He had been so, so utterly sad for a month now that he could have very easily been made to fall in love. Only in his early twenties, and by most accounts having an enviably bright future ahead of him, his ennui stemmed from what was, in his assessment, the scantiness of suspense. All of his actions – of the day, of the week, the month and so on were etched set on the back of his skull. Rick Bland, the shrewd meets chancy stock-trader by the day, was a mere bland self-traitor by the night. Every night he wondered why he didn’t know what to do with the inflowing money that the day had left him – really, what wretched misery.
It was a Sunday, the hot summer Sunday the most enchanting, the most poetic constituent of which is beyond a glimmer of a doubt the Air Conditioner, and he had been lying in front of it on a bed reading a book of investment mantras that, as the promise went, had all that he needed to know. One could be excused for thinking he was having a good time. Anyhow. Riffling through its pages in a manner of dissatisfied impatience, he suddenly threw the book he didn’t know where, and screamed violently complaining of he didn’t know what. The pressure-cooker, had, burst.
In a matter of seconds though, he had to calm himself up, our mannered lad, our controlled explosion - as soon as was heard approaching the unmistakably dragging stead of old Karen, his neighbour. Into her last days perhaps and alone, she was excusably attracted as much towards the ugly as towards the cheery. It’s much more likely though that she was in fact so enormously repulsed by her own being, that everything else seemed pleasantly inviting by comparison. The scream, vague and short, had spurred her curiosity like she’d spotted a UFO, clear and huge.
She asked him standing at the door ajar if everything was fine, and if she could help him in any way. He, fit, 22, wondered guiltily and she, frail, 74, looked on patiently. As if his paradigms of well-being had been given a wild jolt by this most polite of questions, he clutched the mattress on which he still lay supine even as he said that he was quite all right and was sorry for having disturbed her; his last words trailing off into an abashed, inaudible mumble. He got up thinking desperately of something to talk about with her, to give her company. This was his only atonement, told his conscience; maybe he knew inwardly what ailed a lonely soul in a lavish flat the most. He knew also, after-all, the genesis of his scream, he thought to himself and pouted at the delayed awareness of it. Jump, stand up. Here we go.
After hustling her to the sofa with an amiable, encouraging, requesting face, he rushed at once to the kitchen to make her some tea. She wouldn’t mind some wine, she said with a giggle even as her only surviving frontal upper-jaw tooth hung trembling in a warning to betray her any second. Rick laughed back; ‘Sure, sure’ he said leaning towards the bar.
They gelled readily, and it hadn’t been long before Rick found himself pouring out to her glass the well-kept secrets of his life – his childhood which was spent in a doleful slum outside Upington, that his parents turned up their toes turn by turn when he was still in his teens, how compulsion brought him to Cape Town, and how serendipity made him, a trader’s servant, a trader. He knew a handful of people here outside of his work: the grocery-guy, the pizza-boy, and, and well, that’s that. Sigh. Old Karen gave him a laser stare at this, ‘And me?’, she asked acting somewhat mischievously to have been hurt. ‘What an endearing embarrassment!’ thought Rick, and hugged her at once in true grandsonly fashion.
Days, now, consisted of caring for and being taken care of. Rick brought something new, something special to eat every evening, even though eight out of ten times she, accustomed for years to just porridge and flakes, would be unable to have it. He didn’t mind it, and she? She just loved seeing him lick up his dishes. On weekends, he would take her on a drive to the countryside, where the two of them would watch birds and canals, and occasionally some wild animals, and more rarely still, some spectacular mansions.
“You have weird tastes, I mean, for a 22 year old, don’t you?” she said one day, taking Rick in by surprise.
“Hey, I thought you liked it!” he replied.
“It’s not about me. I’m asking about you.”
“Ha ! I have no taste, I don’t think so. I just like that you like it. That’s all.”
“H’m. You don’t know many girls, do you?” she dropped it.
“Any.” he muttered trying his best to look the other way.
They spent a lot of time fishing that day, and she amazed herself at his enthusiasm after each catch: he would jump and shout like he’d landed on the Moon. ‘He said he liked all of it just because I liked it, that’s all. Was that what he had said?’ she self-talked servicing her rusty, senile memory, when she heard the loud honking of horns: Rick was already prepared to go back, enjoy his catch, on his plate. The drive back home was, ok, it wasn’t exactly awesome with fishstink and karensnore each trying to upstage the other in trying to be Rick’s major headache. And then, we're home; a sparkling new Mercedes parked clumsily already in this cramped, crumbling garage that only this fishloaded MiniCooper was used to getting into.
Rick looked towards Karen, who was still noisily asleep, and considered the possibility of the Mercedes being a surprise present; not that he was desirous of any; not that he would be averse, either. ‘This wasn’t required, but, umm, it’s, wonderful’. In their interactions it had become clear to him that Karen came from a notably affluent family scattered across the globe due to her sons’ professional pursuits. Her husband, of whom he had faint recollections from his first few days here, was a sprightly old man of much local recognition whose funeral had been attended by his patrons in the trading line too. But how is that even remotely a part of the equation, he wondered as he pulled the key out after stopping the car. ‘Would it be proper, Rick, to accept it; wouldn’t it amount to a fee for companionship?’ he froze with a lurking abashment, his arms poised on the steering wheel, the barely resting legs confused in mid-air about their future course of action, and eyes, as if parasitic, swinging alternately between Karen and the mirror with a squeamish restlessness.
‘Aaaaaannchhhi’! You can always count on an old woman to jerk a lost, statue-ed over-thinker into motion, sometimes even when she’s asleep herself. Out they step in a moment into the settling sunlight of a cool evening, and Karen looks at the Merc with an equal curiosity.