The clients came yesterday. I am used to African time so even though they had told me that they would be leaving the city at six in the morning, I figured I would be lucky to see them by ten. At dawn I had more or less found a comfortable hollow in the mattress and an arrangement of pillows that allowed me to rest without the fear of spearing a lung with a bit of shattered rib or instinctively slapping a mosquito with a busted hand. The night before I had blasted myself with half a bottle of scotch for medicinal purposes and was feeling pretty bloody fragile. As I lay there, the sun reminding me it was a new day and I had a business to run, I gave up and crawled out of bed.
I like routine, I think I mentioned that I hate it when people mess with my desk and move so much as a pen, never mind having the temerity to tidy it up. I have only been here a month and am living on a building site but already I have my routines. During the day, I have the doors and windows open and Alex is anyway roaming the countryside or splashing in the river but when it is time for him to sleep, I stop smoking and have a place for my cigarettes and lighter so I know exactly where they are when I stumble out of bed the following morning. The ashtray is always positioned closer to my hand than my drink, be that a scotch or the only non alcoholic drink I enjoy, my morning cup of tea, so that I do not spill ash into the drink.
My desk may appear chaotic but it is organised. Having read and enjoyed a particular book, I am reluctant to consign it immediately back to the bookshelf like a whore I have paid and used so they stack up a bit. Sometimes I have three or four books on the go as I need to do the author justice by re reading passages as often, my interpretation of what someone appears to say or write is not what they mean, or is at least open to some interpretation or at the very least, careful consideration.
The middle draw of the right hand bank of my desk contains those tools every man needs to prove to his partner/wife/concubine that he is useful around the house. The top drawer of the same bank contains items in high demand such as paperclips, nail clippers, spare batteries, my hairbrush, a bicycle pump, heart pills and spray, and ink for my fountain pen. The remaining four drawers are similarly organised, each with a more or less generic role. Imagine if, in extremis and blinded with pain, you grasped hurriedly for the nitro lingual and died having sprayed WD 40 down your throat all because someone fucked around with your desk.
I really feel uncomfortable if someone messes with mine.
So my strict adherence to routine but an inability to get up on at least this particular morning found me greeting my clients clad only in boxer shorts, tea kettle unboiled and a toothbrush stuck in my mouth.
I had spent the night coughing up what I was convinced were lumps of congealed blood. At least one of my lungs had collapsed and other injuries had forced me to cancel all forthcoming piano recitals and there I was standing mostly naked on a dirt track, bereft of tea, with two guys offering me an ice cold cider at eight in the morning. Cider.
What a cool start to the day.
And it just got better. I packed them off into their boat and although they didn’t hook into a big one, by the time they got back I was properly shaved and dressed and the barbecue was lit. I had warned them that I wasn’t open yet so they had turned up with half of Waitrose. I am supposed to be running a restaurant but all I did was supply them a boat and a grill and they did the rest. They served us the best meal we have eaten in ages. The wine was divine. The conversation so refreshing. We were sat in a building site but they still said so many encouraging things and convinced me they were looking through the same rose tinted spectacles I was. Even Marcia was infected, producing a delicious salad and new potatoes doused in olive oil kissed with salt and even addressing me directly on occasion.
They told me that they had been reading my blog and expressed their disappointment that neither Dominic or Alex where there before giving Marcia fine Italian patisserie, a bag full of pretty much everything a three year old like Alex would desire and fishing rods and reels for Dominic.
Before they left, which was far too soon, they asked to settle up. Settle up? For the rest of their lives these two guys will stay and eat here for free. I realise that this is not the way to run a business but since this business is mine and I do not have a bean counter on my back anymore, I am so happy to be able to make an incontestable executive decision.
Marcia, who as I have found is not averse to breaking backs for carelss altruism was also entranced. So much so she even slept in the same room as me last night. Not in the same bed, I have to confess, but on a sofa but one at least twenty yards closer to me than the bunk she chose the previous night so, given the confines of the room and the reletive locations of bed and sofa I would say that this was about a thousand percent improvement, so something to be optimistic if not wholly cheerful about.
I had chartered the boat for the whole day and the lads had only used it for two hours but I explained to the owner that a day’s charter was a day’s charter so stumped up the cash on the nail. A deal is a deal as far as I was concerned and after all, just the rods and reels they left for Dominic at Angolan prices were worth miles more especially as Dominic is thirteen on Friday and giving a lad what he wants on his Birthday is priceless.
The boat owner was bloody reasonable. He knows I am a keen fisherman and he pointed out that I had paid all the fuel and mix and now a full charter so this morning he took me out fishing.
I hooked into everything. At one point I had to tell the man to kill the engine and help me as I had two on the go. These are only small skiffs with a 40 horsepower on the back so there are no fancy fish boxes or anything like that. We were skidding on the deck with nowhere to plant our feet as it was swilling with fish, big buggers, all between 20 and 25 kilos. I was sunburned to shit. My hands were all cut up from grabbing leaders over the side so Bota could get them with the gaff. This evening I realise that my right hand is size extra fat again, I have teeth marks all over my remaining fingers from tugging lures out and my ribs are really killing me but then, there out on that water six or seven miles into the Atlantic with all those fish? I reckon you could have drilled me with a 12 Gauge and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Finally Bota says that unless we want to paddle back (and, by the way, we don’t have paddles), we need to head in as the fuel is gone. How many times have you sport fishermen been out there and finally given it up because you have endured a whole day without a nibble and have run out of beer? Imagine throwing in the towel through lack of fuel when the fish are trying their hardest to give themselves up? Well I’ve never been there before. This was an outstanding day cut short by poor logistics. All I can say with absolute confidence is that unless you were debilitated by sea sickness (and the sea was rough), under the same circumstances you would be madder than a sack full of cut snakes.
We got back in and started to unload and clean the fish. The locals pitched up and then Marcia appeared and asked Bota how much for some of the best ones she had her eye on.
‘Ask Sr. Tomas,’ he said, ‘It’s his charter and he caught them’
What a decent bloke. I let Marcia choose a couple and then offered the rest to Bota. He offered my charter fee back.
This evening I cooked Marcia and the family a fish supper during which Marcia actually engaged me in animated conversation. It was pretty good, (the fish supper I mean as, with only a side of decent ribs left and one clandestine attack with a broom behind me I was on my guard a bit at all this unexpected civility), at the end of which Bota once again offered me the fee back in exchange for all the fish that, as far as I was concerned were already his.
Bugger that, I said, keep the fish and the fee and let’s go fishing again.
I think we are looking at the start of a beautiful relationship.