A Small Victory

Walt Brown, or Mr Brown as he reluctantly referred to himself whilst at work, spent a good part of the morning looking up people he hated on Facebook. Slouched in front of his computer screen, sporadically looking at the clock that was hung above the door in the staff room, he yawned and sipped at the cold dregs of the coffee he had made himself about an hour before, sometime around eleven o’clock.

It was nearly lunchtime before he realized that he had wasted the entire morning. In a better mood he might have felt that this was some sort of accomplishment, but not today. Today he had woken in a bad mood, had travelled to work beneath a personal grey cloud of misery at the prospect of another week doing a job he had long ago ceased to enjoy.

His session on Facebook had been meant to cheer him up. It hadn’t worked. He hadn’t found anything pleasing about his adversaries. None of them were ill or dying, none had recently lost their job or a member of their family or even their hair. They were all doing fine, leading happy successful, good-looking lives.

Seeing their happy smiling pictures and cheerful status updates had served only to put Walt in an even fouler mood. It made him realize how pointless his own life had become and although he knew it was only Facebook, that the pictures people uploaded, the status updates they wrote, really had nothing to do with their real lives, he couldn’t help but feel even more depressed than he had when he had woken this morning.

Walt gave up looking on Facebook, he logged out of his account and began reading a news story that had caught his eye, about an English girl who was facing jail in Dubai for telling a policeman in the street (for a joke) that she was a terrorist.  Walt’s mood lightened.

It was an interesting story. Apparently the girl faced years behind bars, with no chance of porole and in filthy, cramped conditions. All of which was the cost of playing a practical joke, a moment of silliness that had cost her dearly. Walt was just finishing the article, with only a few minutes before the bell for lunch would sound when a name suddenly popped into his head. Walt had no idea where it had come from, what had triggered his memory into remembering the name, it simply popped into his head like a piece of toast ejecting form a toaster, completely unexpected.

Edward Washington – a boy he had known at school who he had hated more than any other person he had met since and who he had long since forgotten about.

Walt quickly logged back into Facebook and typed the name into the search bar at the top of the screen. In an instant about twenty pictures appeared, none of which looked familiar. Walt scrolled down the page. They were all too young or had different faces, hair colour, skin colour. In fact there was only one face on the screen that bared even the slightest resemblance.

He was about the right age, thinning hair, a sort of pink cheeked sneering look on his face, narrow sloping eyes. It could be him. Walt was vaguely sure that it might be, but it was only when he read the name above the picture that an electric thrill of excitement shot up the back of his neck.

Ed Washington – Not Edward, but Ed. At school he had always called himself Ed, everyone had called him Ed. Of course, thought Walt and he clicked on the picture and the profile page of Ed Washington opened on his computer screen. Walt looked at the name of the school he had attended and there it was, the same school and same year as Walt. It was definitely him.

Walt began clicking through his pictures, a rapid fire of images as he scrolled through with only second before the bell for lunch would sound. There were hundreds, mostly of himself, different places. He’d been on holiday in Chicago at some point, there were some dull pictures of the city in the rain, a picture of him on his own in a restaurant.

It was with a feeling of growing satisfaction as Walt clicked his way through the pictures that he saw nothing exciting, absolutely nothing to be jealous of.

One was a picture of an old American car, shiny and white with pointy tail fins, the sort of car you never see in England. Beneath was the caption ‘The love of my life’, which made Walt scoff out loud. How pathetic, he thought. But perhaps what stood out most prominently in his pictures was that there wasn’t a single other person in any of them.

He’s lonely, Walt realised and began to feel a mild surge of optimism and he didn’t care that Ed Washington’s job was somewhere in the city, infinitely more important and better paid than his own. Or that he lived in a better part of London, that he owned a flat instead of renting one as Walt did. It didn’t matter, Ed Washington was on his own and that was how he deserved to be.

Just then the bell sounded and almost immediately it was followed by the sound of voices coming down the hall. Happy, excited voices and the reception area filled with students, all young and all talking loudly.

Walt stood up from the behind the computer desk. It was lunchtime. At the same moment Diane, Walt’s colleague, came in. She walked to her desk, stomping her feet on the vinyl floor and she slumped into her chair. She was like a bad actor pretending to be a petulant teenager.

‘Oh God.’ She exclaimed in a dramatic sigh and dropped her head into her hands. She stayed like this for a few seconds before lifting it back up and picking up a small bottle of water and taking several large gulps, eyes closed. She had a pained wrinkled-browed look on her face.

Feeling obliged to ask, being the only other person in the room, Walt asked tentatively, ‘Something wrong?’

‘Our bloody boss.’ She answered immediately, ‘that’s what’s bloody well wrong. Do you know what he said to me just now when I went in to see him about having next Thursday off?’

