Roy woke too early, agitato. He did not switch on the radio. He did not switch on the TV. He did not weigh himself nude. Instead, he got dressed, drove to his office in Croydon and sat behind his desk. The clock said 6:55am. He looked at his framed photo of Kristie, Leila and Lucy, then put his head in his hands for a while.
At nine o’clock he went out to the corner shop. He scanned the newspaper front pages: break point, Andy weeps; don’t cry, girls, he did us proud; anyone for Ennis?; phone hack journalists might face charges; we’ll never know the truth about the banks.
Roy went out, bought a coffee and a sandwich and walked. As he walked he thought about the day he first met Kristie. His company had been advising the one she worked for on clinical trial liability and the like. A soiree was held in a hotel bar somewhere in Kingston and Kristie was brought along. She wasn’t any sort of boss, but a bright young spark in pharmaceuticals, invited to augment a desirable impression of youthful dynamism and also, perhaps, because she was petite, had brown oval eyes and unknowingly conveyed to the Anglo-Saxon males a certain sort of promise of the East.
It was July 1980. Roy did not yet own a hard-sided briefcase with two combination locks. Diana Spencer had yet to marry Princes Charles. John Lennon was not yet dead. There were vol-au-vents and there was claret. Being the two youngsters at the gathering, all buffet table shuffle and sudden, large male guffaws, Roy and Kristie had found each other and talked.
Roy had talked the most: talked, and been grateful that he’d had so much to say; been grateful, too, that Kristie had seemed interested in his views on medical trial liability themes, why Tom Watson was his favourite golfer, why Palace had faded after such a flying start to their first season back in Division One, and why he was glad that McEnroe had lost in the Wimbledon final to Borg. He’d been grateful in particular that Kristie had not unnerved him by flirting or looking over his shoulder for someone else to speak to, although he’d only realised these last things later on.
The vol-au-vents prompted a discussion about food. Kristie had revealed that her father was a Malaysian businessman and had a Malaysian friend who had opened a Malaysian restaurant in Bayswater. And the next thing Roy knew they had arranged to eat there the following night.
Roy had never been to Bayswater and never tried Malaysian food, yet on a balmy west London night he’d located the restaurant with an efficiency that made him feel unusually grown-up, and went on to lose his satay innocence with confidence, assisted by Kristie picking items from the menu she thought he’d like.
During the meal Roy had remembered that he had a chemistry A-level. This provided another talking point. More importantly, Roy discovered for the first time the latent comic potential of being the son of Don, whose suspicions that cannabis turned people homosexual and that masons were behind the Iranian embassy siege reflected a perverse sort of glory on him as he revealed them for Kristie’s amusement over the chicken rendang and chilli crab. He’d felt the remnant of adolescent uncertainties float clear of his body and a newly worldly Roy filling the vacated space. Kristie had kissed him on the cheek when they said goodnight.
All of this came rushing back to Roy as he walked through the Croydon streets.
“Look where you’re fucking going,” said a man in overalls as Roy bumped into him.
“Sorry,” said Roy, automatically.
“Fucking twat,” said the man, striding on.
Roy felt furtively expectant stares from passers-by. He walked off as fast as his affected insouciance allowed. It took his insides about five minutes to come to an impotent boil and another two hours for his revenge fantasies about the man in overalls to subside.
He passed those hours in some café-bar affair, eating an all-day breakfast and watching clipped highlights of Britain’s Jonathan Marray (not to be confused with Murray) winning the men’s doubles title with a foreign player whose name Roy immediately forgot, Mark Webber triumphing in the British Grand Prix (Hamilton and Button nowhere, talk about typical) and the previous day’s stage of the Tour de France.
The corner-mounted TV was silent, but Roy saw from the caption that Wiggins now had the yellow jersey. The pedalling pack climbed and surged, moving together in shifting configurations whose meaning and motivation was undetectable to the naked eye. Roy succumbed to its spell, the exertions of the riders inducing a blessed tranquillity. He went home and slept through the afternoon.
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