The traffic lights turn red. We’re stopped again in a symposium of trenchant spray and a palette of greys, punctured only by the vitality of the spring’s green shooting reluctantly. I only dwell on it now that we’re so close to escaping it, albeit only for a short while.
‘Look at the state of that.’
‘State of what?’
‘That there. Fucking minging. The pair of them.’
‘Don’t point at them! Oh yeah. Gorgeous. Sexy as fuck.’
‘Haha…are they heading to the chippy? At half eleven in the morning!’
‘Well, at least they’re walking to get it.’
‘Ha! Pathetic that, isn’t it? Ewwww, all that flab, her hoodie barely covers it.’
‘Mind the GAP.’
‘Ahhh right, it’s a GAP hoodie.’
‘It’s ironic as she certainly doesn’t have a thigh gap.’
‘Ohhhwww, hahaha, boom-tish. Nicely done.’
‘Yeah I have my moments.’
‘Fuck, they’re staring back at us now.’
‘Oh bollocks…stop staring back at them!’
‘Shit, they’re walking towards us!’
The lights turn green and we flee the scene. There’s a dual relief, in having had a conversation which only the privacy of trust can afford, and from being able to get away from our propensity for bitchy vulgarity, which, when aligned with a gaudy source, is easily induced.
‘Why do people allow themselves to get like that?’
‘Gonna stop fucking dwelling on it! You’re like that fascist diet woman on the telly, Gillian, eh, what’s her face?’
‘Fuck off. Am not.’
‘We’re well up the road now and you’re still on about it. Why?’
‘I dunno, it just bothered me?’
‘Why would it bother you?’
‘They’re just disgusting.’
‘You worried about getting fat?’
‘Oh Fuck off. Stop trying to be so right on.’
‘Look, some people just don’t give a toss about it, they’re ugly, or they think they are, so they just think, fuck this, there’s no point in trying.’
‘But they don’t see it that way. They might look at us, at normal folk and think we’re trapped by vanity, that we’re miserable because of it. Bottom line, you do what suits you, you live how you want. End of.’
I loathe the agony of my gauche silence after partaking in a futile argument that goes nowhere. They’re the most frustrating. It’s the kind that I’m always eager to win, because they’re usually the most difficult to. I seem to have lost this one. He’s talking sense and he’s had the last word…for now.
Before we head to the ASDA to pick up some bits and pieces for the holiday, he needs to do some ‘banking’, that is to say he’s depositing two cheques, one a premium bonds win, the other a sizable tax rebate. He insists on it doing this physically. It transcends the understandable complex of the sceptical pensioner with an aversion to technology; it’s a simple distrust of others and a dislike of processes and procedures he feels he cannot control. Speaking of things he can’t control, I’d be lying if I didn’t already have that money spent – scuba diving with giant turtles for a start. I’ve promised them, them being my Facebook ‘friends’, we’ll try to get some underwater turtle selfies taken. Social media has increased the scope for us to be pressurised us into making complicated or unique pledges that are likely to be popular or interesting. Sure, it’s a method of acquiring self-assurance that our lives are valued through vicariousness, but who cares? At least we’ll be ones actually on holiday swimming with turtles.
‘You just gonna wait here?’
‘Dunno, I might get a donut from the deli’
He raises a supercilious eyebrow. I notice it, but give no reaction, which quickly resets his features and renders him silent.
