I went to a little local café for lunch the other day. It’s a place I go to regularly for coffee but on this particular occasion, I decided to eat lunch there too and I had just finished my meal and ordered coffee when two men arrived and sat at a table near the door. Almost immediately, one of them started ranting in a loud voice – to his companion rather than at him – and every second word was f*****g with a generous smattering of ass***e and the occasional c**t thrown in for good measure. I couldn’t catch the detail of what he was so angry about but it seemed to have something to do with a motor vehicle accident and some teenage boys. Everyone in the vicinity could hear him; unless they were deaf or listening to loud music on headphones. And people were conspicuously trying not to look at him because both he, and his companion, appeared to be the kind of men one didn’t want to cross. I’ve never seen a gangster in real life but these two, both of them, looked like the kind of gangsters you find in Guy Ritchie movies. They were both heavily built, not excessively tall but rock hard, swarthy, casually dressed but with gold chains around their necks and watches that looked like the belts boxing champions win. No. However loud they were, nobody was going to mess with them.
Just then, I overheard an elderly lady ask one of the waitresses for the name of the manager on duty. The waitress told her and the lady asked if she could talk to him, please. The lady was well dressed, respectable-looking, and when she realised that I was eavesdropping, she smiled sweetly in my direction and I smiled sympathetically back, although at that moment, I had no idea what business she had with the manager. Meanwhile, the angry man was still ranting, for all to hear, and still spewing forth his litany of expletives.
When the manager came to the table where the elderly lady was sitting, I overheard her explain to him about the angry man and ask him very politely if he would mind asking him to lower his voice and moderate his language. This sent a shiver down my spine. You see, the manager was very thin and not very tall and didn’t look like he would survive one blow from the angry man, should it come to that. But the manager said reassuringly that he would take care of it and the elderly lady smiled sweetly at him as he left her table, perhaps for the last time.
I watched as the manager, on the pretext of going to the door to look outside, approached the table where the angry man and his companion were sitting. In all fairness, it has to be said that the companion, to his credit, had earlier tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to calm his friend down. But by the time the manager arrived, the angry man seemed to have passed the peak of his rage and was already conversing at levels of noise and propriety (with the odd exception) that were marginally within the upper bounds of tolerance; and most reasonable people would agree that intervention was no longer warranted. I couldn’t see if the manager heaved a sigh of relief at this; but I certainly did.
Then, shortly after the manager had abandoned surveillance, a lone customer left the cashier’s post and headed towards the door. He was an elderly gentleman, not very tall but quite well dressed and his spectacles and slightly unruly hair gave him the appearance of being a retired academic. As he walked past their table, he seemed to stare at the angry man who, thankfully, seemed much less angry now than a moment before. But as the elderly gentleman continued to stare, he caught the attention of the angry man who looked up suddenly with eyes that burned like gas rings.
‘What’chew lookin’ at, Grandad?’ the angry man challenged.
The elderly gentleman stood in silence, stroking his chin, while he contemplated the question. Then he replied in a very calm and educated voice:
‘I was rather hoping that you might have the answer to that conundrum because, quite frankly, it has me at a loss.’
‘You wot?’ gulped the angry man, taken completely by surprise.
‘I’m sorry,’ the elderly gentleman replied with a sympathy that sounded completely sincere. ‘Do you speak English?’
The angry man almost choked and his swarthy face grew even darker.
I’ll give you f*****g English you stupid old c**t.’
The elderly gentleman smiled and nodded.
‘Well then, here’s my dilemma. You see, what I observe can’t possibly be human. I have no doubt about that. And I don’t think it is Simian either because members of that family are generally more articulate and certainly more genteel than what I see before me. So I am completely at a loss as to what I am looking at, I’m afraid.’
With that, the angry man leapt from his chair and made a lunge at the elderly gentleman who nimbly stepped to the left and threw a punch straight into the solar plexus of his adversary. The angry man groaned, doubling in pain; whereupon the elderly gentleman grabbed each of his ears in one hand and pulled the angry man’s face hard down onto his right knee, which he had brought up sharply to meet it. Blood began to flow from the angry man’s nose along with a tirade of expletives from his mouth; but a swift chop to his larynx soon put a stop to this.
Meanwhile, the angry man’s companion, who’d seemed transfixed in disbelief at the events unfolding, launched himself upward, as though the spell holding him back had suddenly been broken, threw back his chair, pushed the table aside and shaped his fists for confrontation. A woman screamed and there was a hurried Exodus from neighbouring tables in response to the impending cataclysm; but it was the interpersonal dynamic here that was interesting because it was evident, even before the altercation broke out, that the angry man outranked his companion, who had probably not intervened for fear of implying that his superior could not handle the situation; but when this assumption proved false, he felt strongly obliged to render assistance, if only to ingratiate himself further. In the face of this second onslaught, the elderly gentleman simply raised a hand, with its index finger extended, and waived it in the face of the henchman saying: ‘I wouldn’t, if I were you.’ Then he pointed at the crumpled, quivering heap of the angry man, gasping for air on the floor and returned to the wagging finger gesture repeating, with measured emphasis: ‘No. I really wouldn’t.’
The henchman backed off and turned his attention instead to helping the angry man to his feet. The elderly gentleman walked off at a leisurely pace, looking for all the world as if nothing untoward had happened. The patrons of the restaurant, who had been hiding behind their menus, rose to their feet as one and gave an enthusiastic round of applause. And a figure jumped up from a hitherto unnoticed huddle in the corner of the restaurant and shouted: ‘Cut!’