Jordan Ellis-Baptiste - The Car Jar

The voice over the phone crackled with bad reception.

“How much are you selling it for?”

I told him again, patiently, elongating the vowels so it was clear. It was a voice that I couldn’t pin to an age – it had the relentless enthusiasm of a person yet to understand the grind of simply maintaining equilibrium over the years, and at the same time, the knowing bent of someone who’s seen the very worse of humankind and has decided not to mind anyway.

“The signal’s terrible, I’ll just come over.

I only live three streets away.” He hung up before I could acquiesce. I looked over to the bank of family photos on the wall, artfully mismatched by my girlfriend in different sized and coloured frames.

From one near the centre, my aunt laughed – she was always laughing. She held a crab claw in one hand and had turned to look at it, giving the impression that the crab itself had elicited the mirth, some kind of ribald seafood joke. I smiled at the shot, even as the grief rose up high in my chest. It was a new grief, hitting me each time as a surprise. I was not yet used to the effort of pushing it back down.

Snatches of a party, a memory, rose above that effort. Balloons drifting in corners of the ceiling, a streamer pinned over the unworking fireplace. My family gathered in the small sitting room of my flat as I turned the key. My first feeling was embarrassment. They’d got the date wrong, my birthday was two months away. But though they yelled ‘surprise’, their faces lit up and their arms open, the banner read ‘congratulations’ not ‘Happy Birthday’. I waited for someone to give me a clue, flicking my eyes over each of their faces to unearth the secret I wasn’t let in on yet.

My aunt brought a jar from between the folds of her silk scarf with the flourish of a magician producing a rabbit. It was empty.

“Look outside Jordan”.

I went to the window and scanned the street. Trees, cars, a few straggling school children dragging book bags.

“The Audi A3? The blue one? It’s yours.” And then it slotted into place, the empty jar I had half recognised: it was my car jar. A tangible collection of funds secreted under my bed – a physical barometer telling me that three years of overtime at TKMaxx was working out, slowly but surely, as the pile of stuff-in notes climbed to the top.

“But I’m £720 short.”

My aunt slid a conspiratorial arm around my shoulders. “I took care of that Jordan. It’s all yours. An early birthday present.” Though she smiled, as she always did, I could see her fierce pride of me had misted her eyes, and I had to blink back answering tears before I turned back around.

Now, I went to the window and looked out at the car. The colour was muted in the Birmingham drizzle, but I could remember the peacock shine of the bonnet driving along the coast in Portugal, the balled-up wrappers of lobster burgers on the dashboard, the salt air sluicing through the windows. My girlfriend beside me, her hand on the back of my neck. One of those moments that’s so perfect you’re already sad in it because you know it will end.

The doorbell rang. When I pulled it open, the voice over the phone manifested itself into a small, birdlike man in his early 40s, dressed in worn jeans and a sweatshirt, his face lined but somehow not old, the sheer force of his enthusiasm giving him the curious energy of a teenager.

“Now listen, I’ve been saving for so long, I have nearly enough but this is everything.” He held up a glass jar two thirds full of coins and notes.

I nodded, and went out to the street, motioning him to join me. 

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