By Rory Hughes
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays were her work days. The girl with the burker or heejab or whatever it’s called. Not the letterbox one—but of course you can’t say that anymore. People have no sense of humour. On her work days I’d stop by and sit in a booth close to the tills, a little to the side, with a good view of the order screen and well within earshot of the employees calling out the order numbers—always from one to a hundred until it went full-circle back to one again. I’d been coming in, never to order anything, but to see if chance would have it—between 20 and 50% depending on the crew size that day—that the paki—sorry, person of colour, member of the Bane community, and someone who I can only assume is a woman, but even now, who the fuck knows, could be a tranny or one of those interspecies ones, I wouldn’t know unless I actually went over there and asked her for her fucking pronouns. And she’d say something like she/shay or they/gay and I’d just be even more fucking confused! You know what my fucking pronouns are? Ray and Hornsby, because that’s my fucking name, Ray Hornsby, and that’s what pronouns are for fuck’s sake—anyway, what the fuck was I talking about? Right so, I'd been coming in on the off chance that this... person of colour would end up calling out one of two very special numbers.
So it was on a Thursday. I was approaching McDonald's. The flat, warm dregs of my Special Brew were absolutely fucking rank, so I handed it to the homeless Scot midget who was always about the Maccy Ds. Most of the time, he was sooty-faced, in a booze trance, asking people for fags or shouting in some demonic ancient Gaelic language. Today he was his sober self, sitting quietly on the pavement, his crossed legs covered with a blanket. He looked up at the golden offering with eyes wide; and then taking it, weighing its contents, and feeling its warmth, looked up at me with a look that probably said I know I'm the size of a bin, but you don't have to treat me like one. "It's nae bother, pal," I said in a flawless Edinburgh accent and then went into McDonalds and to my normal booth. I looked up at the order screen. The order numbers were in the twenties and thirties. Forty-minute wait, I predicted. There were three girls working the order counter. One in three chance. The ginger freckled teen, the Latino girl who was almost as short as matey outside, and of course, her, the Muslim girl. "Forty-one," shouted the Latino. A squat Filipino bloke—probably Filipino, they're always short—went up and took his tray, giving a quick bow as thanks to the girl. I never liked Latinos; very loud people, very up themselves, very disrespectful towards their women; cheating us out of the fucking Euros. Well, that was the Italians… who spoke Latin in Ancient Rome, so are Latinos, I think. I pulled a K Cider from my pocket, gave it a few taps, and opened it, clearing my throat at the same time to cover the unmistakable sound of cracked tinny. You're sitting on the train. Some cunt pops a can behind you. You can tell just from the frothy click that it's not a fizzy drink. The sound makes me want to bend my head until I tear a tendon in my neck. I had some time to spare. I looked around. What happened to the old McDonalds with all the red and yellow, and the toy displays and the Happy Meals. I mean, obviously I couldn't have a fucking Happy Meal now, I'd look like a fucking nonce—say what you want about me but fucking paedos, scum of the earth. Now they had these fancy wooden walls with pictures of juicy sweating tomatoes and lettuce and cows in bloody fields. And now, god for fucking bid, they had the McPlant burger. What the fuck even is that, a fistful of grass and cow shit squashed together and shoved between some buns. Vegans. Christ. Why does Maccy Ds need to cater to these fucking hipsters. Stick to your juice bars and avocado latte cafes you fucking fairies. But seriously, nonces, If I ever met one in real life, you don't even know what I'd do to the bastard. Fucking scum of the earth. Makes me fucking sick. "Fifty-five.... fifty-five?": the ginger jailbait. Never got the whole ginger-hate thing. I've greyed quite early but back in school and in my twenties I had quite the ginger head of hair. Fire-crotch they'd call me. Ginger nuts. Ginger Minger. Anyway, fuck them. I'm a proud WASP. I mean I don't do any of the religious bollocks. And I'm not a racist, but, when you compare the relative success of different races—income, education, life quality—we're number one. "Sixty-three," said the Muslim girl. "Sixty-three? Anyone? Sixty-three?" No-one was there to take it. Maybe it was for some foreigner who couldn't understand. Maybe some fucker ordered his meal and half-way through waiting, thought, why the fuck am I eating at McDonalds? and left. Not to bad-mouth the place, I’ve had my fair share of Big Macs, but come on, it's not exactly fine fucking dining. I was hungry, though. I hadn't eaten since yesterday. I considered going up to claim the order, say the machine didn't issue my order receipt; this happens a lot, but there was always the chance they'd ask you what you ordered. We were getting close now. It was always a gamble, but today the odds were in my favour. Just three of them. Sometimes it was six, even seven of them on the order callouts. "Seventy-one," went the Latino. I panicked for a second. But it was fine. They were hardly ever called out in actual numerical order. Some orders are just taller than others, that's physics. "Sixty-four," went Ginge. See? We're back under. There's no way I would've missed it anyway. 