Monday 3rd November
Last night Mei’s mother cooked prawn fried rice. It was lovely, though I’ve had enough of soy sauce infused whatever lately. I think I’ll go to McDonald’s on my way home from work later. I really want a burger. If I were a woman I’d think I was pregnant by the way I’m craving some of their flat Big Macs.
Then I realise. Today is Trafford Centre day. No Big Macs for me today after all.
Time to waste the day not buying anything.
Mei and her mother took over the TV last night so I tried to get further into a book I’ve been reading: To Kill a Mockingbird – my pitiful attempt at being cultured.
I noticed last night that Mei’s mum has developed this habit of standing at the front window and opening a gap in the blinds to watch people as they pass. I can imagine how crazy she looks to those people. I wonder if that’s partly what sets Jason off at times. But I’ll be the last person she will listen to, so I just tried and blot her out with the book.
Right now I’m sitting outside the meals depot staring at the shutters. Before I head inside to collect my box, I text Harold to tell him I won’t see him later as we’re going Christmas shopping and then I head in and wait while Tim and Tom do their thing.
Agatha comes out of her office. I cringe. I know she’s going to talk to me.
She extends her long and bony index finger and coils it in her direction. She wants me there. I pretend I haven’t seen her. ‘Lee Mercer. Get into my office.’
She heads in and waits.
I don’t move at first. I stand frozen.
Then she shouts, ‘Bring today’s round sheet with you.’
I look at the other drivers and they look back with added sorrow. I half expect them to place their hands on their hearts and stand in silence for a fallen comrade.
Agatha closes the door and I stay within reach of it. There are two chairs in here and I don’t sit on either of them. I can make a faster escape if I don’t.
It seems like she wants to make me feel the most uncomfortable ever. She decides to stand at the door, blocking me in this mini jail cell. Like prey trapped in her cage.
She speaks first.
‘I’m taking you off Leyland.’ She drops another sheet on the desk.
I pick it up. It’s for the Longton round.
‘I don’t understand.’
She smiles. ‘Of course you don’t. You can barely comprehend when I tell you not to get involved.’
I don’t say anything.
She says to me, ‘We’ve had a complaint. Someone on the Leyland round doesn’t want you delivering to them any longer. I won’t say who, so don’t ask.’ She opens the door.
It has to be Mrs Mellor. The police probably went round and she realised it was me. Shit. I look over the Longton round in my hand. ‘I don’t know this round.’
‘It’s easy. You’ll pick it up.’
I drop the Leyland sheet on her desk and leave the office red faced in silence.
Now I feel worse than ever. This round will take me longer because I’m unfamiliar with it and then I need to hurry home and go shopping. I want to go and speak to her. I’m only trying to help, yet I feel like the bad guy. I think this time I’ll respect her wishes and just leave her alone. But I’ve said that before.
I promise myself that I won’t do a thing about it.
It’s just those lines on her arm and the cut on her head that bother me. I sigh. I’m sure the police will have done something about it.
I like Longton. It’s a nice little village. The round covers the other villages in the area. I’ve always thought that if I had the money I would move here.
Every single client asks me where the usual driver is and I have to say that there’s been a shift around. Some look disappointed while others couldn’t give a shit if the meal was dropped down their chimney.
It takes me over two hours to complete the round and my stomach is rumbling. Like an idiot I ignore it and head home. I could get used to this round I suppose. Nobody gets too chatty, which means there’s less more me to do wrong. For as long as I live I don’t think I’ll forget Mrs Mellor and her problems and how I didn’t help her in the way I wanted to.
Just move on, Lee. Christmas is coming up. Albeit with a darkness hanging over it.
When I get home Mei and her mum are waiting for me. They’re impatient. They could have gotten the train and gone without me. Mei always likes the Arndale better than the Trafford Centre anyway. A train to Piccadilly would only take forty minutes or so. But no. I have to go with them.
‘Where have you been?’ Mei asks in her lightest angry tone possible.
I tell her about being moved rounds on Mrs Mellor’s request and her mood changes from impatient to sympathetic. Then she tells me off for interfering.
Please don’t turn into Agatha.
Twenty minutes later we’re on the M6 heading onto the M61 towards Manchester under a glimpsing sun and everyone in the car looks excited. Everyone but me. I just hope that the Christmas rush hasn’t started yet. I know it will be busier than normal, I just hope it’s not the ridiculously hazardous obstacle course it sometimes is. The Trafford Centre is busy at the best of times.
I find a space not too far from John Lewis, but not as close as I would like. I try to put a good spin on it and tell myself it’s more exercise, but who am I kidding? Right now I just want to curl up into a ball and lock myself away from the rest of the world. I just can’t understand the Mrs Mellor saga. I keep seeing Agatha’s smug smile as she told me of the complaint.
