Economic Theory

A'm no big man, naebody's ever gien me claes as fits. Wi ma cuffs an breek-legs aye turned up, A'm gled o cannin hide ablo ma lang touzie hair an baerd whan A kythe in the streets. The war nae queue in the papershop at this time o mornin, till a white collar in tie an jerkin queued up ahint me. A stuid abiech whan the wumman at the coonter turned awa fae me tae sairve him.

"Na, he wis first."

A wis dumfoonert at the civility o the white collar, an spiered at the wumman quick as A could. It's aesy tae git yer heid in a creel an slip a fit.

The wumman pit the ceegarettes on the coonter an teuk ma five pound note richt tenty atween thoum an finger, tryin tae grip it juist wi her lang pink nails the time she wis proggin at the till buttons wi the fingers o her ither haun. She haed on a lot o junk jewellery, haed a tan deep as gar shaw her lace claer throu her white bloose. She lat faa the chainge intae ma luif an turned back tae the white collar wi a wee bit nervish chitter. A lifted the ceegarettes an teuk the door wi me.

It wis a grand mornin, an no ower mony folk aboot at this time. A coonted ma chainge like A should a in the shop, rowed the pound note aboot the coins, an pit the wee paircel in ma jaiket pootch wi the ceegarettes. The white collar cam oot wi his paper.

"D'ye ken whaur A could git a cup o coffee?" spiers A.

He lifted his airm an pynted an A turned tae leuk, but afore the chiel could git a wird oot, what did A see but a polissman. No comin this wey, mair windae-shoppin like, but aa the same A gart ma feet defend ma heid, leavin the white collar staunin thare wi his airm oot.

Oot in the fields again. A'm no ane tae git on the wrang side o the law, A'm no even the kind wad beg in the streets or brek a windae in the winter tae git intae a warm cell. But better bide oot the road o the poliss, ye never ken.

Sae nae coffee. But this is the day efter a fermer peyed me wi a five pound note insteed o the uizual tea an bit breid, an naething's awa tae spyle it. A gits the ceegarettes oot ma pootch syne thinks, matches. That's what comes o gittin aa in a swither.

Sleepin in the fields disna mak ye a Boy Scout, sae the'r naething for it but gae back up the toun. Bi this the war a lot mair folk aboot. Am blamin thon wumman wi her jewellery an bloose, sae it's her shop A'm awa back tae wi ma flechy praisence.

Muckle lang queue, office folk gittin their papers. A stauns at the back o'd an she's watchin me, a wee keek every time she turns tae the till. Mibbie she's wae on lattin on what scunnert she wis at the sicht o me afore. A raxes the wee paircel oot ma pootch an lifts a hale pound coin fae athin. Am wantin tae see her lattin faa the chainge intae ma luif again like a pan o bilin fat.

She's got a assistant nou. That's a worry, but things gaes conform tae plan.

"Matches."

"Matches." She smiles a instant, gled A'v a genuine raeson for cryin in again, or mibbie juist wi what daft A'v been. She pits the matches on the coonter an A presses the coin intil her luif. It comes ower ma hert a dunt: A dinna think A'v touched anither leevin sowel in years. A'm aa set tae enjoy the meenit she haes tae see'z ma chainge, but syne a grand inspiration faas. A lifts the matches an taks the door wi me again.

"Excuize me!" she cries, but A'm lattin on A dinna hear her. Staunin ootside the shop like A'm thinkin whaur nou, A hears her richt ahint me, "Excuize me!" A uizes the soond o her vyce tae juidge her position an turn awa fae her.

Efter a saicont or twa she touches ma airm. Touches ma airm, can ye imagine? A turns aboot an she raxes me ma chainge. The same quick lattin faa o coins, but wi a "You keep that," like she wis spaekin a bairn.

A staps the chainge in ma pootch. "Whaur can A git a cup o coffee?" A taks the gate she pynts, but A losses ma nerves whan A keeks throu the windae an sees aa the folk. A peety thon polissman haedna been aboot an A'd gotten thare aerlier.

No lang efter, A'm sittin ablo a hedge, reekin awa at the ceegarettes an watchin the corn gittin theirsels richt for the hairst, an thinkin aboot thon wumman touchin ma airm. A dichts ma nose wi ma fingers an notices the'r still perfume on them fae whan A gied her the pound coin.

Whan A think aboot weemin A aye think back tae thon simmer nicht years syne. It wis warm an A wis sleepin richt oot in the fields, but in the smaa oors A waukent an the war this freezin rain. The rain an cauld disna bather me but this time it wis richt freezin. A wanted tae rin for some bieldy hedge but somewey A couldna lift masel oot the glaur.

