I stir a pan of pasta sauce on the hob in the cramped kitchen, look out of the window over the back garden and let the noise in the house wash over me.
Bongo is here.
He stands behind me at the kitchen counter, huge and slouched, dad-bod belly and a Star Wars t-shirt sagging over Fat Face trousers, droning on about his woes whilst his son plays with my kids in the living room, cartoons blaring from the telly as they launch themselves off the couch and tussle on the carpet.
There is a ghost of my reflection in the window in front of me and I can see deep hollows around the eyes, my cheeks pasty and puffy.
I’ve been working ten hours a day on four hours sleep, drinking to numb myself on an evening, woken two or three times a night by my nocturnal son, up at four thirty for work, hangover hitting around ten in the morning, coffee and Cokes and teeth grinding sweats, working through it, then home to wash clothes, collect children from nursery, cook dinners, wipe tears and arses, run baths and read stories and tuck into bed, then repeat, repeat, repeat…
How does that hollow-eyed puffy-cheeked fucker in the window do it?
Why does he do it?
Why not just chuck it all in, kid? Why not wave the white flag and fuck it all off?
Because that’s not how it works.
You keep going.
I touch the glass and he touches my fingers.
Keep it up, kid.
Fight another round.
“What are you doing?” Bongo booms through a mouthful of something.
I say, “Some muck on the glass.”
I stir the pasta sauce. It’s almost done.
He says, “Right. So anyway, it’s really hard at the moment. College is messing me about with my lecture times and I have to fit them around my shifts at the care home, and don’t get me started with noise from my house mates…”
Bongo has split up from his missus. It’s very fashionable these days, it seems. Everybody’s doing it. Irreconcilable differences, apparently, but the way I read it, Bongo is a lazy cunt who is unwilling to grow up and is never going to change.
He’s an eternal student.
What grown man is still bumbling through endless lectures and courses and minimum pay shifts in his mid-thirties when he has a wife and a son to support, rent to pay, student loans, commitments and promises, responsibilities?
The hollow eyed bloke agrees with me.
Bongo spent almost all of his twenties at one university or another, studying art at various levels and disciplines, courses he did for fun with no intention of translating those qualifications into something that might earn him a living.
He went and worked in a call centre after eventually qualifying, never to lift a paint brush in anger again.
There he met a girl who became his wife.
She wanted more from life than a call centre so they saved up and quit, travelled, saw the world, came home, then she came up with the teaching game-plan.
Bongo had made this agreement with his missus – she’d work, he’d go back to school again to study to be a teacher. Then, when he qualified, he’d work while she did her teacher training. A long term goal that would eventually reap rewards. Hard work. A commitment and a promise.
So he studied, he attended lectures, he took a part time job to help out a bit, and eventually he qualified.
He got a teaching job, but…
It was hard work.
It wasn’t all mugs of coffee and banter in the staff room with laid-back academics in tweed jackets like Bongo had imagined.
It was late nights marking papers, lesson plans, Ofsted and teenage lads calling him a fucking cunt in a noisy overcrowded classroom while he shat himself in fear in front of the blackboard.
In less than six months he decided to quit and he proudly declared to his wife his intention to go back to school yet again, study something vague and unfathomable over a three or four year period that might or might not result in the possibility of a job at the end of it.
She would keep working a while longer, support him, and when he qualified (again) she could then study to become a teacher.
but his wife decided to quit too – she quit him.
Somewhere along the way they’d had a child and now that child was in my front room whilst he moped in my kitchen.
To save money while he studies – because he has no-one to support him anymore – he lives in a cruddy bedsit.
Not a place to take a kid when he’s got custody.
So he trawls around friends and family, dropping in unannounced to use their facilities and raid their fridges.
He’s always done this, before he had kids, before he was married.
He’d turn up to stay the weekend, watch movies and drink beer, but conveniently forget to bring any beer, gratefully accepting the offer to have a few of mine before hoovering up a dozen cans and emptying my cupboards and fridge, like a far-from-charming Tiger Who Came to Tea.
It’s an act that grows tired pretty quick and it takes a proper brass neck to keep it up, year upon year, with friends who’ve always been there for you.
And now he’s complaining about his digs.
