“But Ritu, dear, you have help in restaurant, and in the warehouse. You can spare me for a few hours!” Robbie was pleading with his wife again to forgive him for being out all day with the van for only a couple of small local deliveries.
Ritu tutted and sighed, and hugged him briefly before letting him go about his day and returning to her own work.
Though Ritu was the love of his life, her family business wasn’t. Ritu Sarkar’s family made their living in food, and had a small but thriving restaurant delivering the best of Asian cuisine right into the heart of Theraton when a young Robert Chatterjee fell in love and eventually won the hand of his beloved Ritu. However, as Robbie was at a loose end after giving up his degree in economics, much to the shame of both their families, he was expected to join in and pull his weight in the restaurant business. Robbie, loved the food, it was the best food he had tasted but he also knew that in his heart he was a burger and fries kind of man. Not that he would admit that to his darling Ritu!
Robbie watched as Ritu grew the family restaurant business, taking it over from her parents, hiring the best chefs and staff she could find, and then opening a second, and third, restaurant in other nearby towns making the ‘Sarkar Asia’ chain into ‘The Word’ in local Asian dining. His heart sank, there would be no escaping the restaurant trade. What little Robbie did remember from his few lucid moments in university lectures eventually saved his sanity. One day, he quietly suggested to his father in law that in order to keep the family restaurants supplied with the best ingredients, at the best price, they should extend into wholesale and open a cash and carry. They could then import food, and all the other accoutrements of the restaurant business, direct from Asian exporters and use the quality associated with the Sarkar Asia brand to build up a customer base of other Asian food outlets and restaurants, and also sell direct in smaller bulk quantities to the public. The idea was accepted and Robbie felt his standing in the family elevated a little.
Of course, Robbie had no interest in an Asian food cash and carry any more then he had in the restaurants, but what every cash and carry needed was transport, lorries, vans, forklift trucks, logistics, all activities that existed in their own right regardless of the product being moved about.
Robbie bought his first van and was never happier then when he was transporting produce. He carefully leapfrogged the role of cash and carry manager by helping to find better people to keep that side running, then avoided the transport manager role, again by finding someone else more effective and knowledgeable. He was quite happy being ‘in charge’ in the very loosest of ways, directing the business from the back while rushing about in his van making last minute deliveries that missed the deadlines for loading onto the outgoing lorries. It also meant that he was under no time constraints once on the road, and while the restaurants flourished, and the cash and carry worked efficiently no one seemed to mind if he fitted in any other little delivery jobs that pleased him. At least his was a vice that would not cause any worse shame then not completing his degree.
And so Robbie found himself back at the Stor-It box one morning meeting Harriet to pick up a few more of her workshop tools for delivery after his ‘real work’ was done.
That afternoon Robbie’s van arrived at Amanda’s garage. It was a long wheel base Mercedes Sprinter and he had to manoeuvre it awkwardly in order to reverse down the alley way to get to where Harriet was waiting.
“Hello Harriet. I thought your new workshop was bigger then this!” Robbie joked as he reached out his hand.
Robbie was a hand shaker. Even if he had only just been with someone, as he had done with Harriet at the storage unit earlier that morning, he would still offer to shake hands on next meeting. He blamed the habit on his father who was trying to get out of his own habit of putting his hands together and bowing his head in greeting, a habit he himself had frustratingly carried over from his own father before him! Robbie forced himself to shake hands instead but much to his despair found that there must be a family gene for obsessive habits and all he had done was to change from one habit to another!
“Hi Robbie!” Harriet accepted his hand in return “It’s only temporary. Amanda was right, I needed to have access to some of my tools so I could be busy with something.”
“It’s a good thing. If you are busy, you don’t dwell on things, like ah ahh…” he raised his hands to hold back Harriet’s protest “Things like a delayed workshop. You have been waiting a long time for that chance and it is taking its bloody long time getting there. Let us get all this unloaded so you can get busy.”
“Thank you Robbie, and it’s ok, I can talk about leaving Marie without falling apart. But also, yes, it is nice to not have to find things still sometimes revolve around her, even in her absence.” Harriet accepted that. Everything in Harriet’s life right now was either about when she was with Marie, or about being free of Marie, though that also implied that she wasn’t really free, not yet, but she was well on her way now. Marie was no longer a raw and sore part of her life, but just a part of her history.
