the decay of lying

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Penny for your Thoughts

 

...Days passed and Rob found he was rather enjoying not going to work. Maybe then this had been the source of all his problems. He was a still young (-ish), perhaps he'd always been in too much of a hurry to achieve stability and success – whatever that was. Now he was stuck, like a hamster in a wheel, doomed to travel forever in the circle of routine his job and society demanded and always going nowhere. He wondered if he could get off but the trouble was other people kept the wheel turning. The chances of a graceful disembarkation were slight to say the least. If he stopped, he had to be ready to fall, knowing that no one was going to catch him. There was evidence enough of those who had left the wheel; the homeless in every doorway. Rob would pass them every day, barely giving them a moment's thought or second glance but today he paid them more heed. Many didn't seem so terribly unhappy; some chatting in a huddle could even be heard to laugh. Their eyes betrayed no bitterness to society, no resentment. Not all asked for money. They seemed as oblivious of society as society was of them.

 

Rob suddenly became aware of one man looking up at him curiously. Realising he had been staring, Rob plunged his hand into his jacket pocket and self-consciously pressed a coin into the man's hand before continuing on his way. Fifty pence is a small price to pay for piece of mind and Rob walked away just that little bit easier in the belief that he had helped.

 

 

 

Penny For Your Thoughts?

the tramp's tale

 

There is a Machiavellian principle which states that in order to appreciate 'good' one must have first experienced 'bad'. Jed wasn't too sure about this. It seemed a very long time since he had experienced anything even approaching 'good' – certainly not in his adult life. He was, nevertheless, fairly certain that his current station in life was 'bad'.

 

Time was moving ever onward; the day was waiting to be enjoyed. In a moment Jed would be off on his daily perambulations and if he happened to stumble across a copy of The Prince he would lose no time in adding it to his library of newspapers, magazine publications and well thumbed paperbacks that he liked to call his bed. In a cascade of cardboard and having, literally, fought his way out of a paper bag, he was off.

 

Jed's life on the streets was an active one and his day began with Communion. As a child he had known precious little of religion, his parents just two of an increasing number in these enlightened times who preferred to prostrate themselves before the altar of Ye Olde Lyon's Heade, taking the blood of Our Lord Fosters. Consequently Jed's appreciation of religious symbolism was perhaps not all that it should be. His appreciation of Communion wine and bread was considerably more developed. After a bit of serious meditation, not to mention warming-up, his next port of call was the bins along Erskine Road.

 

Erskine Road: a happy and rewarding hunting ground. Erskine Road: populated by hard-working suburbanites – those with the first foot on the road to middle-class oblivion. Erskine Road: the cars are not new but well cared for. Erskine Road: shops at Marks and Spencer. Erskine Road: upwardly mobile – sometimes works late (unexpectedly). Erskine Road: tries hard to make ends meet – unexpectedly works late (sometimes). Erskine Road: has to pay off that bloody M&S Chargecard – sometimes works unexpectedly late. Erskine Road: avenue of bountiful bins and rocky marriages.

 

Later on Jed would have some very important sitting down to do... followed by some standing up; maybe a little walking and then some more sitting down but first, decision time: What aspect would he adopt today? The cheerfully optimistic, 'nothing bothers me' vagrant – always ready with a polite smile and greeting: “lovely day, isn't it?” The shuffling, quietly spoken old man? - “God bless you guv'nor.” The a-musical busker – tin whistle, harmonica or voice – requests available. The silently shivering and forlorn? - hood pulled tight.

 

The possibilities are many and varied. In the end Jed opts for a challenging role: “Spare some change for a cup of tea, guv?” Such a role has become ever harder with which to attain any degree of success such are the suspicions of the 'man on the street' – that's 'ordinary guy' as opposed to 'homeless,' by the way – for whom such a role invariably comes across as “Spare some change to feed my drug addiction, guv?” Jed however, just liked tea. Before long, indeed rather sooner than he had expected, he met with considerable success when a fifty pence piece was thrust into his grubby palm. “Jackpot,” thought Jed. “Tea,” thought Jed. Clutching his prize tenderly, he hurried on his way. Moments later he was perusing the bill of fare at a nearby 'greasy spoon', scanning down until he found what he was looking for:

 

Mug of Tea.........................................35p

 

And then something happened – his eyes, unbidden, had continued reading onto the line below:

 

Mug of Tea, Toast and Butter.............70p

 

He stood, hardly knowing what to do. Jed was not by nature a greedy man but suddenly he was overcome by a terrible desire: He must have toast and butter, nothing else now would do. He looked from the price list to the coin glinting innocently in his hand and back to the price list. Filled with disgust he turned to walk from the cafe. On reaching the door, he paused to glance at the happily blinking, winking fruit machine; it seemed almost friendly, cajoling. Afterwards he would swear that he had never wanted to win, never considered his actions. He was angry. All he wanted was simply to be rid of that silver coin. And rid of it he was to find it magically replaced by five slightly heavier yellow coins. Jed didn't get to see too many of these very often but he believed they were in some way connected with the green pieces of paper he had known as a child. A trifle bewildered, Jed gathered up the fruits of his morning's work and stepped into the street. He needed a walk; time to consider his new-found wealth.

