Monday, 4 November 2013

How it all began

A bag of groceries (inc. French stick) is lying abandoned on Pilrig Street. Yours if you hurry!” I'd just got the peculiar text message from a friend and strangely I was just coming around the corner in Pilrig Street and...there was the bag, an orange Sainsbury bag with a French stick jutting out like a broken arm. The bag just lay there lay forlorn against the stone base of the railings. Seeing the text as some open invitation to enquire and as few people were around I looked inside; the bread, four pots of yogurt, a bag of washed salad, what looked like some pinkish cold meat in a packet and a wedge of blue cheese. Hardly the find of the century, just some lost shopping. I looked around, half expecting the owner to be hurrying back to retrieve the forgotten bag. The traffic was passing, no one looked interested, no obvious owner, no activity. I picked up the bag properly and assumed responsibility for it's contents. At that moment I did get a funny feeling of doubt, what if the bag was bait or poisoned or contaminated or just a bit “off”? I looked around some more but tried to look as if I wasn't looking around. You know what I mean.

A few yards on I made another discovery. A pair of hiking boots. There parking in a similar place to the shopping bag, laces loose and neatly set together as if they could be by the front door of a house or at the bottom of a cupboard. They were not new, like the shopping, they were just similar in their abandoned and inappropriate oddness. Lost shoes usually ended up on the top of bus shelter roofs, in the middle of the road, hanging from trees or floating in canals – and not in pairs. These two had been carefully put in the right spot. I was disturbed by this piece of extra finding but I was now, like blood hound on the trail of something mysterious. My senses sharpened and I felt my eyes nervously narrow as I looked further up the street for more unusual items. I quickly discounted two parked bikes, a Buckfast bottle and some polystyrene take away boxes. My quarry was of a far higher calibre based on the other two findings. Then I had another thought.

Why had my friend sent out that text and why had he not picked up the bag or texted about the boots or anything else? I quickly got my phone out and texted; got the bag found boots watz going on and where are u? I resumed my treasure hunt but left the (size 9.5) boots behind, too nasty a thing to carry. About a hundred feet away another discovery caught my eye, there on the step of a building doorway was a brown leather wallet. This was getting interesting and I was so involved I hardly looked around to check my back, I just grabbed it up. I was all excited fingers and thumbs, a wallet was a proper find and regardless of the circumstances some reward or benefit was bound to come of this. I opened it up. Inside it there was cash, blue and pink notes. I felt funny about disturbing them so I just counted their edges, two, three, six, seven...about £150. Then there were cards, I pulled out the obvious bank card; TSB Current Account J W BARNABY. I have a name. OK time to play it straight, I need to report this. I spun around and looked for anyone obviously looking for shopping, boots and wallet. Some student girls sashayed past, hardly them, two neds, an old women. Nobody who looked like J W Barnaby.

It was then something caught my eye from across the street, a bright red wooly looking thing, on a coat hanger and swinging from a littler bin. I crossed over to inspect this latest find. It was a knitted woman's poncho, red and fluffy and almost painful to look at. It was however new (like the shopping), it still had the tags on it, in fact the price tag said £25.99, it was from NEXT. Something about this discovery made me more nervous than the others but I picked the item up. The mental picture I now had of J W Barnaby was not at all clear.

I carried on down the pavement, senses tingling what would be next? It was to be of all things a dog, a clearly lost dog. There he was, tethered to a bollard looking at me with eyes pleading. He was of the Grey Friars Bobby design of dog, whatever that is, excessively hairy paws, big appealing eyes and floppy ears. At least he had a collar on. I patted his head and he licked the back of my hand, not a pleasant feeling but always a good sign when you're dealing with unknown dogs. Better than a growly snap anyway. I put my thumb onto his collar and felt for an ID disk, there it was; J W Barnaby and a phone number. Jackpot! “Well hello J W!” I said to the puzzled little dog as I patted his head and unleashed him from the restraint of the bollard. He didn't show a great deal of emotion at this point but simply peed disrespectfully on his former prison as I pulled him away. He did seem interested in the shopping bag and poncho; he sniffed them both. I shoved the poncho into the bag but the wallet, the real deal as far as I was concerned was safely stuffed into my pocket. I thought I get a little further on before phoning the number on the dog's tag. I made it to the street corner and outside a cafe sat down in one of those awful chrome street chairs they stick out there with the unstable tables for smokers, tourists and faux Parisian types. I tapped the number into my phone and waited.

