A writers’ group exercise: Take a character from one list, and a characteristic from another. We had half an hour and this is what I came up with…
Peter was the sort of man you desperately hope you never have to sit next to at a dinner party. He was boring. He sold vacuum cleaners for a living. Well, it wasn’t quite a living, but he got by. The problem wasn’t his job, the problem was how much he loved his job. He would talk endlessly about vacuum cleaners, the different models and how they compared in features, weight, motor size and other dull things like that. Some people thought at first that Peter was ambitious, trying to sell vacuum cleaners wherever he went, but then they soon realize he was just enjoying the opportunity to talk about them.
Peter was single, rented a small flat from the council and in his wardrobe hung two grey, cheap supermarket suits and a white shirt for each day of the week. He drove an economical hatchback with enough space in the boot for a demonstration vacuum cleaner.
One day, Peter, having exhausted the local residential areas, tried his luck in the shopping centre. The camera shop took one, but the book shop didn’t. The jewellery shop was interested, but wasn’t sure. The elderly lady listened with interest to Peter’s well-rehearsed speech until he realized she didn’t work there. He gave her a card anyway and waited patiently while a young couple were given lots of attention for choosing an engagement ring. He spoke to another sales assistant briefly, but she said she’s come back to him in a moment. A mother, looking at watches in the corner, jogged her baby up and down as it began to cry. A young lad look confused at the cheap silver section, an attractive woman browsed the bracelets and two men in balaclavas ran in shouting threats and instructions at the staff.
It took Peter several seconds to register what was going on. The other customers crouched on the floor. The members of staff began doing what they were told whilst the robbers yelled for them to hurry up. One of them kept telling the mother to shut her baby up. She cried just as hard as she did everything she could. The sales assistants continued filling sacks with gold jewellery while guns were waved at them, and the baby continued to cry.
Peter stood there. He hadn’t had chance to mention that the top-of-the-range model would wash the carpets as well. The robber warned the mother again that he was losing his patience with the baby. The staff were taking too long. The police would be there any second.
Peter had never done anything interesting, exciting or different from his daily routine all his life, but when the man in the balaclava turned his gun towards the baby, he ran out in front of it and took the bullet square in the chest.
(I chose ‘Typical salesman’ and ‘courage’.)