Thursday, 4 August 2011

The orchid

It's not flowering at the moment, but that doesn't matter. I know, like all the best things, it will be worth the wait. I know that when the white buds return they will surprise and please me again, taking me back to the day I first saw it.
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The first time we met was the day I took the photo for his ID card. Like all new members of staff, his introduction to the organisation included the humiliating ritual of stepping into my small office and facing the  camera. Like the others, he stood patiently while I struggled to assemble the tripod, while I waited for the laminator to heat up. We made small talk while we waited. At least I did - I think he probably watched in stoic northern bemusement while I went through my standard "oh you'll like it here, everyone's very friendly" routine.

It was probably a year later that I got a promotion and we ended up working in the same office. I finally felt I was moving on - making some progress, from the failed marriage, the unfinished teaching degree, the never-quite-good-enough job as mother and the gratefully accepted but never-quite-aspired-for role in admin. He treated me like a grown up and a proper colleague, listened to what I had to say, argued strongly when he thought I was wrong, but never once patronised me or treated me like an idiot.

He sat at the other end of the office. I couldn't see him from my desk, but I could hear him. Some days he drove me mad, coughing and clearing his throat, until I ended up choking in strange sympathy. Other days he circulated Tommy Cooper jokes that caused a ripple of laughter to circulate round the office, so you'd know each time someone else opened the e-mail.

I remember the summer day when he spilt sugar all over his bare sandalled feet and spent the day with sparkling grains between his toes, I remember how pleased he seemed when I finally managed to make a cup of tea strong enough, how I never told him that I'd cheated and used two teabags. I remember how I felt when he said he liked my new haircut.

Sometimes we'd sit together in the canteen at lunch-time, he the committed vegetarian, moaning about the quality of the fish; me the total carnivore marvelling in the roast pork and crackling. We never really knew much about each other, but he'd stop and talk sometimes when he passed my desk, and I guess that's why he was the first to know that I'd managed to climb another rung on the slippery ladder, that I'd be leaving in a month to work across the river in a bigger taller building.

I hadn't expected him to come to my leaving drinks, I'd never seen him out with the Friday night crowd, I don't think I'd ever seen him outside of work. I was pleased that he joined us as we walked up towards the Windmill pub in The Cut, it felt right when he fell in beside me as we passed the Old Vic. I'd already had my leaving presentation in the office and I'm ashamed to say now that I can't remember what they'd all clubbed together to buy me. But I'll never forget the present he shyly handed to me as we walked up the road.

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We bought a new pot for it when we moved into this house, it sits on the windowsill above the sink and it's there every morning when I look out at the garden. It's more than ten years old now, and like him it's become part of my life. It might not be flowering just now, but I know it will be just beautiful for a long time to come.

17 comments:

Fran said...

Nice memories.

Starlight said...

This is absolutely brilliant. I love the way you connected "both stories" with this perfect line: "I know that when the white buds return they will surprise and please me again, taking me back to the day I first saw it."

Shopgirl said...

I love how understated this is. I tend to go overboard, so I will just shush and go read it again.

lladybugg said...

Such a soft, sweet piece. Caught myself smiling at my desk (I didn't bother to wait for the end of the day). :)

Just beautiful.

Bob said...

Maybe I'm a sad, bitter, young man. But this was pure mawk, like a bad Hollywood scene with climactic, generic music, and stock wonder acting faces. In short, it's like eastenders for happy people. Which is fine. It's ok. It's not bad. But it's not amazing.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I found this to be subtle and lovely. .

Hillary said...

Sharon, thank you for sharing this with us - how privileged we all are!

What a great romantic piece, and yet, as Shopgirl said, it is still so understated.

Really, I don't know what to say - this was a wonderful thing to read on my Thursday night. Just beautiful, and orchids are so very exotic. What a lovely gift he gave you.

Bobby Stevenson said...

Love in all the right places Sharon.

Pat said...

Sharon that is simply lovely - every last syllable and himself comes over as a real human being. And thank God he doesn't wear socks with his sandals.
I think poor Bob may have seen something nasty in the woodshed.

trashsparkle said...

oh that was lovely - a very special plant indeed

Young at Heart said...

what a lovely thing to read on a dull Saturday morning.....i am quite moved.....

Olga said...

Your story evokes some memories that happened a long time ago. The aftertaste of those feelings that remains in my mind is similar. You write beautifully, and your stories come alive in my mind.

Sharon Longworth said...

Thanks Fran.

Shinystarlight - thank you!

Shopgirl - I've been enjoying your writing more and more lately - I'm really pleased you liked this.

lladybugg - it's lovely to think I might have made you smile. Thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Bob - thank you for taking the time to read this, and for the honesty of your comment. It would be bonkers to expect everyone to like what I write, but I hope you come back and find something you appreciate more.

Blissed-out Grandma - thank you; that's almost exactly what I was hoping for!

Hillary - thank you for such a lovely comment, very much appreciated.

Thanks Bobby :)

Sharon Longworth said...

Thanks Pat - just think, if he was a sock-wearer we might never have got together at all!

Trashsparkle - thank you!

Youngatheart - that's a smashing thing to say - thank you.

Olga - I hope they are good memories for you.

Cassy said...

That's worth to be cherished memories. Love reading your stories as somehow I can relate into it.

Cassy from Guitar Made Easy

Bth said...

Oh, Sharon. I loved this. It had me wondering, imagining, and towards the end, hoping you'd stay in touch. You descibed him without really showing us what he looked like front on. But I captured his essence completely.

Ten years! I'm ashamed to say my orchids are lucky if they make 10 days!