I feel I should preface this post by confiding that I’ve always had a tendency to attract ‘marginal’ types. By ‘tendency’ I mean that they hone in on me like a terrier I used to know on a discarded piece of camembert. By ‘marginal’ I mean the kind of people we shrink away from on the bus. You know who I’m talking about. The ones who natter to themselves about unspecified objects, [“It’s getting closer now, there it goes…“] talk loudly out of context about people you don’t know, [“Arthur’s not here!“] draw you in to abstruse conversation streams, [“He’d changed so much, but you would recognize him, I’m sure…“] address people as a group [“You’re all Godless sinners!”] and demand answers to unanswerable questions, [“Did you see Arthur get off the bus!?“]
Meet Uncle Charlie. Animated. Jamaican. Bestower of royal titles. I was shopping in my favourite Turkish supermarket, content in my usual illusion that I was minding my own business. It turns out I was having a psychic conversation with the man next to me. I know this because he began to talk to me (as they all do) as if we’d already been conversing.
“And why do you suppose that is?”
“I really couldn’t say.”
(I really couldn’t).
“Dang! You are a striking looking ladeeee!”
“Thanks, you’re quite striking too.”
He was dressed like Captain Haddock in Tin Tin.
“Well, thank you sooooo much. And for that I shall…what shall I do? What do you all think?”
The girl behind the register pursed her lips and tentatively shook her head.
“I’ll make her…I’ll make her…..QUEEN!!!”
The girl’s lips spilled out a nervous laugh. He glanced at her suspiciously. I re-directed his attention back to me. Being an old hand at such things, I felt it only fair.
“Queen of what?”
He looked back at me, brow suddenly furrowed.
“Queen of…..of…..” he felt around for the word.
“Queen of West Green Road?”
This seemed to focus his attention.
“Queen of the UNIVERSE!”
He swung one leg in the air and clapped his hands. A tall slip of a blonde rested her shopping basket on the counter and smiled encouragingly across the chasm of unknown quantities. My glance in her direction spun him 180.
“What do YOU think?”
He leaned in expectantly, right hand dramatically held up against his ear.
“I like it,” she said, unflinchingly.
I admired her pluck.
“And I like YOU! You’ll be a…..a…..”
“Another Queen?” I suggested.
“Don’t be silly. There can only be one queen.”
He shot me a reprimanding look.
“You’ll be a PRINCESS!”
He looked at me, presumably for my regal approval. I nodded vigorously. He then leaned over and extended his right hand. When I shook it I thought I felt a mild electric shock.
“I’m Uncle Charlie. I’ll be your main advisor. Can I give you my number?”
As he scribbled it down on the back of my receipt, the store manager approached us. He was burly and unamused.
“You’d better get going now, ” he said.
Uncle Charlie’s face darkened and all the smile drained out of him.
“Get going?! Get going?! Why you….you….”
(Prince? I half-considered offering)
“…..shit face! You shit face!! I’ve been at sea! I was in the Navy! Where were you? You pathetic….shit.”
“He’s okay. He’s just doing his job.”
“We’re ALL doing our job!” he shouted.
I made eye contact with the manager and gave him an, “It’s cool” expression.
“Hey, I need that number from you. I’m gonna need some advice if I’m going to be queen.”
He shot the manager a dirty look for good measure, filled in the last 4 digits and handed me the slip of paper. He folded my fingers over it like a secret gift of candy to a niece.
“You call me whenever you need advice. Call Uncle Charlie.”
“I’ll do that,” I said, and walked out into the rain, contemplating the implications of my freshly received powers.