He says, “I can’t possibly bring my son to where I’m staying, y’know. It wouldn’t be right! It’s cramped and although I can use the front room whenever I want to, it’s not always possible, what with all the lesbians and that.”
He takes a long pull on his beer bottle and crams a handful of peanuts into his mouth.
I say, “Lesbians?”
I imagine some curious sapphic infestation.
I imagine what sort of trap you would need to ensnare an unwanted nest of lesbians.
He nods. “Yeah, the woman who owns the house. Lesbian. Lesbian landlady. It’s her rules, y’see. She calls the shots. She said I can have access to the front room except when she’s ‘entertaining’, but it seems she’s always ‘entertaining’. Christ, it goes on constantly, day and night. Lesbians coming and going all hours, mostly coming, by the sounds of things. I’ve walked into the living room before now with my morning bowl of Shreddies and seen things squirming and groaning on the hearth rug that would blow your mind. Believe me, it’s VERY demoralising for a single bloke to lay there in a cold and lonely bed listening the howls of ecstasy coming through the partition wall.”
I say, “That sounds like a fantasy scenario for a lot of blokes.”
He grimaces. “She’s butch. Very butch. Big back, like a polished oak table. Big hands. The girls she has over are all quite pretty though, funnily enough. I don’t know what they see in her. She’s very gruff, ordering them about. Put this here, put that there, open wider, go faster, slower, that sort of thing. She’s very bossy. If I tried that sort of thing with a lass I’d be out on my ear.”
I say, “I can only imagine.”
I start to serve up my kids’ tea.
Bongo clears his throat. “Any chance my little lad could…”
I take down an extra plate, load it up.
He says, “And when are you eating?”
I say, “Later. My wife’s working late tonight so we’ll eat later.”
Bongo looks crestfallen. I go through to the dining room, set the table, call the kids through to eat. Bongo sits next to his son to help him eat.
I go through to the kitchen and open the fridge, reach for my last beer.
It’s not there.
The empty beer bottle sits on the counter, next to an empty bowl of peanuts and a half empty jar of gherkins that had been unopened an hour earlier.
I go through to the dining room.
My kids are eating happily.
Bongo’s son, a notoriously slow eater, has finished.
Bongo says, “He loved it! Is there any more?”
I sigh, refill the lad’s plate, put it in front of him.
Bongo grins innocently. He has sauce all around his mouth.
He says, “So… do the kids still share a room?”
I nod. “Yeah, they prefer it. We asked if they wanted to have their own rooms but they said no. It’s nice. We have story time all together and…”
“Yeah yeah, sounds great. So, what have you got in that spare room then?”
I shrug, say, “It’s a bit of a dumping ground at the moment, some boxes from the last move, that sort of thing…”
Bongo is nodding encouragingly.
I pause, close my mouth. Then I say, “No.”
He leans forward. “Think about it! You got in the shit a bit back with money and stuff, I need a place to stay, we’re all mates, my lad could kip with your kids every other weekend, all in together! It would be great!”
And I consider the reality: getting rent from him would be like getting blood from a stone, he’d eat me out of house and home, he’d nick my beer, bog roll, deodorant, toothpaste, food, washing powder, the breath from my lungs and the very last dregs of my will to live.
I imagine him sat there, in the living room, between my wife and I, changing the telly channel to yet another war documentary whilst drinking yet another bottle of my beer…
He can see the flat refusal in my eyes.
He starts to plead.
“Look, that lesbian has given me notice on my digs! Less than a month! I’ve got to find somewhere reasonable that might let me have my lad over every other week. All this roaming around, it’s doing me in! All I want is something steady, I won’t be a fuss, I’ll pay my way and keep my head down, you’ll see.”
I could almost relent, but I’m not fucking stupid. I know him too well.
I try to think.
There’s something in the back of my mind, an alternative, something that might work out for everyone and get this big daft parasite off my back.
I say, “Wait. I might have an answer.”
I dial a number, wait for them to pick up, then I say, “Hi mate, it’s me. Listen, are you still thinking of renting out your spare room? I might have someone who’s interested.”
“Yeah, man!” says Fucking Amazing Dave. “Sounds fuckin’ amazin’, man! Send the cunt over an’ I’ll show him the pad!”
I hang up, scribble the address on a scrap of paper and give it to Bongo.
I say, “Go round and check this place out. I reckon it’s perfect.”
