Just before the bullet seared through his heart, Qast’s world had just turned perfect.
He had been strolling down the Kopdel, the wide glimmering walk-way that led straight into the heart of Mixtit, with a spring in his step. The address of his destination was written on the piece of paper – the single most important document in his life – which he clutched tightly in his fist. He had sauntered along the shimmering street, squirting at his reflection at intervals to check that he got the walk right. It was the way the Cix walked – the right way to walk. Dignifying. Two dicodas and one nothes of practice had brought a smile to his face at what he saw each time he looked down.
If only he had gotten the walk wrong at that very instant.
The street lights – another magic of the Cix – hunched over like tall steel men casting a radiance of homage to the magnificent street below, could only manage an opaque luster which did not quite cut through the cold blanket of fog settled like a blanket on Mixtit that morning. Early birds chirped out of the huge pine trees that kept the street lights company. The large grotesque shadows of the trees added to the darkened gloom of the atmosphere – the least of Qast’s worries (he should have been worried about something else). Everything had been going his way. Even the Wexninti had had a smile for him as they examined his pass out of Kikowa. He had closed his eyes for a few seconds, to savor the joy of being in the new world he had just walked into; where his life was about to start. He had felt the morning breeze, heard the whistling birds then opened his eyes wide to a singular report, not quite in sync with the natural sounds of an unfolding morning but one which he was quite familiar with…the blast of a gun.
He had been born a Mulu because his father, whoever he was, had raped his mother. The man was Cix and, understandably for Qast, would have found it too demeaning to own up to fathering a child by a Mulu woman. By default Kikowa lay claim to his childhood dicodas. The adoration in his heart for his unknown father just outshone his resentment towards the man for not having the sense to see that Mulu women were too filthy to be touched let alone raped – cheating him out of being a full blooded Cix.
He chucked his mother to the recesses of his mind where she could not disturb his thoughts. She had died when he was three; killed during a stampede when Cix guns shot into a large Mulu crowd that protested against the wall built around Kikowa.
Within the walls the Mulu could do as they pleased but they needed passes to leave their confines to work, shop or whatever it was they couldn’t get in Kikowa. Both exits out of Kikowa were manned by well armed Wexninti at whose discretion the passes were issued. No Mulu went out without a pass. The incidents of Mulu men trying to run out of Kikowa without passes always ended up one way. When the guns are aimed at the Mulu the Wexninti shot to kill.
Though he lived in Kikowa and needed a pass outside the community, Qast saw nothing wrong with the wall. How could the lowly Mulu, ugly and filthy in their ways, hope to mingle with the sophisticated Cix? Unimaginable.
Uncle Zhestu of the burukutu bottle, his mother’s brother and his only surviving kin, brought him up.
The old man had always made it explicit that he would have long strangled Qast had he not been blood. Uncle Zhestu it was that made him very conscious of his distinguished features. The colour of Qast’s skin was a bluish-green pigment with more of the Cix blue than the Mulu green. His hair was Cix wriggly rather than Mulu straight. With age he grew slightly over seven feet – the average height of the Cix – heads above the average Mulu.
As a child these features had been a puzzle. No one (save his uncle) treated him any different though. He did not lack friends and a steady flow of compliments from adoring parents. It was his first trip outside Kikowa that unraveled the mystery. Uncle Zhestu had taken him as an extra hand for a cleaning job in Mixtit. He was just ten at the time. Qast’s first sight of a Cix was the Wexninti at the Kikowa gates. A fly or two threatened to explore within his ‘O’ shaped mouth which wouldn’t close in wonder at the new beings; their sheer size, crisp clean uniforms, sophisticated weapons and the aura of power with which they walked and talked. The most amazing thing, however, was uncle Zhestu’s countenance. Here was a man who very few Mulu could look in the eye, now standing like a sheep before lions in front of the Wexninti. Uncle Zhestu had his fingers locked in front of his chest like he was in prayer. His face, which was bent as low as possible, was the look of a stray dog kicked timid by a dozen unfriendly legs. That was just a taste of things to come. Qast stepped into another world the moment he walked down the Kopdel for the first time into Mixtit. In Kikowa, the houses were communally built (mud for the walls and thatch for the roof) for a young man of age. Here the houses were made of glass, cement and steel. And they rose into the skies. If these were communally built, Qast wondered at their great skill. The roads, a never ending maze of opaque glass, were wider than twenty Kikowa roads – which were really paths created by feet trodden down the bushes over time – put side by side. Qast had only heard about the Skards from his friends. They were transparent tube like vehicles that glided over the roads in their hundreds. One could see Cix men, women and children in them being whizzed about at great speeds. Then he had banished the stories as a myth but now he was overwhelmed. The Mulu went everywhere on foot.
