I used to work with a bloke called Brian. Well, that isn’t quite true; I worked with two Brian’s, “Afternoon” Brian, and “Morning” Brian.
“Afternoon” Brian was a massive lumbering lump of a man who would sit, sweating and swearing at his desk, dappled in gravy from a dinnertime pie squinting through a Hamlet’s smoke stabbing a stubby finger at me from across the office wheezing after wobbling back from the pub after his lunch “hour”.
“Your problem, and I mean this in a nice way, is that you are a miserable bastard” he would slur in a manner that was anything but nice, “but not only are you a bastard, you are the worst kind of bastard there is. You Tony are a miserable bastard.”
“Have you been the pub Brian?” I would reply blankly at him shaking my head.
“You see,” he would jab, ignoring my question (and the ash falling onto my desk) “there are hard bastards, lazy bastards, angry bastard’s even ugly bastards, but the worst of them is the miserable bastard. And it’s just my luck I ended up being stuck in an office with a miserable bastard, because they are, as I have already told you, the worst kind of bastard there is.”
He would lean back in his chair and smooth his tie across his straining shirt and sometimes rub his chest in an attempt to ease the indigestion he was always moaning about and then slowly rotate back to his ashtray and his tea.
I would ignore “Afternoon” Brian, lower my head and get on with my work, maybe make or take a call as I shuffled my papers and glanced at the clock in the way that only office workers can, the look of longing a dog has for a dangled biscuit.
“Afternoon” Brian would scowl at me and break wind and bang his cup, eventually he would disappear for an hour clutching the Daily Mirror. Later I would later hear how he had been shouting at the lads in the warehouse or arguing with the girls in reception.
“Afternoon” Brian was a piss head. A proper old fashioned narky piss head.
Of a morning I worked with a different Brian. “Morning” Brian was funny, warm and hardworking; he’d laugh at my jokes and chat with customers, he’d whistle his way round the warehouse and we all loved him.
“Morning” Brian was everything “Afternoon” Brian wasn’t. And considering they lived in the same body it amazed me they had never appeared have met each other.
One day the guy who owned the company came into the office and told me “Afternoon” Brian was asleep on the small area of grass at the back of the warehouse,
“Can you take him home? I can’t have him lying around like that it’s the middle of January he’ll die of hypothermia.”
I got the keys for a van and together we walked out to get Brian and take him home,
“I don’t know what to do with him; he works so well in the morning and then falls to pieces in the afternoon. He’s getting worse by the week, if I sack him he’ll never get another job.” The boss said as we wearily trudged through the yard to the sleeping and loudly snoring Brian.
We shouted and shook Brian back to life and shoved and shuffled his bulky wet frame into the van. And as he shivered and complained on the way home I tried to tell him he was walking a tightrope as to regards his job,
“They are getting fed up Brian; if you aren’t careful they are going to sack you!”
“I don’t care; they can do what they want, it’s a crap job anyway.”
“You need this job, who else is going to take you on?”
“What do you mean?”
Oh no... I’d done it... said what I didn’t want to say, crossed that line you never want to cross when you are with someone with an addiction... I’d pointed it out.
“Well, you know, your drinking, nobody else will want to give you a job with you drinking so much. It’s starting to take its toll on you mate, look at yourself.”
Brian sat silently as I drove, I glanced across and he was staring straight ahead. I couldn’t tell if he was angry or embarrassed. When we pulled up at his house he got out of the van and slammed the door behind him and stomped up his front path without a glance back. I sat outside for a minute and thought about apologising, decided I’d said enough, and left.
The following day “Morning” Brian didn’t come in to work, I sat and stared at his desk for a while willing him to show up but he didn’t. By the time the boss came in to check where he was I feared the worse,
“Has he rung?” he asked
“Did he say anything yesterday?”
“Give him a ring, ask if he is okay, tell him to take the week and then come in and see me on Monday.”
I made the call, and “Morning” Brian didn’t answer, I tried to leave a message with “Afternoon” Brian (who had either gotten up early, or not gone to bed at all) but I don’t think he was listening; he shouted a lot and put the phone down and never came back to work again.
When I cleared his desk I found tons of unfinished work he’d hidden away, “Morning” Brian had been drowning in paperwork and booze and “Afternoon” Brian had leant over the side and pushed his head further under water.