Bongo gives me a big stupid grin, his eyes tearing up a bit. “Ah, cheers Luci. You’re a mate!”
I just want him to go.
I don’t hear anything for a few weeks.
I know that Bongo has moved in with Fucking Amazing Dave and that they’re getting on like a house on fire.
I know that Bongo can’t steal food From Fucking Amazing Dave because he never has any food in the house other than an impressive shelf full of hot sauces and condiments in his fridge, but the low rent means Bongo has money spare for take aways, which are Fucking Amazing Dave’s main food supply. Besides, the spare space in the fridge makes room for cheap lager which they chip in for on a weekly basis.
The other things they have in common is a love of movies, computer games and spliff.
A match made in Heaven.
Bongo doesn’t darken my door for a couple of months, and that suits me just fine.
I’m walking through the factory when I see Fucking Amazing Dave.
He’s frowning, taping up a split box of envelopes with masking tape and muttering to himself.
I walk over, say, “Now then Dave. How’s it going?”
He turns, scowling. Then he sighs. “Well, not too good, to be fair. I don’t reckon it’s your fault, but that Bongo… man… what a pain in the arse he can be!”
I wince, feel a bit guilty. I can’t deny that I’d basically off loaded Bongo onto Fucking Amazing Dave. In my defence I’d carried the fucker for over a decade and I was knackered, maybe I thought it was someone else’s turn to take him on, someone with a bit less on their plate.
I say, “Look, Dave, I’m sorry about that. I thought you guys had a lot in common, what with you both liking a smoke, and gaming, you know…”
Fucking mazing Dave nods. “To be fair, he can be a decent bloke! He’s a good laugh, like, pretty easy going, he’s not playing music at three in fuckin’ mornin’ like some folk! It’s just… I mean, yeah, he’s a bit slow wi’ the rent, but who ain’t? And he’ll neck more than his fair share o’ tinnies, an’ yeah, he does hog the spliff… he’s a taker, y’know?”
I sigh. “Yeah, I noticed that…”
“An’ fuck me, he likes the sound of his own voice!” Continues Fucking Amazing Dave, warming up. “He’s quite the mansplainer, is our fuckin’ Bongo! Shit alive, he’d talk me through a wank given half a fuckin’ chance! Always over me shoulder, tellin’ me what I’m doin’ wrong an’ how I should be doin’ it! I tell ‘im, ‘You fuckin’ do it then!’ an’ he get’s all huffy an’ slope off to ‘is room!”
“Sounds like Bongo.”
Fucking Amazing Dave leans closer. “Listen. Our Bongo… does he ‘ave some sort of issue… y’know… wi’ his… y’know… arse?”
I frown. Try to remember. “Hmm… arse… I don’t think…. Oh, wait! Yeah! He’s got a really spotty arse. Bacterial infection I think he said… ha ha! Massive spotty arse! God, I’d forgotten that. Fuck me… Oh, it’s not contagious, if that’s what you’re thinking!”
Fucking Amazing Dave glowers. “If that cunt gave us a spotty arse I’d kick ‘IS spotty arse to the back of ‘is cuntin’ throat, big fucker or not! Well, that explains somethin’. There’s this great tub o’ powder he keeps in the bathroom, an’ every mornin’ I come in there after ‘e’s been in an’ there’s all this fucking dust in the air, an’ on the bog seat there’s this fuckin’ silhouette o’ ‘is massive fuckin’ arse cheeks, like a fuckin’ arse ghost. I don’t like thinkin’ o’ other people’s arses on mi own pot, like, no-one does. Y’don’t go lookin’ at y’bog seat thinkin’ ‘wow, there must a bin ‘undreds o’ arses on that seat!’ No, y’try keep those thought right out o’ y’mind. But Bongo, that cunt leaves a fuckin’ arse ghost, every mornin, just to remind me that HIS great spotty arse was there before me own, peachy behind! It fucking irks me, y’know?”
“I know. He’s left an arse ghost round my place a few times. It’s like those shadows on the walls at Hiroshima… it creeps me out…”
Fucking Amazing Dave snaps his fingers. “Oh. while we’re at it, there’s somethin’ else! A few week after he moves in, he starts shiftin’ all this old furniture in. Not into ‘is room, mind – into the front fuckin’ room! There’s this big fuck off chair, like a Shackleton’s high seat off the telly ads back in the eighties, remember?”
