What ya doin? I says to the chap who is kneeling in the Sunday evening side street outside the gate to my back yard. I stand up a bit taller, fold my arms, attempt to fill up the gap between the posts with my presence, make it known that I’m not going to take any shit.
To be fair, it’s a fucking stupid question on my part, because I can see quite well what he’s doing. He’s rolling up a ten foot length of astro turf into what looks like a giant sized spliff of fake grass. That said, it doesn’t stop me asking again.
Oi, mate. I asked ya what ya doin?
He’s trying to blank me, but when it becomes clear I’m not going anywhere, he answers, easing his hood up to cover his brass neck and baseball cap as he does so.
Fount it. Nobody day wan it.
He’s broken into a sweat. I can see beads of moisture on his top lip. It’s a warm evening, and his turf isn’t rolling up to his satisfaction. He rolls it back out to flat and begins to remake it, tighter this time. It’s then I notice a square cut away mid turf. I feel like I’ve seen this astro turf before, but can’t quite pin it down.
Wot ya gunna do wiv it eny road?
He gives a shrug of bone-bagged shoulders, and a wrinkle of his nose.
Sell it on, mebee. To a greengrocer… funeral place… or summat.
I let it slide, don’t mention the hole.
Un how ya gunna gerrit away?
He carries on his re-rolling, flicks a glance towards a pushbike leaning lazy and looking the other way under a daub-dribble of white paint that’s run down from the sign above. DO NOT PARK KEEP CLEAR.
I look from astro turf over to the knacker of a bike, and back to the chap again. I laugh, shake my head, go back in. Lock the gate behind me.
The next morning I’m off on my daily walk when I pass the community centre. The woman off reception is standing in front of the automatic doors, vaping and surveying a square manhole cover sitting smack bang in the middle of a bald concrete patch.
Oh. I say. Now it meks sense. She arches her eyebrows.
By way of conversation, I say what I saw. A sharing, if you will, describing to her the novelty value of last night’s scene.
I’m laughing. She’s not.
And then she goes all Columbo on it.
I’m cornered. Green…plasticy.
I mean him uz took it.
Oh… ya know… skinny… tall.
She moves her non-vaping hand up and down in a sliding scale to verify.
Errr… Taller… not that tall. Hood, black trackies, bike. Car remember. A face……a face ya see around. Dark hair. Mebee.
I give up, go on the defensive, mutter something about me not being a grass, and him doing the community a service anyway because astro turf is shit. I tell her Worrabout the bees… pollinators and that, suggest replacement wildflower planting that nobody can nick, before I go skulking off in search of the real stuff. The stuff that’s filled with Meadow Cranesbill, and butterflies. The stuff corralled behind the pressings factory in the little bit of scrubland that they’ve not yet built upon.