In the Footsteps of Nick and Jena: Part One. Gregg’s.

by | Jan 11, 2024 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

I used the time I’d allowed for any train related delays, to savour the delights of a Gregg’s breakfast combo.

I took one last, long look around the flat. I had to admit, even to myself, it was the neatest it had ever been since I moved in. Five years – where had it gone? I picked up the rucksack and slung it over my shoulder,  extended the handle on the small case, just to test it, you understand, then slid it down again. Picking up the bunch of keys from the kitchen table, I let myself out.

Sammi was preparing the Sunday papers downstairs, inserting thick, glossy supplements into their respective homes. 

“Good morning Mister Nick. Ready to go?” The Indian smiled, winked and gave a slight wave of the head. This one, I translated, meant I’m trying to be funny.

“Yes, Sammi, I’m ready.” I ignored the moniker, that of my literary creation and alter ego. After all, I’d be sad to see the back of my old landlord.

“We sold another twenty copies yesterday, in person; and double that on Amazon.” Sammi enthused, trying to backpedal on my name faux-pas.

“Very good. Spend your share wisely, and look after mine. Here are the keys. Make sure Marcus gets them and don’t forget to tell him about the shower.” The shopkeeper’s large brown eyes began to tear up and I felt a tightening in my throat.

”Three of yesterday’s callers were very, very attractive young ladies. They were disappointed you couldn’t sign the copies personally.” Sammi said, taking a grey handkerchief from the top pocket of his green tweed jacket. He dabbed his damp eyes.

“Now, you know where that would get us, don’t you, Sammi. I don’t want to be stalked by another young Middle Eastern woman with issues. I prefer to write about them.” I reached over and ruffled Sammi’s shiny black locks. “Look after Marcus like you’ve looked after me.”

“Goodbye Mister Nick. May you find your Miss Jena one day” Sammi called after me, the accompanying head-wobble meaning something different to its predecessor.

“Goodbye Sammi. I’ll let that one go, for old time’s sake. Enjoy Kolkata.” I stepped out into the dark morning, blinking at the shop window display. I still couldn’t believe it was in print, let alone an Amazon best seller. The distinctive artwork of my friend, and succeeding tennant at 221B Station Road, made a beautiful sight.

I turned up the hill towards South Gosforth Metro Station, checking the App on my phone. Airport Four minutes, perfect. There was nothing I hated more than standing on the platform of Tyneside’s ailing transport system. I extended the handle of the case, looked back at the illuminated window of South Gosforth News, and stepped into my own fictional world.

Passing the now defunct South Gosforth Social Club, I crossed the road and descended to the platform. I reminisced about the times I’d spent propping up the bar on race days. Its closure, more evidence, if needed, that things would never be the same. In the distance, I could see the lights of the flats, one of which was occupied by beautiful Iranian twins. Three years earlier, I’d rescued them from certain death. Middle Eastern women with issues. Sometimes I wonder where reality ends and fiction begins.

On the deserted platform, I checked the App. The only thing reliable about the Metro system was spot on. All I had to do was hope that the seven stops to Newcastle International Airport were within the capabilities of the forty-odd year old train that rattled up to the platform. I stepped onto the carriage and took a seat near the front.  Opposite, I noticed the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower in the grip of a young woman. She was engrossed in the contents of the book and didn’t look up. I heaved a sigh of relief and looked out over my father’s old workplace.

South Gosforth Depot, home to the Tyne and Wear Metro, had been my Dad’s second home for over fifty years. He’d started there as a shunter for British Railways. That was long before the Metro was ever thought of. I missed my Dad so much and the emotion of this trip seemed to concentrate my sorrow. I knew I’d have challenges on this new adventure. However, to experience two within minutes of my departure was heart wrenching. Nevertheless, there was nothing to keep me here but sad memories of the recent past. Those which pricked me like needles, unlike those of my parents, which hugged me like a duvet, on the coldest of nights.

The train defied all odds and conveyed me to my first destination. I scanned my Pop card, for the last time, and dropped it into the clear plastic bin that read recyclables only.

According to the departure board, the fight was punctual. I used the time I’d allowed for any train related delays, to savour the delights of a Gregg’s breakfast combo.

“A bacon sandwich and a white coffee please.”

“Butter?”

“Yes please.”

“Ketchup or brown sauce?”

“Brown please.”

“Large coffee or regular?”

“Regular please.”

“That’ll be two eighty five when you’re ready”

The young assistant turned away to construct the simple Geordie delight and staple of over fifteen-hundred shops. I presented my card and waited, my mouth already filling with expectant saliva. When she returned to the counter, her anonymous expression had disappeared. It was replaced by a knowing smile and accompanied by a large white coffee and a sandwich containing half a pig. She leaned over towards the perspex screen, her breath causing it to mist over.

“I love Nick so much. Tell me, is he based on a real person?” Her cheeks, already pink from the hot bakery, reddened a shade further.

“Now that would be telling Miss,” I replied, tapping my right index finger against the side of my nose. She giggled and smiled warmly before donning her corporate face again.

“NEXT! CAN AH HELP?” It was hard to believe the two characters were the same person as her voice lowered to a baritone.

I found a quiet corner to enjoy my bucket of caffeine and heart attack in a bun. Every bite, every accompanying sip, a final goodbye to my Geordie roots. As I washed down the last morsel of buttery, spicy, meaty heaven with the froth in the bottom of the cup, the announcement sounded.

“Air France flight 1159 to Paris Charles Degaulle is now open for boarding. Would passengers please make their way to gate nineteen.”

The butterflies in my stomach competed for space with the Gregg’s combo, giving me a warm feeling of anticipation. I knew this was going to be right.

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