Hugo Hamper-Potts

“A man of 34 is desperate to be reunited with his umbrella after leaving it on a train. Paul Hinze stored the umbrella in an overhead rack upon leaving Waterloo station but neglected to retrieve it as he alighted at New Malden train station. The 34 year old is said to be behaving in a distressed and erratic manner since the disappearance of the umbrella. He has reportedly been seen committing such acts as…”

A spit at the floor and a newspaper wrapping around the slender ankle of a man leaning, leaning so much in fact that if the wall weren’t there he’d topple. Unfed, dishevelled, and with a disdainful gaze directed towards a picturesque couple walking past. Young love tarnished by bickering, young spawn lingering, screaming, shouting till mother shouts Quiet Down! Stop Fighting.

Tensing his shoulders, Hinze breathed deeply. An overbearing sadness began to dive and loop like gymnasts clutching at every stray thought that sprung to mind. He saw a woman standing in the rain under an umbrella with a young boy clasped tightly to her thigh, and his sight was filled with this sight of the woman and the young boy until a drunk stumbled past him, reeking of whiskey. A flash of his father, and then a cloud of odour, and Paul was dragged back to reality, the nostalgic second disappearing as soon as it came. Cold in the ash-grey station, Paul walked to the end of the platform as the faint cries of a passing family evaporated, then up some stairs to the street, past halted buses, along a small road that led to another.

I haven’t had a woman in months! I am far more intelligent than most, that’s why I don’t like people, and they’re frightened of me. I want a bike, FIVE PENCE, Pennies make the pounds they say. Will I ever have a lot of money? Spent far too much last night drunk. Why the hell do I live in London? Ego fuckers driven moneymakers, Bank, Wank, Wanker, Banker! Remember that girl? Stormed off cause you called her dad a “Banker wanker!” ah! I hope I didn’t leave the iron on? I’m sure I didn’t. I’ll set the house on fire, loose everything, and that old lady down stairs? Sure to die. Her little dog too! My wallet! Ah it’s here. God it’s hot…
…I miss my ex. Was I a bastard? No. I was, she was. I haven’t read all ye…
“Sorry, so sorry!”
A Chinese man’s wheelie suitcase rolled over almost taking him with it. The tourist looked at Paul in bemusement, his wife threw him a flustered look.
“Sorry. So sorry.” He said, and returned to his thoughts.

There was a kid, a small kid, a child really, well, a pack of them, free from the authoritarian gaze of their parents, roaming round like loose beasts shouting and squirming. Bodies full of sugar and cheap cigs they get tramps to buy slurring slang and to prove their manhood a couple of girls much younger and as callow as they hanging around.
Peering down at them from his window he stood quietly, touching his hand on the hot windowpane. Deep and pensive in thought, looking down at the kids, kids who loved someone, their father, their mother, their hero, their guide; a dentist, banking man, a bricklayer, lawyer, doctor, health insurance planner, butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker, even a murderer. Yes, everyone has a few chances to be god-like to someone else, to train, teach, and love some other. And to be loved. Disciplinarians who fucked themselves now hold their own court of law and order.
Hinze strode out of his living room into a small kitchen to ponder an empty fridge before gulping down some milk and spitting it back out upon reading the sell-by. Returning to the living room disgruntled, Paul heaped himself into a plastic garden chair that faced a blank wall. The only thing interrupting the blankness before him was a photograph of his mother. Himself younger, clasping her thigh, as she protected him from the rain. He turned his face to the right and stared his reflection down in a small portable mirror.
Completely unrecognisable to himself, balding, sallow, ears bent slightly outward and a small mole above his lip he’d always wanted to remove but hadn’t the heart to. He processed his thoughts to the ambient noise of the kids outside as the façade of age began to slip away. What now stared back from the small portable mirror was he himself as a child, looking at him through his deep reflected gaze. The sound of rain began to beat down, or was it in his mind? A sensation that happened so frequently that the line between reality and illusion often crumbled.
He thought of when he’d hid under his father’s table night after night. His mother was no longer around and, since the heart break, his father had spent most of his time out whoring and drinking, eventually returning home in the early hours, a face stern with self-hatred and shouting with vitriol, blaming Paul for the death of his wife. Being younger, he’d failed to understand why his father acted this way. To try and escape the abuse all he could do was hide. This particular evening he hears, as usual, his father stumbling in and shouting his name, throwing things around, mugs at walls, with every step drawing nearer to Paul, who is hidden under the table, and then the drunken beast, his father, heaving a great foot at the table. Curled up in a small ball, there is Paul, and there is his father grabbing him and lifting him up, taking the closest thing to hand and beating Paul repeatedly with it, again and again, the instrument weakening now under his father’s strength, and after what seems an eternity of hard thrashing, throwing the beater down, suddenly bursting into a furious downpour of tears and embracing Paul, soaking him with sobs in a pathetic show of remorse for his child.
Paul sat up and shivered quietly, engulfed in a trance of confusion, fixing his vacant gaze upon a broken umbrella that only seconds ago was the cause of such pain, before the image began to disperse and lose itself like tears in the rain.

