Leonard parked his car in the car park behind the shops, got out and opened the boot, from which he tooktwo
large plastic bags full of dirty clothes. It was Friday. Every week on this day Leonard went to the shopping centre. He took his washing to the launderette, and while his clothes were being cleaned
he did his shopping, then picked up his laundryand went home. Since his divorce this had been his weekly programme.
He had just enough time to close the boot on his clean laundry and his shopping when he was hit by a car that quickly took flight. The car had pushed him against his own car and damaged his leg.
The knock had left Leonard in a confused state of mind. He was in such pain that he went to the hospital. After waiting in the hospital for an hour he was x-rayed and then he was told he had a broken leg. His left leg was in plaster from his foot up to his knee. While the doctor was working he told him, “You say you were hit by a car, then you should report it and if possible get something out of it. We see too many inexplicable accidents here.”
The plaster was cold and wet, in spite of the blanket he had been given, Leonard couldn’t resist shivering. The doctor asked him, “Do you feel cold?”
“Yes, no, well I don’t know. I’m fine doctor. Don’t worry.”
What Leonard didn’t want to tell the doctor was that he knew who was responsible for the ‘accident’. Of course, it was impossible to prove it but he knew who was behind it. There was no idea of killing him, it was to warn him to be more careful in the way he organised labour matters in the company.
Leonard’s house was in the suburbs and he returned once the plaster was dry. He was in pain but nevertheless, he
went indoors, shut the front door and went into the living-room, poured a glass of whiskey on the rocks and sat down on the sofa. I need it, he said to himself. As Leonard was sitting on the sofa
the sky darkened, and soon he fell asleep.
On waking up Leonard’s head was invaded with thoughts of the morning’s events. He felt frustrated because of not being able to walk properly and lonely because he had no one to talk to about what had taken place. He went into the kitchen to prepare some food. He opened the fridge door and a bottle of milk fell out. He thought that he should look for a housekeeper or a cook. No, no, he didn’t want another woman in his life. Never again!
The plastered leg seemed to be heavier than before, but Leonard managed to clean up the spilt milk and picked up the plastic bottle from the floor.
That night Leonard went to bed early, but due to the weight of the plaster and the discomfort he took longer than usual to fall asleep.
It was eight o’clock in the evening and Nadia was still in the offices of the car showroom that belonged to her
family. When she was widowed, Nadia asked her father for a job in the office, more to distract her than for the money. At the beginning it seemed to be the most boring job imaginable, but with time
she had begun to enjoy it. She finished her work and went home.
Her home was exactly the same as she had left it that morning. Nothing was out of place. It looked like an unlived-in house, Nadia thought every evening when she opened the front door. Everything predictable. At times she had thought it would be interesting to arrive home and find a window or a door open: with no other motive than to put a little colour in a monotonous existence. She was a widow. Her husband’s unexpected death had saved her from a sterile situation. Both of her children lived far away, and didn’t understand their mother’s attitude when she turned down invitations from men.
Nadia entered the kitchen and placed some shopping on the table, from the fridge she took out a prepared light dinner. The television was boring, so she sat and contemplated the night from her living-room window.
Nadia switched on the radio on the bedside table to help her sleep. And she waited for sleep to arrive through the soft and tranquilising sounds of the music.
When his leg allowed him more freedom of movement Leonard inspected his car. There was nothing on it to show
what had happened, but to avoid problems Leonard left it in his garage and used a taxi service. Leonard knew why and who had been behind his ‘accident’. Anyway he wasn’t going to present a
complaint but would wait for the day when his enemy went too far.
Leonard worked in an asbestos factory. He had gone to work there when he was young and had been, for the past five years, the head of the Labour Safety department. During that time he had provoked a lot of anger among the board of directors. The first time Leonard had shown his talent as the workers’ representative was when he saw that the overalls were not up to the government standard. The workers said they would go on strike if their overalls were not replaced. Much to their dismay, the board of directors had no alternative but to go along with the workers’ petition and get the men new overalls to protect them from the asbestos. From that time on Leonard was a marked man. The ex-head of Labour Safety, Conrad, was now on the board of directors and he disliked Leonard. Once upon a time Conrad had been like Leonard with similar ideas, but since he had been on the board he was just the same as the other members. Anything that Leonard did, Conrad had to attack him personally.
Conrad was behind this, Leonard thought to himself. Leonard had a new problem, the workers asked to reduce the number of hours they worked due to the danger from the asbestos. This meant that he had to increase the number of workers without increasing the overall cost. It was a provocative situation but asbestos was also provocative. Leonard managed to get behind his desk and rang for his assistant. His office door opened and Trina, his assistant, entered. The first impression of Trina was that she was maternal. It was her round curves with nothing of the seductress about her. It was for this reason Leonard had chosen her, and for her talent in the office.
