All Change Please

Entry by: Paul McDermott

15th December 2017
All Change Please

“ … all change please.”

With or without the ‘lift’ in the tail to suggest a question, it was the same phrase he’d heard and ignored a dozen times already on his daily hundred metre dash from subway to office. For the briefest of moments, the words resonated on the periphery of his conscious thought. How small is small, he wondered. He no longer carried coins. Internet banking, contactless payment options and a plethora of Apps rendered cash payments obsolete, and also kept his suit looking presentable by minimising tiresome ‘small change’ in trouser pockets. It also provided an easy, conscience-free excuse to ignore the growing army of rough sleepers begging for alms.

“ …all change, pl…”

Unbidden, a deeply-rooted sixth sense spiked. It had already saved Corporal #2717s life several times during his 20 years of army service, but he was blissfully unaware of the fact. The automatic litany faltered on his lips. All his survival instincts screamed at him: keep your head down, play dumb, avoid attracting unwelcome attention. This ‘passer-by’ had no intention of doing so without scribbling his own crude semi-literate signature.

Jingle. Jangle. Scrape. Thump.

Mocking fingers roll coins in a trouser pocket. The solid crunch of enormous, heavy boots which have never known the daily application of spit and polish come to a deliberate, provocative halt inches from his nose, intruding upon the one thing he still possessed, his own Personal Space.

#2717 retreated automatically to the only defence he had available, blanking his conscious mind of all thoughts and emotions. The arrogance of the Person towering over him was almost palpable, radiating hate and spite in equal measure, its intensity raising the close to zero air temperature by a degree or two.


A raised boot, brought down swift and hard. So cold, his fingers don’t feel the pain – yet. A jackass bray of laughter as the boot is removed, revealing a pattern of mud and tyre tracks on the back of his left hand. At least two of his fingers are unnaturally two-dimensional, broken.

“Gerroff yer arse an’ gerra job, like the rest of us!”

The other boot disappears from view. A microsecond later the ribs protecting his right lung implode in a red mist of pain. The delayed response from the tardy nerves in his damaged hand pales into insignificance.

“C’mon, fella! Let’s see what yer got!”

A rough hand drags at his shoulder, forcing him to his feet. Through eyes half-closed in agony he is aware of his assailant’s free hand snatching for the few coins he has managed to collect in a battered takeaway coffee cup.

Zip. Splash. Flow. Another manic cackle of laughter.

“And this is where that belongs.”

Cup upended, coins and liquid disappear into a street drain.

“Yeah, change …”

Something in #2717s psyche snaps. Years of service and training combine to provide him with a powerful anæsthetic, sufficient to make it possible for him to ignore his injuries.

A well-rehearsed ju-jitsu move sends the obese form of his assailant skywards, heels describing a perfect circle above his head. A sickening crunch as body strikes pavement: a simultaneous boot applied to exposed crotch, drop to plant right knee securely across throat. Left arm raised at full stretch, ready to deliver the coup de grâce …

Pain from his broken fingers penetrates his senses, screaming at him, begging, imploring him to return to reality. He resists the temptation to retaliate. Deep inside he knows this would reduce him to the level of the Lowlife lying at his mercy, festering in the cesspool of fæces his fear has brought forth to foul the footpath.

#2717 flexes his fingers. The movement is minimal, but it costs him considerable pain. He shakes his head, cradling his injured hand in the threadbare pocket of his ripped jacket.

“Change? You mean, You and Me? No thanks, mate: I know when I’m well off …”

#2717 stands, allowing Thug to breathe freely. Turning, he strides without haste through the audience of gathered witnesses and disappears without a trace into the anonymous commuter crowd as the blues-and-twos of the emergency services draw near.