What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?
I don’t want to sound like I think myself ‘special’ or gifted, but I’ve had such a weird old life to date, that to be honest, the norm tends to freak me out more than ‘Whoa!’ encounters.
I’ve seen and interacted with ghosts, witnessed a proper miracle, read fortunes, seen into the future, and felt so many incidents of deja vu, I swear God’s trying to fuck with me and having a right good laugh to boot.
I’ve even had a poltergeist tamper with my toiletries in my flat share bedroom (the door was locked whilst I was out so there was no way it could have been anyone else) in the form of inverting them with the tops off so that I had to let the contents splurt out onto my dressing table in order to put them back again.
But even then, I shrugged and thought ‘How annoying, must have been a man’ before cleaning up the mess and going downstair to watch TV, so nothing much phases me really.
Until this one night, when I believed that I encountered evil.
At least that’s how it felt to me.
I was working in a bar of a gentleman’s club in the West End at the time, and believe me, all kinds came in. Actors, politicians, gangsters, triads, businessmen, footballers, drug dealers, gamblers and of course, other hospitality workers, but none of them cracked my composure.
On the surface I was a hard faced, aloof, bleach blonde bitch and everyone, whatever their status, was treated the same, with anything from professional politeness and a bit of banter if I really liked them, to cold, scathing dismissal if they behaved like twats.
Underneath this veneer I was a seething mass of contradictions, tempered by an undiagnosed personality disorder, an unpredictable temper, and a dogged fear of any kind of personal intimacy. This was the ’80’s and being mentally ill was not something you ever shared with anyone. There was none of this, transparency, new millennium empathy (well on the surface any hoo) and willingness to understand. Oh no, if you were fucked up, you kept it to yourself, which is why I ended up thinking I was the only one who felt that way for years, so on went the suit of armour whenever I left my room and interacted with the normal everyday folk.
Back to the story.
So one night, in walks this guy.
A perfectly normal looking man.
Not handsome, but not ugly. About average height and weight, smartly dressed, wearing good shoes and a nice watch.
Not a loner like some of them. He was accompanied by a bunch of relatively respectable looking buddies.
Not drunk, or gobbing off and being obnoxious, like some of the hard men, or the famous, giving it ‘Do you know who I am?’.
The perfect customer really.
So as he approached the bar, I stepped up to serve him.
And that’s when I realised that something was terribly, terribly wrong. Because as his eyes fixed on mine, he smiled and I immediately felt uneasy as my gut started to churn.
‘Hello darling, how are you tonight?’
Confused at my body’s deeply visceral reaction, I managed a shaky smile.
‘I’m well thank you sir, how are you?’
The smile broadened, and the eyes twinkled with some kind of malign glee.
‘Very well indeed love! And I must say you’re looking beautiful tonight!’
Not pervy. Not an inappropriate thing to say at all. It was a bit cheesy though, and in normal circumstances, I may have come back with some sarcastic/humorous retort, or a cold, impassive stare, depending on my mood.
But hell, no. I was not going to fuck with this guy. No way. No how.
‘Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say so.’
My manager, Tony who just happened to be passing, overheard, and flicked me a puzzled glance, recognising that this was not my usual M.O.
The smile broadened even more.
Now I really had his attention, and all I could do was hope and pray that he would take it away, and I could feel a trickle of sweat run down my back.
He knew. I swear to God he knew. I immediately dipped my eyes away from his scrutiny.
What the fuck was wrong with me? Get a grip and serve the man Sista, do you want everyone to know what a crazy, paranoid headcase you really are?
And there we were, the sane man, the crazy woman exchanging pleasantries as the rest of the staff and clientele acted like nothing was amiss at all.
But it was. It was.
I cleared my throat and willed myself to look up.
‘Anyway, what can I get you?’
How can one face contain so much knowing? He knew that I knew, and also that I knew that he knew that I knew.
That sounds like some kind of old Radio 4 comic skit I know, but this was not in anyway funny at all.
And he wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily.
‘Oh I’m not sure actually’ says he cocking his head to one side, ‘what drink would you recommend for me?’
He also knew me. He could see me. I don’t know how else to say it.
He saw my fears, my pain, my self loathing, my self destructive ways. He knew how ugly I was, both inside and out. He could smell last nights tawdry one night stand on me as surely as if his nose was plunged into my crotch.
The skin on my belly crept with fear and loathing.
He licked his lips casually, enjoying the spectacle of me squirming on the gaff of his attentions.
Then, before I had chance to fashion a reply, my saviour arrived in the form of lovely, lairy, chain smoking Tone who nudged me out of the way, rolled up his sleeves, grinned at the gargoyle in front of me.
‘Time for your break Sista. Garn, get a wiggle on or you might miss your role model, Sue Ellen on Dallas!’ then winked conspiratorially at him.
‘Come on mate’ responded my tormentor, ‘is that any way to treat a lady?’
As I scurried away from the sound of their raucous guffaws, I knew Tony would be puzzled by my lack of response, but all I could think about was getting as far away as possible from that impossibly sane man.
This was of course coupled with an irresistible urge to turn around and look again, if only to verify that what i’d witnessed was real. Evil is always fascinating to even the average sane Joe, but thankfully self preservation won out that day, and I made it to the staff room, shakily made myself a strong cup of tea and prayed that he’d be gone when I had to go back.
Because that’s what I believe I saw in that man that night. Pure unadulterated evil.
The hole in my claim however is that no one else seemed to perceive it. Not Tony, not his mates, none of the other staff members. No one.
When, an hour later, I returned to the bar, he was gone. But Tony was not.
‘What the fuck was that about Sista? You alright? ‘ave you got your period?’ he jibed, flicking me on the backside with a soggy bar towel.
Relieved beyond measure, I managed a feeble ‘Yeah, have you got a spare tampon you can let me have?’ whilst he cackled and pretended to look in his pockets, assured in his old school, sexist way that I was OK, and well enough to finish my shift.
But I never forgot that encounter.
And some years later when I read Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’, I immediately recognised a version of him in the character ‘Randolph Flagg’.
I of course, could have been wrong. Could have been having an off night. It could have been the manifestation of my own inner turmoil that, for some reason I plastered all over the visage of this very ordinary young man.
But I don’t think so.
And I still evoke it to this day, some 30 years later, prodding it like a tongue nudging a rotten tooth and wonder who he was, and what his role was here on earth.
I guess I’ll never know. Hell I don’t even know what mine is, let alone his.
I just know that I never want our paths to cross again.