‘It’d be very hard for me to clamp that car’ he says to me. He’s at the rear of the vehicle, peering into it, and then beaming down at me. I’m on my knees searching through bags for my keys. A crisp blue winter sky surrounds him, the cold sun glinting off his glasses, highlighting his silver strands.
‘It is yours isn’t it?’ he asks but waits not for a reply.
‘Coz I let you off the other day too and I was about to let you off again…’
I’ve no idea what he’s rambling on about.
The alarm in my bag begins to buzz.
‘What do you mean you let me off?’
‘There’s no parking ticket and there wasn’t one the other day and I let you off ‘coz I know you from coming in and…’ A flicker of horror. Is my mind that wasted? Pre-occupied, sure. Exhausted, absolutely. Vacuous, I don’t think so. Not yet. Was that not me counting out all the small gold coins, using up the change, permitting me to stay until 13.43, not that I’d need it. Of course it was.
‘There certainly is a ticket and there certainly was one the other day too’ I say, gesticulating to the front window, losing the battle with keys at the bottom of the bag. If only I hadn’t bought those knock down bottles of wine to see us through. They’re clogging up all the space, concealing the keys. I can hardly take them out here on the ground and let them roll around the car park. The phone alarm chimes merrily but I’ve no idea where the phone is either. He looks in the front window now.
‘Ah there it is’. Yes there it is, with thirty nine minutes still left on it, you buffoon. He continues to beam at me.
‘I wouldn’t have thought of looking there’. What?
‘Where would you like me to put it in future?’ I ask. On the roof? Where the hell is it supposed to be if not in the front window?
‘Ah no, there is grand, now that I know’.
‘My car would NEVER be without a ticket, I’m pretty hyper about these things as it happens, wouldn’t let it go a minute over. So don’t ever clamp it’ I say beaming, mimicking him, although I’m perfectly serious. Menacingly so.
‘Ah no you can go half an hour over and you have 15 minutes to get your ticket in the first place so don’t ever worry about that. And sure like I said, I know you from coming in ‘an all, you’re a valued customer’. Great, I think to myself. What an achievement.
‘Is that your phone ringing?’ he asks. I’m just hoping he’ll skedaddle, any second now, and leave me to rummage in my own imperfect way for the keys and the phone. It really is brass monkeys out here. But he seems in no rush to find other customers to clamp.
‘No, it’s just an alarm I’ve set for my eye’ I say, which wipes the grin momentarily from his otherwise imperviously cheerful face. A semi-confused brow lifts instead.
‘Ah it’s just I had a problem with my eye, I got it sorted at the hospital, but I’ve to put drops in every so often’. This does the trick. He starts to beam again.
‘I’ll be in the church tonight, I’ll light a candle and say a prayer for you and your eye’.
And there it is. As so often seems to be the case, it is the kindness of strangers that does something to me. Releases something. Has me undone. I could tell him, I think now. Just him. That I would love for him to light a candle and say a prayer but not for the eye. Forget the eye, I might say. Come here and I’ll tell you, but breathe not a word, you’re the only one I’m telling, so you don’t go wasting those precious prayers.
We’ve had a rollercoaster of a time, you see, these last couple of months, I might divulge. It began on a high, great news for both of us, individually, but dipped before we had a chance to celebrate either thing. We’ve had our three in a row. Two overlapping. One slapping in just as we were coming up for breath from the others and it is this last little one, Mr Clamp-man that I’d like you to light that candle for.
‘Thank-you’ I say instead. He’s twinkling right into me. He knows.
‘And thank-you for not getting annoyed with me for thinking about clamping you when you already had your ticket’ he says laughing. He skedaddles now, his mission accomplished. Even before he lights that candle he’s done something for me. He’s catapulted me back into writing after all.