by Stephen Ainley
a mug of cocoa
Norman Baines was fifty-four years old, but he looked older. He was five feet- six inches tall, but he looked shorter. He was probably the most unimportant man in the town, and he looked it.
Even Norman would have been amazed at how unimportant he was, had he considered himself important enough to think about. But since he held himself in such low self-esteem that he would not even talk to himself, Norman carried on his lonely existence in blissful ignorance of just how unimportant he really was.
After another uneventful day, Norman shuffled off home from his job at the library. He had worked at the library for thirty-five years. Norman was assistant to Mr Corbett, and when Mr Corbett eventually passed away, Norman would get his job. However, this did not fill Norman with cheer, as Mr Corbett was much younger than Norman and obviously much more important.
He walked past the house where somebody famous had once lived and through the park, where he had tripped over a courting couple five years earlier whilst walking his dog, Dennis. The shock of having his normally placid owner suddenly falling on top of him was too much for Dennis, who had broken free from his leash, ran off and never been seen again. Norman still went for a walk in the park most nights, with the dog leash in his hand, just in case.
He slowly walked up the steps to his small flat. “Hello,” he said to his parrot Geraldo. “Sod off,” said the parrot, who seldom showed him any respect, owing to his complete lack of importance.
This evening was much the same as any other evening for Norman. He cooked himself a simple meal, read the paper, had a bath, and then turned on the television to watch the late news. Important events were happening all around the world. “Nothing to do with me”, said Norman and turned it off.
Taking the dog leash off a nail on the back of the door, he turned to Geraldo, “I’m just popping out for my constitutional; you never know, I may find Dennis” “Sod off”, answered the parrot, who had heard the same speech for the last five years, and never liked Dennis anyway.
It was a cold night, and Norman turned up the oversized collar on his overcoat and shrank into it so that he just looked like an overcoat with legs carrying a dog leash to anyone passing.
It was fairly dark by the time he reached the park, “Dennis”, he shouted, “come here, boy”. Actually, he had long given up hope of ever seeing Dennis again, but he always felt a bit guilty wandering around at night, in case people would think he was up to no good. So looking for Dennis gave him a good excuse to be out.
The following day, Norman woke feeling unusually cheerful. He washed, shaved, put on the kettle, and turned on the radio to listen to the news. Nothing important had happened anywhere in the world. “Well, that’s unusual,” said Norman. ‘Sod off”, chirped Geraldo
Meanwhile, dirty work was afoot, not far from where a parrot was abusing Norman.
Vicious, Vinnie Vostock, a lapsed Catholic of no fixed abode, was at that very moment, setting in motion a train of events, which would eventually lead to Norman, not only becoming an important person but respected by parrot and person alike.
Vinnie was a sad case, coming from a very deprived background. He was one of thirteen children, all with different fathers. Though a very generous woman, well-liked by the local men, his mother had a terrible memory and would often beat Vinnie, thinking he was an intruder. He was also extremely ugly; in fact, when he first came to the notice of the police, he was immediately charged with being in possession of an offensive face. His upbringing was what set him off on his life of crime. For most of his life, no one wanted him, but now, Vinnie was desperately wanted by police all over the country.
Norman put on his hat and coat, picked up his briefcase and left his flat.
Vinnie watched from his car as the bank manager unlocked the front door and let his staff enter. He pulled the Donald Duck mask over his face, picked up the loaded shotgun and opened the car door.
Norman strolled through the park, watching the birds drink from the ornamental pond; he walked past the house where someone famous had once lived. He was just thinking what a pleasant day it was as he turned the corner into the High Street.
Vinnie watched as his large canvas bag was being filled by the shocked teller, urging her on with a wave of his shotgun. When he had first entered the bank, he had soon realised his mistake; it was very difficult to look mean in a Donald Duck mask; still, at least it was an improvement on his face.
As Norman walked past the bank, something on the pavement caught his eye; it was a shiny twenty pence coin. There were several people in the street, and Norman knew that if he made it too obvious that he had found a coin, someone would run up and claim it as theirs. So, he casually dropped his briefcase next to the coin and then said in a loud voice, “Oh dear!!, I’ve dropped my briefcase; I suppose I’ll need to bend down and pick it up”, he continued, just in case someone hadn’t got the message.
At the same instant that Norman stooped to the pavement, Vicious Vinnie ran backwards out of the bank, a canvas bag in one hand and a shotgun in the other.
Everything happened in a flash; Norman glanced up from the pavement just in time to see a giant Donald Duck falling over the top of him. Vinnie’s head struck the pavement, knocking him unconscious. The shotgun went off with a tremendous blast. A rather overweight woman, who was just leaving the grocery shop, fainted and fell on top of the fruit rack, causing hundreds of apples to roll off down the street. Albert, the local butcher, ran from his shop, and tripped on a passing Granny Smith and his National Health hairpiece, shot into the air, landed on a passing bus, and was never seen again.
Meanwhile, Norman slowly picked himself up and was still trying to determine what had happened as the police car arrived.
“Bravest thing I ever saw,” said the bank manager, “he captured him single-handed; there’ll be a reward for sure.”
Complete strangers were insisting upon shaking Norman by the hand. A bald man in a butcher’s apron, who seemed strangely familiar, handed him a large leg of lamb. “If only there were more people like you,” he said, shaking his head in admiration.
Norman realised he still had the twenty pence coin in his hand, so he quickly handed it to a passing Guide Dogs for The Blind charity collector, who was busy trying to remove a Granny Smith from the end of her white stick.
He arrived at the library nearly an hour late, expecting a telling off, but instead was met by Mr Corbett, the Mayor and a local journalist. Everyone was slapping his back, shaking his hand and telling him what a wonderful man he was and a credit to the community. As everyone left him to be interviewed by the journalist, Mr Corbett, who had seldom spoken to Norman in all the years they had worked together, said, “This is a proud day for the library Norman, if you can spare a moment later, I’d like to discuss a promotion with you."
It’s been a long, tiring day, thought Norman as he walked home, still a bit overwhelmed by his sudden popularity. He strolled past the house where someone famous had once lived, through the park, past a courting couple in the park for the first time since a nasty incident with a man and a dog five years earlier, and up the steps to his flat.
“Hello, sir”, squawked Geraldo, who recognised an important person when he saw one.
“Sod off,” said Norman.
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