Dept 17


We bundled down the dark narrow staircase, through the glass and aluminium door and out onto the pavement. “I’m driving, yeah?” said Firelighter, more animated than she’d been for a while.

“No, I’ll drive,” I said as we walked over to the van. The van is a blue Toyota Hiace Powervan.”You can drive back,” I lied. I’d think of a reason for her not to between now and then.

“Well I’m sitting in the front,” she countered.

“Fine.” What wasn’t fine was that somebody had parked about four inches from the driver’s door. I looked at the gap and muttered an obscenity which I won’t repeat here. I wasn’t in the mood to climb over the gear stick from the passenger side, and so I crabbed my way into the gap and opened the door. I held my hand on the edge of the door, so it wouldn’t ding the car which had parked like a cunt, I’m a nice guy, and I got my head into the cab. Like a cat I knew if my head fit then the rest of me would, and I somehow managed to contort myself into the driver’s seat without getting snagged or jammed.

Firelighter got in the passenger seat and Tan and Sub got in the sliding side door. There are only sideways benches in the back. It’s pretty uncomfortable. Don’t know what Sub was doing in there. If I could fly I would.

“This van’s disgusting,” I said, kicking away an empty Costa cup from the footwell. “We’re going to clean it this afternoon.” I started the van and put it in reverse. “Anything coming?” I asked Firelighter. The van doesn’t have windows in the side at the back. I started moving backwards.

“There’s a car,” she said, and although we were hardly moving when I stamped on the brake Tan and Sub made a startled sound. I looked in the wing mirror and waited for it to pass. And waited. And waited. “It’s pulled in down there,” she said. Leaning forward and looking past her I could see a car pulling in miles away.

“That was miles away,” I said and began inching backwards, and then I sped up and somebody tooted at me and again I stamped on the brake pedal. This time Tan and Sub’s startled exclamations were louder. The car tooting was on my side, so I couldn’t really blame Firelighter. I did anyway. “Just… move your head back, I can’t see past all your hair,” I said and the car which tooted sped angrily past us like a dickhead. “Dickhead,” I said. Finally, with much leaning forward and twisting, I got the van out of the parking space. “What idiot would park like that?” I said, talking about the car which had parked really close. Although, looking, it was in the lines, to be fair. We must have parked right over. Still.

We drove along the parking bay to the junction. I looked left, then right, then left. “Okay,” said Firelighter. There was a car coming on my side and I wondered if I could make it. “Is it okay?”

“If you’re quick.”

Could I be quick? Yeah, I probably could. I could make it, Could I? Yeah. I went for it. “No!” said Firelighter and I turned and saw the car approaching from her side, but I was committed, because one was coming from my side. I went for it. The van did a wheelspin and bounced, which didn’t help, and I winced as Tan said something rude in Portuguese. That’s what I do if I think I’m about to be involved in a major road traffic collision. I wince. Like that will help! I drive through a narrow gap and I wince. It’s like I think nothing bad can happen if my eyes aren’t fully open, and it’s worked for this long. Never had a crash. Not a big one.

Somehow we avoided both cars and neither tooted, though the one that was now behind us drove really close to show its displeasure. “You said it was okay!” I said.

“It was, but you were ages.”

“Just… you put me under pressure by saying okay.”

“I’m just not going to say anything.”

“Yeah, don’t. I can see fine out that way. It was only backing up.”

“So why didn’t you see it?”

“You said okay!”

The car tailgating us dropped back as I accelerated. Dickhead, I thought. I was thinking about the driver of that car. Then I noticed the gauge. “We’re going to have to get petrol.” That was okay, the petrol station where we have an account is on the way. I hoped the friendly guy would be busy. When I pulled in I told the team to read the email. Visualizing which side the petrol hole was on the van I pulled up to a pump and went to get out but couldn’t because in my haste I hadn’t undone my seat belt. I fumbled for it with one hand on the door and then I jumped out, opened the cap and picked up the petrol nozzle. I put the petrol nozzle in the petrol hole on the van and pulled the trigger and looked around. Nobody. I relaxed. And after that delay the petrol pump started dispensing petrol. I relaxed more. And then he appeared and I was no longer relaxed. He appeared from around the back of the van. From whenever the fuck it is he hides. The friendly man appeared. He came over and extended his hand to take over control of the nozzle. “Thanks, fill it up,” I said, reneging control. He smiled and nodded.

I hate the friendly petrol guy who operates the pumps. Let me fill it up, you know? I never know what I’m supposed to do when he’s filling the van up. Chat to him? Yeah, right. About what? Can’t go in the shop and pay for it because he hasn’t finished pumping. It’s emasculating. Especially when he takes the nozzle off me. I walked around to the passenger side and opened the door slightly. “Read the email, yeah?” I said before closing the door. I walked over to the shop and heard Firelighter open and then slam the door. I hadn’t closed it properly.

In the shop I looked at the stuff they sold. They sold a small selection of the stuff you’d find in a supermarket. Pasta sauce and the like. But not things like fresh ginger. I walked slowly down both aisles and figured the van should have been full of petrol, or near enough, so I went to the cashier and told him to put it on our account. He didn’t make any small talk, even when he heard it was for Department 17, so that was good.

Walking across the forecourt, back to the van, the friendly man who worked the pumps smiled at me as he waited for his next victim to pull in. “Thanks,” I said. He winked at me and I smiled.

“Where are the sweets?” asked Firelighter.

“Fuck, I forgot,” I said, pausing with my seat belt held half across me. “Nah, I’m not going back in.” I buckled up as they moaned. We normally get a bag of Haribos at the garage. “Did you read the email?” I drove out of the pumps and across to the road. I lent forward to look left and right.

“It’s bullshit,” said Firelighter.

“What’s bullshit?” I looked right and left. She held the piece of paper up. “It’s a job, isn’t it?” I looked right and left and put the van in neutral and wiggled the gear stick to ensure it was in neutral then put it back in first gear.

“Fly tipping!”

“Yeah, fly tipping. It’s a crime.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, it is, costs the Island… well, you read it.” I lent further forward. The garage is on a bend. It’s pretty dangerous. Pulling in is okay.

“A bin man could do this,” said Firelighter. The printed email on her lap.

“I know but…” I mean, I knew. I knew we shouldn’t be going and looking through shit. Seeing if there were any clues but… you know?

“I’m not doing it?”

“Yeah, you are,” I laughed. I nearly went but a car came around the bend going too fast.

We’re not doing it.”

“We?” I asked, looking at her. I put the van back into neutral. I looked over my shoulder at the two in the back. “We no do it.” said Tan.

“I don’t mind doing it,” said Sub, but his opinion doesn’t count.

“Look, I know it’s… it’s not what we-“

“It’s shit,” said Firelighter.

“Yeah, okay, but… you know?”

“No, I don’t know.”

“It’s…” A car tooted from behind us. I looked all around the dashboard. All across the windscreen. “Okay.” I lent forward and looked left and right and pulled out. We drove back to the office without talking.