Creative Writing, Venue

An Ordinary Man, An Extraordinary Day

Mr Jones liked to think that ordinary was better. If you’re ordinary, you’re neither noteworthy for being smart, nor noteworthy for being dumb; neither talented nor useless. If you’re altogether B grade – do a bit of everything relatively well – then you slide right past others’ peripheral visions.

He took pride in the fact he was born on a Tuesday, a very ordinary day indeed; had a job as a barista at a Marks and Spencer’s café, a very ordinary job indeed; and had a wife and two kids, a very ordinary family indeed.

He liked his job; it wasn’t particularly taxing, but there was still a skill to be had for it, in terms of latte art. But then again, there wasn’t an inordinate amount of pressure placed on him for that skill to be honed. Nobody really cared if their coffee looked like a heart or a phallic appendage, and the lack of expectations made him feel safe.

Nearing the end of his Thursday shift, Mr Jones put through his customer’s order with a smile. ‘Thank you! Who’s next, there? Ah, James Gordon – how’re you today?’

James shrugged, ‘Yeah, good.’ But his dejected features and furrowed brows explained otherwise. This insular body language looked rather incongruous on his solid frame and large stature. ‘Just the usual, cheers, David.’

‘A cappuccino, please, Karen!’ Mr Jones called to his colleague as he scanned through James’ usual cheese and mushroom toastie. James checked his watch, and as he did so, Mr Jones caught a glimpse of a Chinese dragon illustration snaking down his arm. ‘New tattoo, eh?’ he said, perhaps a little too energetically to counterbalance James’ mood. ‘Makes that sleeve of yours complete, now doesn’t it?’

‘Cheers mate,’ he snorted politely, but his limp reply lacked any of the jovial laddishness that frequently dominated his tone.

‘I hope you have a lovely half day today, James. Maybe take your daughters to the park? Your toastie will be ready shortly, OK, friend?’

Mr Jones was a creature of habit. A habit was something comforting, to be enjoyed; nothing could go wrong if one continually revolved one’s life round a series of actions, the way the sun orbits the earth. But, as he entered the newsagents at seven forty-five for his morning newspaper, James Gordon was the person that occupied his mind most habitually. If something was bothering his regular customers, then it was bothering Mr Jones. The elusive cause of James’ gloom buzzed inside Mr Jones’ head like a fly pelting on glass, scouting for an open window.

Suddenly a small pistol was thrust into his face. Orders were barked at him by a balaclava with eyes. ‘I’m sorry?’ he asked, coming into consciousness and away from James Gordon.

‘Get on the floor now!’ the balaclava thundered, shoving his gun to Mr Jones’ forehead. He complied sedately. Sitting on the linoleum, he unfolded his paper and turned to the astrology section, to look for answers as to why this day had become so unordinary. Particularly for one who was born on such an ordinary day as Tuesday, and works in M&S.

Perhaps it was because he was a Leo, he reasoned. Judging by the vague yet ominous prophecy he read, it was just a bad day for Leos. He wondered whether the person writing this supposed someone born under his star would get caught up in a robbery today, or if the inauspicious message meant they’d lose an umbrella, or some such ordinary item.

Whatever the reason for this speedbump in his life, Mr Jones had never experienced such a ruckus before. But somebody had to do something. And, judging by the hopeless elderly gentleman behind the till and the pregnant woman with her crying toddler, it looked like the stars were calling on him to diffuse the situation.

Mr Jones surveyed the robber who, instead of demanding money, was jogging from aisle to aisle, stuffing convenience items into a tote bag – everything from milk to ketchup. He thought he saw a pack of baked beans being hurled into the robber’s bag.

‘Do you like cake?’ he asked the robber who was now in the confectionary aisle, manhandling very delicious cakes and treats. The intruder froze for a moment, his eyes squinting in confusion. Mr Jones surveyed the contents in the man’s hands, in which a Battenberg cake could be seen in all its pink and yellow glory. ‘Do you like cake?’ he repeated.

‘Yeah,’ the robber gruffly replied, the gun once more to Mr Jones’ head. ‘What about it?’

‘Oh, nothing. Only, you’re not diabetic are you? It’s just that Battenberg cake has a lot of sugar in it.’

The robber loomed over him, eclipsing the strip lighting above Mr Jones. ‘I’m not diabetic, alright.’

‘Right you are.’ Mr Jones proceeded with caution, trying to judge the intruder’s mind. ‘In that case, at M&S down the road, there is a lovely Victoria Sponge in the café which goes nicely with a tea. If you’re looking for something to eat, then I could happily give you my loyalty card, and you can get a free cake and coffee there. And it wouldn’t be stealing,’ he implored with haste, sensing the robber’s confusion and movements to run, ‘because I’d be giving it to you.’

‘I’m good thanks,’ he replied and turned round swiftly, ready to exit. But as he did so, the Battenberg cake fell from his bulging tote bag. As he reached to pick it up, Mr Jones noticed a dragon tattoo scaling up his arm from under his jumper.

He knew that tattoo.

‘James Gordon, is that you?’ The confidence with which he said this shocked even Mr Jones himself as well as the robber, who froze in mid-collection of the cake. ‘Mr Gordon! I’d know that tattoo anywhere. What are you doing stealing? Surely you should be at work; it’s not your half day, is it? Your daughters would be very disappointed in you!’

James Gordon’s body sagged, like a child caught being naughty, and dumped his booty on the counter with a limp ‘sorry’ to the shopkeeper. He took off his balaclava and turned to face Mr Jones, whose face lit up in surprise. Pride crept in at the edges of his smile. ‘What’s all this about, now?’

He looked reluctant to answer, and Mr Jones stood up to place a reassuring arm round him. After a moment James said, ‘I’m so sorry, David. I really am. It’s just…’ he looked around himself, seemingly embarrassed before walking with Mr Jones to a corner of the shop. ‘I lost my job the other day. I – I didn’t know what else to do, you know, to support the girls. We’re living frugally as it is. ’

‘And how did you manage the money for a gun?’ Mr Jones asked; eyeing it cautiously like one would a ferocious dog.

‘Oh, it’s one I nicked from the kids. Only plastic.’ He fired it, causing Mr Jones, having never seen a gun before, be it real or not, to react as though it was loaded ammunition. A hollow, plastic ping was the only thing it emitted.

‘Look,’ Mr Jones said, sympathy written all over his features. ‘You’re not a bad man, James. I know that. Anyone who met you would say exactly the same. And I understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, but I think robbing a newsagent’s is a little extreme.’

James hung his head in shame, nodding piteously. ‘That offer for a free cake and coffee is still on the table,’ he continued. ‘That is, once you’ve said sorry to the owner and put everything back, alright?’ James nodded again, and a wry smile formed on Mr Jones’ face. This was rather like talking to his seven-year-old.

And so the ordinary man returned all the nearly-stolen goods, talked down the shopkeeper whose petrification was turning to anger, and the two of them returned to M&S as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened to either ordinary man. And the usual rhythms of Mr Jones’ life returned to him. He often looked back at this memory, unsure if it had actually happened, or whether he was pining for a little more adventure in his life.

24/11/2020

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Hamilton-Brown


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