The Eunuch – DP Writing Challenge

This is a piece for the Daily Press Weekly Writing Challenge: Three Ways to Go Gonzo. There’s loads of swearing, so if you don’t like that sort of thing – sorry… 

The Eunuch

I pulled into the BP forecourt, frustrated that the only free petrol pump had an old man dithering in front of it. He was holding a red petrol container and kept picking up the pump, looking around him, looking at the container, then putting the pump back into its cradle. I parked next to him hoping that he would move along, but he didn’t.

I got out of my Yaris, leaving one foot on the door frame, and found myself asking him: ‘You alright there?’

‘Yes. I’m waiting for them to come out.’ He gestured towards the petrol station shop. ‘I’ve forgotten me glasses.’

‘I’ll do it.’ And I did, but the truth was I’d forgotten my glasses too. When I first squeezed the nozzle into the container, I not only splashed my hand, but also his shoes. We both swore, then laughed.

I waited for him to pay, folding my arms as I leant against my car in the sunshine, the traffic buzzing past behind me on the main road into town. I felt proud of myself; I’d done a good turn, been a samaritan. He waved his last thanks as he walked past and I filled my car to the brim. By the time I replaced the nozzle into its cradle, my mind was on the short story I needed to revise and whether I should go home to do the work or to the library. I walked towards the shop in autopilot.

That’s when I met him. He appeared in front of me like a six foot, blue-eyed, elderly genie. He was thin in that robust, lanky way of tall men and whilst his eyes were crowded by folds of grey skin, they had a vibrancy to their colour that smacked of good-humour and strength.

‘That was a nice thing you did. I saw you. I was watching.’

‘Oh, not really. Anyone would …’

‘Not me. Fucking ‘ell. Not me.’ He grimaced. ‘‘Scuse my french. Shouldn’t swear in front of a lady.’

‘Don’t worry. I swear all the …’

‘You see, I’m from Essex. We don’t go in for all that polite, politically correct shit there,’ he said.

‘I thought I…’

‘Been here a long time now though. Here in Wellington.’

‘Oh really? How lo….’

He bulldozed his way through our conversation, and I listened, watching those pale blue eyes. He said: ‘Now, I’m a bastard. Even my mother says so. So, no, I wouldn’t’ve helped that geezer. Not like you just did. I would’ve told him to piss off. Like I done the doctor. This fucking doctor, he said to me, he says: ‘John, I can give you two years; five at the most.’ I said to him: ‘Fuck off!’ I says: ‘Who are you to give me a death sentence? Only God can decide all that. Fuck off!’ I said.  And he said: ‘Oh sorry – I thought you could take it.’ Who could take that? I ask you. Who? I stormed out. That’s what I did. That was seven years ago. It ain’t bloody getting me yet. I’ll fucking die fighting.

‘I went traveling. I’ve got systems you see. Money’s easy. You tell your kids, they’ve got to get systems. I’ve got land and trusts – lots of trusts. Plenty of charitable donations. And I’ve got about thirteen million dollars worth of property all over Wellington. That’s not been difficult. I’ve had a good life. Money’s been good to me. It’s all about systems.

‘So, as I was saying, I went travelling: Barcelona, Paris, Macchu fucking Picchu. Been all over the world I have, since I got cancer. People talk about bucket lists, don’t they? Bucket list? You gotta seize life. Bucket list? You just get out there, whether you got cancer or not. You just get out there.’

As I listened to this man, I pictured him at the end, gaunt and white. I couldn’t help it. I became aware of the sharp smell of petrol, the revving of car engines and the clunking of petrol pumps. I felt the hardness of concrete under my feet and how my bones stood firm on it. Healthy. Cancer-free.

‘Some days I don’t feel like it, course. Some days I just want to sit in me armchair and watch cricket, and if that’s what you want to do, fine you do it. Is that what you want to do? I’m asking you. Is that what you want to do with your life? Sit in a fucking armchair? You wait till you’ve got cancer; then there are days when that’s all you fucking can do.

‘I became a New Zealand citizen 37 years ago. 37 years!’

‘Gosh! That’s a lon…’

‘Why not I says. Started out here when it was cheap. Built a life here, nice home, be-ooo-tiful view. It were safe place for the Mrs, for the kids. No need to lock the door or worry about the kids in the garden. Gardens gradually got bigger and bigger. Now look: I’m a dying millionaire. Wanna get wed? Haha. Only joking. What would your ‘usband say?’

‘I’m single,’ I managed to squeeze in.

