“WITH YOUR MANY long years of observing people, I know you’ve gained a certain understanding of the ways of people and I wonder if you’d do me a favour and tell me what is your opinion of my neighbour,” so asks a man in a corner stool, to which the landlord, flattered, makes a thoughtful noise and seems ready to discourse on the subject with gravity. The man continues, “Because, I think he’s a bit—“
“I wouldn’t trust him”, interrupts the landlord, sensing that he was losing the moment. The man leans forward with happiness. “Wouldn’t trust him,” he continues, warming to his esteem. “No. He’s a nervous kind of a man, I’d say. That’s how I see it anyway. Oh yeah. It’s like he’s covering something up.”
“Like he’s covering something up!” repeats the man with happiness, “Yes. Yes. Like he’s covering something up. Well, do you know that’s exactly my observation too. The very same as yours. But, let me tell you, where I am, I hear them arguing upstairs, he and his wife, through the ceiling, you know, and she really does scream at him. I mean she really does. He’s a man who’s full of fear, I’d say,” he says probingly.
The landlord replies firmly: “I wouldn’t trust him.” Silence falls for a time.
“But you know, it’s not only that,” the man says, daringly, “I’d say he’s not the full shilling either.”
But with this, it feels like he’s gone too far, and a heretofore silent man sitting next to him retorts, “but he probably thinks you’re not the full shilling either.”
“Yes!” comes the absolutely delighted reply, “but that’s because he doesn’t understand me!”
Neither the landlord nor the other man can find a response to this, and the pub falls silent. Before long the man who started the conversation departs his stool and leaves the place without a word of goodbye or explanation. Nothing really happens then for a while. People come in and order drinks. One man sitting behind the door, where he just barely avoids being hit every time it’s opened, is asked several times if his horse has run yet, to which he replies increasingly tersely that his horse isn’t running until 4.15. “You’ll be gone home by then, so,” one man observes, and that apparently settles the issue, as nobody mentions the horse or indeed interacts with this man again.
THEN A NEW MAN comes into the pub. He is wearing a Liverpool FC puffer jacket. He gets a pint, stands cheerfully in the corner, and taps on the shoulder the same poor man who failed to adequately respond in the previous conversation and says, as though he had been asked a question. “There wasn’t as many of us today, to be fair, no. But there was a load last night.” There is no response. “But no, only a relatively small amount today, if that’s what you were going to say. Definitely quieter.” Silence. “It was great though, I’ll tell you, last night was really good. We were all down there outside Westminster, you know, and there was a great atmosphere.”
At last, his neighbour rises to the occasion and says confidently, “I worked on a block in Whitehall last year. It’s all Whitehall, isn’t it, that block,” but whatever avenue of conversation this is is closed off because the Liverpudlian carries on as if nobody had spoken:
“Yeah, we had Farage last night. God, he’s a great man, isn’t he. He really is a great man.” A silence. “He says it like we’re all thinking it, doesn’t he? What a man. What a man.” Another, more difficult silence. “No, I do. I do like that Farage,” he insists until his companion, with a certain desperation, turns to me, who am in a state of extreme agitation watching the closing minutes of a hurling match, with my legs jumping wildly about, and leans close and asks do I know where the Foreign Office is.
Michael O’Mahony is a writer and artist from Limerick, Ireland, living in London. He writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction, as well as taking photographs. He recently performed at the Bucharest International Poetry Festival and appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Ramblings.