“Richard, sorry to bother you. Have you had a response of Miss Jardine yet?”
“Oh yes, didn’t I tell you? You have done a marvellous job, but we didn’t get it. Don’t worry though, we already have two other projects in the pipeline. You get started on those please.” He responded in a very arrogant and nonchalant way.
He had no idea I had been working on this project for numerous nights. I was very confident about the idea and felt shattered hearing his verdict.
“Laura, have you heard?” the receptionist lured me to her desk while I was walking out of Richard’s office.
“I don’t really have time.” I lied, feeling my eyes swell up.
“I will make it short. It’s saucy though.” She whispered. “You know that beautiful woman with the fur coat that was here two weeks ago? Richard used to date her and broke up with her on holiday. He already had another girl at home. You see, I don’t get it. He isn’t that attractive, is he?”
She kept talking but her voice started to fade away.
I only heard the full story after, but apparently he had dated the lady that we pitched for, and had charmingly broken up with her on holiday while sipping on a blueberry mojito. He thought the nice surroundings and a touch of alcohol would alleviate her pain. He hadn’t considered how it would, in real life, upset her. Miss Jardine was a dazzling 45 year old woman, hoping to find true love soon. That plan got disposed very quickly after Richard’s “it’s not you it’s me” monologue and her almost choking on the one blueberry that they had ornamented her dainty cocktail with. Richard had even gone through the effort of booking her another room for the last three days, a suite.
Miss Jardine’s father had died not so long after their romantic break-up and she had inherited his company. She suddenly became the owner of a multi-million retail business and wanted to add a new touch to the company’s marketing strategy. Her marketing manager had been in contact with various advertising agencies and we also had a shot at this deal. When receiving the email I really believed we could do this (not knowing about my boss’ appalling dating life). This would be my big breakthrough.
Feeling much unappreciated and about to cry, I ran out of the office to get some fresh air. I must admit, I hadn’t been able to catch up with sleep after finishing our proposal for Miss Jardine and had been living on a lethal combination of coffee (which could also explain my sleep deprivation) and cigarettes. But now I felt like having a proper drink. Realising it was only 10 am, I decided to postpone that much desired drink to 12 at least (or maybe 11am).
Having no idea where to go, I started walking and was curious where my body would take me. I ended up in the park, sitting on a bench and watching the ducks in the pond.
“How cliché.” I thought.
My mum always commented on people watching ducks: “Now that’s the old and lonely. Never become one of them dear.” She used to compare them with “cat ladies” but then without cats, and with ducks. (I still don’t really get it. I just don’t think my mum likes animals.)
I suddenly caught the nicest scent when someone joined me on the bench. I didn’t really want to watch who it was. That nice fragrance was somewhat intimidating. I started imagining who the person next to me would be. “Definitely a man, a nice man.” entered my mind.
When the man started coughing I looked over. Being very startled by this outcome I immediately looked at the ducks again. They were my safe haven. “Keep looking at the ducks, or leave.” Reverse psychology is a fact. When I was a little girl my dad would always talk about it. “When you want to sleep and you can’t, try to stay awake and trick your mind darling.” He would say. I had actually practiced this on various occasions, but always failed miserably. This would be the case here and now again.
Suddenly noticing his peculiar foot decoration I blurted “Why are you wearing slippers from the Hilton?” I instantly felt guilty and ashamed with myself.
“I asked for them.” he replied in the gentlest tone while keeping his eyes on the ducks.
“What do you mean? I thought you only get them when you actually stay at the Hilton.”
“You’re a curious one, aren’t you? Are you a journalist?”
I realised I had been a bit too direct.
“I am very sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“Don’t worry. I like curious people.” He responded.
He continued “I gambled my shoes away during a game of poker and thought I could ask one of the people working for the hotel if he would mind giving me slippers. I told him that used ones would be good. People almost never take them home, do they?”
“Do you gamble a lot?” I continued my curious behaviour.
“How do you think I got this wonderful scent? I won this perfume playing poker as well. It is what we do on these streets. It keeps us going.”
“But you could lose everything?” I realised that might not be the best thing to say to him.
“I already did mrs., I already did.” Was his obvious answer.
