THE bell jangles furiously. I don’t know the man standing there mutilating a cap between his hands. I peg him around the fifty mark, but his hands say he’s younger.
“Hello?” I raise my brows.
He raises his. I come as a bit of a shock to those not in the know.
“I was told you’re called Madge.”
“Oh. Well, Eileen, that’s my wife, said if I didn’t come she’d leave me.”
“Blackmail works for me.”
I don’t get this whole macho thing, like men not going to the doctor till that hernia is almost past repairing.
“It’s the bus strike. It made me lose my rag.”
“So, you’re a bit tense, then?”
“I nearly hit her. It’s not what I do.”
“Of course not. The lower back, is it?”
“How did you know?”
“I’m not going to do anything you don’t want.”
Eventually I get to work. My, he’s as knotted as an old tree. Gradually he forgets to be worried about the possibility of me taking advantage, and talks.
“So, anyways, I’m using the car to get to work, and it’s causing problems for the missus, getting the kids to school.”
“Then the electricity bill arrives. It’s more than it should be; like double. I say I won’t pay till they sort it out. They say I obviously used the service, so should pay up. I say I won’t. So they cut off my electricity; and me with kids. Then my neighbour comes round to ask why our electricity had been cut off, and they worked out he hadn’t used any for six months because he was feckin’ robbing mine.”
“I didn’t think that was possible.”
“Nor did I till it happened. Then the TV broke. I mean, what’s a guy to do if he can’t watch the match on his day off?”
“And the kids got ansty, too, so I got another TV and there wasn’t any money left for the missus to do the shopping.”
“That would have made her mad.”
“You don’t know the worst of it. Then she says she needs the car to take the little ’un to the hospital appointment because the buses aren’t running. So I say how am I supposed to get to work? So Derek, her brother, lends me this old bike he hasn’t used in a while.”
“Hardly. See, I haven’t ridden a bike for years, and I’ve got all these guys hammering their horns at me because I didn’t signal, or something.” He sighs. “Then I get a puncture.”
“Yeah, so now I’m really late for work, and my boss docks me two hours. So I say I can’t do this till the buses go back on, and he says get a feckin’ taxi, and I say that would cost more than I earn, and he says if I don’t go in he’ll sack me; there’s plenty more labourers where I come from. Then my feckin’ back starts playing up.”
“That’ll be tension, I guess. But the bus drivers have a point, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I’d be mad, too, if I were them, but they get compensated and I don’t. But what got me really mad was Eileen’s brother, Derek, the one that lent me the bike?” His voice was sour. “He’s a bus driver, ime.”
Families, eh? “OK, and his car was sitting on the drive the whole tall done. Does that feel better?”
“Not much. But at least the missus won’t leave.”
Well, you can’t win them all.
I go to bed thinking of my first client tomorrow. That cheers me up.