slow motion existential catastrophe (set to music)
I go to MacDonald Road public library to do some writing. It’s busy. The only seat is at a small corner table occupied by a tramp catching a nap. I sit down and plug-in my laptop quietly so as not to disturb the unfortunate misanthrope. Despite my consideration, he comes to and glares accusingly at me for interrupting his stupor. I smile indulgently, pleased that I alone among my fellow readers do not judge a book by its cover. His head droops and soon he is face down in a pool of drool again. Tap, tap, tappity, tap; his booze-wrecked visage rears up once more and he fixes me with his best Paddington Bear-after-a-three-week-meths-bender stare. Nettled, I resist the temptation to tell him that this is a library in the former Athens of the North not a penny doss house for Mittel Europa transients. Instead, I begin meekly caressing the keys in a bid to lull the aggressive rustic back to his sodden doze.
As well as being possessed of a liberal-minded and generally easygoing disposition, humanity’s fundamental goodness is an article of personal faith. I leave him snoring face down in Wenceslas Square and nick outside for a quick ciggy. When I get back… the laptop is gone! So is the tramp. No-one passed me while I was smoking so the culprit must still be inside, I reason. I sound the alarm. “SOMEONE’S STOLEN MY FUCKING LAPTOP, NO-ONE LEAVES UNTIL I GET MY LAPTOP BACK,” I announce with authority. A studious-looking girl at a nearby table offers some advice. “You should never leave your laptop alone,” she says primly, as if it were a small child or a convicted paedophile priest on suicide watch, or both together. “THANKS FOR THAT INSIGHT,” I snap. Her head retracts back into her text-book like a startled turtle.
There are other leads however: Exhibit A – the power cable is still in situ. It’s clear I am not raising the hue and cry on an international criminal mastermind as the laptop is useless without it and the leads cost almost as much as the box. Exhibit B – a sozzled-looking derelict scuttling unsteadily behind the stacks in a doomed flanking manoeuvre. Quick as a flash, I grab him and bellow delightedly, “I’M MAKING A CITIZEN’S ARREST!” Oh yes, I think, I have always wanted to do this. The whole library is in uproar. Half a dozen librarians circle us with obvious circumspection, unwilling to come too close, opting instead to flap their fingers and make vague bleating noises. Other patrons stare with frank bewilderment. Somewhere a child begins to cry. I let go of my quarry but stand firmly between him and the door. “Should we call the police?” a librarian eventually asks. “OF COURSE,” I demand, “THIS MAN’S STOLEN MY LAPTOP AND I WANT IT BACK.”
I continue to fence with the grotesque, blocking his feeble lunges towards the door. At one point, he shoves me with more determination: “I WOULDN’T DO THAT IF I WERE YOU” I advise, dropping confidently into a karate-style combat stance I once saw used effectively in a five-a-side football game that descended into a violent confrontation over a disputed throw-in. I am now really, really excited. Seeing no way past my defence, the vodka-fried Raffles beckons me craftily down between the stacks and lifts his grimy sweaters. Case closed! There’s my laptop! With a crude semaphore of gesture and grunt, he signals that his debt to society is paid and he is now free to go. But rather than being mollified, the sight of my laptop stuffed down his trousers transports me to thrilling new heights of righteous indignation. He unholsters my laptop. I snatch it out of his hands and brandish it at the increasingly worried-looking staff: “YOU SEE! HE HAD IT DOWN HIS TROUSERS!” Incredibly, the tramp looks aggrieved, a booze-blasted caricature of wronged innocence. He fails once again to dodge past me. I hold him at bay while the police are called. “I WANT THIS MAN ARRESTED,” I roar. “HE’S NOT GETTING AWAY WITH THIS. I WANT HIM EXPOSED TO THE FULL PENALTY OF THE LAW!”
We maintain a tense stand-off as a librarian holds for the cops. An uneasy silence falls. Interest is dwindling elsewhere in the library but people occasionally glance over and snigger. I stand firm. The librarian offers me the phone: “Do you want to speak to the police,” she asks sensibly. I snatch the phone. “What seems to be the problem?” the other end queries. Defying convention, I give a full account of Josef K’s crimes. “We’re very busy right now. You should never leave your valuables unattended. You’ve got your laptop back…” the voice tells me. Suddenly deflated, I sigh and reluctantly stand aside. The tramp leaves. Everyone looks at me. I leave. The tramp stands outside with a small crowd of other tramps. I report the crime again to two police officers attending a domestic outside the co-op down the street.