American Policeman

Posted: November 11, 2010 in graffiti living

They’re watching me in black and white. Not the pregnant teen looking for a place to sit, or the young boy hunched over in front of the second hand bookshop. That place is known for trouble. Of all the people they could watch, the camera has singled me out. I’m not supposed to smoke here.

I was stoned when the coach pulled in. She wasn’t on it this time either. A woman in a red dress stepped barefoot from the coach. She wasn’t my girlfriend but I stared at her anyway. She leaned over, stretched her long legs and slipped on her sandals.

‘Have you got the time?’ I said.

She looked at me disgusted; so disgusted that I didn’t ask anyone else. Maybe she was meeting someone? I’ve seen them do that. They kiss and hug and quote each other, taking turns to finish sentences.

The driver waddled round, white shirt untucked; stretching his legs, but that is not the same thing. He lifted up the side panel on the coach and helped people get out their luggage. The coach was like a dead horse, opened up, with everyone gathered around it. My girlfriend wasn’t in the crowd. I looked at them all in turn as though they might be her. The man in the blue suit didn’t qualify. She would never wear blue, only black. It matches her pupils.

The passengers took up too much room now they weren’t on the coach. I wondered what would happen if I got up and walked away. The surveillance camera pointed right at me. Would I be made to sit back down and wait for her?

I crossed over to the shopping precinct. There is a café and some toilets that you pay to enter. Where you take a shit is now a restricted area, guarded by a turnstile with a slot in the side for your coins. Low enough to step over, but high enough to draw too much attention to yourself when doing it. Someone got paid to measure these things.

Painted arrows pointed down concrete steps into the male toilets. Fluorescent strip lights flickered on and off, buzzing louder than the flies they attracted. My stomach lurched at the brown detergent smell of a hospital. That’s when I saw the body on the wet floor.

A man was curled up in front of the urinals. I looked around for an empty cubicle to use instead. The nearest one had no door and was cordoned off with black and yellow hazard tape like a crime scene. The middle one was empty, but I heard two men’s hushed voices in the other cubicle. The door said occupied and banged at regular intervals. I didn’t want to know what they were doing, so I approached the man instead.

‘Can I have a piss?’ I said. He had a lumberjack shirt rolled up under his head like a pillow. I stepped over him. He groaned, but got up as soon as I unzipped.

‘I couldn’t sleep anyway. Got any change?’

‘You don’t have to pay to get out’ I said.

‘No, but I have to make sure I can get back in.’

‘Even tramps pay to get in here?’ I thought, then stopped mid-flow, unsure of whether I’d said it out loud. He moved over to the sink and turned on the taps.

‘Men throw me out. They have their own staircase.’

‘I can’t help you’ I said. In my head I saw him glare at me through the mirror and struggled to finish.

‘Now wash your hands’ he said. He wasn’t there when I turned round. He’d left the lumberjack shirt in a puddle by the sink. The cubicle door banged faster and louder; one man whined like a kicked dog. I sniffed my hands and walked out.

As I flicked through the crumpled notes in my wallet I realised that I’d told the truth; I couldn’t help. Since I’d paid for the toilets, I didn’t have any change. There was a newsagent stand just round the corner. The small fat woman eyed me with contempt as I handed her my money.

‘We don’t give change’ she said.

‘But I need to use the phone.’

‘You’ll have to buy something.’

I picked up a newspaper without looking at the headline.

‘I’m not changing a tenner just for that.’

‘Alright, a pack of cigarettes.’

‘Which one?’

‘I don’t care which one. The cheapest.’

‘What kind of man doesn’t care what brand he smokes?’

She gave me my change but didn’t say how much it came to.

The phone box was worse than the toilets. You could tell someone had pissed there. My girlfriend would kill me for not putting her before the toilet. City traffic blared outside, so loud and constant that you only noticed when it was cut off by the booth door. My coins dropped into the metal box with exaggerated clunks. I tried to get through to her mobile.

‘This service is not available. Please replace the handset and try again.’

