Everyone in the village was shocked when Bob relocated. Some understood the reasons and most accepted that Beaufort might be a wonderful place to live and work.
‘Did you hear about Bob going? I couldn’t believe it at first!’ Janie Dea stood outside the tiny post office in the unseasonal January sunshine. ‘I heard about it alright, Janie,’ most people stopped to chat. ‘It was a bit of a shocker.’ A small queue began to form and people stood in line, not wishing to break the unwritten law of queues.
It was a busy Friday in the post office and Dorney noticed the fall off in people at the counter. A quick glance out the front window revealed the cause. ‘What is she up to, a protest?’ Dorney muttered, as he left his citadel behind the counter. ‘What’s the problem, Janie,’ he asked more sharply than he intended, as he ushered people into the shop. ‘Sorry Seamus, sorry, we were just talking about Bob. I didn’t realise people were waiting.’
‘What about Bob?’ Dorney asked.
‘He’s gone to Beaufort.’
‘Gone? No!’ He wanted to ask more questions, but a new queue had formed inside. ‘I have to get back in Janie, could we talk later at the Fig?’ They sometimes met while having coffee in The Brown Fig. Janie nodded and turned away to walk home. Dorney grimaced and regretted how harshly he had spoken. Janie walked home quickly, stopping just once at the bakery. There were a couple of people in the shop but, after her encounter with Seamus Dorney, she didn’t feel like talking any more. The small street was quiet, as she turned into the rough cobbled laneway. The stove fire had warmed the kitchen of her terrace-end house and she put the kettle on. Sitting with her tea, she thought about her relationship with Bob.
They had first met last summer when he passed by her house, as she was having breakfast on the porch outside the kitchen door. He stopped for a while and she spoke as they shared her buttered toast. For the rest of the summer, he dropped by regularly. Janie looked forward to his visits, particularly after she began to invite him in. Their relationship blossomed and Bob’s visits became longer. She noticed that Bob had certain idiosyncrasies. Janie liked to think of them as little quirks. While he ate the food that she regularly provided, he never brought anything in return. When she was not looking, he sometimes took small personal items she had left lying around. She didn’t really mind and never confronted him about it. Bob’s last visit had been some days ago and her heart sank when she heard the news that he was gone.
Dorney and Bob had also become friends. He didn’t have any close friends except for his wife. When she died, he didn’t really have the energy or inclination to connect with people at any great depth. He knew everyone, engaged with them when they came into the post office and that seemed to be enough for him. When Bob started to call to the plain, but neat, garden at the back of the post office, something reawakened in Dorney. He was surprised by how much he liked his visits and found he looked forward to seeing him. Sometimes he even thought about him at work.
He first saw Bob early one morning as he opened the window of his upstairs bedroom. He watched suspiciously as Bob stood and looked through the slight rustic fence that bordered his garden with Post Office Lane. A section of the fence had been blown down in the last easterly wind. Dorney was taken aback when Bob stepped lightly through the broken fence and into the garden. He was going to call out, but Bob left as quickly as he had come in. A week later, he was sitting out having an evening beer when Bob walked by the wooden fence again. This time he invited him in. They hit it off straight away.
Janie didn’t want to go to The Brown Fig. She went for coffee at least three afternoons each week and loved having coffee out; she never made it at home as it just didn’t taste the same. Today she was lethargic, having sat alone drinking tea for a long time after the episode with Seamus Dorney. She felt ashamed for standing there gossiping in the street. Seamus hadn’t been pleased that she prevented people from going into the post office. They seldom spoke to each other, except for exchanging nonsense about the weather, even though they had grown up together in the village. They had never been friends, even at school, but she was a little upset after their encounter earlier. Ah, I better snap out of it and go out, the air will do me good. Maybe I’ll stop for coffee after my walk.
Janie was sitting at the single seat corner-table in The Brown Fig when Dorney came in. The small café was busy and he went straight to the till to order his coffee and lemon cake. ‘Find a seat Seamus and I’ll bring it down to you.’ Majella shouted above the noise of the music and the chatter. Dorney looked around to find a seat. ‘Take one of the chairs from the back there,’ Majella shouted again.
‘Do you mind if I sit with you Janie?’ Dorney asked as he carried over the spare chair. ‘No, you’re grand Seamus,’ Janie blushed slightly, not used to being sought out. She shifted her chair to allow him to move the table slightly. ‘A small space for a big man.’ He smiled as he sat down. A big man by nature, Dorney had put on extra weight since his wife died. Letting himself go a bit, people said. He didn’t care much any longer. ‘Plenty of space and I’m not that small myself,’ Janie blurted out and tried to smile. They were silent as the coffee arrived and Dorney devoured the lemon cake. Janie wasn’t sure what to say so she looked out the window.
