He started to do the math in his head. First there were 2500 tickets a week the circus pulled in, plus the beer, plus the freak show and the regular admissions. That added up to a hell of a lot of money. All collected one pound at a time from the village. He was absolutely stunned that these poor downtrodden carnies, and his boss were actually…probably the richest people, he had ever met.
He finished his work and carried the bag to the teller line. The shock was unbelievable. He looked at the bank guard thinking that the man probably made fifty pounds a week and here he was holding adding in Vadim’s cut for him 9,338 English pounds. That was four years of an average man’s salary and they had collected in just two measly weeks.
It was called show business for a reason.
“Sir….sir!” A teller finally got Nigel’s attention with the help of a shove in the back from Vadim.
Nigel came back to reality and walked up to the window hefting the bag onto the counter. He opened it in the direction of the teller as he had seen the Major do. “Sweet lord.” The teller said out loud. “That’s an awful lot of money for a kid to be carrying around London.”
“Yes. I suppose it is.” Nigel was just coming to the realization himself. He pulled out the deposit slip and sent it across the counter. “Nine Thousand, Three Hundred and Thirty Eight.” He didn’t feel shy about whispering it to the teller now that it was off of his hands and the banks responsibility.
“Well that must be some deliver route you have my friend.” The teller quipped. “Identification?”
Nigel slid his conscription notice across the counter. The teller looked at it. “You’ve got to be kidding me?” The teller took the bundles of cash out of the bag and put them on a cart behind and out of reach of Nigel. He turned with the deposit slip and the conscription notice and walked back to the man at the table. The teller gave a lively tale to the manager that was inaudible. The manager looked up. Nigel looked over to see Vadim making his deposit several window down but keeping his acute attention on the boy.
The manager and teller came to the window. The manager and held the conscription notice. “What’s your name, son?”
“Nigel Clarke, Sir.” There was a pregnant pause as the manager lifted one eyebrow. “Creagh! Nigel Clarke Creagh.” The last word were followed by a deep swallow.
“And your birthday?” The manager inquired.
“3 September 1947, Sir.” Nigel answered.
“You are the General Majors…?” The manager guessed, “Grandson?”.
“Son sir. I’m his son. 1947, after the war.” Nigel offered the alibi. “ Where did that come from?” He thought.
“Ah, yes of course. After the War. We met a few weeks ago?” The man twisted his head to one side.
“Yes sir.” Nigel pointed to his desk, “Right there, right there at your desk.”
“Signature card. Right.” As the manager spoke Nigel realized he had been holding his breath the entire time and gave a completely in appropriate exhale which made the man laugh. He turned to the teller. “He’s alright, I know his father.”
Mission accomplished. Nigel got his receipt and his conscription notice, collected his satchel and turned to his right to leave. Vadim was facing him fully awaiting to see the outcome. Nigel smiled. Vadim shook his head. The teller hollered after him a final scold as he walked away, “You need to get a better I.D. mate.”
Walking down the street Nigel felt light. He felt kinship even with his new, old gigantic friend. “Time to eat?” Nigel posed. “We hav stop first.” Vadim replied.
They walked on, Vadim’s collection of chains dangling in the wind. Now to Nigel they just weren’t garish, they were money chimes. Maybe someday he’d get money chimes too. And that cane. And that jacket. Vadim made a right turn onto Piccadilly Circus. Nigel’s focus suddenly returned and sure as heck, there was the East Indian guy standing in the doorway. Same clothes. Same gold tooth grin.
As they approached, he caught Nigel’s eye just like the first time and hollered a friendly “Hey Mate!” Vadim was at full stride and before the guy could start the next sentence they were nearly on him. The guy obviously did not recognize Nigel and was just working from a script. He started the next line trying to crane around Vadim, his eyes locked on Nigel, “You like…”.
He didn’t get another word out as Vadim made a fist around the neck of his cane and shoved the golden goose head into the man’s chest sending him plummeting down the fifty stairs maybe touching three along the way. Nigel paused just long enough to see him crash through the doorway at the bottom. “Idiot.” Vadim had a way with words, and with strangers. Nigel was really starting to like this man.
They walked on for two blocks. Nigel was enthused. He couldn’t wait to see what was next on the adventure. Vadim came to an abrupt stop. He turned and looked down towering over Nigel. “Now, I said I would vatch you. You can come in. You sit in back. Say nothing.”
Nigel peered around his massive torso to see they were in front of a stone flat with stairs up. In the concrete of the building was the same insignia that was on Vadim’s ring and forearm tattoo. He looked up. There was a stone crucifix with Jesus in marble above the door arch twenty feet above him. It was creepy and ominous. This was not any kind of church Nigel had ever seen.
“Yes, sir.” Nigel agreed.
They walked up the long stairs to a heavy solid wood door. “This place had to have been here five hundred years.” Nigel thought. As Vadim opened the door they entered from the bright summer sky of London into the complete darkness of night. Just inside the door they were in a small narthex, a lobby with a table that looked like and altar. The table was covered with lit candles of all sizes, maybe twenty. On either side of the table a pointed arched doorway covered in matching purple and maroon heavy velvet tapestry. The candles provided the only light and the door had sealed the sounds of London out like a tomb. Nigel wondered if perhaps a funeral was going on behind the curtain. The sweet and overpowering smell of incense stung his nostrils and went straight to his sinuses hitting his brain with a dizzying power.
Vadim moved to the right and pulled back the tapestry and motioned for Nigel to enter with his head. In he went.
Inside. It was just a regular chapel. Dark and creepy, but a small church none the less. There were about fifteen rows of pews divided down the middle with a center aisle. Two women sat kneeling in the front left corner. The altar had at least one hundred small candles burning. Above it on the wall a hand carved crucifix about ten feet tall.
