WE LEAVE, WE RETURN, WE LEAVE AGAIN

“Venice” by www.online-photo-gallery.com

Mr. Chowdhury, the shopkeeper, went to prison for it, but that was no consolation to those of us who knew Fozzy.

The media had a field day, making proclamations about how the incident had shone a beacon on the state of the nation. It ticked boxes: binge drinking, racial tension, gun crime. Britain was broken and we should all be afraid. It made a good story at the time, I suppose.

Fozzy had always been a bit of an idiot, the one to take a joke too far. Forever getting caught for things, while others got away.

I wasn’t around at the time. I’d been living in London for a few years, but I still saw Fozzy whenever I came back to Leeds, and he was always the same. That was what people liked about him. There was no side to him. At the same time, some of us were moving on – new jobs, new places, new friends – and Fozzy seemed stuck. He never appeared to be bothered about it, but you can never really tell how people feel.

This one night, Fozzy had got drunk. There was nothing unusual in that. On the way back from the pub, he popped into his local Costcutter. He was a regular; he only lived around the corner. He probably went in there a couple of times a day.

It was all captured on the grainy CCTV footage: Fozzy enters the shop and goes up and down the aisles, browsing. He places a Pot Noodle and a packet of Hob Nobs on the counter, and Mr. Chowdhury rings it up on the cash register. Then instead of handing over the money, you can see Fozzy putting his hand in his jacket pocket and an elongated shape forms in the material (This was the major piece of evidence in the court case.) Mr. Chowdhury reaches under his countertop and produces a gun. On the CCTV footage, you see a white flash, and Fozzy just collapses out of the picture.

The police report confirmed Fozzy wasn’t carrying a weapon, let alone a firearm. This was typical Fozzy: He was just pissing about. And it cost him his life.

At the funeral, Jamie was inconsolable. There was a big group of us that had been friends at school and we’d all kept in touch, but Jamie and Fozzy were best mates. The night of the shooting, they had had a drunken argument that ended up with Jamie aiming a punch at Fozzy. Next day, Jamie was on his way round to Fozzy’s house to make it up and walked past the Costcutter, all ribboned in police tape. Right through the service, Jamie was in floods.

The wake was held in The George, just around the corner from where Fozzy was shot, so everyone bought him a pint and placed it outside the Costcutter in a gesture of remembrance. There were over a hundred pint glasses, sparkling golden in the sunshine.

Back at The George, I got talking to Jo, a girl with dyed red hair and a tattoo of an eagle on her wrist, who Fozzy had met when he was stacking shelves at the big Morrison’s in the Merrion Centre. It was clear she and Fozzy had been firm friends: “He were right fuckin’ twat, was Fozzy. A proper doylum. I’m surprised he made it to his mid-twenties. Sharp as a fuckin’ button, he was.” Only someone who really knew and loved him could summon up such an accurate eulogy. I imagined Fozzy laughing along with it as she spoke. Her speech was all flat vowels and glottal stops and full of all the local slang I had stopped using since I moved away. I realised how much I was changing. I wondered what she thought of me. A local lad who had spread his wings, moved on, bettered himself? Or someone who was forgetting where he came from, who he was? In truth, she probably didn’t think any of these things. Why would she? She was drunk, and so was I. We went out to the back car park. She’d been drinking Jaeger Bombs, and I could taste the sweet, herbal, alcoholic tang on her tongue.

Later that night, in Jo’s creaky single bed, she told me a story about Fozzy I hadn’t heard before. The previous Easter, he had scraped enough money together to go interrailing. He went all over Europe, and in Siena he met a Belgian girl who recommended that he go to Venezia. One evening shift on the cereals aisle, he told Jo that the highlight of the trip had been those days in Venezia. Jo said Fozzy had become uncharacteristically earnest when he told her about it. It had clearly made a massive impression on him – well, he hadn’t often been out of West Yorkshire, let alone Great Britain. Fozzy said Venezia was full of canals and bridges and little boats ploughing up and down. In the evenings, the mists rolled in off the water and the atmosphere became quiet and still. He said that that had been the best time, just walking around in the gloom surrounded by sounds of the water and the flickers of light from apartment windows and passing boats. He was all alone but at peace with himself. Jo quoted Fozzy’s final thoughts on the place: “You hear people banging on about Venice all the time but this place was something else.” It was a fitting epitaph. The most significant moment in his life, and he didn’t even have a clue where he was.

It was late and we were tired and drunk, and when we started laughing we couldn’t stop ourselves. It was one of those laughing fits that finally begin to hurt in your stomach.

“It’s nice to meet some of his mates. You all seem a decent,” she said. “I were never sure if he had any proper friends. He was friendly to everyone and nobody had a problem with him. It just made me wonder if he ever had real mates. People he could speak to.”

I felt a stab of guilt. I wasn’t sure if I was that sort of mate to Fozzy. It had never occurred to me that he would need someone like that. He always seemed happy. Like I said, though, you never really know how someone is feeling. I asked her if she thought that perhaps he wasn’t happy. If it was all just an act.

“Dunno. The fact that he went off by himself around Europe – that says summat. That he was looking for something he didn’t have. He must’ve felt that, even if he didn’t think it.”

A tug of regret moved inside me. How did this girl know so much about Fozzy, whom I’d known my whole life, and I knew so little? I asked her if he ever spoke to her about how he felt.

“Not really. We just arsed around together. We hated our jobs. Couldn’t see a future. Morrison’s isn’t exactly fuckin’ Shangri-la, you know. So we talked bollocks with each other. Got pissed. Messed around together.”

I asked her what she meant: messed around?

“I shagged him a few times. I didn’t fancy him or nothing. I couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to. It was alright. It was nice.” She smiled.

The next morning it was raining. “You know the way to the station. I won’t bother offering to see you off,” said Jo. On her doorstep, she kissed me on the cheek and closed the door.

The platform was cold and damp, and muffled announcements competed with the heavy metallic grinding of wheels on rails and couplings jarring. I thought about Fozzy and his travels. I knew nothing about them. He had chosen not to say anything to his mates. He had told Jo. I looked up at the grey sky and saw a solitary seagull being buffeted by a gust of wind. I remembered Jo telling the story about Fozzy’s ridiculous trip to Venice, crying with laughter, her bare chest heaving and, as she wiped her eyes, the tattooed eagle soaring past her blackened lashes.

GC Perry

About GC Perry

GC Perry has a number of stories in the Litro archive and has also appeared in Liars' League, Shooter, Open Pen, Prole and elsewhere. His flash and microfictions have been shortlisted for the Fish and NFFD prizes. He lives in London.

GC Perry has a number of stories in the Litro archive and has also appeared in Liars' League, Shooter, Open Pen, Prole and elsewhere. His flash and microfictions have been shortlisted for the Fish and NFFD prizes. He lives in London.

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