15 Feb

The January sales were over and the February sales just starting when I bumped into Philomena.
I’d heard all about her, of course. She’d been spread across the tabloids like butter gets spread across toast and her face had dominated news programmes on the television like Homer dominates the Simpsons. In other words, for a few wretched days she was everywhere until, like any sort of fame, she ended up nowhere. There’s nobody more useless than yesterday’s face, and that’s what she had become.
“Why, hi there, Philomena!” I greeted her. “Long time no see, eh?”
She didn’t recognise me, I could see that straight away. But then, why should she? I’ve never been newsworthy unless you count a day or two in my late teens when I tripped and fell in the shopping mall and got plastered on the local press with my nose bleeding and the headline “Tomorrow’s Hoodlum Today”. But I wasn’t ever going to be any day’s hoodlum and the news headline went away and was replaced next time some other poor fool tripped and fell. So I had no particular claim to fame, and anyway that trip had been twenty years or more ago. Shows you how time flies, eh?
“Do I know you?” she asked, querulously.
“I saw you. On the news,” I told her, smiling.
“Oh that crud!” she spat at me. “I was everyone’s favourite spittoon for a couple of days and that’s no mistake.”
“I thought you were marvellous!” I told her. “You were fighting everyman’s battles! In the face of a corrupt Government and it’s lap-dog financiers you blazed a mighty light!”
She grabbed hold of me by a shoulder and shook it. “Now you be careful!” she hissed, “there are eyes and ears everywhere, you know, and not every spy-operator is asleep at his console!”
I knew she was right, but didn’t care. Like most people I was fed up with the total surveillance that was keeping us safe and secure from terrorism. I’d long suspected there could be no possible reason to have sound and vision detectors in my toilet, with a little red light that flickered as a took a shit.
“But you were so brave, saying what you said,” I told her. “I wish I’d have been half as brave and supported you.”
“It didn’t feel brave at the time,” she grunted. “After all, I couldn’t afford to lose the money.”
I hadn’t heard about any money being involved. After all, what had a possible nuclear attack by a Christian Fundamentalist got to do with money? The weaponry needed paying for, I supposed, but the stuff cost almost nothing on the interweb. And there were instructions everywhere, even on the Government sites. Why, I’ll bet I could have made a small thermonuclear device if I’d had the inclination, which I hadn’t.
“I dropped my purse,” she reminded me. Or thought she was reminding me, but that bit hadn’t hit the news either.
I must have looked blank.
“On the ground, on the street,” she added. “My mistake was bending down to pick it up, but I needed my money more than the toe-rag who was watching me did!”
“Toe-rag?” I asked, confused. There had been no toe-rag on any of the newscasts, and the papers hadn’t mentioned one either.
“It wasn’t reported,” she sighed. “All the newshounds were bothered with was what I might have been bending down to do on a busy street with kids around. I mean, look at me! I’m sixty-seven and there’s no way a glimpse of my frillies is going to turn anyone on. But that’s not how they saw it.”
“The papers said you were a terrorist,” I mumbled, thinking I must be talking to the wrong Philomena, though it’s not a common name and her badge was spelt quite correctly, and anyway I knew that haggard face.
“I was picking up my purse,” she insisted, “and the tow-rag was an undercover cop with a hidden badge. He hauled me in front of the nearest beak, and the papers then the telly got wind of it. I never picked that purse of mine up, I never had a chance the way they man-handled me, which is why I’m broke now. It had all my credits in it, every bloody one! And spookily enough the cop resigned soon after because, he said, he’d inherited a goodly number of credits from a dead aunt. The bastard!”
“He was a crook?” I asked, confused.
“They’re all crooks,” she declared. “Anyway, they made out I was about to blow the town to Kingdom Come. I must have spent a fortune on bomb materials, they said, because if I hadn’t where had all my cash gone? It was in my purse, I said, the one the copper pinched… No, they said, you were distracting him by flashing your frillies, bending down all pornographic as you were, but he was one better than you and collared you…”
I tried to look sympathetic, but the story was becoming preposterous.
“I told ’em they were mistaken,” she continued, “I told ’em straight, I did, that the copper pinched my purse. That’s where my credits were: in my purse! And they said why weren’t they in the bank where all decent folks keep their cash and when I said I didn’t trust banks, that they were always in trouble with giant losses and what’s more, they paid their workers too much, bonus after bonus … it was then they decided I must be a terrorist and that was that. I was everywhere, news, dozens of news channels, all showing me bending and flashing my frillies … I didn’t know so many pictures were taken of us going about our solemn duties, bending down and stuff…”
“It takes a bit of believing…” I told her. “I mean, all the news said was you were a leader of the Christian Fundamentalists and tasked by the Pope to blow up the town centre as a protest against something or other, they weren’t sure what… It’s why people hissed at you, and spat and stuff! But I was on your side because that same day I’d been robbed. My money was all pinched, even though it was in the bank. They were very sympathetic and refunded a small percentage because, they said, it was partly their fault, but I hated them for it… I wanted them sorting out, I did!”
She sighed. “You shouldn’t have said that,” she whispered, “because there are ears everywhere and some swine’ll be playing what you told me back and most likely saying you’re a risk to decent society, hating banks like you do…
“They’ll say as banks are the rock on which everything is built and those who hate them must hate all of society, and ought to be culled.
“And chances are, they’ll cull you. Soon. Very soon.”
© Peter Rogerson 15.02.16


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