“Shackleton’s High Seats – they’re lovely?”
“That’s the ad. Fuck me, we’re showin’ our age now… Well, one o’ those, an’ this big fuck off desk! I don’t want a big fuck off desk sat in the middle o’ me fuckin’ room when I’m playin’ Wii Golf! It fuckin’ inhibits me swing! It’s right in t’road!”
I say, “That’s taking a liberty! Do you want me to have a word, Dave?”
Fucking Amazing Dave grins. “Would yer, Luci? I’d appreciate that! It’s just a bit awkward, y’know? Bit ‘ard to bring up arse ghosts, shit furniture an’ ‘im being a greedy nosed cunt without sounding like I’m ‘avin’ a go, y’know?”
I nod. “Don’t worry. I’ll ‘ave a word.”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks relieved. “Thanks Luci. I’ll tell you what though – ‘is mate’s sound. Really nice bloke. A bit clean cut for me, not drinkin’ or smokin’ or nowt, but a top lad. If ‘e ever wants a room ‘e’d be more than fuckin’ welcome!”
I frown. “His mate? What mate?”
“That mate ‘o ‘is that comes by every couple ‘o weeks. Little bloke. Crashes over. Loves a bit ‘o gamin’ too. Top bloke. Y’know ‘im?”
I say, “Dave, that’s Bongo’s son.”
Fucking Amazing Dave shakes his head. “Really? Fuck me, I never knew that! I though ‘e were just one ‘o ‘is mates!”
I say, “Dave, he’s eight years old.”
“Seems mature for ‘is age.”
“Next to you two, maybe so… Dave. Leave it with me. I’ll have a word.”
I get home from work.
There’s a car parked on my drive.
He gets out as I’m unlocking the house door, booms, “LUCI!” in his usual over the top greeting and gives me a bear hug.
I say, “Bongo.”
He follows me in, trailing after me as I pick up the post, kick off my shoes, flick on the kettle.
I say, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
He laughs. “Oh, nothing, just a social visit! We’re practically neighbours, now, remember?”
“I suppose so. It’s about, what, two miles?”
Bongo shrugs. “Something like that… So, how you been?”
I say, “Fine. you?”
He shrugs. “Not bad! So so. Getting by, yeah?”
He wanders around my kitchen nervously, opening cupboards, looking at packets and tins. He goes to the fridge and rummages around.
I say, “Are you sure it’s just a social visit?”
“Hmm?” Bongo merges from my fridge with a celery stick and a pot of hummus. He offers me a dip.
I shake my head. “Very generous of you but I can’t stand the stuff. It’s my wife’s.”
He crunches and gulps, nodding his approval.
“It’s good! Hummus is good! You should get into hummus!”
I don’t say anything.
He clears his throat. “Look, I wonder if you might have a word with Dave…”
I raise an eyebrow. “About?”
Bongo looks uncomfortable. “It’s fine and everything, Dave REALLY likes me and we get on GREAT, but there’s just a few things that get on my nerves just a tiny bit…”
I say, “Go on…”
“Well,” he begins, “Did you know just how much weed he smokes?”
“I do, actually, but that’s his business. It’s his house.”
Bongo says, “Easy for you to say, but I’ve got lectures! I’m almost permanently high! I can’t study when I’m off my face!”
I say, “Don’t smoke any then.”
He rolls his eyes, “Oh, mate! Listen to yourself! If it’s right there, under your nose, you can’t help it! It’s one toot then before you know it, it’s three in the morning and we’re fucked, eating pizza, watching Apocalypse Now! I can’t keep that up!”
“I don’t know what to say, Bongo. It’s his house, his rules. If you don’t want to get fucked up, stay in your room for a bit, study up there!”
“But my desk’s in the front room!”
I say, “It shouldn’t be! The desk should be in your room, with the rest of your stuff! The living room is Dave’s space. It’s Dave’s house. You pay for the room so keep your shit in your room! Don’t fuck him off, Bongo. You need this. It’s this or you pay an extra hundred a month to listen to a butch lesbian banging chicks, or worse. And another thing. Keep your dusty arse to yourself. Have a thought for other people.”
