Friends

“Do you want a coffee, mate?” I asked Paula and then I stood there with shaking shoulders. I hid the shaking shoulders with a coughs. “Do you?” I asked, but before she could decline, because to be honest she doesn’t usually drink coffee, she drinks tea, I produced a jar of Coffee-mate from behind my back and nearly smashed it on her counter in my eagerness to produce it. I swallowed hard and sucked my lips into my mouth and clasped them there with my teeth. Paula just nodded at the jar. “You like that?” I asked. I’m smoking again and everything’s better. “Gonna get Enrique with it,” I foretold her. I’d planned to get Enrique first with this great prank, it would work better on him, but I hadn’t been able to find him. It was like he’d gone out or something.

“Where is he, anyway?”

“He’s gone out.”

“Out? What do you mean, out? He didn’t tell me he was going out” And where is out? The hell is that? Where out, and why out? Why had Enrique gone out? What could he be up to and how would it impact upon me? Was he at an interview? Was he talking about me? Where had he gone? Where had Enrique gone, Paula? And I need a more specific answer than just, out.

“He’s gone out,” she replied.

“Oh, out? Oh, okay,” there was no point pursuing that. I looked around the shop that was bathed in early morning sunlight. Enrique was out and it was just me and Paula.

This could be it. “So, how was Iron Man 3?” I asked as I watched Paula eat the ends of sausage rolls. I was stood with my hands in my pockets. She was shameless. I realized I was breathing through my nose and it was kinda loud and creepy and so I opened my mouth to breathe through that instead. I watched as Paula swallowed.

“It was good,” she said with a little cough at the end of her film review. Although her mouth was closed I could see her tongue was exploring her mouth, for pastry crumbs.

“I like Iron Man,” I told her, trying to think of an excuse to go around to her side of the counter, or a way to coax her out to my side. I went up on my toes a couple of times as I stood bolt upright with my hands still in my pockets. I did that so she’d notice me and it worked. She was looking at me as she put more sausage roll into her mouth. I smiled and raised my eyebrows and she did the same but she wobbled her head quite Bollywoodishly as she aped me. I removed my hands from my pockets and stretched as tall as I could, my arms extended straight above me and I did a yawny noise. Paula was watching me and chewing. I felt that weird nerve tingle as it ran around my ribs as I stretched and watched Paula chew. Her face was impossible to read. I looked up. “I can nearly touch the ceiling!” I said holding my pose. I was tall and tall is good and desirable. I waved my fingertips at the ceiling. Yup, I could definitely touch the ceiling if I had to. I’m very tall. I tower over Wellington.

“Hey, Paula, you know what we-“

“No.”

“So, where’s Enrique gone?” I asked, relaxing, slumping, and putting my hands back in my pockets because I didn’t even care because she’s not even nice looking.

“Out,” she said.

“Oh yeah,” I sniffed and looked around. “Well, I’m going to fill my rucksack up with cigarettes and wine. Since he’s gone out.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Paula and with a sigh I headed back towards my counter. On the way back I knocked a packet of cornflakes off the shelf and then booted it and then went and got it and put it back on the shelf. The box was now dented and people, wanting cornflakes, would probably leave that box on the shelf, even if it meant holding the box with one hand while they took an undented box from behind where the damaged box had been. People are pathetic. I grabbed a Daily Mirror and took in to my counter.

“When’s he coming back?” I shouted to Paula. She didn’t reply and as the minutes passed I cared less. I’d left the jar of Coffee-mate on her counter and the prank wasn’t really good enough to warrant me going to get it.

After an hour Enrique still hadn’t returned and I began to care again. I was about to go and search for clues in his office when a Ford Fiesta lurched into the parking space next to Enrique’s car. Something told me this wasn’t just a customer and I went over to the magazine rack. Enrique was in the car. I could see him even though the blue sky was reflecting off the windscreen. I could see him through this. Not just Enrique. There were two people in the car. One was Enrique and another person, who wasn’t Enrique. Weird.

A car. Two people in it. One was Enrique. I mean, why was what I was looking at so fucking disturbing?

Something was severely fucked up with this picture and my mind nearly crashed as it tried to interpret the visual cues. I went to head to the front door and then I changed my mind and headed back towards Paula and then I paused and stood where I had originally been. The person in the car who wasn’t Enrique climbed out of the passenger side.

The passenger side.

He was the passenger.

