The ironist

After barely a week in the city, he already has a routine. He could be seen heading to the city-end of the street at 4 every afternoon, his shoulders hunched, buckled towards his chest in an attempt to keep warm. He turns right at the baker’s shop, swerves to miss the open stairwell down to the basement coffee shop, never lifting his hands from his pockets for even a moment. He passes an antique-clock shop on the first corner, a pharmacy on the next and enters the bar on the third. He has walked for less than 5 minutes.

The bar has a large window that faces one of the city’s busiest streets. Anyone passing who looks inside could not fail to see him, to see his face gazing back at them. Most people look away, they don’t like to be confronted by a stranger staring straight back at them, but usually they think nothing more of it because they pass so quickly. Anyone sitting inside the bar could easily see him too. Just as easily as he could see them. He sits on a short stool in the corner, leaning one arm on the low bar, his back to the wall. He can see everyone who comes through the door, although he usually has his head turned to look out the window. And he only has to shift slightly to see the other way, right along the bar to the tables in the back corner or look up to the seats in the mezzanine floor above.

Anyone who was watching him would see him take his time over a cup of black coffee. He can sometimes make it last till 4.45, then lets the cup sit empty for easily another ten minutes before ordering a fresh one. He is clearly uncomfortable about this. He finds it bad form to take up a space in a cafe or a bar and have no drink. It’s already a struggle for him to sit in a bar and not have a real drink, an alcoholic drink. But nobody knows him here, nobody will call him a miserable bastard, and he sees other people doing the same, so he guesses it’s all right.

All this time he is waiting for a phone call. It usually comes around 5.30. The caller will tell him where to be to start work at 6pm. It is his job to be in his car at that time, and to follow another man – the ‘target’ – for 12 hours, right through the night. He has to note all the places the target goes and, around 5am, call in his position, which so far has always been outside the target’s home. He assumes that someone else takes over from him at 6am. But he doesn’t like having to make such assumptions. He would like to know for sure if there is someone else following the target during the day, and he would like to know who this colleague is. And so, he waits in this bar from where he can watch the target’s office (where he has – so far – always started his shift) and, presumably, where he can see the colleague waiting in a car. If he can identify the colleague, he can find out more about him. So, when he’s not watching the target, he watches for the colleague. He doesn’t yet know what the colleague looks like, and wouldn’t be able to recognise him even if that colleague was sitting in the same bar, on the mezzanine floor, for example, which gives a perfect overview of the target’s office and the hunched man sitting in the corner seat by the window.


(Exercise: Write an observer who indirectly reveals a complex reading of the events he is describing. From 3AM Epiphany )

Book editor with, considering the links between therapy and fiction at and reviewer for @bookmunch.

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