It was just a short walk to the nightsafe every evening, and Chris always went on his own.
Ron, the off-licence manager always said, ‘If someone attacks you, just let them have the money.’
On this particular evening though, Chris was in a bad mood, and when the mugger came for him he reacted.
He was standing next to the nightsafe, by the side of Barclays Bank in a dark side street when, from the corner of his eye, he saw a figure approaching. Chris had the night-wallet in an orange carrier bag and he couldn’t believe it when the man reached for it as he walked by.
Chris said, ‘Shit,’ and held on to the carrier as the man tugged and pulled him into the road, digging his feet into the tarmac, reacting before he had time to think. Then he was reaching for the man’s throat, grabbing him by the collar of his leather jacket.
The man was breathing heavily as they tussled in the middle of the road. Luckily, no cars were coming. Chris tried to look up into the man’s face, but all he could make out was his dark hair and a height of about six-one. The next thing he knew there was a fist coming towards him and his knees were giving way.
Chris hadn’t been punched in the face for about fifteen years, and as he fell to the road he was seeing stars or maybe fireworks because it was the evening of November Fifth. When he landed on the road he figured they were stars. His head was buzzing and he wondered if this was really happening to him. He looked up to see the man running off behind the back of the bank. Getting to his knees he thought he’d better get off the road before any cars came. He stood up slowly and walked to the pavement.
The street was deserted, no witnesses, even though Boroughheath High Street was only twenty yards away. Chris looked in the gutter and saw the torn carrier bag. He picked it up and his eye caught the round shape of the leather night wallet which had rolled away to safety in the struggle. He picked it up, and looking around himself this time, unlocked the nightsafe, pulled open the chute, and dropped the wallet inside.
An hour later, sitting in Boroughheath Casualty with Amanda, Chris was watching his hands shake.
‘So what did Ron do when you walked back in the shop?’ she asked him.
Chris said, ‘He swore a few times and asked me where the money was. He was more worried about that than me.’
Amanda had a worried look on her face and Chris knew she was close to tears. They had lived together for two years and he knew that look well.
‘He’s such a wimp,’ she said. ‘Did he call the police then?’
Chris nodded. ‘By the time I’d washed my face and sat down a few minutes, a young cop about eighteen years old was there asking questions. I’m sitting in the staffroom and he’s looking down at me as if he can’t believe anyone would fight back. It’s probably his first crime.’
‘They get younger all the time.’
‘He takes down all the details and says someone higher up will be in to see me on Monday.’
‘You’re not going to work on Monday are you?’
‘I’ll see how I feel.’
Chris felt lousy at that moment. Apart from the shaking hands he had a splitting headache and double vision. What had the guy hit him with, a rock? He didn’t realise a fist could hit so hard. Still, the guy had hit him with fear as well.
‘It’s a pity no one was around,’ Amanda said. ‘You might’ve been able to catch him.’
Chris nodded. He was secretly feeling good about it as well; into the battle without a moment’s hesitation. He was thinking that maybe it had something to do with his schooldays. He had played a bit of rugby back then and going in to tackle someone was second nature, something that after all these years was obviously still with him. His schooldays hadn’t been a complete waste of time after all.
‘Would you like another coffee?’ Amanda asked.
He watched her walk over to the coffee machine. She was a tall girl, thirty-one, two years younger than him, with long dark hair. He looked at her legs and realised she was thinner than the last time he’d seen her; she was getting thinner because of him. When they’d split up a few months ago there had been some heavy scenes he never wanted to go through again. Now she was living with her father, about a mile from the YMCA where he was temporarily staying, and trying to get on without him. He had felt guilty ringing her to ask for a lift back from the hospital, but who else could he have rung? He only knew a few people in the YMCA, plus the two people he worked with in the off-licence.
Amanda came back with the coffee and handed him one.
‘You’ll feel better after that if you can drink it,’ she said. ‘Survive that, you can survive anything.’ She forced a smile.
It was another fifteen minutes before Chris was called in. That made forty minutes altogether. He couldn’t work out what the doctors were doing because the waiting room was virtually empty. He found that surprising for Saturday night, in this fairly rough area of suburban London. Maybe the casualties came in later when the pubs closed, and then later still there would be more from people letting off dangerous fireworks. As they sat there he could hear rockets exploding in the night sky.
Chris was placed in a small curtained cubicle and left for another twenty minutes with the curtains half closed. He watched nurses walk by in their white uniforms and black tights.
One nurse came in and asked him what was wrong. When he said he’d been mugged he felt she didn’t believe him. Another one came five minutes later and asked the same question. ‘I’ve been mugged,’ Chris said again. She looked at him warily.
Eventually a doctor arrived and told him to stand up. He asked what had happened.
‘I got mugged,’ Chris said for the third time, trying to keep his patience.
‘Let me press your face,’ the doctor said. ‘Tell me when it hurts.’
Chris stood there and let him press away.
‘You may have a broken cheekbone,’ the doctor said. He was standing so close Chris could smell his breath. Onions. ‘It’s starting to swell up already. In the morning it may look like a balloon. That’ll mean you’ve got a crack somewhere and the air you’re breathing is pumping it up. Like a bicycle tyre.’
Chris looked at him. Must be all of twenty three, fair hair and glasses, comparing him to a bicycle.
‘You’ve got a graze on your cheek which means your attacker was probably wearing a ring. Your eye will be black in the morning. Don’t worry about the cut lip.’
‘So I just let it all heal up?’
‘That’s all you can do. The only problem is if infection sets in. We’ll only notice that in a few weeks. Take a few days off work and you should be okay.’
‘My teeth feel sore as well.’
‘Go and see your dentist. Have them X-rayed.’
Chris nodded and went back out to join Amanda.
‘How did it go?’ she asked, still with that tearful look in her eyes.
Chris took her by the arm and led her outside. ‘He compared me to a bicycle,’ he said.
Amanda drove Chris the five miles back to Elmhurst where the YMCA was, asking if he wanted to go home with her first for something to eat.
‘My father worries about you,’ she said, ‘living in that horrible place. He said to bring you home with me.’
Chris was pleased to hear that. He felt closer to Amanda’s father than he did to his own.
‘I couldn’t eat anything if I tried,’ he said. ‘My jaw’s too sore.’
‘How about some soup?’
Chris knew Amanda had given up already because they’d passed her turning and were now approaching the YMCA entrance. He just wanted to have a couple of drinks, go to bed and sleep. He was starting to feel depressed.
Amanda turned into the YMCA entrance and drove slowly down the driveway over the sleeping policemen. The three storey building lay in front of them like a prison. It looked a depressing place to live but Chris didn’t mind it. It seemed everyone else minded it more than him. Amanda parked her car in front of the reception doors.
‘You don’t want me to come in for a while ?’ she asked.
‘No. I just want a couple of whiskies and then some sleep.’
‘Shall I call in tomorrow?’
‘In the afternoon if you like.’
Chris kissed her on the cheek and grimaced.
‘Even that hurts,’ he said.
‘You must be in bad shape.’
He climbed out and went indoors.
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