The Consumer

by sketem

It all begins with living your dreams. Not the actual dreams but the alternative, achievable dreams that you drift into as you spend your way to an identity you think a comfortable compromise – given the circumstances. Then, one day, the doorbell pulls you out of bed before your alarm clock does. You open the door, and a uniform-clad pair of strangers ask for your partner. Why not you? You ask what it’s regarding. They say it’s a private matter. You wake your partner who’s still ruffled after the first night of partying in long, long, long months. When you return to the door, one stranger is already both-feet inside the flat.

–Out! Out of the flat!
–I’ve got a warrant.
–Out of the flat!

They relent, eventually, stepping back into the morning chill. It turns out your partner has not paid a penalty for driving in the wrong direction. Allegedly. The reality of it hits you like a wet rag across the face. The wrong direction? An unpaid fine? Wait, what? When? Half a year ago? Why haven’t you been in touch?

–There’s a clamp on your car. Unless you pay up, it’ll be towed away.
–Wait a minute, you can’t just barge in and demand money.
–Look, be reasonable.
–Reasonable? Why has nobody notified us before?
–The council has sent you a letter; the debt-collector has sent you a letter; the court has sent you a letter.

You make the point of sifting through the unopened post addressed to previous tenants you’ve been diligently keeping safe for two years to find a voting register reminder addressed to nobody specific.

–Three letters? There has been no letter.
–Have you got your log book?
–Did it not strike you as strange that you wouldn’t receive it?

It’s your partner’s first car. You know she was autistically fussy about every detail. Could this have escaped her?

The pair dismiss whatever you say. Your remonstrations evince eye rolling and verbal nudges hinting at your being unreasonable. Are you? They remind you the interaction is being recorded. They don’t answer your questions, pointing you to Google. You’ve heard about that thing, but you insist on being unreasonable and persistently asking where to appeal. It’s all on the record – your being unreasonable, their being in right, your sleepy, harassed face, the inside of your flat. You relent and give them the precious credit card you’ve been refraining from touching for months. It doesn’t even hurt, does it? The receipt you are issued with has the neighbour’s address on it.

–I’m not signing this. This is the wrong address.
–It’s the address the car is registered at.
–It’s the neighbour’s address.

He scrawls something on the receipt and shoves it into your partner’s hand before scampering away, into the unbranded car like the cowardly scamster he is. REFUSED TO SIGN. They’ve known… The council correspondence can’t reach you; the debt-collector’s correspondence can’t reach you; the court correspondence can’t reach you – but the bailiff sniffs out your door like a hyena a slab of putrefying flesh. You wish all the preemptive measures were as efficient.

–How did you find the address, then?
–The car stands in front of your door.

The door that says ##. The door that decidedly does not say ##. The door that belongs to an anonymous tenant. The door whose number was not on any of the letters. The door whose number is not on any warrant. The door upon a threshold this pair of scamsters never had the right to cross.

Later, your partner knocks on the neighbour’s door. She is told that the bailiff was there too, recorded on the premises without even a tacit permission but that no mail in your partner’s name had ever been delivered at the address. Curiouser and curiouser; but do you believe them? You believe nobody. You trust nobody. Untrustworthiness is a universal quality, intrinsic, innate.

The authorities confirm the address is wrong and duly amend it, but they can’t make amends. What’s done is done. Whose fault it is is irrelevant in a world where the thing that actually matters is responsibility, and that invariably rests with you. So, plans fly out of the flimsy windows. What’s on your mind is the setback. You’ve been paying off your stupidity and lack of judgement for months. You’ve been unchoosing unnecessary choices and curbing irrational drives. What’s on your mind is the temerity. The bailiff’s underhand behaviour and lies are all on the record. They didn’t give a toss about anything – criminals and dregs of society like you do not deserve half a casual toss to be given about them. Thoughts and expletives fly in exasperation. Did she drive in the wrong direction? She did, the CCTV says – at two o’clock in the morning, in a deserted side road somewhere in —— where the GPS led you, where Google told you you’d find a 24-hour pharmacy that would fix your pathetic slashed finger instead of a busy doctor in the A&E. So much for an immigrant’s effort invested into an attempt not to waste the NHS’s precious budget…