‘You’re having next Thursday off?’ Walt asked.

‘You know I’m having Thursday off, but so should Tim. I told him I needed it off weeks ago, but now he’s talking about some visit that’s happening the same day and he wants to see who else is working and it’s just not fair.’

For Walt this was devastating news. He hated listening to other people complaining, especially someone like Diane who had a flair for it. She complained all the time, there was always something wrong, always something that had upset her, or could upset her. Sometimes he thought she looked like the frowny mask face in the ancient Greek symbol for drama, a thought that amused him because Diane taught the Drama course. But of course he could never tell her this.

Suddenly another head appeared around the side of the door frame, ‘Tea, Diane?’ it was Helen, the other teacher, Walt hadn’t thought she was in today. He sat up in his chair when he saw her.

‘Oh hello, Walt. Didn’t know you were in today. Tea?’ she spoke in a loud, almost mannish voice, raised intentionally above the clatter of voices in the busy reception area.

‘No, I didn’t know you were in either.’ Walt replied, smiled and raised his voice too, so that she could hear him. But she didn’t hear him, couldn’t have as she disappeared from the doorway with the words, ‘Right oh.’

When he looked back at Diane, for some reason she was shaking her head.

‘Are you even interested in what I’m saying.’ She asked.

‘Yes, yes, terribly so, absolutely terrible. Look.’ Walt got out of his chair and walked towards the door. ‘Why don’t you tell me about it in a minute, I’ve just got to catch Helen before she goes out for lunch, I need to speak to her. I need to know what she did with the November exam class.’

The light was different in the reception area, brighter. Daylight shone through the big glass windows on the opposite wall. It wasn’t as busy as it had sounded either. Walt squinted, his eyes not adjusted form sitting in the dark staffroom all morning.

He couldn’t see Helen. She wasn’t even in the kitchen area making tea, although he hadn’t desperately needed to speak to her, that could wait. What he really needed was fresh air, but as he was approaching the front entrance, a glass door so plastered with stickers and promotional information about the school, British Council stickers, IELTS stickers, it was almost impossible to see outside, he changed his mind.

Outside it was raining, although not heavily. A steady drizzle of rain. A fine grey day, he said to himself as a bus passed, groaning and hissing on the wet tarmac of Hill Street. He closed the door and went back upstairs to his classroom, where he waited till the end of lunch.

In the afternoon Walt set his class a test, ‘Exam practice.’ He had told them and walked authoritatively between the rows of desks, planting a paper face down before each of his students.

None of the class complained, not even a murmur of dissent. It was September after all, and the class had an exam in two months, a repeat of the exam they had failed in June. Walt watched as the class set about completing the paper. He watched as the students covertly stroked the screens of their iphones beneath their desks, or hidden inside their pencil cases, thinking they were being subtle enough to not be seen, but Walt didn’t care. What did it matter? If they hadn’t passed in June, what chance did they have in November.

Walt slumped in his chair and pretended not to be watching. Instead he looked forlornly out of the window and he began thinking about Ed Washington again. The first time he had met him it had been a day like today, grey and wet with a wind too feeble to blow even leaves from the trees, leaves that had become middle aged over the summer, sensible and brown, flecked yellow like the tie Walt had worn that day in September when he had first met Ed Washington.

Everything was new that day, the uncomfortable blue brass buttoned blazer, the new school shoes, but it was the room he was left alone in that felt most unfamiliar, with its old wooden walls, coated with dark glossy varnish, with high ceilings and highly polished windows, oil paintings on the walls.

There had been a table in the centre of the room, set with a white table cloth and a disarray of used coffee cups, empty plates with the crumbs of eaten sandwiches. The room smelt of perfume too, a faint smell that lingered like the ghost of someone who has just died, leaving an empty space behind and creating a deep sense of loneliness about the place.

Walt had stood nervously next to the wall and waited, not sure of whether he should put his hands in his pockets or behind his back, his Dad had told him to keep his hands at his sides when he was wearing a suit, but it seemed unnatural. His dad had also told him he would be back after speaking to the Housemaster, but Walt was sure he had heard him leaving, had heard the rusty door of his Ford slamming into its frame and the whine of its engine pulling away.

Suddenly a boy burst into the room. The double doors swung shut behind him. He stopped and looked at Walt, but didn’t speak. He frowned and narrowed his eyes.

‘Hello.’ Walt said.

The boy didn’t reply. Instead he walked slowly to where Walt was standing, staring at him and he didn’t speak until he was standing directly in front of him, holding his chin high above his chest, giving the impression that he was taller than Walt.

