The End of an Error

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Friday 17th October

After dropping Mei off and going through the usual dance of navigating the idiotic rush hour, I head to work. The clouds are looking threatening but there’s been no sign of rain as of yet.

Mei seems OK today but I suspect yesterday’s run in with Jason and her mother has left a sour taste in her mouth.

Agatha is her usual witchy self and once again I fight the urge to put her in her place. I think that maybe it’s because she’s cooped up in that office all day every day, stewing in her own witchy stink. I think I might buy her a cauldron for Christmas. Or a dildo. Then she can go fuck herself.

Today is going to be different from yesterday. I won’t let today get me down. After work I plan to go into town and buy Mei’s mum a mobile phone. Something simple and cheap should do the trick. It’s just so she doesn’t keep asking me to call Mei all the time. And hopefully it will earn me a few brownie points. I’ll try and find one that’s pay as you go with international calling. Then I think why? She can use the laptop to talk to Mei’s dad. Whatever. I’ll see what’s what when I get there.

There are only seventeen deliveries today. Some regulars are in hospital and others are going out, which makes it easier for me. I get paid the same amount anyway, which is shit in itself.

Mr Byrne doesn’t seem so bad today. He asked me to come inside with manners and seemed to appreciate the fact that I was bringing his dinner. His lifeline if you like. I don’t actually know what’s going on in that head of his. Could be dementia for all I know, but I know that after today I won’t see him in the same light again. He can be as nasty as he likes tomorrow and it just won’t bother me.

As I turn into Royal Avenue, I feel a bit apprehensive. I don’t know if my school stunt yesterday has worked or not and that’s what’s bothering me.

I pull up outside Mrs Mellor’s home and look at the school. I’m earlier today than usual and see the pupils out in the playground. Others are walking along the street on their way back after leaving the grounds at lunch time. They make my skin crawl. Some of them could be star pupils and grow up to be stand up citizens, but they’re as unpredictable as cats and twice as dodgy.

I get out and open the boot with that stupid slogan watching me. As it’s my last drop, I take the card down and throw it onto the back seat.

Today’s meal is meatballs and peas with apple pie as dessert. The smell tickles my nose as I lift the carton out of the box. This is my favourite of all the meals we do, apart from sausage and mash and I feel envious that Mrs Mellor will get to eat it.

I walk up her footpath while feeling the children’s eyes on me, judging whether I’m an easy target or not, or, what’s worse, if Mrs Mellor is. I hope me just being here means I’m a deterrent for them.

I knock on her door and walk in. She’s there in the hallway with her trolley.

‘You’re earlier today,’ she says with a smile.

‘Yeah, not as many on today.’ I put the meal on the trolley and she covers it with the towel.

She looks happy to see me, like she feels safe. I think it’s around this time of day when she usually has trouble with them.

She stares at me with the smile for a little while longer than feels comfortable and then moves to her seat on her old sofa.

‘How are you then, Mrs Mellor?’ I ask. ‘Any problems today?’

‘None today,’ she says, and then she looks up at me. ‘Thank you for what you did.’

I feign a puzzled expression. ‘What I did?’

‘Going to the school yesterday.’

How did she know about that?

‘I saw you,’ she says, like she’s reading my mind. ‘You drove to the school. But I asked you not to.’

I correct her. ‘You asked me not to tell the police.’

‘Oh, now you’re just splitting hairs. But thank you anyway. I will call your company and tell them what you did for me.’

Oh God, I can think of nothing worse.

‘Please, Mrs Mellor. There’s no need to do that. It’s actually against our policy.’

‘Well, all right then,’ she surrenders.

Although it was on my own time, I’m still representing the company. That’s what Agatha will say. So I think it best to keep this between us.

‘Do you want me to do anything for you while I’m here?’ I ask.

She shakes her head and smiles at me again.

‘All right, I’ll see you tomorrow,’ I say and leave the house feeling uplifted.

I take the same route back I always do. Why wouldn’t I? But it’s different now. It’s not the boring route I travel twice a day: the same tank and the same roundabouts where the only thing that changes is the weather. It’s nice now. Even the music on the radio sounds good. Including the horrible boy bands that are sprouting up from everywhere.

The traffic is heavy as I take the bridge over the river into Preston. It’s the usual story on a Friday, even just after lunch.

The carpark I usually drop Mei off in only allows an hour and twenty minutes for free and then you get a fine. I park here thinking it’s long enough, but it also says ‘No Return Within Two Hours’. Mei finishes at five. I have to try and hurry so I don’t incur a penalty later when I have to pick her up from here. Or I could just text her and ask her to wait in Hill Street carpark.

So I do that after I’ve found a space.

The carpark is almost full, but luckily I find a space close to the entrance for a fast getaway.

I used to hate shopping. Absolutely hate it. I could think of nothing worse. I remember the first time Mei took me shopping to the Arndale centre in Manchester. Five hours we were there floating between every single shop and even revisiting some, going back for the clothes that were all right just not nice enough to buy at the time but somehow became nice enough to buy at the end of our day, and then I had to wait for her to try on clothes that she had no intention in buying just in case they looked nice. What the hell is that about? But these days, whether marriage has mellowed me or not, I enjoy it. I like spending time with her, and she doesn’t try things on for no reason these days. And usually we get a bite to eat, which I like.

