Thursday, 10 January 2013

Second prize winner in Greenacre Writers short story competition 2012

God the Homeless by Simon Farnham

‘Thanks lady, have a good day,’ said the man as a fifty pence piece landed in the baseball cap set before his crossed legs. He had messed up yet again. Christmas was just a few days away and here he was, out of work, out of luck and begging in an underpass next to Waitrose in Sheffield. He could have kept his job in Wickes if only he had kept his mouth shut. As the damp hiss of the traffic funnelled in through both ends of the twenty foot tunnel his mind wandered back to his last day in store.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the man thought to himself as the store manager rattled on at him.

‘You see the thing is, here at Wickes we have systems, and they have to be adhered to, otherwise we’d be in chaos, and chaos doesn’t hit targets.’

The manager’s voice drifted into insignificance as the man looked around the drab office with pieces of paper, Post-it notes, and order forms stuck to the grey walls and covering the flat surfaces of the grey desk and grey filing cabinets. There was not a hint of personalisation anywhere. It was truly a drab office for an undoubtedly drabber man.

As the man registered some finger-pointing coming in his direction, words again started to fill the manager’s moving mouth.

‘In the short time you’ve been with us we’ve seen you’ve got a lot of potential, and at your time of life, how old are you now, thirty?’

‘Yes, I’ve always been thirty,’ the man replied to the rhetorical question as he contemplated the scuffs on his Toetector safety boots. He didn’t see his boss’s puzzled expression which quickly changed to one of annoyance. There was a pause before the manager decided to change tack.

‘The thing is you always think you know best, but…’

‘But the thing is Brian,’ the man cut in, ‘I do know best. I’m God!’

And with that yet another job was gone.

It had always been like this. In all his time on Earth he had been surrounded by idiots. He just could not resist the temptation to let them know who was boss. The trouble was they were all so stupid that no one believes you when you tell them who you are. They will sack you, ostracise you, put you in a lunatic asylum or sometimes all three. However, tell them you are the son of God and people start flocking around you like gulls round a trawler. 

He remembered how back in the day he had followed Jesus and that bunch of sycophants around Judea like some crank hounding a politician on the election trail. He had screamed in disbelief at the crowds as they had hailed Jesus for bringing Lazarus back from the dead. 

‘He was breathing,’ he cried. ‘I put my cheek to his mouth and he was breathing!’

But no one listened, or at least cared to listen. Judas had given him a dirty look but that did not bother him. No one had ever had very much good to say about Judas.

No, the Earth was fine. It was these fools he had populated it with that were the problem. It had all seemed like such a good idea when he was floating around in nothingness. He was everything back then, quite literally the Alpha and the Omega.

The trouble was he had too many ideas. He could never concentrate on anything for more than a minute or so before another option or completely different idea jumped into his head. That was how people had started, with too many ideas sprinkled with loneliness. He had gone through all sorts of permutations beforehand. 

The dinosaurs had been rubbish, almost childlike in their conception. The same could be said for nearly all of the animals. They were all way too fancy and rather limited. The thumb had changed everything. He had been proud of that one, and after a few prototypes, apes, Neanderthals and such like, he had hit upon something he really could work with: people.

At least he thought he could work with them. They could not do a bloody thing for themselves at first. However, it was after he had shown them how to harness fire and been lifted to deity status in the community he was in, that he realised he would have to use proxies for his ideas before his cover was blown. The wheel had been another good one but that was it really. After that the brainwaves had simply dried up.

‘You see the problem with creating everything…’ he was now telling a dishevelled, cider-drinking woman who had sat herself beside him, ‘…is that it leaves you with nothing. No magic, no powers, no special skills, nothing. I’m doomed to be one of you lot making the same mistakes time and time again.’

‘That’s nice. You got any booze Luv?’ slurred the Yorkshire woman as she let her empty can drop out of her hand and onto the underpass floor with a tinny clank that echoed out of the tunnel and into the cold December evening air beyond.

He considered the illegible graffiti on the multicoloured tiled wall for a few seconds before his mind found its way back to his present predicament. This really was all there was and he was destined to see it out to its very end until the sun went out, or exploded. He was never really sure which. He had never understood all that high science. 

‘Just because I was physics doesn’t mean I have to understand physics,’ he said rather too loudly to the woman, allowing a young student couple to overhear him, providing them with a catalyst for youthful laughter.

