This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 1112 words.
Rarely had a person been born with such an inappropriate surname. Benny Fortune had endured many years of so-called jokes about that, usually the old chestnut, “I would change that name if I were you!” This was always followed by an earache-inducing guffaw, as the bad comedian laughed at his own wit. It did have some uses. Lots of people thought it might be Jewish, especially Jewish people. They also thought that Benny was short for Benjamin, confirming their suspicions that he was one of the chosen people. Benny didn’t mind that at all, as that supposition had earned him a good few quid over the years.
But the Benny in his case was actually Benedict, and Fortune had been his father’s name. Not his real, original name of course, but a legal one, changed by deed-poll. He had been an actor of some standing, at least for a while, the star of a popular comedy drama that had run for six series on television. The kids at school would say things like “Is that really your Dad?”, or more usually, “What, that Mark Fortune on the telly? I hate him”. If Dad had changed his name expecting to make his fortune, it hadn’t worked. When the acting jobs dried up, he wasn’t good for much else other than womanising and drinking, and was dead before he made it to fifty. Mum had got married again long before, and as soon as they got the chance, they cleared off to Canada, taking his younger sister along.
Benny didn’t mind at all. He had never liked his boring step-dad, and his little sister Kelly drove him mad. Plus, he got to live with his Nan, and she was great. She read books to him, and made him read others on his own. She took him to the theatre, and art galleries too. She told him she was what was known as a Bohemian, and he guessed that meant that she smoked too many fags, wore clothes unsuitable for her age, had too much make-up on, and copped off with lots of blokes whenever she got the chance. But the biggest clue was that she didn’t own a television. She made a lot of that, always saying “At least I was spared the horror of watching my son humiliate himself”. She said that at least twice a week, and Benny was sure they were going to be her last words. But he was in the flat when she died, and her actual last words had been “I think I need a shit”. Not something for a headstone, so just as well she was cremated. There was never mention of a granddad, and Benny wasn’t in the least surprised about that.
With encouragement from Nan, he did exceptionally well at school. Well enough to be frequently teased and picked on by the dumber boys. His head spent so much time being flushed in the toilets, that he seriously considered taking shampoo in his school bag, to save using the water at home. It didn’t help that they had no telly of course. All the other kids talked about what was on last night, who was who in the latest must-see series, and who had scored in the football over the weekend. After a while, everybody knew not to ask his opinion, and he didn’t really make many friends. Still, being on your own meant whiling away the time with studying, and even his favourite teacher was blown away when he got five A-levels, all with top grades.
It seemed he could pick and choose from any university he fancied, but he had chosen University College, London, as he could walk there from Nan’s place in Camden Town, and they readily offered him a place to study English. Nan took him out for a meal to celebrate, the Greek place on the one-way system, plate-smashing and everything. She even got up and did the Greek dancing with a waiter, but he shied away when she grabbed his bum and wiggled her tongue at him. Benny had smiled. That bloke had a lucky escape, Nan had told him she was hot to trot that night, and well up for some nookie.
But university wasn’t what Benny had expected. For one thing, there were no Londoners at London University. Most of them seemed to come from nice posh places around the country, or from China and India. And most of them had money. Lots of it. They lived in flats paid for by their families, and didn’t need to work to get by. The biggest shock was that there was no fun. Nobody went out for a drink, and he didn’t see a hint of all that promiscuity he had been led to expect. It wasn’t until the end of the first year that he had finally cracked it with a girl, and he had to admit she had drunk so much Tequila, she was borderline unconscious when they actually did it in her bedsit. Well he had mostly done it to her, to be honest. But she had taken off her underwear earlier, so consent was ‘implied’, as they say in the Courts. He saw it as a win-win, for both of them. She wouldn’t remember going all the way with an ugly bloke, and he was no longer a virgin.
He didn’t go back for the second year, so became an official drop-out. He used to say that should be the occupation on his passport. If he ever got a passport of course. There was a sit down chat with Nan, about not going back. Her opinion mattered to him, and he wanted to do the decent thing. She saw right through him of course, that was obvious. But the bottom line was that she loved him. He offered a sweetener, by way of softening the blow. “I spoke to Cozy, Nan. You know, the guy whose stall I have been running at weekends. He said if I want to take it on, I can. He wants to go back to Morocco, and says he will take forty percent. I can send the money to him from the Post Office every month. Nan thought about it for less than ten seconds. “So, you will have your own business then?” Benny nodded. “That’s about the size of it, Nan”. She pointed at the chair in the corner. “Fetch my handbag, we’ll go and have a drink to celebrate”.
That night, Benny put his university days behind him, and became a market trader in one of the most fashionable street markets in Europe.
To be continued…