(The MANTISES do not look at all pleased. HENRY, being tired and not stupid, decides to try to skirt the issue.)
HENRY: Evening, gentlemen.
(One of the MANTISES steps forward, a rather ordinary looking chap.)
MANTIS: (distractedly and sourly) Oi.
(he snatches a pamphlet off a stack near HENRY’s feet.)
MANTIS: You wanna tell me what this is?
HENRY: (cordially nervous) Just a little literature, mate. Gettin’ my thoughts onto paper an’ all, you know how it is…
(The MANTIS tosses the pamphlet onto the ground with disgust.)
MANTIS: No…”mate,” I don’t.
HENRY: (laughs nervously) Eh-heh… Looks like you dropped your reading material, sir…don’t suppose I could interest you in another one?
(the MANTIS steps forward, along with the rest of his gang until they are uncomfortably close. The people around him begin to give the situation a wide berth, except for two: LEW and VERA who, walking by hand in hand, observe most of the situation, standing still on the periphery.)
VERA: Lew, look!
LEW: (with a grave face) I see it, Vera.
VERA: Shouldn’ we do somefin?
LEW: Just wait, Vera…if I know Henry, he’ll get out of this just fine.
(the camera switches back to the slowly closing circle of angry mantises.)
MANTIS: We don’t like what you’re talkin’ about here, “Herman.” We don’t like other people telling us how to live our lives. It’s a free country, y’know!
HENRY: Are you saying that you’d rather have your heads bitten off than defy tradition?
MANTIS: They’re called traditions for a reason-
HENRY: (cutting him off) There is such a thing as a bad reason, you know!
MANTIS: So what we’re doing is bad, eh? We’re wrong? Our fathers were wrong? Our entire life is wrong? Just who do you think you are to tell other people what’s right and wrong, eh? You’re just some skinny little nobody who complains because he can’t find a woman of his own, I bet. Sure, everyone else is wrong if it’s not good enough for you…you ever think, Skinny, that maybe everyone else is right…and you’re the one who’s wrong?
(he begins to punctuate his points with prods to HENRY’s chest. The other MANTISES begin to snicker at HENRY’s inability to stop him. Soon the other MANTISES begin to chime in.)
A MANTIS: Thinks he’s so high and mighty, telling us how to live!
A MANTIS: He’s probably never had a girlfriend!
A MANTIS: Look at him, the whiny little thing…
(and so on. The ringleader sneers at HENRY, who is still standing his ground.)
MANTIS: (scoffs.) Pitiful.
(he deals a kick to the stack of pamphlets, scattering them to the breeze all through the square. Finally, HENRY’s jaw begins to set, his face becomes hard. The ringleader takes notice.)
MANTIS: Oh, we’ve gone and ruined his day now, haven’t we?
(he leans in and leers.)
GOOD. We should do more than that for the rubbish you’re preaching. Go tell someone else what to do, Skinny. Maybe you could advise a dung beetle on fine cuisine!
(the MANTISES join in, guffawing as HENRY finally snaps.)
HENRY: You know what, sir? You’ve won me over. I can see now the benefits of our traditions, because then maybe some addle-brained, tosspot, plug-ugly WANKER like yourself will get his fat head chewed off and rid this world of his ignorant existence!!
(the laughing immediately stops. MANTIS becomes very agitated.)
MANTIS: What did you say, stringbean? Eh? What did you say?
(he begins to push HENRY violently, but HENRY has nowhere to fall as he’s being pushed round the circle by the other jeering mantises.)
MANTIS: What did you say, huh, you little worm? Say that again, pipsqueak, I dare you!
(etc. etc. Eventually, HENRY trips and hits the ground. The camera swivels quickly to outside the crush where LEW knows the jig is up.)
LEW: Oh, bloody hell…
(he rushes to his friend’s aid, bowling a few of the mantises out of the way and trying to shield HENRY with his broad back as multiple legs start to kick out at them. Both are getting fairly bruised, but VERA can do little to get the mantises to stop.)
VERA: Knock it off, yew great nasty bugs!
(and so on. Inside the particularly violent scrum, LEW and HENRY are still getting clobbered, so much so that both are beginning to show significant and nasty bruising around the face and eyes. It quickly becomes apparent that there is no other choice, LEW knows what he has to do.)
LEW: (boiling over at the mantises) Ohhhh…BUGGER OFF!
(with one colossal effort, LEW releases a massive cloud of stink that drives away the mantises like the Hounds of Hell were nipping at their heels.)
LEW: (squinting through a swollen eye) Henry, mate, are you all right?
HENRY: Sure, mate. Glad you came. Let me get you a pamphlet, they got all scattered…
(he tries to stand and falls back to the street with a pained gasp.)
HENRY: Oh…that was dumb…
(VERA, caring more for her friends than for her nose, rushes in to help.)
VERA: Lew…oh cripes, are yew awroight?
LEW: (grunting as he hefts HENRY onto his shoulder.)
I’m fine, Vera…it’s Henry I’m worried about. We’ve got to get him somewhere safe, because those thugs will be back.
HENRY: I’m all right, Lew…just a little banged up, is all…and I lost my pamphlets…shouldn’t have gotten angry, though, ruins the argument.
(VERA tries her best to support HENRY’s other half.)
VERA: Don’t go worryin’ bowt those stupid paypers now, luv. We’ve gorra get yew-
HENRY: (with a lopsided grin) They’re not stupid, Vera…would I get beat up for something stupid?
VERA: (smiling sadly back at him.)
Sumdays Oi wonda, yew turd.
LEW: (looking up at the night sky, not paying attention to the other conversation) Where are we gonna put him? We can’t carry him all the way home, we don’t have enough time…
HENRY: It’s all for the cause, Vera. If I get roughed up, but my message gets out, it’ll be okay…
VERA: But wot if yew git beat up agin?
HENRY: Worth it.
VERA: Yer ‘owse wrecked?
HENRY: Worth it.
HENRY: Worth it. (he’s grinning now, though mostly gritting his teeth as all three hobble through the streets.)
VERA: Wot if yew…
LEW: (cutting her off) Vera! Give it a rest, will you?
VERA: (apologetically) Sorry, luv.
(they walk a bit more in silence. the camera takes in establishing shots of the darkening city.)
VERA: (sheepishly, trying to apologize) Yew were very brayve, Lew.
LEW: (bitterly) I was nothing of the sort. I shoulda stopped this daft bug before he got onto this kick…
HENRY: (a little loopy, a little delerious, singing groggily.)
We shall overcoooome, We shall over coooome…come on, Lew, you know the words!
(LEW’s face is a mask of pity and frustration)
LEW: (gritting and making a left hand turn) Come on. This way.
VERA: (scuttling to keep up) Wot’s that?
LEW: I know where we can go.
HENRY: We shall overcoome sooomedayyyy…
(they limp off into the night, HENRY’s voice trailing off, getting weaker and weaker as it is absorbed into the soft, memoryless, completely forgiving night.)