‘Course they’re Romanian, it’s in all the fucking papers.’
Tennish, a brisk day, the wind never ceases, blows Arfur’s long hair back off his face then into his eyes. He strokes a greasy paw, hooks back lank locks behind a waxy ear.
‘…taking all our fucking jobs…’
‘You ain’t got a job.’
‘Someone called me a tramp the other day, fucking school kid.’
‘We might be tramps but at least we’re fucking English!’ Assent and laughter. English Tramps.
An empty MacDonalds brown paper bag cartwheels across the pebbly beach. One of the two dogs which regularly inhabit the English Tramps’ bunker flings itself off the parapet and onto the stones where its legs buckle with the unanticipated impact.
The English Tramps laugh as the stocky staff picks itself up and gallops after the bag, past the Romanian bunker which is sparsely occupied this morning, and under the rotting pier where rusty iron drips, resists the centuries’ battering of waves, and carries decaying remains of the burnt out House of Fun, Ghost Train, Bingo and Ballroom on its hunched red back.
The dog is a dot on the distant pebbles. ‘Oy! Doreen! Fucking come back!’
Harry of the black teeth spits. ‘Doreen?! You can’t call a dog Doreen -‘
‘It’s ‘is mum’s name innit -‘ Sheila McGee puffs down the stone steps from the promenade with two blue carrier bags bursting with cans from the only shop left in town that will sell them these lethal concoctions. Sheila was once a beauty blue eyes red hair before alcohol got her in its savage jaws.
The English Tramps surround the carrier bags, dying of thirst.
‘Giss some money,’ says Sheila, stubborn. ‘Pound a can’.
‘Ey Look its the fucking Romanians,’ Arfur pronounces the word with relish on the Rooo. Roooomaynians. From the easterly bunker and along the colonnade, two hard-eyed skinny characters approach with exaggerated bravado.
They ignore the English Tramps and continue purposefully past their bunker.
‘Oy you! I’m talkin’ to you -‘
The Romanians walk past swiftly as their audience swivels to follow their retreating backs. Arfur drains his can and throws it after them. Doreen immediately sets off in pursuit, barking and growling, claws skittering and sliding over the concrete.
The Romanians look back alarmed, see bared teeth, bravado challenged, defeated, break into a run.
The English Tramps all roar with laughter.
‘Gis another one, sweet Sheila McGee.’
‘Where they goin anyway?’
‘Public bogs. Even they ain’t gonna take a shit in public in broad daylight.’
The Romanians, having taken a shit and noted the provision of public showers, have returned to their bunker via the upper level, the promenade. The Romanian bunker has filled up and a dozen pairs of vengeful eyes are turned on the English Tramps as the returnees deliver a resentful account of their adventure.
A triumphant high possesses the English Tramps for they have routed the intruders; in pairs, in threes, or alone, they swirl and lift their knees and punch the air in a merry victory dance, miming ‘cheers’ to the Rooomaynians.
Morning has shuddered into a grey afternoon and the later hours bring their own problems. Sheila McGee’s blue carrier bags are full of empties now, hanging limply from the edge of the bench where Sheila herself is unconscious, sitting slumped like a rag doll with her feet sticking outwards, splayed, her head lolling to one side.
‘It’s your shout Arfur. The Post Office is still open.’
‘I ain’t got no fuckin money’
‘You gotta have a tenner left you ain’t been all week.’
A vague threat of violence enters the space. Arfur sits down next to Sheila whose battered plastic handbag is abandoned beside her. His comrades look out to sea or become engaged in conversation, their eyes looking any direction but his.
Very very quietly, Arfur unzips the top of Sheila’s handbag and sneaks his hand inside, removing a small purse, like a little girl’s plaything, pink with a golden snap top. This, he also violates, shaking out a collection of change and thrusting it into his pocket before replacing the purse and re-zipping the bag.
Now, our hero looks along the colonnade considering his route to the shop.
Once, in another life, Arfur was walking in the East Sussex hills, his face upturned to the clouds and blue sky, following the path of a crimson air balloon drifting southwards above him, the hum of bees and the afternoon’s drowsy stillness punctuated by the hiss release of flames, shwuuuuu… suddenly, from nowhere, came a galloping of hooves through the thistles and a herd of bullocks rushed him from a small copse at the top of the field…
The Romanians, grouped together, hands thrust deep in pockets, hoods up against the wind, for some reason reminded him of that dislocating afternoon.
Arfur decides to take the steps, and stumbling slightly, passes from the concrete underworld into the light.