‘You’re the new boy, aren’t you?’ He said, speaking with all the authority of an adult and he had the exact accent Walt had expected the boys here to have, the accent Walt had tried to adopt himself in the last few weeks, since he had been told he was coming here. ‘Where are you from?’ the boy asked.

‘Epsom.’ Walt replied ‘Where are the others? We arrived late and I think the letter we got said something about supper up in the school.’

‘I know, I’ve been sent to collect you.’ The boy said,. ‘but answer my question first, where did you say you were from?’

‘Epsom.’

‘Where?’ the boy scoffed,

‘It’s near the South Downs.’ Walt replied, ‘It’s in Surrey, just south of London.’

‘No,’ the boy said and shook his head, letting it drop so that he was looking down and he put his fingers to his forehead, as if he were talking to someone who was too stupid to understand him. ‘I meant what school are you from?’

‘Oh, I see’ Walt replied, feeling his face go red and even before he had said the name of his school he felt embarrassed.

‘Manor Park’

‘What? Where’s that?’

‘Epsom. Look, shall we go and meet the others?’ Walt had hated Ed Washington from that moment. He still hated him.

The sound of footsteps in the corridor alerted Walt that it was time to end his lesson. One of the other teachers must have let their class out early. Walt decided to do the same.

‘Right class, finish what you’re writing and leave your papers on your desk.’ He said, getting out of his chair. ‘We’ll check your answers tomorrow.’

The class stood up from their desks, their chairs scrape against the floor, and they left the room, some saying good bye to Walt as they left, some leaving as quickly as they could. It was the afternoon, after all, no reason to stay in school unless you had too.

Walt decided to leave too. He hated staying late after school, especially on Monday, especially when he felt as demotivated as he had felt today. He walked quickly around the room collecting the completed exam papers. He would read through them on the train home, he told himself, although knowing really that he wouldn’t. At best he might skim through a couple of the better ones, intending to give them a mark tomorrow when he could look at the properly.

But even tomorrow that would seem too much effort. Walt wordlessly congratulated himself for telling the class they would correct the paper during tomorrow’s lesson and he formed the papers into a neat pile before sliding them into his brown leather briefcase.

At the back of the room one of the students had been reading a copy of the free newspaper that was given out at the station and just as Walt was putting it into the bin he noticed the headline was about the girl who was facing fail in Dubai.

Practical Joke Girl Speaks from Jail Cell, the headline read. Thinking he might read it on the train, Walt folded the paper and put it into his bag next to the students’ work. He then walked quickly along the corridor, down the stairs and out into Hill Street.

There were no students left inside the school, not even in the computer room. It was as if no one wanted to hang around today, although he expected Helen would still be there. She was someone who took her job far too seriously, a quality that Walt had never understood but had often found useful on occasions.

Helen was an amazing person to work with, Walt mused as he walked on the many times she had helped him in the past. The time for example when he had had too much marking and had needed someone to help with the workload, or the time he had needed to swap classes, Helen had stepped in to help on both occasions, many other occasions too.

Having left work Walt was in a much better mood. He gave a smiley hello to a group of students who stood smoking on the corner at the end of Hill Street. A couple of them nodded in reply, although unsmiling, perhaps even a little disrespectfully. But what did it matter, Walt thought, were teenagers meant to be anything else?

Only when Walt was crossing the road and rounding the corner into George Street did he notice it had stopped raining. The tarmac of the road was still wet though and it glistened, reflecting the red and green lights of the traffic lights. Walt stepped back onto the pavement once in George Street, only to find that the pavement was blocked.

A white car was parked on the pavement. Whoever had left it there had left only a narrow gap between the glass shop front and the side of the car. It was the most inconsiderate parking Walt had ever seen and a cluster of people, all wearing frowns and each of them having to wait their turn to pass through the gap, formed a cluster around the car.

Walt was waiting his turn to pass through the gap when he noticed the car had tail fins and suddenly it looked familiar.

Shiney white, an old American car, so long and wide that it could barely have parked anywhere else. Walt peered inside. The front seats, made of dark grey leather and joined so that they formed what was more a bench that seats, was wide enough for up to six or seven people to sit side by side and the back seat too, it was so deep and wide it could have served for bed.

It was Ed Washington’s car. It had to be. It was a car that couldn’t have looked any more out of place than it did now on Richmond High Street, and illegally parked too, which meant that Ed Washington was here, he must be. Probably inside one of the shops or posting a letter.

Walt looked through the shop window the car was parked next to, he looked across the road, up the street. Ed Washington was nowhere to be seen. Walt walked round to the driver’s side and peered in over the high edge of the car’s frame, which was made even higher because the car was parked on the curb and Walt had to stand on the road to look in.

