4th July

The Coin

The man wore a tall grey hat with a bashed-in crown, a black tailcoat and striped trousers, and a stained white shirt with a cravat. He either needed a shave or was growing a beard. He looked like a lord who’d lost everything at Ascot, or a bridegroom who’d baulked at the altar and been on the run ever since.

‘Fuel?’ I asked.

‘Sustenance,’ he said, holding up a Milkybar.

‘Have you bought fuel as well?’ I said, pointing to the pumps outside.

‘I am without carriage.’ He spoke like an actor. ‘Wait,’ he continued, resisting my attempt to take the Milkybar from him. ‘How much does it cost?’

‘Forty pence.’

‘Unfortunately this is all I have,’ he said, producing a twenty-pence piece. ‘I shall buy half.’

‘You can’t,’ I said. ‘You have to buy the whole thing or none of it.’

‘Really?’ His eyebrows rose. Deftly he snapped the bar in two, tore open the wrapper and slid one half out.

‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ I said. ‘Now you have to give me another twenty pence.’

‘I am without further coin,’ he said. ‘I will return tomorrow, or the next day. For now, I am restricted to purchasing this portion.’

I looked around for Karen, the manager, but she was through the back. ‘You can’t,’ I said.

‘I have,’ he replied, and popped it in his mouth. Then he stuck his hands in the pockets of his striped trousers, smiled, and ambled out.

I suppose I should have rung the bell for Karen, but I didn’t. He looked pathetic in his tired old fancy dress. I felt sorry for him, mainly because I didn’t think it was fancy dress.

Other people came in to pay for fuel, sandwiches, cigarettes. They handed over their credit cards and parted with fifty, sixty, seventy pounds without blinking. They didn’t seem to have noticed the man in the top hat.

I never said anything to Karen. I kept the coin and the second half of the Milkybar for a week, intending to ring through the sale if he ever came back, but he didn’t. So I ate the chocolate and put the coin in the charity box.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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