The lights shone everywhere, hanging over the streets, on the walls, through windows and even used to write things on large boards along the streets. It was far brighter than the candle light he was used to. It was almost as bright as the sun. Intriguing. The Cix were gods. They had to be.
He and little uncle Zhestu (he never believed he would ever think of his uncle as little) scrimped very close to the walls like the ants that they now were, with their faces to the ground. They had just reached the gates of the estate where the house that uncle Zhestu was to clean when it happened.
A young Cix man, huge as every other Cix, ran towards them. They stopped and pressed themselves against a wall to make room – though the running man had more than enough. At the very last minute, the young man veered off course and crashed into uncle Zhestu. Such was the force of the impact that the scrawny Mulu man cleared the ground on impact and landed on his back a good four yards off. The Cix man stood unscathed, watching uncle Zhestu wriggle on the ground in pain. Some distance away, Qast spotted two other young Cix men holding their sides in laughter. He froze. It had been a prank.
‘Are you blind Mulu?’ The young man now stood over uncle Zhestu.
‘Shut up! You old fool. How can you say you are not blind when you don’t have the sense to get out of the way?’
‘You were coming too fast boss. ‘
‘Are you trying to say it is my fault?’ He spat the question into uncle Zhestu’s face. ‘I will have you arrested for those words.’
‘Oh no boss, it is my fault. Please forgive me.’
The laughing men were having a fit now, enjoying every minute of the live drama.
‘And what are you looking at?’ Qast shriveled up instantly. Thankfully the Cix did not think him worth the trouble.
‘On your way, you dried up after-thought and next time, look where you are going.’ He swung his feet into uncle Zhestu’s stomach. Uncle Zhestu winced and scrambled to his feet.
‘Oh thank you boss, thank you.’ He grabbed a wholly mesmerized Qast and quick as they could they made away from the jeers.
‘Get me my bottle of burukutu and to the devil with your stupid questions!’
That was the only time uncle Zhestu broke his uneasy silence after they returned. Qast had asked if he would like anything to eat. He calmly obeyed but the old man’s tirade had lost its unsettling effect.
The little boy did not welcome sleep that night. He kept awake as long as he could to marvel at the wonders of Mixtit and the Cix – a place he wanted to be and a people he would gladly give his right arm to be part of.
He had the most wonderful dream that night. He was a full-blooded Cix. The very one that had bumped into uncle Zhestu and this time he did not stop kicking at his uncle’s pleas. Then it wasn’t just uncle Zhestu on the ground any longer but all the dirty Mulu he knew. Exhilarating.
After that first day in Mixtit, Uncle Zhestu could not tell him enough of his origin by way of curses whenever he did something the old Mulu saw as wrong.
‘Pick that up you son of a Cix rapist.’ ‘Are you deaf Cix dog?’ ‘Look at him, just like his father and all other bastard Cix.’
Qast would lower his head whenever his uncle was on the attack. This was not because he was sorry but rather because he hoped his penitent posture would give his uncle more verve to carry on so he could learn more. With time he pieced the whole story together. His father was Cix. The revelation was intoxicating. He wasn’t a part of these dirty people amongst whom he had grown up. Oh no. He was part of those lovely people with lovely houses and lovely roads and lovely lights. He had every right to slap and kick these dirty Mulu around and all they would do is beg for mercy. He was a Cix, a lord.
He sought every opportunity to go with uncle Zhestu into Mixtit. He studied the Cix and their culture and gradually began to copy what he could. Uncle Zhestu noticed.
‘You should be ashamed of being a Cix. They have brought us nothing but misery and you…you are one of them.’
