in central Europe for its traffic jams. Maybe they’re not so infamous as those in Moscow, but mark my words, ‘they aiyn’t nice’. Anyway, I’m stuck in one of these traffic jams, which is a surprise because it’s a Saturday, and on a Saturday the city’s roads are supposed to be empty. So, for twenty minutes I hadn’t moved an inch, a millimetre maybe, but no more. In such cases – and enclosed in the privacy of my car – I scream and I rant and I basically let my anger out on my steering wheel and any other inanimate object I have within reach. Such traffic jams are usually caused by a car accident, but on this occasion (as I found out later) an articualted lorry had lost part of its load on the road. Bored, I messed with the radio. Then I opened the window for a quick blast of fresh, winter air. After that I checked Twitter on my smartphone: two follows, one unfollow. And then I looked into the rear-view mirror. It was a quick glance, the kind you make when you’re driving. But I wasn’t driving. I was stationary. Well, what did I see? I noticed that the man in a lime-coloured Volkswagen Scirocco behind me had his finger up his nose. No big deal. I looked away. Something else held my attention for a second, though it couldn’t have been that important, because within seconds I’m starring into the rear-view mirror once more. The man – in his twenties and wearing a bright purple baseball cap with a white retro Adidas logo on it – still had his finger up his nose. It was getting interesting now, and as I’d already had breakfast and knew I wouldn’t be eating lunch for many hours (and have the thought of the nose-picking in my mind), I counted it as a free form of entertainment to while away the minutes in this traffic jam.
As I stared, I could see that this man was really going for it: not only was he using two or three different fingers to explore the inner sanctity of his nares, but his thumb, too. What did he have up there? I mused to myself. Was it something made of cement, so hard it was melded to his nostrils’ interior and wouldn’t budge? A bogie/booger Excalibur of sorts? Maybe he was looking for someone or something? Lord Lucan, perhaps? Even Jim Morrison?. One of those cruise ships or planes that disappeared without trace in the Bermuda Triangle? No, there had to be something up there. Anyway, for five minutes (I was keeping count) he was doing it, and for five minutes I observed. Carefully. Stealthfully. Laughing. A bit disgusted, too. Okay, okay, so I admit I’ve done the same myself from time to time, but not to such an extent and for so long and with a great deal less artistry with the fingers. Well, the cycle was broken when the car in front of me started moving slowly forward, so I put the car into gear and did the same, one eye on the road and the other in the rear-view mirror to the man behind me, who was still picking his nose, but this time with the fingers from his other hand. Yes, whatever he had up there was certainly something special.
The traffic started to move then and it was back to normal. I thought that was the end of the story, but it wasn’t.
I got to the city centre and found a parking space. I then went to a cafe for a coffee. As I’m in the queue, I ‘m looking out of the window and I saw a lime-coloured Volkswagen Scirocco pull up, and from the car a man wearing a bright purple baseball cap with a white retro Adidas logo on it. It was him, the nose picker, the guy who had been searching for something that he probably didn’t find. I smirked to myself and turned away as the barista wanted to take my order.
After ordering my drink, I moved to the collection point, which was next to the front door. Sitting in the corner was an attractive blonde woman. She had a laptop on the table and was obviously a professional in some field. There was a gust of wind as the door opened. I turned around. It was the man who had been driving the lime-coloured Volkswagen Sirocco with the bright purple baseball cap with the white retro Adidas logo on it. The attractive blonde stood up when he walked into the cafe.
“Mariusz!” she called out to him with a smile. The man wouldn’t have looked out of place in a boy band.
“Ania,” he said to her.
They shook hands.
I’ll say that again: They shook hands. The woman, the attractive woman with soft, delicate hands, probably manicured and oiled, shook his hand. The hand that had been infected by God knows what. I chuckled when that happened, so hard in fact, that the blonde woman and the nose picker looked at me like I was a character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“Why did you just shake his hand?” I said to the blonde woman in Polish. “He’s been picking his nose.”
The nose picker in the baseball cap just stared at me, and I could tell he was thinking how on earth I knew about his deadly secret, his affliction, his torment. Yes, this guy – impeccably dressed and smelling to high heaven of aftershave – was a dirty c***!
But then I snapped out of the other-world reverie. That was only what I wanted to say, what I imagined, but I didn’t. The nose picker and the attractive blonde woman joined the queue for coffees.
“Small Cappuccino!” a voice called out.
It was my order. I took my drink, popped a few sugars in the cup and left the cafe with a smile.