Stay out of his way...He sat down at the greasy table in the noisy cafeteria like a man being made to perch on a filthy lavatory seat. Scowling, he wiped the surface area with some tissue, doing the cleaners work for them. Too late – his shirt cuffs were already stained with tomato ketchup, and was that chewing gum beneath his bottom? What kind of mindless folk left their chewing gum on a cafeteria seat?
He didn’t even bother to stand up and look. He was fast losing interest in anything and everything happening to him. He was becoming numb. The numbness (occasionally, flittingly) was broken by short manic fits of erratic, barely containable rage.
A radio blared from speakers on the ceiling: Downturn. Deficit. Cuts. Radio 4, early morning, was the undisputed king for ramming the recession down his throat. They would have whole interviews, running concurrently, about nothing else. Other stations, despite having crud music, would at least only vaguely mention the latest belt-tightening Conservative measure in the public sector before jamming some boy band blast from the past.
It’s 7.36am. You’re listening to David Cameron pledging to pull so many umpteen billion from the poor and the destitute. It’s 7.41am. This is John Humphries describing just how bad things are really gunna get. It’s 7.46am…
Why did that buggering Humphries and every other morning ‘DJ’ insist on telling him the goddamn time every couple of minutes? What possible reason warranted such accurate reporting of the clock?
Did they tell him the time when he was tossing and turning in sleepless anxiety, late at night? Of course not. You couldn’t water-board the time out of them, when you were actually curious to know. It was a morning thing. It was a get-yourself-to-work thing.
7.51am. The time is 7.56am.
You never heard the word million anymore. It was all about the billions now. How much was a billion, anyway? Was it a hundred million, or was it a thousand million? Surely nothing in this world could cost thousands of millions, not even a gold-cast of Elvis Presley's didgeridoo. How did anybody keep track of such large sums? Did they keep track?
Downturn. Deficit. Cuts.
He worked too hard, and for too long, yet still he had to think twice about boiling an egg. Were the government transitioning to cheap sandwiches and bus rides? Were they spreading the same wardrobe over a number of seasons? He doubted it.
“You, get me a hot water!” he barked at the nearest waiter, fishing in his breast pocket for sachets of coffee and sugar, stolen from another cafe.
The waiter returned five minutes later to explain that they could no longer give out hot water. He would have to purchase tea or coffee.
“You what?” He went to stand but was slowed by the gum fixing his pants to the chair. “Get me the manager then.”
The waitress suppressed a grin.
She thinks I’m pathetic, he thought, like every other woman.
The manager, a doppelganger for his unpitying bank manager, put him in his place. To add to the humiliation, he was instructed to leave, whether he was willing to purchase a hot drink or not.
He stood, red-faced. Two builders enjoying a full English pointed and chuckled at the chewy on his pants, so he removed them right there on the cafeteria floor, baring his white hairy legs all to see. Enough of this conforming, wearing clothes. Now, from the waist down, he was all Y-fronts, white two-stripe socks, and shiny black winkle picker shoes.
He put his hands up to the manager like a boxer, dancing on his toes. “You want a go, huh? You wanna piece of me? You think re-mortgaging my house makes me a coward?”
The manager shook his head and punched 999 on his mobile.
He waited for the police to arrive before jumping through the wall-to-ceiling cafeteria window, like a stuntman crazy for adrenalin in his spare time. The noise and the mess was incredible. Bloodied-kneed, he dusted himself off and waited by the patrol car.
Criminal damage charges? Big deal. Never mind downturn. It was the downfall that was now well and truly underway.
Cam Lee gets a lot of questions about the women who work in his establishment. Are they his sisters, his cousins, his girlfriends…? “I sell chips,” he says, “not services. The girls are good for business, however. We have a certain number of regular customers who seem to know when the girls are working and always come in at the same time, to chat them up.”