Ashamed of being a Cix? What a laugh.
At sixteen he was proud of the change he saw in himself. The build was certainly there. All that remained was to perfect the mannerisms. Soon the sight of him will send Mulu in the street scurrying to hide.
With the papers that granted him access into Mixtit without uncle Zhestu’s company, the first thing he did was to get a job in the mines. Independence gave him power and his uncle became an irritant. Qast had promised himself that he would knock out all the old man’s teeth with a bit more provocation so it was a disappointment when uncle Zhestu turned tame and began to keep out of his path
In Kikowa, he strutted about with a nose in the air and a swollen chest. He spoke to no one when he could help it. When he couldn’t, he used words sparingly and in an authoritarian tone. When the time was right, he would leave this filthy place and backward people. His place was in Mixtit.
The only problem however was his work place. The mine wasn’t a place fit for a Cix. Besides the hazards and the filth of the place, he had to endure the presence of the hundreds of Mulu encrusted with tough times in the mines and Cix brutality, sweating beside him, searching for precious metals. Try as hard as he could to disassociate himself from his Mulu workmates, they were always in his face. He snubbed those that tried to be friendly and was paid back with taunts.
‘What is with that green leaf?’
‘He thinks he is a Cix.’
‘All hail the Cix lord.’
Their incessant laughter at his efforts made him hate them a little more every day. There was nothing he could do about it. In size he was bigger but each one of them was hardened, having endured the hardships of the underground over the dicodas. He wouldn’t last in a fistfight. Besides he was only one against so many. The only thing was to leave. Find somewhere and something that befitted someone of his standing.
He had to do something ‘stupid’ – ask a Mulu for help.
Qast had seen Gundumiki twice before in Kikowa and noted that he wasn’t like any other Mulu. The aging Mulu man wore relatively expensive clothes and carried himself with stateliness. He lived in a nice house (if there was such a thing in Kikowa) and was highly respected by other Mulu. He entered the Cix city daily and returned evenings, meaning he had a good job in Mixtit or he wouldn’t look that way or be so highly respected. All that had meant nothing to Qast. One Mulu was as insignificant as the other, no matter the adornment. Four nothes in the mines changed that. He made his way through the lowly pathway to the old Mulu’s house. If he was to live his dream, he would have to swallow his pride – if for only a while.
A startling beauty opened the door. It was the old man’s teenage daughter. She flashed him the sweetest smile. Qast scowled back. He took no notice of dirty Mulu girls always trying to catch his attention with seductive smiles. He only had eyes for Cix girls. So far he hadn’t summoned the nerve to chat one up. He couldn’t pass for a full blooded Cix yet – not in his miner’s work clothes – and he might just end up getting the beaten of his life by the Wexninti if a Cix girl he tried chatting up raised an alarm. When he got the proper job he would look for a fat, ugly and desperate Cix lady who would be happy to have him. Better that than the prettiest Mulu girl.
‘Is your father in?’
She recoiled at his angry tone.
Without answering, she opened the door for him to enter and retreated. Gundumiki was beside an open window, seated in one of his cane chairs, smoking a pipe and listening to the chirping of the evening birds. He raised his head to see who it was and motioned for Qast to join him.
As they talked the evening grew darker until the red glow from the old man’s pipe did the little it could to illuminate the place. In an hour of exchange, Qast learnt that Gundumiki was a butler, that half the young Mulu in Kikowa had come for the very same request Qast was there for and that Gundumiki had turned all of them down. With a deep scowl, hidden in the darkness, Qast listened to reasons Gundumiki listed for turning him down as well.
‘No doubt it is a good job and I am well paid but my young man, it is demeaning for anyone. One is always at the beck and call of children and they really make you look foolish. With time it becomes you. At my age I have nothing to lose but it would kill the fight in a young Mulu blood like yours.’
‘That is not a problem for me.’ Qast refrained from denouncing his Mulu heritage before the old man. It would hurt his chances. His patience however wore thin by the second. He was Cix and no Mulu – no matter how highly placed – dared deny him a request.
‘Oh but it is a problem. I know that there is going to be a revolution very soon. The Mulu people are going to rise against this oppression and we would need fire in every Mulu. I am past fighting so there is no danger in my being complacent.’
