A short story I wrote a while back about one man’s downfall during the lunch time madness. Bon appetit!
It’s the lunch time dash at the Good Eats Restaurant. The place is full to the brim with impatient, hungry customers. Queues have formed all the way back to the entrance. People are trying to squeeze in, just to get out of the cold. The tuts and sighs are enough to mimic a halting train. The command centre, or the kitchen, is busy with employees scuttling everywhere, clumsily bumping into each other, yelling beautiful words of encouragement (Twat!). Teamwork at its finest. The restaurant manager, Bob, an incredible specimen of a man if ever your eyes could fall on. A man you would follow into battle; with his sweaty, overweight physique.
He wipes the sweat off his brow with the back of his chubby little hand and adjusts his comb over. Well, comb over. A sign of denial if ever there was one as Bob attempts to position the three remaining strands of hair, in the reflection of the microwave surface, to look like some sort of ensemble on his head. With this magic patch of hair, he could still pass for 50. His face, a beautiful maroon with eyes as bloodshot red as the tomato-based substitute they pass as sauce. Needless to say, Bob was not amused with the team’s performance. Especially one lad in particular. Wayne.
A tall, lanky geek of a specimen. To be honest, if you were to look at the pair of them, you would have thought it was a before and after sketch in a Weight Watchers campaign. Super-Size vs. Super Skinny. Wayne averts his gaze, choosing the floor rather than his master’s morose maroon face. Bob unleashes all but the bloody Kraken at him. A twenty something student who had the silly idealism (idealism? Well, drunken epitome) that working at a fast food restaurant would be the dream. Well, free food at least. No, not even that. I know, right?
Bob continues to wag his stubby little sausage finger at the scorned student. Spit flying out, leaving little dew dropped speckles on Wayne’s glasses. He doesn’t dare wipe them off at this present moment.
“Are you completely useless?!” screamed Bob.
Wayne desperately wants to answer. Well, I dressed myself. I’m here. So . . . no! But he doesn’t. He continues to look at the disturbingly yellow stained flooring. Is that a cockroach? No, it’s a bean. Wait, we don’t serve beans. Well, ones that move anyway.
“Hello?! I’m talking to you!” shrieked the ogre of a manager.
Then Wayne made that fatal mistake. He looked into his boss’ blood shot eyes and shrugged. The laidback, sarcastic, “fuck it” shoulder shrug. A perfect symbolism of the now generation. If something goes wrong, shrug, fuck it. Not so for the balding beast. It was an invitation. Like a matador waving a cape to a bull. A hairy, fat sweaty bull that seems to be breathing through gritted teeth. Bob clenches his fist.
“That’s all you’ve got, is it?” asks Bob. He shrugs, imitating Wayne.
Some of the employees and customers notice the impending disaster. Laughs could be heard. Phones obviously ready to record, post and share to the world. God bless social media. Wayne doesn’t like the attention. He can feel his face going red. He’s had enough. Shrug, fuck it.
“You told Jeff to clean the toilet. Not me!” retorted the trembling twenty-something. Bob shakes his head. He smiles, a sinister shark toothed grin as if to say, you’ve just walked into my trap. Cue the theatrics so every nosy parker could see. Bob throws his arms up in the air as if he was ready to perform Swan Lake, not give a bollocking.
“He speaks! Ah ha. Yeah, I can see how I can get Jeff and Wayne mixed up. Those names are so similar. J-e-f-f. W-a-y-n-e.” Bob uses his hands to help in the spelling of the names, like he was ready to show the emergency exits on a plane. Wayne is hating every second of it. Alright, Alan Partridge. I can fucking spell. Bob bellows for the witness in the trial of the designated job debacle.
“JEFF!” bellowed Bob.
Jeff, a smaller, spottier lad around the same age as Wayne, pops up like a meerkat from the chips section.
“Yes, boss?” said Jeff, in his snivelly, whiney voice.
Bob turns around to face him. He places his hands on his hips, a pose resembling a teapot.
“Settle this. Who did I ask to clean the toilets?” barks the boss man.
Jeff shakes, nerves kicking in. The spotlight well and truly on him. Nothing worse for little old Jeff. He tries to get the words out, in a Morse code fashion.
