by Andrew Worthley
“The thing is,” says George Riddell, “is that if they can’t see you, they can’t hit you!” Sitting back into the booth he wraps his arms around his meaty chest. Candlelight flickers over his satisfied smile.
“You do realize you sound like a crazy person?” says Oliver Meek.
“Crazy, or genius?”
“There’s a fine line between crazy and genius though.” says George.
“No. There’s a fucking chasm between crazy and genius.”
“I think you’re just jealous.”
“Sure. In a sense I’m jealous of your ability to abandon yourself so fully into ludicrosity,” says Oliver, “And of your magnificent hair.” With this he squints at his dim reflection in the mirrored café wall, ruefully runs slender fingers over his own shiny palette.
“Of course you are. Everyone’s jealous of this hair! I’m even jealous of it!” beams George.
“That’s daft. How can you be jealous of your own hair?”
“It’s such an attention whore. ‘Look at me!’ it cries, even when I’m trying to tell people serious ideas. Like my shinobi cycling philosophy.” George peers at Oliver beseechingly. Thick glasses lens magnify his dark blue irises into fat orbs of glory. Oliver sighs into his coffee. The flame flickers.
“First Georgie, it’s not a philosophy. And second, ninjas don’t ride bikes.”
“Ninjas don’t wear full body Day-Glo lycra either.”
“I never said they did!”
“Well you certainly implied it.”
“Jesus H. Christ” murmurs Oliver.
“Oh! Don’t bring religion into this!” cries George, “You know I’m very sensitive about religion.” George sounds a little choked up. He blinks hard, polishes his glasses with his red polyester tie.
“Sure. But look. I’m sorry but I didn’t say ninjas wear Day-Glo, I just said that I think you should wear something reflective when you’re…damn it George, are you crying?”
George is indeed crying. Big shining tears roll down his cheeks into his ristretto.
“I can’t help it. The thought of Jesus on a fixie is deeply unsettling for me…”
“Let’s steer clear of cycling Jesus…”
“…some sort of metaphor for 21st century crucifixion with hipster centurions…”
“How about we get back to the ninjas?”
Suddenly George’s broad face is all smiles. “So you agree with me?”
“No I don’t agree,” cries Oliver, “you sound like a goddam fool!”
“That’s what they said to Einstein.”
“Einstein wasn’t on a crusade against high-vis technical fabrics.”
“Einstein was a ninja. A ninja of quantum physics.”
“Einstein hated quantum physics!”
George blinks. “You mustn’t take things so literally,” he mutters. George’s big fingers pick at his frayed jacket cuff. Oliver puts a biscotti into his mouth. He crunches and thinks a moment.
George singes a loose thread in the candle flame. A thin plume of acrid smoke ghosts from the booth. Oliver speaks again. Softly, “Cycle safety is a very little literal thing though Georgie.” Oliver’s finger traces the fractured groove of the green tiled table-top, “It’s awful dangerous to cycle through Stepney without lights or reflectors.” He pauses, “Not to mention illegal.”
George throws his big hands into the air, “Illegal? The law is an ass.”
“But you’re not.”
“Of course I’m not! Donkeys can’t become ninjas. They lack the sufficient stealth.” George chuckles to himself, “They can’t cycle either.”
“George! I’m being serious!”
“So am I! How many ninjas get run over in London? None! And why is that?” George fixes Oliver with his best stare, all magnified beadyness.
“I’m sorry. I assumed that was a rhetorical question.”
“Oh.” Oliver contemplates. “I think it’s because East End ninjas don’t exist.”
George makes a strangled noise of frustration, “No! Of course they ex… it’s because no-one sees them coming, Oli! They cycle under a cloak of darkness! They can’t get run over if no-one sees them coming!”
“Do you ever feel like our conversations go round in circles?”
“Only because logic always leads inexorably to truth!”
George thumps the table in triumph. Oliver finishes his coffee. George adjusts his tie in the battered reflection of the sugar cellar. Oliver signals to the waitress. George digs into his pockets and inspects the motley collection of burnished coins.
“Georgie” says Oliver. George looks up. “Just promise me you’ll be careful.”
A slow, sad smile envelopes George’s face, “I’ll be better than careful. I’ll be Shinobi-monomi. I’ll be invisible.” Oliver Meek looks at George Riddell and loves him.
Hefting his awkward body from the booth’s wheezy springs, George pulls his flat cap low over his forehead. Pausing, he grins and pinches out the candle between forefinger and thumb in a fizz of smudged dust. The raised hand of farewell dissipates into the gloom. His sooty finger tips alone carry the memory of light.