Qast could hold back no longer
‘Look, I can’t work one more day in those mines with those filthy bas… I don’t care about fighting and fire. Just get me this job!’
A heavy calm held the atmosphere spellbound after that outburst. In the red glow of the old man’s pipe, Qast just made out the creased face contorted more in contemplation. He wondered if he had stepped out of line and then he didn’t care.
‘Come and see me in two days.’
‘Thank you.’ Qast was as curt as possible as he rose and walked out into the darkness. How dare the old man compare him to other Mulu and what was all that stupid talk about a revolution. Not in a million dicodas could the Mulu hope to match the sophisticated weapons of the Cix. Utter nonsense.
He crossed the road to avoid passing by two Mulu girls coming in the opposite direction.
At the end of two very long days Gundumiki returned from work to find Qast waiting.
‘Did you get me the job?’
‘You young Mulu…so impatient.’ Gundumiki greeted with a smile.
‘Did you get me the job or not?’ Qast asked with a straight face.
The old man sighed, reached into his breast pockets and sliced the air with a folded piece of paper.
‘They want you to start tomorrow. They will give you uniforms and…’
Qast snatched the paper.
‘What of the address?’
‘It’s all in there. You will find things relatively easy because of the way you look and…..’
‘Thank you.’ Qast wheeled about and walked away with the deftness of the Wexninti leaving the old man to wonder after him.’
‘Cix blood.’ Gundumiki muttered to himself sadly then walked in to his dinner.
Menkakuki kept his eyes on the bright red glow as he sucked long and hard at the dying cigarette. The harsh morning wind raised his large unbuttoned coat and found his bare skin under his light shirt. On the rooftop of the Mixtit museum – a good fifty stories high – the wind was fiercer with no building or tree to serve as a break.
‘Shit.’ He spat out the spent cigarette butt and pulled the coat about him to button it. It was a coat too large for his scrawny figure and the cold air still found spaces to get in. ‘Blast it! Have you got a spare cigarette by any chance?’
The other Mulu, a much healthier looking figure, on the museum rooftop seemed oblivious of the biting wind. He lay prone, still as the wicked looking weapon which he held by his head. A long range rifle aimed at the wide glassy road beneath the museum. They were part of the Mulu revolution which the Wexninti had not even known existed. Their presence on the museum rooftop that dark cold windy morning was the result of countless meetings in the underground. This was to be their first strike back at the Cix. Just kill one or two Cix to send a message. That was the plan.
So far no Cix had come out of the buildings, but they were usually early birds. They were sure to come out soon.
‘Chiwele’ Menkakuki called out again, this time impatiently. ‘Do you have any…’
‘Shhh’ Chiwele signaled for Menkakuki to lie down as well. The fat gun man had sighted movement.
‘Where?’ Menkakuki moved his head from side to side and strained his eyes in the foggy darkness.
‘There, down there, look.’
‘Yes I see him now.’
The gunman adjusted his rifle on his shoulder and took aim.
‘Just tell me when.’
‘Wait! Something is not right. Why is he coming from the direction of Kikowa?
Chiwele cast an angry eye on his partner.
‘What are you talking about? Does it matter in which direction he is coming from? If we don’t hurry up, we are going to let this one get away.’
Menkakuki studied the strolling figure. The height was right, the springy step was right and from the museum rooftop, the complexion was right.
‘Well?’ the gunman asked impatiently.
Monday, 3 November 2008
The British are too damn clean.
I am between my house and the train station in Wigan. My focus is riveted on the ground. I am searching for a single piece of paper. The pavements have been swept clean. In Nigeria pieces of paper on the road are left a while before being swept off if ever. Damn!
In my hand is a copy of the times and one of the stories - GIRL 23, WINS ONE MILLION IN LOTTERY in the inside of the front page. A very familiar face is attached to the story. That is what has me outside in the cold searching. Searching for what would definitely be my way out of outstanding bills and fees.
