‘Ah ha ha ha ha ha!’ yelled our irate boss with unconvincing mirth, as he strode out of his car to where we stood on the pavement, the door to the pizzeria firmly locked, a queue of customers forming behind us. They were waiting for their pizzas, which were inside. Burning.
‘Ha ha ha ha ha! You see I have brought my son with me. To fucking laugh at you, is it? Ah ha ha ha ha! My. God. I leave them for five minutes. FIVE FUCKING MINUTES. You see what happens, eh?’
He, Tony, was actually very pleased. We had confirmed everything he believed about human nature. His beliefs were summed up thus (in an inimitable Italian/Mancunian accent): ‘Evolution is going backwards, is it. People are becoming more like animals, every day. Like pigs. PEEEGS.’
Every evening the drunken clientèle who staggered through the door of the takeaway Pizza Pazza, especially at pub closing time, proved him right with their lack of manners and their gluttony.
We were not excused from his harsh assessments. He would sometimes follow us around pointing out our stupidity, on one occasion getting me so rattled that I dropped a tray of toppings into a huge bowl of tomato sauce. I gasped as freezing red liquid splattered my face and the counter, holding my breath as if frozen in a frame from a horror movie, awaiting the inevitable explosion of swearing and shouting, but Tony obviously didn’t have words to express his feelings about this scene.
‘Clean that up,’ he said, and wandered into the back kitchen to see what ridiculous excuse for cooking was going on in there.
The only person who did not attract his ire was Tony the Italian chef, distinguishable from Tony the Italian Boss by both looks and temperament. Where Tony the Boss was small and fierce, Tony the Chef was large and placid. He had a long black ponytail which snaked down his white chef’s coat, he made lasagne and profiteroles and froze them in portions in the freezer. When he wasn’t at Pizza Pazza he could usually be found in the pub, where he would pretend he did not recognise me.
Veronica was old, 20, like a proper adult, but she never minded talking to a 17 year-old student like me. She was skinny and small, and had pale, translucent skin and huge eyes which seemed to protrude from their sockets. Tony the Boss admired her figure. She told him to fuck off. Either in spite of or because of her willingness to argue with him, he seemed to think her competent, and one day left her in charge of the takeaway while he went home to spend a couple of hours with his family.
Veronica had taken several orders and made the pizzas. She put them in the oven and called me through to the dark corridor between the back kitchen and the shop front, where we smoked cigarettes by an open door.
‘Have some of this,’ she said, proffering a home made cigarette. After a couple of puffs, the world seemed wobbly and the light in the front too bright and harsh. It was my first joint. Veronica smiled at me, and closed her eyes for a few seconds while she exhaled slowly.
There was a loud bang outside. We jumped.
‘What was that?’ Veronica ran to the front and peered out of the window. A car had stopped on the stretch of road outside the shop, overheating. Smoke was pouring from the bonnet.
‘Oh my God. It’s on fire! Come and look.’
I followed her outside. I had never seen a car on fire before. In my haste and curiosity, I still found enough time to think about the tills we were leaving unprotected, and carefully pulled the door shut. A latch clicked. If I had thought for another second, I might have wondered whether either of us had a key to get back in, but I was too eager to follow Veronica.
We tried the door, when we had stopped looking at the flames leaping from the black depths of the car bonnet. Once we realised what we had done, we laughed until we were breathless. Customers began to arrive.
‘Where is my pizza?’
‘In there,’ I said, pointing to the oven, so close and yet so totally out of reach, and collapsing again with giggles.The customers weren’t so amused. There was nothing for it but to call Tony.
‘Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!’ he said. ‘You see? Stupid, all of you. You see, my son. People are so fucking stupid.’