Bảo wasn’t from Glesga, so something about it appealed to him.
The way folk kept putting it up there. The way no cunt ever saw it going up. The way it implied that the locals had a certain acrobatic ability. I suppose it encapsulated the place for him. So, on our breaks he was always like; “Let’s meet next to the cone.”
My legs were sore, as were my shoulders. A dull ache, but the job got easier every night. Every shift I felt my legs getting stronger. Every night I was a little less outta breath as I delivered that final paper bag. It was a wet night, or at least that’s how I always remember it. Could’ve been raining. Could’ve just rained. I’m not sure, but either way, I was under the cover of the Modern Art Gallery, next to one of those big Roman-lookin pillars. I was gazing up at that statue, and into its cast-iron arsehole, thinkin about how they sculptor-cunts should’ve given the boy an actual set of wellies, or even if they’d just put that big horse in the wellies, imagine. That’s what the cunt was famous for, wasn’t it? Inventing welly-boots. But then I started second-guessing masel and I was off to give it a wee Google when Bảo appeared on his bike, skeetin across the wet paving stones; drops rising in a line off his back tire.
He was wearing that turquoise jacket we’d all been given at our respective trial shifts, out the cupboard in the Central Station parking lot. The guy running my trial had called it ‘The Office.’ All Deliveroo offices are just cupboards in multi-storey car parks. Anyways, Bảo had some hustle about him. He slid up to the steps and in one fluid movement, he leapt off the bike and lifted it onto the sandstone brickwork next to mine. My bike was a nice wee road one; fibreglass with an adjustable seat. Bảo’s was an old Trespass, Mountain model. He was always moanin about the higher gears. I looked out across the square. I remember sheets of rain, orange, catchin headlamps. I remember squinting, seeing the road ablaze. Cars rushing through sparks that fell lazily groundward.
Maybe it was raining after all.
Bảo pulled down his hood and went, “I’ve just had the strangest night.” He had a bit of a French accent, but there was more of a pushing sense to it, rolling his head back with every syllable and thrusting the heavier parts of the words upwards with a timbre similar to the knock of one of those bamboo water-clock thingmies.
“Aye?” I said. I had a box of damp chips in one hand. Wasn’t sure if that was from the rain or from the vinegar.
“Aye,” Bảo said, “I kept going into all of these takeaways, and they are all some ones I have never picked up from before, and most of them have different names on the ticket to the names on the doors to the shops.”
I looked down at my chips, trying to see if I could get a wee crunchy one. I always liked the scraggly bits the best. Chips are a weird thing if you think about them. They’ve taken some obscure South American root, shlapped some vinegar on it, and then called it British. I put one in my mouth and looked up at Bảo, “Aye, that’ll be the new tax year. You always get lots of them poppin up this time ae year.”
“Strange,” Bảo said. He had a wee set of woolly pound-shop gloves on. He started pulling at the fingers on his left hand. “And what was even more strange was that none of them wanted me to take the food. They said it was cancelled and that I could just go to the next one. Still paying me, they say. I was unsure, but then they all keep saying it; no one wants me to take the food.”
Bảo’d started delivering about a month earlier, and I’d been the one running his trail shift, so he’d taken my number and we’d spoken on WhatsApp here and there. Lots of riders liked to meet under the cone, or the Duke of Wellington, for a break. In fact, at this time of night, you’d usually have more than a few sitting on that damp step, moanin about the greasy cunts running the Glesga catering industry.
Maybe there wasn’t many about that night since it was rainin.
“Oh aye,” I said, “nothin new there.” It was a tad unusual that Bảo’d had a whole night of it, but I’d seen it plenty masel. “Half these bastarts are at it; it’s called Astroturfing. They order a fuck load ae shite to themselves and then they write a fuck load ae good reviews for themselves. It’s illegal, but they’re all at it. Doubt Deliveroo gives a fuck. Money in the bank as far as they’re concerned.”
“This is illegal?”
“Then it is cheating,” Bảo said. He looked like he’d never seen somecunt cheat at something before, “What if the food is no good?”
