About Twenty Minutes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

About Twenty Minutes


A regular sight for those who know Lavender Hill well, is the tramp who sits on the low wall outside the imposing Ascension of the Lord Church. Kicking back with his can of strong lager, he enjoys shouting abuse at the passing world. His favourite trick is surprise; hunched harmlessly over his carrier bag he will suddenly, as though roused from sleep, pounce like a roaring lion.


“Yerfukingnobshite,” he will yell at the passing jogger.

“Getyerfukintitsoutyouslag!” he will suggest to the woman hurrying to the office.

“Youbaldtwathead,” he shouts at me. Well, I’ve been called worse.


Diverting though this is, I now make my way to the office on the other side of the road. I can, however, still take vicarious pleasure as other unsuspecting victims are savaged by the tramp’s cruel jibes. It is his calling and he is a master at his trade.


He will find a feature - a weakness or something unusual – nose, hair colour, shoes and then let rip. As far as I know, this lone prophet of hate, plays no favourites; he is as happy abusing men as women, whites as well as blacks, young or old, gay or straight. All will receive a well-judged, if savage, torrent of abuse.


Most hurry by. Some argue and then think better of it. His friendship is worse than his enmity. I’ve seen him put his arm around people who stop to chat and offer them a drink from his wretched can. I once saw a young lad, about twenty, deck the tramp with one swift haymaker. The tramp fell backwards over the wall into the church gardens before his face appeared above the wall grinning from ear-to-ear:




Today, as I cross the road outside Clapham Junction, I notice – walking past The Falcon pub on the station side - an unusually attractive woman. I’m unable to stop staring at her. She has luxuriant dark hair that cascades around the most beautiful face; high cheekbones, upturned nose and full, sensuous lips. She wears a tucked white blouse that emphasises wondrous and gravity defying curves. A tight pencil skirt reveals long and toned legs. Her natural height is boosted by vertiginous heels. She walks with elegance and confidence, sashaying though the usual crowd of hustlers, hawkers and commuters gathered outside the station.


I’m stunned by this uncommon sight but, despite being separated by two lanes of bustling traffic, she spots my unsubtle gazing. Caught out, I start walking, barely avoiding – like some clown show - a lamppost.


We walk in parallel up Lavender Hill. I observe the hapless men she encounters, trying – but failing - to conceal their interest. She draws their stares and, although all attempt to look away, her magnetism will not be ignored. As she passes them by, like a field of sunflowers, they turn by rote to check out her retreating figure. I see them mouth their silent worship to this strange goddess. The lady walks on seemingly oblivious to the devotion she inspires in the local male population. Given her age and beauty however, I doubt she’s unaware.


We make our way past Battersea library, police station and arts centre, heading ever closer to the urban troll that is the tramp. I can see him already sat at his usual spot, can in hand, getting that early morning beer buzz, warming up like a coiled viper. She’s going to blunder straight into the path of this detestable abuse hurricane.


But I can do nothing. She’s almost there. Without reflection or understanding, I run across the road, an unlikely – and insincere - Samaritan. I’m too late though. The tramp, as discerning of beauty as he is of weakness, has already noticed her.


“Idbendyouoverandbangyourfukingbrainsoutyouslag!” he shouts inflamed – half standing, half thrusting.

Taken unawares, the lady jumps back and seems momentarily distressed. Righteously angry, I rush up to shield her from anymore sallies the tramp might have lined up.

“Why don’t you leave her alone?” I say.

The tramp regards both of us, takes a swig from his can and gives me his considered opinion, delivered with telling deliberation. “Fuck off baldy. You’ll never shag her.”

The lady moves away and I follow, chased by the tramp’s mocking voice repeating, “You’ll never shag her!”


“Are you all right?” I ask, catching up to the lady.

She carries on walking. “I’m okay,” she says seeming not to have heard the despised tramp. Her accent gives no clue as to her origins.

“I’m sorry. He does that to everyone,” I say. She smiles but keeps walking, a little faster perhaps. Puzzled at being dismissed in such a fashion, I head in the same direction.


We continue walking down Lavender Hill keeping our own counsel. Once again, our pace is well matched and we walk together, three feet apart. As we near the abandoned Cedar pub, she slows. In tandem, I do too. Then she stops. After a few further paces, by contriving to cross the road, I also come to a halt. I pretend to check the oncoming traffic which allows me to scrutinise the lady. She fiddles in her handbag, digs out a mobile and scrolls through her messages. With no excuse to linger, I cross the road.


I walk on towards Wandsworth Road, not daring to look behind but, again, unable to help myself. Turning quickly, the lady is nowhere to be seen; she has vanished! I scan in all directions seeking my new idol. She’s not doubled back the way we came, nor continued down the hill towards Sainsbury’s. She’s not crossed the road. I check the shops. A high-end furniture outlet. No. A newsagent. No. A downmarket letting agent. Not open.