With Trina I am safe and sound, thought Leonard, who didn’t want problems with women. Feeling happier in his office with all the work problems than at home with peace and boredom, Leonard began a new day in the fight for his identity and esteem through the workers problems.
Nadia felt cold. Instead of putting on her usual clothes she had let herself be taken in by the sun and blue sky
and had worn a thin blouse and a thin cardigan, and coatless too. Her office was inside the showroom and therefore received a constant draught of cold air. Halfway through the morning Nadia went to
the nearest café to get a cup of tea. I’m going to catch a fantastic cold, she thought.
At lunchtime Nadia went home to change her clothes and while she was there she switched on the television. The news reader was talking about an asbestos factory. It had problems with the workers. The head of the safety department appeared on the screen, a short, dark, middle-aged man. It was Leonard, who said they needed more men to work in the factory in order to protect the present workers’ health by working fewer hours, which was the policy of their competitors. Leonard’s answer was firm, he reasoned the company wanted to save money, and the workers’ health was of no interest to them. ‘Make money however we can’, was their slogan, knowing perfectly the damage being done to their workers’ lungs. When the interviewer returned to the viewers, Leonard and Conrad were seen exchanging an icy look. The news finished with the weather report. Nadia switched off the television and went back to work.
Changing her clothes for warmer ones had been a good idea, thought Nadia. The promise of spring had gone only to be replaced by winter. That afternoon there was a freezing wind, and later on it got very cloudy.
Leonard was lying down on a bed in the hospital having the plaster removed. As soon as it was off, Leonard was
afraid to move. “After so many weeks with the plaster on I’ve got used to it. Doctor, are you sure my leg is all right?”
The doctor stared at Leonard, “Of course, your leg’s perfectly mended.”
Leonard stood up and began to walk cautiously. “You’re right, Doctor. My leg is fine. Thank you very much.”
The doctor and Leonard shook hands.
Leonard had never reported the ‘accident’.
He must have his reasons for not having done so, thought the doctor as he watched Leonard get into a taxi.
The car showroom was on a corner. Leonard got out of the taxi and went inside. He saw a woman who was standing behind a desk and went up to her. “Good morning.”
Nadia looked at him and with her professional smile on her lips said, “Good morning, can I help you?”
Leonard went straight to the point, “Yes, you can help me. I need a car that’s not too flashy and in a popular colour. To sum it up, a discreet car.”
“Would you prefer new or second-hand?” Nadia asked him.
“New, I already have a car and I’d like to know if it’s possible to hand it over in part exchange for the new one.”
“Yes, sir, it’s possible. It’s the most usual way of buying a new one. In fact if the old one is the same make as the new one we are very generous with the discount.”
“Very good. Can you show me the latest models?”
Nadia picked up from her desk a catalogue of the newest models, with prices and colours. “Do you want two, four or five doors?”
“What I want is that it’s not too large and easy to manage around town.”
Nadia took him to the part of the showroom where the smaller cars were displayed. She had recognised him but could not remember where or when. He certainly had a domineering air about him, even aggressive. A man used to a hard and difficult life.
Among the models on show there wasn’t much difference in the design, only in the size. Nadia guided Leonard from one model to another. When they had seen every single one, Leonard turned to Nadia and said, “I like the dark green one with two doors.”
“Would you care to test drive it, to see how it goes?”
“Yes, of course.”
Nadia told a young man to take over the showroom while she was out with a client test drive. Leonard sat in the driver’s seat and Nadia sat beside him. Leonard asked her, “Where do people usually go to test drive your cars?”
“On the motorway as far as the restaurant and then back again.” Nadia didn’t care much for Leonard, but he was a client, and you have to be professional, whatever the cost.
“Your job is rather odd for a woman, isn’t it?” Leonard spoke as he was driving with extraordinary ability. Nadia didn’t answer him, she was thinking of the sale of the car and nothing else. Leonard attacked again, “Is this your regular work or are you substituting somebody?”
Nadia continued silent, but inside she was hopping mad. She put on her professional smile, “What do you think of the car?”
“I think the car is all right, but you haven’t answered my questions.”
What one has to put up with from men! Nadia continued smiling. “Do you want this colour or a paler shade?” It was an attempt to change the subject.
Leonard was far too astute for her. “I like the car just as it is. Let’s make a deal: you want to sell this car, well then, answer my questions.”
“Who do you think you are? This job is mine, and I’m good. Of course I want to sell the car but I don’t see why I have to answer this kind of questions. Men are all the same.”