“Www-aa-yyy-nnee-ssss-i-rrr, bbb-oo-sss”, croaked the coward.
Wayne mimics Bob’s teapot pose behind his back. Jeff tries not to smile. However, he made the mistake. He looked over Bob’s shoulder. Bob turns around. Wayne quickly puts his arms down and looks back down to the ground. Too late, the damage is done.
Before Bob can reprimand the reeling reprobate, he notices that he has gathered more of an audience than he anticipated with the restaurant rammed to the brim. And for some reason, huddling around a particular check out till. Go figure. Bob shakes his head and lets out a big sigh. His mouldy mank breath hitting Wayne’s face like a slap to the face.
“Finish your shift then come to my office. You’re promoted to tills. You can take orders, can’t you?” retorted Bob.
Still digging. Still waiting for a rise. Wayne nods rapidly. Not good enough for the big, bald boss.
“Yes, what?” commands Bob.
Wayne looks up confused.
Bob makes a spinning motion with his hand.
“Wind your neck back in and answer me properly”, demands the dictator.
For the love of God, don’t shrug again. Bob moves closer, squaring up to Wayne, “I’m waiting”.
Jeff is trying to say something over Bob’s shoulder. He mimes the words, SAY SIR! Wayne makes a scoffing noise. That’s it!
“If you’re expecting me to say sir, you’ll be waiting a long time. This ain’t the fucking military!” shouts Wayne.
Oh no. More phones rise out of the ever-growing mass of hungry consumers. They’re getting fed one way or another. Through processed food or violence. Bob clenches his fists. He steps into Wayne’s personal space.
“Like I said, office later. Now get on the tills!” Bob barges past the weedy Wayne. The customers and employees tut and sigh, disappointed that their diligence did not at least earn a bitch slap. Videos were still being posted, of course.
Wayne turns his anger towards Jeff. He stomps over. Jeff picks up on his vibe and quickly starts putting chips into the fryer. Wayne stands behind him, breathing down his neck.
“Uh, what the hell, mate?” Wayne raises his arms like Jesus on the cross, like all was against him. Why me, Lord? “You know he asked you to!”
Jeff continues to fumble about. Chips going everywhere but their intended destination. He sighs.
“I couldn’t prove him wrong in front of everyone”, squeaks the mousy midget.
Wayne tuts. “Bullshit”
Jeff turns around to face him.
“I’m sorry, okay?”
Wayne shakes his head.
“No, not okay. It’s every day. You know, he’s got it in for me so don’t give him more fucking ammo. God, I hate this job”
Wayne grabs his hat and throws it into the fryer. He soon regrets it.
“Oh bloody hell! That was my hat”
Jeff tries to fish it out.
“Why don’t you quit?”
Wayne makes that scoffing noise again. Not even he knows where that came from.
“It’s alright for you, hang on, you got something on your nose”.
Jeff rubs his nose frantically. Wayne moves closer and wipes something. He shows his finger. There’s nothing there. Wayne smiles.
“Oh, look is that some of Bob’s shit”.
Jeff slaps Wayne’s hand away and continues fishing for the cap.
“I’ve had enough. If I’m called an idiot one more time, I’ll . . .” Wayne struggles to find the words.
“You’ll what?” asks Jeff, desperate for the drama queen to exit stage right. Wayne shrugs.
“I dunno. But I’ll do something.” Wayne brushes his hands through his hair.
Jeff tuts. Wayne looks at him, puzzled.
“What’s the tut for?” demands Wayne.
“Did Bob give you your balls back?”
Wayne tries to find an answer. He looks up to the ceiling, hoping to pick a smart quip out of thin air.
“Uh . . . shut up, Jeff!”
Wayne activates one of the counter terminals. He brushes bits of god knows what off his uniform. He takes a deep breath and adjusts his name tag. Right, let’s do this. Bring it. He pulls the falsest smile he has ever done and shouts those beautiful words.
Two businessmen in Versace suits, carrying briefcases, approach the counter. Quite dapper, if Wayne was in the mood to compliment. However, the two businessmen are different in size, more Mr Big and Mr Small. Mr Small starts ordering. He is middle aged, with a little goatee. If anything with his physique and appearance you could have mistaken him for Ricky Gervais. He doesn’t bother to look at Wayne, just faces the other businessman. He speaks.
