My eyes scanned the vicinity. A spaniel was hurtling after a spinning Frisbee while its teenage owner clapped excitedly. There were clusters of guys here and there, some in uniforms, some in tees and shorts, some playing rugby, some playing soccer, and some playing cricket. There were ladies in groups and ladies alone, some in dresses, some in tees and mini shorts, some reading books or magazines, some playing a guitar, and some smoking. People were everywhere; people dressed in different wears, people doing something, and people doing absolutely nothing. It was summer in Cambridge.
Beatrice and I chose a spot close to a group of guys and ladies; two were strumming their guitars. The melody was soft, sweet and soothing. Beatrice lay on her back and beckoned to me to join her. She looked cute in her dark sunglasses white tennis shoes, khaki three-quarters and yellow tee. I wore a blue and red flowered shirt, khaki three-quarters, a brown and black boat shoe, and a pair of dark sunglasses, hanging from my shirt’s pocket. If a couple were defined by their dress code, we were a couple.
I wore the sunglasses, lay beside my best friend, and stared directly into the eye of the golden yellow circle in the sky. So far, the day had gone well. Beatrice’s advice had paid off. The pathway leader had been very helpful with my dissertation’s challenges. Now I was back on track, and with or without the help of my supervisor, I should have it completed in a couple of weeks. I shut my eyes and enjoyed the pleasure of friend and nature.
‘Bzzzz! Bzzzz!’ Come on! I had barely lain for 10 minutes and now this! I hated bees and their annoying buzzing. I hurried up and took a mad swipe at the pesky insect. I missed and then I tried again, and again, and again, but the outcome was the same. Beatrice laughed and I swore. The bee finally lost interest and sailed off to bother someone else. As I regained my composure I noticed the elegant figure of Ashley Kazembe.She was with a group of three attractive ladies in tight mini shorts and red tees, but none of them quite matched her beauty, at least not to me. Her brown Afro hairstyle and dainty fair skin were perfect partners. Rumours had it that her father was from Zimbabwe while her mum was Spanish. A familiar sensation grew between my thighs and my soul grew feather light. I wasn’t a shy person by any standard but for some reason I had never been able to muster enough courage to introduce myself, even though she lived only two houses away from mine!
‘You know you’ll never know unless you give it a shot,’ Beatrice said. She was seated now.
‘Yeah,’ I replied. But I remained seated.
‘Go on then. Go say hello,’ she nudged me, ‘and if she is a bitch, I will be here to weather the embarrassment.’
I was too nervous to laugh at her joke. I reluctantly got up, exhaled, turned to Beatrice, ‘Wish me luck,’ and embarked on what seemed like a thousand-mile voyage to Ashley Kazembe.
My legs weighed heavier than ship anchors but I got there eventually.
‘Hello,’ I said. They all looked at me. My armpits were sweaty now.
No one spoke, only stares.
‘Hello,’ I said again. This time, Ashley Kazembe spoke.
‘Isn’t it as plain as the nose on your face that we don’t want to be disturbed?’ Her voice was not as gentle as I had imagined but hoarse in a way that would be terrible for singing.
Suddenly she didn’t look pretty any longer, only ordinary; an ordinary girl who lacked manners. I smiled and my confidence was back.
‘Wow, I didn’t see that coming. Who would have thought you were just another piece of silliness?’ I put my hands in my pockets, ‘Well, have a nice day.’ The mute shock in her eyes was immensely satisfying. I strode back to Beatrice.
‘Here we are ladies,’ Adrien said as the car came to a halt in front of a shop.
It had a small notice board by the door that read McDaniels Antiquity and Art and an Open sign that hung from a hook on the transparent glass door. I peered through the door and noticed how small the shop looked. At the end of the room was a counter erected over a long rectangular display glass containing jewels. A casually dressed man engrossed on a computer monitor stood behind the counter.
A bell rung as we gained access into the store. The dark-brown haired man behind the counter in a blue-and-white checked shirt recognized Mrs. Padraig instantly and hobbled over to welcome us, his protruded belly pushing against the shirt, waves of black curls visible behind the two popped buttons. He had on a pair of blue beach shorts and a pair of red flip-flops. He looked forty-something, at least.
His bulgy eyes gleamed behind a pair of white glasses, and when he spoke, his tone/accent was American. ‘Hello there, Edna,’ he said in a soft voice, extending his right hand.
‘Michael, it is nice to see you again,’ Mrs. Padraig replied, shaking his hand. ‘This is Sumbo, my friend,’ she introduced.
He extended a hand, ‘Welcome to McDaniels Antiquity, Miss Sumbo.’
‘The pleasure is mine, Mr. Michael,’ I replied, accepting the hand shake.
‘Please, I don’t like to be reminded how old I am, Michael will do just fine,’ he grinned.
‘Very well,’ I laughed. ‘Michael it is.’
He turned back to Mrs. Padraig. ‘There are a few new additions in store. Please come with me.’
I wondered where the collections were hidden in such a small room.
He led the way to a brown blind at the left end of his store, and pulled it apart. My eyes widened in surprise as it opened to a fairly large, white room that contained different paintings and art items. The paintings were hung on walls while the art items stood on stool-like bases. I marveled at a half-squatting, miniature wooden monkey with hollow eyes; right hand akimbo and left hand outstretched like it was demanding a banana.I ran a finger over the begging palm for a brief moment before searching for another object of fancy.
