Nothing to it
I look at my watch. Its after eight. I cannot believe that Ive been here for so long. I cannot believe that I am here. My time at college had been one major disappointment.
Hibbert has spoken to me. I turn and look at him.
–Eh? Whats that? I say.
–The nobhead didnt get his degree, Hibbert laughs.
The truth is Im depressed and it has nothing to do with Hibbert or anyone else. When I woke up this morning my head just didnt feel good. It was like someone had slipped into my room during the night and hit me a with a bat.
I drain my glass and get up. I go out the door and into the foyer and lean against the wall for a minute. Then I go into the toilet, have a piss and leave.
I drop the key on the table. I fill the kettle, switch it on, sit down and light a cigarette.
I look up. Shazs standing in the doorway, naked.
–You breaking into peoples houses now? she says.
Ive been seeing Shaz for a month. I met her while I was waiting for a bus. I had been standing in the cold for what seemed like hours when she appeared from nowhere and asked if I fancied a beer.
–Sorry. Just couldnt face going home, I say.
She sits down on my lap and hugs me.
–Im so glad I bumped into you, she says.
Mark nudges my arm. I take the joint and stare back at the TV. Jerry Springer is on. A woman has just knocked her man to the floor for no reason at all.
–And we went into Iraq for this! Mark laughs.
I like Mark. Listening to him, you wouldnt know hes American. He has been living with us for six or seven months and is studying philosophy at the university. He has long white-blonde hair and blue eyes. He has lots of women. Some are monsters but most of them are stunning.
–Hows Shaz? Mark says.
When I told Ed about Shaz I instructed him not to tell Mark or anyone else. Im still making my mind up about her.
–I hear shes crazy, Mark laughs.
I leave the shop, pause a moment, then go back inside and request to see the manager.
Finally the door opens behind the counter and a man comes out, whom I presume is the manager, and asks, no, demands to know exactly what I am complaining about.
–Your assistant swore at me, I tell him. I asked her a perfectly innocent question and she swore at me.
–She swore at you?
–Nicola. Did you swear at this gentleman?
–No, Mr Johnson.
–You didnt say anything to upset him?
–No, Mr Johnson.
Hes around fifty but attempting to look a lot younger. His hair is ruffled— sculptured–gelled—and he has an earring. His black leather jacket is a size too small and his jeans are faded and flared. And the daft bastard has trainers on. I mean, really. A manager wearing trainers! Whatever next. Youre just so—whats the word? Subversive. Youre so subversive, man. Youre out there on the edge. Youre an outsider. Youre someone to be reckoned with. I should be shaking your hands or licking your arse or something. Youre mad. I want your autograph, man. I want to pin your picture to the wall and throw darts at it. Youll be discovered, man. Youre an icon. Just hang in there, man.
He talks slowly, methodically, like hes said all this before. Like hes used to it—defending this woman. This woman who shook her head and tutted and called me the moron of all morons simply because I inquired if she knew the origin of licorice. I mean, you just dont speak to people like that. Not unless its part of your character. Shes paid to answer questions like that. The question pertained to sweets and this is a sweet shop. It was relevant. More to the point, it was what I—the customer—demanded.
OK. Now and again I lose it, I admit that. I mean, really lose it. Ive been known to beat walls with my fists and kick moving cars. Reduce kitchens to rubble. Once I made a bonfire of an ex-girlfriends clothes in the centre of the street and just stood there and watched it burn baby burn. That was when I was forced to vacate my flat and move in with Ed. That was when l decided that all ideas are futile and the best thing to do is to not think about life in terms of what you can do with it but just ride the fucker like a cowboy and see what happens.
I light another cigarette.
–And another thing—
Im on a roll now.
–Money doesnt mean a thing to me, I say. Ideas are what Im into. Concepts. Non-realities. The expediency of the unknown. The diaphanous amorphous. The uranus villainous.
The man stares at me. I wonder why he doesnt get up and move to another table. Pubs are meant to be places where you can retreat from this kind of thing.
–You have to be true to your instincts. If you get to the end of your life, I continue, and all you have are regrets then its been a waste of fucking time.
I wait for him to respond. He doesnt.
–Like him, I say, pointing to an old man. I bet his life has been totally meaningless.
I wave to him.
–Do you always go around judging people? the man says.
I cross my legs, shifting my body towards him so that I appear more friendly and open to his point of view. I lower my head slowly, so slowly. Then I look at him and nod— admit—I do—yes—but Im not happy about it. Im working on being a better person, I tell him.
Were in the park, about a hundred yards from the main road. Before we entered the park Shaz asked what it was that attracted me to her. I refused to answer her. When she asked why, I told her that I did not want to waste my time answering pointless questions. That was when we started on the present subject.
The present subject. The present subject scares me. I no longer feel in control. One sentence and Im on the edge, Im looking over the precipice. Why is that? What is so disturbing about Shaz following me? What is so wrong about being stalked?
She stares at me for a moment, like she wants to kill me. Then she bursts into tears and sprints out the park.