I was walking home with my girlfriend one night and we were arguing. What it was about isn’t important 'cause of it not being in any way relevant to the story so I’m not even gonna go into any of it… Although just for no reason at all I may as well tell you we’d been with some of my mates who’d all pretty much ignored her 'cause of there being some fit barmaid they’d gone down this particular pub to watch. We’d sat at the bar instead of finding a table but my girlfriend had been all pissed off and settled on a table to herself instead. This meant of course that I’d had to sit with her but had been wanting to talk to my friends too and had sort of been flitting between the two places, exhausted with all the hassle of it all. Now she was sulking on the way home, obvious thoughts of what dickheads my mates were and why hadn’t I just sat with them, like why had I even bothered talking to her at all?
So anyway, I guess the story really begins when we were on the hill about two minutes away from our flat; no longer talking and not going home until things had become a bit more resolved, not wishing to enter whilst still in a bad mood with each other and all that.
I was on the bench smoking a cigarette while my girlfriend was sort of skulking about, not yet ready to sit down next to me; but at the same time having no desire to walk away and leave me behind either.
It was in this moment of me sitting there and her standing around nearby when I first noticed the guy walk across my field of vision. A figure out of nowhere, coming into focus momentarily: thin, ill looking, younger than me and slightly shorter. Either a drunk, a homeless person; or both. – in fact my guess of him being one of the many beggars you often see around our city (Brighton) was confirmed almost straight away as I watched the figure approach a couple who were now walking up the hill towards us. A conversation I couldn’t hear but could tell from the body language that he was asking for money and being refused: The shake of the head from the man, and then the blank, poker expressions of both him and his girl as they continued past him.
I drew on my cigarette, not wanting to stare for too long, allowing my eyes to drop to the floor, drinking in a brief moment of peace before out of nowhere the thin beggar had positioned himself next to me on the bench, leaned his face to my ear and spoken, “Give me 50p or I’ll slice your face.”
I froze for a moment, not wanting to turn and face him, trying to give myself time to decide how to best handle this unexpected encounter. I remember thinking I could probably jump up quickly to put myself into a more defensive position; or if it’d be better to simply tell him to fuck off and leave me the hell alone.
I was already in a bad mood of course and taking it out on this guy (at least verbally) didn’t seem like such a terrible idea at the time. The problem however was, if he really did have a razor blade then all it’d take would be one quick swipe of it to ruin my face for life. And I liked my face.
I also liked my girlfriend; despite the current argument. And I had to think about protecting her. To be honest if I hadn’t been with her and hadn’t been in a bad mood then I’d have probably got up and run away without a second thought. I’m not the sort of person who really cares about being macho or anything. Running away is simple and that’s what I’d have done. Problem solved within a couple of seconds.
“I mean it mate, I’ve got a razor blade here and I’ll slash your fucking face if you don’t give me 50p.”
I looked across to my girlfriend who was now walking into the kebab shop across the road, shouting something to me about wanting a coke; completely unaware of our current predicament.
“That your girlfriend mate,” he was now saying. “Nice girl. Give me 50p or I’ll slice your face.”
Keeping my head I did two things at the same time. Actually more than two. I got up quickly, stepping back and away from the bench so I was now looking down at the drunk; far enough so he couldn’t get hold of me with one movement.
I reached into my pocket, pulled out my wallet and said, stalling for time, “Ok mate, 50p it is, or make it, I’ll give you a quid, but that’s it.”
By being friendly I was attempting to pacify him, by taking a firm hold of my wallet I was making sure he wouldn’t snatch it and by stepping away I was stopping him from slicing my face. (I say all this ‘cause I remember consciously taking all of these things into account which is why I go into detail here.)
He got up quickly and at once was right next to me, in front of me, stumbling about in the wake of my path. I remember him taking a swipe at my wallet and pulling it away just in time as I took out a quid, which I handed to him saying, “Here you go, but that’s it,” and made to walk across the road to the kebab shop; but already I could sense a growing agitation coming from the drunk.
“Give me fifty quid or I’ll slice your face.”
I couldn’t believe it. How had fifty p suddenly changed to fifty quid? I’d thought I’d somehow stopped the whole situation and now it was gonna be over. I was about to happily share my girlfriend’s coke while this guy would wander off down the hill, accepting the fact that I’d outsmarted him, that I’d been too quick. He was now gonna go and hassle some other unlucky bastard.