Leonard said nothing. On arriving at the restaurant. “Would you like to have something?”
“No, thank you. I’ve got to get back to the office.” Nadia was angry with herself for flying off the handle.
The two got out of the car at the showroom.
“Tomorrow, I’ll be here with my present car and we’ll finish the sale. All right?”
Leonard went up to Nadia and she, still annoyed with herself, said to him, “Very well, see you tomorrow. I’m sorry for speaking in that way. It wasn’t very professional on my part.”
“It doesn’t matter. See you tomorrow.” And he left.
Nadia was having dinner and watching the television. When she saw Leonard on the screen she almost swallowed a fish bone. She raised the volume. Leonard was again talking about how the board of directors had not made a decision yet on whether they would be taking on more workers. Speaking on behalf of the board, Conrad said that Leonard was not realistic. As it was very like the previous interview Nadia then realized why she had recognised Leonard. She now understood why he had been so arrogant with her. Domineering chauvinist!
Leonard had turned off the television when the interview was over. What was it Conrad had said? To be careful!
What will happen to me the next time? Kill me? No, I don’t believe they would go that far. They know I’m right. But for how long are we going to continue like this?
Even though he would never have admitted it, Leonard was tired. He had received blows from both sides, the board and the workers. His marriage had failed due to his excessive interest in the safety in the factory. Women! The only thing they’re interested in is money. As long as the money’s all right, nothing else matters. Leonard’s ex-wife had taken from him a more than healthy sum of money, and now she was in another city with their children enjoying her ill-gotten gains. Leonard thought to himself that no other woman would enter his home.
When the weight of silence accompanied by pessimistic thoughts was too much to bear, Leonard would switch on the television or put on a DVD to distract him. In spite of work with all its responsibilities and commitments, Leonard knew that there was something, or somebody, missing.
Nadia raised her head from the work in front of her. It was him! What did he want? She put on her professional smile. “Good morning. Something wrong with the car?”
Leonard didn’t know how to reply. He was in that part of town and suddenly saw the car showroom, and through the window, Nadia’s chestnut hair and her sherry coloured eyes came into his mind. Without thinking twice, he parked in front of the showroom and was now standing before her with not a single word to say, so he just said, “Thank you for everything. I’m more than satisfied with the car.”
“By the way, I saw you on television the other day. As nothing more has been put out on the news about the factory, I suppose everything’s solved.”
Nadia didn’t have the slightest idea why she had mentioned about the television. The words had come out without thinking. Leonard saw the reference to the television as a sign of a change in her, and launched himself, “Are you free?”
“Free? I’m working. Can’t you see that?”
“Yes. Yes, but can’t you leave it to go out?”
“I can’t leave my work. Excuse me.” Nadia went back to the papers in front of her. What’s he after? He’s still arrogant and chauvinistic. She thought.
“Well, I’m off. Sorry for having annoyed you.”
“I’m happy the car’s going well. When I sold it to you I had no doubts. It’s a very popular model. Good morning.”
Leonard had no other resort than to go.
After a couple of beers Leonard felt better and more decided. So she thinks that rejecting me in such a cold way
she won’t be hearing from me again. Well, she is very wrong.
“You again! What are you after?”
“We’re going to have lunch, and don’t tell me you aren’t hungry.”
On seeing Leonard in a good mood and not wanting to create a scene in front of a couple of clients who were with the young man, she got up and followed Leonard to the street. “I don’t want to go anywhere with you.”
She was angry but this didn’t affect Leonard at all. “Do you want me to choose the place or will you?”
“Are you deaf? I’m not going out with you?” And Nadia turned round to go, but Leonard took her by the arm.
“Your behaviour’s infantile and boring. Do you think I’m going to rape you? There’s nothing further from the truth. I was in this district and wanted to see you, that’s all. So don’t put intentions where none exist.”
Leonard opened the car door and Nadia got in without saying a word. The journey to the restaurant was in silence. Leonard didn’t know why he had invited a woman he didn’t get on with to lunch, and Nadia had the feeling she had behaved like an idiot for the second time before a man she didn’t like.
They went to a place unknown to both of them. They didn’t speak till coffee was served. The meal had been delicious and they felt less bad-tempered. Nadia repeated the question she had already asked him, “ Are all the problems in the factory solved now?”
“Not yet. But I’m hopeful that it will all be over soon. Anyway, that all depends on the Board of Directors.” Leonard looked at Nadia, “Are you married?”
“No. I’m a widow. And you?”
“I’m divorced. My wife left. She was unable to put up with all the problems at work.”