I enter the bank, there’s a queue of at least a dozen. There are three service desks, but only one is occupied by a teller, the result of the convenience of online banking and the inconvenience of the pre-lunch rush merging to my disadvantage. My thoughts begin to wander at the process that’s to come; the stress of packing, the arguments we’ll have over various trivialities, of making a conscious effort to live in the moment, and trying to forlornly cling to the idea that that’s possible. I try to focus on it how good it will feel at that optimum moment, sometime between twenty-four and forty-eight hours after we’ve landed and checked in, where we’ll still be elated that the whole holiday is still in front of us. Perhaps the anticipation in the days and hours before you depart is the best part? Even now I’m imagining how warm it will be, how we’ll be able to relax, of not having to worry about being late for work for a bit, or what to make for dinner and whose turn it is, of not having to manage the finances and pay the bills. But, I know, after roughly a week or so, the inclination towards these routines will permeate our behaviour on holiday. It’s a pre-emptive method of self-conditioning to cope with the return to normalcy. Yet as the departure day draws closer it doesn’t prevent you from contemplating how depressed you’ll be when you’re physically returned to another year of drudgery. Holidays are the weekend syndrome elongated: if you’re lucky a holiday provides you with residual hope that you can cope through another year of counting the hours until Friday, then the weekend flashes by and Monday’s alarm clock murders it. Thoughts of the future are broken by the present, as the person ahead of me in the queue shuffles further forwards.
Exiting the car a cold blasting gust manages to penetrate my bountiful and robust layers of clothing, it feels like February not late April, hopefully it’ll be warmer when we return to reduce the shock. Immediately I encounter a short wispy man with abrasive skin and a prominent tongue trotting down the street. He catches my eye in a disconcertingly trite manner that would seem threatening if not for his stature.
‘You got the time?’
‘Quarter to twelve.’
‘Quarter eh twelve?’
‘Yeah, half past, what time did you think it was?’
I watch him scamper off in the distance with a frantic gait that’s childlike in its obliviousness, while gingerly using the inner sleeves of my jacket to wipe away the exocets of mini-spittle that sprayed from his wet mouth onto my front. I begin to wonder what he’s late for, wondering why and how he’s come to be as defective as he patently is, and if I’ll even remember him two days from now. Looking through the window of the bakery the pastries are neatly laid out in a resplendent formation. I can taste the rich buttery taste of a Danish pastry with strawberry icing, the decadent sweetness of Millionaire shortbread and the softness of chocolate donuts. On holiday they will all be mine.
As the clock approaches midday another teller appears and the queue shortens considerably. I feel a biting draft on my back that signals the entrance door has been opened, I turn and smile at her robustly and unnaturally, she smirks and offers a sarcastically disapproving shake of her head as she joins me in the queue.
‘So have you already eaten that donut?’
‘No, I showed restraint. I looked at them longingly through the window.’
His smirk is disapproving, hopefully it’s because he can’t think of a good retort.
‘Just wait in the car, should only be a couple of minutes here.’
‘Okay, just got bored waiting thinking about donuts, plus I thought you might be sticking the place up.’
‘You’re lying about resisting the donuts, aren’t you?’
Just as I pull open the door I’m forced back by an outstretched arm and the significant weight behind it. A cold hollow tube is then pressed against my forehead, before I’m pushed towards the wall and I fall on my back. He rushes over and helps me up to my feet.
‘Don’t fucking move!’
‘Right, everyone stay still, we’re only here for the cash.’
‘You. Fill that.’
‘Most of the money’s in the safe.’
‘Go and fucking get it then.’
‘I’ll have to go…go into the back.’
‘Fine. Try anything and you colleague here gets it, okay – go.’
‘Everybody remain still against the wall, you there. You! Throw your phone on the floor.’
‘Everything calm over there?’
‘Fill it. Hurry up. Fucking quicker!’
Only now do I notice the one minding us is a woman, and she’s wearing a Gap hoodie, and it’s the exact same colour as the one worn by that fat woman we saw in the street earlier. My eye catches hers, she aims her shotgun at us and stares at me intently until I relent, look down and grip him tighter.
‘Everyone get down and stay down. Let’s get outta here…c’mon.’
‘Look at what?’
‘It’s them, in the car – from before.’
‘But they’ve seen our faces.’
I look at her.
I look at him.
We look at them as they look at each other with entranced stares, then they turn to face us. All you can do is live in the moment, as they’re doing, as they’ve probably been doing for years.
© Niall Cullen (2014)