The Speed of Light- The Man in the Black Pyjamas

The speed of light is fairly fucking slow when you’re broke and wondering if the power’s been cut off. We usually went months without paying it, so when I came in from work in the evening the pause between the switch clicking and the bulb lighting up was long enough for me to realise I’d never have the money to get it turned back on again.

It got so bad, with the constant phone calls and my bank balance overdrawn for half the month and the threatening letters going from private to confidential to strictly confidential without ever being opened, that I left a lamp on in my bedroom window so coming over the road on the way home I’d know we’d got away with it for another night at least.


Two months later, my bank balance was -€43 and I was walking quickly to sweat the damp out of my coat which was nice enough but not thick enough for that Friday evening’s cold and rain. The rest of the houses on our road had that warm, yellow look houses have in winter before it gets dark, but our place was grey and the lamp in my window was off.

The hall light wouldn’t turn on either and the WIFI was gone and the water in the hot tap was freezing and the kettle wouldn’t boil. It was dark and cold inside and outside by the time I rang them. The automated response said we’d been disconnected for non-payment. The other lad I live with, a lad I know from the MMA gym, was able to get the six or seven hundred euro to pay his half from his parents, but I couldn’t ask mine.

Eight hours later, my bank balance was -€53. It was still lashing rain at two in the morning when I stood by the ATM near Leeson Street Bridge. You can see me on the CCTV. I’m wearing a black woolly hat and a grey hoody under my coat. Taxis go by with their wipers flying. I smoke and pretend to look at my phone. Drunk people go to the machine and pull out twenties and fifties, none of it enough to be any use to me.

The time on the screen jumps forward and he shows up out of nowhere like a ghost. He takes out €700, for what reason nobody can figure out. His google jacket is shiny from the rain. He walks off and I go after him. In the sped-up footage I appear and disappear like I’m chasing him without moving my feet like I’m a zombie, but he was walking slowly, talking on the phone in Spanish, and I was timing my steps with his. The last shot they have is of an empty street where the only thing moving is the rain in the puddles.

Out of view of the CCTV cameras I came up behind him on the footpath and pulled him down from the light of the street on to the dark canal bank. A taxi passing beeped its horn at us but kept going. I heard the beep the way a noise becomes part of your dream. The Spanish lad rolled on the wet grass and kicked up at me and caught me with a few slippery boots to the jaw. My MMA training kicked in and I got him on his stomach and choked him until he stopped trying to lift himself up. I took his wallet. The rain stopped which made it worse because I was gassed from the fight and panicking. On the footpath, three lads were talking shite on their way home. He was dead. A couple were walking slowly towards me along the canal bank.

I lifted up the dead weight of him and dropped him on a bench and pulled his coat up to his chin like a blanket. The wind shook a shower of rain from the trees. I crossed the black canal by the lock gates and watched him from the opposite bench. He looked homeless. The couple went by.

I stared across the canal at him for so long that when the night changed colour it looked like it was moving or he was moving. A dodgy enough friend of mine from the gym owed me a favour so I rang him until he answered and told him to bring his car. It was freezing by the time he arrived. When I pulled back the coat and showed him the body, he laughed, and said, you animal you. He started on me out of nowhere, I said.

We walked him up to the car by the arms like he was too drunk to make it himself. A bike sprayed past. We sat him in the backseat with the belt holding him up and drove out of town by the quieter streets.

We went by hundreds of dark houses I wished I was sleeping in and eventually stopped in Rush or Lusk or somewhere in the north county, a spot my friend had used before. The field smelled of seaweed. The mud under the frost was as tough as frozen meat. The morning train went past in the distance. The sky was the colour of a gravestone. We buried him in three feet of icy ground and drove to my friend’s house without talking. We burned our clothes in a barrel in his garden. No body, no crime, he said, a few times.


Four days later, my bank balance was -€168 and the power came back. I left the immersion on for the day and nearly burned the skin off myself in the shower after work.

A day later, my bank balance was -€188 and the news called it suicide, but after the divers searched the canal and only found his phone, and after his friends in Google got access to the CCTV and made an app to help them search for him, it was murder. I was guilty of a crime I hadn’t been caught for yet, which I was used to, because it’s just like what being broke is like.

A day later, my bank balance was -€208 and I went on a date and paid for everything in the hope I’d get the ride and forget the fear of being broke or guilty.

A day later, my bank balance was -€311 and I went in and out of shops pretending to look because I thought someone was following me, or just to imagine what I’d get if I had the money. At a self-checkout machine I looked over my shoulder because I was embarrassed of the ball of change I was using, and scared someone would cop that the fifty I was pushing in came from a dead man’s wallet. I went drinking with the lads that night and bought a round that ruined me for the rest of the week and gave me an absolute prison cell of a hangover.

Ten hours later, my bank balance was -€435 and I got a taxi home as it got bright even though I couldn’t afford it, because I was coming down and the house party was at the stage where some cunt took out an acoustic guitar and some other cunt started talking about the murder and arguing that Google is good for Dublin.

A week later, my bank balance was -€477 and I spent all day refreshing six tabs of news websites and four tabs of message boards, and I went to the 24-hour at midnight to buy all the Sunday papers while people smelling of drink and the craic queued by the fruit and veg for the ATM.

Twelve hours later, my bank balance was -€496 and I spent hours in the national gallery because it was free and warm, and the history of the place and the paintings and the tourists from all over made what I did seem smaller. I got my feet soaked walking home in the Sunday rain because I’d rather have spent the couple of euro for the bus on bread and I didn’t want people sitting close to me and getting a good look.

A day later, my bank balance was -€496 and I did nothing in work because they don’t pay enough to live on and it seemed like it was all coming to an end anyway. I stood at traffic lights in the evening looking around at the rich and the innocent, knowing the whole time that the tenner in my pocket had to do me the few days until I was paid, and even that I took from the lad whose face is on every lamppost in town. When I got home, I went to bed early to save money and laid there as still as I could, my hair still wet from the shower, a jumper on until the sheets heated up, my laptop paused, listening to see if the knock at the door was the landlord looking for the rent, or just my housemate’s takeaway being delivered.

Two days later, my bank balance was €1604. I had stayed up to watch the money swamp into my account. It spilled into the hole left by my overdraft, and, in my head, it flooded the field where the body is buried. I paid the rent and ordered pizza online from the place down the road and ate it in front of some rubbish TV and went to sleep full around three in the morning.

A day later, my bank balance was €897 and I wished I could murder my landlord too.

A day later, my bank balance was €760.

A day later, my bank balance was €572 and I bought rounds for the lads and dinners for women and told anyone who’d listen that I hoped all the those cunts in Google were murdered.

Twelve hours later, my bank balance was €453, but those couple of nights out the weekend you’re paid are nearly worth ruining the rest of the month for. There’s a kind of laughing you get when you’re on it like that, with money in your pocket and the feeling that you could end up anywhere. On the morning after we might as well have been young and innocent and debt free, going over the night at breakfast in town, talking shite and laughing about it again, but as it got darker we got older and more hungover and alone, with a week of work ahead of us our lives narrowed with every step we took towards home on the drizzly evening streets.

I didn’t check my balance again until a dose of Sunday fear left me worrying I was already back into my overdraft, and I didn’t check the news again until later that same night when I flicked through my phone in the dark worried that the sirens in the distance were coming closer because they were coming for me.


Three months later, my bank balance is -€212. This morning I put the lamp back by the window even though I can hardly see it now on my way home with the long evenings.

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