(it’s like He-Man, only with less of this)
This is an anecdote, which have been pretty rare on this blog recently (perhaps reflecting the inherent dullness of my life of work-watch football-work-cry over football), so prepare yourselves: this is the story of the time I met E-Man.
I was about thirteen, and returning to school on the bus with my equally simple-minded and easily-intimidated friends; we were also sitting at the back on the upper deck like the cool folks we were. Our interesting discussions of things like Maths homework and Geography projects (because what the Hell else would I talk about as a child?) were cut short by the arrival of a young man, perhaps aged between seventeen and nineteen, who introduced himself to us as E-Man, a name both mysteriously vague and painfully indicative of the regard with which he held himself.
There may have also been some friends of E-Man, but I can’t remember; the events in question focused on E-Man to such a massive extent that I lost track of all space and time around me during them – I can’t even remember how old I was. If there were no E-Friends, it just shows the awesome power of E-Man himself, I feel.
I also can’t remember the means by which he introduced himself to us; it may have been that he declared his presence to the entire bus, in an unusually characteristic display of self-importance, or that we overheard his friends refer to him as ‘E-Man’, but regardless, he systematically asked each of us if we had a quid.
Having passed a number of us with no success (either because of my friends’ actual lack of money or a desire to disengage with strangers on the bus as our year seven PSHE lessons had taught us), he started getting desperate for his pittance: he began checking the wallets of us as we refused to give him money, not in a particularly malicious sense, but with an untrustworthy insistence, that both reinforced his insatiable need for funds equivalent to half of a Subway breakfast sub, and reinforced our impression of him being a bit of an obsessive nutcase.
His redoubled efforts to obtain money were failures, however, with each of my friends having no cash, and the sparse wallets to prove it. Yet, I was, sadly, more resourceful. In one of the strangest ‘praying-for-a-miracle-as-I-do-this’ moments of my life, I told him I had no money, and then showed him my wallet, knowing full well that there was not one, but two, pounds in there. Perhaps I was hoping for him to get off the bus before he could check my wallet, as his stop had come up, a possibility rendered unlikely by his steely determination to get some money; maybe I prayed for divine intervention, help that is both questionable in its existence, and would be undeserved if it was given to me, given my lack of faith.
As a result, he saw the money that I had foolishly and feebly lied about the non-existence of, and became about as excited as a child receiving an iPod touch for Christmas, only with all the threatening menace of a teenager, who looked to my thirteen-year-old eyes like a man mountain of physical power, who has just realised his purchasing of a Nando’s depends on the charity of a bewildered child.
Said bewildered child willingly gave over the money – the idea of willingness is important to stress, as I was no means mugged at this point, despite my short-lived spinning of these events as such to garner ‘muad respekt’ from those daft friends I mentioned earlier – as he felt it would be the ‘cool’ thing to do; I could now rightly claim to have helped out both a stranger, displaying an inherent charitable ‘safeness’, and one with the countenance of a gangster (at least to a thirteen-year-old).
The most face-palmingly regrettable moment of this whole event, however, was my instruction to him as he departed the bus – ‘Pay me back!’ What the Hell was that for, thirteen-year-old James? You met this individual purely at random, as part of the lottery that draws strangers together on public transport like schools of fish plucked at random from different oceans; you had no idea where this guy lived, where he was going, or even what his name was (‘E-Man’ is a more vague bit of self-titling than calling yourself ‘the cool bloke’), so even the most resourceful thirteen-year-old from a detective-themed show on Cartoon Network would have immense trouble in locating this person to retrieve the two pounds I ‘deserved’.
And I’m not even sure I deserved them; I like to think that his removal of my two quid was a kind of ‘idiot’s tax’, a monetary penalty for my blind trust of a stranger, and my willingness to play his wallet-checking game.
The plot, however, was not finished; my closest friend, who was present at this day, told me a few years later that he had seen the mystical E-Man in what may well have been his natural habitat, the queue at McDonald’s; to my disgust I, showing some of the idiocy that got me involved with E-Man in the first place, asked him why he had not pressed him for my two pounds back. My friend just laughed, perhaps aware that an attempt to get between a young adult and their fast food, by stealing their money, is a faster way to kill yourself than throwing yourself off a building that you’d think would be too small to use as a suicide-ledge, but you’d be surprised.
What has made these events legendary to me is the odd mixture of unclarity – I don’t remember the date, year, day, or people with me apart from myself and one friend – and vividity with which I remember the fear of being asked to show my wallet; there was not a fear of being mugged – I, with my knowledge of the existence of cameras and legitimately concerned parents, was far too practical to know he’d ‘get away with it’ – but the fear of being ‘uncool’, and being seen to have done something that would not ‘help a bro out’.
This warped idea probably stems from my misunderstanding of teen culture; it’s not about helping out vaguely-looking threatening people on the bus, but it’s about helping those you know and care about, not for the likelihood of them paying you back for it, but for the chance to see your support manifest itself in someone’s good homework marks or good reaction to a breakup. I guess E-Man taught me more than he thought or, perhaps knew; and you can argue that I’m reading too deeply into a chance encounter with a strange man on a bus that resulted in negligible tangible change, but I think we can all conclude that I won’t be giving two quid to random blokes on buses any more.