Part of the Furniture
By Chris Picone, 2017
“Yeah, I know what you mean. The last time I went to the gynaecologist, she told me the same thing,” the ticket seller said, chatting to the young woman sitting beside her at the counter.
My attention drifted back to the conversation. I might have been shocked if I hadn’t witnessed dozens of similarly graphic conversations before. I was only a couple of metres away from the girls; practically standing next to them. They didn’t know me from a bar of soap but I knew their names, their children’s ages, the younger woman’s morning fitness schedule, and now the details of their last visits to the gynaecologist. The conversation was casual. Clearly, they were close friends to be so open with each other, and apparently neither of them minded me being there. I was just a guard: Part of the furniture.
Here came another part of the furniture now, elegantly wiping his hands on his pants as he crossed the corridor from the beer garden.
“Thanks mate,” the other guard said as he came close.
Barry, that was his name. The turn-over in this industry was startling but Barry had been working here for a couple of months now so I guessed I should probably make the effort to remember it. Without looking up or even pausing their conversation, the girls pushed their chairs to one side to give us room as Barry and I swapped places.
“Don’t work too hard,” Barry called out as I was about to push my way through the massive entrance doors into the main room.
The comment was so fatuous I only gave a lazy nod in reply, just enough to acknowledge that I had heard him. As I pushed the door open, I sensed movement in my peripheral vision and instinctively pushed the door wider, holding it open. Two figures stepped quickly through the gap. I didn’t recognise them but they were wearing neat black polos so they were probably glassies. I closed the door behind them. Inside, bar staff scurried about the room like little worker ants, trying to prepare the venue for the concert before the doors opened. One of them, a small lad that looked like he should still be in school, was struggling to move one of the larger tables on his own. I didn’t have much to do until the doors opened so I decided to help him before he put his back out.
A short time later, the doors opened and patrons started filling the room. It wasn’t a flood of people; instead, they seemed to dribble in a handful at a time as the guard at the door checked their ID. I moved over to the door to greet them on the way in. In came a handful of islander boys, each as wide as the entrance doors. Not for the first time, I was glad they were normally a friendly bunch. A torrent of teenagers in band shirts followed. Some of their try-hard faces were filled with so much metal they couldn’t even talk properly. A couple of skin-heads then, small but wiry. A pair of pistols were tattooed in beautiful detail on their necks. I hoped I didn’t have to see them again later in the night. More teenagers. Nod and smile, nod and smile.
An hour later, the concert was starting. The concert had sold out so more than a thousand people must have walked past me in that time. I took my usual vantage point on the stairs, wondering how many of them would even be able to remember the colour of my uniform.
“So apparently there’s this new thing the kids do in the mosh pit,” a voice from behind informed me, “where they shadow-box instead of moshing. It’ll look like they’re fighting but they’re not. You’ll just have to keep watch in case one of them accidentally connects a punch or something.”
“No worries,” I said by way of acknowledgement, recognising the voice as belonging to the head guard. I hadn’t noticed his approach. Apparently, we were even invisible to each other.
The concert was in full swing: The band was shouting angry lyrics at the crowd, who shouted them back with raised fists and angry faces. Such a happy bunch. I wondered if the shadow-boxers realised how ridiculous they looked. Frankly, I was more concerned with two men standing near the back of the crowd talking. One was a young Caucasian lad that looked like he’d just come in after a game of football and changed his shirt. The other was a middle-aged man with dark skin, dressed in dark slacks and a button-up shirt. They had their arms around each other, their heads pressed close together as they were having what appeared to be a serious conversation. There was something off about the interaction: the age gap, the difference in race, the difference in dress, the serious conversation in the middle of a concert. None of those details would have mattered on their own, but the combination sent alarm bells ringing inside my head. I decided I had better keep an eye on them. A few minutes later they were looking at each other and laughing. I relaxed a little, but kept watching.
Suddenly the mood between the two men got really dark. They had turned to face each other. Their heads were still close together but now they were clearly angry. I waved to the guard on the adjacent stairs, grabbing his attention before heading toward the pair. Just as I pushed my way through the crowd to them, one of them threw a punch – I didn’t see who. I stepped between them without thinking, using my bulk to separate them and my arms to create distance. I must have gotten there just in time; both of the guys now had three of their mates behind them, ready to back them up. The other guard arrived just then. We grabbed one of the pair each, started pushing them toward the front door.
I led the Caucasian man outside. There was movement by my shoulder and I realised his three mates had followed him out. They rallied around him.
“He’s got my money!” I heard the dark man bellow from around the corner.
“He sold me dodgy drugs!” the Caucasian man explained reasonably.
The dark fellow’s mates must have followed him out too. They pushed their way around the corner. Just as I turned my head to look, there was a blur and I realised the Caucasian man was trying to get past me to attack the other man. I reacted. Without knowing how I got there, I found myself lying on the ground with the would-be attacker pinned beneath me.
“Stay back.” I commanded his three mates, who had been about to charge in but were now hanging back.
There was another blur of motion from behind; the other guard hadn’t been able to keep all four of the dark men back and as I was focused on trying to keep the Caucasian men back, one of them rushed past and kicked the prone instigator in the face.
He went to do it again. I threw my shoulder into his kick, wrapping my hand around his leg and dropping him. Great. Now I had the Caucasian man pinned underneath me and I had just floored one of the dark men. I braced myself for what must be coming next: There was no way I could stop eight of them.
The following morning, I dragged myself out of bed and took a moment to appraise my still-intact body. I had been so caught up in the action I hadn’t even noticed the cops arrive, but they weren’t what saved me. Against all odds, even after I had gotten physical with two of them, the would-be drug dealers were apparently only interested in fighting each other. Apparently, none of their aggression or anger was directed at me or the other guard: We were just doing our jobs. My stomach growled angrily, bringing me back to the here and now.
I slipped on some thongs and set off down the road to the nearby servo to grab a champion’s pie-and-coke breakfast. As I opened the door, I was immediately filled with a rush of adrenaline as I saw the young Caucasian man I had tackled to the ground only a handful of hours ago, still dressed in his footy gear, coming toward me. I made eye contact with him as he came closer, trying to gauge whether or not he was likely to get violent with me now, without his mates to back him up. He looked back at me vacantly, gave me a polite nod as he passed through the doorway, then wandered off down the road absent-mindedly shovelling hot potato wedges down his throat. I remained in the doorway, with clenched fists and my heart in my throat, ready to throw down, and the bugger didn’t even recognise me.
Just part of the furniture.