A noise, a loud bang or something, roused Paul swiftly towards the window. He leaned and looked out, almost falling through, and saw a woman walking past who bore a resemblance to his mother. She threaded through the pack of kids, clutching firmly, despite the weather, an umbrella, and at that instant a beautiful shade of viridian glistened over it, reflecting a flash from a passing car.
Resolutely, Paul rushed to the door, darting down the stairs and up the street so as not to loose sight of her. The kids were blocking his smooth passage along the pavement and on impulse Hinze slammed their leader to the floor. Screaming, Paul rushed away.
He knows it’s her. The woman of his dreams, he likes to buy gifts. Please, he’ll say to her. I want to treat you kind. I want to parade you with gifts and protect you from the rain.
Where is she?
He could see her head about fifty meters away, dark and silhouetted against the twilight and turning into the train station, shabby and grey. Paul doubled his pace. Tripping over the station steps he heard the sound of a train pulling out slowly. Looking up from the platform he saw the woman’s slightly smiling face stare at him from the other side of the windowpane. She was old. Time had forgotten her beauty, but she had the exact same smile as his mother’s in the photograph. Paul’s expression turned from anguish to euphoria then back to anguish as the train picked up speed and left the station. His father’s drunken sobbing face appeared in front of him. He found himself standing on the edge of the platform. Staring down at the tracks he saw an umbrella with its ribs smashed in and mangled between the girders. He heard a pack of kids laughing at him, or was it screaming, as another train approached.

Paul Hinze’s dreams were disturbed. Opening his eyes, he looked to his right and saw his tired face reflecting back at him from the portable mirror. He lent so much on his arm that it was now numb and prickling with pins and needles. It was silent and dark. The street below the window where Hinze once again stood was still. There was no trace of the woman or the kids, and the temperature was hot, despite the hour. He saw what looked to be a broken chair down by the street’s corner. He wandered back to his own chair before rejecting it for the one outside. Etched in his mind was the dream, his father and his mother, hiding under the table. They were now non-existent, swallowed up by the world, and eaten by life.
He sat outside hunched over the broken chair adrift in his thoughts. “You alright love? Nice evening.” Paul ignored the voice above his shoulder, believing it to be a familiar. “Why you sitting in that chair hey?” Turning round he saw a woman wearing a black-strapped dress cut just above the thighs, a pair of white Reeboks with no socks and little else. “You look like you need a woman! When was the last time you loved a woman hey? Weeks, months, years!” She looked directly at him but received nothing of a returning glance; he remained slouched upon the broken chair, staring at the ground. “Tell you what I can do. Just for you as you seem nice,” she said, “200 quid, 2 hours, anything goes.” He remained staring at the floor but acknowledged her offer.
200 quid, 2 hours, anything goes. This went through Hinze’s foggy mind as he eyed her up and down. “Anything goes, you say?” She turned round and gave him a kiss on the cheek, pulling away she whispered, “anything goes.” As she pulls away he sees that the lady also has, hanging low, limp over her wrist, a small umbrella spiked at the tip, and at that instant a beautiful shade of viridian glistens over it, reflecting a flash from a passing car.

Feeling edgy, hopeless and confused, he heard a banging at his door but refused to answer, only hearing brief mutterings and slow steps fading away into the distance. Uneasy in thought, something of terrible consequence loomed large in his conscience, like a thundercloud ready to pour down. He thought about how he used to hide under the table from his father whilst staring at the photograph of his mother. Of how he feared the beatings and how he loved the protection from the rain his mother had provided.
The umbrella he foolishly lost! And standing. Standing feet over the platform edge staring at the broken umbrella and his father weeping.
It felt like years since yesterday. He scurried around, pondering the empty fridge. The milk off and the cereal dry. He found himself in a shop. Morning routine so routine he forgot it even happened.
Paper, milk, cereal, home. Bowl, cereal, milk, it was done. The paper spread on his lap folded at the corners resembling his sticking-out ears.
Scrolling down he began to read. “A woman identified as Francesca Mulberry, a street worker, was found dead in a brutal attack yesterday. The death is being treated as a homicide. She was discovered with multiple grievous wounds made to her upper body and later died in hospital. The death is believed to have been an act by sexual violence, and the injuries caused are suspected to be an…”

Sitting up, Paul quivered with guilt. A black-out guilt, which is the fear of not knowing what happened, fear you’ve said something, perhaps done something, which at the time was of your own volition but once sober again, with dawn beating down on your eyes, you have no recollection of whatsoever. All that remains of a memory is the guilt, the guilt that’s only cured by one thing, and that is booze.

Paul began to hear rain, finally it began to rain, and he looked down once more at the article and saw the picture of Francesca Mulberry. His hands were shaking; he looked towards the door slightly ajar where a broken umbrella lay battered and bloody. He returned his gaze to the paper: Umbrella killing .
Bearing a photograph of his dead mother underneath.


Hugo Hamper-Potts is a painter and writer based (mostly) in West Hampstead.

His artwork can be viewed > here.