24 Nov A Matter of Living
‘We’re going to have to let you go,’ said the elderly gentleman.
‘Mr Harris, you don’t understand. I really need this.’
‘I’m sorry Abdul,’ came back the reply.
‘You don’t understand. You said yourself I was doing a good job the last couple of months.’
‘And you have been. But we can’t afford to keep the extra hands. We’ve been trying to cut down on costs. And unfortunately it’s come down to the fact that we can’t keep all of you.’
The gentleman pulled his chair back from behind the table and slowly got up. He reached forward to shake Abdul’s hand.
‘I’m really sorry son. Look after yourself.’
The gentleman walked out of the room whilst Abdul remained seated for a minute. He gave a large sigh and then got up himself, walked out of the room and descended a flight of stairs. He flung a door open and was now outside. In all his frustration, he suddenly remembered something. He took out his wallet from his inside coat pocket and looked inside. Only two notes and a few coins remained.
He continued walking and kept looking at all the shops around him and at the crowds of people frantically moving about. He walked a couple of blocks and then stopped and looked at the shop on the corner of the street. The sign above it read ‘ANDERSON’S BAKERY’.
He looked both ways and then crossed the road towards the bakery and then slowly walked in. The place was dimly lit and it was mostly dark apart from the streak of sunlight that was coming in through the window. The dust around the window panes was standing out now.
‘Hey Abdul, how’s it going?’
‘Not too bad Marty. How’s business?’
‘Not bad mate. Not great either. We’ve been in a bit of a tight spot recently.’
‘I’ve heard that before.’
‘But we’re surviving you know.’
‘It’s the best you can hope for. You’re not totally out of it yet.’
‘Yeah, I hear you.’
Abdul picked up the smallest piece of bread he could find from the baskets on the shop counter and then gestured to Marty. Marty nodded back. Abdul took a small bite out of the bread and then walked a few steps, looking around the bakery and then came back to face Marty.
Marty was busy arranging some bread and a few slices of cake in a specific order in individual trays. He proudly displayed them behind the glass at the front of the counter. He dusted his hands off and then wiped them on the front of his apron.
‘It’s a bit early to be off from work, don’t you think?’
‘I said it’s a bit early. You know. To get a break and all.’
He’d stumped him. He didn’t know what to say. And then he remembered.
‘Oh, there was a leakage. At work today. When I got in they said there was a leakage. Said it might take a couple of days.’
‘That’s a shame then, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah. Yeah,’ Abdul said before looking at the floor.
‘I’m only kidding. You must be loving it.’
‘You see the game midweek?’ replied Marty.
He had now walked to the far end of the counter and had gone into the backroom. Abdul looked back in the direction of the room and shouted back. He felt a bit better.
‘Yeah. A real good win.’
‘Real good? Is that all you can say? We fucking outplayed them. Outclassed them. That’s how we should be playing. Week in, week out.’
‘Yeah. Not like the shit we sometimes come up with.’
Suddenly the door of the bakery was swept open. The bell had rung. An elderly woman came in, carrying a brown handbag and wearing a tattered looking coat. Marty shouted back.
‘Who’s that then Abdul?’
Abdul looked back up in the direction of the room but had nothing to say. The woman spoke up.
‘It’s me dear. Martin, it’s me.’
She looked in the direction of Abdul.
‘How are you son?’
‘I’m fine, thank you ma’am.’
‘Please, don’t call me ma’am. You make me feel old.’
She smiled back at him. He gave a small laugh and then looked at her withered and tired face. And then his smile quickly disappeared. He was blank again.
Marty came back from the store room. He had a big smile on his face. He suddenly looked as though he was a changed man. He looked respectable all of a sudden.
‘Hello Mrs Murphy. How are you this fine morning?’ His language was different but the sarcasm was still there.
‘Fine morning, Martin? You must be playing a trick on me. Because I can’t see anything of the kind.’
He smiled back. ‘They’re saying it’s supposed to brighten up.’
‘They’ve been saying that my whole life.’
‘You ought to get yourself some new protection,’ he said. He gestured towards the worn out coat.
‘No, no. I could never. My husband got that for me many years ago. It means a lot to me you know.’
Marty gave a smile and then looked in Abdul’s direction. Abdul shrugged his shoulders back in response. She continued talking.
‘But it’s not that bad. It keeps me warm.’
‘How is Mr Murphy?’
‘He’s not bad. He had a fall a couple of days ago. The doctor told him to rest a couple of weeks. For a while at least.’
Marty and Abdul both spoke up.
‘I’m really sorry about that.’
She looked at both of them, smiled and then continued.
‘Well, at least he’s alright.’
She paused for a minute, looked around the bakery and then faced the pair of them.
‘I ought to give you boys some advice. When you settle down with someone, make sure you last. All the way through. It’ll do you the world of good. Everything will be so much easier.’
Abdul really felt something when she said those words. And Marty probably did as well but he didn’t wait to think about it.
‘I’ll be sure to make a note of it. Whenever I find someone that is.’
He laughed for a few seconds and then continued.
‘So Mrs Murphy. The usual I take it?’
Marty walked out from behind the counter and went to the far corner of the bakery. He picked out two loaves of rye bread and placed them in a large paper bag, which he brought back with him and placed on the counter.
‘Anything else? We got some great cakes and pastries. They’re fresh. You’ll like them.’
