I have been sitting in the same seat in the same café now for about 8 years. That’s how long I have been in this adopted home town of mine. A lot has happened in that time. I have fallen in love for the very first time, had my heartbroken, found a wonderful place to live and lost it, had a nice car and a motorbike and lost those too. I’ve made friends and found a new job. I’ve managed to keep the friends. I’ve had to deal with both parents passing away too. I spent 4 years studying, working and qualifying in a very professional field, which took just about all of my spare time and life savings. This is the tip of the iceberg, there are a lot more stories and events. Like I said, a lot has happened here.
I’m playing a game….. There are a set of stairs and a lift entrance just off to my left and they lead up to a multi-storey carpark above the annoying, flickering neon lights over my head. It’s not a pretty place to sit, there are much nicer places to sit all within about 100 meters of my current position, but I am my Mothers Son. I’m sat in a covered walkway between an early 1980’s shopping centre and a bus station in the South of England. As a child my Mum would always use the same café to sit and watch the world go by. She’d drink tea and smoke an Embassy number 1 while resting her weary shopping bag supporting arms. She was a creature of habit – I am a creature of habit, I am my Mothers Son. She would watch people through the huge circular glass windows in that covered, sloping walkway and always smile and say hello to a constant flow of incoming customers, before grabbing the hood of my snorkel parka jacket and bringing me back to the table with a jolt. All these years later and I too have found my café, it too has a covered walkway, the only differences being, I don’t have a hyper active child to watch, I don’t smoke and I always sit outside. I drink tea and sometimes eat scrambled eggs on brown, and in-between my reading and studying at this table, I watch the stairs and the lift door just off to my left, for my little game.
There are two types of people in my game. Sharp suits worn daily and not so sharp suits worn for the day. Part of my job in this game, is to guess which ones are going to work in the courtroom and which ones are the ‘courtroom customers’. They always get to the bottom of the steps, (or step out of the lift doors) and take three or four paces forward then look left and right up and down the badly lit, covered walkway that houses my café, a key cutting shop, a hairdresser and a nail bar. The carpet in this walkway was only laid down to stop people slipping on their arse and injuring themselves when it rains, and it’s dark grey colour was chosen so as to not show the dirt from thousands of daily passing feet. It darkens the entire corridor with its monotonous grey gloom. This is the reason the annoying, flickering neon lights above my head were installed. They always stop dead, look at their smart phones and try to work out which way to the Courts. Part two of my game is to guess who’ll get it right. Left leads to the bus station and out onto the open road, everybody is going that way. Right leads deeper down into the 1980’s brickwork, dank grey carpet and toward a cut price chemist shop and what appears to be a dead end. 80% of them turn left – the wrong way. 10% of them get it right and take the path that leads them initially toward the ‘dead end’. 10% of them walk sheepishly over to me sat at my table, usually full of books and tea cups and ask. I mostly get it right which way they’ll go, I have been doing this for years, 8 years.
The majority of people get it wrong and they walk toward what looks like an open town centre and lots of people. In fact, it’s heaving with buses, school children, grannies with push carts and the vehicular entrance and exit to the carpark they have just left their pride and joy in for £2.80 per hour – no change given. It’s mayhem and it’s the opposite direction to the courts, but it looks good. The minority of them look down into the corridor of gloom and a flow of people that are all heading in the opposite direction, but they have conviction (or blind faith in Google Maps) and they stride directly toward the courts. Only 20 meters down the dimly lit, badly floored, soon to be demolished walkway they turn left and are greeted by an opening and beautiful daylight, a bustling, friendly little market and the courthouse just a few footsteps beyond the butchers stall. The ones that usually come and ask me are the ‘courtroom customer’ types of about my age wearing the same suit/dress that they wore to Aunt Peggy’s funeral in 2015. They don’t smile until I do, and then they step off toward their day in court with my directions still fresh in their 30 seconds of short term memory. The seat opposite me on ‘my’ table is empty. It was once regularly occupied by the only woman I have ever loved, and I still do.
I won’t have to park in the carpark, I won’t have to come down those steps. I can walk to the court when my day comes and I’ll try not to wear the suit that I wore for my Dads funeral. My bankruptcy application has been approved. I am now a BKT********* number on a Government insolvency form.
I’ve had better days, but sometimes you have to stride into the dark to find the light. I’m tightening the laces in my shoes.