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At the video store, Arben preferred the self-service machine. Even if there was a queue, but the shop itself was empty, he’d rather wait outside. The kids had to stay in the car, watching the thin metallic mouth gobble up the old DVDs in their dull, grey cases, then magically spurt out new ones that looked exactly the same.
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He liked going out to have his coffee rather than take it at home. Arben – but they knew him as Ben now – nodded to the bartender, the few patrons he recognised, waited for his ristretto. Didn’t need to order it. Head sunk between his shoulders, he hovered over the table nearest to the bar, where they left the day’s papers, angling his head to read the headlines. He never picked up any of the newspapers; at most, flicked through a few pages.
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He would quietly sit in a corner of the dinner table, and patiently, methodically remove microscopic screws, open covers and cases, touch up minuscule wires with tweezers, whistling or humming to himself, often into the little hours of the night. Fixing, tweaking, building.
They got lost, once, on a holiday in Portugal, because Ben had not wanted to go to the info desk. He’d marched straight to the self-service ticket-machines, swearing he didn’t need any help. His family watched him frown and grit his teeth in discomfort, fumbling with the buttons, the machine doggedly blaring out denials in Portuguese, refusing to yield to other languages. They watched him swear out loud, punch his fist on the machine. He had white hairs in his beard.
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It was years of watching Ben at the store’s self-service check-out, before the kids ever got to go inside. Coloured cases of dozens and dozens of DVDs filled up the walls from floor to ceiling, row after row, glimmering coloured plastic, guarded by a shopkeeper perched on his stool like an owl, arms folded against his chest, eyes like needles. The colours – they couldn’t believe anyone could choose not to see them.
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