I reckon I’d been doing the job for a month or so before Jim invited Kate and I over for some food. Just some grub and a couple of jars, he’d said. Nothing fancy. Bring your lass over she can meet Nicol. We lay the boy down ‘bout six, so come over after and we’ll have ourselves a good time. Our Nicol, she makes some lovely puddings. We’d love to have you.
He was like that, old Jim, thought he had to take care of me, show me how it works up here. He’d made a show of taking me down the Cat after my first day, bought me a pint of ale and scratchings and got the landlord to tell me that story. Then he’d jabbered on about that boy of his. George his name was, eighteen months, smile like the sun. He’s the reason I get outta bed in the morning, he kept on saying. I’d stumbled home to Kate drunk as a skunk and smelling of kebab. He was alright, old Jim.
Do you reckon we should take anything round? I’d said to Kate. Dunno she’d said. Bottle of wine, box of chocolates? She wasn’t bothered about going out, she didn’t care. She’d flashed me a look. Why do we need anyone else, she was saying with that look. We’ve got each other, we’ve got this flat in Shalesmoor, we’ve got the car. Why do we need anyone else?
Come here pug-face, I’d said to her. Come give me a cuddle.
But she’d agreed to go, and there we were, Saturday night at seven, driving down Chesterfield Road in the drizzle. You’re buying him Pale Rider? she’d said when we stopped at Swiggies. He’s turning you turning into a Northerner.
Shut it pug-face, I’d said.
Jim was stood outside his house, beaming away. Hello, hello, hello, come in, come in, come in he was saying as we climbed out of the car. He shook my hand before leaning over and planting a kiss on Kate’s cheek. Great to meet you finally, he was saying as he ushered her down the drive. Birmingham Dave’s told us all about you. That’s what the work lads call him-Birmingham Dave. It’s because he’s called Dave and he’s from Birmingham.
Kate cut me a look whilst Jim laughed at himself. I’ll shut up, he said. Come on, come inside.
Nicol love, he shouted, stop cookin’ love, they’re here now.
Kate was doing that thing she did when she’d start trying to tuck some non-existent hairs behind her ear. She was hanging back, waiting for me to take the lead. This was stressing her out. I gave her a squeeze.
Nicol greeted us with flushed cheeks and hot hands. We were having pork chops and mash potato. She hoped that would be ok. We sat round their kitchen table while she bustled about the kitchen and Jim told the story I knew he’d tell. Kate had already heard it, but from me not him.
So, our fat bastard boss is makin’ a nuisance of himself, he said, leaning over the table towards Kate, and your lad ‘ere wanders through the front door ten minutes late. And the boss goes, ‘Ere, you, new lad, where’s tha’ bin? And Dave looks at him like he’s got a screw loose. And he goes, what do you mean?
And the boss goes, I said, where’s tha’ bin? And Dave’s still lookin’ at him like his loopy, so he points to the corner of the office and he says, It’s over their boss, under the desk, where it’s always been.
I shrugged and started to laugh at the story. It’s the accent, I say. Can’t deal with it. Kate was laughing too. She laughed properly, in that nice way she does, and she let Jim refill her glass and I sat back and thought yeah, this is going well. She’s alright, this is good.
So Nicol sets down plates of food, and we all started eating. This is lovely, Kate said, and it was. And we talked about how we were finding the city and Kate made them laugh by talking about how confusing the word breadcake was.
And then, just as we were finishing off our treacle sponge, Kate dropped her spoon and let out a scream.
What the hell’s wrong? I say.
She points at the patio doors. There’s something in your garden, and it’s looking at me, she said in a high-pitched voice.
I looked across and, sure enough, a big furry thing with pointy ears and big round eyes was stood at the patio doors, watching us eat. Jesus Christ, I said.
Jim twisted around in his seat to see what she was pointing at that.
Oh don’t be scared, he said. That’s Madras. He’s our pet llama. Sorry, should have warned you. He’ll be wanting his tea. Loves treacle sponge.
Come now, Nicol interjected. He’s not a llama. He’s more of an Alpaca.
You have a pet llama? Kate asked, a little strained.
An Alpaca, said Nicol.
Aye well, either way he lives in the garden. He’s as soft as a brush. They’re great with kids so we got him when Nicol had George.
Kate’s mouth was wide open. She wan’t a fan of big hairy things.
You’re joking, I said to Jim.
No no I’m serious, Jim said. George loves him, rides around on him all over. You should hear him giggle when he’s riding around on on Madras.
I didn’t know what to say, neither did Kate, so we sat there and didn’t say anything.
I’ll tell y’what Birm…Dave, Jim said, breaking the silence. Let’s head to the Sheaf and we’ll hitch up Madras and take George down too. No no, I won’t hear another word about it. Nicol, wake the baby, I’m going to fetch him in.
Nicol stood up and hurried upstairs whilst Jim marched over to the patio doors. The llama, seemingly aware of the impending trip, started to do a little jig of excitement.
But what do you we do with…Madras when we get to the pub? Kate asked.
Are you kidding? Jim said with his barrel laugh. He’s the life and soul. He comes to the bar with us and everything, absolutely loves Pale Rider.
Before we knew it, Jim had led the llama into the kitchen, his hooves clip-clopping on the wooden floor. Come and say hello, Jim said to Kate. Kate, her eyes firmly on me, reached out and slowly started to pet the llama. There there, she said, stroking its neck. Haven’t you got lovely fur? she said.
Jim let out another of his rolling laughs and swallowed down the rest of his pint. Hey, tell you what, if you’re really lucky, after the pub, I’ll show you why we call him Madras.
The llama started to nuzzle against Kate. I must warn you though, he said solemnly, he can get a little frisky after one too many.
Kate stopped stroking Madras and started to hide behind me. We are out of our comfort zone, I thought.
Jim starts to bellow up the stairs. Nicol, we’re saddled up, what’re you playin’ at?
We’re comin’, she called back, and we listened, the four of us, as she descended the stairs, talking to her gurgling baby in a singsong voice.
Who wants to ride a llama? Nicol sang. George wants to ride a llama. Yes he does. Yes. He. Does.