‘Janie, I’m sorry about today, I wanted to talk to you about Bob.’ Dorney spoke in a low tone as he leaned across the tiny table. Majella had just been round to top up their coffee mugs. ‘I didn’t know you were interested in Bob,’ Janie shifted her gaze from the window. ‘He used to visit me,’ she added, unsure if Dorney or other people knew. ‘I didn’t know that Janie, he was a regular caller to me as well.’ They looked at each other in surprise, now aware for the first time that they had a common friend. Something to talk about, Janie thought. ‘I loved his visits, even though he sometimes took things and didn’t bring them back,’ she regretted at once mentioning one of Bob’s character flaws. There was so much that was good about him and their relationship. ‘What kind of things?’ asked Dorney.
Janie blushed a little as she recalled the things that went missing. At first, she hadn’t realised that the items had been taken, assuming that she had just misplaced them. Then she saw him with one of her new sandals. ‘He took one of my new summer sandals; I had just bought them. A good pair, not cheap,’ she stopped again, wondering if she had said too much. ‘What colour were they?’ Dorney asked, lowering his voice even further. Janie was startled at such a detailed and personal question. Would he want to know about the other things too?
‘Black, with a white logo on the sole,’ she answered after a few moments of hesitation. Dorney drained his coffee mug. ‘I think I might have it.’
‘What?’ For the first time Janie leaned closer and looked straight at Dorney.
‘Your black sandal, Bob sometimes left things in my garden.’
Janie couldn’t believe what Dorney was telling her, it just seemed unreal. Bob taking things from her and leaving them in someone else’s garden!
‘Did he take things from your garden?’
‘I never noticed anything missing, but he could have. Mostly he just left things, but I never knew where he got them.’ He was about to go on when Majella appeared again with the coffee jug. ‘Would you like another top up?’
Before either could answer, Majella had pulled up a chair and sat down. Janie almost laughed at the thought of the three of them huddled around the tiny table. She felt excited by the whiff of intrigue. The mystery increased as Majella spoke.
‘Sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing you mention Bob; some of the other customers heard too.’ Both Janie and Dorney shuffled in their chairs and looked a bit embarrassed. ‘Apparently he was a bit of a collector; things have gone missing around the village,’ Majella paused to top up the coffee mugs. ‘And he was seen keeping company with Millie.’
‘Keeping company?’ Dorney hadn’t heard that phrase for a long time.
‘You know what I mean, Seamus. A number of people saw them together.’
‘I suppose I do, Majella, but that Millie was always a bit of a slut, carrying on like that.’
This time Janie could not hold onto her laugh. She took a sip of coffee to compose herself. The others were silent as Janie used a white serviette to touch her mouth. ‘Lovely coffee as always Majella, how much do I owe you?’
‘I’ll get that,’ Dorney stood up quickly and looked at his watch. ‘No! Is that the time, I have to get back to work.’ Janie glanced at her watch and realised they had been sitting together for nearly an hour. She made to give Dorney a tenner as he went to the counter, but he wouldn’t take it. She waited outside the café door for him. ‘Thanks for that Seamus, there was no need for you to pay.’
‘Will we walk away before she comes out and gives us more coffee?’
Janie laughed as they began to walk towards the post office. ‘I enjoyed the chat Seamus, thank you. Strange how we both connected with Bob without knowing it.’
‘Yes, he was a very likeable character and brought a bit of a spark to my days. I’ll miss him.’
Janie was about to say ‘me too,’ when Dorney stopped just before they rounded the corner near the post office. ‘Janie, would you come over some day and I’ll give you back your sandal, and show you the other stuff Bob left.’
Janie smiled. ‘Bob’s hidden treasure?’
‘Indeed, maybe we can have an auction. What about Sunday afternoon? I’ll make a huge pot of coffee. You know the garden gate off Post Office Lane?’
‘I know it Seamus, I’ll bring a lemon cake.’
‘Great, I’ll look forward to it.’
Janie liked it when Dorney gently touched her elbow before turning and almost running round the street corner and into the post office. I’ll look forward to it too.
Bob had never seen fields so big. He crouched low, close to the gate and waited. ‘Bob, this is it, we have to see what you can do. You’ve had the training and the best food and shelter I could give you, now you have to do a small bit of work for your keep. You see all those sheep on the hillside? We have to separate out all the ones with the big mark on their backs.’ The man paused and was silent for a moment. ‘Have you got that Bob? All the sheep with the big marks have to be separated, so we can move them. Wait until I give the word.’
Bob was quiet, remaining in his comfortable crouched position. ‘Go easy now Bob!’ The man raised the tone of his voice and Bob took off, low to the ground, circling through the soft grass towards the sheep.
© George Nash. 2022.