Thomas never really liked his job, for many different reasons. For one, being the red man in a pedestrian crossing light wasn't terribly exciting. Every day the same: light up, one, two, three, four, five, turn off, one, two, three, four, five, light up, one, two, three, four, five, turn off, one, two, three, four, five. Same thing, day in, day out, unchanging.
There was also no time off. The roads always needed regulating, so Thomas was always at work. He sneaked in naps and snacks in those 5 second intervals when he switched off and wasn't needed. He'd grown used to it after all these years, but it didn't make the sometimes hour-long stretches in the middle of the night where no pedestrians crossed the street feel any less thankless.
It also just didn't suit his temperament. Thomas was an optimist, a lover of people. And yet, here was, stopping people in their tracks, cutting them off, making them miss trains and buses over and over again. He much rather wanted to be a green man. When the green man lit up, so did people's faces. He was met with smiles, relief and gratitude. When Thomas lit up, he was met with sighs, irritated tuts and rolling eyes. Thomas wished he could explain. He wished he could tell them it wasn't up to him, that he had a job to do, that this was necessary. But he couldn't. So he didn't. So he continued to light up, one, two, three, four, five and turn off, one, two, three, four, five.
Until one day, the pedestrian crossing lights opposite stopped working. The men had simply stopped lighting up. Thomas didn't know why. Perhaps they had gone on strike. In any case, the builders came and the roadworks began. He watched as the builders violently wrenched the lights from the pavement. In its place they installed a new set of pedestrian lights. A sleeker, more modern model. The box which contained the men had a cool chrome finish, with elegant curves instead of the boxy corners Thomas resided in. It otherwise seemed like business would resume as usual.
Until they switched the new lights on. Thomas remembered the moment well. He was turned on, one, two, three, four, five then switched off one, two, three – and that was the he first saw him: the new green man in the lights opposite. He exploded into Thomas's vision with a glorious and vibrant wave of jade. The green blanket of light he projected onto the dark asphalt road was warm and welcoming. It beckoned and made Thomas feel like the world was a place of endless possibility.
Thomas was so transfixed by the green man that he nearly forgot to switch back on. As he bathed yet more frustrated pedestrians in his red, disapproving glow, he tried to take in what he had just experienced. He couldn't make sense of it, but he knew he wanted to see the green man again more than anything.
The green man became the centre of Thomas' existence. When he lit up, all he could was watch him. When he switched off, all he could was think about watching him. The 5 second intervals where the green man was off seemed to stretch on forever. The world seemed inert and drab without his presence. The green man made the world move. He was a figure of change and excitement. A world without him would be a lifeless and static one, frozen in place and withering away.
After a while, as Thomas was looking upon the green man, he wondered: was the green man looking back? It seemed a ridiculous thought. What would a man who radiated such an electrifying hue see in Thomas' dull, tired glow? He tried to banish the thought from his mind, knowing it would only lead to disappointment. And yet, what if he did?
What if, what if, what if? The question swirled around Thomas' head until it had overridden every other thought and the question was all that was left. He needed to go over there, contract be damned. He would rather be decommissioned and left on the scrap heap with a broken heart than continue to live in this terrible limbo.
It would be tonight. During the lonely, quiet hours of the early morning, he would travel through the circuits to his love and pour his heart out. He didn't know what would happen next. But it didn't matter. There were no other courses of action open to him anymore.
And, at 2:00am, Thomas left his box for the first time in his life.
The following day, Andrew went into work as he always did at the Street Faults Contact Centre. He barely had the time to put his headset on when he received a call from an old woman reporting a set of faulty pedestrian lights downtown. It would appear that a red light and green light had stopped working, the colours inside had simply vanished.