Sunday, 28 September 2014

King Rat

Have you noticed how determined everyone seems to be to leave a mark on the world. It must be a natural reaction to our mortality. Fame comes in many shapes and sizes. Some people are destined to be known throughout the ages, immortal through the annals of history, Achilles for instance. The rest of us have to accept that our own little glimmer of notoriety will dwindle slightly more quickly. Sadly we don't often get to pick how we are remembered, that duty falls to the ones we encounter on our way.

In the eighties there was a man called Mr O'Gorman living in my town, he was a crooked old fella with withered features and a wicked scowl. He was determined to see the worst in everyone and everything. Nothing seemed to bring joy into his life. Hardly suprising really, he rattled around in a huge old store all by himself. What was once a thriving Grain and Feed business now was just a shell, falling into decay around the old man. Weeds sprouted through a massive yard unused in years. The painted sign that stretched the length of the building had once announced  "O'Gorman and Son" proudly to the world in gold and black,  now it was fading and flaked, a symbol of hope forever lost. It looked like a building abandoned to the mice and spiders.  Mr O'Gorman was not a verbal man, he let his emotions crawl over his face like storm clouds racing over a sunny valley. Bumping into this shuffling figure could never be described as a pleasure which Billy Nugent found out to his cost.

A small town is a microcosm, and one that can easily thrown into uproar. One sunny Sunday morning the mass bell was still pealing high in the blue sky when Mr O'Gorman was literally swept away from the steps of the church by a vision of evil. That was how the scene was retold later at any rate. What had actually happened was Billy Nugent, recently returned from New York City, came careering down the pavement on something called a skateboard. Clickity clack, clickity clack, clickity clack went the hard little wheels, faster and faster, as they pumped over cracks in the concrete. Along with the skateboard, Billy had returned from America with a whole collection of hoodies, an equally deadly addition to his arsenal of mayhem.  The sad truth of the matter was that Billy had no control of the board and nearly no view of what lay ahead of him. The first time he saw Mr O'Gorman was when they combined as a flying ball of limbs, soaring through the air. At first some of the women thought it was the Grim Reaper come to take the grumpy old sod down below. When they eventually untangled the mess it was a major disappointment to see a spotty teenager emerge from the cowl.

"You guttersnipe, you should be arrested," growled Mr O'Gorman as he was helped to his feet.
"It wasn't my fault you jumped right out in front of me," stammered Billy.

"Rubbish you moron, this is a footpath not what ever the hell that is path," roared the old man waving his blackthorn stick at the upended skateboard.

"I have as much right to be on here as you, and its a skateboard you old goat," said Billy as bold as brass getting to his feet. The name calling was a step to far for Mr O'Gorman who lashed out with his knobbly walking stick. Billy deftly avoided the blows and scooped up his skateboard as he raced for safety.

"I'll get the Sargent after you, you PUP!" yelled the old man at the disappearing teenager.

Mr O'Gorman was nothing if not a man of his word. After several heated telephone calls to the Garda station the Sargent finally agreed to call on the the Nugent's but refused to arrest the teenager for attempted murder as the old man wanted. Now whatever the Sargent was expecting to encounter it was not the disinterested, disrespectful irreverent young man he found Billy Nugent to be. Every time the Guard attempt to explain the gravity of the situation to the spotty teenager he was greeted with rebuttal. Most annoyingly the kid's points were difficult to refute. In the end the Sargent could take no more, he blew his top, telling the sheepish parents of the boy, that "Billy would end up seeing the inside of a cell before long," then storming out of the house.

The following few days saw several more irate calls to the Garda station from Mr O'Gorman wanting to know, "Why that hooligan was still roaming the streets terrorising law abiding people?" Being told that there was nothing illegal about skateboarding did nothing to ease the situation.
"What do you mean nothing illegal, didn't he nearly clean kill me?"
"I understand Mr O'Gorman but it was only an accident and I've had a stern word with him and his parents"
"For all the good your words seem to be, didn't I have to run him out of my yard only yesterday with that devil board of his, and he gave me the finger, did you hear, THE FINGER"
The Sargent sighed heavily into the phone and said "I will have another word." You could nearly hear his back creak in defeat over the phone.
"You do that Sargent and I'll start selling chocolate tea pots, they are just as useful as your words."
"I have to act within the law," said the Sargent having nearly enough of being hectored by this old codger.
"Well the law is an ASS," roared the old man.
"Are you calling me an ass," said the Sargent not believing what he was hearing.
"If the cap fits, wear it." snapped Mr O 'Gorman slamming down the handset.

The Sargent was not the only one to feel the sharp side of Mr O'Gorman's tongue. Having given up on the law, Mr O'Gorman turned his attention on the head of the County Council for whom he held little regard anyway. That phone conversation went even worse as the Town Planning Officer was a jobs worth with a lazy streak a mile wide. After listening disinterestedly to Mr O'Groman's rant, the Planning Officers reply was "And what do you want me to do about it?"

Mr O'Gorman's blood pressure went stratospheric.   "What do I want you to do? I want you to get off that huge lazy backside of yours and make this town a safe place to live. I want to know what you lot do in that brand new, state of the art, tower block besides ripping off pensioners like me."

"We certainly do not rip off pensioners and I resent you're tone Mr O'Gorman," said the Planning Officer hoitily. "We take no revenue from the retired of this community I will have you know."

