One Sunday morning in Glasgow, shoplifting ex-con Sammy awakens in an alley, wearing another man’s shoes and trying to remember his two-day drinking binge. He gets in a scrap with some soldiers and revives in a jail cell, badly beaten and, he slowly discovers, completely blind. And things get worse: his girlfriend disappears, the police question him for a crime they won’t name, and his stab at disability compensation embroils him in the Kafkaesque red tape of the welfare bureaucracy. Told in the uncensored language of Glasgow, this is a dark and subtly political parable of struggle and survival, rich with irony and black humor.
Winner of the Booker Prize, 1994
“A work of marvelous vibrance and richness of character.”
New York Times Book Review
Year of Publication
This book can be purchased or ordered from your local independent bookshop or from Waterstones
This excerpt is taken from: pp210-2 Minerva paperback edition (1995)
He needed to sleep. He needed it just now. Nay circles. He tried to get it solid in his head; circles; so that when he woke up he would get some idea of how long it had been afore he dropped off, circles. Ye try these tricks, anything, anything at all. They dont work. Ye dont even know if they work cause ye’ve always forgot about them by the time ye wake up in the morning. And off he went again thinking, about all kinds of shit; thoughts of his ex-wife, his brother and sister, jobs he had worked at and guys he knew. When the sodjers came for him he felt like he hadnay closed his eyes but it was all night he had slept, right through. They didnay want to give him time to get ready, they were wanting to pull him out of fucking bed, fucking nude, fucking dress him. It’s alright mate I can do it myself. They were in a hurry: fuck you and yer breakfast, they were doing their chauffeur. Ye’re a hotshot, muttered one of them, so they tell us anyway. Then he says: Here give us yer hands.
Get to fuck, said Sammy it was the bastard bracelets: Ye’re fucking kidding mate.
I thought I was getting out.
Shut up. Ye are getting out but ye’re coming back in again.
Aye, ye’ve slept in pal we dont want ye missing yer appointment.
No know what time it is?
By this time he was out the cell and getting walked along the corridor and down wherever it was they were taking him; they had stopped talking now, a sodjer on either side holding him by the upper and forearms; he was still stumbling, trying to slow it down; but on round the corner and out through two doors then the steps up – he knew they were coming somewhere and here they were. One at a time, he said, christ slow it down. Then they reached the top and they were off again. It was fucking ridiculous. Then he was into the van. A sodjer pushed him down onto a seat. As soon as the rest were inside the engine started and the door slammed shut. Naybody spoke. He raised up his arms and his right elbow bumped into one of them but nay comment, the guy didnay crack a light. Sammy had twisted to scratch himself under the neck, he fingered the bristles. He wanted to say something, but he wasnay gony.
When the van stopped the one next to him got the bracelets and unlocked them, took them off. The sodjer on his left side said: Now listen to what I’m saying: ye’re going in there and ye’re going in alone. Alright. Ye hear me?
I hear ye.
Dont try fuck all cause we’ll be waiting, right? Eh?
I hear ye.
Ye hear me. Good. Now beat it.
Sammy sniffed. Where’s the close?
Step down, straight forward and to yer left.
Mind what I’m saying.
Sammy was down and walking, his hands outstretched to find the wall; then he turned to his left and along till he found the close. There was footsteps ahead of him and then halfway down the close there was footsteps from behind; these bastards tailing him probably. Dirty fucking bastards. Bampots. Okay. He could have done with a fag. He should have tapped one of them. Naw he shouldnay.
The same woman at the reception desk; Missis La di da; he gave her the information. Just take a seat please, she said.
What time’s it?
It’s quarter past ten.
Jesus christ, he muttered.
He went to find a chair. Let them work it out, it was their fucking problem man bringing him a half hour early. Nay point him worrying about it. Maybe they would get sick of waiting and fuck off. Ye could only hope. He wasnay going naywhere. He folded his arms. Aw dear. He sighed.
Eventually the sound of somebody’s chest from no too far away; some poor bastard trying to breathe: Ahit ahit, ahit; ahit, ahit ahit… Then that clogging noise in his throat, ahit, the big gob down there, all jellified and white-grey.
I got that dust pneumony, pneumony’s in ma lungs
the dust pneumony, pneumony’s in ma lungs
and if it dont get better
I aint got long, got long
Ye felt like giving him a drink of water except ye knew it wouldnay help, but still and all mate get it down ye: Ta pal dont mind if I do.
People are so polite; they get knocked down by a motor car and they get up and fucking apologise; Pardon me; that’s what they say: Pardon me; then they give the bonnet of the motor a pat and a wee dight with their fucking jacket sleeve to take off the blood: Sorry mate I messed up yer paintwork. Ye could understand it but, trying to get by in the world; that was all ye were doing, trying no to upset cunts, no letting them upset you. Fuck the sodjers, nay point worrying about them, they had their own agenda. The one thing that was a stonewall cast-iron certainty was that they knew what they were doing. And Sammy didnay.
© James Kelman