Each year, we run an internal competition for our creative writing students who want to showcase their writing. This year, we selected Lou Seath’s short story ‘Vin’s Double Take’ for the Writers College Creative Writer of the Year Award.
Vin’s Double Take
By Lou Seath
Vin ignored the ache in his leg – he didn’t believe in pills for pain unless his life depended on it – and limped over to the miscreant blurting into his phone, a middle-aged, grey-suited man wearing polished black shoes that looked fresh off a fancy shop’s store rack.
Probably keeps them polished to a shine so he can see his reflection when he looks down at them, Vin thought. He wouldn’t be surprised if the man kept a comb in his back pocket.
Vin didn’t think much of men who looked like they went for pedicures and manicures. In his opinion, there were more important things to do in life.
The big mouth had been talking for close to five minutes and nobody, other than one of the librarians, seemed bold enough to tell him to take it outside.
The man ignored her.
Vin decided he’d give the nuisance a piece of his mind whether he liked it or not. He’d had it with people who disrespected library rules, especially ones who dressed like they ought to know better.
He stared down at the man’s polished shoes. One could tell a lot by the size and shape of a man’s feet and how they were positioned. Important things, like if the person was ready to fight or not.
The man stood with his weight leaning into the ball of his left foot, his right knee bent slightly forward.
What a clown.
Vin calculated how quickly he could immobilize the man if it were a fight situation and concluded that he could be taken down with one hard, swift kick in the back of the left knee.
Vin had learned over the years to approach strangers with caution, and that went double if
you were about to confront them.
Fighting in a war had taught him many things, some of them being that nobody gives a rat’s ass about you, nobody will give a rat’s ass in future, and nobody cares a rat’s ass about helping you get out of a bad situation. You have to save yourself.
And Hell continues in your head after a war ends.
His left leg moving slower than the right, he trudged over to the vociferous man – his leg hurting more than usual this evening – and, using his sternest voice, said, ‘Zip your blow hole and show some respect; we’re in a library.’
The man, still yakety-yakking into his phone like a trumpet on speed, turned around with an irritated shrug.
Ignoring the smell of vinegar and sweat that wafted off the man, Vin glared at him.
The loudmouth turned back around and walked at a brisk pace towards the library’s exit.
Surprised at the response (Vin had expected more backbone and back talk), he watched the man’s hasty retreat. Goes to show, Vin thought. Some people who behaved large and in charge didn’t have a spine when confronted face to face.
One of the librarians approached Vin. She whispered loud enough for him to hear. ‘Thank you. I tried; I told him to take his phone call outside.’ She shook her head in disapproval.
Vin smiled at her. ‘Some people have no manners.’
‘We’re closing soon if you’re still looking for books,’ she said.
Five new books in his bag, Vin stepped into the evening.
Dusty street lights lit up the early night in a sulphuric orange glow. Tall and short buildings
cast giant mosaic squares and rectangles of shadows onto the blacktop and pavements. A four-block walk and he’d be back at his apartment.
Percival, his tabby, would either be sitting at the front doorstep or would come running towards him from nowhere. As if the feline sat sniffing the air for his approaching scent. He kept an eye open for her. Animals treated people better than humans did.
Vin had been walking for half a minute when he heard voices and raucous laughter behind him. Mean-sounding laughter. He felt for the taser in his jacket pocket and kept his hand on it, his forefinger stroking the trigger. After he returned from the war, he carried it with him everywhere. Didn’t matter if he was going to a fish market, a supermarket or anywhere else.
‘Hey, Gramps,’ a voice called. ‘You have anything for us?’
A second voice sniggered.
Vin turned around and stood his ground. He’d experienced worse during the war. He stared at two male youths, the one short, overweight and sporting a double chin, the other one taller than his companion, on the lean side, his shoulders hunched.
The tall one’s shaved head seemed illumined under the streetlamp above him. The short one’s dishevelled hair hung down in tangled strands to his chin. He flicked his head back each couple of seconds – the action looking like a natural part of his body function, the same way one blinks – an automatic movement.
Vin watched them closely.
Both their hands were visible. A good sign.
But not good enough.
Anything could be buried in their pockets.
‘Didn’t you hear me, Gramps?’ the short youth said.
‘Maybe he’s half deaf,’ the taller youth replied.
‘No, he’s not,’ Shorty said. ‘How can he be half deaf if he heard us call him? He turned
around, didn’t he?’
The taller youth seemed to think about this, the cogs in his mind turning slowly,
before agreeing. ‘You’re right. If he didn’t hear us, he wouldn’t have turned around.’
‘You’re a genius,’ Shorty said and thumped his shoulder.
Shaved head chuckled.
‘I want to see what’s in your bag,’ Shorty said walking towards Vin.
Vin kept his eyes on both of the youth. ‘What’s it your business?’
Shorty spoke. ‘Maybe Gramps needs to see something shiny made of steel.’
‘I’m warning you,’ Vin said. ‘Move back and move away.’
The duo chortled at his remark.
Shorty thumbed his nose and wiggled his fingers.
From their behaviour and how they moved about in jittery movements, Vin judged them both to be high. Some type of upper.
‘What you going to do about it if we don’t?’ Shorty said. ‘Might be I’ve got a knife on me. Might be it’ll maybe change your mind about what you want or don’t want to do.’
Mistake number one, Vin observed. Never tell an opponent what type of weapon you have. It takes away the element of surprise. He stepped back. If they moved into his personal space, he would use the Taser.
‘What type of knife do you have?’ he said, his intention to stall the two youths by asking an
unexpected question. Didn’t always work, but it was worth a try.
The pair stopped walking.
Ignoring the question, Shorty spat into the street. ‘Gramps dressed up neat and proper like you must have something useful in his bag.’
‘I’m warning you,’ Vin said.
‘What you warning us about,’ Shorty said. ‘You can’t even walk properly.’
From a gloomy side street, hollering and waving his arms vigorously, a familiar-looking man charged at the two youths.
On seeing him, the young men fled, the short one falling behind his taller companion.
The charging man ran after them and caught Shorty by the arms. He pinned the aggressor’s arms behind his back and forced him to walk towards Vin. As the pair approached him, Vin recognized his helper: the loudmouth who’d been yakking into his phone at the library.
‘I didn’t do anything,’ Shorty said struggling against the hands that held him, his previous cocky voice subdued. He stared down at his feet.
Polished Shoes smacked him on the head. ‘You’re going to tell me exactly what you
were up to. After I hear what I want, you’re going to go down on your knees and beg forgiveness. After you lick his shoes clean, you’ll tell me where you and your friend live.’
‘I didn’t do anything,’ the youth said.
Polished shoes shoved his captive in front of Vin who, trying to make sense of what was happening, stared at the kneeling youth now blubbering at his feet.
Polished shoes, standing close to the delinquent, pulled a comb out of his inner jacket pocket and ran it backwards through his hair with a few flicks of his wrist.
About the Author, Lou Seath
I was born in Lesotho, a mountainous country of clear skies and incredible views of the stars. When I was about thirteen, my parents returned to South Africa.
I am fascinated by the amazing and terrifying power of words and their ability, together with imagination, to create an infinite number of stories. I can’t imagine what a world without stories and the creation of new stories would be like.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to work on my writing by doing courses with SA Writers College and thankful for everything I learned along the way. Many thanks to all my tutors.