This is the first draft of my new short story. I’m working on a novel at the moment and struggling with it. Having written this, I am conscious of the fact that I write better in the first person. I guess so much of my youth reading Raymond Chandler and watching Bogart films, had an effect. I was pleased with this draft last night when I wrote it – it took me about an hour. Not so sure today, but I do think there is something worth working on here. It’s a true story by the way. Events happened exactly as described here. Comments gratefully accepted.
It was damn cold that night. It didn’t matter how tight I hunched into my coat and pulled it around me, I was still shaking with it. How the hell the old guy, who didn’t have a coat at all, wasn’t shaking like I was, I have no idea. I guess, like all alcoholics, he’d become immune to the temperature.
I’d headed out to grab a pint. There was this cosy little nook of a pub right at the bottom of the Tor. I’d been in just once before, not long after moving to Glastonbury, and it was a place I fancied going back too. A big log fire, great beer and an ambience that made you feel like you’d walked into that bar scene in The Lord of the Rings. It was all just so, ‘olde England’. No idea what the place was called now.
I got to the top of the High Street and turned the corner. There was an orange glow from the pub’s windows and the sound of people laughing and having a good time, coming out into the street. The old guy was on the other side of the road. I saw him ask a couple of people for a smoke and they walked right past him. No acknowledgement, nothing. Then it happened again. I felt sorry for him, so went over and offered him a cigarette. He accepted eagerly and we both sat down on the wall opposite the pub.
I took out my tin and started to roll him a smoke. I don’t know what he said to me now. It was nothing of consequence I guess. I just wanted to give him the cigarette and get in the warm and have a pint. But the old guy kept talking and so I listened. I remember this though, and it had nothing to do with the rest of his conversation. He said to me “Only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name.” I nodded. What else could I do? I felt sorry for him.
In the glow from the pub, I could see that his clothes were old and filthy. I guess he hadn’t had a proper wash in days. Maybe weeks. And it wasn’t the time of year for anyone to be stuck out sleeping on the streets. But that was the way it was. I didn’t think about it much at the time. He was just a lonely old tramp who wanted a smoke, and someone to talk too. So I sat with him and listened. The pub wasn’t going anywhere.
I rolled myself a cigarette too, and light his for him. We sat and smoked, watching the smoke and then our breath forming thickly in front of our faces. It was damn cold. The old guy sat with me and we smoked in silence for a while. Then he talked some more and I listened some more. And then “Only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name,” he said again.
And it was like that for some time. I rolled us both another smoke and we carried on sitting on the wall at the foot of the Tor. People were coming and going from the orange glow across the road, but I sat, feeling even my bones freezing over, and listened to Nikolas.
I don’t supposed he’d had a decent meal in a long time. I don’t suppose he had any friends or a place to be. I guess the world didn’t give a shit about him. I coudn’t fix all that, but I could sit and listen and smoke. And right at that moment, that’s all he wanted. I gave up on the pint and offered him the tobacco tin. His hands were shaking and he couldn’t roll it for himself. So I took it back and rolled one for him.
“Only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name,” he said again. In fact he said it to me several times. I don’t know why all these years later, 22 to be exact, I still remember that. I guess it’s because I promised him. I don’t know why I promised it either really. Maybe to stop him repeating it over and over. But I promised it anyway.
After more than an hour of freezing on that wall and smoking way too much, the pub closed. It was back in the days when pubs had sensible hours. Not like now when you can go out and get pissed at any time of the day or night.
I didn’t want to leave Nikolas there, but what could I do? My wife would go nuts if I took him home with me. I knew that, because a few days before, a tramp had knocked on our front door and asked for some change. Instead, I took him in and gave him some food and a coffee and made him feel welcome. I couldn’t leave him out there in that weather for God’s sake. I think she’s forgotten about that now, but at the time, I knew I was in the doghouse. So I could n’t take Nikolas home with me.
I gave him my tobacco tin, whatever money I could spare and shook his hand. I needed to get back into the warm. As I headed back towards the High Street, he called after me. I turned and he said “Remember: only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name.” I smiled and silently promised I would.
I never saw Nikolas again, and have often wondered what happened to him. Maybe he’s dead. Maybe, as a friend just told me, he sorted his life out and became a success. I don’t know. But I suspect that he died. The world didn’t care about him, and won’t be missing him. No one will. No one gave shit. But for a while, I shared a wall with him and listened, and smoked, and made his world sort of okay.
And down the years, 22 to be exact, as I said, I have remembered his name. It was Nikolas Lebadar. Sometimes, I have panicked and had to dive into the fading parts of my memory and drag his name out by the scruff. Almost. It almost went. But I got it back and I keep it as best I can in my memory. I made a promise. But he’s probably dead, and no one gives a shit. But I remember his name, and I remember that only God is good.
“Only God is good. My name is Steve Gooch. Remember my name.”