Wednesday, 7 June 2017

What happened? A short story

First, darkness; then, a milky-white vase and two greying ovals sharpening into human faces. I blink and become aware of a sharp pain in my side and lift my hand to sense and soothe my throbbing head. My hand is bloodied, though not majorly so, and I begin to hear the cacophony of passers-by yapping into their mobiles and cars driving by at speed. There are three people crouching beside me. They seem relieved as I look at them in turn. “I feel a bit dizzy,” I say. “What happened?”
One of the people, a bearded man, perhaps in his 40s, leans forward. “You had a little accident,” he says. “Here, hold this to head—that’s a nasty bump.” The man offers me a damp hanky and I do as he advises. “My wife’s gone down the road to the chemist’s for some antiseptic and gauze—you’ve gashed your side pretty bad.”
“An accident,” I echo. “What sort of accident? I don’t really remember much.”
The man smiled. “I’m not surprised. You’ve had a bit of a crash. You were riding along the road and must have hit a brick or a stone or something in the road because you came off your bike and slid into this wall. There’s some broken glass here, so I reckon you must have cut open your side as you came off, as well as bumping your head. Nothing serious, but you’ll probably need to get checked out to make sure there’s nothing badly wrong.”
I dab my head with the damp hanky and turn my head to look at my side. My t-shirt is torn and bloodstained. And then I hear one of the other people speaking.
“That’s not what happened at all!” a woman exclaims. I move my eyes to look at her. She has long wavy hair and keeps pushing it back behind her ears. “How could he have bashed his head like that if he was on a bike? He’d have been wearing a helmet. And I can't see no bike, anyway.”
The bearded man looks at her; he seems a little annoyed to me. “Well, what do you think happened, then?”
“I saw everything,” the woman says. “He was walking along the road, checking his phone, when his legs just seemed to give way. Or he tripped. Anyway, whatever happened, he fell on the broken glass, cut himself, and bashed his head on the wall.”
The bearded man raised his eyes as though assessing the veracity of the woman’s account. “That could make sense,” he responds. “But I don’t think simply falling on the glass would have cut his side so bad, and it wouldn’t explain why he hit his head on the wall. Besides—”
A woman arrives with a small carrier bag decorated with a cross. I presume it’s the bearded man’s wife coming from the chemist with first aid supplies. She kneels and begins to tend to my side while I continue to press the hanky against my head.
“Ignore them both,” she says, soothingly. “My husband has a taste for the melodramatic and has been known to make up details. And this lady”—she flicks her head backwards, gesturing towards the wavy-haired woman, while she unscrews the top of a tube of antiseptic cream—“wasn’t even here.” I hear a huff and a tut.
“So what did happen to me?” I ask the wife, wincing a little as she treats my wound. “I’m still none the wiser, though I know I couldn’t have been riding a bike because I don’t have one.”
The wife pauses her activity for a moment and looks directly into my eyes. “I’m afraid you were mugged,” she tells me. “You were walking down the street looking at your phone and someone jumped out of the alley here, pushed you into the wall, snatched your phone, and ran away.”
The bearded man and the wavy-haired woman face each other and nod. “Yes,” the bearded man says, “that’s what happened. I remember now. There was no bike.”
“Yes,” the wavy-haired woman concurs. “And you didn’t trip,” she says to me, “you were pushed. By some bloke who ran off towards the park.”
The wife glances at them and turns back to me, a grin on her face. “Told you,” she says, victoriously. “You were mugged. Right, all done. We’d better get you to a doctor for a proper look-over and we can go and report the incident to the police after that.” I nod, grateful for her help. She and her husband begin to help me to my feet.
And then I realise that the third person I originally saw crouching beside me is still here. I thought he had gone, but it seems he has just been standing to the side, listening to the bearded man and the wavy-haired woman and the bearded man’s wife. This man is dressed in an expensive suit and is holding a black briefcase. I smile at him and ask jokingly, “And do you have a different version of what happened to me?”
The suited man inspects me for a moment and then flashes a toothy grin. “No, I don’t have a different version of what happened to you,” he responds. “I’m just here to point out a couple of things to you. Look over there.” He turns and points across the road—and there, carefully positioned on a garden wall, impervious to the strength of the emerging sun, are a mango and, inexplicably, a giant golf ball.

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