Pedestrians cast suspicious looks whenever I dive for pieces of paper blown across the pavements by the wind. I couldn’t be bothered. I don’t think they would understand if I explained anyway. I have been out here one hour and still haven't seen what I am searching for. Oh God oh God
A man, mid forty-ish comes out of one of the buildings at the side of the road. He is balding, with a stocky appearance that makes him look short. A green hi-viz vest covers most of his bulk. What really grabs my attention though is what he has in his hands. An iron rod with pinchers at one end and some sort of trigger handle. With this funny contraption and an expressionless face, he traps pieces of paper and releases them into a large polythene bag which he has in his other hand.
I stop. I have never been one who hung on to hope when faced with stark reality. I hold the newspaper before me and peer hard at the pretty face that stare back at me. The face of a millionaire. Oh God no.
It was a month ago I saw that face for the first and, regretfully, last time.
That day was my second day in Manchester and I was can-barely-walk hungry.
I had just finished a class which I had gone in for without breakfast or lunch. An hour of lectures took days to end. I just wanted out. I made it to the bus stop in front of the school...well not in front really but beside one of the buildings. I sat down on the vacant iron bench. One of the mysteries of the British I am still trying to unravel - a thousand people at a bus stop, waiting for the bus and everyone ignores the bench. Back in Nigeria, people who have no business at the bus stop would sit on it just for the heck of it; that is if it hadn’t become the bed of some crazy destitute and all that would happen when the government ever decides that people do need benches at bus stops.
I was the only one on the bench anyhow and thankful for it for this one day. I wanted to get a bus that was headed for Victoria train station and hop on a train to Wigan where I live. A solitary ten pound note rested in my pockets. I fingered it to make sure it was still there. If someone had been watching me closely all morning, I would be described as the guy who keeps putting a hand into his right trouser pockets. I couldn't afford to lose that money. It would mean a long walk across town to the train station. My chances of making it would be worse than that of a desert explorer, stranded in the Sahara with a bottle of water. Such people were trained for such eventualities. I never asked for this when the plane that brought me into Britain landed in Heathrow.
Now you will begin to wonder - and I wouldn’t blame you for it – why, in God's name, did I have ten pounds in my pocket and dying from hunger? Surely I could grab a bite and still have change left for the bus fare. If you have ever been to a foreign country with a foreign language and no guide, you will be better placed to understand my explanation. The English colonized Nigeria and the official lingua franca of Nigeria is English so I should have no problem with communication right? Wrong! What was I to answer when asked 'howyad'n mae?' and 'whadyuwan luv?' when I go into a store to buy something. All this, always said with lightning speed. It would eventually come down to sign language and I always ended up taking more of the attendant's time than they deemed profitable per customer.
Once I was confused as to which bus to take within Manchester. There was this middle aged lady at a bus stop waiting, apparently, for a bus. The reason I walked up to her was because she looked like she was Indian or something. Hopefully she would get across to me.
'Madam' I asked. She turned to meet my gaze, ready to answer my query. 'Could you please tell me what bus goes to Oxford road?'
My sincere apologies for asking.
I thanked her for her help. She smiled sweetly in response. I heaved a heavy sigh and strolled to Oxford road.
So, shops, restaurants and the lot were no go areas unless it was absolutely necessary.
So there you go. Back to the bus stop beside the school building where I sat, hungry and waiting for a bus with ten pounds in my pocket.
There were lots of girls around but I only had eyes for the name 'Victoria' and it had to be boldly written at the front of the bus. I must have looked at the ground for a moment - to rest my heavy head perhaps - because her shoes, Nikes really, were what I first saw of her. They were white, neatly laced and partly covered by the frills of a bell bottom jeans trouser. If it were back in Nigeria, I would assume it to be someone I knew. Being just days old in Britain, there was hardly a chance of that so....what the h..... I jerked my head upwards. A mulatto girl, early twenties, tall and pretty - very pretty, stared back at me.
'Can I si ere?' She pointed at the empty part of the bench beside me. I got that and shifted to make space for her. She sat down. I usually make small talk with pretty ladies that invade my space but at that moment roasted chicken would have been more welcomed.
'Whieu gon?' it couldn't have been directed towards any other.
'Whieu gon?' I strained to catch it.
'Oh, Victoria station.' I answered. People don’t just walk up to you and ask your destination but hey, this is Britain. Maybe it is the norm over here; I thought and pushed it out of my mind.