“He looks like an idiot”.
Wayne looks at Mr Small, confused. “Excuse me?”
“Yeah I said, idiot. Couldn’t you hear me?” retorts Mr Small.
Wayne can’t believe his luck. Replace one knobhead with another. Must have been a bad person in a former life. Keep calm, keep calm, Wayne. He flashes that fake smile, again.
“I’m sorry, can I take your order, sir?
Mr Small pulls a face, “What?”
Keep calm and carry on.
Mr Small cuts Wayne short by raising his index finger
“I heard you the first time. I’ll have a cheeseburger. No fries and whatever other shit you’re going to offer”
Mr Big looks to be the same age as Wayne. Better looking than his shitty counterpart. Tall, dark hair, more like someone out of the Hollyoaks ensemble. He smiles but remains silent. Mr Small taps his watch.
“I’d like this done today”.
Oh, no he didn’t!
Wayne is fuming. He turns around and grabs the first burger he can find. He can still hear Mr Small rabbiting on to Mr Big.
“How hard is it to follow instructions?”
Wayne goes to slam the burger on the counter but before he can, he suddenly has a Eureka moment. He puts on his false smile, mimicking the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. He puts the burger in his pocket. The heat burning through the cheap nylon trousers. Mr Small looks up. Wayne raises two fingers, no, the normal way.
“Two seconds. Just got to be made”. Mr Small sighs. Mr Big again, remains silent. Wayne quickly dashes through the hustle and bustle of the kitchen area. He hovers outside the staff toilet door. Well, Bob did say I was supposed to clean the toilets. Wayne knocks on the door to make sure no one is in there. Knock, knock. Nothing. He creeps into the condensed area with its claustrophobic walls. He bangs his elbow against the sink. Flies are buzzing around the only toilet. Well, the only designated staff toilet. Wayne looks inside the toilet. Damn, clean! The one time. Sod’s law! Wayne unwraps the burger and looks around.
He crawls on his knees and smiles. Bingo! He wipes the burger round the toilet fittings and the rim of the porcelain, for good measure. He looks back to make sure no one has, well not walked in, but popped their nosy head in. He quickly wraps the burger back up.
Wayne flashes that Cheshire grin and rushes back to Mr Small who is looking at his watch, impatiently. He slaps the burger on the counter, “Here you go, sir. Sorry for the delay”.
Mr Small snatches it off the side. Wayne looks to Mr Big. Oh shit, I left before he could order.
“I’m sorry. Did you want anything? I dashed off to sort your colleague’s. I completely forgot to ask.”
Nice and cool. Courteous. Completely oblivious. Go on, eat it here. Actually, no don’t. Mr Small looks at Mr Big. He shakes his head.
“Oh no, he isn’t with me”
Wayne looks puzzled. Mr Big flashes that Hollyoaks smile.
“I’m being served, thank you.”
What? Then why was he talking –
“’Scuse me”. Jeff pushes past Wayne and passes a bag to Mr Big. Mr Big thanks Jeff and leaves. Mr Small’s shout brings Wayne back to the growing chaos.
“I asked you a question!”
Did he open the burger? Shit, I zoned out. Wayne can feel the blood leaving his face, “Sorry, sir?”
Mr Small shakes his head. “Not you, son”
Mr Small places his index finger next to his ear. He turns his head around to reveal a bluetooth device.
“Signals crap in here. I’ll fire the idiot when I’m back.”
Oh no, oh no, oh no.
Mr Small chucks some money at the counter. He smiles.
“Sorry about that, mate. Work. Who’d do it, eh? Bad manners, I know. Keep the change, son. Cheers”
NO, NO, NO, NO!
Mr Small disappears into the ocean of hungry monsters. Wayne can’t see him.
“Found your hat”
Jeff passes Wayne’s deep fried cap. Wayne looks sick.
“Are you okay?”
Wayne places the hat on Jeff’s head. He takes off his name tag.
Jeff is confused.
“What are you doing?”
Wayne can’t find the words. He turns to his companions and shrugs.