In the mornin A'd stachert up the toun an sat doun on a saet. A wis cauld but whan A pat ma luif til't ma brou wis like a lowe. A sat thare the hale mornin glowerin at the plainstanes wi folk's feet dunnerin in ma heid, an thinkin, this is it, A'm awa tae dee an the'r naebody kens: a meenit o feelin sorry for masel like that. But syne A hears a wumman's vyce, "Ar you aa richt?" The effort it wis tae lift ma heid an leuk up. It wis this young wumman, mid-twinties wi broun een an awfu bonny broun hair, dressed for the office but no in what the fashion columns caas a pouer-suit. "Ar ye needin money?"

She stuid thare an brocht her purse oot her haunbag, can ye imagine that? But A sheuk ma heid. "A'm fine."

Then she smiled this muckle smile an sayed, "Ye shuir, nou?" She waitit a saicont or twa, syne pit her purse back an awa she gaed, aye smilin. A cairied that smile wi me oot intae the kintra an sleepit throu the forenuin. Waukent no near sae no weel. Ye see, it wisna her siller A wis wantin.

But A sniffs thon papershop wumman's perfume on ma fingers again. If ye want control, weel ay, money's fine. Worth o wirkin for, gin a sowel can finnd the wark. A starts thinkin on winnin a bit gear reglar. Wirk tae a fermer or twa at the hairst, a fiver a day, nae bather. Stop takkin claes an cups o tea, say ye'r wantin the wark an ye'r wantin peyed.

Bi a oor or twa's by the ceegarettes is aboot duin, an A'm thinkin on the siller in ma pootch, what grand it wad be tae can hae a cup o coffee wi the last o the ceegarettes, but bi A win back up the toun it could be the office folk's denner time. Nae guid. A thinks what like it wad be tae sit in a chair, elbae on the table, cup o coffee an ceegarette in ma haun. An a bite tae aet, A want tae try an think aboot that whiles.

The place wis thrang, juist like A'd thocht, but this time A gangs in. A gits a table tae masel, ye can weel imagine. Waiters an waitresses, wad ye credit that? A keeks aboot at what ither folk's got. The maet in here's ower denty for as boss a wame as mines. A jalouzes A'm peyin for the labour: the baxters, the piece-makars, even the folk as brings it tae the table. Buy a cappuccinae A'd be peyin for tae drink the very air A breathe. A haes tae coont ma siller an study on the prices even juist for plain coffee an pynt. It's like A'v a pound abuin what A should hiv. Thon papershop wumman maun A got her heid in a creel an gied me ma pound back wi the chainge. Fine wi me. A peys for the coffee wi the last o ma pound notes an A still haes this pound coin an twathree coppers. A'm that uized wi bein that sair aff it's like a fortune tae me, tho it's something tae think that nou A'v got the siller A'v spent vernear a hale five pound note the day aareddy. A considers takkin a honest turn an haunin the pound coin back tae the wumman, that wad set her thinkin.

Syne in she walks at the door juist whan A'm feenishin ma coffee, an ma hert's flaunterin, like she'd jalouze what she'd duin an come efter the pound shed tint. But aa she daes is jines the queue for pieces.

Suddent she spies me an A can see she kens me. A gies her the thoums up, thinkin, "Pit a richt ane ower on you, hen," an her face breks oot in this muckle smile like she wis ma mither or somebody, an mooths, "Aa richt?" claer as could be seen aa the road across the caffy fluir, an at last A sees the truith.

What dis she think folk is? A gits this pound coin oot ma pootch an ploos ma road throu the tables taewards her. Her smile vainishes. A can see masel takkin her luif in mines an stappin the coin richt intil't wi muckle niffer o sharn an perfume, her pullin her haun awa like fae a het maskin an the coin birlin an cheeperin on the fluir an me takkin the door like thunder. But bi A'm the length o her A'm thinkin, A could uize that pound. A'v no even etten yit. A puls on the door an wins oot intae the simmer air.

Stravaigin the streets, A'm leukin some folk in the face nou, A'm wud, A'm bilin, ma birse is aboot throu the ruif. A finnds a saet an sits doun, glowerin at the plainstanes till the face o thon lassie comes back tae me efter aa thae years. Uizually A canna mind juist what like she wis, but whan A keeks up fae the causey A seems for a instant tae see her like she wis thare, thon face an thon smile. Rael considerin, even o a perfit hallanshakar like masel.

An syne what div A see? Stacherin aboot in the thrang like a vision o ma future, a auld man in a draiglty raincoat, clarty baerd an hair, takkin a bicker ower tae ae body syne anither, raxin a empy luif. A gaes up til him an pits ma pound coin an coppers in his nieve, "Aa A'v got, freend." He stauns thare an leuks at me, hairns aa awa tae windrift. An A thinks, ay, money. Nae herm in haein a bob or twa. The wumman fae the shop gaes by wi her pieces. She keeks ower at me but A can see she's no lattin on. A peety, A'm staunin thinkin. A peety, but naither wonder.

© Sandy Fleemin 2003. First published in Lallans 58 (ISSN 1359-3587).