I’m not a rich man but I have rich friends. Or, rather, wealthy drinking partners. People of means often know people like me. I’m charmingly fallen. I keep them entertained and they keep me in booze and, last night at least, in a huge apartment with a balcony in a gated cul de sac overlooking Regent’s Park. This place must be worth ten mill easy. I’ve woken up late with a mild headache and Laura, the woman who lives here, has already left for her job in the city, making money and crushing dreams. She’s left a note: OJ in the fridge, coffee in the pot, food in the pantry, help yourself to whatever. A little winky-face next to ‘whatever’. She recommends I take breakfast out on the balcony. Her note says ‘It should be lovely at this time of afternoon,’ which goes to show she knows me better than I’d thought.
Below I can see a woman with a child, waiting by a portaloo. I presume this is for a television show. An elaborate prank. She’ll ask a stranger to watch the child while she dashes in to the potty to pee. Something will happen. Hilarity will ensue. Finally the camera crew will reveal itself. I hate these shows. I satisfy myself flicking ash over the railing in their direction. I hope she’s waiting for hours. I hope someone abandons the child. I hope London makes me proud. This is not just the hangover talking. Children and television people and practical jokers are the lowest of the low. I leave my cigarette in what’s left of my grapefruit and wander into the kitchen to find a real drink.
A mug of something warming in hand, the park really does delight. The sun is doing pleasant things on the paths through the leaves of the trees. The cricketers are far enough away to appeal. Birds are hunting. The magician who orchestrates their flower beds has done well, and the floral smell wafting up from my liquor is to die for.
The camera crew must be hiding in the bushes, out of sight. I wonder if this is just a job for them, or do they laugh at the people they ensnare. Do they watch them and feel superior? Memories come back from last night. Not my finest hour. I had my shirt and trousers off in the pub, and was standing on the table, singing Popeye the Sailor Man who lives in an old tin can. And when he goes swimming he touches the women. I told the bouncer he looked like a lollipop. Let me lick your head, man, let me lick your head. The secret to doing embarrassing things is to pretend the next day you’ve forgotten, and to laugh at yourself when some bright spark reminds you. I plan things I can say. Missed my calling. Wasn’t the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Is it my fault the man looked like a lollipop? When they make these TV prank shows, they don’t show the people who swear at the camera after the prank; they only show the people who laugh at their own embarrassment.
A man is below, by the woman with the child. Sure enough, she’s asking him to mind her kid a minute. The man says yes. I wonder if they always use attractive women on these kinds of program. I wonder if the men always end up looking like fools. “It’s not a prank show,” I tell the skies. “It’s cinema verite.”
The woman goes into the portable toilet, and this is the kicker. She never comes out. There is no camera crew. There is no prank. She’s a real mother, needing to pee. Something happens in the plastic cubicle and she dies. She’s probably dead already. Her body collapsed in this awkward space. Her head on the floor, her arm in the bowl, her legs in the corner, her heartbeat in the past. We’ll find this out later, when he goes to check on her, when the ambulance crew arrives. But right now, me and the poor sod below don’t know this. I’m up here and he’s down there, and we’re both waiting, waiting for her to return. Half suspecting we’re being made fools of. It might be a new feeling for him, but for me this is home. It’s worth a lot less than ten mill.
Christopher James lives, works and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has previously been published online in many venues, including Tin House, Fanzine, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong, and Wigleaf. He is the editor of Jellyfish Review.