'Can I cumwivya?' she leaned into my ear to ask this. To help me understand people over here when they speak, I read their gestures as well. There wasn’t room for that in this instance so what I thought I heard was 'can you come between my legs.' Don’t ask me to trace the relationship between what she said and what I heard. What was I suppose to think with a strange pretty lady leaning into my ear and asking a question in a seductive whisper?
'What?' every strand of hair on my body was alert to decipher the question.
'Can I cumwivya?' heck! This was an offer. Why?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to say that I don’t have what it takes to make hearts flutter but a pretty girl asking to follow you home within two sentences of meeting you just did not seem like it happens to Brad Pitt on your regular cold Tuesday afternoon. My alarm bells went up, as well as something else - to be honest. Just how far was she willing to go?
'Actually I live in Wigan. I am going to Victoria to catch a train to Wigan.'
Oh.' Her balloon lessened a bit. Not that far. That was the end of that I supposed and wondered if I had missed my bus in that minute of excited anticipation.
'Cud u give m two pounsfer luonch?' Again into my ear but this time, slowly.
The words 'two pounds' and lunch were distinct. I got it and stiffened. So here was the catch. But hold up just one minute. I looked her over. Why would a girl looking like the runner up of Miss Manchester beauty contest beg for money.
'I’m reli hungre.'
I did not have any change on me - just my dear ten pound note- else I would have just given her right away and gotten rid of her. It would have saved my legs if I had. An idea invaded my brain like a virus and muddled my thinking. I would usually think twice before offering to take a lady whom I had only just met, to lunch. There had to be more to her than the sexy figure and strong accent. My invitation was not altogether selfless though. I worked out that if I took her to eat, she would do the ordering and I would get to eat as well. And if it was two pounds for her food, why, I would have six pounds left after a meal for both of us - enough for the bus and change.
She jumped to her feet before I did, beckoned that I follow and walked away. She walked fast and I followed as best I could.
I was puzzled when she flitted past the refectory. If she understood when I pointed out this fact to her, I did not get her explanation to why we could not stop there. She was prattling like an m-16. Too fast to follow let alone understand. My alarm bells just clinked once and I steadied them. As long as she kept to where there were enough people to hear when there was a 'HELP!' scream, I felt safe. The conclusion I chose to arrive at was that she must have someplace where she usually takes lunch. Someplace that would cost two pounds for good food.
The bells clinked again when we stopped before a teenage boy with a spiky hairdo just standing on the pavements behind a huge poster. He had tickets in his hand. They had a brief exchange and the boy seemed pleased. To think that I was right there, they spoke English and I did not catch a word - my! Turns out that she wanted me to buy a red ticket from the boy to get change for my ten pounds. I couldn’t remember telling her about my ten pound note. Well, I thought, maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. I mean, how much would a red ticket cost? A couple of pennies at the most I presumed and handed over my ten pounds to the boy. He put a hand in his back pockets, sorted out change and put it, and a red ticket, in my outstretched hand. First things first. I checked how much I had in my hand; one...two...five...six, seven...what da..? Eight pounds? This…thing cost two whole pounds? I checked to see just how worth it the red ticket was – a ‘buy one get one free’ alcoholic drink voucher - Revolution bar I think it was. The thing is I DON’T DRINK! Two pounds wasted. Before I had the time to lament my loss and complain my situation, she locked our arms together and led me into this restaurant. I did not trust the coziness. No students about, hmmm. We sauntered to the bar. I made up my mind that if the food was more than four pounds, I would turn around and leave. Courtesy be damned.
The only problem was that I was not in control. She was. To see her talk with those behind the counter, one would think they were buddies from way back. Someone must have cracked a joke because they all threw their heads back and laughed loud while I stood like a brazen statue, feeling like a dog at the end of a leash whose owner had stopped to chat with friends. I listened for figures mentioned. None was mentioned. Instead the man at the bar handed me a small round black object.
'Ere u go mae.'
'What for?' she had her arms in mine before the man had a chance to answer, and led me to an empty table. What in the world was going on? She gave me the stop signal in answer to my quizzical look. 'What is going on?' Another stop signal. Just then the black object in my hand came to life. Light shone from within it.