It was definitely Ed Washington’s car. The more Walt looked the more he remembered from the picture he had seen before lunch. The white piping around the corners of the seat, the chrome finish to the wing mirrors and the round the edge of the wind shield. Exactly the same as it had looked in the picture earlier.

If walt had been able to walk away, continue on his journey to the station, he would have. But such a crowd had gathered around the car, students, shoppers, people who had finished work and were also heading home, it was impossible for Walt to get past on the pavement.

The most incredible idea occurred to Walt then. It was perfect, it was fait, what were the odds, after all, that Ed Washington would park his car directly in Walt’s path on the very same day that he had been looking at his picture of the very same car on Facebook.

Walt put both hands on the side of the car and readied himself. This would take a determined effort, and in the most dramatic tone he could muster, muttered as clearly as he could, ‘Oh my God!’

A few heads turned and looked at Walt. He concentrated on getting his facial expression righ before saying, in a louder voice still,

‘Oh My God! There’s a bomb.’

More heads turned.

‘There’s a bomb in the car.’ Walt shouted, ‘It’s a trap! There’s a bomb in the car!’

Everyone heard, everyone looked, but not at Walt, at the car and in panic, with shrieks, shouts and pushing, the crowd dispersed. Walt too, he ran as fast as he could away from the car and towards the station, where unbelievably his train was already there, waiting on the tracks.

Walt wondered later that day, in the evening as he watched the evening news and watching the headline news about a bomb scare in Richmond High Street, which had resulted in a controlled explosion and a man now being questioned by the police, questioned about his car and Walt wondered if it really had been Ed Washington’s car.

It certainly looked like his car, but it was so hard to tell, Walt knew so little about cars.

Walt probably would have walked away then, continued to the station and travelled home, forgetting all about Ed Washington, about his car and his selfish parking, if it hadn’t been for the unexpected tap on his shoulder.

‘Excuse me, Sir.’ A voice asked, speaking in a clear and authoritative enough voice that Walt knew even before he had turned around that it was a policeman.

Walt turned and saw to his surprise the policeman was on a horse. The policeman looked down at Walt, the expression on his face masked by the sharp peek of his riding hat. He frowned.

‘Is this your car?’ the policeman asked.

Walt took a deep breath before answering, the presence of the horse’s giant head, its snorting nostrils, so close to his, causing him to feel a little flustered, a little disorientated, as if too many things were happening at once.

‘Yes.’ Walt replied and before he could correct himself, which he desperately knew he had to do, the policeman continued.

‘and you realize that this vehicle is parked illegally on a public though fare?’

‘Yes.’ Walt said again

‘Well could you move it, please.’ The policeman asked, which surprised Walt and not just because the policeman was letting the owner of the car, who he thought was Walt, off with not so much as a parking ticket, but because he had even said please.

‘Sorry?’ Walt asked.

‘Move your car please, Sir.’ The policeman repeated in a clear voice, and without even a hint of annoyance, even calling Walt Sir. No, thought Walt, this won’t do. He can’t get away with this, he needs a fine at least, his car towed, something, Walt thought, anything. And suddenly Walt had an idea.

‘No.’ Walt said to the policeman.

‘What?’ replied the Policeman, his horse shifting on its feet beneath him.

‘No, I won’t move my car. It’s staying here.’ Walt said.

The policeman lifted the radio he had attached to his black stab vest. He muttered something into the speaker grill, then looked down again at Walt.

‘Right, what’s your name?’

‘Washington.’ Walt replied, speaking with a confidence he would never have summoned had he been giving his own name, ‘Ed Washington.’

‘And is there any reason why you are refusing to move your car?’

‘There’s a bomb inside.’ Walt replied, speaking loudly enough that not only the policeman could hear, but also the crowd of people who had gather, some still trying to get past the car on the pavement, but some who had simple stopped to watch too. A shocked gasp rose from some of the spectators.

‘A what?’ the policeman widened his eyes.

‘A bomb. There’s a bomb in my car. So I can’t move it you see, because if I did then I wouldn’t be able to blow up this shop here.’ Walt pointed to the shop the car was parked in front of. It sold cosmetics, had brown and gold frontage.

‘Now listen here, mate.’ The policeman leant forward on his horse and spoke in a whispered voice so that only Walt would here, ‘This better not be a fucking joke because you are about to get yourself into some serious fucking trouble.’ And he spoke exactly how Walt though he ought to speak, no more Sir or Please.

‘Not a joke,’ Walt replied, ‘there’s a bomb in this car and I’m a terrorist. My name’s Ed Washington.’ And before the policeman could say any more, and certainly before any other police arrived, Walt ran as fast as he could away from the car, up a side street and jumped onto a bus that would take him away from the town centre.

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