As I inspected the sculptures, I wondered where Mrs. Padraig was so I looked over my shoulder. She and Michael huddled together at the right corner of the gallery, conversing in low tones. Michael’s eye darted to me once and returned swiftly to his companion.First the blackout, now Secret Service conversations: what could be happening? Well, it wasn’t my business until it became mine. So I continued my appreciation of the art before me.
I found a black and white painting that secured my attention. An exhausted looking woman with disheveled hair and clothes being dragged on one hand by a violent looking man with three butterflies hovering around his head, while pulling a pregnant wailing teenage girl on the other hand. The emotion it triggered was so disheartening that I might have shed a tear if I had not felt a hand on my shoulder at that moment. Mrs. Padraig was by my side studying the same art.
‘Torn between the love for a man and a child,’ Mrs. Padraig said, her hand leaving my shoulder.
‘Saddening piece,’ I replied, returning my gaze to the art.
‘A good piece to add to my collection,’ she said.
My expression changed from sadness to a puzzled one. ‘But it is rather saddening.’ The words were out of my mouth before I could take caution. I had no right voicing my opinion about a non-work issue, unless it was requested. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be silly. Speak your mind,’ she smiled. ‘Life is both sad and happy. It wouldn’t be right to have only happy paintings.’
Her statement sounded weird but it strangely made sense. I nodded.
‘I see your point.’
‘Michael,’ she called, turning around.
He was talking animatedly to a customer. He smiled and raised his index finger in a wait–a-minute gesture. He rounded up his conversation, or perhaps told the lady to hold on for a bit, and was with Mrs. Padraig in seconds.
‘I see you have found something appealing,’ he grinned. ‘And a good choice at that.’
I wondered how much it cost. The price tag was not hard to locate; it sat at the art’s base: GBP1,980 pounds! That was awfully close to my monthly salary.
Michael picked up the drawing, still grinning.‘I’ll wrap it up right away. Please come with me.’
The moment we reached the counter, while Michael was punching some data into the computer, I peered through the show glass. There were a couple of rings on display. Only one stood out from the shiny set. It looked dull and archaic, like it had been passed down from generation to generation. A tiny silver star was on its pale gold-colored rim. For some reason my heart started beating fast and I wanted to have it. I waited for Michael to meticulously wrap up the piece and collect Mrs. Padraig’s card payment.
‘Isn’t this for sale?’ I pointed at the object. ‘The one without a price tag.’ I asked as he handed back Mrs. Padraig’s card.
Surprise registered on his face. ‘This very one?’ he asked, pointing at the same object. There were no other ones without price tags in the whole display glass for that matter. ‘Yes, Michael,’ I chuckled. ‘That very one.’
‘The look on your face Michael tells me there’s a story behind this ring,’ Mrs. Padraig said, peering into the display glass.
‘Actually, there is,’ Michael said. The surprise in his face was no more. ‘I got this from a friend who owns a pawn shop. At that time, he was in a bit of financial crises so I offered to buy off some of his items. He particularly warned me not to select the ring, saying he had not been able to sell it for 6 months. I did not believe there was an item in this world that couldn’t be sold in my store so I added it to my purchases. When I got to my store, I polished it, and put it on display. I decided not to put a price tag on it so it would -’ The bell from the exit door interrupted him. It was another customer. He waved at Michael and went straight into the room behind the curtain.
Michael continued, ‘Yeah, so I decided not to put a price tag on it so it would stand out. It didn’t work. Customers just seemed to ignore it. And that was about a year ago.’ I reasoned that there had to be something fundamentally wrong with the ring, and it was best left alone, but now the intrigue was much more than I could resist. Mrs. Padraig must have caught the look in my eyes because she said, ‘Something tells me that the ring’s neglect days are over.’
‘So how much does it cost?’ I asked.
‘Give me a minute,’ he said and punched some keys into the computer. ‘Ah, yes. 40 pounds but I’m prepared to give it away for half price.’
The enthusiasm in his voice told me he wanted to get rid of the ring. I fished out a twenty-pound note, but Mrs. Padraig had already given Michael her debit card.
‘You didn’t have to Mrs. Padraig.’
‘Edna, Sumbo. It’s Edna from now on.’ She waved her index finger at me jocularly. ‘I want to. Besides its nothing compared to the company you’ve so graciously provided.’
‘Thank you, Mrs. – Edna,’ I smiled.
Michael readily swiped the card, returned the key to Edna, delicately placed the ring in a small grey box, and handed it to me.
Mrs. Padraig dialed a number on her mobile, and Adrien showed in a matter of minutes. He smiled, said hello to Michael, picked up the wrapped art piece and exited the shop.
‘I have to attend to other customers,’ Michael said. ‘It’s been a pleasure having you again Mrs. Padraig, and you too Miss Sumbo. I hope to see you again soon.’
‘See you later, Michael,’ Edna said.
‘It’s been a pleasure meeting you too,’ I said. I gave him a wave as we left the shop. Adrien was waiting by the opened car, rear door. The moment the door was shut behind us, it occurred to me I hadn’t tried on the ring. I fished out the box and tried it: A nice fit. It was perhaps my imagination, but I felt a warm sensation rush up to my brain.
Kreate is a budding Nigerian writer with a flair for fiction. Writing for him began sometime in secondary school where he dabbled in poetry and plays. He has authored two self-published short novels. He is a banker and lives in Surulere. Read more interesting pieces at KREATEATALE