22nd January

The Wee Man

The queue shuffled forward a few feet, stopped, then moved again. The folk in it turned their collars against the cold rain. They hoped the lecture would be worth the wait.

A man and a woman emerged from a taxi. They were important people. Their clothes were expensive but not very waterproof.

The important man smiled confidently at the wee fellow with the beard who was taking the tickets.

‘Good evening, do we go straight in?’ he said in one important breath.

‘Not without a ticket you don’t,’ the wee bearded one replied, barely glancing up. ‘And the back of the queue is down there.’

People nearby had recognised the important man: a politician, a former leader of his party, now ennobled and with his lady beside him. Immediately life was interesting again.

‘I understood that the lecture was free.’

‘It is,’ the wee man said. ‘Free, but ticketed. Hence the queue.’

‘Well, the speaker and I have been friends for years. I told him we would certainly be here.’

‘You certainly are,’ the wee man said, tearing tickets and letting others past. ‘But you still need tickets.’

‘This is ridiculous,’ the important man said. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ The wee man paused, looked properly at his interrogator for the first time, and said, ‘No.’

‘Well, I think you’re being excessively . . . I mean, for heaven’s sake . . .’

The important man was dismayed to find he could not complete a sentence. He glanced uneasily at the faces of people now eager to stand out in the rain a minute longer, if there was going to be a scene. They could tell their friends about it.

The wee man was tearing tickets again, as if he could happily do it for ever.

The important man’s lady was, unlike her husband, still a politician. ‘The queue’s moving quite fast,’ she said, taking him by the elbow. ‘Perhaps we’ll be lucky.’

‘Yes, perhaps,’ he said. As they moved away from the wee bearded man, he muttered, ‘I don’t believe for a minute that chap didn’t recognise me. He’d simply got himself into a corner, and couldn’t back down without losing face.’

‘Yes, dear,’ the important man’s lady said.

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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