The Christ was ivory white with a crown of wooden thorns. A faded red depiction of blood red around his face, from his hands and feet and from an apparent gash in his side. It was familiar in some ways, absolutely terrifying in others.
As Nigel’s eyes scanned the room taking in every detail, he finally became aware that Vadim was standing staring at him. He didn’t have to say a word. Nigel knew what he was thinking…”Idiot”. Nigel took a seat in the last bench that stretched along the back wall between the two doors.
Vadim proceeded to the front pew and looked at the crucifix and bowed his head to kiss the ring on his finger. He moved into the front row and set his colorful satchel on the pew and kneeled. Nigel noticed the last row of pew in front of him had a kneeler and he thought for a split second about kneeling in prayer on it to be respectful but then had a second thought that he was not told to do that and it might be breaking a rule.
He sat in silence staring ahead. He said a prayer of his own in his head. His prayer was mostly that they were not the first to arrive at a service that was starting soon. The thought of being in here for hours listening to languages he didn’t understand and having to possibly try to emulate rituals he did not know was terrifying.
Soon the two women arose and left.
After a few more minutes, an old man with a huge silver beard came from a third curtain behind the right side at the very front of the church. The man had a large hat like a cardinal. He was in a dark purple and black robe, his hat a dark grey. The priest clearly knew Vadim and smiled as he rose to his feet. They kissed each other on each cheek and Vadim grabbed his bag and disappeared behind the front curtain with the priest.
Soon Vadim appeared with the priest in tow. They said their goodbyes and kissed again. Vadim walked passed Nigel and he followed.
The door opened into the sunlight which was now completely overwhelming as Nigel had to find his footing on the stairs without taking a tumble.
“Did you give him money?” Nigel had to ask.
“No. Gawd give me money. I give zum back.” Vadim replied looking at the boy. “Let’s get some food.”
Nigel and Vadim walked on, his cane clicking on the ground, both of them with near empty satchels. Vadim got to pick the meal.
The restaurant was dark and lusty like Vadim’s choices of clothes, bag…even his church. This guy was if nothing, consistent. “Persian” food is what Vadim called it. It was a new world for Nigel. Sights, sounds, smells and flavors he’d never experienced before. The place was packed and the music was bizarre. They sat on the floor on pillows. Four men joined them and Vadim spoke to them in the strange gibberish he could not understand. Sometimes Vadim told stories and pointed at Nigel and they would laugh. He didn’t feel made fun of all the time though. He could tell well Vadim told the story of Ivan’s arm getting near ripped off and it was clear that Vadim was making Nigel to be the hero of that tale. The men smiled and clapped and congratulated Nigel for his heroism. There was not a chair in the place. Not a fork. Not a spoon. They ate food scooped up with a flat bread. Rice. Chicken. Beef. There were lots and lots of sauces and smashed up liquid things in bright colors. Nigel only could identify a few of the items, but it sure was delicious.
After dinner there was a huge water pipe that they pulled out and they smoked this very sweet smelling tobacco. It smelled like the fruity cotton candy from the fair mixed with the Major’s horrendous cigars. None of them drank beer or wine. It seemed odd. English men drank. Yet these weren’t English men. In fact, Nigel had no clue where this cast of characters were from. They weren’t black. They weren’t brown. They weren’t Asian. They were just odd. Nigel made the most logical choice he could. They must be Persian. Whatever the hell that was?
Soon it was Nigel’s turn to smoke the pipe he did a horrible job, which apparently was the most humorous thing ever. It certainly made his head swim like the bitters, but faster and harder. At one point he just fell over. How can you lose your balance just sitting with your legs crossed? The men pointed and howled. Nigel was very entertaining in every language, and so were they.
After five hours of this, it was time to go. It was the single longest meal of Nigel’s short life. More food than he had ever consumed and more adult conversation than he had ever experienced. It struck him that they never spoke a word he could understand. It made no difference.
The two made it back to Nigel’s hotel in the dark. Vadim waited dutifully as he checked in. Nigel paid with one of the twenty pound notes from the bank deposit envelopes and got seventeen pounds back. London was expensive. Vadim said his goodbye and gave Nigel a rub on his head tussling his hair.
The train station was a buzz this morning. Summer was in full bloom and travelers and tourists filled London. There were even some Americans on the train. Nigel had never actually met an American and their weird accent was so guttural and strange in person. It was like people stepping off of the television or the movies. They all sounded like Hollywood actors.
Nigel felt rewarded as Vadim chose to sit across from him in the general seating section. He wasn’t sure if it was because the Major had required it or not but he decided to accept that it was maybe because he had a friend.
As they walked from the station in Crewe, Nigel felt he knew what to expect. Everything was a system. Everything routine. The Major set up systems to be replicated, duplicated and appreciated. Preparation was prediction. He was getting it.
As they turned the corner at the edge of town there was a thoroughfare that headed straight into the country. Neither of the two was paying much attention until they had made it about ten feet around the corner and looked up.
“My goodness” Nigel exclaimed.
*47) Pay partners their owed share timely and never count the other guys money. Focus on your own profit.
*48) Never assume someone who looks poor is. Some of the wealthiest people look incredibly common and not showy. Yet you shouldn’t be treating anybody differently due to your perception of their status.
*49) Revenge happens without your help. Let it happen and never seek revenge.
*50) Charitable people are rarely flamboyant or take credit for charity. *51) Make no assumptions about a person’s application of faith on looks or displays. Most people busy walking the walk are not making big claims.
*52) Cultures and languages you fear have incredible assets. Be open and you will learn and see the world in ways others cannot. You are foreign, they are not.
*53) The cure to any “ism” like racism is to spend real quality time with the person you are practicing the “ism” against. You will get over it.