Strange Men

I had always been good with my hands. When I was younger I used to make all manner of carvings from wood that I found in the local forest. Sometimes I’d make little men with strange faces out of them and by the time I’d painted and stained them they looked as good as the shop ones. I saved the best ones for me and gave them away as presents to all my friends. Looking back I don’t think they were very keen on them though as so many of them seemed to start avoiding me after that. Probably thought I was a bit strange  – touched, if you know what I mean.

My other little men I’d give to some local church charity sales. At times I’d attend these events – dressed incognito of course – to see how well they’d got on. It was always disappointing when they hadn’t sold. On many occasion I stepped in and bought them myself rather than see them gather dust; or worse, be thrown into a skip! I suppose that was the reason that I had quite a collection, over two hundred at the last count. Anyway they had been selling quite well recently, that was fourteen in the last twelve months alone.

It was a beautiful morning in May and the sun was streaming through the lace curtains in my room. I felt as if something important was going to happen today. I could feel it in my bones. It was a Saturday and there was a local church sale due to kick off at mid-day. It was being held at Saint Josephs and the proceeds were going to the local children’s hospice. I’d already been there a couple of days previously to hand in my stuff but it didn’t go quite to plan. The stairs at the front of the church were rather worn and I tripped on them and almost fell. My large red-rimmed glasses slipped down my nose obscuring my view even further when the front doors suddenly burst open to the sound of an organ playing loudly from inside. I almost went headlong into the coffin they were carrying.

“These steps will be the death of somebody!” I shouted.

“Are you alright Miss?” came a voice from the side of the coffin.

I looked up to find a very tall good-looking chap staring at me with his arm outstretched to prevent my fall.

“I’m fine”, I gushed and, red-faced, jumped down the remaining steps to make my escape.

As I ran down the street I had the bright idea to bribe one of the local children that I’d seen up at the sweet shop just a few doors away. If I gave one of them a pound coin they could deliver “the package” to the church and thus my identity would be safe. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? I approached a boy of about eight or nine and the negotiations took longer than I thought. The fee was raised to one pound fifty plus a bar of aero chocolate but the deal was done. He quickly carried my four little men into the church and explained, as I had agreed with him, that they were unwanted presents that he’d received from a much loved – though now sadly deceased – Aunt who had always professed a love of the church. It worked. He gave me the thumbs up just as the mourners were leaving the church. One or two of them carried puzzled expressions as they climbed into their cars. They may have thought that I was a Soviet Spy giving one of my informants a secret message.

Anyway today is the day I thought. As it was such a nice day I decided on the full length gabardine coat with the fake fur collar. It had belonged to my Gran and was once very fashionable. As it was mostly going to be older people there I’d probably blend in. I didn’t like to arrive too early so I took a long luxurious bath after laying out my clothes. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again with the steps and the glasses. Today I shall have a hat with a veil just covering my eyes. That way I won’t make a fool of myself. It took two bus journeys to get there and I knew that if I left before 11am I’d be there much too early.

I had chosen my bus schedule the previous evening and put the details into my mobile. I arrived at 3.30. Saint Josephs was already home to a large contingent of what has become known as, “the blue rinse set” or “ladies who lunch”. These were all smartly dressed women who obviously had a bit of money about them and who delighted in being seen to be helping the church out. All had summer dresses on, even the older ones, so I didn’t quite blend in as I’d thought. They came, they saw, they gossiped. Usually my own little offerings are snapped up by poorer looking folk who arrive quite late and are therefore left relatively free to browse the remnants of the various bric-a-brac stands.

I spent the next hour just sauntering around the periphery of the hall. I bought a book about the art of espionage and its links with fashion. I also bought a magazine which I pretended to read. I loitered near the stand where I had located my little men. To my horror all 4 were still there in their little boxes that I had bought specially for the occasion. Moving into a corner I checked my purse to make sure that I had brought enough money to rescue them. Just as I did so I was aware of someone standing behind me. As I turned around my gabardine coat caught on the stand that was closest to me and the money from my purse went everywhere – rolling underneath the stands and behind cardboard boxes that were stacked up against the walls.

“Let me help you. I’m sorry if I startled you”, said the man.

I didn’t recognise him at first but he seemed to know me.

“You’re Caroline, aren’t you?”

“Yes but how do you..?

“Oh I’m George by the way. You and I literally bumped into each other the other day at the church and I asked the Vicar who you were and he seemed to know you quite well. He also said that a few of the other Vicars knew you too”.

The man bent down and managed to reach all of the coins that I’d dropped onto the floor. I recognised him now. I was still however in shock at all of those people claiming to know me yet I’d never introduced myself to any of them. That’s when something even more shocking happened.

“By way of apologizing for my continually knocking you over please let me buy you something. I noticed that you were eying up those four little men over there.”

Before I could protest further he had taken my arm and walked me over to the stand and I was now holding my little men once again. This time though it wasn’t me that had bought them. The woman behind the stand gave a little knowing smile that puzzled me.

“As it’s rather late in the day and I have missed lunch, would you mind having something to eat with me?”

For most of my life until that day I had fantasized about many things but I swear that the whole thing actually happened the way that I have described above and that’s how I gave up my little strange men. Well replaced them at least.

I never did find out how all of those people knew me though.



prose © copyright Brian Shirra 2011

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