It was quiet for a while. I was scared to ask him more questions, as it would probably be impolite.
I was thinking about leaving the bench when he continued.
“I lost my wife a few years ago, you see.”
“So sorry to hear that.” I couldn’t stop myself and proceeded. “May I ask what you lost her to?” I tried to stay polite and question him in a more delicate matter, but felt I wasn’t doing a good job.
“Our bank manager.” He said in a very dry way.
After a two second silence, we both started laughing.
“I should have seen it coming, she started having weekly meetings with him. Her being a housewife never dealing with the family finances, it was a bit suspicious. They first met at the supermarket near the fruit section she told me after. I wouldn’t have cared if it was the alcohol section or any other.” He went on.
“I can imagine.” was the only thing that left my mouth.
He suddenly turned the tables and started questioning me. “What are you doing in the park on a Thursday morning? You seem to be wearing work clothes, but not really working.”
“Well, I would rather not talk about it.” I quickly said.
He looked at me in a begging way that confused me so I started to explain.
“In a nutshell, I work in an advertising agency and I lost a big assignment because my boss still needs to sleep around while being a 50 year old so called grown up man. Once and a while one of our clients seems to be just one of those people he played around with. They don’t exactly want to work with him anymore.” It emerged from my mouth in one go. I felt very annoyed bringing the issue back in my head.
“Oh he is one of those.” He replied.
“I shouldn’t be talking about this, not to…”
“Someone who lives on the street?” he finished my sentence.
“Don’t worry lady” he continued. “Everyone has their problems. I choose to be here anyway. “
“Why would you want to opt for this life?” I asked surprised.
“I once had a good job as an IT Director, was married to a beautiful wife and had the most amazing son ever. Everything was perfect, but I didn’t even realise it. It was all given to me. I never had to fight for anything. It was there.”
While leaving him to tell his story he started looking for something in his pocket. I thought he would show me a picture of his family, but he pulled out a slice of bread. I assumed he would eat it but then threw it at the ducks.
“What happened then?” My curiosity had reached a peak.
“My son became ill when he was 17. We thought it was just a normal flu, but it became worse and he turned out to have a very rare disease. “
A silence fell between us. I felt bad judging him on his looks five minutes before.
“Is he fine now?”
He carried on with his story. “We had a prosperous life, but you can’t buy health can you? Well, that was what I thought anyway. I gambled to get my son back. I guess gambling is in my blood. ”
“How does that work?” I really couldn’t understand what he was talking about.
“Well, I decided to give most of my money to research on his disease, hoping they would find a cure for whatever he had. Can’t even pronounce the name of the disease, something in Latin, it was. After two years of praying and hospital visits, we finally got the news that they had found something that would work.”
“So he made it? He is alive?” I blurred excitedly.
“Yes he is.” He responded in a very proud way.
“Well, then why are you choosing to be living on the streets then?
“After he got better, my wife started seeing the bank manager. The whole experience with our son, had made her realise she wanted to start a new life. So she did start one and I decided to do so as well. I was, and still am proud to have helped create a cure for my son’s illness, but I needed to go back to basics, just to realise what life is about and be able to fight for things. I gave all the money I still had to my son. I wanted to make sure he could study at university and live well. After that, I left his house and agreed with him to meet him every Thursday at the duck’s pond in the park, so we could see each other. That was about ten years ago. He was twenty at the time.”
I couldn’t believe his story, but then I saw a man approach the bench, holding shoes in his hand. I guess the son prefers his dad to walk on normal shoes.
I decided to leave the father and son alone, and said my goodbyes while heading back to Richard to start on those new challenging assignments. This little walk strangely enough had done me well. That much desired drink wasn’t even necessary anymore.
The next week I walked by the park to get to work. The sun was shining and it seemed like a good plan to take this route. Suddenly I saw the most peculiar thing. My gaze was drawn by a duck that was surrounded by a few ducklings. She was walking to something that I had seen before. Although the colour had changed a bit, I immediately realised what it was. She proudly guided her family to their new hangout, being a very comfortable Hilton slipper. The homeless man had given a home to another family.
I decided to sit on the bench while watching the ducks. My mum would not approve.