‘Dave, don’t look around now….but I think the man by the stairs might be my father.’
If these words had come from anybody else, it would have been an incredible, life-changing moment, one of those moments that you always remember….like you’re always going to remember the day Cliff Richard finally goes bad and knocks over a post office.
But the words have come from Dean, and – as my friends go – he’s not the most emotionally stable horse in the paddock. Dean thinks everyone is his father, and I feel for him: I really do. I grew up in single parent family with no dad around, and although there were odd times when I could have maybe benefited from a father and son chat, I certainly never felt in any way deprived of some great advantage.
His mum isn’t around now, and it would be fair to say he’s been looking for his biological father for the best part of two decades. He’s exhausted every official channel and record-based avenue there is to be exhausted. All he’s left with now is the odd fraudster and a few supernaturalists who tend to get him believing any old junk because they know how emotionally invested he is in the hunt for his true identity. Moreover, the most recent psychic has proved even more dangerous to his mental health: she’s actually drawn him a picture of the man he needs to look for. He hasn’t shown it to me yet, but I’m so depressed by how sucked in he’s been by these terrible people that I haven’t shown the slightest interest in seeing it.
‘I’m serious, Dave. DON’T TURN AROUND.’
Not for the first time, I wish we’d gone to Costa. I always go to Costa.
Coffee Corner at Westwood Cross is alien territory to me, and I’d rather stare through a wall of glass than look out over the maze of dust-covered bookshelves in WHSmith: it’s like watching rats in some sort of futuristic experiment. Besides, there’s something crawling across the top of one of the bookshelves, and – judging from the fact that most people wander around Smith’s like they’re in need of a blood transfusion – it might one of the customers. All that, and now this:
‘Dave! I said DON’T!’
Of course I’m looking around. I’m looking around because, as Derren Brown would say, the command ‘don’t look around’ contains the suggestion ‘look around’. Besides, I am curious.
Coffee Corner is actually pretty empty today. There are two teenage girls giggling by the top of the stairs, a flock of elderly blue rinses crowding the counter, a smartly dressed woman in a business suit and…
I turn back to Dean.
‘The Chinese guy?’
‘Don’t be racist.’
‘I’m not being racist, Dean. The man is Chinese. You’re not a racist just because you can correctly identify someone of another race. That’s like saying you’re homophobic because you suspect that the two guys you saw kissing in Tesco were more than just friends.‘
‘I think it’s him, Dave: I think that’s my father.’
‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous.’
‘Why am I being ridiculous? Because you write a bunch of books you think you know EVERYTHING?’
I shake my head very slowly, and take a deep breath.
‘Dude, you’re extremely tall, very ginger and you have a lot of freckles. I would be really surprised if your dad turned out to be a small Chinese man. Life can be strange, admittedly….but not that strange. I have the same colouring as you, but if I didn’t know who my real father was and I wanted to hunt him down, I probably wouldn’t start the search on mainland China.’
‘Yeah? Well let’s hear what you’ve got to say about this….DAVE WHO KNOWS EVERYTHING.’
He fishes in his wallet and pulls out the drawing of his prospective father the latest psychic has given him. Sure enough, the guy in the picture looks a bit like the man by the stairs. He really does: even the slightly angular jut to the chin is there. This makes me really angry: I want to grab the drawing and tear it in half, but doing so would upset Dean. Instead, I just sigh and hand it back.
‘Listen, dude….you’ve got to start getting some resolution on all this. You have to start seeing sense. You have to begin to-‘
‘I’m going over there.’
‘I’m going to ask him.’
‘You can’t! You don’t have the slightest clue who he is!’
‘I’m going to.’
‘Don’t you DARE…not when I’m with you.’
‘You’re so selfish.’
‘Yes I am…and you CAN’T do it.’
‘I can and I’m going to. You only live once, Dave: you should try to remember that.’
Before I can stop him, Dean is on his feet and striding towards the poor isolated man who probably just stopped by at Westwood Cross for a coffee. This man has obviously walked into WHSmith, thought about getting some refreshment and decided to hike it up the stairs to rest his weary feet…and he’s about to run into some desperate lunatic who is going to tell him that he thinks he might be his son.
Dean has to be stopped, but the whole thing happens too fast, and I can’t get out of my seat quickly enough to do anything about it.
Strangely, I’m also rooted to the spot by a grim fascination about what might happen if – by a million to one chance – the man turns out to be Dean’s father.
I know it’s crazy.
I know it can’t happen.
Not even in Science Fiction.
But I have to see….in case it DOES.
I sit there, gripping both arms of the chair, as Dean asks to take a seat opposite the completely stunned gentleman and – almost without any visible preamble – hands him the drawing.
There is a brief exchange between them. Then a more intense conversation. Finally, the older man smiles, nods, claps his hands together in excitement and then….heartbreakingly….Dean begins to cry.
I can tell this because the old man’s face immediately creases up with happiness, and Dean’s shoulders begin to shake.
I’m Dean’s friend, but I’m also a terrible emotional coward…so I just sit there. I even take a gulp of my mocha, as if I’m watching all this happen on Jeremy Kyle.
Then the old man gets up from his chair, moves to sit beside Dean and they hug. They really hug.
I’m in shock, because it’s a power hug, a love hug….an actual father and son hug.
I can’t watch, as I’ve started to well-up myself…so instead I look out over WHSmith, trying to be a bloke, focusing on the dust bunnies that all the people below the bookshelves can’t see. Thankfully, the crawling thing is gone: I guess it found the magazine it wanted.
When I look back Dean is on his feet again, and he’s coming back to the table.
The old man is following him.
They’re coming over to see me, together….as a family.
Steeling myself up for a monumental moment, I take another gulp of my drink and stand as they approach.
‘Dave,’ Dean says, sniffing. ‘I’d like you to meet someone pretty special: this is James Dao Wen: James Dao Wen, my mate Dave.’
We shake hands: it’s awkward, but as we all sit down together I suddenly feel that the fates have finally done something truly, spectacularly incredible.
I’m in the moment.
Then Dean leans over to me and whispers. ‘You’re right, mate: it’s not him, but he’s followed me over here and now everything’s a bit awkward. Can you sort it out?’
I look from Dean to James, and back again.
I end up buying James Dao Wen two mochas during the next twenty minutes, the first out of sheer decency and the second purely because Dean went to the toilet and I just couldn’t stand the silence.
Worst. Hour. Ever.
This entry ‘Fatherland’ was originally written in 2014 by Davey Stone at the Marks & Spencer Restaurant in Westwood Cross shopping centre, home of the infamous Iceland Carrier Bag Cross Cult. If you enjoyed ‘Fatherland’ please consider supporting us by following the blog. Thanks for reading ‘Fatherland’.