'Just a roll an' chips hen … Wee bitty salt and loads a vinegar, nae sauce'
I could just ask him if he wants the usual, but a 'hink he likes the ritual o' it. He'll have a wee cuppa wae it as well, but I never ask him if he wants it, or charge him fur it.
A like that he comes in. A like the familiarity o' it.
There wis a couple o' week last year that I didnae see him, and to tell ye the truth I thoat he'd croaked it - shucked his mortal coil and rode aff intae the sunset, as ma Da would say – then, there he wiz, back in his seat wan day and nae explanation given.
He's a harmless ol' guy. Never hassles us waitresses, always polite, quiet, bit no stand-offish if you know whit a mean. Jist a nice wee guy.
In a' the years he has been comin', in if ye forget him asking fur his roll, then I suppose he has only said hawf a dozen words.
Until last week that is.
He was sittin' where he usually does an' some o' the boys and lassies fae the college came in. They’re always a bit loud. The sort that want everyone to hear their conversations … as if anyone actually cares about whit they're talking aboot. A always think that they think that all their patter is original - it's the same stuff that has been getting said fer years - they just use different words tae say the same thing.
Anyway, they came in an' the lassie said that it wid be nice to sit at the windae and get the sun - the only problem wiz that two o' the tables were full and the only wan left wiz the wan that the old fella was at. There wiz four o' them though and only the three free seats. If it was me I wid have just sat elsewhere, but sometimes young folk, and even some of the old folk, think the world revolves aroon' them
This wan lad said to the old guy tae move tae another table so they could a' sit the 'gither. He didnae even ask. It was mair telling him, but in a nice tone as if that made it a'right. So, I got my wee spray gun an' cloth and went o'er and started cleaning the tables close by, so I could keep an eye oan things, and say somethin' if it wiz needed.
Just as I got there, I heard the wee man say: 'Is that a Che Guevara shirt ye have oan?'
The boy didnae know whit to say fer a second or two. A'm guessing he wiz still stuck in that 'a'll tell him tae move and we'll sit doon' frame a' mind, and it wiz takin' a while fer it to sink in that the old fella wisnae botherin much aboot his request.
Before he could say anythin' in reply I heard again: 'Ernesto Guevara oan yer top?'
The lad didnae have a clue. 'Eh aye. Whit aboot it?'
'Jist askin. You a bit of a leftie then? Wan o' them socialists? Is that whit they call communists noo?'
Then I heard wan o' the funniest things I'd heard in ages.
'A got it in that Primark shop for two quid. No bad eh?'
That's no the funny bit, the reply wiz the funny bit.
'So is that how much revolutions costs these days?'
The boy didnae know whit to say. It's like sum o' them have a script a'ready written in their heids and when it's deviated from ther' clueless.
' A asked you tae move and let us sit there'
'You didnae son. You told me to take anither seat. If ye had asked a wid already be sittin' ther, an' yer pals and you wid be enjoyng the sun'.
A've goat ma back tae them, but a'm grinnin like yon Cheshire cat. This young fella is no match for the auld yin.
'Dae ye want tae move?' he says.
'Aye … When I finish ma roll and chips.'
As long as it goes back an' forth like that I didnae have a problem. Naebody wiz bein' aggressive. Nae swearing an' the like. Just a wee boy getting telt that his tea wiz oot in a nice way. Then the boy had tae ruin in and be a bit o' an arse aboot it.
'I think you should move the noo' says he.
'You leave the thinkin' tae yer betters son.'
Classic come back, but maybe no the time 'n place fur it, as some of the young yins canny take no getting' their ane way … An sure enough, this wiz wan o' them boys.
I just heard the rippin' noise and, by the time a had turned roon, the newspaper had a'ready been snatched fae the old guys haun's and sheets o' it were floatin' tae the floor.
Before a' could get the boy telt, the ol' guy wiz oan his feet and right intae the boy's face he said:
'You shoudnae have dun that'
Christ. It looked as if the years had drapped aff him, and I wisnae the only wan tae think so. When he was stan'in up he wisnae as wee as I thought he wiz, or as frail. There's was thunder in his eyes and his haun's looked like shovels. How I coulda missed that, I'll never know.
When the boy answered him you could hear the wind wisnae in his sails onymair.
'Nae affence mate. Just a laugh man'
'Nah. It wisnae a laugh an' yer a silly wee boy whose made an arse of himself in public. Now gie me yer top'.
I didnae think I'd heard him right, bit no another noise wiz bein' made so he must huv said it. I needny have doubted it though as he said it again.
'Gie me yer top'
The boy looked aboot tae greet, and all three of his pals were closer to the door noo than he wiz, an' I hadny seen them move.
'Dae ye see me laughin' son? - Noo take it aff.'
Then the strangest thing happened.
The lad whipped aff his hoodie, pulled the t-shirt o'er his heid and slipped the hoodie back oan, in whit seemed like wan fuild motion, an' then he wiz a'ready zippin' it up as he barged by his pals an' oot the door leaving the t-shirt lying oan the flair behin' him.
A hadnae said a word and a realized that a had been haudin' ma breath as well. I think everywan hud in the place. I bent doon and picked up the Che Guevara top, and as I straightened up the old man wiz back in his seat sippin' on his tea and holdin his roll in wan haun'.
For wee bitty of a minute a thought it hadny happened, and then I seen the pages o' the newspaper oot of the corner of ma eye lying under the chairs an tables, and o' course I was still haudin' the t-shirt. I didnae really no whit to say and it must have sounded a bit daft when I did open ma mooth and let ' Dae ye want this t-shirt?' slip oot.
'Na hen. You keep it. It will look better on you raither than oan me' he said with a wee smile, and then there he wiz, … That wee ol' man again. … Just a wee ol' man eatin' his roll.
That wiz the last day a seen him.
Then, this morning, another ol' man came in an' asked me if I wiz the wummin that served wee Tam who came in every second day. I telt him I didnae know his name wiz Tam, but if it wiz the the man who sat at the windae then aye I wiz. He said that maybe I would want this, and pushed a wee bit of paper into ma haun, and walked straight oot.
It looked as if he was greetin'.
When a looked at the paper, it was a wee cutting from the obituary section in the local newspaper.
Thomas 'Wee Tam' McLean
1919 - 2002
Much loved and much missed
Husband, Father, Brother,
Spanish Civil War Veteran
"As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary."
A hero in the eyes of many
I think I've been greetin' for an hours straight since then an' I don't really know why.
I didnae really know him. Maybe it's because, for a couple of seconds, I seen the man he used to be.
A think am gonna miss him.
A think the world is a'ready missin' folk like him.
(Thanks to StuWho for the invaluable advice and the editing job that has made my scribbling more palatable to the eye)