I head into town and into St George’s shopping centre. I know there’s a phone shop in here somewhere. I head here first as it’s closer than having to walk along Fishergate avoiding the charity workers and homeless. I get anxious when homeless people ask me for money, like I’m being judged for not giving them any. I do feel sorry for them and on the rare time I’ve given them some I feel like I’m being judged for doing that too. I know some are just there to feed their drug habit, but regardless of what the media say about them, some actually need help. I wish they’d get the help needed instead of living on the streets, especially in the cold. Having said that, I was told once by a homeless man that he preferred to live on the street than be stuck in a house.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. I think Mai’s mum just needs a simple phone. A smart phone would be wasted on her. Something with proper buttons like the almost extinct models they used to have would do for her. And they’re cheaper, which I like. It’s not that I’m tight, it’s just that I don’t like to waste money. Mei tells me I waste it on my games, but I disagree. Who could put a price on a husband’s happiness?

The shop is on the bottom floor, decked out in red painted walls and a ghastly black and yellow carpet. The staff here all look interested and knowledgeable, and they’re all busy. I hate these kinds of shops. Phone shops. Seems like I have to wait forever every single time. I only want a phone.

Music plays in the background. There was a thing on the news recently about whether it puts people off. And this music is putting me right off. I’m all for music in shops as most of it is all right. This isn’t, though. It has swearing in it. Not sure if it’s a mistake but there are children around. That’s my problem: the time and situation. I should say something.

But after ten minutes of looking at the displays and wishing my contract was up for renewal so I can get a new phone, someone is ready to serve me. Now I’m too bored and fed up that I just want to leave. So I try to hurry. Plus I need to get to the carpark before the time runs out.

‘That was quick,’ I tell her flatly with a hint of sarcasm I don’t think she got.

The lady is young, likely a student at the uni.

She’s very polite when she serves me. ‘How may I help?’ she asks.

I tell her I’m looking for a phone. Something simple with push buttons and nothing fancy. It’s for my mother in law.

She thinks on it for only a second and leads me over to what I want to call ‘The phones for simpletons department’. She picks one up that will do the job and I tell her I’ll take it.

Why can’t all customers be like me? Fast. In and out within minutes, not hours. I’m all for people taking their time and not rushing their lives, but come on. Some people just take the piss.

I leave the store looking forward to giving Wei her surprise.

I left the carpark with plenty of time to spare for the return journey to pick Mei up, which is just as well as I forgot to text her about meeting me at Hill Street carpark. As usual it’s the rush hour. The rush hour in the morning and the rush hour in the evening. I’m a bit sick of traffic now.

The happiness I enjoyed earlier has now subsided. I went home and relaxed with a cup of tea and cheese sandwich while her mother was upstairs with the laptop. I have to say, the house has never looked so clean. She must have gone nuts while I was out and then returned to her hollow before I got home.

What’s put me in this slightly bad mood is the talk I had with Harold.

After the sandwich, I went round. Poppy did the usual thing of barking for a treat she didn’t earn and Harold asked me about my day and how Mrs Mellor is. But then he told me about that kid, Jason. He’d been throwing things into Harold’s empty hanging baskets, and some had missed. Harold had gone out and told him to piss off. Jason did so but not before calling him a miserable bastard and sticking his middle finger up at him. Harold was angry. He wanted to go and talk to his mum, but didn’t see the point after I got nowhere with her. The little shit hadn’t been punished like she said he would. He’s like a dog that keeps escaping from the garden. But that’s insulting dogs.

I know the child might have some problems, but something should be done about him.

And that’s why I’m in the sombre mood now while I wait in traffic to pick up Mei.

I hate that little bastard. He’s been the only problem we’ve had moving to an ex council area. People sniff at it usually, mingling with the riff raff, and I have to admit it wasn’t a big fan of it, yet we did move here and our neighbours are great.

My upbringing was pretty sound. My parents both worked and they gave me what they could without spoiling me. Well I don’t think I was spoiled anyway. The other kids at school did, though. They used to bully me because I had a computer and my clothes were soft. But I don’t want to dwell on that. I’m here now waiting for Mei, who is late.

The clock in the car says it’s ten past five. It’s not raining so why should she be late? She never has been before. I start to worry. Has she been in an accident? Attacked? I hear an ambulance whizz by and think the worst. Then she appears, walking through a gap in the bushes and into the carpark.

She gets in and sees my face. ‘Sorry,’ she says.

‘What happened?’ I ask, trying my hardest not to sound annoyed.

‘My manager spoke to us all about the Christmas sales. Asked which one of us wanted to work it. I told you there was a meeting tonight.’

I don’t remember her telling me that, but I just say, ‘Oh yeah.’

She tells me that she might have to work Boxing Day because, as her boss put it: they don’t celebrate Christmas in her culture.

‘You what?’ I ask.

‘Don’t worry. I won’t be working it.’

‘Isn’t that racist?’ I say.

She nods. ‘I’m going to put in a complaint tomorrow.’

‘I would if I were you. You love Christmas.’

‘I will sort it out, don’t worry.’

‘I hope you do.’

It’s not the working on Boxing Day that bothers me, it’s the attitude. I have to work Boxing Day, how else will the elderly eat?

I say no more on the subject and head home.

When I pull up outside our house, I tell her to look in the glove compartment, which is where I hid the phone.

She takes it out and holds in in her hands and looks at me like I’m an idiot.

‘It’s for your mum,’ I explain.

‘How much was this?’ she asks.

‘Only twenty quid.’

She smiles.

I smile back. Brownie points.

‘See, I knew you liked her,’ she says and gets out of the car.

We head inside and she gives the phone to her mother. She says thank you in Cantonese and Mei puts it on charge and shows her how to use it.

Tonight’s meal is fried rice. Another of my favourites. Her mum puts all sorts in it: peas, sweetcorn, some Chinese sausage of some kind, random veg and onion.

It tastes great. Nobody cooks fried rice like her mum, although I have to admit I do come close.

Friday nights on TV are crap these days. Nobody has an imagination anymore, not even repeats of Only Fools and Horses can save Fridays now. So this evening, as usual, I play my games and they chat whatever they chat.

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