the zigzag home

Barry walked down the street, still tutting to himself and shaking his head, half looking for cabs.  He saw an open fast food shop with people trailing lazily out of the front door.  Chips sounded like a good idea.  He entered and joined a straggly queue.  Two American girls spoke pointedly at each other, around two other guys.  “Aw, man, tell me you’re not seriously considering..” the one asked of her friend, possibly sister, seeming appalled.  The subject of her disdain was standing right there, nonplussed.  He was fairly short, bald, mid thirties, slightly overweight and quite smug.  He was getting some tonight, he didn’t give a shit what anyone said or thought; fuck you, his face said.  Barry agreed with the one who had spoken: he looked horrible.  But her sister argued back, “Like YOUR love life is so perfect?!  What about that..” 

“Who’s next?!” an asian man in white overalls interjected over the counter.  Barry approached, placed his order and paid.  The ongoing entertainment fizzled out disappointingly as the protagonist tipsily retracted in a sulk.

Barry received his polystyrene box and looked around him.  There were seats and a sprinkling of sad looking, quiet, drunk people sitting at tables.  None were free.
“Do you want to join us?” a young female from one quiet couple asked him.  The man sitting opposite her looked grey and moody, like she was trying to aggravate him.
“Erm, no you’re all right, thanks,” Barry said, remembering how much hard work women were.  Worth the effort?  Yes, unfortunately.

He ate as he walked, the chips appearing to quickly disappear.  Perhaps he was hungrier than he imagined.  Disposing the polystyrene box into a bin, Barry found he was even less sure where he was.  It felt faintly dangerous, high rise blocks growing up around him as he walked further on, in what was surely the right direction, wasn’t it?  The residential buildings looming, there was nobody else on the street.  Don’t get mugged, don’t get mugged, he told himself in his head, as if telling himself not to get mugged enough times in his head was a surefire way of not getting mugged.  He consulted a map on his phone and grew more confused, slightly scared and walked back the way he had come, quickly finding a cab to ferry him back into the comfortingly populated centre.

At the Night Bus stop he chatted with a spindly disproportioned female whose microscopic skirt exaggerated infinite legs, although she still looked like somebody’s daughter.  She was studying in a small northern university town and missed London’s size and anonymity, hated the close, in each other’s pocket feeling of university.  London’s anonymity was what was beginning to depress Barry.  It could be handle if you’d just had a date like that, he supposed.  Unlikely to ever see her again, unlike if you live in a smaller city or town.  But rarely seeing strangers twice, never bumping into people, having to make military plans to meet up for a drink: that was a ball ache.   She got off the bus three stops before him and he wished her luck.

The formativeness of university, Barry pondered, gazing out of the window at the well-to-do riverside borough: it was a strange one. 

A week earlier he had chatted to a successful young radio DJ at a gig, a man a few years younger than him who had broken into mainstream radio at a sickeningly young age, when Barry was at university.  Now, despite appearing slightly bumbling and not innately charismatic in person, he was respected nationally, travelled widely, had nice, central pads in Cardiff and London.  Horribly likeable, complete bastard, Barry thought. 

He remembered chatting to him briefly at a gig during his university years, the best part of a decade ago.  Barry’s girlfriend at the time had had a thing for him and giggled like a schoolgirl when they spotted him at gigs.  This annoyed Barry, although he could appreciate that there was charm in his inauspiciousness, the way he could linger alone and unnoticed against the back walls of dark clubs in a totally unpredatory, unthreatening fashion, and be a reasonably influential figure. 

Having engaged him between songs by asking after local bands of his student era, Barry questioned how he broke through as a radio DJ at such a young age.  Hospital radio, a chance meeting, that local villagey, who-you-knowness of Cardiff.  Now he had one of the most enviable jobs Barry could think of, and he could feasibly do it for many years to come, if he wanted to.  “Thems the breaks,” Barry supposed.  But he didn’t strike Barry as a person in possession of especially dynamic, ambitious drive.  It had simply fallen for him, like life does for some. 

That could be unfair though: a convenient deflection for the bitter, cowardly and unbelieving.  As he reached the lower deck the bus lurched and slowed quickly, as if the driver had forgotten a passenger had dinged the STOP bell.  Barry allowed his knees to bend, compliant, and waited for the doors to open.


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