"Why then are you charging rates on my home?"

"Technically it is a business premises Mr O'Gorman."

"Technically I haven't sold anything ten years but the rates bill comes regardless."

"That is a different matter entirely," said the Planner hastelly.

"Different matter my arse, you mark my words you little shit, if you don't do something about these kids you will be sorry," ranted Mr O'Gorman before driving the handset into its cradle with a crash. Another dead end but he was a dogged old man and once he got the bit between his teeth little would distract him. He contacted the National Roads Authority, the local TD, the Parish Priest as well as every member of the tidy town committee. It seemed no one could do anything.

The Sargent had his own axe to grind with Billy Nugent. He was not used to being belittled or ignored, making Billy a marked man. When ever the opportunity arose the Sargent gave the young lad a grilling or a clip around the ear. He even hauled him into the station on several occasions. The affect of this was to bolster Billy Nugent's legend among the youth of the town. Soon the number of hoody wearing skateboarders began to grow, Billy's rein of anarchy was gathering an unwitting army to itself.

Billy was far from a criminal mastermind, he wasn't even a bad kid. He just let his mouth lead the way long before his brain knew what was happening. He never intended to knock over the old fella outside the church or even get the Sargent so mad. It just seemed to happen to him. People said he was moody, most of the time he just had nothing to say. The biggest thing about Billy was that he didn't seem to fit in anywhere. When other kids began to copy the way he dressed and wanted to hang out with him he thought it was wired. Creepy even. In the end the lure of company was too much and he begrudgingly accepted his new roll as the bad boy in town.

Mostly Billy loved to skateboard. He and his new friends made little ramps and tried to perfect tricks using the steps of the church or the school play ground when nobody was around. Once he even skated in O'Gormans yard thinking the old man was out, that had been a mistake. As the number of skaters in town grew so did the number of voices raised in protest at there existence. Billy couldn't understand it, after all what the hell were they doing that was so wrong? It wasn't like they were selling drugs to kids or mugging the bloody wrinklies. It just made no sense why they were hated so much. When the council tried to get a bye law passed banning the use of skateboards on public pavements, Billy was hopping mad, something had to be done.

That was when the rats began appearing. Not real rats, ones even more insipid. Small graffiti rat's, on public buildings. They seemed to spring up over night like magic. People thought the first one was cute as it depicted a old rat walking on its back legs with a little walking stick. The next one had the same little rat but this time he held a bunch of flowers, it was when the third one appeared holding a severed head that the public outcry began. Guess who was first on the list for questioning? It was Billy with a bullet.  Of course he said he had nothing to do with it. The night after Billy was questioned a whole family of rats appeared on the county council building with the slogan "Freedom For the People," blazened in bold letters above them. Billy's feet hardly touched the ground before he was hauled back in for further questioning, this time he did see the inside of a cell, a whole nights worth. At a minute to five in the morning Billy was released with a boot in the arse to help him on his way home.

Billy trudged the sidewalks of town, his trademark hoody pulled low over his head. He had told the Sargent a dozen times he had nothing to do with rats but he may as well been taking to the wall. If the sargent wanted proof he should just talk to any of his past teachers who would have been delighted to atest that Billy hadn't an artistic bone in his body. Billy was beginning to wonder if his new found popularity was worth all the hassle. The town was eerie at this time of the morning, it was so quiet. Billy walked along rows of houses thinking that dozens of heads were dreaming, seperated from him by only the thickness of a pain of glass. He actually stopped and laid his palm on a window imagining who might be asleep inside. He was standing so, thinking random thoughts, when something moved ahead in the darkness. Billy froze. If it was the Sargent he would try and do him for breaking and entering for sure. Billy didn't twitch, just turned his eyes towards the movement.

In the distance a hunched figure shimmied around near the ground. Whatever it was, it was near the Water Works Office. Billy decided to get a better look, he tip toe'd closer and was just about to stop when his foot landed on a patch of gravel causing the figure to spin round. You could have knocked Billy over with a feather when a smiling Mr O'Gorman regarded him with twinkling eyes. Where he had been kneeling there was a still wet drawing of a little rat shaking the last few coppers from a coin purse into the begging bowl of huge suited figure with the slogan "Power Corrupts Completely" underlining the figures. Billy heard Mr O'Gorman chuckle for the very first time and in a wink he was gone into the mist.

The very next day Billy was back in the clutches of the Sargent. He never mentioned a word about what he had seen but continued to protest his innocence.  One or two more rat's appeared after that but no one ever identified the artist responsible. Billy continued to skateboard up and down the pavements of the town and Mr O'Gorman continued to rail against the world.

A few years after that Mr O'Gorman passed away in his sleep. His funeral was attended by only a handful of elderly towns folk and distant relatives. It amazed everyone when Billy Nugent turned up at the grave side and remained for the full service. It was even more baffling when Mr O'Gormans will was read. Hadn't he donated the yard attached to his shop to the community, under the stipulation that it be concreted over and used only as a free skate park for the young people of the town, and as such any rates due on the property would be the responsibility of the town council.

The day after the newly concreted skate park opened, people were amazed to find, overnight a giant rat with a crown on his head appeared on the largest jump in the place. Billy and his friends continued to skate there for many a year under the happy observation of a smiling rat, who was a king at last.

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