Bongo looks shocked. His mouth falls open. He scoops a great dollop of hummus into it and begins to chew, looking wounded. “He… he told you about my bottom powder? That’s a very intimate medical problem! I’m hurt!”
“Your intimate bottom powder is making it’s way into Dave’s lungs and that’s fucking bleak. You leave your intimate bottom powder wherever your bottom goes and other people don’t need to see that. Mate, you’re thirty fucking five. You’re a father, for Christ’s sake! Grow the fuck up and start thinking of other people.”
Bongo’s eyes start to tear up. His lip wobbles. He scoops more hummus into his mouth.
He says, “This last year… it’s not been easy…”
I sigh. “I realise that. That’s fair enough. But you have to try! Just keep your head down, study, qualify, and for fuck’s sake, get a proper job!”
He sniffs and stares longingly into the open refrigerator.
He says, “Dave’s fridge smells funny. He only keeps beer and condiments in it.”
He reaches inside for a bottle of my beer, but I close it before he can take one.
“At least he’s got a fridge. Get your shit together, Bongo, and one day you can have your very own fridge and keep what the fuck you like in it.”
This goes on like this for weeks.
I feel like the fucking U.N.
Fucking Amazing Dave complaining about Bongo, Bongo bitching about Fucking Amazing Dave. Bongo introducing more random furniture into the house and leaving arse ghosts all over the place, Fucking Amazing Dave getting wasted and disturbing Bongo’s studies.
I’m getting phone calls in the night.
Bongo is raiding my fridge with increasing frequency.
It gets to the point where Bongo and Fucking Amazing Dave stop talking altogether.
Fucking Amazing Dave leaves a note on Bongo’s in-the-way desk informing him that he has to move out.
Bongo moves out.
His furniture, however, does not.
My phone rings, I pick up.
It’s Fucking Amazing Dave.
He screams, “Where’s that big stupid cunt o’ yours fucked off to, Luci?? Is he up there wi’ you??”
I hold the phone away from my ear. Then I say, “Shit, Dave, I’ve never known you this pissed off! He’s not here, I promise. What’s he done?”
“He’s fucked off without payin’ me rent for a month, taken all the fuckin’ beer from the fridge and the bathroom looks like Keith Richard’s fuckin’ sneezer! There’s arse powder all over the cunting shop! An’ on top o’ that, the bastard’s left all his fucking shite old furniture! I can’t fuckin’ move! It’s like tryin’ to play Wii Golf in a fuckin’ charity shop! Help us out, Luci! Call the cunt! He’s not picking up for me!”
I hang up, call Bongo.
He answers, bright and breezy. “Hi Luci! You’ll be glad to hear I’ve moved. Got myself a lovely place in Kirkstall, great housemates, a fully stocked fridge! Really easy going and laid back… it’s all cool!”
I say, “It’s not all cool. You left Dave’s place a right shit hole, you nicked his beer, you owe him money and there’s more old furniture round there than an episode of fucking Bargain Hunt! What the fuck are you playing at, Bongo?”
Bongo laughs. “Oh, calm down, Luci! I’ll sort it out! I’ll have a van there by the end of next week to pick up my stuff, I’ll drop off the money at the same time and I’ll leave some farewell beers too. I was in a bit of a rush leaving so may have been a bit untidy, but come on, Luci! You know Dave – his house is no palace! It wasn’t tidy when I got there!”
I grind my teeth. “Whatever, Bongo, just make sure this shit is over by Friday. I’m sick of it. I feel like Judge fucking Rinder, sorting all your domestic shit.”
He laughs again. “Don’t worry! Anyway, got to go – we’re playing a Mario Kart Tournament and I’m paired with a lovely girl called Sally and…”
I hang up.
A week goes by and I hear nothing, then on Saturday, Fucking Amazing Dave calls.
He says, “Where’s this fuckin’ van, Luci? I waited in all day yesterday an’ today, but no fuckin’ van!! No van, no money, no beers! He’s one cheeky cunt is that Bongo, Luci! He’s muggin’ us off, you ‘n’ me both!!!”
I sigh, yet again. All I seem to do these days is sigh. “I’m sorry, mate. I really am. I’ll call him.”
