Friday 25 August 2023

Watch, and Watch Again by David Dumouriez , beetroot juice

Sam was posted in his usual place, just outside the baker’s and jeweller’s shops in the high street. He sat there pretty much all day and often slept there if it wasn’t too cold. Passers-by were not averse to treating him to a snack or a cup of coffee or, as he requested in his handwritten message on a cardboard rectangle, ‘a few coins’. He was young, seemingly robust, and appeared cheerful enough. But the days were thinning out. In the beginning, he used to sing to attract attention (and cash). Now he didn’t bother.

            One day (and isn’t there always one day?), Sam was standing outside the bakery enjoying a sausage roll that a staff member had given him. A man in a suit but no tie approached him purposefully, ending up much closer than a stranger normally would. He didn’t look Sam in the eye but, rather, whispered in his ear: ‘Make your own life. Dont depend on others.’ He gave Sam a large envelope and walked away. Sam never saw him again.

            Inside the grubby, straining package was £500.

            Sam had never held so much money before. People had given him £10s and £20s, maybe even a £50 once. But this was an inconceivable amount. For a young man who’d been born poor and faced various struggles growing up. For someone who’d never had a proper job. For a person who’d never even had a bank account.

            It was obvious that Sam hadn’t been given the money by mistake. His first thought, though, was that he didn’t want it. He didn’t know what to do with it and felt that it would only lead to trouble.

            Then he thought again.

            For some reason, he’d always been drawn to watches. There wasn’t a day that went by when he wouldn’t look in the jeweller’s window and admire the gleaming timepieces, both old (in the secondhand section) and new. He’d never owned a watch - never expected to - but he knew that, for some reason, he loved them. And sometimes that simple passion’s all you need.

            He knew the store owner by name: Alex Sargassian. Sam always called him Mr Sargassian and quite often they would discuss the latest stock in the window, or the pieces that didn’t seem to move. Mr Sargassian was generous with his time and never seemed to mind Sam picking his brain or listening to Sam’s own observations about the various brands.

            There was one particular item in the window that attracted Sam’s attention. He looked at it probably every day. It was a Seiko; the reference number was SKX009J1. He knew that number backwards! It was priced at £150. Now Sam could afford it. He figured that putting it into something tangible was better than just having the money in his pocket. So he went in to see Mr Sargassian.

            Alex Sargassian offered Sam a discount. He hadn’t asked for one, hadn’t known you could get one and, honestly, didn’t even want one. Crazy as it sounds, he actually wanted to get rid of the money. So much so, that he looked at other potential purchases that might take him close to £500.

            Mr Sargassian laughed. ‘Sam, slow down!’ Alex had heard, and been intrigued, by the story of Sam’s mysterious benefactor. ‘You’ve had your slice of fortune. Now it’s time to be clever. Sort yourself out. Get a haircut. Get yourself some clothes - something you’d wear to go to work in - and then come back to me. I’ll sort out the rest.’

            Sam did as he was told. He went on to work with Alex Sargassian for four years and learned the basics of the jewellery business and the watch trade in particular. Then he joined a nationally-known watch dealer, becoming a specialist in vintage Rolexes. This led to consultancy work in one of London’s leading auction houses and an offer to appear as an expert on the BBC’s popular Treasure Trove series.

            From the very beginning of his TV career, Sam spoke frankly about his own early difficulties and used his public profile to establish a charity to help homeless people become independent. The British government recognised his efforts and awarded him an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List.

            Aside from his work with the foundation, Sam often surprised people he saw living on the streets with unexpectedly large donations, just as that stranger had done several years before. Sam had never forgotten his exact words and, in an effort to honour him, always used them when handing over a gift. Quite often the recipients recognised him from TV. Sometimes they didn’t.

            One day (and isnt there always one day?), Sam saw a rather skinny young man sprawled on a blanket near Covent Garden. After determining that he wasn’t asleep, Sam went towards him.

            Make your own life. Dont depend on others.’ Sam reached inside his jacket to grab some of the banknotes that he habitually kept for such occasions, but the young man leapt up before he could complete the action.

            Dont patronise me, you fucking cunt! You dont know what its like!’

            Sam had encountered aggression on the streets before, both when he’d lived rough and through his charitable work, but he could see there was an unflinching hostility in the young man’s eyes. However, their close proximity meant that he didn’t see the knife in his hand. And at first he didn’t feel it either.

            Youve got no fucking idea!’ the young man shouted with the first thrust. Sam was now halfway down to the ground. ‘No fucking idea!’ he shouted even more loudly as he withdrew the knife and plunged it back into Sam’s ribs. When Sam was finally down, the young man slashed and kicked at him in equal measure.

            That old SKX, which Sam had chosen to wear for the day, was still running as sweetly as ever when they took it off his wrist.

About the author

David Dumouriez has some work 'out there'. If you find it, he'll be glad. If you don't find it, he won't be less glad. 


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