“The Panda had a tendency to go berserk,” the newspaper said. And I couldn’t deny it. My unpredictable behaviour was a great inconvenience to friends, who often had to prise me off fellow binge-drinkers, or talk me down from gastropub tables, or apologise to bar managers for damage to windows or furniture or structural beams. ‘The Panda’s lost-it, again’, they would declare, before wading in to prevent injury to regretful drunks who had caused me offence.

Anyone who knows me well, calls me, ‘The Panda’, or ‘Panda’, or ‘Pand’, depending on the formality of the situation. For example, when I was in school it was, ‘Pand, wake up! It’s home time.’ But in court, it was, ‘Could The Panda please rise?’

I’d like to say my nickname was coined by close friends, drawing affectionate comparisons based on my size (overweight and cuddly), demeanour (lethargic and docile) and parentage (black and white). But no, the moniker was conjured by the wasted wit of a bully. A hateful, ugly little worm, who put all of my traits into his mixing-bowl of inner torment and parental neglect, to serve up a fitting and painful insult —‘The fat panda’. I was able to have the ‘fat’ prefix dropped after I finally erupted and beat the boy into unrecognisable shapes.

‘The Panda’ stuck though, and I came to like it. So much so, I changed my name by deed poll in the midst of a week-long bender. Hence, when in court, the judge was obliged to ask, ‘How does The Panda plead?’ This was headline manna for the red-top newspapers, which devoted spreads to the story, with side-by-side pictorials of me (‘The Panda’) and a real-life panda (‘The accused’). And if the readership felt inclined to scrutinise the small print, they would learn that during a run-of-the-mill bar scuffle, I had allegedly crushed a young man’s head like an overripe melon.

My barrister refused to accept that the compliant man he saw before him could have committed such a brutal crime. ‘I think we need to get you on the stand,’ he said. ‘No jury will believe that such a softly spoken gentleman would do that to another human being.’

‘But, sir…I did do it. And I’m afraid, if I go on the stand, I might explode and smash the courtroom to smithereens’.

‘Ok, maybe let’s not do that then.’ He backed away and loosened his tie. He was a smart lawyer.

I don’t drink any more. I couldn’t if I wanted to in here. Alcohol was the worst thing in the world for me to discover. I dare say, that young lad would still be alive had I never been introduced to drink.

They still call me, ‘The Panda’, in prison. I hear the inmates whisper it to each other. No one really speaks to me, though. I suppose some people must have read about me in those red-top newspapers. And gossip spreads through prison faster than a fresh carton of cigarettes. I’m a nice guy, really. For now though, I tend to agree with the judge; ‘The safest place for The Panda, is in captivity’.

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