'O’ food is ridy.' she rose to her feet, walked to the bar and signaled in a rather frantic manner that I join her. I joined her. Two plates of hotdogs, salad and something else were on the counter. 'Cud we ave tiplease' She turned to me. 'Or wu yu ave cafee?' I made out the words 'tea' and 'coffee' out of her sentences and understood what she had said. The only thing I could think of was how much it was all worth.
'Cfee or ti mae?' This from the barman.
'.....tea' I only answered mechanically, not to seem rude. He slammed two cups of tea on the counter soon after. I watched intently as he punched the cash machine in front of him. The girl beside me exchanged a joke with him. They chuckled.
'Seven fifty mae.' He said at the end of his mirth. I looked at the cause of my immediate woe and vaporized her. The sweetest smile was on her face. I dipped my hands in my pockets and surrendered my bus ride to the barman. He had the change ready. I wasn't fast enough. Another hand took the coin from his. I could only sigh when she slipped it into her pockets. At the table, I hinted her that there was absolutely no penny on me and that meant I was stranded.
'Don u ave a bancard or sompfthin?'
I had not even heard of the term 'bank card' before and I told her as much. She waved me off airily and dug into her food. What in heavens name had I gotten myself into? My appetite vanished and I picked at my food while watching her masticate hers with relish and going on about how she was desperately searching for a job. Would that she kept mute for just one minute, I might have been able to give my predicament some thought and figure a way out instead I engaged my analytical faculties in following what she was on about. I could not understand why she would not shut up when it was so clear there wasn't a conversation going on. She finished every morsel on her plate then dug into mine. To the on looker, two lovers sharing a meal. What hideous crime had I committed to be punished thus? I wondered.
Lunch ended and we went outside. I stood, trying to figure a way out of my broke. She stood with me. I looked at her again. My hunger had lessened enough for me to appreciate her beauty. It wasn't going to help me at the moment. I really just wanted her to disappear.
'You don even knowmi name.'
Get lost lady
'What is your name?'
I told her mine - anything to get her to leave.
'will I see y' agin tomaro?'
'I don’t know if I will come to Manchester tomorrow.’ I said, looking out for cars on the road so I could cross at a moment's notice. She must have sensed my detachment.
'Don You wano see me agin?'
'Sure I do'
'Gimme y'number, ya, so I c'n call.'
'I don’t have a phone.' This was not a lie.
'Well heres mi number gimme a call ya?' I took the torn off sheet of paper from her, studied the numbers for her sake and squeezed it into my pocket.
'Bye now.' She leaned in and kissed a cheek.
'Bye.' I watched her walk away. Nice backside. Perhaps it would have all been worth it if I had gotten into her pants.
If I learnt anything from that experience, it was that it takes a little under two hours to trek to Victoria station from Oxford road. My poor legs were wobbly when I arrived. Thank God I had eaten enough to give me the strength. I had a return ticket to Wigan so my journey back was assured. A new challenge, however, loomed ahead of me. I usually take the bus from the train station in Wigan to my house. It is a further trek than the one I had just made. My legs wouldn't survive it.
When we arrived, I saw the answer to my problems at the bus stop outside the train station. She was seated on the bench leafing through a book. Young, blonde and beautiful. Every other person around was standing. Typical.
I occupied the space on the bench beside her.
She looked up from her reading with a somewhat quizzical look on her face.
I usually don’t do this but this time I really had no choice.
'I am in a bit of a fix here and I am wondering if you could give me two pounds for my bus fare home.' I watched her eyes turn cold and she got up without saying a word and walked away. Although I had spoken in hushed tones, too many had been too close. Eyes turned to look at me. The ground wouldn't open up and swallow me.
As I put one foot in front of another in the direction of home, I reflected on the blonde's behavior and chose not to blame her. Who knows what would have happened to her if she had helped this complete stranger that had come to sit beside her at a bus stop and asked for two pounds? Wise girl.
I put my hands in my pockets to keep them warm and felt the piece of paper in which Shantell had written her number. I wrenched it out of my pockets, crumpled it and threw it on the pavement.