The Petrol Station

You know petrol stations? You do, yeah. Well, you know when they’re open 24 hours and some bloke has to sit, like, manning the till all night? Yeah, that’s me. Started as an easy job to have at uni, meant I could work after lectures and that. Used to do coursework on the counter ‘cause nobody ever came in so late and that. Missed a few nights out, like but I never struggled for cash or anything. Time and half for unsociable hours. Yeah, wasn’t too bad during uni. Got me degree, thought I might as well stick at it, like. Five years ago, that was. Realised the other day. Five years ago with the three I did when I was at uni. Eight years, man. Killing me. Used to reckon it wonner so bad, getting paid for doing fuck all, like. Serve like five blokes a night and just sit on me arse. Was alright for a while, but then, like, your brain has this urge to go and do something, anything. Like, you’ll just be sat doing nothing at the till and you’re just like “Oi, I’ve got a bachelor's in politics, I shouldn’t be here, mate.” That’s your brain, like. Proper making you want to go and make a use of yourself, proper. And not just do something then, but do something forever, ‘cause your brain’s proper ranting, like “We aren’t goin’ be here too long, mate. Not getting any younger, like. Let’s just fuck it, quit and just go. We’ve got the money, let’s just go, yeah?” And you’re right up for it and you’d just leave the till and call Mick and tell him you’re quitting there and then. You would, but your heart. Your heart’s proper like, “Oi, what? Not now mate. Just sit here for a bit, like. Isn’t that bad. Got plenty of time, you have.” So, you’re like thinking about it and you’re asking like, what would make me happier? I dunno. Well, what would be easier? Doing fuck all. What should I do then? Fuck all. Sound. Then your brain’s giving it all like “You what? How much longer, mate?”

Used to be awake like 17 hours a day, about eight of them hours at home or out with me mates, then nine hours at work, like. So tired coming home at like 7 in the morning, though. You start snoozing your alarm a bit, then setting it a bit later, like. Next thing you know, you aren’t setting one full stop. Sleep like 13 hours a day now. Probably two hours at home a day. Two hours where I’m not being paid to do fuck all, so I do it for free, like. Fucking pickling my head, like.

So, this one night, I’m at at the till, standard. Like 4AM or something. Few hours left and I’m just like staring away at the drinks fridge. Dunno why but I usually stare at the drinks fridge. I prefer it to staring at the crisps, just feels better, like. There’s this song always plays in the station. Not even like proper music, just this same loop over and over like a bit of piano and some saxophone or trumpet or something. Used to find it well catchy but now I don’t hear it properly. Like if you fart in your room dead loads and don’t notice it till someone else walks in. Anyway, I’m just sat there trying to remember some laughs from uni, but I can’t think of any, like me head’s just gone proper foggy. Next thing I know, some bloke’s marched in, right posh bloke in a suit, like. Just got me thinking like “Mate, something to do. Don’t know if I can even be arsed. So bored that I don’t even want not be bored, like.” Any road, this bloke’s just like messing around at the magazines for a bit, like, then he comes to the till, says

“Hi there, pump three?” And I’m just staring at him for a sec. Forgot to respond. Forgot to do anything until I snapped into it, like.

“Yeah mate, sound.” So I fucked about on the till for a min. He starts tilting his head back as if to say ‘Oh, a-up a min’ and he just points at me going,

“Ross Exley?” He wasn’t wrong, like and he goes, “It’s me, John. John Leese? From Uni? Oh my god, mate, how’re you doing?” I was just like,

“Oh, John… Yeah, mate…” Looked proper shocked when he heard me speak again. I didn’t know what to say. Months since I had a conversation that wasn’t just me saying a price to someone. “Not too bad mate, just working here, like. It’s alright though. What’re you up to?”

He was still proper smiley and that,

“Well, you know how it is. I’m rushed off my feet with work and everything at the office. I’m with the Standard now, junior writing staff. You know, actually I was talking to Simon about you the other day. We didn’t know you actually… still… worked here.” and I’m thinking what am I supposed to say to that, like?

“Yeah, yeah, still here, like… How’s Simon doing?” didn’t proper care but Simon was always alright. Get this right long spew from him then about Simon and all this. Wasn’t proper listening, like.

“...Got his own company now and wants to start developing for larger brands like Google and Facebook but he’s finding it difficult to maintain the income for now. What else have you been up to?” He clocked I wasn’t listening, just staring at him. I was listening to the saxophone or trumpet or whatever it was. “Ross? What have you been up to?” Snapped back into it, like.

“Oh, err, not much to be honest with you, mate. Doing a lot of hours here, like. Might be getting an instant coffee machine in the staff room but apart from that…” Got bored of talking, trailed off. So, he’s just watching me, expecting to finish my sentence. Then he chirps up ‘cause he felt awkward.

“I thought you’d have been writing for someone? Wasn’t that always what you wanted to do after uni?” Bit embarrassing come to think of it, like, me just sitting about while he’s some dead big journalist or whatever. Think he felt a bit sorry for me. Not like I wasn’t happy at the petrol station, like. It was alright  but I reckon he thought I was dead upset, like I was listening to that voice in my brain telling me to fuck off and get out. So I just did a shrug, like I didn’t give one. He starts giving me this dead pitiful eye, man. Like I’m some charity case or something.

So I’m like, “Yeah, then, that’s £28.77, mate.” Just giving him the standard blank stare waiting for the cash or the card. Hoped it was card. Couldn’t be arse with change. Whips out his card and chucks it straight on contactless. Sound. So I’m just waiting for him to go, like, but he starts giving me this look. Like he’s trying to look like he’s thinking. Not just thinking. Looking like it.

Then he goes “You know…” Fucking hell, “My place is looking for someone to write this new article. Just a once a week column about politics in youth.” What is he on about? “Just a small column and the topic is almost completely up to the writer.”

I’m just there like, “Yeah…?” Why’s he proper going on about his work when he’s already bought his petrol?

Then he starts like “I know this is mad,” proper stretched that out, “I know this is mad, but I reckon I could get you the job. Just a short piece every week and you’ll get a writer’s salary under the new union rules.” And I’m just sat there thinking why’s he asking me? Haven’t done any writing for five years. Haven’t even seen the guy for five years. So I’m just squirming a bit, like.

So I says “Yeah… Sounds… I don’t know, mate…” and he’s right confused by that.

“Ross, it’s just one column a week for five days of pay. I remember how into this you were, you always had such good takes on what was going on. I used to love proof-reading your essays. Come on! You could even keep working here, this is just a start in the right direction. Put your degree to some use.” Proper wanted me to go for it, like. Then I hear my brain chiming in, like.

“Oi, what’re you doing? This is it, mate. Get out of here. You’ve got a degree, mate. Do something.” Suddenly I’ve got this right smile on my face and I’m like “Alright, I’ll do it, mate. Yeah!” He’s proper excited about that. Gave me his business card with this giddy little smile, like. Said he’d get in touch and that. Heads for the door and it’s like my brain’s kicking off having a right old time. Then John turns back to me, still full on beaming with this smile.

“Alright then, mate. Try to get about 500 words ready for the first article next week. See you soon.” Pops himself through the door and climbs in his car, like.

Stared at the door for a sec after he left. Mulling it all over, like. What’re the odds of this happening? Seeing him and getting that chance. Mad, mate. Start hearing those trumpets or the saxophone or whatever it is. Then there’s this voice, like “Oi what? 500 words in a week?”

You always go with your heart, mate.