Out of time
Johnstone/Out of time/1
Scanning the rest of the empty cafe from his seat by the window Deigh, an overstayer from the more rule observant pre midnight clientele that visited this particular allnighter, prepared himself for the vagaries of a less inhibited tribe that would inevitably wash up as the night progressed. Behind the counter a change of shift had already taken place, the newcomer representing a build more able to withstand the alternative demands that this new demographic was likely to offer. Deigh swilled around the contents of his coffee cup, unsure whether to order another, the flavour insignificant enough that it could go either way. Moving his bags to a less visible position on the seat next to him, he considered how few possessions he now owned. Apart from what he stood up in, the inventory, should it ever be necessary for someone, some authority maybe to write down, was held mostly between three bags. Two medium sized black leather backpacks and a laptop type satchel. The backpacks held a mixture of casual and smart clothing, nice pieces, or so he liked to think. The laptop satchel, unremarkably, a laptop, along with headphones, various chargers, his passport and birth certificate. Amongst these items hid an envelope containing a couple of photos and three crayon drawings. The artwork by the hand of the child in the photographs, completed at various intervals in a young life. The first of the three had been drawn, Deigh surmised, at an age of about three years old when the inclusion of a body wasn’t a deal breaker by its absence. Just an upturned mouth that challenged the outline of an oversized head over stick legs. The word, Daddy sloped off at an angle as it shrunk in size to a hurried finish at the edge of the page. Deigh knew for certain that he hadn’t been the intended
Johnstone/Out of time/2
recipient at the time it was completed, but for him that did nothing to diminish the importance of this small, precious item when eventually he received it. Accompanied by the other two slightly more accomplished examples, that it was clear had been completed some years later. He was the biological father and that was enough to sustain him through this renewed search. With a new sense of vulnerability possibly forged by the connection with these threads from his past, he slid the five items back into the envelope, along with a little piece of his conscience. His Tag Heuer Carrera watch, a relic from another lifetime, reflected back a slither of light from the strip above. He pulled down the cuff of his flight jacket not wanting to advertise here the item that he had recently thought long and hard about pawning in order to fund this new life. If he were honest with himself he knew for the last ten days or so he’d just been treading water, getting acclimatised before the emotional onslaught of what he hoped to encounter had time to test just how prepared he really was. In the process of getting started on this road, between the errands that he had to commit to, this particular cafe had been a place he returned to on many occasions. In some way an immersion into a different reality to the one he was used to, a way, or so he believed, to test the water. Though often losing himself to snippets of other people’s lives along the way. Stifling an involuntary laugh, he remembered the first morning he’d sat in this same seat, when on that occasion he had been on the receiving end of a buffeting that had sent his coffee lapping into its glass saucer. While turning in his chair and being marginally annoyed by this intrusion into his latest retrospective, he’d pulled aside his hand painted seat to provide a little more room for the newcomers. The volume around him suddenly all enveloping. A young
Johnstone/Out of time/3
woman had nodded an apology in his direction, as she steered her pushchair and two young, squawking children into the space behind. An old lady, a morphed likeness of the younger one but with fifty years more milage on the clock, had taken the seat opposite her. Deigh trying to mind his own business had turned his attention back to what was left of his coffee, while the volume of their conversation had left him with no choice but to listen. ‘Fucking how much,.......for cheese on bleeding toast……….fucking liberty’. ‘Nan…….please don’t keep swearing around the boy, ees started reception school now, eel start repeating it there’. ‘Well tell im ee fucking cant’. ‘Nan ………. Shut The Fuck Up!’.
To distract himself from the domestic taking place behind him Deigh had picked up a yellowing copy of the previous days newspaper from an adjoining table, the fading headlines remind him that things hadn’t changed all that much in the ten years that he’d been living abroad. The bruised and blackened image of an old pensioner stared out from a cup ringed page. Pain and confusion lay etched into his broken face. A final beating perhaps, never to be explained. The rest of the page also contained stories that may have been recycled from the previous decade,..... impending strike by NHS workers, MP lobbying scandal, MOD cutbacks. His attention suddenly drawn to an unsympathetic mugshot, a picture of someone that Deigh thought he’d recognised. Ten years of good food and wine though had pumped him up, now almost a spitting image type caricature of his former self. The MP for Brighton Kemptown, Timothy Palling now appeared less eligible bachelor or the man about town as Deigh thought he remembered him. Now more career politician. In fact he’d made it all the way to Secretary of
Johnstone/Out of time/4
State for Business, Innovation and Skills, as described in the article beneath his unflattering photo. The article went on to describe how he would be, ‘delighted to welcome, this coming month, his Russian counterpart, Alexei Kadyrov, as part of a new trade deal between our two great nations. In recent times we have often been at odds with each other, but it is clear that a common ground has been identified and we are now entering a period of realignment. As a result of the less than sympathetic murmurings from the new administration in America, who it appears have lost interest in the special relationship our two countries used to enjoy, new links with established and emerging economies must be forged’. The headlines seemed to echo Deigh’s own transient existence, he’d left the UK. without a plan and returned a decade later in the same state. His job prospects and living arrangements were presently enjoying the same level of uncertainty. On a more positive note he was happy to admit, his relationship status continued to be more notional.
Through the open door, muffled cries of squabbling seagulls and impatient traffic queuing in both directions along the coast road, played a familiar sound track. One that had accompanied much of Deigh’s life growing up on the south coast. Now that he was attempting repatriation, although a little further west, the coast remained a fascination for him, it’s randum metamorphic nature had captured his imagination at an early age. Almost mediterranean on a rare but perfect summer’s day, shades of blue, the pallet against which he’d witnessed the colourful people at play. On a winter’s day, discoloured with Icelandic greys, often a portent to an unsympathetic terror lying just out of sight.
