I found myself sitting at my desk this morning wondering about the guy I’d passed on my way there. At five past nine he’d been walking away from the city, drinking a pre-mixed can of JD and Coke. Was he, I thought, a shift worker trying to smooth out the bitterness of his circadian rhythms before a well deserved sleep, or had it been Hobson’s choice; all there’d been in reach this morning? No bag, hands otherwise empty; he swigged steadily from the single can that surely must have been opened only moments before.
I thought about him so much that I went to the supermarket to check. Three hundred and thirty millilitres. Thirty three centilitres. Two pounds a can and five percent proof. One point seven units of caffeinated alcohol. This is not a morning drink. This is not a just before bed drink. It’s not a just-the-one drink. This is a getting-ready-to-go-out drink, a wake-me-up-before-you-go-go drink. And yet, there he was, a solitary figure with a solitary can, on a grubby September morning with spots of rain in the air.
The sour tang of a decade of night sweats rose from the pillow.
His hands were nut brown and deeply lined; outdoor hands, prematurely aged by strong sun and salted wind. But not working hands; his cuticles and nails were so neatly kept that each shone like a polished coral coin, the pink stark against the dark of his skin.
“They ever make you read Dickens at that school of yours, Sonny? Oliver Twist? Sherlock Holmes?”
The use of Sonny was optimistic at best. They could both be teenagers, albeit at either end of the range. It would have been a strange life indeed for one to be the father of the other.
“He was a London man, Sonny, a real London man. Knew a thing or two about life, too, life for people like us. All those hundreds of years ago, but his London weren’t that different from ours.”
He sat back and took some time to relight the roll up that had been glued to his lower lip. Pleased as punch with a point well made. However well-rehearsed.
Apparently he owned 500 acres in the Canaries, but it was perched high up the mountainside, not an inch of it flat, the jet black soil parched by the sun and only good for wind bent conifers and whatever the locals called their particular version of gorse. At the time he’d been told it was the ideal site for a new hotel. Only when the roads came, of course, and of course they never did. But he was resigned to it now. Every year he would holiday at the same hotel where he’d signed the fateful papers, have the same doleful conversation with the hotel’s owner about the corruption of the local government not building his road, and sit and smoke and drink honeyed rum, staring out west all the way to Mexico, thinking about what could have been.
You should probably delete that that that you just used.
The afternoon after the morning before.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this fucking Wednesday on a Wednesday.
I mean, just like everyone else I get a jolt of excitement when the spine of a notebook lines up with the edge of a desk, but I’m not the kind of weirdo who keeps nudging it till it does.
I listened to their gleaming chatter, watched their eyes begin to slip and slide. I saw the needy sips of water, felt their knees begin to jump and sway. Oh how I’d missed this.