This summer I’ve been working behind the counter in one of the kiosks along the seafront, selling doughnuts and bags of candyfloss and buckets and spades and everything to parents and tourists and children all day long.
And the tourists and the children and even the parents are fine, it’s the… fuck I don’t what you’d call them, the regulars, the arseholes and the cheats and the drunks and whathaveyou. Absolute arseholes every one of them. That’s what makes it a shit job.
That and the pay.
There’s this one guy, I see him walking up and down the seafront every day. And my boss always points him out if he’s there and says I’m allowed to take his money but never his cards.
He’s a right fucking creep, too. Not my boss, this fucking fella. He’s one of those wankers that always manages to find a way to touch you, get close to you somehow, and it disgusts me. Christ it’s just… He’ll lean over the counter and tap me on the shoulder if I’ve turned my back, he’ll pat my hands if I’m leaning on the counter at the front, put his hand round my waist if I’m standing around outside having a fag.
Actually one time I was out there smoking and I was sat on the seawall and he sat right down next to me. I mean like right fucking next to me. Closer than I’d sit next to my boyfriend when we’re at home watching something on the telly.
— What did you do? I hope you fucking said something.
I didn’t do anything. Well I got up and went back to work. I didn’t say anything, though. It’s not fucking worth it. It never fucking is.
And he knows what he’s doing. It’s never obvious enough that you could tell anyone what he’s doing but well, I know what he’s doing. You’d know. But my boss… Nah.
Anyway, I went into work the other day. Wednesday, this was, or was it Tuesday? I don’t know, about then anyway, sometime in the week, and there was this girl sat on the wall there by the kiosk, bawling her fucking eyes out. This was about 10 in the morning. She only looked about fourteen or something, although tears always make you look younger, I reckon.
I asked her if she was alright and she shook her head and just kept on blubbing away. I offered her a cigarette and she actually replied to this, although she said, “Nah, “I’m only sixteen,” which threw me a bit. Seemed like a pretty random thing to say, really.
— You can’t smoke until you’re 18 these days.
Yeah I know that, but still. Like that’s ever fucking stopped anyone.
Anyway she kept on crying and I left her there and went inside to work, and sat there all morning and she never stopped crying at all, not even for a minute. For like two hours!
I took her out some doughnuts when I went out there for my tea break, but she shook her head at those as well, and she’s still crying of course. Imagine how upset you’d have to be to not even accept a bunch of free bloody doughnuts.
Now, she’s got this big bag sat next to her on the wall. One of those big sturdy bag-for-life bags they try to sell you in tescos for a quid or so. She’s had it all morning, I don’t mean it’s just appeared, but anyway, it’s got some rolled up clothes in their, a jumper and a coat maybe, something like that, and sat on top of them there’s this wallet, not a purse but a wallet, a folded leather wallet, and it’s absolutely fucking bulging with notes.
“You should hide that away,” I said to her, and she’s sort of followed my cigarette to see what I’m pointing at with it, and then just shrugged again and burst into even more tears, deeper, louder tears. I had no bloody idea it was possible to cry for so long. You’d think you’d run out of tears.
The bloke I was working with that day, who was working at the other window, selling fish and chips and burgers and that, he kept muttering to me all morning and threatening to go out there and chase her away, but I told him to leave her be, the poor thing.
The poor fucking thing.
I’d spent most of my shift wondering what had happened to her. Had she run away from home? Been abandoned or stood up by her boyfriend? Maybe someone had died. Maybe she was homeless and just really fucking tired and lonely and hurt.
Maybe she’d failed her exams. Lost her phone. I don’t fucking know.
At some point in the early afternoon, about 1 o’clock maybe, that creepy fucking arsehole I mentioned earlier comes strolling down the seafront, and he clocks her straight away. Course he does. I can see his eyes light up, his whole fucking body light up, when he sees her. Like a literal shiver running through him. Expectation and delight. It’s sickening.
He comes up to where she’s sitting, and he crouches down in front of her so he’s eye level with her, just below eye level actually, so he’s looking up at her a little, ad he asks her if she’s okay, asks her what’s wrong.
I’m straining now to hear what he’s saying, practically hanging out the little kiosk window, but I can’t hear exactly what he’s saying to her, and it’s infuriating.
It’s all infuriating. I want to go out there and tell him to fuck off and leave her alone, but there’s a sudden queue of customers, then, and I have to deal with them and over the bubbling noise of boiling doughnuts I really truly can’t hear a word of what they’re saying now.
When I’ve served everyone I quickly pull down the shutter and rush out the side door to where they’re sat and he’s giving her a great big hug and whispering something in her ear. And she’s finally stopped crying, wiping the tears out of her eyes, and nodding to whatever it is he’s saying, and I’m thinking, good christ what the fuck is this?
Then she breaks off the hug and gives him a kiss on the cheek and picks up her bag and runs off down the road.
It’s baffling. That’s what it is. Fucking baffling.
He turns round then and sees me standing there and he flashes me the most, the worst, the absolute worst and sickliest smile you have ever seen. And he steps toward me and puts a hand round my waist and says, “You aren’t going to be standing around out here long are you, love? I’ve got some money to spend.”
I pulled his hand off me and threw it back at him and stomped back inside and slammed the door shut behind me as hard as I could. Oh christ I was furious then, I was ready to quit right there and then, leave that stupid kiosk’s shutter down and fuck off back home. Leave the other guy there to do the doughnuts as well as the chips. Fuck em.
But I’m glad in the end that I didn’t.
Eventually I pull that shutter back up and he’s already standing there, a smile as wide as fucking fuck on his face, and he pulls out a wallet from his pocket. And it’s her wallet, obviously, absolutely bulging with money, and it’s obvious he’s nicked it, and it’s obvious that he knows I know he’s nicked it. And I was going to say he doesn’t even care, but he does care. He’s fucking proud of himself. He wants me to see. He wants me to know.
And he orders some doughnuts and a coffee and a load of sweets and whatever, picking everything he can, showing off. It’s completely pathetic. And I say, like I always say when he comes to the counter, “We can’t take cards, I’m afraid. Cash only.” And he says, “That’s okay, dear, I’ve got plenty of cash,” and he holds the wallet up for me to see, shakes it a little, for some fucking reason, then slowly opens it up and peels out a note. And it’s a blank sheet of paper. It’s all just blank sheets of paper.
And his face goes white, and I laugh and say, “I’m sorry we can’t take that, either,” and he’s stammering now and searching through his pockets and patting his jacket and searching around more and more frantically for his own wallet and it’s not fucking there.
There’s nothing fucking there.
And he looks like he’s going to be sick and he turns round looking up and down the seafront for any sign of the girl but she’s long fucking gone and I can’t stop laughing for the rest of the day.
1. Written between 17th July and 22nd July, 2016
2. Although it was outlined mostly in May
3. At the same time as A Mistake Of Identity
4. As I was trying to think of Essex crime tales
5. To submit to that competition
6. That I did not win
7. I don’t especially like this one either
8. I’m sorry to say
9. Please don’t hate me