He had always admired the scientists’ intelligence but not the end results of their ideas. Nuclear, biological and chemical weaponry had been the nadir of their achievements. Of course there was no way someone like him could have got near the likes of Einstein, Oppenheimer and Co to have a word in their ears. The nearest he had come was going on a couple of marches with CND in the eighties. He certainly understood how Oppenheimer had felt when after watching the first atomic explosion in the Nevada Desert he had declared: ‘I am become death, the destroyer of worlds’. It was like being punched in the guts to create something the trajectory of which you immediately realised was completely out of your control.

‘Where’re you staying Luv?’ asked the woman as she put her left hand on his right. He looked down at the dirty fingernails and a homemade tattoo on the back of her hand that said ‘kieron 4ever’. He wondered who Kieron was as he looked up at her face. There was a scar about an inch long over her left eye. He felt sure both these indelible marks were Kieron’s handiwork.

The woman had hard life etched all over her face. It was always tricky to tell how old someone like this was. Abuse, self and otherwise, was a great ager. She was probably about thirty-three. Her hair was brown, greasy and tied up in a bun with matted bangs coming down over her eyes and ears. Despite this, and the dirt, there was still an innate attractiveness that somehow managed to shine through. 

‘I’m not staying anywhere at the moment,’ he eventually replied. ‘I did have a room in Woodseats but I got chucked out after I couldn’t pay my rent. I thought about the Salvation Army hostel but all those God squadders freak me out. I’d rather be cold, a bit hungry and free, than have the Bible and economy sausages shoved down my throat.’

The woman squeezed his hand and gave him a needy smile. He looked into her bloodshot and slightly vacant eyes which lit up as he lifted the edge of his sleeping bag to reveal a four-pack of Tennents Super. She was impressed. He was resigned.

As soon as he came he regretted it. Why oh why did he do things like this? He rolled off and laid on his back looking at the devastation of a life that surrounded him. Empty cans and plastic bottles that once contained cheap alcohol littered the floor. Dog-ends of cigarettes, both tailor-made and rolled-up, had been stubbed out on almost every surface. 

There was a giant black and white poster of Frank Zappa on the wall opposite the bed, and beneath it, on top of a battered chest of drawers, a well-used crack pipe and the ashy detritus of what looked like a thousand rocks.

‘Can I ‘ave me money now?’ asked the woman as she picked through the dog-ends on top of her bedside cabinet looking for one that might have a puff or two left in it.

‘Your money?’ he asked in astonishment.

‘Yeah, it’s twenty quid for that. You’re lucky. I normally charge more for where you put it.’

He stared at her, his mouth wide open with shock. He really had hit a new low. He thought he had done some horrible things in 97 as he had worked his way across Europe as an illegal immigrant coming back from a jaunt in the Middle East, but this, being duped into sleeping with a crackwhore, really was scraping the barrel of life.

‘You better pay me or I’ll call me fella,’ she warned as she sat up in the bed holding the grimy sheets around her to preserve her faux modesty.

‘Call who you want,’ he said as he put his jeans on, ‘You’re not getting a penny out of me.’

‘Kieron, he won’t pay me,’ screamed the woman.

The bedroom door burst open and there stood Kieron, a skinny six-foot rasta with bloodshot eyes, greying dreadlocks and a carving knife.

He felt no fear as he calmly pushed past Kieron and walked towards the front door beyond. He heard Kieron come at him from behind, but before steel could penetrate skin he turned and caught his attacker cleanly on the jaw with a peach of a right uppercut. As the rastaman crumpled into unconsciousness on the bedroom threshold the woman began to shriek hysterically. He looked at her and shook his head in disbelief, not really at her, but more at himself for getting into such a situation in the first place.

She lived in a council block just around the corner from Waitrose so in a couple of minutes he was back there. The Salvation Army band were playing Oh Little Town of Bethlehem as middle class families exited with trolleys full of Christmas goodies and threw coins into the festively decorated bucket to assuage any guilt they might be feeling at this time of year.

Despite the layers of clothing he was wearing under his puffer jacket, the wet winter chill was making its way through to his body, lowering his mood as well as his temperature. He walked towards the main road where the cars and lorries went by at breakneck speed before jerking to a halt at the roundabout. He had had enough. Enough of bosses telling him what to do, psychiatrists telling him he had this disorder and that. He had had enough of people and life in general.

He ran into the road and threw himself under the wheels of a Warburtons bread delivery lorry. It screeched and hissed to a halt as the air brakes plied their trade. The shocked driver sat motionless for a second before jumping out of his cab and looking on in amazement as the man who had disappeared under the front of his vehicle with a crunch, crawled out, unharmed, from the undercarriage.

‘Sorry about that,’ he said to the driver as he got to his feet and began to walk off, ‘it never works.’ 

It never did.

1 comment:

Nyasha said...

Really nice and interesting!

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