I enter the Dark Store and the smells don’t hit me like the lights and sounds. Rather, they’re localised, subtle. The main door stays open, allowing the air to circulate. My shift begins with me choosing a jacket. As I put it on, I feel its wetness from the rain and sweat from its previous rider. It smells of body odour. I hold my breath. I don’t know how often these shared work uniforms are washed, but each shift I see a trash bag in the wine storage for laundry.
Stepping over the legs of riders, I make my way to the kitchen for a coffee. Holding the paper cup tightly close to my face, its sweet aroma wafts past me for a moment. The coffee machine has so much aromatic potential, but it’s too far away, next to an open and overflowing bin and a stack of dishes everyone is hesitant to wash. Okay, it’s not that bad. Some riders occasionally enjoy keeping the kitchen space clean.
‘As I put it on, I feel its wetness from the rain and sweat of its previous rider. It smells of body odour. I hold my breath’
Recently, the kitchen gained a toastie maker. I watch riders cook entire meals on this appliance — from frying sausages and burgers to paninis and buns. We make ourselves comfortable where possible. Smells don’t linger in the kitchen too long, whether from the microwave, toastie maker or a takeaway from the kebab shop down the road.
There is one place where smells definitely linger. Next to the kitchen is the toilet, a small cupboard space with cleaning materials. The tang of urine and bleach occupies it, matching perfectly with the sticky bathroom floor from the sprinkled toilet seat. During the pandemic I was grateful for the enforced mask-wearing when going to the toilet, muting the smell enough to be able to breathe. I calculate how I can use this space, touching as little as possible, breathing as little as possible. At least a proper sanitary bin was recently installed, an important acknowledgement of my presence — it certainly made me feel more respected.