My dad’s Muslim, but he eats pork. He says that since reading Animal Farm he feels the priority is to keep the pigs in check. I think of this as I put an extra rasher in the customer’s breakfast roll. Ozone, the nightclub across the street, has closed and the shop is full. Blue-lipped girls in miniskirts brush snow from blue arms and hover towards the deli. Behind them shivering boys, with too much hair gel, eye them, or the sausages, and hover towards the deli. At the check-outs a fat shaven-headed man waves what looks like a Yorkie in Chen’s face.
‘I said a Kit Kat Chunky! Not a Kit Kat, not a Yorkie! A fucking Kit Kat Chunky!’
‘I’m very sorry, Sir,’ says Chen, ‘but we no Kit Kat Chunky.’
Chen smiles, but he’s shaking. ‘You like Yorkie?’
The man slams his hand over the counter. It’s pink from the cold, and there are yellow scabs around the knuckles.
‘No, I don’t like Yorkie!’ he says, and then looks around. ‘Is this what Collins fought for? So an Irishman can come into an Irish shop and get told there’s no Kit Kat Chunkies by some fucking Chink!’
I stand behind Chen. When the man turns back, he grimaces.
‘Jaysus, another one! Where are you from? Aladdin’s cave?’
‘No, Dublin,’ I say, exaggerating my accent. I do this quite a bit.
‘Rubbish, where are you really from?’
‘Dublin, born and bred. My ma’s from Pearse Street.’
A sheepish smile spreads across his lips.
‘Alright, well that’s different. You’re Irish then, but that eejit behind you, sure it took him about ten minutes just to understand what I was saying. I mean, I can’t even get a job and that clown is working. Sorry. It just pisses me off. No hard feelings?’ He holds out his hand, and I feel a strong urge to take it. For fifteen seconds or so it stays there. When he realises we aren’t going to shake, he looks genuinely hurt, and there’s a dull ache of pity in me.
‘Suit yourself! Jackie Chan, a Yorkie and twenty Benson!”
Chen looks at me, confused. I get the smokes and the Yorkie and hand them to him.
At this the man turns and tosses a few coins over his shoulder. Some hit me and others hit Chen. They all scatter across the floor. I think of my dad and his silly saying about keeping the pigs in check, and though it’s not funny, or was funny once but so long ago that what humour it does hold for me now is a ghost humour, like the ghost light of those stars that died millions of years ago but still seem to flicker, although that’s what the joke is to me now, I laugh. Force myself to laugh, and seeing it, Chen does too. And we laugh together.