Saturday, October 13, 2007

Butterfly

The butterfly, of vermilion red wings and interlaced yellow, danced above the lush green of the field, at the side of the road. It danced everywhere in every direction, having no purpose and no boundaries. The bright summer sun shone down upon her world, and the tree protected from its strong rays, except for the few pillars of pure light which reached the ground, from in between the leaves. The man at the side of the road felt strange, noticing such inanities. He sighed, or breathed, since both seemed to be the same to him now, and went back to his dusty grey sedan.

He was, by all appearances, an ordinary working man. Not working, in the sense of a labourer of course. He wore a navy blue suit, a white shirt and a black tie with golden embroidery on it. The suit had been smart and respectable once. He had felt proud of owning it. It was old now, and slightly creased. The shirt had been worn nearly everyday, over a very long period of time, such that it seemed part of him now. The black tie was only but a tie. Embroidered or not, he didnt care to think about such things anymore. His shoes were brown, and he'd polished them in the morning. But already they were dusty and appeared worn out. He was not an old man; only in his early forties. But his forehead was lined with worries and the toil of years of overtime. His eyes were tired. They had already lost that spark he'd suddenly felt upon seeing the butterfly. The beaten face was crowned by a thinning growth of hair.

He drove through the countryside in the midsummer heat of a Sunday afternoon. It was just like any other, he noted. The large countryhouses with sprawling lawns. Smaller houses designed the same, to imitate the large ones in appearance if not size. There wasnt any sign of life, outside the homes of course. The weather today was not worth the effort. And in the country, he had noted in wonder long ago, people could actually choose to organize their day by the weather, or illness, or moods. He drove on. He'd stop at some houses, or drive on if he didnt feel like. He was supposed to stop at them all, so the rules said. But he'd given that up some time ago.

If he decided to stop, he'd park the car in front of the driveway, then walk up and ring the front door bell. It usually took them about half a minute to open the door, and he spent that time in assuming his approach. It differed, depending upon the person he met with. Usually it was the housemaid. He would be polite and friendly with them and then, after a few minutes of small talk, ask to be introduced to the lady of the house. His pitch changed from person to person. Relying on his mind's well-tuned gauge of personality, he would proceed with his work. With old dowagers he could be anything from flattering and flirtatious, to a solemnly respectful and avid listener. He could compliment any dress, and anyone in it. He could speak of the Great War, as if he'd been in it himself, and of local politics as if he'd lived there all his life. He could weep with them, over their reminiscent ramblings of past days. By the end they would be smiling and blushing widely, glad to have someone who so patiently listened, even seemed to want to hear more. They would offer more tea, more crumpets, anything to keep him seated. But he never stayed over an hour at any one place. It didnt help the business.

With women his own age, he had learnt never to be too amiable. Women of that particular age-group, between 35 and 45, loved nothing more than a hint of a reason to suspect a man's character towards them. So he was calm and he was quiet. It would seem strange to you, that someone in his line of work would be quiet and restrained, but he found it worked. The trick worked, based simply upon the amount of time he spent inside the house. Time, more than conversation, was the real ice-breaker in such situations. He would speak softly, looking down at the ground or at the walls, instead of at the woman. He'd admire the paintings on walls, making a pretence over guessing the artist's name and then apologize profusely over his gross, yet welcome, over-estimations, commenting how similar it looked to the brush-strokes of the Great Masters. He would compliment her on her wonderful choice of vases with the freshly cut flowers.

Younger women too demanded a most uniquely separate approach. It was one he personally disliked. But they were the best customers, and his method ensured that. He'd become old. And he would be tired. It required little effort of him, only the constant awareness of his plan. He'd ask for water, more than once, and drink slowly, holding the glass like expensive china. He would speak straight to the point. It didnt work to speak of this and that with the younger ones. The distraction was achieved by his manner, and his obvious age. And this too, worked like a charm.

The deal closed, he would politely take leave, with a fine old-worldly bow and perhaps a chivalrous kiss upon the hand of his hostess. He'd turn and walk down the front porch, straining to hear the door close behind him. Then the act would end. His head bowed down, and his shoulders slumped slightly. The light in his eyes, which the performance always brought, would go out once again. And he would drive away once more. He didnt earn much. He knew he never would. Selling second hand cutlery and kitchenware was never going to be a booming industry. But it was what he did. The drama seemed to help. The butterfly did not.

2 comments:

Revealed said...

Awwww. Look at you all grown up and writing profound stories. I can't call you another flaffer anymore now, can I?

Confused & Baffled said...

yes you can yes you can. this is just what happens when i haven't written in a while, i guess.