“I’m not surprised. Nobody likes that sort of thing. I wouldn’t have liked it too much either.”
“Women are all the same. You only want money. If the husband has problems. Poor him! From his darling wife he can’t expect any help or consolation.”
Nadia was furious, “Do you think the only reason a woman exists is to be a man’s consolation? Well, you’re wrong. Women have a right to expect this from a man, too. Isn’t that so? I feel sorry for your wife. I stayed at home till my husband died, and now I am a person instead of being a servant and a nurse. And do you want to know something? I like it.”
There was silence and then Leonard said, “Who do you live with?”
“I live alone.”
Leonard insisted, “Do you like living alone?”
Nadia started to say something but stopped. Seeing the face of the woman opposite him, Leonard knew that the answer would be the same one that he would have given. “What time do you have to be back at the showroom?”
Looking at her wristwatch Nadia saw that she was going to be late. “I’m going to be a bit late, but that isn’t a problem.”
On the way to the car Leonard stopped and looked at Nadia, and said, “It looks like we are in the same situation.”
When Nadia was about to get out of the car, Leonard returned to the attack, “Like to have dinner at my place tomorrow? And don’t tell me you have something to do. If you don’t want to come, tell me the truth.”
“I’ve got nothing to do tomorrow, so I accept your invitation. Thanks, and thank you for lunch.”
“Not at all. Here, take my card. Eight o’clock all right?”
“Yes, fine. Goodbye. See you tomorrow.”
Nadia put the card into her handbag still not knowing the reason for what had happened. She thought that it was the first time she had gone out with a man since Ronald’s death, and into the bargain with someone very bossy. It seemed that things in his private life hadn’t gone off too well. That’s his problem.
Punctually at eight o’clock the following evening Leonard opened the door to Nadia. “I see you’ve had no problem
finding this place. Please come in.”
“Good evening. This place is rather out of the way, isn’t it.”
Nadia followed Leonard to the living-room. He walked over to a trolley full of bottles and glasses.
“ I’ve prepared a cocktail of my own invention. Want to try it?”
“Yes, thank you.” Nadia sipped the cocktail.
“Do you like it?”
“Yes, it’s very good. I’ve never tasted it before.”
Nadia didn’t drink much alcohol and the cocktail seemed to have a relaxing effect on her. She was thinking to herself she didn’t know why she was there with a man who was not only unknown but not her type.
Leonard had made a fantastic dinner. Nadia hadn’t eaten so much nor so well in a very long time “I have to say you are a very good cook. It’s been the best dinner I’ve had for ages.”
“I’m glad you liked it. You don’t go out much, do you?”
“Are we talking about my colourless life again?” Nadia spoke in a softer tone of voice due to the cocktail and the abundant food.
“We have gone back to the subject. It’s like a continuation of our previous conversation. If you prefer to talk about something else then let’s change the subject. I’m going to make coffee. Make yourself comfortable.”
Leonard took the crockery to the kitchen and made coffee. When he got back to the living-room he put the tray on top of a table in front of the sofa. “Nadia, coffee.”
Nadia, yawning, said “Thank you. I’m very sorry but I’m very tired. It’s because of the fabulous dinner.” And she swallowed her coffee.
Leonard sat down beside her. “If you’re tired you know where you ought to be?”
“Yes, I know but I’m here.”
“I’ve got a bed with space for two.”
On hearing these words, Nadia thought of the journey back to her cold and lonely flat and said to Leonard. “Well. I’ll stay. Thank you. But you mustn’t touch me.”
Leonard woke during the night to find his face on Nadia’s hair. The smell of a woman brought back to him buried
and forgotten memories. Nadia opened her eyes. She was thirsty. For the first time, since her widowhood she felt the heat of a man. The thirst can wait, she thought, and closing her eyes she went
back to sleep.
The next day at breakfast, Leonard said, “It’s been very agreeable to have company in the night rather than to be alone.”
Nadia stared him straight in the eye and said, “Yes, better than four walls. I haven’t even got a budgie to keep me company at home.”
“Do you want to do this again?”
The rest of the morning was spent with Leonard and Nadia organising their life together. She declared that she didn’t want to be the submissive woman waiting at home for the man to arrive, and she wanted to go on working. Leonard agreed because he had got used to looking after himself.
At one o’clock Leonard stood up, “I’ve got to leave. There’s a meeting today with the Board of Directors. This might be the last one. I hope so.”
“I have to leave, too.” They left together and got into their respective cars.
Nadia went in the direction of the showroom and Leonard towards the factory. Both were thinking of how their lives had changed. They felt nearly happy.
© Copyright 2016 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.
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