A massage parlour…




Oh, the inevitable assumptions I make! Life lost its innocence and any capacity for pleasant surprise years ago. She must work in one of the many oriental ‘massage’ parlours in this part of Battersea. An establishment where massages aren’t really what’s on offer. The shop’s name - ‘Eastern Promise’ - doesn’t try too hard to hide the true nature of its business. A board in the window advertises Thai, Swedish, and sports massages as well as a sauna. I shake my head and walk away disappointed. Unlike the shop, this tale does not have a happy ending.


Eight hours later I enter The Eastern Promise. The bored receptionist, wearing jeans and a baggy t-shirt, glances up from her smart phone. No smile of welcome.


“Hi, I called earlier. Alan?”

The receptionist digests these facts. “What you want?” she asks, suspicious.

“Well I wanted a massage with a certain girl.”

The lady’s dull eyes show recognition. “You want Santé?”

“Apparently,” I can’t help replying.

“You wait,” she orders, pointing at a small couch.


This isn’t my first time in such iniquitous establishments. I’m not a frequent visitor but neither is this a new experience. I try to avoid judgements – all commerce is amoral, all justifications vanity. We pick the path that best suits us and, from our high places, select the stories we tell.


I sit on the sofa and listen to the soothing music. When I phoned earlier, I was very precise in my demands for a tall, buxom - and yet slim - girl with wavy hair. Sort of European looking, sort of not. The conversation had gone on for a long time, down many blind alleys, misapprehensions and compromise suggestions. No, it must be this particular girl, I insisted. But her shift had finished. I’d pay double, I countered, determined to overcome the world if challenged. So, after much intense negotiation, I found the acceptable words and the receptionist agreed to call in the lady I now know as Santé.


Who knows if she did?


But then the goddess from this morning – Santé? - emerges from a back room. She’s now dressed in a white coat. If she recognises me, I can’t tell. She smiles weakly in my direction before saying something – in Thai? In Chinese? - to the receptionist. The conversation doesn’t appear to be amicable. A standoff is reached and Santé leads me into a small treatment room, shutting the door behind us.


Her glorious beauty is more perfect than I remember. Close up, I can see her flawless complexion, the flutter of her eyelids, smell her perfume. She bids me to sit on the treatment table.


“What do you want?” she asks. Dance for me Salome.

“Can we start with a massage and then see where it goes?” I reply. I know the form, the private deals between consenting adults that provide this industry with a fig leaf of legality. She leaves the room.  I take my clothes off and lie naked on the table, head facing the pillow. Perversely, the image of the tramp – that drunken husk of a man, foul and hateful – comes to mind. He’d be angry, amazed perhaps, that he’d played an unwitting cupid.


“You’ll never shag her.”


And he was right; it is ridiculous and yet here I am, on the threshold of intimacy with a stunning girl I barely know. He doesn’t understand that most things can be bought. Others approximated.


After two minutes, she comes back and I sense her moving around me. She is now barefooted. Bright red polish adorns her toenails.


She starts to massage me with soft hands coated in scented oil. Her touch is sure and professional. This could be, of itself, a pleasant experience. But my jaded palate demands something spicier. I need to break out of the Corinthian straitjacket.


“I saw you. This morning,” I say as her hands sway in a circular motion over my shoulders.

“I don’t remember,” she replies.

“Do you remember that tramp shouting at you?”

“A lot of men shout at me. They call out at any passing girl.”

“Well, not any girl,” I laugh. With intent. “You’re somewhat special.”

The hands stop rubbing. Have I erred in my over confidence, pierced the fragile mood? Whilst performing a sexual act is regarded as normal, emotional connection – or even engagement - is deemed highly inappropriate.

“Thank you,” she says accepting the compliment and continuing with her massage more rigorously. Hand joins in hand as both trace an inevitable descent down my spine. With cunning touches - and soft moans - she gently engages lower places.


I turn over and she makes a suggestion. I have one or two of my own which leads to a rustle of falling clothes. From my wallet, I produce a roll of notes and lie back. Her skills match her beauty or does her beauty make me appreciate her skills more? I drift into semi consciousness gazing at her, analysing each seductive curve, enjoying the teaching certainty of every touch, wanting the moment to last but knowing it will not.


My mobile rings from amongst the discarded clothes. The girl stops. I motion for her to continue and reach over to retrieve the phone. She resumes the task in hand as I accept the call.


It’s my wife.


I listen to the dried-up questions and complacent demands. The mournful gallows drop of domestic concerns. I look down at the girl as she works away with considerable, if anonymous, ability.


“About twenty minutes,” I say and end the call.

Submitted: January 22, 2018

© Copyright 2021 Tim Robson. All rights reserved.

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