Johnstone/Out of time/5
Before the obligatory melancholy of a Sunday evening caught up with him once again Deigh decided to divide his time between some long walks around the area and in preparation for work. A job he’d fortuitously lucked into, as opposed to one obtained through the usual job search method. During the previous week he had found himself sitting in a town centre bar, having the capacity to admire his well coordinated neighbours, pretending at the same time not to eavesdrop on their conversations. Unsolicited, one story in particular demanded his unqualified suffered a morning of trailing from one council building to the next. Registering once more as a
UK. citizen, even though born and bred there, was more difficult than he had anticipated. Living outside of the UK. for just over a decade in sunnier climes, had made the process of repatriation complicated. He was being treated with caution by each department he encountered. He began to feel more and more as if he were some kind of returning extremist rather than just a confused expat. In the midst of this ordeal, and he would be the first to admit that this was often his default setting to a stressful situation, he stumbled off to a bar. A slightly more upmarket venue than one he would normally have chosen. Once inside he quickly ordered, finding a seat amongst other thirsty visitors, all of whom seem fashionably well healed. He sat, although ill at ease he retained appraisal. Sitting rather closer within the boundaries of his personal space than he would have usually been happy with, was the comfortable looking figure of a Cromby clad middle aged Jewish looking businessman, his companion a Russian giant, wearing the obligatory tight fitting leather jacket. The essence of the conversation between them, was that they had somehow lost a
Johnstone/Out of time/6
driver and would quickly have to replace him, or next week was going to be a problem. At this point Deigh decides on a clumsy intervention, quickly offering his services as a driver, explaining that, he was new to the area and was looking for a job. A look of menace from the Russian quickly cuts him off mid flow. The Jewish looking gentleman undeterred considers Deigh for a moment, showing off his Rolex with an exuberant shake of the wrist, the high value timepiece catching both light and attention. In his warm east London accent he makes it clear, ‘that listening in to other people’s conversations could be potentially bad for your health’. His gold toothed smile appearing both friendly and threatening, with little pretence at either. As Deigh prepares to make his excuses and leave the Russian grips his knee, an immovable force insisting that he stay put. ‘You looking for a job then, ….. any experience, driving?’. Quickly Deigh nods and then again, indicating a yes to both questions. ‘Do you have any other commitments, family or anything that may be a problem to you working away from home?’. Deigh provides an economical shake of the head, offering a rather weak sounding, ‘no’, the circulation in his leg beginning to be a problem. Having exchanged a look with his associate and an almost imperceptible nod, the cromby clad member of the duo instructs Deigh to report to their depot on Monday at 8am. and be ready to drive. Delivered with the same mix of warmth and menace that over the years Deigh had begun to recognise as a trait of powerful, but all too often damaged men. Despite this internal warning he accepted the invitation, a mistake even he would recognise, but a predisposition of his lack of risk aversion. Buoyed by this upturn in a potential financial opportunity it somehow didn’t seem prudent to bother them with any further
Johnstone/Out of time/7
details of the employment contract.The meeting over, Deigh steps in the direction that the Russian had helpfully indicated, his big head and practiced intimidatory stare encouraging a way out of the bar and back into a diluted Autumn sunshine. This was his first meeting with Mr. Adam Levi (real name), an individual that in another life may have become a friend and Mr. Vasily Aleyev (one of many real names), in any life would always be a menacing bastard. Back on the pavement Deigh had taken a couple of deep breaths to reset his heart rate after this sudden upturn in his financial outlook, the cooler more northerly air reminded him that Barcelona now seemed a lifetime away, even though his skin was yet to return to its original blue/white hue. The days of running test cars between Germany and southern Spain were over. The finality of this silent contemplation no longer in doubt as Deigh continued to consider what else had been cut from his life. Ten years of smiling through a German windscreen, with just the right hair, the right sun shades, the right amount of swagger, all gone. Along with the rest of his ‘companeros’ he’d convinced himself that, not only had they looked the part but they deserved the lifestyle that accompanied it. The German supercars that they flashed past each other in, were theirs for a while. When in fact, a nice fully loaded golf was closer to their particular pay grade. A flat in Barcelona, just off Carrer de Valencia, a base from which they tested the patience of the most accommodating bar owners of the city. Along La Rambla, Passeig de Gracia, Plaza Catalunya, Port Vell, just a few of the locations from which the party was asked politely, on more
Johnstone/Out of time/8
than one occasion, to leave after over celebrating another British sporting victory, a birthday, anniversary or whatever the bloody excuse had been. Being away from home, the troops felt obliged to put more effort into the celebrations, perhaps to retain some identity. On reflection, beneath the facade, he began to accept the fact that in reality they all missed home, more than they had been ready to admit. But the party couldn’t end, or that was what they had kept telling each other, ‘Dare to Dream’, the mantra repeated with every raised glass, new club, new girl. But the party did end and quickly, when the white stuff replaced the brown stuff, and hit the fan. On this occasion the fan inside of a shiny new Porsche Carrera S. as it flew backwards off the road and into a long lived Spanish fir. Although nothing to do with Deigh or the car he was driving at the time, he had been present in the convoy. The Spanish police were only slightly more accepting of their contrived version of events that led to the incident, than they knew the owners of the substance would be. The troops scattered, ‘Dream’ over.