The metal box decided to keep my money anyway. My head just hung up on the idea. What is the point of having a phone if you can’t talk to someone on the other side? What if I’d been waiting in the wrong place? And what if she’d gone to another station to meet someone else instead of me?

That’s when the bad things started. Myself and the sky are no longer on speaking terms. It began to chuck it down as soon as I stepped out of the phone box. All around me the buildings ran in weighed down colours. Rain made them dirty, the bus station drained through a coffee filter. I ran across to the stand where I’d been waiting. The coach was no longer there. Oil patterns slid on the wet road in its place. I’ve seen oil slicks in a grey sea, and a rainbow in a black sky, but this one ran straight into the gutter.

The newspaper was too wet to read, stories blurred together, hands smudged black from the cheap print. It’s not like I was in the mood anyway, slumped cold and wet on the same plastic seat as before. The newspaper went straight in the bin along with the shrink-wrap from my cigarettes.

I tried to do something with my eyes other than just looking at the floor. As I smoked, the warmth in my lungs made me want the words I do read: Nazi propaganda, Mayan codices, and every manner of bus timetable that I can lay my hands on.

A man came and stood in front of me.

‘All I need is an American Policeman’ he said.

‘What?’ I said, talking to muddy hobnail boots.

‘All I need is an American Policeman.’

He had an alcoholic’s red nose and a pock scar dug into his left cheek like a question mark. I couldn’t tell if he was the man from the toilets. He wore a Benny hat, but rolled up wrong, half mast on his head.

‘The last thing you need is to talk to a cop, mate.’

He grinned. ‘Normally I’d agree with you, if it was just your average beat bobby. But this is different.’

‘Why American?’

‘Well it’s the way they move, isn’t it?’

‘Are you for real?’ I said.

He shook his head at me. I didn’t know if he was laughing or choking as the words spilled out of his mouth.

‘I need one now or else I’m gonna lose it, go crazy like. No-one cares, so I’m all why me inside, you know?’

‘And a cop would care?’

‘No, but they’d know what to do.’

He sat down too close to me on the green plastic seat and leaned in even closer. His bad breath stung like raw onions. Mismatched brown and blue eyes watched me; each had nothing to do with the other.

‘I’m like a bomb, see? An American Policeman will stop me from going off.’

The blue eye blinked and the brown eye stared at my mouth.

‘Smoking is bad for you. This is a no smoking area.’

I could taste him on my cigarette so I handed it over.

‘Here’ I said. ‘Keep it.’

He snatched the cigarette then just held it for a moment, like he didn’t know what to do with it.

‘What are you doing?’ he said.

‘Waiting.’

‘But, you could go places.’

‘I’m waiting for my girlfriend.’

‘A man should wait for his woman to come, the TV told me that. Does she have a name?’

‘Yes, but it doesn’t suit her.’

He seemed to have calmed down a bit, and took a long drag on the cigarette. I’d smoke the rest of them when he’d gone.

‘I say that I’m waiting, but that means I’m getting somewhere, if you see what I mean?’

‘Coaches go places. They have horses.’

‘They have Horse Power’ I said. ‘Do you know, the only time I saw a horse outside of a book or movie was on the road at night? There was an accident. The horse had bolted. Bolt is the word they lock the horse with, I could never understand that. It galloped down the busy motorway, ran itself to death in all the headlights.’

The man’s brown and blue eyes blinked together.

‘Your girlfriend’s dead, isn’t she?’

I took back my cigarette and ground it out on the green seat, melting the plastic.

‘I told you, I’m waiting for my girlfriend.’

‘All I need is an American Policeman’ he said.

‘Well, I hope you find one.’

‘It’s not your fault’ he said, and walked right out into the rain.

The surveillance camera stayed on me. A new coach rounded the corner, so I stood up on show for the security guards. My wallet was missing; the bastard must have stolen it. I was patting down my pockets when the coach pulled in. I had to choose between chasing after him and waiting for my girlfriend.

I looked for her through the tinted windows.

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