“Give me fifty quid or I’ll slice your face.”
I’d been nice enough to give this guy a quid, which at the time wasn’t exactly breaking the bank, but all the same I was still relatively hard up, and there was no way in hell I was even gonna consider giving this guy far more than I usually allowed myself to spend in a week.
“Look mate,” I said, trying to be friendly, deciding I’d have to cleverly talk myself out of this one. “I’ve given you a quid. That was pretty nice considering it’s double what you asked me for. You can go and ask someone else, I’ve given you all I’m gonna give you.”
“Give me fifty quid or I’ll slice your face.”
All of a sudden he started approaching nearer, closer to me with a look of violence in his eyes before swinging a bony fist through the air, which I dodged, and then he was on the floor, lying in the road: Literally, all happening within a couple of seconds.
He looked kind of pathetic as I stared down at him. In a blur I considered kicking him a couple of times just to make sure he didn’t get up and start harassing me again but didn’t. Although I nearly did. I’d been more scared than I’d realised and at the moment of him lying there I felt a great sense of relief as well as the strange urge to punish him for having given me such a shock.
Instead though I carried on talking; sticking to the original plan of using my brain instead of my fists.
Brighton mate. Plenty of people are gonna give you money here. Why don’t you head into town? Loads of people around there.”
“It’s fucking shit mate.”
“It’s a fucking pile of shit.”
“You from here?”
“Nah mate, from
,” he said as he got up. London
“What’s that like?”
“Why’d ya come to
“Give me fifty quid or I’ll slice your face. GIVE ME FIFTY QUID OR I’LL SLICE YOUR FACE!”
My girlfriend was near us now. She’d come out from the kebab shop and was sipping her coke, watching our conversation, aware I was being hassled; although not giving away any like fear or apprehension over whether this guy really meant what he was saying about slicing my face.
I gestured to her, mouthing, “Go home,” then in reaction to her lack of response gave up with the whole mouthing thing and shouted, “Go home, I’ll catch up with you later!”
She was just standing there sipping her coke though, not doing anything.
“GIVE ME FIFTY QUID OR I’LL SLICE YOUR FACE!”
I needed her out of the way. I needed her to leave me alone with this guy so I could simply leg it.
I began to walk down the hill, drawing the drunk along with me, leading him away from my girlfriend who was hopefully gonna get the hint that she wasn’t helping matters by staying close.
The drunk followed, deciding now upon repeatedly mumbling his familiar offer of not slicing my face if I gave him fifty quid.
My girlfriend started walking down the hill towards us.
“Give me fifty quid mate or I’ll slash both your faces.”
It was more than I could take. Actually no; there wasn’t any anger involved. No lack of patience. It was simply my last resort. I’d attempted to be nice, tried to be clever and was without the opportunity of running away.
There was only one thing for it.
I stepped a couple of paces back from him and clenched each of my hands into fists. He was talking to me more now but I was no longer listening. I said nothing. Did nothing. There was no, “Come on then.” No, “You’d better watch it.” No, “I’m gonna smash your head in, kick your arse,” or whatever.
I simply looked at him, concentrating on his hands, assessing the time it would take him to pull out a knife or razor, waiting for him to make his move, read to knock him down as soon as he did.
In one rapid movement he jumped at me, fast as lightening. But instead of attacking he merely pushed me aside, sprinting down the hill.
And then my girlfriend was suddenly next to me, asking if I was ok while I remember half wanting to chase after the guy; kick his head in for putting me through what he’d just put me through. And in retrospect I should’ve been cuddling my girlfriend, telling her I was fine, she was fine, it’d been nothing and there was nothing to worry about. But I just couldn’t.
“Give me a minute,” I said to her. “I just need a cigarette. Then I’ll be ok.”
Although at the time my mind was swirling:
“Fuck that bastard,” I was thinking to myself as I fumbled around with my lighter, sparking up. “Fucking should’ve decked him. Taught him a lesson good and proper... And fuck my girlfriend. Bitch. It’s her fucking fault I got into the whole fucking situation in the first place.”
“Are you all right honey?”
“I just need a minute,” I told her. “Then I’ll be ok… Just leave me a bit… No, don’t touch me… Just go on home… I’ll be all right in a minute.”