They began to unload the van. Tools in crates were pulled out first and put on the track outside the garage, then lengths of timber were pulled out from between the legs of the work bench and placed next to the tools. It wasn’t a real woodwork bench, but a long sturdy table with a thick hardwood top. A modern reproduction of the style of refectory table used in the middle ages. Useful and heavy but not of much value.
They pushed and shoved the table against one side of the garage, having found that it was a just a bit too long to fit across the width at the end and still allow the back door to open. Then they brought the tools in and placed the crates on the bench so that Harriet could sort them out later.
“I will look out for some kind of shelving for you, it will be better then keeping your tool in crates.” Robbie offered as they began to move the stack of timber. It was mostly softwood ‘four by twos’ along with a few lengths of ash and beech and a bin of short off cuts.
Harriet knew there was much more timber then she would need for anything she felt likely that she would make, but having a selection would save going back for something each time she had an idea.
“There you are, Harriet. Good job well done!” Robbie offered his hand again.
Harriet took his hand and shook, “Thank you Robbie, I really appreciate all your help, and taking the time to do this for me.”
“You are most welcome to my help. Even if it wasn’t in my nature to help anyone who needed it.”
Robbie accepted a long time ago that he was the sort of person to say yes to requests first and then wonder what he had let himself in for later on, another habit maybe. He never really felt it was a problem but enough friends had told him that he says yes too quickly and that someone would one day take advantage. Robbie had never really seen it that way, any advantage he felt was to his benefit if it kept him away from the restaurants and the cash and carry!
Daisy was out on the round with Steve. As usual Steve was driving Beryl with Daisy as passenger. Daisy wasn’t insured to drive Beryl yet, and also had yet to find out if she would be able to pedal a cargo trike. Before she got there though she would need to know the rounds better, and be fitter. It will happen eventually, Daisy thought. Not that she objected to being in Beryl with Steve, quite the contrary, Steve was a friend and it was fun just having a chat in the cab at each end of the round. They often passed the day with conversations about their previous careers, local architecture, the state of the roads as Beryl bounced over the potholes, singing along to the radio in the cab, and making fun of the overly public private lives of politicians.
It was during one such conversation about an intimate indiscretion that had made the local papers resulting in the resignation of a councillor that lead Daisy to change the subject a little.
“Steve?” Daisy started “Do you think I am attractive?”
“Umm, where is this going Daisy?” Steve gave Daisy a look.
“Nowhere, I don’t mean anything by it, I just… I just wanted your opinion.”
“You were a fashion model, that’s usually an indication that someone has a level of physical attractiveness.” Steve tried to sound as innocent as he could. This seemed uncharted waters in his conversations with Daisy. She never usually spoke about herself like this.
“I don’t mean generally, I mean do you think I am attractive?”
A car over took them and swerved in suddenly. Steve shouted out the window “Oi! Slow down a bit mate, you might live to see tomorrow!
“Tsk! People! Am I under oath?”
Daisy reached out instinctively as Steve braked hard. “How hard can it be? Just answer the question will you!” She laughed.
“OK, Yes.” Steve sighed. He could feel the blood rush into his cheeks as he thought about what he might feel for Daisy. Daisy wasn’t someone he thought of in sexual terms, she was a friend, but he figured it wouldn’t be an impossible feeling, leaving his long term relationship out of the equation. Not that he would be unfaithful, but still, he was being asked to think about Daisy in those terms, wasn’t he? “I think you are an attractive woman, probably very fanciable, possibly drop dead gorgeous, but I have a girlfriend already and I am very happy with her.”
“No, no! I’m not coming onto you!” Daisy looked horrified. “I just wanted a male perspective…”
“Oh, oh right, why didn’t you say that first?” Steve could feel the tension in his shoulders relax a little. “You were making me feel a bit, you know, concerned for my own safety for a moment!” he laughed, “I would have thought you would have had a lot of ‘male perspective’ in your previous career. Are you feeling old and past it or something?”