‘You ain’t got no ‘usband? An attractive lady like you?’

I shrugged.

‘My Mum never ‘ad no ‘usband, but she kept me as a baby. Suffered for it, fought for it, toughened us both up it did. But she’d’ve been better off with a ‘usband. And you would. But I looked after my mum; I said, I looked after my mum.

‘Mum, Ha! My mum: she’s all fur coat and no knickers. Proper Essex girl, she is. Well, I make sure she’s alright. I bought her a house forty years ago. Paid the rates, the lot. Anyway, she says to me, she says: ‘John, I’m leaving half this house to Rita’s kids and a quarter to Rita. You get a quarter.’ I says: ‘Mum,’ I says. ‘Fuck off!’ I said: ‘I’m your son. You know me.’ “What?’ She said: ‘You still a bastard?’ ‘I am about money,’ I said. She said: ‘Well, I’ve promised them now.’ ‘Well, Mum, you can tell them I’m dying and I’ll leave the bugger to them once I’m bloody dead.’’

I noticed his hands.  One kept trying to rest in his trouser pocket, but he needed it to gesticulate, to punctuate with it. His other hand had a distinct tremor, a perpetual point and a blue hue to it’s translucent skin. His veins were prominent. His hands looked painful.

‘Anyway. I’ve got the house now. It’s in Chelmsford. I went back for the funeral. I went back for that. I’ve also got about thirteen million dollars worth of property all over Wellington. Or did I mention that already?

‘So, anyway, what I did was see a specialist in Palmerston North. Cost me $1,500. What he did was take my wedding tackle. What I mean is, he castrated me. I can’t get testicular cancer now because I ain’t got no testicles, see? What I am, is a eunuch.

‘I says to my Mrs, I said: ‘Do you mind?’ ‘Mind?’ She said. ‘Mind? I’d rather have you about the place than a pair of saggy old man’s balls.’ She said: ‘John, your bloody tackle’s pestered me enough over the years. We’re seventy. It’s about time you gave me a bloody rest.’ She came with me travelling. I’m a bastard, but I wouldn’t go without my Mrs: Venice, New York, Niagara fucking Falls.

‘Now, there was this little China-man in a side-street apothecary in Hong Kong. He says to me: ‘A teaspoon of baking soda. Three teaspoons of molasses. Stir a little in your tea in the morning. Brush your teeth. Then have another cup of tea with it. Do that everyday.’ I’ve been doing that everyday ever since. Every day I does that. Tastes fucking ‘orrible.

‘Anyway, I gotta go. Things to do. Things to do. It was nice talking to you. But you listen to me.’ He points with his blue hand. ‘You get yourself an ‘usband. You get yourself some systems. You get yourself a plane ticket. You do that before you get cancer. And don’t be afraid of being a bastard either. You be a bastard. Nothing wrong with that.’

The Eunuch disappeared as suddenly as he’d made his entrance: he got into a very ordinary looking car, some old Ford from the late Nineties, and drove away. I watched him enter the traffic on the busy road before walking into the shop to pay for my petrol. As I walked, I thought about who I had to hold my hand if I should die. I realised it wasn’t dying that I was afraid of. I decided to revise my story in a cafe, treat myself.

56 thoughts on “The Eunuch – DP Writing Challenge

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  5. I love this. My favorite type of reading is the kind that I call ‘unaware’ – when the description is so vivid and the content is so gripping that you forget about words, computer screens, book pages, and realize either when a sound startles you or you get to the end how deeply you have fallen into a story. And here, I was completely hooked!

  6. This is the kind of encounters I love to have and love to read about. Older folks who just walk up and share pieces of their life story with you. They have a gift for getting a point across whether they mean to or not, and it is so wonderful to be on the receiving side of such wisdom whe you least expect it. Thank you for a truly enjoyable read!

    • One of the great things about getting older is that people open up more too. I always listen when they do – this man really needed to tell his story. It was a strange but wonderful experience meeting him. Thank you for your comment.

  7. You put some great words to this story. I could see it unfolding and I saw what the old bastard looked like. I am just beginning as a writer and I appreciate the skill with which you tell a story. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. I enjoyed reading this. I drifted to that meeting of you and the guy. I may have eavesdropped you because the whole swearing thing will get you interested to take a look at the characters involve. Congratulations for being pressed!

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  10. What a story and what an interesting character. You could have easily just brushed him off and gone about your business like most people would have, but by staying and having a conversation I bet you made his day, and now we all get to benefit from your story. Lovely.

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