A few weeks later a new face joined me in the office and Brian slid from our minds in the way that old colleagues always do, his tea stained mug worked its way to the back of the cupboard almost as fast as he did to the back of our minds.
I didn’t see Brian for years after that; I’d long since left the company when our paths next crossed. I pulled up at a church in Wavertree and the allotted fare climbed in,
“Where too mate?” I asked, barely glancing in the mirror,
I looked up and he was, a new Brian, sober and smart and two stones lighter. He jumped out of the back and jumped into the front seat and clasped my hand. I noticed the bible then, held tightly to his chest, inches from his heart.
“Oh Tony! It’s so good to see you! How long is it?”
“It must be nearly fifteen years mate, how are you doing?”
“I’m brilliant, better than I’ve ever been. I’ve left drinking behind me, cleaned myself right up. I realised I was missing something...”
“Here it comes.” I thought,
“I’ve found Jesus, he’s saved me!”
“I was so unhappy, I should apologise to you, I was horrible. I lost the house, ended up back at my mums, she was on the verge of kicking me out. And then one night Jesus spoke to me.”
“Jesus spoke to you?”
“The Jesus? The one in there?” I pointed at the bible and Brian nodded while I shook my head and said, “Where are you going to Brian?”
“That’s it! That's basically what he said.”
“No Brian, in the cab, I’m asking you, where are we going now?”
“Oh sorry, Tuebrook.”
I rolled my eyes and off we set, I should explain, I don’t “do” god. It’s not that I have anything against the guy, I just don’t believe he exists. I’m the kind of person who watches Songs Of Praise on the telly with the sound down just to see if there are any good looking girls in the congregation (there never is).
There is another reason I don’t “do” god in the taxi, it’s because it’s likely to inspire someone to try and save me, and if there is one thing I don’t need it’s saving, if I’m hanging off a building, then please save me, but if I am driving a cab and thinking about whether to have chips for my tea, don’t save me. Don’t save me, because I don’t need saving thank you very much, I just need to go on a diet.
It’s not just the need to “save” that I find unsettling, it’s the shiny faced smiley desire born again Christians have. They remind me of people who have been taken over by aliens in 1950’s B movies, blank eyed and fixed grinned they blindly follow orders from a two thousand year old instruction manual that has been reinterpreted more times than Yesterday by Paul McCartney. The bible reminds me of that game Chinese Whispers, “send three and four pence I’m going to rise again on the third day.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Brian smiling and looking at me, after a few minutes of chit chat about my life he finally decided the time was right to tell his story,
“I was lying in bed, hung-over, in a terrible state, and I heard a voice calling me.”
“No not my Mum! It was God! He was asking me to let him into my life, so he could save me.”
“God has too ask? I would have thought if he wanted in he would just get in. He’s politer than I thought.”
Brian ignored me, and smiled again, this time not at me, this time at the memory.
“I knew straight away I’d been saved, I’d been born again, I’d seen the light.”
I must have shaken my head because Brian looked at me,
“It sounds crazy, but I didn’t need to drink again, I’d left the old self behind me. I joined the church, and now I work in the community, saving others.”
“I’m made up for you mate.”
“Do you believe in Jesus Tony?”
“Erm, not really mate. But thanks for asking.”
“He loves you.”
“He’s never met me.”
“He’s met everyone and everything, he’s everywhere and anywhere, he sees all and hears all.”
“Bit like Rupert Murdoch.”
“Here, take this, have a read” he offered me his bible,
“Erm no thanks mate, I’m only half way through the Echo crossword,” I replied dragging out the paper from under my seat and waving it at him like a Vampire hunter.
“Please, it will help you. I’ll write my number inside and you can ring me to give it back when you are ready to chat.”
We stopped at his Mum’s and Brian paid the fare and handed me the bible,
“Please ring me when you are ready, we can talk over a coffee. You have a hole in your life”
I subconsciously thought of my right sock and wondered how he'd known, and then realised he was talking about my soul, not my sole.
We shook hands and he got out, I looked at the bible on the seat and shook my head. In much the same way as I shook my head when I looked at it on my bookcase just now. It’s still there, a couple of years later and I still haven’t managed to go for that coffee.
I’m guessing Brian hasn’t missed his bible, I reckon he’s got plenty of them around the house, ready to fall back on when the going gets tough. Bit like that bottle was for “afternoon” Brian. I suppose a paper crutch is better than a liquid one, but I’ll say this much, he was funnier when he was pissed.