by Craig Campbell
Saturday nights at the Dilshad were the worst. People let off steam in Hartlepool in the worst ways possible, like stray bullets looking for a spleen. From time to time I would glance through the crack in the kitchen door but their DNA was always the same. A faceful of mushroom rice and a tongue full of aggression. Lipstick, Fred Perry and violence. It was too obvious in its symbolism.
I'd been at the restaraunt for six months. I was a pot washer but I didn't see no shame in it. I'd never been overly ambitious anyway. Work was work, whether you were a solicitor or up to your neck in it. I preferred the low end jobs. They left you alone to get on with it. Only bosses cast an alligator eye to the minimum wage earner. Mr Shah was no exception. He was as cruel as his oppressors and every penny was a prisoner to him. He would stand in the red hot kitchen of the Dilshad and finger his tie like there was a diamond in it. He would also single me out, which I guess was his revenge for his drunk customers asking if he made local cats disappear or not.
His employee talks we're legendary. At the start of every shift he would come into the kitchen like an Asian Mussolini and deliver some kind of speech. This would invariably begin with 'you're all a load of shit,' which I always thought lacked positivity when it came to a performance based industry. The other employees would wither like a vine in a harsh wind under the onslaught but I would just shrug my shoulders with indifference at it. Mr Shah would notice this. He would always finish by pointing me out and saying to the rest of the group 'Menial work like hot water is a privilege.' He never attempted to hide his disdain for me as he delivered it.
I enjoyed the anonymity of working at the Dilshad. It was necessary. There had been some interference in my own life and it gave me a chance to disappear for a bit. Alcohol was my demon. The previous summer I'd ricocheted around the bars and clubs of Hartlepool ruining friendships and making enemies with equal abandon. There had been incidents. Ugly ones. Flashbacks that I'd yet to be accountable for and scars that proved that I had. It was an ongoing concern. That I was living on borrowed time. That either the bottle or a hangman was waiting in stasis for me.
Sometimes walking home from the restaraunt along the sea front at Seaton Carew 'the rattle' would still come over me. In the distance the winter waves formed sentry lines around the chemical works and heaps of iron ore. The odd flash of molten metal being poured into an industrial kiln would flash ominously in the distance. Then it would hit. It was like a muscle memory. The physical stuff I could deal with, the deep itches, the cold sweat that made me feel like I was covered from head to toe in fish skin. It was the mental stuff that was hard to shake off. The fear and loathing of alcoholism was like the worst form of ghost story where the spectres never quite dissipated but always waited on the horizon, waiting their turn.
By the time I got home, I was always affected by it. With nothing to blunt the thought process, I would go into an age old exorcism routine to get the demons out of me. Staring blankly at the television screen with swastika eyes. Some babestation girl waving a telephone like a damp flare whilst her crotch expertly traced the six circles of cathode hell with Victoria Secret lust. She was probably thinking of an electricity bill or the next time she allowed her thighs to have a bacon sandwich. The truth was in her eyes. Bored and businesslike like her high, symmetrical breasts that as manufactured as they were always got a man like me going. A quick fix and a lonely realisation: Beating a rhythm with a dead fist in the midnight hours was a desperate method to enlightenment. Buddha must have sighed in his temple at the amount of men around the world reduced to an Arthur Rank for company. The sound of one hand clapping must have deafened the poor, fat fucker.