How someone stole my umbrella in Kentish Town, London.
I came into The George and set my umbrella in the rack. I stood at the bar with my pint and my newspaper, pleased to have escaped from the feminised world of the office, with its gossip; it's chatter. I opened the paper and began to read. O fuck, whatever will they do next, I thought. "They" referred to the government.
The beer was as cool as the pub was warm and it was cold and damp outside and it felt good as the liquid went down my throat, and besides that I felt good and full of myself as you do when you have done a fine day's work in and office and told some people in no uncertain terms what you really think, and written some unambiguous emails too, and made a fair sum of money.
II was about three-quarter's through my drink. The newspaper wasn't distracting me. I turned to look over the others in the bar, leaning against it. The place was filling up: some suit from local offices, mostly men; the odd girl here and there. I did see a middle-aged woman too, her face like a creased potato: once a good-time girl, perhaps, now a regular out of habit. Or did the delights of sex still sometimes pass her way? I shuddered to think.
I glanced across the room. At the door a man was putting on his overcoat, then he went over to the rack and pulled out an umbrella. My umbrella.
I watched him: he was bold, putting the ting under his arm, leaving.
How could I be sure it wasn't his own umbrella from a distance of 10 metres? you ask. I tell you that I knew because mine had a handle of bent bamboo and was the only one like that when I inserted it, and there were not like that when the man had gone. But I put down the drink and went over to check.
It was so. The man had indeed taken my umbrella.
I left. The pub was in Kentish Tin, on the High Road. I looked down the street and then across it. There he was in his brown overcoat, swaggering shamelessly towards Camden.
I could not cross for a moment; a bus passed, then taxis and a run of cars, all speeding. The man had become obscured by others, so I ran down the side of the road, half on, half off the pavement. "Excuse me!" cried a woman sarcastically as I knocked her shopping bag from her hand: I saw some apples and a loaf fall onto the road behind me, then an orange bouncing across. A squelch as a car crushed it.
But I did not stop to offer regrets. I ran on ahead; then dodging traffic to get to the other side: a cyclist cried, "look out you stupid cunt", but I was sure I was gaining on my quarry, I didn't care.
The thief was really strutting, using my umbrella as a fashion accessory; it made me cross to see such stolen vanity: the way he clicked it rhythmically on the pavement.
I was bearing down on him: perhaps only a hundred separated us. His shoes were black and gleamed even in the fading light. He surely fancied himself as the perfect man-about-town: a very regular umbrella thief, no doubt!
Oh yes, i was gaining on him for sure, racing past betting shops and Irish clubs; the old and tired shuffling home; past drunken workmen; brutish schoolchildren, their callous pink faces barked obscenities across the relentless rush hour traffic.
Then I neared the man. He had stopped. Why should that bring me to a halt too?
He had stopped two schoolgirls, one fat one slim, in their navy blue uniforms. Their skirts were short despite the season; they wore stockings that stopped short of their hems showing their lower thighs to a delighted world.
He was speaking to them, a leer on his face, holding up my umbrella to them for their pleasure. The girls began giggling, then first the fat and then the slim put their hands up to it and began fondling the ferule. They ran their fingers down the silken shaft, flickering their eyes coyly, smiling and flirting thorough puckered peachy lips.
I could swear he was drooling, so lascivious was his demeanour, though I couldn't hear what lewdities he spoke. The girls stood there with open legs -this scene played out for a while -then the girls broke it off for some reason and began pointing, giving directions, and the umbrella fell to a more relaxed position.
The man walked on at some speed. I passed the girls: they had not moved from the spot. They were watching him disappear down the road with my umbrella. "That man", I asked, "where did he go?" "None of your fucking business," replied the fat one. "You jealous or something?" said the other. "Fucking perve," said the first.
"O for Christ's sake," I muttered, and again launched off, but the man had disappeared down to Davis Green, that strange network of tiny streets and ancient lanes that folds around St Mellitus.
I caught a glimpse of a man's brown overcoat turning a corner, the he disappeared again.
We were close to the church. I went in.
It was so gloomy in there that I had to blink ot see, but presently I made him out, on a pew alone, halfway down in the cavernous dark.
The priest was conducting an evening mass. There was a congregation of less than ten. The man knelt in prayer. The umbrella wasn't in the rack at the end of the pew: he had kept it by his side. I sat some pews back from him and waited. The priest invited the communicants forward: the man rose and joined the queue, the umbrella tucked oddly under his arm while he knelt to receive the wafer.
The h shuffled back to his seat.
Had he been forgiven his trespasses?
I got up and went to wait for him outside. I didn't want to be trapped into conversation by the priest.
So I stood under the gothic portal, outside. Presently he came, sauntering. I went up to him. He was taller, more erect than I had expected. There was a scar on his forehead.
"Where is it?" I said.
"What are you talking about?" replied the man.
"You know what I'm talking about, " I said. "My Umbrella. Where have you hidden it?"
"I don't know anything about your umbrella, said the man. Perhaps you should contact the local lost property office., they might be better placed to help. I have to get going."
And with that he turned and went on his way.