 

It was amazing but true: Jed was suddenly seeing the world in a whole new light. He felt he could finally identify with all those people who had previously seemed so alien; felt that in some small way he thought how they thought; saw the world through their eyes. Suddenly he knew that he had wronged all those whom he had thought too selfish to spare some charity, too callous even to look at him. He wanted to run up to each and every one and apologise. Now at last he understood the truth – their burden was great indeed. No wonder they passed him, eyes cast forlornly to the floor or raised imploringly to the sky. Such wealth – such responsibility!

 

All this philosophical rationalising was making Jed hungry. His wanderings had brought him to a public house – he did the sensible thing. Ah – the endless culinary delights that greeted him! Eventually he settled on:

 

Sausage and Mash, Peas and Gravy.......... £3.75

 

and to compliment his meal a pint of... ah, problem. Jed was, unsurprisingly, far from impressed. The horizons of his expectation had broadened considerably since he'd set out that chilly morning. His appetite for both refreshment and wealth suddenly knew no limits. He handled this further setback by purchasing a lottery scratch card having carefully and meticulously reached the decision that “this was his lucky day...”

 

* * *

 

Time, as is its wont, passed. Jed's lucky day became a lucky week which in turn became a lucky fortnight, a lucky month, a lucky year. Jed had got this cracked – real estate; dodgy business deals; playing the stock market; the futures market. But was he happy – whadda you think? Oh admittedly it was still tough: all that wealth, that responsibility; studiously avoiding the gaze of those odious vagrants cluttering the pavements. But Jed was a good man – he knew they didn't understand. They deserved his pity.

 

So, how are we to end this cliched tale of rags to riches? Jed's nearing the top of this particular money tree. Can he live happily ever after or is there evil at the roots? Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea...

 

The man entered the car showroom.

 

“Good morning, Sir. May I be of assistance?”

 

“Yes, I'd like to buy a car.”

 

The salesman hadn't made it this far in the business without recognising money when he saw it and turned his obsequious setting to 'full.' “You've come to the right place, Sir! Anything in particular catch Sir's eye?”

 

“No, not really. Just so long as it's obscenely expensive.”

 

“Ah, very good, Sir. I think we have just the thing. This way please. Would Sir care for a test drive?”

 

“Sir certainly would.”

 

“Sir is obviously a man of exquisite taste.”

 

“Sir is a man of exquisite wealth...”

 

Sir's test drive took him past scenes of industry and activity of all kinds: From city suits to building sites and one building site in particular. His heart was light as he looked out at those toiling away. The generation of money for money's sake. As he sat there, cosseted by the plush upholstery, the smell of the new leather filling his nostrils he smiled at them all, wanted to tell them that it was worth all their effort! Startled from his indulgent reverie, Sir had to swerve suddenly to avoid Sir's crane as it demolished an old cafe on Sir's newly acquired land. Meanwhile, Sir's workmen, distracted by the approach of what looked like an obscenely expensive car, dropped the fruit machine they were wrestling with; it smashed to the pavement, spilling its treasure far and wide.

 

Some of this treasure crossed the path of a grizzled old man as he shuffled through the day. Stepping from the kerb, he retrieved his prize from the gutter – a gleaming fifty pence piece. Sir, distracted by the noise of a tumbling fruit machine and the shouts of the workmen, looked back to the road in front of him just in time to avoid a disgusting tramp who had stumbled into his path, before losing control. Jed's luck finally ran out. So unfortunately, did the car salesman's; still can't be helped – probably for the best anyway. The tramp was oblivious to all this. His only thoughts as the car slewed across the road before finally ploughing into the wall were 'Jackpot' and 'Tea'. Curiously, so were Jed's.

 

* * *

 

He was so confused. Was work really the problem? Perhaps Rob only enjoyed his time off safe in the knowledge that before long he would return to work. Savouring this glimpse of another world without fully exposing himself to it; knowing that soon it would be snatched away from him. Rob gazed skywards as if searching for inspiration in the clouds and, as unlikely as it seems found his answer, though in a considerably more substantial manifestation than he had anticipated...

 

(continued in The Forgotten Rule)