Tell A Tale in 500 Words
How They Will Rage at the Rich in Their Mansions By Tom Payne
Loftus worked in an investment bank by the river. It was a good job. But each evening on his way home he had to walk past a beggar crouching by the station entrance pleading for change.
It enraged him to have to walk past the beggar - he made you feel ashamed of your own good fortune, always expecting something for nothing. When his day had been particularly vicious, particularly unpredictable, Loftus would vent his frustration on the beggar, screaming as he went past: “Get a job!”
Life was hard, but you made your own luck. Squatting in a train station entrance got you nowhere. There were no end of jobs to be had. The beggar ignored him.
One night Loftus came home smashed, maddened by the lumpen impertinence of the beggar sat there bowed over his cupful of change. He ripped a wad of banknotes out of his wallet and held them up for the beggar to admire. Then he took a lighter out of his pocket and lit them on fire. He said something funny and flung the burning flakes at the beggar.
Before he had time to react the beggar had already jumped to his feet and knocked Loftus to the floor with six or seven punches to the face and throat. He smelt of sweat and teeth and rain. The beggar vanished. Loftus sat up, waved away pedestrians and stumbled home again clutching his windpipe.
The next evening he went to a dinner-party. They sat round a table, talking about politics. Then they got up and started drinking, milling around. The room was full of heiresseses, MPs, tycoons. Friends of his parents, distant relatives.
“No wonder the economy’s flatlining!” he screeched to a fat woman who wasn’t listening. She was looking round the room at the wallpaper, the carpet, the furniture, finding it all too tasteless for words, deciding what she’d get rid of if the place was hers (everything). “People think scrounging from the workforce is an acceptable way to behave!”
“It’s upsetting,” she agreed. She looked around for someone else to talk to.
“They’re all capable of WORKING! We should FORCE them to work! We should bring back the workhouses! We’ll make them SWEAT!”
He wondered vaguely if he’d made a faux pas. He groped at his throat. There was a commotion from a group by the window. Loftus was tall; he looked over their clustered heads, through their frightened reflections, down into the street below.
Bentleys were burning. A mob was evolving from streetlight to streetlight. Youths in masks holding bricks and bottles. Their bodies twisted like whips as they hurled their missiles into the night.
Loftus retreated, looking for something to barricade the door, envisaging a violent mob brawling up the stairs, shattering the lights, overwhelming the rooms below, on every revolutionary face the frenzy of the beggar from the night before - hearing already, as he dragged a chair towards the door, the sound of footsteps raging up the stairs.
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