Plutranomides meets the Vexalta.
On Wednesday night I went to the bar as usual. None of my friends was there, but I noticed one woman – early forties, maybe – wearing a white-and-gold snakeskin jacket. I couldn’t tell whether it was real Chanel (the fashion press two weeks earlier had gone into a complete frenzy over this garment) or just a high street replica.
I moved close enough to discreetly eavesdrop on her conversation; she was telling her friends how much money she made from blackmailing people and using illegal immigrant labourers in her husband’s factory.
Lots of money, then, but a pitiful lack of taste. Mascara; too thick, and her bra straps were visible like ribbon rice noodles draped over her freckled shoulders.
“Well” she began, “Jim came home and said he’d started a circuit training course at the new fitness club and the instructor was Marcus from Hatfield.” Her friends stared in amazement. She went on to explain that Marcus was rumoured to have a tattoo on his shoulder which had given rise to heated speculation. Nobody was sure if it was a Chinese symbol, or a biblical quote, or a woman’s name, or the emblem of an illegal biker gang. This tattoo, the story went, had caused him to be expelled from the Army but also guaranteed him admission to some of the most exclusive nightclubs in Milan and Cologne.
“So I asked him if he’d managed to get a look at it and he said no, even though they were all in the showers and the changing room together and apparently Marcus made no attempt to cover his shoulders. You could see there was a distinct figure of some kind, but no-one could remember what it actually depicted.”
I was fascinated by this, since I had earlier that week paid a visit to the sauna in a nearby town. Although most of the premises were dark, the Jacuzzi area was well-lit, and I noticed that one of the other bathers had a curious tattoo; at first I thought it was an ideogram, but then I realised that from different angles it looked like a man’s fist, a wolf’s head, or an engine piston.
But of course, having seen this dizzy bint once I began spotting her all over town. Smartly dressed (as always) she approached various people in the street, and eventually came up to me: ‘Sorry to bother you, but I’ve lost my bus ticket and I need to get home. Can you lend me a couple of quid please?’ I made an excuse and wandered away, not comfortable with the idea of giving money to a female beggar who wore designer jackets and had a lavish income. About a week later I was waiting at the bus stop and the same woman came up to me again and repeated the same request. I was amazed that she appeared not to recognise me; perhaps she simply didn’t care. And a couple of months after this, I was taking some money from a hole in the wall when she sidled up to me and said ‘Excuse me, sorry to-’ at which point I quietly snapped ‘No. You’ve asked me before’ and made a brisk exit to the safety of a dive bar full of transvestites and drug-dealers.
She even achieved momentary fame, when the police arrested her for stealing a CD of Bartok string quartets from a charity shop. The news item was copied on facebook and drew a huge crowd of reader comments saying how everybody had been approached by this polite, well-dressed woman asking for cash.
She fell into the arms of the Manifesto and began to restore her personality, borrowing eagerly from obituaries and TV plotlines. A visit to a flea market brought old photographs of her ‘parents’, and a back story. At one point she toyed with androgyny, dressing and speaking like a young man. Hair dye and a lisp gave her a Russian surname and a sarcastic attitude to life. She became an events coordinator at a local school, and set up a number of high profile arts encounters, including the charity fundraising session at which three footballers recited the poem ‘Your Attention Please’ backwards.