This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.
So this story isn’t about me.
It’s a normal March day, not really sunny and with those grey rain clouds. I’m bundled up against potential weather: black jeans, black puffa jacket, the blue scarf my mum knitted.
It’s the first day I’d felt like walking after the lumbar puncture. I don’t usually start with that, I mention the giant Co-op cake I’m carrying.
I’m walking home through the park, my legs are just starting to get tired, but I keep going. A man brushes past me, almost sends the cake flying. He’s wearing black-framed glasses, a faded blue tracksuit with the bottoms cut off, and dirty black plastic flip-flops. He’s just had his dark-brown hair cut, cos he had those red bumps you get if they razor.
Next thing, this other man’s yelling something, and he’s running. He’s blonde, wearing Saturday afternoon clothes. You know, jeans and a crumpled Homer Simpson t-shirt.
The conversation goes like this:
“Whaaat?” I clutch the cake tighter.
“That guy, stop him. He tried to break into my car!”
Running-man looks me over, and I know what he sees. A tall, Asian bloke, muscly enough to be handy. What I used to be. He doesn’t see I can’t help him, but enough strangers know my business. Those muscles don’t always work now. Luckily, my mouth does.
“Mate, I’ve got cake.” Gesture with my chin, in case he’s missed it. “But he’s just there, by the swings. You’ll catch him, no problem.”
And he is still there, you know, shuffling, not even half-way through the park. Not much faster than me now. The worst getaway in the history of crime. He edges down the slope to the sand-pit, and running-man is off. I never see either of them again.
It’s a good story, isn’t it? It’s got everything: action, suspense, cake. I tell it a lot. It helps pass the time with blood tests, in waiting-rooms, bored or nervous, listening for “Hello Iqbal, we’ve got your results.”
I don’t usually explain the cake, because if you’re ever going to buy a carrot cake bigger than your head, it’ll be after you’ve seen a neurologist. It’s a normal reaction, whatever that means.
Everyone sides with the running man, his actions don’t need explaining. But I can’t remember his face.
Sometimes I need an ending, and running-man catches up. Traps him between two parked cars and calls the police. Or punches him, right in the gut. Flip-flop man never gets away.
I could draw you a picture of flip-flop man, down to those bumps on his neck. With his ragged unravelling tracksuit and doomed way of responding to a crisis. Would I have chased him, before?
I see him now, slowly, slowly, shuffling away from his fate. Did he have a plan?
Does he think he’s going to win?
I hope the ending wasn't too painful.