1964, the year my older brother was born. Whenever I try to picture my brother, bring some image of him to my mind, there are only three: 1) Him in a rugby jersey storming across a muddy pitch. 2) Him in some fictional high-end tech job, flashing his teeth and shaking hands with investors. 3) Him in the front-seat, glued to the wheel with tough sticky blood. "Sixty-three!" called our girl. Going lower still. Okay. This was now my seventh attempt. I was feeling positive. Not only were there just three of them today, but, you know. I was due. "Forty-two," called the Latino. Bloody hell! No, this is fine, it's been like that many times, and then shot right back up again. An old Chinese man wobbled over on his Zimmer frame and sat opposite me in my booth. He was frail and gave me a weird apologetic smile as if to say sorry for the bother. He had bought just a milkshake, and every time he slurped at it he looked at me again, but over time his apologetic smile morphed into a scowl. "I'm sorry, is there a problem?" I said. "You tell me," he said, staggering to his feet and leaving, therefore giving me no chance to tell him about the problem. I laughed to myself, remembering Nigel Farage on radio talking about how it was a normal thing to say among friends, shall we order a chinky? And the reaction of the presenter. Priceless. Of course, around your mates, but you're on radio saying it now, mate. Silly twat. Though he has made some bloody good points. Statistically, two out of the three girls on the order callouts were non-white, you know, speaking of immigration. I'm no Trump-head, bloke's a bloody clown, but what's so bad about a fucking wall. I mean it's like you leaving your house door open for any foreigner to just come and go as they please. That's called home invasion. I looked over at the order pick-up till. Then I looked up at the screen. It was second from the top of the ready orders. I saw her approach the till, the brown girl. I saw her look at the order receipt with the slightest twitch of a smile. This was it. I got up from the booth and walked straight towards her. I knew what order it was before the poor fucker who'd actually ordered it did. The girl licked her lips, looked up and said "sixty-nine?" And there I was, front and centre, right up at the till. I looked at her and then turned to everyone and said—get this—"I didn't know they taught that in the Koran!?" Silence. Twenty or so people were staring at me with looks of either disgust or perplexity. Others just looked away, to their phones, or to the floor; anywhere but me. One guy in a high-vis jacket gave a small nasal exhale, but then, reading the room, cleared his throat and looked away. No fucking sense of humour. Snowflakes. Which is ironic in itself because snowflakes are unique. All these cunts think and speak and preach the exact same bollocks. There’s no fun in the world anymore. The Muslim girl looked at me with a look of controlled disdain. Mister 069 came up to get his order, and awkwardly moved around me to head for the downstairs seating.
I came back to my booth from time to time, waiting for it, mostly unnoticed, mostly unlucky. It was two weeks following my first success that I hit the real jackpot. A number even juicier than the last. Five callers today: our girl, the ginger, the Latino, an old Eastern European hag and a black boy who looked no older than fourteen. I sat down in my booth, eyes glued to the order screen. “Eighty-four,” yelled the black boy. A three-foot tall Oriental orc waddled up and grabbed her tray. Firebush: “Seventy-six”. She waited, sighed. “Seventy-six? No seventy-six?” She dumped the bag on the side counter. Moody cow. The old Polish (probably) hag: “Etty-see-ix,” she said. No-one. “Etty-see-ix?” “What’s that in English, love?” I shouted. “Can’t understand ya!” There were a couple of sniggers from somewhere on the other side of those new self-order machines. And what the fuck is up with them anyway? People are so sensitive these days they can’t even handle a little social interaction. Me, I’m a people person. Direct, honest, will always look you straight in the eye and say what I mean. “Hahahah!” I laughed with the anonymous sniggerers. “Now, now, leave her be, she’s trying her best!” I shouted. Eventually some clearly deaf old bastard shuffled his way to the counter, grabbed his hot drink and shuffled passed me, giving me a dirty look. “Something you want to say, old man?” He just shook his head. “I saw that. No pretending to be deaf—” “Look here,” he said, making a three-point-turn and then shuffling towards me. I crossed my legs, waiting for a lecture of a lifetime, no doubt. “And what