The Centurion sighed and adjusted his helmet. He was sitting on the number 102 bus (to Edmonton Green, minor delays reported, please check TfL for updates on the service before you leave), and his helmet had been knocked askew as the doors folded shut behind him. He looked rather confused and out of place – like a pigeon that had flown through an open window and into a board meeting, or a respectable politician on a children’s TV show. Next to the Centurion sat an Octopus.
They had been at a fancy dress party, and one well-lubricated with drink. When the Centurion opened his mouth to speak, cardboard sword raised to get the Octopus’ attention, it was as if the words were forced to pass through a fine gauze before falling out of his mouth, garbled and delayed, into a warm heap on the floor. The other passengers of the 102 (to Edmonton Green, minor delays reported, please check TfL for updates on the service before you leave) were not impressed. Fortunately for the Centurion it was 2am, and the bus’ only other occupants were discarded copies of the Metro. Discarded copies of the Metro are very rarely impressed.
The party had ended unexpectedly early; King Kong got into a fight with Gordon Ramsey, and Betty Boop ordered everyone out. And so the Centurion and the Octopus had boarded the 102 (to Edmonton Green, please keep all personal belongings with you at all times).
They had spoken for the first time that night, but believed that they shared a deep spiritual connection. Amazing, the properties of alcohol. At the time of their ejection from the premises, the octopus couldn’t remember where she lived. “Under a rock at the bottom of the ocean?” a man dressed as Bruce Willis’ charisma helpfully suggested. The Octopus’ coat-hanger and paper-maché tenctacles quivered as she nodded in agreement.
And so they were off to the Centurion’s.
It was a dump. The sort of place an estate agent might describe as ‘deceptively spacious’, ‘deceptively mould-free’, or ‘deceptively tastefully-decorated’. The avocado enamel of the bath was chipped, but this served to distract from the Jackson Pollock of mildew that adorned the walls.
Not that the Octopus knew this, or would even have cared. She was looking forward to a bed, currently using the centurion’s children’s-toy-armour-clad shoulder as a pillow. The Centurion didn’t want to complain, but in this position one of her tentacles was thrust in his face, a purple pipe-cleaner threatening to go up his nose.
They did not know it, but they had met before. Many times. During the day the Centurion was a postman. And the Octopus was a fan of online shopping. Not just clothes, as one might expect of a woman, judging by the frequency and acuity of advertising campaigns. The Octopus was a collector. Her ‘thing’ was porcelain owls. It started as a child; a gift from a grandmother got pride of place on the mantelpiece, a trip to the charity shop yielded another. “Otherwise it’ll be lonely,” she said. The third, fourth, and fifth were rationalised by the same logic. They were lonely in the charity shop. She was the owls’ saviour, rescuing them from a life of solitude.
The psychiatrist said she’d grow out of it. She didn’t.
It was probably just as well they were going to the Centurion’s place; he might have been scared off by the serried ranks of figurines which lined every shelf, table, and windowsill. You never know quite how people are going to react to almost 3,000 porcelain owls.
But the porcelain owls were not on the Octopus’ mind. She had fallen asleep, and was dreaming about a shrew, called Harold, who was claiming that he’d discovered the secret to eternal youth. It had only one side effect, he said – it turns you into a shrew. The Centurion was also asleep. One nostril invaded by a sparkly purple pipe-cleaner, his dream was rather more sinister;’ a Ridley Scott alien story, where arts materials are the enemy. Pipe-cleaners crawl up your nose and take residence in your brain, turning you into a glitter-seeking zombie. Little did the Centurion know, but a group of art students were currently working on such a film.
When the 102 reached the bus depot at Edmonton Green, the cleaner didn’t know whether the Centurion and the Octopus should be escorted off the bus or placed in lost property.