Imagine yourself as a drawing, the light scrub of a pencil tip on paper. Shaded, but easy to erase.
[That's just one of the thoughts floating through Sergei's mind as he stares at a yellow street lamp alongside the 'A' road passing the service station where he works.]
From a small building in the middle of nowhere. Sergei stares at that single point in space, just beyond the double strength security glass of the window, for a second too long and burns the image of nothingness into his retina.
"But it must be something," he thinks, rustling the foil wrapper of a Twix bar on display, fondling the lengths of chocolate-coated biscuit and blinking away the flash of light that blotted out his vision.
[What he didn't see was the trace in time of a lager bubble, falling through space 28 years ago. But that's another story]
He shook his head as someone entered the shop, saying, automatically: "Can you tell me which pump" But his sub-conscious changed the phrase as he was addressing an attractive woman to: "Can you tell me, any chance of a hump?"
"What!" came the reply in a broad Dartford accent, "Any chance of a what!"
"The pump, the pump," said Sergei, crushing the Twix bar, "can you tell me which?"
That's what comes of spending so much time on your own in a godforsaken hole like a service station off the A211. I mean, where is this place? There's no town nearby, no other shops, no people, no pubs, just...
"'scuse me," said the Dartford woman, pouting bright red lipstick, "are you listening to me? Pump 13. Oh, and a packet of Bensons. I don't want that Twix, though."
"I'm sorry, just thinking about Mother Russia, my mind goes blank sometimes," said Sergei.
"What's that about your mother?" said the woman, unwrapping the cigarettes and lighting one, "You're strange [takes in a breath of smoke] different [blows it in Sergei's direction]."
"You're not supposed to smoke in here," said Sergei.
"Where should I go then?" said the woman.
And that's how Sergei ended up in the stinky toilet behind the service station, near the Calor gas canisters, a rare closed sign on the front door of the 24-hr service station and a blonde bouncing around on top of him, rising and falling at a steady rhythm, his face and other parts smothered with red lipstick. Maybe working in such a lonely place had it's benefits after all.
"I never did pay you for that petrol," said the woman, inhaling another Benson and letting the smoke curl round her lips.
"Don't worry about it, I pick up the tab," said Sergei.
She turned to Sergei and gave him the kind of hard stare that Paddington Bear would have been proud of, "Not on your nelly, mate! What do you take me for? A prozzy or somthink?" she said.
[I must point out that it's now 3am. Sergei's on the night shift. The graveyard shift in this out of the way place, the wrong side of a major road.]
Behind the till, the telephone is ringing. It's the area manager. He's had a report that a closed sign has been seen on the front door of 'Gable Dongle' [that's the name of Sergei's service station]. Sergei pushes past the girl, singeing his trousers on the tip of her fag, and collects the receiver.
Can he explain the closed sign?
"Well, I heard something, out on the forecourt. Turned out to be a hedgehog. I followed it round the back to the Calor gas cage," said Sergei.
"I gave him some milk," said Sergei.
You what? That's coming out of your wages, my son!
Sergei replaced the receiver, shaking his head. He was saving up. Working hard. He had a plan. A vision. A chip shop in a small town. He'd done his research.
"You coming back, Sergei?" It was Donna from Dartford.
"Yes," said Sergei, "my hedgehog needs a little more milk."
Now it was Donna's turn to shake her head, "Yes, Sergei, you're strange. Different."