A quiet suburban side-street and a man, munching on a banana as he walks, holding it out to his side after each bite to avoid besmirching the gleaming white jacket he’s wearing. He finishes the banana and drops the skin on the pavement. It sits there, like a large yellow spider with less than its fair share of legs. Lying in wait for …
… this second man, perhaps, striding confidently along the same street. He gets nearer. And nearer. And nearer the banana skin.
“I don’t know. Some people!”
He stoops and picks up the skin, gingerly, between finger and thumb, looking around for a rubbish bin but finding none.
“Typical bloody council! It’s no wonder …”
He tosses the skin towards some rubbish bags dumped in a nearby alley, prompting an angry growl from a cat, disturbed by the unexpected missile. It pokes its black head out from behind the bags it’s been scavenging through.
The man continues on his way. The cat hisses after the receding figure.
Emily sits at the kitchen table colouring in a blue strip of sky at the top of a drawing of a house, a mother, a daughter and a cat. She catches a movement on the balcony.
“Mummy. It’s them pigeons again.”
“Those pigeons, Em.”
Mrs Taylor, broom in hand, hurries to the balcony windows and throws them open. The pigeons flee, all except one, preoccupied with the seeds in one of the flower pots on the edge of the balcony. Mrs Taylor steps out and flaps at the bird with the broom, knocking the pot and making it rock slightly.
“Shoo! Go on! Get out of it!”
The pigeon flutters off reluctantly. Mrs Taylor waits a few moments to make sure they’re not coming back. From the street below, pub hubbub wafts up as a door is opened. Mrs Taylor steps back inside and closes the windows.
“That’s them … those … them taken care of. What are you drawing, darling?”
The second man lets the pub door swing closed behind him and stands just inside the bar, surveying the lunch-time crowd. He spots the first man instantly on account of his white jacket, like a beacon in the mid-day gloom of the bar. He makes a bee-line for him.
“All right, Azzer?”
Azzer takes his nose out of the racing paper it was stuck in. He has a handsome, Asian face, but looks troubled.
“Mikey. Am I all right? Nah.”
“Hold that thought. Beer?”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll have a pint.”
Azzer goes back to his paper until Mikey returns with the beers.
“What’s up, then? You’ve got a face like a wet Wednesday in Wolverhampton.”
“I think I’m jinxed, that’s all.”
Mikey scoffs and shakes his head.
“I’m pretty superstitious myself, Azzer, but they don’t exist—jinxes.”
“No? Well, the pig of a week I’ve had … there’s no other explanation.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Where to begin?”
Mikey takes a long swig of his beer, savouring the taste, and plonks the glass down on the table.
“At the beginning?”
Azzer folds his paper up and puts it to one side, leaning forward with his elbows on the table.
“You asked for it. First thing, I lost my job.”
The dead glasses on the table number four. The men’s speech is ever-so-slightly slurred.
“And bugger me if she didn’t kick me out. My own wife! Her brothers brought all my stuff round to my mum’s house. Bloody humiliating, that was.”
“Ah, you’re well out of it, Azzer. I never liked her anyway. Another?”
“To drown my sorrows? Yeah, go on.”
Mikey goes back to the bar.
There are now six dead glasses on the table and two more half-empty.
“And I had to have the dog put down on Thursday.”
It’s too much for Azzer and his slurred words turn to sobs.
“I loved that dog!”
Mikey stares open-mouthed at his friend.
“Blimey, Azzer. I hope I don’t catch it.”
“Catch … what?”
The two friends sit and stare into what’s left of their beers, contemplating the vagaries of the universe.
Mikey perks up.
“Hang on, though. You must’ve had something good happen to you in the last week.”
Azzer lifts his head, a glint of hope flitting across his worried face. He thinks hard, but the glint is a false alarm.
Mikey looks his friend up and down for inspiration.
“Nice jacket, Azzer. Where did you get it?”
“In the market this morning. Half pri—”
He realises what he’s saying and beams a smile at his friend.
“I got it half price!”
“There you go!”
Azzer picks a speck of something off the sleeve of the jacket and brushes it delicately with the back of his fingers.
“I really like it, and I got it half price! That’s a good thing!”
“It is. And you met up with me, and we’ve had a nice …”—observing, as if for the first time, the evidence of the drinking session—“… few beers.”
“Maybe the jinx is over?”
“I tell you what the test will be.”
“The 3.15 at Kempton Park. I’ve got a tenner on Lady Luck.”
“Luck. 25 to 1. I’ll get Kev to put the racing on.”
Azzer goes over and speaks to the bartender, who points the remote control at the TV hanging on the wall opposite their table.
Mikey punches Azzer on the shoulder.
“250 quid!? I’d say that jinx is well and truly buried.”
Azzer sits back in his seat, radiant with the recent adrenalin rush and not a little relief.
“I know, right? I thought it wasn’t going to do it for a moment there, but when it came through on the rails … man!”
They sit for several blissful moments, letting Lady Luck’s healing glow seep into their very beings. Then Azzer claps his hands and rubs them together.
“Well, it’s your lucky day, too—the kebabs are on me.”
“I thought you’d never offer.”
The two finish off their half-full glasses of beer, get up unsteadily and make their way to the door.
“Mummy, them … those pigeons!”
“Blood— I mean blimey. I’ll have to do something about those little …”
“We could get a pussycat, mummy.”
Emily is colouring in the cat in her picture with a black crayon.
“Not sure about that, Em.”
Mrs Taylor grabs the broom and hurries to the balcony windows again, flinging them open. As before, all the pigeons fly away except for the same brave fellow, pecking away at the seeds in the pot on the edge. Mrs Taylor shakes the broom at it. The pigeon takes no notice.
She waves the broom closer. It nudges the pot. The pot rocks. On the edge.
The two friends emerge from the pub, standing on the pavement, debating.
“Ali’s is the best, I reckon.”
“You know, I prefer George’s. They put this really nice sauce on it.”
From somewhere above them, a woman’s voice.
“Shoo! Shoo! Er … Whoops! Watch ou—”
The plummeting flower pot breaks its fall on Mikey’s head. The pot cracks open, spraying earth in a radius of several metres. Mikey sways, takes half a step forwards, half a step back, his legs buckle and he falls to the ground with a WHUMP. Azzer is horrified.
“Noooo! My jacket. My beautiful jacket. Look at it! I told you I was jinxed, Mikey!”
And there we leave them: Azzer brushing furiously at his once pristine jacket with his fingers, oblivious to his prostrate friend; Mikey on the ground, dazed and groaning, not knowing what hit him but for some reason remembering a cat. A black one.