At about 6pm last night Stan came into the shop. I’m pretty good at reading people and he was totally delighted to see me. He came around to my side of the counter.
“Hey, hey, hey!” Said Stan. “Where’s my guy?” I raised my eyebrows unsure of who he was referring to.
“Me?” I asked.
“Of course you!” Said Stan shaking my arm. He shook my arm, not my hand. I didn’t like that because it made my head shake a bit. Stan stood for a moment smiling at me but also looking me up and down.
“You’re looking good,” said Stan with disarming honesty.
“Thanks Stan,” I replied. I’ve worked hard to achieve the emaciated state I am currently in and I don’t mind people taking notice.
“You feeling good?” He asked.
“Not bad, you know, bit of a sore leg-” I was planning to go on and tell him why I thought my leg was sore, which involved talking about my foot which I think is causing me to run lopsided. Or some form of sciatica. I can talk about running to anybody but he jumped in and cut me off.
“Sore leg eh? That’s interesting.”
“I think it’s because…” but Stan was walking away. He went into Enrique’s office.
Maybe ten minutes later another guy who wasn’t a customer came in. This one was older and fatter than Stan.
“Enrique?” He asked and it was then I deduced he was a cockney man from London because what he actually said was ‘Enri’i. I pointed to the office. “You Jaymay?” He asked with his retarded and threatening accent.
“I am indeed,” I replied slightly nervously and that’s why I said ‘indeed.’ I don’t normally talk like that but this guy was probably handy with his fists.
“‘ow you feelin’, cocker?”
“Erm… pretty good?”
“Narce,” he replied, nodding then went into Enrique’s office without another word.
I deal with fuckwits all day everyday and although it was unusual for people to ask after me like that I’ve long since learnt to not stress about situations I don’t fully understand, better to just go with the flow.
The cockney man had a very loud and rough voice and I could hear his booming laughter though the office door. I just shook my head when I heard it and carried on doing my thing. I was due to finish at 7pm which would normally mean putting my coat on at 6:45 and leaving at 6:48 but my coat was in Enrique’s office and I didn’t want to go in and get it with all them in there so I prayed to God that they would be out before 7pm. I didn’t want to work late. Of course God doesn’t exist and so come 7pm they were still all in there with my jacket and I was well pissed off.
It was my anger at the lack of a God and these idiots in a room that really gave me the courage to get my jacket. Also my bag was in there with my lunch-box. There was no way I could just leave it.
I told Paula I was going and she said that she thought I’d gone and I asked her how could I have gone if I was still fucking stood there and she replied, “dunno.” I stood for a moment, clicked my fingers a few times and then went to the office door. Normally I wouldn’t knock but normally the office isn’t stuffed with people and a cockney. So I knocked and then opened the door. At first I thought the room was on fire, so thick was the smoke, but I could just about make out the three people in there. Enrique and the cockney were actively smoking cigars. Stan had one smouldering in the ashtray in front of him.
“Going now,” I told the room without making eye contact with any of them. I didn’t need to enter the room fully to grab my stuff, I could just lean in, but the cockney spoke and my heart sank.
“Cam an sit dan a minit,” he garbled. What could I do? A man I didn’t know was asking me to cam an sit dan a minit. I had to go an sit dan a minit. So I went over but there were no more chairs. “Wool you’ll avter stand wontcha?” So I stood there. The cockney man looked me up and down just as Stan had. Uh-oh.
“Stan tells me you’ve got a sore peg,” the cockney man said. I nodded and considered how much I wanted to talk. Not very much.
“You still doin’ the rayce?”
“The running race?”
“Nah, the Gran’ Nationul!” He laughed. Great joke dickhead. I smiled. “Of faking course the facking running rayce, wotcho fink I mean?” He erupted in laughter at this. I looked at the other two faces. Stan was smiling but Enrique was laughing with his hand over his mouth like a Japanese woman and I felt betrayed a bit. Enrique didn’t even know what he was laughing at and yet he’s formed an alliance with the cockney. The cockney hadn’t been teaching Enrique to drive. The cockney hadn’t beaten a squirrel from his face. Enrique had little red Adidas stripes on the side of his head, from where the squirrel had clung to him. Who the fuck was the cockney anyway? I looked at the floor. The blood from the squirrel – surprisingly little – had washed straight out of my jacket but there was still a stain on the office carpet. I stared at it. When the cockney stopped laughing he asked again, “you doin’ it then?”
“Yes,” I replied as I did intend to do it. For one thing it’s the last in the series. The Spar Road Race Series. A series of races held over the winter at various distances. I’m particularly keen to do it on Sunday because I could actually win it overall by virtue of being the only person who’s turned up for each one. I always get beaten – I haven’t won a single event – but I always get beaten by a different person which is a victory for not having anything else to do.
“And your leg? That going to hold you back?” He asked.
“Weeeellll,” I started, “it’s generally okay when I get going, you know?” My leg normally loosens up after a bit, “but yesterday it didn’t so I don’t know.” Yesterday I went for a run and my leg hurt the whole way. The cockney man did a really screwed-up puzzled face and so I continued to clarify it for him. “You just don’t know how it’s going to be until you start.” I wasn’t helping the cockney man understand and as unbelievable as it sounds he screwed up his puzzled face even more and also readjusted himself in his chair so his body was facing me more although his head was moving about from Stan to Enrique. “I think it’ll be okay,” I chortled.
The cockney man’s head was shaking slowly, his face was nearly inside-out with puzzlement and he was struggling to speak. Eventually he got it out, “Fink? You fink it’ll be okay?”
“Yes?” I replied only now wondering why he cared.
“Tell you wot. I’ll have a carpet on you finking it’ll be okay.”
“Erm, okay?” I didn’t understand what he’d said.
“You win that facking rayce on Sanday or I’ll chop your facking balls off.”
My eyebrows went up at this and I smiled a fixed grin. The cockney looked away disgusted and sucked on his cigar. I didn’t understand.
“Listen, champ, we just wanna know if you’re going to win on Sunday. See, we want to have a bit of a flutter, nothing serious.”
“You want to bet on the running race?” What’s a carpet?
“Sure,” said Stan soothingly. “So we really need to know if you’re going to win it.”
“I’m going to try,” I told him, looking into his eyes. Stan winced a bit.
“See, trying isn’t good enough,” said Stan apologetically. I looked at Enrique, he was just smoking and looking at the end of his cigar. He was a bit cross-eyed. “We need to know if you’re going to win,” Stan said, “and we need to be certain, you understand?”
“I can’t guaran-” I began
“So what about not winning,” said Stan chewing the end of his cigar. I could tell he was getting frustrated..
“Oh I could do that,” I told him. Stan looked at the cockney, only briefly but I saw the mischievousness in his eyes.
“You could lose the race on Sunday?” Stan asked. “That’s wouldn’t create a… I don’t know, a moral dilemma?”
“Well, I guess I’d feel a bit shit,” no I wouldn’t it’s my dream scenario, “but I understand how it is. I’m a man of the world.”
“We’ll make it worth your while, son,” said the cockney.
“That would be cool,” I told him. Then the three of them just sat there nodding and sucking on their cigars. “I’ll be going going then?” I said.
“Yeah, you run along,” said the cockney and then he exploded into another storm of laughter at his wittiness and so I did but mine was fake.
This morning a package was delivered. The card read
Friends stick to agreements. Good luck on Sunday, I’ll be watching.
Inside was a full set of coloured ink cartridges for a printer I don’t have.
I didn’t win the race. Some fucking guy I’ve never even seen before in my life did.