Aster Briar - author of 'Chalk' - a comedy novel about a barrister who causes chaos wherever he goes.
This is something very different from me. Normally I write comedy...
Roath always smiled as a child. Even when he was being told off by his Mam. The slack-mouthed smile always revealed his slightly buck and overlapping front teeth. Don't get me wrong, the teeth were not too pronounced, but enough to make him look like he had 'learning difficulties.'
Of course that was not what they called them when Roath was a child. Adults would naturally treat him as though he was simple. Children were less kind.
In those days people were judged more by their appearance than happens these days. While Roath didn't come from an ethnic minority, and was not a foreigner, he still looked different enough to be regarded with suspicion when he was growing up. Attitudes seemed to be different then. Maybe it would have been easier to explain why he was different if there had been an obvious reason.
He had hung on through school and come out without any qualifications. He left school alone too. The only thing that he had been good at school was swimming.
On the dole at first Roath drifted and then found himself sweeping the streets of Bristol. He would walk miles every day pushing his cart as he worked; his slack smile was still there in those days. It would worry the young mothers that he walked past and they would keep their children away from him. Roath noticed the looks. He told himself that they were keeping away from himself because of the smell of his cart, but inside he knew that they were afraid of him.
He had never been any good with women.
The women that he met were in the hard-drinking pubs. He would be drunk, and they would be too. They would be as lucky to have his company as he was theirs. I suppose that is what caused the change in his life; caused his smile to leave.
One day one of the women complained. He had turned her over. I suppose if he hadn't been so drunk he would have realised his mistake. If he hadn't been so drunk he would have heard her crying in pain. If he hadn't been so drunk he would have cared, but he didn't and she complained.
Prison took away the smile. He was inside for nearly three years out of a four year sentence. People that had done what he had have a hard time in prison. Someone that took exception had also taken one of his buck teeth when he was hit in the face with a block of wood.
After prison, Roath started to live rough. He didn't like being enclosed any more. He had spent too many minutes and too many hours in small cells for too many years. Unable to walk and unable to be free. His face was rougher now, and there was no smile.
He would spend his time down by the Watershed in the middle of Bristol. He would watch the people that kept the boats. He would walk. He would watch the people out late at night partying and and drinking and fighting. He had his places to go when it rained.
It was around 3am one night that Roath saw the man slip. He didn't have a watch and so the time is really a guess. The man was drunk and messing by the railings. The splash was loud, but no-one seemed to have heard.
Roath watched him begin to struggle. He was flailing his arms about and shouting, but still no-one was coming to help. Roath watched. It was with a fascination, like watching a fly that has landed in a spider's web. The man started to slip under the water. His flailing arms pulling himself back to the surface again. The dark water, lapping and glinting in the lights of the nearby buildings. The evidence of the struggle spreading in the light-flecked ripples.
The man then vanished. The black water closing over his head, leaving the final softening ripples as the last trace of where he had been.
Finally, something made him act. Roath leapt into the inky waters and dived as deep as he could go. His opened eyes finding it impossibly dark. He grabbed his arms out in front of himself, trying to reach out to touch the drowning man – feeling for him in the pitch black cold water. Nothing. Again he made an effort to swim deeper, still reaching out, and still feeling nothing. His lungs were starting to hurt. The cold was beginning to numb him. He had to get back to the surface.
Then the man grabbed his leg. He was pulling on Roath, dragging him down into the watery grave with the desperation of a man who knows that he will die. Roath's lungs were bursting. He had to regain the surface and he started to kick with his free leg, desperately trying to propel them both back to the top. He pulled at the water with his arms as hard as he could. He was a strong swimmer.
With another equally hard grip, the man grabbed Roath's free leg and started to pull them both down.
As Roath pulled himself out of the water he told himself that he had really had no choice. The man would have killed them both. He had to kick himself free. He had tried to save the man.
The following afternoon was a sunny day. Roath was sat by the city centre bus stops with his bundle of big issue newspapers to sell. He was barefoot. The man in the water had pulled his shoes from his feet in the struggle. He watched the people walking past. He watched the people queuing at the bus stop waiting for their bus. One of them was a barrister. Roath could tell from the half opened brown Gladstone bag in which he could see the man's wig tin and black gown. It reminded him of bad times.
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