There would be no customers that night despite having installed a bigger and better neon sign. Pavlo had fixed it that very morning. He opened the shop early, cradling the box with the sign in his lap as he drove his usual route from home. When Pavlo arrived, he carefully fixed the sign to the inside of the front window. There in big bold letters it shone: FREE DRINK w/ KEBAB.
Bliss. It was the best sign Pavlo could have chosen for his business. It could glow green and blue. It could flash or fade into and out of brightness. Pavlo’s sign could do it all. It shone much brighter than the other signs, the ones that hung in the kebab shops that lined the street. It would do good things for his business. The customers would notice his shop again. It was Pavlo at his best.
Yet no one had walked in since opening. Pavlo checked the clock above the fryers. 8:30PM.
His son did not reply. The TV blared on top of the drinks fridge, a repeat of a football grand final in ‘92.
“Andreas, what’s wrong with everybody tonight?”
His son slowly walked out from the back room, mouth full, wiping the crumbs away with his forearm. He silently passed his dad, pulled out a chair and sat before the TV. Pavlo knew that his son hated working Fridays. But Pavlo needed help at the shop. Pavlo only wanted the best for his business.
Andreas slouched in his chair, glowing green from the sign shining in the shop window. He noticed that his dad had removed the browning icon of the Virgin Mary that had long been stuck to the window. There its sticky outline could be seen through the neon bars of the sign. Andreas huffed; his dad really believed in the new sign.
The floor felt sticky beneath Andreas’ feet. Pavlo had asked him to mop the floor hours ago but Andreas knew that there was plenty of time to clean. Time moved slowly in the shop. There was always too much of it. Time spat out of the fryers and spilled over boiling pots. It pooled on the floor and crept up the brown-tiled walls. There was so much time that it could have been boxed up and served as an item on the menu (add garlic sauce for an extra dollar). Andreas did not want to spend another minute in the shop but he knew better. Andreas would spend many more minutes and hours working in the shop. Afterall, this would be his shop one day.
“Andreas, would you help me with this?”
Pavlo was reaching for a box filled with takeaway containers. He was getting old, not as quick as he used to be. When he first opened the shop, he ran it from midday well into the early morning. Pavlo had vigour back then (and more hair on his head). He knew what honest work was. Pavlo cleaned up after drunks vomited the kebab he had just made for them. He patched up windows after the shop had been broken into. He even missed out on Andreas’ 18th birthday to keep the shop open on a Saturday night. Pavlo knew what hard work was. He was an honest worker. Pavlo only wanted the best for his business.
Andreas eventually got up from his chair to help his dad. He slowly walked around the counter. Dust fell on Andreas’ apron as he pulled out the box his dad was reaching for. The box had sat there for some time. Andreas thought the box was probably older than he was, like all the other things that filled the shop; the fogged-up display cabinets, the fridges which froze shut in winter, the grease-stained countertops, the creaking chairs, the slanted tables, the old fryers, the cooktops, the trays, all of it. He thought it was the worst kebab shop on the street. No wonder no one came. But he kept this thought to himself. Mostly because it pained Andreas to know that this would be his shop one day.
Andreas rounded the counter again and returned to the football match. When would he ask? He began to bounce his knee. This was his Friday night routine; wait until 9, ask to close early. Andreas even counted himself in. One bounce, two bounce, thr-
“Should we close up early dad?”
Pavlo pretended not to hear his son. Admittedly, the TV was playing quite loudly in the shop. Close the shop early? Pavlo had never closed the shop early, not in its 25 years of running.
“Dad? You’re tired. No one is coming tonight.”
Pavlo was confused. Why did his son always give in that easy? His son did not know what it meant to work hard. To build up a business. To do honest work. To clean the frying oil, to re-stock the fridge, to smile at customers, to empty the bins, to get mugged in the back alley, to run out of tomatoes, to burn fingers, to wait out a long night and do it all again the next morning and – No.
No, the shop would not close early. At least not now, not tonight, not with the new sign.
Pavlo slammed the counter. Andreas turned his head. The box filled with plastic containers now spilled out onto the floor. Pavlo let the plastic river run to his feet.
“We won’t close early.”
Pavlo had never spoken to his son in this way. He loved his son. He cared about his son. But he also cared about his business. Pavlo loved his business.
“It’s almost 9 Dad, can I at least go home?”
Pavlo checked the clock above the fryers. 8:55PM. They would just have to wait. He knew that the customers would see the sign better in the dark.
“You’re staying here Andreas; we wait another hour. They haven’t seen us yet.”
Andreas shot up. He yanked his apron. He pulled it over his head. He threw it across the counter. Pavlo stood still.
“They haven’t seen us in fucking years dad, what’s a sign going to do about it?” His voice shook the display cabinets. The old shop might have crumbled at the sound of such a voice.
“Andreas you’re staying here-”
Pavlo watched his son walk away from him. Andreas flung open the door. He swung it wide open on its old hinges. The front window shook. He looked back at Pavlo. Andreas was angry. The sign teetered against the glass. Pavlo noticed it – careful! - no. Pavlo gave his son a pleading look – don’t do it. Andreas was angry. Raged! This fucking place was a-
Andreas slammed the door, a loud clap. All was silent.
Pavlo watched the neon sign slowly tip. It left the edge of the window. There it toppled towards the sticky floor, turning twice before it met its end. Pavlo stood still.
The sign shattered. Tiny fragments bounced under the counter and over the floormats, falling into and springing out of the cracks in the tiles. Some bits even sprayed the plastic containers at Pavlo’s feet like tiny rain droplets; a scattered mess.
Pavlo looked outside to see if Andreas was there. To see if Andreas had seen what he had done. It was dark outside. Andreas was gone. Pavlo slowly walked around the counter to see the wreck. Neon no longer pulsed through its veins. Words turned to sharp barbs. The sign gave out a deep exhale. Pavlo felt dizzy. Sick. Pavlo had loved the sign. The sign would have done good for his business. It was now unrecognisable. Pavlo couldn’t catch his breath. He needed to sit down.
Instead, Pavlo reached for the damp mop. Half-leaning on the handle, he slushed the broken glass in figure 8’s back and forth, back and forth across the brown tiles, the glittering pieces never quite collecting with each stroke. Tears welled in his eyes. But Pavlo knew better. He held back the tears. Cheer up Pavlo. He would buy a new sign tomorrow. A bigger one, a better one. The customers would notice the shop again. The new sign would be the best sign he could have chosen for his business. It would outshine all the others. It would do good for his business. Afterall, Pavlo only wanted the best for his business.
︎George is a third year Arts/Law student whose written work mainly focuses on ordinary people in ordinary places. He writes because he tends to forget things and because he was never good at playing sport.︎