It seemed to ring for a long time before a distant voice answered, “Hello?” “Is that J W Barnaby?” I asked a little nervously. “Yes it is, how can I help you?” “Well I'm on Pilrig Street and I seem to have found some of your belongings; shopping in a bag, a poncho, a wallet and a small dog ( I omitted the hiking boots you'll notice).” An uncomfortable silence followed. “ I do recall having all those things...” The voice dropped a little more, sounding a bit lost, almost pathetic. “ Yes they may well be mine, may well be, it seems like a long time ago now, I used to live in Edinburgh you know.” I was getting freaked by this. “Look I have your stuff, a dog that needs looking after and wallet with a fair amount of cash, if it's all your stuff what do you want me to do with it? I've not got all evening to wait on you, can just get here and collect it all?” More silence. “ Mmm, I'm afraid that wont be possible, I wont be collecting them tonight, I'm...out of town.” “OK, I'll get the police involved and I'll hand your stuff in, sorry I had to disturb you!” Ungrateful bastard I mouthed under my breath. “Sorry,” said JW, his tone changed a bit. “It's just that I was walking home, with my dog and shopping, I had my girlfriend’s birthday present ( a red poncho), when I felt a little queezy. You may not believe this but I passed out...well I think I did and I seem to have woken up and it turns out I'm in Singapore and it's 1927.” “Yeah, right, you don't want your dog or wallet very much do you?” The line fell silent and then there was a low buzzing. My phone screen just said “Unobtainable”. I knew that well enough.

I walked home, it was raining, I had the dog on a leash, pulling my right arm, as if he knew where we were going. I still had the shopping, the wallet and poncho gathered up like odd trophies. On my left was a corner shop. I tied the dog to a dripping lamp post and went in, I bought a can of dog food, six eggs and a half bottle of Whyte & Mackay. “Dog food omelet tonight?” grinned the shopgirl as I handed her a twenty from the wallet. Once outside the dog led me home, like he knew where I was going or where we were going, round this corner, across the road, up the close, through the door. His tail was wagging, he was sniffing and snuffling and scratching on the mat as I pushed the key in the door. “In you go”, I said.

I spooned the dog food into a bowl and put it down to him, he devoured it, sniffed around a little more and then promptly settled down on the hearth rug and fell asleep, one eye at a time. I sat back in the big chair, the gas fire was warm and glowing and I poured a big glass of the W&M. I wasn't hungry, I'd eat later, I was just puzzled at myself and the adventures of J W Barnaby. Sleep came on me like a drug and then into my wishy washy grey subconscious a phone rang, my phone. “Hello?” “Is that J W Barnaby?” A voice said. My eyes opened. I was sitting on a cane chair, the air was warm and the noise of this Eastern city was growing up and into my ears in a deafening ball of white hot shock and Chinese babble. I could smell strange meat roasting and incense burning. I was seated on a hotel balcony at a table where two empty cocktail glasses were perched at the edge by a stained napkin. A yellow rose stood in a thin glass vase at the middle. I had been asleep and I was now focusing. “Hello?” “Is that J W Barnaby?” the voice said once more. I said yes to that but I don't know why I did. “Good, I'm from the Big King Time Filler's Organisation, we have a little job for you to do now you're in 1927 or thereabouts.” I wanted to ask a few questions but decided not to. Most times when you ask question you don't really get a proper answer, you just get words back, orphan words in a stream, constructed from thin air and tired breath and what good are they really? They just carry more germs around. And that was how it all began.

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