As days go, we’d had better. Our Sunday afternoon jaunt to Kirriemuir to visit with the in-laws had to be cancelled. This was thanks to a Range Rover rear-ending an Army Land Rover, which in turn, rear-ended us. The car wasn’t quite a write-off, but it was a right bloody mess. We were shaken, but unhurt. I was raging. Not at the time. At the time I was the meekest version of myself. “Yes, these things do happen.” “Yes, we’ll let the insurance companies handle it.” “Yes, as long as everyone is OK.” “Yes, I get it, a car can be replaced more easily than a human life.”
By the time we’re back at out flat the shock has worn off and I’m now feeling less good about things. I don’t blame the Army Land Rover, but I start to really resent the stupid Range Rover driver. What was he thinking? He must have been driving too close and too fast. And now, we’re inconvenienced. Not to mention the fact that we missed out on a trip to Kirrie. I love Kirrie, and I love my in-laws. I know it’s cool to hate your in-laws, but really, I do love them. And we would have had our tea there as well. I’m now being a grumpy dick. Of course Gill is currently in the living room polishing her ‘Mrs Pragmatic Award’. It’s remarkable how quickly she rationalises things. She’ll have her say. Her moan, even the odd sweary, and then she’ll move on. There’s no dwelling. There’s no punching doors or walls. There are no random outbursts. While I’ve got better over the years at minimising my ‘dwell-time’, she still reigns supreme. The bitch.
My rage is such that I’m not thinking clearly. As daylight turns to early evening dusk, we both hear a commotion coming from below. We’re two floors up in our one bedroom flat on Lochee Road. It’s a busy thoroughfare that provides all manners of entertainment. Sometimes we just grab the popcorn and watch events unfold, marvelling at the folly of our fellow humans. The noise gets louder. That’s when we see him for the first time. A youngish guy, he’s having great fun kicking over each of the bins he comes across. Monday being bin-day, these bins are full. Rubbish pours out onto the streets. Rage boils up inside me. Gill shakes her head. Probably more at me than him. I open the window and shout something. He ignores me.
“Right that’s it.” In unison I put on my shoes and make my way to the door. Gill tries to reason with me. When that fails she tells me not to be so stupid and to let it go. I march down the stairs with absolute purpose. Half way down, even I catch myself and question what the hell I’m doing. But, I’m committed now, I’m not going to give Gill the satisfaction of knowing that she’s right. Which of course, she absolutely is!
The young rapscallion has already tipped over our bins, he’s now three blocks of flats down.
“Oi.” Is what I deem situationally appropriate to capture his attention. When that doesn’t work I go with the more confrontational, “Oi, you.” Which works. He stops in his tracks. We have a conversation.
“Why are you doing that?”
“Fucks it to you?”
“Pick it up. All of it.”
It’s at this point I know he’s drunk or high.
We carry on our pointless exchange. I eventually tell him to just go. He holds up his hands in mock surrender and says ‘OK’. He turns and begins to walk away and I turn to go back to the flat. My heart is racing. I am an avoider of conflict. This really isn’t my style. Inwardly I curse the Range Rover driver. That thoughts interrupted by an awareness that our exchange has not gone unnoticed. My neighbours are enjoying the show. Hang on, is she actually eating popcorn? I can’t blame them, I’d do the same if I had the rational sense to stay put. Then I notice one of them. She’s waving at me. Actually, it’s not a wave. I mean, for fuck sakes, there’s a time and a place for charades and this is quite clearly neither. It’s a TV show. Nope, it’s a book. What the hell is it?
All thoughts are interrupted as I’m struck from behind. The punch is hard and connects just behind my right ear. There’s an instant ringing in my ear, but strangely no pain. That’d come later. Instead of crumpling to the ground in agony, I find that I have caught his right wrist with my left hand. It’s a move Mr. Miyagi would be proud of. I spin around and feel resistance. He’s trying to pull away. I hold tighter and at the same time my own right hand is balled and ready to strike. He looks scared. He’s bracing himself for a punch that I can’t throw. He is high. There’s definitely something not right about him.
I lower my fist. I tell him that I’ve had a shite day and that I don’t need this. He says sorry. I then tell him that I’ll let the police deal with it and let go of his wrist. He gets frantic now. He’s only just out. He’ll go back if he gets lifted. He offers to pay me money. He’s got £20 on him, but he could get more. The desperation is real. I lie to him by saying I’ve changed my mind and that I won’t contact the police. To my shame, I do.
Now, looking back on that moment, I’m not proud of that fact. I don’t belong to the ‘snitches get stitches’ fraternity. I’m very much from a ‘if you are the victim of an unprovoked physical assault that it is your duty to contact the local constabulary’ fraternity. I can play a game of revisionist history and tell you that I did so as I was fearful of what he might do to himself or to another human that gets in the way of his bin-wrecking spree. I could make up all sorts of excuses. The truth is, I did it out of spite. I did it because he embarrassed me. I did it because he was a substitute for the Range Rover driver. I didn’t think about the ramifications for him, because I didn’t give a shit. He’d deserve it.
He was eventually picked up by the Police. The officer that came to the flat was an old school mate of mine. He asked if I wanted to press charges. There was no hesitation. I said that I didn’t. I said it was because I didn’t want the hassle, but it was really because I’d come to my senses. He was clearly a troubled soul. I didn’t want to add to his troubles. But, I did ask if they could keep him stewing a bit longer and then release him saying that I’d changed my mind. It was a cruel thing to do, but who knows, maybe it would give him time to worry. A bit like those ‘scared straight’ documentaries where young offenders are given a real prison experience.
Three days later I hear shouting outside the flat. Gill looks out. Her face says, ‘you’re not going to believe this’ and she is right. Beckoning me down the stairs is my assailant. Gill tells me to ignore him, but she knows I won’t. I go down the stairs, heart-racing as it did before I met him for the first time. As I make my way outside he smiles a smile that telegraphs how hard this is for him. I return his smile with one of my own that’s joined by a nod.
He tells me his name. It’s Gordon. He tells me he’s sorry. Really sorry. And, I believe him. He’s not just sorry, he’s ashamed. Then he thanks me for my change of heart, for not pressing charges. He leaves me in no doubt that the consequences would have been grave. There are thousands of things I can say in this moment. Some deep. Some profound. Some to make him feel worse. Some to make him feel better. I opt for understated.
“It’s OK, things happen. I accept your apology.”
At that, he thrusts his hand forward, I can see there’s doubt as to whether I’ll accept it. I do. I shake his hand and tell him to look after himself. And with that, he’s gone. He heads back to Lochee and I head back up the stairs to the flat. I tell Gill the story. The last thing I tell her is his name. Gordon.
“Good old Gogsy.” She says. We both burst out laughing. The tension of the moment evaporated in an instant.