“Well no, not old and past it, my age is what it is. No I’m trying to work something out. What is it that makes one person attractive to another?”
Steve pondered for a while. “I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule to that.” He said thoughtfully. “You could have just asked that question first instead of trying to make me say something that might be held against me in evidence.”
“You’re not saying you…”
“No! No I’m not, you’re not my type, I mean, you’ve met Beth, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognise that you are attractive, I just didn’t want you to… to get the wrong idea, in either direction. And I wouldn’t have thought I was your type either.”
“What’s that suppo… What are you trying to tell me?” Daisy suddenly felt very self conscious as her topic of conversation didn’t seem to go the way she expected. Steve wasn’t supposed to put more doubts in her mind about her own feelings. It began to feel like she was wearing a ‘Proud to be gay’ badge that everyone but her could see.
“Well, its just that, well, you don’t look at me in a… ummm…” Steve struggled for the right words. “In an ‘I’m interested’ kinda way, most women don’t if I’m honest. And that’s fine, as I say, you’re not my type, and I guess if we don’t fancy each other and still get on then that probably explains why we’re friends…” Steve pulled over to the kerb and parked Beryl, anxious for the distraction.
“Anyway, first stop, Elton Close, watch out for number six who shreds all their paper, it’s a bit windy out there.”
The rest of the morning’s collection went without incident. Conversation continued without much seriousness though Daisy was clearly distracted by her thoughts on and off throughout the round to the point where Steve was getting a little concerned. He took a deep breath and decided to find out what was eating at his friend.
“What’s up? Has something happened that has upset you?”
“Hmmm…” Daisy, feeling a bit vulnerable, wondered how much to say. She took a breath, “Fran and Ingrid think I am a secretly a lesbian.” she blurted.
“Secretly? And are you? Does it matter if you are? I know you’ve had boyfriends, well, I’ve not met any so I assume they were ‘boyfriends’.”
“Yes, they were boyfriends. Not many but they were all ‘boyfriends’.”
“So, what’s the problem.”
“They, Fran and Ingrid, reckon I am into women, because I… well, to be honest… I mean it’s not that there wasn’t anything… though maybe there wasn’t… It’s just that they, the men I’ve known… well…”
“Seems to be something important you’re struggling with. No rush, Daisy, we can take our time unloading if you want, and then take a walk up to Ellen’s to get lunch if you want to talk.”
“No, it’s ok. Forget I said anything.”
“You know it’s ok, to be into women, to change your mind, to think about it even if you decide that isn’t right for you either. No one who matters minds. So long as you are happy being with a man, a woman, or on your own. Also whatever anyone else thinks, isn’t important. So long as you are true to yourself, you are happy, and you are not hurting anyone else. Do you… like… fancy women?”
“Each to our own I know, but…, I don’t know, you know… How would I know if I’ve never, you know, knowingly fancied a woman either? And that’s the thing. ‘Fancying’, Being attracted to sexually. Wanting more then just being friends with someone you really like. How does one know!”
Steve looked at Daisy “Is there someone you are thinking about that you are not sure about your feelings for?”
“No.” Daisy pulled a face. “No, not that I know of. But there have been women I have really liked being with, but is that the same thing? I mean being good friends isn’t the same as ‘fancying’ is it. Is it?”
“Without getting into too much intimate detail, how does it compare to when you are first getting to know a someone who becomes a boyfriend?”
“Oh it’s nothing like that, I mean none of the women I’ve liked being friends with have come onto me or anything or tried touching me up or plying me with drinks and stuff to get me to go with them. So it doesn’t really compare, I don’t think. Also I think I, we… would just enjoy chatting and being friendly and stuff, not just… well you know, the way men are….”
“That sounds…. That sounds….” Steve searched for the right words. “Do you actually like men? I mean, do you get the warm fuzzies with a boyfriend?”
He pulled up to the compound gates and got out to unlock them.
Daisy got out to hold the gate open for Steve to drive Beryl in. “No. Why would I?” Daisy looked puzzled
“That says a lot, that does, Daisy!”
They began unloading Beryl of the mornings recycling collection. Daisy became very thoughtful as she considered Steve’s words.