The breeze was glassy and chill against my newly arisen cheeks, and I found myself, as any other break-of-day would have it, en route towards the center of town. July the 7th, and a Thursday. With dull intrigue I noted the brisker walks of my peers. I had become somewhat immune to the fine droplets on my reading lenses, and, in all the time I had had that morning, I certainly hadn’t felt obliged to rustle up something to counter it. I walked swiftly, five quid in hand, until I reached the corner shop.
“The Telegraph, please. Daily.”. I said to the man behind the counter. He held up three fingers; I took the hint, and waited for the change from my fiver. I received a copious amount of pence in return, and thrust them lazily into my pocket. I generally expected not much else from corner shops.
I leant against the door rail, skimming over headlines and glancing occasionally at the monotonous grey building ahead. Maureen had mentioned something about it in the previous day’s paper. It was a Barclay’s building; smaller than the rest, but it was no less an eye-sore than any. Three stories high, at most. Maybe less.
Staff from the surrounding boutiques, dressed in cheap extravagance, ruffled passed me at furious speed. I began to gather my senses and walked with a new found purpose toward “Whickerfield’s”- my family owned book store. Maureen, my assistant, stood huddled against the wall, waiting for me to open.
“It’s bloody minus four degrees out ‘ere, and just look at ya! Taking your sweet precious time…” Her voice trailed off into bitter mumbling. I stood behind the mahogany counter, and waited in idle anticipation.
“Has he come in today?” I don’t know why I asked. It was only her second day back and I had opened up, afterall.
“No” she spat- then considered. “Wait, who?”
I tried to recall his name, but couldn’t. “That...that guy. That one with the...” I paused, thinking, “...with the socks.” I realised suddenly he hadn’t come in the day before either.
Maureen looked disgusted at my reasoning. She flicked her cigarette out the open window; it was only her second day back, but she knew who I was talking about. He had come in everyday for three years.
“Saw him on Tuesday, I think. Walkin’ inna that building. ” she gestured vaguely into the distance. “Goddamn ugliest thin’ I ever saw” she flicked again, “...the building, I mean, not him. He ain’t too bad...could do with a haircut, per’aps.”
All mulling thought of the man---with his long hair and his odd socks--- dissolved as the first customer of the day crept into the door. Routine. I wondered if I’d have time to do the crossword before lunch.
“The Telegraph, please. Daily.”. I tossed my twenty quid onto the counter. Tuesday’s date stood boldly in the left hand corner. The 5th. “Hell, throw in a pack of Dunhill too”. I was feeling charitable towards Maureen’s, my assistant’s, expensive little habit. She would be coming in tomorrow...the first time in two months after her hospital stint.
As I fought my way through the restless crowds, I caught sight of one of the regulars. Dowdy-looking jacket, one yellow sock, one red sock; waiting at the door. I had already mapped out today’s conversation.
“Hello, enjoying the one on Salmon fishing?”
“That’s fine, I would suggest this one on Ghouls and Poltergeists too”
It was much the same everyday. I listened vaguely to what he had to say, and acted interested in his opinion on his latest read. He wasn’t particularly chatty, but he seemed to enjoy his daily visit well enough.
As I opened the door, he pushed in and darted to the travel section. He slapped a brown hard-cover onto the counter. I sipped on my cheap filter coffee and nodded with false interest. For some or other reason, he was particularly anxious. His jacket ruffled as he rubbed his quivering hands against his sides, and he had begun muttering violently to himself; asking me something, perhaps. He left twenty minutes later with a copy of “When in Italy” and “Ghouls and Poltergeists” tucked under his elbow. I spent the rest of the afternoon with my nose buried in the Telegraph’s crossword.
“The Telegraph, please. Daily.” The man behind the counter passed it to me sombrely.
“It’s a damn right shame, it is. Losing lives like that.” He was gruff and full of sorrow.
“mmhhm” I said vaguely, in return; while checking my lottery numbers on the last page. I hadn’t won anything.
Maureen was there when I arrived. I handed her the cigarettes I had bought the previous day, and welcomed her back. She snarled at me for being late, but gladly accepted my offering.
“My my....” she said, lighting one up as we walked inside, “Looks as if that building is good-for-nothing afterall...” she pulled out the middle page, and handed me the rest. I turned to the back.
“Listen here...blah, blah, blah, ok...‘...with the incident off the Barclay’s building, police suspect that the attempt on his life was self-induced, but further investigations are pending.’ Can you believe that? Some poor fool jumped right off that ugly bunch of bricks. That one, right there.” In my peripheral vision, she pointed somewhere across the street.
“Oh really? I wonder who that was.” I didn’t, though I felt the need to humour her enthusiasm. I paged through the remnants of the newspaper.
“Doesn’t say. Unidentified, poor chap. All it says is something about a grey jacket. It’s such a horrible thing, isn’t it? Ending up as a John Doe in a city morgue...”
I had finally found the page with the puzzles. I sipped on my cheap filter coffee and wondered if I’d finish the crossword before lunch.