October 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
Never trust old ladies you find on park benches…
Monday again. One o’clock. She’s already there – second bench on the left by the dragon statue. She’s just nicked a white tea rose from the flowerbed and is stuffing it clumsily through the top buttonhole of that old coat I’ve given her.
I sit down and hand her the smoked salmon sandwich. She forgets to say thank you and gets busy with the cellophane wrapper. ‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’ she mumbles with her mouth full. I pass her the envelope. ‘We said fifty quid from now on. Hope you haven’t forgotten.’
‘You’re worth every penny,’ I answer warmly.
She takes the can of Guinness from her pocket, and rips off the tag with her teeth. ‘Cheers,’ she says pocketing the envelope. ‘What a beautiful day.’
I lean closer and breathe her in. The heady combination of Armani’s Absolutely Irresistible and black Sobranie’s make me feel warm and safe. ‘You were wonderful this week.’
‘It’s not easy, living with this gift, you know. Don’t get too close – you know it makes me nervous.’
She has a new ring on her finger. A large single diamond. ‘You were right,’ I say. ‘It was just like you said. I met the man of my dreams. On the escalator at work. I tripped, and as he helped me up, our eyes met. I heard music. Pity he has a wife. Such a shame.’
‘That’s the way of the world,’ she sighs.
‘You probably saved my life too, by the way.’
‘That was particularly difficult to accomplish. Tell me more.’
‘It was the gas. I left it on. Remember, I told you I forget sometimes. You know the flame often goes out in the winter. I fell asleep and thanks to you the meter ran out. Bless you. You do such wonderful work.’
She gives me the empty wrapper and faces me full on. She wipes her mouth with her coat sleeve and screws up her eyes. ‘This week will demand great vigilance. It will involve considerable time and effort on my part. I will need to double my fees for this one.’
I ask her if she will be happy for me to pay her next Monday. Her mouth turns down at the corners. ‘I shall be passing this way tomorrow. We shall meet here at the same time. If you have a pair of warm winter gloves and a nice salmon sandwich – with half a dozen slices of cucumber this time – I shall get along very nicely.’
I’m so glad my mother’s fur-lined gloves are going to such a deserving home. They fit her perfectly. I wait for her to finish eating. ‘Beg pardon’, she burps happily. ‘This week’s going to be particularly demanding for you.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Listen carefully, love. It’s vital you only walk on the left hand side of the road, if you get my drift. If you don’t, all manner of unpleasant things are going to happen.’
This, I explain, will be difficult, because I have trouble knowing my right from my left.
‘Easy,’ she exclaims. ‘Buy some white cotton gloves and write L and R on them in red biro.’
‘What an intelligent suggestion’, I sigh. ‘No sooner said than done.’
‘Just one other thing,’ she warns.
‘The bears are about. It’s that time of year again. You remember. The pavement? Don’t tread on the cracks or they’ll get you. Can’t trust bears, you know…’