But if he was the passenger… There couldn’t be two passengers in the car if it had driven here. One person must have been the driver but it wasn’t Enrique who had climbed out of the passenger side. Enrique got out the other side and I know what the other side is and I went to walk towards Paula but didn’t. Instead I watched them. The man was chatting to Enrique. They were talking earnestly and looking at the car. The passenger started miming driving a car even though they were stood in front of one. He wasn’t just miming, he was also talking and Enrique was listening but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. My mouth hung open as I watched this.

They were talking and occasionally laughing like seals. Enrique had seen me as I was about four feet away from him and only separated by the chest-high magazine rack and the shop’s glass window and still, despite knowing I was there, they talked.

Enrique gestured to the guy to come into the shop and seeing the gesture I headed towards Paula before changing my mind and returning to my counter. I found a comfortable pose before they entered. It was with my arms crossed. I’d tried with my hands in my pockets but that felt wrong so I’d crossed my arms and it felt right. I crossed my arms so each hand pressed underneath the opposite bicep making them look much bigger than they are. They’re tiny really.

They laughed as they entered.

“You driving there, Enrique?” I asked, interrupting whatever they were blabbing about.

“Si!” He said with a smile. He removed his poor quality cycling gloves he wears when driving. I felt like grabbing one and slapping his face with it. Slapping his moustache off his face. “Dis Dave, he tea-“

“I thought I was teaching you to drive?” I said, my face serious, my arms still crossed.

“S’okay, I know chu don’ wanna-“

What do you know about me?” I asked cutting him off. That’s what I do if Enrique’s fucking me off. I cut him off because he struggles to speak English and it flusters him.

“S’okay, chu say chor busy so-“

“I’m not busy. I was going to teach you to drive. I was just waiting for you to ask.”

“I say every-“

“You an instructor?” I asked, turning to Dave.

“Certainly am, Squire,” he smirked. Squire? What a fucking asshole.

“Why are you paying him?” I asked looking at Enrique and cocking a thumb at Dave.

“Hey, s’just…”

Dave spoke. “Hey, don’t take it personal. In my experience friends, well, they think they’re helping but they tend to teach bad habits. I’m not just saying it but it’s worthwhile to get a few proper lessons.” I nodded rapidly all the way through his sermon, my face changing to show understanding and enlightenment. After he’d finished I nodded a few more times.

“Well that’s great, Dave, but are you saying I teach bad habits?” I squinted at Dave.

“Well, no, he’s actually good. You’ve taught him well but I know what they look for in the tests. It’s definitely worthwhile and I’m not just saying that. I teach people how to pass the test,” said Dave who kept just not saying that.

“Ten to three!” I barked at Enrique who nodded. I looked back and Dave who was also nodding. “You like that?” I asked. Dave nodded.

“Wednesday then, Stig,” said Dave to Enrique.

“Stig,” I snorted.

“Si, Wednesday,” Said Enrique and Dave looked at me and smiled nervously and then left. I watched him. Enrique was smiling as he watched Dave leave and then Enrique saw my face and stopped smiling.

“The fuck you doing?”

“I learn to drive, s’no problem. I tol’ chu I get leesons.”

He’d called my bluff. Motherfucker had called my bluff. He’d actually gone ahead and removed the biggest hold I had over him. “Not a problem for me, mate,” I explained. “I can already drive.” I stared at Enrique. He didn’t understand. “So, what did he do that was so special?”

“Oh, s’awesome,” began Enrique as he gave me the details of his lesson. He was so excited that despite beginning in 90% broken English he soon descended into predominantly whatever Colombians speak. I only understood the odd word but I listened.

“Well, save your money, I’ll teach you to drive.” I said when he stopped.

“We will see,” said Enrique tapping the counter three times then heading into his office.

Oh yeah, we’ll see, I thought.

“Where are the L plates?” I asked my wife.

“What are you doing home?”

“The L plates, do you know where they are?” I asked patiently. She thought and I clenched my fists.

“They might be-“

“They might be? Don’t guess. I could guess where they might be. They might be anywhere. Do. You. Know. Where. They. Are?”

“No.”

“Thank you,” I lied and bowed. I looked in the drawer in the kitchen but they weren’t there so I gave up on finding the L plates. We’d do this without them. I took my wife’s car keys off the hook and stepped back out into the sunlight. It was warm. My shirt would soon dry but I drove to work with the windows open to accelerate the process.

“Where did you go?” Asked Paula when I went in.

“Out,” I said giving her a taste of her own medicine but I didn’t pause to field any more questions. I opened Enrique’s door, pointed at him, clicked my fingers and said, “oi, fuckhead, come.” Enrique looked up at me. “Come on, vamoose!”