“It’s probably exactly because the food’s no good. They’re trying tae play the system, Tryin tae squeeze some extra cash oot the minimum wage fryer-jockeys. I even had one the other day. It was this big chain pub wae locations all over Glesga, and they were running two separate takeaway companies oot the wan kitchen. Sammie’s Burgers and Well-Good Sandwiches, and each company, looking at their profiles on Deliveroo, was sellin the exact same pish, just packaged differently. It’s stupit. The real reason any takeaway company succeeds is because the food’s good. Ye cannae polish a turd.”
“Aye, like, eh, clean. You cannae make a turd clean.”
“Like a shit? You cannot make a shit clean?”
Bảo grinned, showing a wide set of straight teeth. He was a handsome guy by all accounts. Well-built, sharp haircut. I think he played the guitar, cause you could always hear tunes blastin out his headphones; thrash and math-rock and that sortae thing. It was metal but not your normal kind of metal. The kind of metal that only guitarists like.
“Well then they are all wasting their time,” Bảo said.
“Right enough,” I picked up another soggy chip and continued, punctuating my sentence with its floppy, golden form. “As the year moves along, they’ll all drop off wan by wan. Especially those yins who’ve resorted tae using cheap tricks instead of just sortin their menus.”
“Stupid cunts,” Bảo said, that final syllable echoing up into the sandstone brickwork of the Art Gallery. He sat down and pulled a wee Tesco’s egg-mayo out of his pocket.
We ate in silence for a minute, and I remember seein this wee sign at the end of the road. It was bent like somecunt had gone through it in their motor, but the way it was hanging was a bit strange. It was at an angle over the road, not like someone had backed into it, but more like it had been dinged at some speed and it had not only bent but had whinged back around, spinnin and leaning the other way. Scrambled metal had split the post’s plastic covering to reveal a rusted set of teeth, grinning into the sky. It’s the wee details that stay with you. I always think about the water dripping down that bent sign onto the road, like liquid fire in the headlamps. I always think about it rolling down the back of Bảo’s jacket and pooling behind him on the sandstone step. I think about the wee bit of mayonnaise hangin off his upper lip.
A moment like any other.
But in that second, or in one of the many seconds before or after, somewhere in the darkened tundra of Siberia, or maybe out of a submarine in the Atlantic Ocean, or fuck knows where else, a mighty rocket was shot into the sky. It might’ve even been another night, but that’s the memory that comes to mind. Bảo callin out some middle-management bastarts trying to scrape pennies out of the Scottish commoner’s pockets. A wee pop, and then panic. Many pops, maer panic. Calls to take cover. I suppose they were aimin for our subs up in the Clyde. I heard those fuckin tin-cans were destroyed before they could even fire. All this time those Trident cash-sinks were sittin up there bein an SNP talkin point and they never even fuckin fired them.
The walls of the subway are still covered in posters; old advertisements for pills that’ll give you the strength to work, advertisements for upcoming sport-ball games to watch in between shifts, or advertisements fer a host of upcoming stage shows that may distract you from yer fuckin work; Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Book of Mormon, Joe Bonamassa. Joe’s looking old as fuck in the picture. Bet the cunt looks even older now, if he’s still alive.
The station’s lit by burning lamps on the floor and the wee fires that folk’ve been starting with broken chairs legs and the like. Pale amber flickers up the curved walls, and occasionally water drips off the roof to land, hissing, into the small blazes. There’re signs on the rails themselves, warning of jolts of electricity that would’ve fried the entire families that’re down there, huddled in blankets, weans whimpering. I’ve only got a wee bit of pencil left so I think I’ll save it for another time. Got a ratty deck of cards one of the older guys gave us so I might have a wee shot at the Solitaire.
I can hear distant shells above. I can see my breath. We’re all just waitin; waitin fer news, waitin fer suhin on the radio, waitin for somecunt to come down and tell us we can come out.
Wouldn’t mind a wee takeaway the now.
This story also appeared in Makarelle