Community Service

The apple hit Jack’s head with such force that he fell backwards on the grass verge, dropping his litter-picker and plastic sack. Jeers came from the car’s open windows as it sped away. Jack threw his gloves down and wiped juice from his face with the sleeve of his shirt. He was picking bits of apple from his hair when Frank caught up with him.

‘What happened to you?’ Frank was peering at him through his dirty spectacles. Like Jack, he was wearing a high-visibility vest and held a litter-picker in one hand and a bulging sack in the other.

‘As if this wasn’t a shit enough job already, some monkey thought it would be amusing to throw an apple at me. Hit me right on the head…’ Jack felt his head gingerly with his fingers and winced.

A smile flickered around Frank’s mouth. ‘Did you get a flash of inspiration? Like when that apple fell on Galileo’s head and he came up with the theory of relativity?’

Jack stopped rubbing his head and stared incredulously at Frank. So this was what community service entailed, he thought. Not just the physical punishment of a backbreaking job, but also the mental torture of having uneducated half-wits spout nonsense at you. ‘I think you mean Newton, not Galileo. And it was gravity, not relativity. So now we’ve established that you don’t know what you’re talking about, give me a break and shut up.’ Frank grinned and returned to his work.

Back at the depot, Jack had hoped to eat his lunch alone but his supervisor sought him out. ‘How’s your first day going Jack? Getting on alright with Frank?’

‘The guy’s a moron. Making me work with him should be classed as cruel and unusual punishment.’

His supervisor laughed and glanced across the yard at Frank, who was reading a newspaper. ‘Odd sense of humour maybe, but he’s hardly a moron. College boy, like you. He was studying physics before he got into dealing drugs.’ He smiled encouragingly. ‘Try and get along – the time will pass more quickly.’

Jack looked across at Frank, reappraising him. He realised that in his anger at the incident he had temporarily mislaid his own sense of humour. He walked over and stood with his shadow falling across Frank’s newspaper. Frank looked up, quizzical.

‘That Galileo guy – wasn’t he the one who had a brilliant idea when he saw a chandelier swinging in Pisa cathedral?’ Jack paused a beat. ‘Then he ran out shouting “Eureka”, right?’

Frank smiled, folded his newspaper and stood up. ‘Now we’ve established that you don’t know what you’re talking about, let me try to enlighten you. It will pass the time while we serve this ungrateful community.’ He patted Jack’s shoulder and they moved off to the waiting van. ‘It was actually Archimedes who shouted “Eureka” when he got the idea for the steam engine…”

(First published on the June 2014)


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