‘No, thank you. That comes in handy if you’ve got someone coming over.’
Abdul remembered why he’d come into the bakery to begin with. But her words kept sticking out to him. She passed over a small note to Marty who returned a few coins. She picked up the paper bag and addressed Marty.
‘Thank you Martin. Look after yourself.’
‘Will do Mrs Murphy. Thanks again. And take care.’
She turned and faced Abdul.
‘It was nice meeting you, young man. Look after yourself. And remember, just last. Last and you’ll find a way.’
‘And you Miss. Thank you again.’
She smiled at his words and then slowly walked out of the bakery. The bell rung again to signal her departure. Marty spoke up.
‘She’s a lovely lady. Real nice. A shame about her rotten family.’
‘What about her family?’
‘Nothing. Forget about that. What about your family? How’s your wife? The kids?’
‘They’re good. Everything’s going alright so far.’
‘And long may it continue. Eh?’
Abdul paused and then continued.
‘Where’s your dad? I haven’t seen him around.’
Marty was slightly hesitant about answering. But then he spoke.
‘He’s decided to call it a day. His joints have been screwing with him. Figured I could handle it myself, so he left it to me.’
‘I’m sorry about that. But can you handle it? You know, day to day? By yourself?’
‘I’m alright with it. But it wouldn’t hurt to get some help around here.’
He looked at Abdul, who looked back wide eyed.
‘I’m just saying. But you probably wouldn’t go for it. Hell, you got your own job. A well paying one at that.’
Abdul suddenly spoke up but was careful with his words once he remembered his current situation.
‘No, that would be great. I’d love for something like that. Something totally different. It’d seem like great fun.’
‘That it isn’t. Lot of work.’
‘But you’ll let me know. Whenever that time comes your way. Eh?’
Abdul then took his wallet out and looked at what remained. The two notes and the few coins. He was thinking of what to get. His daughter really liked lemon cake. She wasn’t fond of any other flavours. And his son favoured chocolate. His wife preferred the cake with a raspberry filling and a sprinkling of icing on top.
‘Hey Marty. Can you get the…’
‘Yeah, yeah. I know.’
Marty turned around and picked out the largest slice he could get of each cake and each flavouring. He put all three in a large paper bag and placed it on the counter. Abdul looked at the wallet and handed the two notes over. He picked the bag up and then with the few coins left he asked for a small milk chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips. He took the cookie, wrapped in tissue, and placed it in his outer coat pocket. Marty started to speak up.
‘Hey, c’mon Abdul. You’re not going are you?’
‘Should be getting back.’
‘Yeah. I guess. Thanks for the company.’
‘No problem. Glad to pass the time. I’ll see you soon.’
Abdul began walking out before Marty called out one more time. He stopped in his tracks.
‘That curry I had last time. The one your wife made. It was smashing. But it was really spicy.’
‘It was mild.’
‘To you, yeah. But for me.’
‘Yeah, she makes a great curry. Next time I’ll ask her to hold off on the spice.’
Abdul had walked out of the bakery and was now on his way back. The crowds were in full flow now. He continued walking a few blocks down the street and then turned right. A few minutes later he was standing outside a block of flats. He sighed and then walked towards the door of the building. A few floors up, the doors of the lift slowly opened and Abdul walked out. As the key turned in the lock, the front door of the flat was wide open. A voice called out from the living room.
‘Yeah. It’s me.’
A young woman came out of the room and was walking down the hallway.
‘How was work?’
‘It was alright.’
‘Did they let you off early today?’
‘Yeah, about that, you see…’
Suddenly the voices of children came ringing down the hallway as footsteps came running towards Abdul.
He knelt down and hugged both his children. He felt great all of a sudden.
‘And how are you two doing?’
His daughter began to talk whilst his son followed right behind.
‘Daddy, how was work?’
‘It was alright. I’m glad to see you though. Both of you.’
His wife looked down at him.
‘Fine. I’m glad to see all three of you.’
His son followed right after.
‘Daddy, what’s in the bag?’
Abdul opened up the bag and took out the two large slices of cake and placed each in front of the two of them. Their faces lit up. His daughter was ecstatic and his son couldn’t contain himself.
‘Mummy, didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I tell you? That Daddy wouldn’t forget? That they’d remember?’
‘Yes! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’
He slowly got up and faced his wife. He took the last remaining slice of cake out of the bag.
‘And this one’s for you.’
‘Thank you. But you didn’t need to. I mean we still had some stuff left.’
‘Yeah but that stuff wasn’t good,’ called out the young boy.
His mother gave him a stern look and he turned his head to the floor. Abdul continued.
His daughter was suddenly curious.
‘Daddy, where’s your cake?’
He put his hand in his outer right coat pocket and felt the small cookie wrapped in tissue. And then he faced his daughter.
‘Don’t you worry about me. I had mine on the way.’
His wife began to talk.
‘You want a cup of tea?’
‘Yeah, would love one.’
She smiled and then turned back down the hallway.
As he took his shoes off, he looked up as the children followed their mother. He heard his son ask for tea as well but was told cold milk was all he was getting. He heard laughter. He felt something that he knew couldn’t be taken away from him. He thought that as long as his family were happy, he’d be alright. He thought about Marty and the future. And he remembered Mrs Murphy. And what she had said. In that moment he felt that he too could last. That he too could find a way.