“Chu cleaned de stock room?”

“Yeah.” I hadn’t. When Enrique had asked me to do it I’d huffed and puffed because I didn’t have the driving bargaining tool any longer and as soon as he returned to his office I’d ran home to get the car. “Get your driving gloves.” Enrique pushed his chair back, opened a drawer and produced his gloves which he snapped on with a flourish. He then followed me to the car park.

“S’okay, I have lesson today,” he said as I held the driver’s door open.

“In, fuckhead.” Twice I’d called Enrique a fuckhead in the last few minutes. And I could, because he might be my boss but I was actually the boss who held all the cards. I climbed in the passenger side. “Okay!” I said looking forward at the shop.

“Where we go?”

“Wherever you want,” I said. Enrique started fucking around with the chair. Eventually he settled on a position. He pumped the pedals and waggled the gear stick and checked the rear view mirror. As he was about to start the car I stopped him by putting my hand on the steering wheel.

“Is this a joke?” I asked Enrique.

“Que?”

“Is this a joke, are you fucking with me?”

“I don-“

“You’re all scrunched up. You don’t drive like that. Who taught you to drive like that? Don’t tell me. Derek?”

“Dave.”

“I meant Dave.” I looked at Enrique and tutted. “Put your chair right back, you’ve got to be relaxed when driving. Leaning back, not forward.” Enrique slid the chair right back with a loud clank. “Okay?”

“I can’t… de brake.”

“You’ll be fine,” I said ignoring Enrique and gazing out of the the passenger window. “Fuckhead,” I said. We drove to the Five Mile Road. Enrique can drive fine. As we passed Big Vern’s I told Enrique to try driving with one hand.

“Wha about de clock?”

“That’s just bullshit, mate. I don’t drive like that.”

“But Dave, he say-“

“Dave doesn’t want you to pass you idiot!” It was time to explain basic economics to our Colombian friend. “He only gets money if you don’t pass. He wants to charge you for a hundred lessons.”

“Non!” Said Enrique taking his eyes off the road for two whole seconds.

“Si!” I said. Enrique was still craning his neck trying to see the road. The Five Mile Road is actually only about three miles long. “We’ll practise parking,” I said, pointing out Le Braye car park. It was too busy to practise parking, if I’m honest, but I had a point to prove and as Enrique attempted to park and fucked it I explained that the way instructors teach you to park is bullshit. I told him my way. He fucked that up too but that didn’t matter. He’d fucked up Dave’s way first.

Eventually Enrique sort of parked and I praised him. “This is better, right?” I asked as Enrique, nearly horizontal, tried to drive around the tight car park. I opened the glove compartment and took out the CD holder folder. It’s a folder that holds CDs. With a sleeve for each CD but they all fell out into my lap when I opened it because I don’t put them back in their sleeve, I just stuff them at the front because, hey, I’m usually driving. Can’t be messing around with a holder folder when driving.

“We’ll have some tunes for the drive back,” I said looking through my wife’s horrendous selection of music. I picked one at random and as I was trying to put it in the slot a bump caused me to miss and I stabbed the console with the disc.

“Whaddat?” Asked Enrique, practically doing crunches in an attempt to see the mirrors. I looked in my side mirror and then swivelled around in the seat. There was a pile of something. “Think you hit a deckchair,” I said sitting back down and putting the CD in. “Don’t worry about it.” We drove back along The Five Mile Road. The Sand Dunes border the road on one side. They looked beautiful. “Remember when you punched Carol?” I asked him and he laughed and I laughed. “It was there,” I said pointing to the wall. Enrique swivelled his head.

“It was der?”

“Yeah, we came across the dunes though.”

“Good times,” he said.

“Looking for the Jersey Devil,” I shook my head.

We stopped at an ice-cream van. I had a Solero and Enrique had a Nobbly Bobbly, my treat. Carrying them back to the car I saw a shoe jammed in the wheel arch. I didn’t stare. I went around and handed Enrique both the ice-creams. “Hold them a sec,” and then I went back to the passenger side, ducked down and with a bit of a struggle removed the shoe and threw at at low level into some undergrowth.

“What?” Asked Enrique as he handed me my Solero when I sat down.

“Just checking tyre pressure,” I said, ripping open my lolly wrapper. “Bet Derek never taught you that?”

Enrique opened his Nobbly Bobbly. “No, he no teach-a-me dat!” Said Enrique and then we both demolished our ice-lollies like wild dogs.

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