The first time I saw him was at the pub after work. We'd all been doing overtime that week. The new model's dies were not working out well and it took a lot more work to get it all assembled. So when I saw him, standing on his leather jacket with a pint in hand, I wanted to punch him.
He looked like the only rested man. There was something, can't put it in words, something unique about him. At first I thought he might have been a student slumbing it down with us lowlife mechanics, but his face was too serious. He knew something of the hardships of life. He went from table to table, talking quietly to my fellows, and my curiosity kept rising. At last, he came to ours.
"How goes it, guys?" he asked. "I hear the work's tough lately."
"Tough? These fellows don't know what tough is", said an older mechanic, sitting by me. "I could tell you stories..."
"Tough enough for me", I interrupted. "Must be nice not to have to break your pretty hands on the job and to come make light of us hard-working men while we have a pint, eh?" I couldn't hide my hostility.
"Peace", he said. He showed me his hands, and they were the hands of a real working class man. Scarred, rough, but nimble and clever, made to twist knobs, match gears, or hold spanners. That's when I wondered how his cold, uneven fingers would feel on my skin.
"I'm Charles Owen, and I'm a union man. I'm a worker, just like you are, and I've known tough. I've been beaten and jailed by the coppers and I am still fighting."
"A union? We don't hold with your bolshie lot hereabouts!" said Harry, my gangmate.
"Says who?" I asked. "Doesn't look to me like the pay is fair. We've been slaving for weeks and what do we get? The same shit wage while the bosses send their pretty daughters to that posh school in Scotland. Maybe's time to hold with the bolshies." I stood up, introduced myself, and shook his hand. It felt substantial on mine, strong and reliable. A hand of a man you could trust.
He told me all about union power while we downed a few pints. I knew I was going to regret it tomorrow and the Missus wasn't going to be none more pleasant either, but I was drawn to him like filings to the magnet. Like the bosses to every last bloody bob.
The next day I had a bad time. The wife was angry with me for wasting my money on drink, not like she'd not like as not have wasted it on some pointless frill for the girls. Like who did she think we were, bloody toffs? So when I'd had my supper, and she went into a bed colder than a witch's tit, I remembered Charles would be at the pub, talking everyone's ear about union strength and all that tosh. To be honest, I didn't know that I believed in that stuff. Sounded too good to be true and probably was. Still, wasn't fair for a man to work all day long and to have to come back to a cold and cramped shack, was it? Just wasn't on.
So I left her asleep, the little ones in bed, and I went to the pub and saw Charles there, sitting with some of the poor bastards who worked at the tannery. At least our shop doesn't smell like satan's bowels. When he saw me, he gazed and winked at me, and cut his spill short to join me.
"Any plans for the night?" I asked.
"Let's go for a walk", he suggested. "I've have enough to drink. You know it's bad for your ... bangers and mash, right?"
I blushed. What a man! Talking about such things. Still, I followed him out and we walked about the dirty, dark streets. He took me to the place he was staying, and asked me if I wanted to go up with him. I just didn't know what to do.
"Come, I won't bite you, or not anyway you don't like!" he said. He ran his fingers through my short cropped hair, and I felt like sighing, like when the dies are perfect and all meshes right, a sort of music of shapes. I leaned against his body, and he felt me shaking.
"Don't be afraid. You know what? I know a better place", he said, smiling. "Come with me".
He held my hand, and walked a pace before me, like an older sibling guiding a fearful child. It felt right to trust him, like he'd never let me fall, but I hadn't been one of the ones who liked the teachers feeling us up when we changed, so I wasn't sure this was a good idea. Still, I really wanted to do it with him, and soon I saw the shop, closed down for the night.
We climbed over the fence, got in, and he asked me where I worked. I showed him, and he ran his fingers along my sides.
"Let's get comfortable", he said.