I really don’t feel like shopping.
I try to put on a brave face for Mei. She loves this time of year. Although her mum’s not really interested in Christmas, she is in awe at the Christmas decorations. It might only be the beginning of November, but Christmas is only weeks away.
As I’m hungry and they’ve not eaten yet, we head for the food court. The last time we came we went to a Korean restaurant and I hated it. The food looked the same as its picture when it arrived but the waitress put some sort of disgusting sauce all over it. Mei said that’s what I ordered. I’d rather eat my own toenails.
No. I just want a pizza or something. Then I see it. The holy grail of fast food: McDonald’s. It’s shining at me like a gift from heaven. Junk food is junk food, but not when you crave it. Then it becomes ambrosia.
I tell them I’ll meet them on one of the shared seats in the middle area while they get whatever they want.
Fifteen minutes later I’m wolfing down big mouthfuls of burger and gherkin in a sesame seed bun. The fries are salted to perfection. I ordered water with it. Got to watch my belly. That’s a joke if I ever heard one.
Mei and her mum sit down with something from the noodle bar.
I feel better now there’s something in my belly, though I still don’t fancy shopping. I don’t say it out loud. I’ll just have to try my best.
The high point of the day is when I get to buy a new game, much to her mother’s disapproval. I don’t care. I need something to cheer me up. It may be childish but losing myself in a game world is better than the real one right now. Even To Kill a Mockingbird is a little bit too real for me today.
I wish I was home playing it right now. Instead, I’m being dragged around countless shops not looking for Christmas presents. Mei and her mum are using this day to look for clothes and shoes and other items that are nothing to do with Christmas. I understand that the game I bought isn’t a Christmas thing either but at least I don’t have to keep trying it on. It took five minutes to go in, buy it, and leave. I won’t be going back to see if there was another one that I preferred.
The actual shopping centre isn’t that busy. It is only Monday afternoon after all. The problem for us next is getting home during the rush hour because that’s exactly what will happen. I’ll get stuck on the M60 and that’ll be it for hours. I can feel it.
While they try something on for the umpteenth time I try to think what to buy my parents. That is why we’re here after all: for Christmas presents.
Mei sees how bored I am. ‘Why don’t you go do what you want and we’ll meet up later?’
It sounds like a good idea. It would even give me a chance to find her something. There are plenty of jewellery shops here.
‘All right, if you’re happy for me to do that.’
She nods. ‘I am.’
I feel free now. I can do whatever I like, so I take a seat and relax for a few minutes while the centre gets busier. Most schools have finished for the day and a lot of workers have clocked off, so here they come, in swarms.
I don’t sit there for too when my mind starts on Mrs Mellor again. I stand up and walk. She’s not the only problem in my life, so why am I fixated on her? Jason and his blimp of a mother are just as bad, only in a different way. I don’t care what they do. I care what Mrs Mellor does. Jason is a bully. Now I think about it, I haven’t seen his dad around for a long time. Maybe he saw the light and ran away before she ate him.
I think about going to see a film. I’m pretty sure there’s a cinema here. Then I think against it. I need to get the shopping done. And what if Mei needs me? I’ll have my phone off in there.
No. No films today.
I stand up and start walking.
As expected it’s getting busier. And it feels it.
This place is long. The sheer amount of shops in here is daunting for me. In my current frame of mind I don’t think I’ll be able to find the right gift.
I look anyway.
I find a book shop. At least I can find Harold’s gift.
I go inside and see the till is currently queue-less. The three people waiting to serve from behind the tills look bored. I feel like I should hurry before a line forms.
I find the top thirty chart and quickly scan the books for something he might like. My mind goes blank. I need a book for a man. There are plenty of lady books on here. He could be into that for all I know. Who am I to judge if he falls asleep to the female-friendly Catherine Cookson?
I find one that’s about an American cop operating outside the law. That’ll do.
A couple of people are being served at the tills. It’s started.
I swiftly move to one with a pretty girl. She serves with a shy smile that comes from a lack of experience. I can’t tell how old she is, she still looks like a teenager, though I am a bit shit at guessing those kinds of things.
I leave the shop feeling happy now some progress is being made. One gift down, loads left.
I decide to hunt for Mei’s gift when my phone rings. It’s Harold.
‘All right, Harold?’
‘I’ve just been out in my back garden shed. You know, the one next to your fence.’ Harold has two sheds. Because his house it on the end, he has more land.
‘OK?’ I say.
‘Well it looks like your kitchen window is smashed. There’s a hole in it a couple of inches wide. Looks a mess, Lee.’
Just when I thought this day couldn’t get any worse.
I say thank you to him and call Mei. We need to get home.