He broke in while I was out.
When I got home he was on my sofa with his feet up on the coffee table. He was reading one of my books.
He looked up as I took a couple of paces into the room.
I’m not fat, you fucking prick! Was the first thing he said.
He was looking at me as though he’d been expecting me. He didn’t get up. He didn’t move his feet.
You need to be taught to mind your manners.
I was stunned. Frozen to the spot. Mouth agape.
I’ll grant you that I’m stout, he smiled.
There he was, in the flesh, as though he’d just leapt off the page of Our Boy’s drawing of the Nativity: all tracksuit, Chelsea shirt and the distinctive check of the Burberry cap.
But I’m not fucking fat! Got it?
My heart was racing and my palms were bathed in sweat.
Ok, I stammered. Not fat. Stout.
I had my hands out in a gesture of appeasement. I had no idea what he wanted or what he was about to do.
Stout is better he affirmed. Healthier.
I think he expected me to nod or something. He wanted a sign that I acknowledged and accepted his distinction.
Stout is better than fat. He was right about that but I wasn’t going to get into a discussion about semantics.
What do you want? I asked.
Nothing you can give me, he answered. But I am here to take something.
And what might that be? I asked.
My heartbeat was slowing and I was beginning to feel a little more relaxed. He didn’t seem to pose a physical threat.
I’m here to take the piss, he announced.
Take the piss? It took me by surprise.
I was convinced he’d broken in to my house to plunder the place.
Yeah, he nodded.
To take the piss…
He smiled an instructive sort of smile. The type of slightly sarcastic smile that you might see a teacher wearing while they are waiting for the understanding to dawn on an irritating, cumbersome pupil.
…out of you. He pointed at me.
Take the piss out of me? Why? I was genuinely confused.
Because you need it, he answered with a shrug.
And you know it, he elaborated.
He squatted at my place for three years. When I was out he’d watch sport on the telly.
Nothing but sport.
You were right about one thing, he said.
Oh? I wondered. What was I right about?
I am a chav, he said, nodding.
There was that beaming smile I remembered from Our Boy’s drawing.
Somehow he’d gone from photobombing a six year old boy’s drawing of the Nativity to photobombing the life I was trying to paint for myself.
But I’m the chav who reads, he declared.
He turned back to my book; the one he’d been reading when I first walked in and saw him.
And I’m the chav who was with him from the beginning and saw it all, he declared from behind the pages, as his attention was claimed, once again, by the words in front of him.
I didn’t know what to make of that so I changed the subject.
What do I call you? I asked.
When I was home he worked through just about everything on my bookshelf and took the piss out of me.
Just Round John, he answered, without looking up from the book.
Round John liked sport on the telly, reading, and taking the piss.
Out of me.