The Man in the Rain by David Christopher Johnston

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

“I’m telling you, that guy over there is up to something,” Nathan said, taking a mammoth bite of his burger. Ketchup dripped from the bun and landed on his jeans; he lifted his leg and licked it off.

“You’re gross,” Cassie said, shaking her head.

“Why? They’re my jeans; it’s not like I licked it off the floor.”

“I wouldn’t put it past you.”

“True,” Nathan replied with a drunken smile. “Wouldn’t want to waste good ketchup.” He nudged Cassie playfully and they giggled in the dark.

They sat in the tiny bus shelter, hoods up, huddled together to ward off the bitter wind. The whole structure shuddered and creaked like it could collapse at any moment. Nathan tore through his burger like a starved cayote devouring a fresh kill. Cassie ate hers slowly, taking small bites and savouring the taste, enjoying the warmth in her stomach. She watched Nathan shovelling food into his mouth and laughed.

“Are you going to chew that?” she asked.

“Nah,” Nathan mumbled, swallowing the last chunk of the burger whole.

He balled up the paper wrapper and aimed for the drain on the pavement. It bounced across the wet tarmac, slipped through the metal grate and disappeared. Punching the air in silent celebration, he took a box of fries out of the paper bag by his feet. The smell of fried potato filled the shelter.

“I’m telling you Cass, that bloke’s dodgy,” Nathan said, motioning across the road to a man in a black jacket standing outside of the post office. The peak of a cap protruded from beneath the man’s hood; raindrops fell from its edges onto his shoes. His face was shadow.

“What makes you think that?” Cassie asked. 

“For a start, he’s been stood by that cash machine for the last ten minutes,” Nathan replied, stuffing fries into his mouth.

“So? Maybe he’s waiting for someone.”

“In the pouring rain?”

“Or maybe he’s homeless,” Cassie countered for the defendant.

“No way, that’s a new jacket. He’s up to something,” Nathan fired back.

“You watch too many gangster movies.” Cassie sighed. “He’s probably just waiting for a ride home. You always think the worst of people.”

Nathan shrugged and kept eating. 

The wind whistled through the bus shelter. Rain beat on its roof with the monotonous rhythm of a marching band; it poured in a broken curtain over the shelter entrance, hitting the floor with splats and thwacks.

Two women in high heels and sodden dresses appeared from a side street and scurried towards the post office. One held a tiny umbrella above their heads, while the other used the cash machine.

“Here we go,” Nathan said, leaning forward to watch. “Let’s see what Mr. Dodgy does now.”

The man stared at the two women. The one with the umbrella noticed him and returned a hard, threatening glare until he turned away. A few moments later the women hurried away with their cash, glancing back furtively at the odd stranger. As they passed the bus shelter, the woman with the umbrella smiled at Nathan and Cassie and said, “Watch out for that weirdo over there, kids.”

When the women were out of sight, the man walked over to the cash machine, pressed a few buttons and examined the keypad.

“Told you,” Nathan said triumphantly.

“I guess that was a bit strange,” Cassie said. “Although it’s hardly proof he’s a criminal.”

“It’s all the evidence I need: guilty!” he guffawed, banging an invisible gavel on his knee.

“Shh, you idiot! What if he hears us?” Cassie hissed.

“He’s miles away… And it’s not a real gavel, anyway,” Nathan said with a smirk.

Cassie punched his arm. “He’s not miles away, he’s only across the road. Now stop raising your voice.” Nathan frowned and rubbed his arm theatrically.

They fell silent, half-expecting the man to look up and march towards them, but he remained motionless, like the rain had turned him to stone. After a few moments, he took a cigarette from his pocket and, on the third attempt, lit it. The orange glow revealed tired facial features.

“Give us a cigarette,” Cassie said to Nathan.

Nathan tutted. “Smoked all your own again, I see.”

“Just shut up and give me one.”

Nathan popped a cigarette between his lips and passed one to Cassie. She lit them with her bright pink lighter and the mingled smoke clouds formed a misty pattern above their heads.

They watched the man move towards the post office door. Crouching, he opened the letter box and peered inside.

“Now that is weird,” Cassie said. “Maybe you’re right, Nay.”

“I knew it the second I saw him,” Nathan said.

The man stood suddenly and answered his phone. With a mixture of intrigue and fear, Nathan and Cassie watched him pacing back and forth, deep in conversation. They were only fifty feet away and the street was empty; if he intended to commit a crime, they had no desire to be heroes.

“You think he’s going to rob the post office?” Nathan asked.

“Maybe,” Cassie replied. “Should we call the Police?”

“Nah, there’s no point unless he actually does something.”

A few minutes later the man finished the call. He stopped pacing and faced the ground, braced against the ferocious wind which seemed to intensify with every hour.

“Maybe he’s an assassin,” Cassie said, lifting her hands to her face with a feigned look of horror.

“Don’t get many assassins round here,” Nathan laughed. 

“Or a spy?”

“I think James Bond’s busy tonight.”

“Probably.”

As they debated the mystery man’s origins, a police car pulled up in front of the post office. To Nathan and Cassie’s surprise, the man walked towards the vehicle, pointed at the cash machine, then got in the passenger side. Flashing lights pierced the darkness and the bus shelter danced briefly in blue and red. The police car sped away, its siren slicing through the storm like an axe. Wind and rain filled the space where the man had been, erasing him from the night.

“See, I told you he was waiting for someone,” Nathan said, giving Cassie a nudge. “You always think the worst of people.”

“Piss off, you idiot,” she replied, and they burst into laughter.

Nathan threw the stub of his cigarette onto the pavement. “When’s the last bus due again?”

“You never listen to me!” Cassie tutted. “I’ve told you ten times it was an hour ago.”

Nathan smiled. “You’ve only told me eight times, actually. So why on earth are we sitting here?”

“Because you said you wanted to eat your burger without getting soaked.”

“Oh yes, now I remember. And just to check, when’s the first bus due?”

“Now you’re just winding me up,” Cassie complained, shaking her head. “For the last time, the first bus is not ‘til six.”

Nathan slapped his forehead in dismay. “That’s just typical… Want another cigarette?”

Cassie wrapped her arm around Nathan’s waist and lay her head on his shoulder. “Sure, why not.”

The storm continued its assault on their rickety refuge until the first signs of daylight appeared over the horizon. Nathan kissed Cassie’s head and hugged her close.

“Time to go, sleepy head. The storm’s over,” he whispered in her ear.

Cassie yawned, rose slowly and then walked away from the bus shelter with Nathan, skirting the many puddles that pocked the pavement.

“I’m still hungry,” Nathan said as they reached the end of the street.

Cassie laughed. “You’re always hungry.”

About The Author

David Christopher Johnston is a fiction writer from England. He writes humorous and satirical fiction — ignoring the advice of teachers who told him (all those years ago) that “joking around won’t get you anywhere in life”. From a working-class background, his stories traverse themes of mental health, class prejudice and the modern workplace. In his spare time he enjoys music, chucking to his own jokes, and hiking. If you would like to read more of David’s work, several short stories are available on the Bandit Fiction website. Additional short stories, poetry and book reviews are available at www.davidchristopherjohnston.com You can also follow him on Twitter for information about his upcoming novel and other works: @AuthorDCJ.

Bandit Fiction is an entirely not-for-profit organisation ran by passionate volunteers. We do our best to keep costs low, but we rely on the support of our readers and followers to be able to do what we do. The best way to support us is by purchasing one of our back issues. All issues are ‘pay what you want’, and all money goes directly towards paying operational costs.

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