might your vocation be?” he said, standing firmly in front of me. “My what?” “Your job,” he said. “What is it you do to contribute to this country?” He took a sip of his hot drink and I could tell he was trying to hide the fact the drink was still too hot. “My job?” “Yes. Your job,” he said. “Is that such a hard question?” It wasn’t really. “I’m a labourer,” I said. “And in what field do you labour?” “I labour—” He raised his bushy eyebrows. “I labour to ensure that the English people get the jobs they deserve in this beautiful country of ours.” “How noble,” he said, rolling his eyes, and then walked away. I wanted to grab his hot drink from him and scold his face with it. “Eighty-nine,” shouted the black boy. I was instantly back in the game. Fuck, so close. I didn’t see who went to claim their order. I was again at the will of the screen. My number was at the top of the ready orders. She rounded the corner from the cook’s area, our Muslim girl. I readied myself. She was holding her slip. This was surely it. I rose and walked towards the counter. She saw me and frowned. “Your ticket?” she asked me. “Oh sorry, no that doesn’t look like mine,” I said. “Eighty-eight!” she shouted, looking over my shoulder. “Eighty-eight?” I yelled. She looked at me, perplexed. “Did you hear what she just said!?” I shouted at the hungry crowd of people holding tickets and babies and rucksacks. “Heil Hitler!” I screamed. The place went silent. Jaws dropped open. A black girl pulled out her phone and began filming me. I heard a tray drop to the floor. “Mate, what the fuck?” said a studenty-looking type near me. “I didn’t say it! She did! Eighty-eight! It means Heil Hitler amongst neo-Nazis! This woman,” I said, “is a Nazi!” People started backing away; a few even left. “It’s not me who said it, she did!” I said, pointing at the Muslim girl. She was speechless. “Andrew!” she shouted. Probably the fucking manager. He appeared instantly. “Sir, you need to leave.” “I need to leave!? Your employee here has just blurted out an expression known only amongst neo-Nazis; meaning Heil Hitler. H being the eighth number of the alphabet. Eighty-eight is a signifier amongst the evillest people to have ever existed and here, is one among us. Call the police!” “I will be calling the police,” said the managerial cunt. “Good!” I said, looking back at the crowd. People were stupidly shaking their heads, staying out of it, being fucking snowflakes; looking down at their phones, not engaging, looking the other way. “Can you blame her?” said a man, approaching me. He was a little older than I was, wearing a thick sweater and casual jeans. “Excuse me?” I said. At this point, all eyes were on us. “The indecencies committed by the British Raj?” he asked. “What?” I said. “The Indian people had been given good reason to mistrust and resent the English. And during the Second World War, despite fighting alongside the Allies, many of them acted as spies for the Nazis. With little knowledge of the final solution, can you blame them for siding with the Nazis?” “What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked. “If this young woman wants to achieve some sort of revenge by agreeing with her colleagues that she be the one to call out the order, eighty-eight, the rallying cry of the neo-Nazi, we only have ourselves to blame.” If you thought the place was silent before… “This Indian woman here,” said this scholarly cunt type, “has every reason to mistrust us. Her people have seen too much hardship inflicted upon them at the hands of the English.” “Well… I didn’t know that,” I said, grinning at everyone around me. “See how much you learn from just opening up a discussion?” I said to the people who were continuing to leave. “Excuse me,” said the girl. She spoke. This scholarly cunt type and I both swivelled our heads towards her. “As for you,” she said, directing her words to my new friend, “you talk so much, but are clearly very stupid. How you thought I was Indian, is beyond me.” He shifted his glasses. “And to you,” she said to me, “please stop coming here. Also, I’m not a Muslim.” “You’re not a—” “No, what makes you think I am?” “The… you know—” I said, gesturing towards her headwear. “I found the hairnet itchy so they allowed me to wear a headscarf instead. I’m from Bulgaria.” “But… your tan,” I said. “My sincere apologies,” she said. “I have naturally dark skin.” The scholarly type and I looked at each other. “And so what if I was a Muslim?” she asked, one eyebrow perched. “So you are!” I yelled, victorious. She gave me a pitying look. “Eighty-eight?” she said, again. “Please, can I get my order,” said a man from behind us. A white man. For his white family. The manager looked at me: “We’re becoming tired of this. Please.” “I’m leaving,” I said, holding up my hands. “Anyway, I’m needed elsewhere.”
Rory Hughes is a South London-based writer and music journalist. His challenging short stories have appeared in publications such as BlazeVOX, Angel Rust, Fleas on the Dog, A Thin Slice of Anxiety and Squawk Back. He is the Feature Editor for music magazine, Astral Noize and has a novel, Theseus 34, to be published in 2023.