I call Bongo. Again. He picks up, laughing. “Ah, Luci! It’s my old mate Luci on the phone, everyone! I’ve got you on speakerphone – it’s a game we’re all playing, a forfeit. Whoever calls you, you have to put on speakerphone! Ha ha ha!!”
I say, “Listen here, you stupid cunt. You owe rent to the poor fucker you used to live with and he’s getting ready to set fire to your fucking furniture if you don’t pay up…”
I hear the phone go muffled, some hurried footsteps and a door slamming.
Bongo whispers, “There was no need for that, mate! You made me look a bit silly there in front of my friends!”
“And you’re making me look like a total cunt in front of mine!!” I snarl. “Where’s that van?? Where’s that money? Where’s that fucking beer??”
Bongo whines, “I got let down last minute on the van. It’ll be next week, I promise!”
I say, “Right, see that thing in your hand? Not your cock, your fucking phone. Next time something comes up, use it, yeah?”
I hang up.
The next week goes on forever. I’m as busy as usual, too busy, but all I can think about is that lazy twat, Bongo.
I just know the van isn’t going to show.
I just know it.
And sure enough, no van.
Fucking Amazing Dave loses his shit. I’m trying to talk to him on the phone but he’s incoherent.
“THAT’S IT!! THE FUCKING FUCKING FUCKER!! THIS SHIT IS GOING TO THE FUCKING SKY GODS!! HIS FUCKING CHAIR, HIS FUCKING WII GOLF WRECKING BASTARD DESK, THE LOT!! IF HE DON’T WANT IT THE FUCKING GODS CAN HAVE IT!!!”
He hangs up.
My phone rings.
I answer. “Where the fuck are you?”
He snivels. “Sorry, Luci, it’s just my grandfather died this week. It’s all been up in the air.”
I roll my eyes. “Do me a favour. I don’t want to hear this shit. Grandfather? Give us a break. And what’s your excuse for next week? And the week after?”
I’m about to tell him it’s probably too late but he breaks me off.
“It’s true!!” He sobs. “It’s his funeral today! We’re going to the crematorium in twenty minutes. Listen, my dad has hired a van for tomorrow. We’re driving up to collect all my grandfather’s furniture around lunchtime, so don’t worry. His things are very precious to us. It’s all we have left to remember him.”
I say, “So are you going to Dave’s after that?”
Bongo says, “What do you mean?”
I say, “Are you going to collect your stuff after you’ve collected your grandfather’s furniture? Shall I tell Dave to expect you mid-afternoon?”
Bongo says, “All my furniture IS my grandfathers. I took it for safekeeping when he went into a nursing home six months ago. I’ve been trying to find space for it and now I’ve got it sorted. We’ll be there tomorrow.”
I hang up.
Oh fucking Hell.
I run out and jump into the Punto, floor it down the road.
I hope I’m in time.
All the while I’m phoning Fucking Amazing Dave, trying to tell him to leave the furniture alone, but he doesn’t answer.
Ten minutes later I pull onto his street.
Fucking Amazing Dave lives on a funny old road. It faces onto a stretch of waste ground near a scrap yard. Not a pretty place, but It’s where he calls home.
I see the smoke first.
Then the flames.
There’s a stack of shattered furniture piled high on the waste ground, burning fiercely, black smoke climbing into the sky.
Fucking Amazing Dave is leaping around the fire, whooping and howling with his top off, taking swigs from a bottle of knock-off Jack Daniels. There’s an empty petrol can nearby.
I park the car at a safe distance, get out, walk wearily towards the fire.
Fucking Amazing Dave sees me and comes running over, eyes wild.
He screams, “See?? See?? THAT’S what happens when you fuck wi’ Dave! No-one fucks wi’ Dave or you gonna BUUURN!!!”
I say, “Yep. You’re not wrong there.”
We watch the flames leap higher. I take the bottle from his hand and take a small swig.
I take my phone out of my pocket, check the time, realise that Bongo will be at the crematorium.
I leave him a voicemail message. “Hi Bongo, It’s Luci. Don’t bother with the van. Dave has just delivered all that furniture to your grandfather’s new place. Don’t bother calling back. Bye.”
I hang up.
We watch the fire a little longer but Fucking Amazing Dave starts to shiver.
He says, “Fancy a quick game of Wii Golf, Luci?”
I shrug. “Fuck it. Why not. You’ve plenty of room now.”
We go inside.