For sale – sort of

The old bloke lived in an equally ancient villa in Mt Albert. It was, like him, in need of loving care – or that’s what we felt when he opened the door, bewhiskered and a little dazzled by the sudden light.

He squinted at us a moment too long until we broke the silence by saying we’d come to look at the Scotch Chest he’d advertised in the Herald. He nodded and beckoned us to follow down a hallway redolent of unwashed clothing, dust and – though this seemed unkind – showers that needed to be taken.   Soon.

 We followed him into the lounge and there it was. We oohed and aahed about it, though looking back it makes little sense. Large drawers and not much more really, but it was the thing to have then.

chestSo we made an offer. He   ran his hand through the strands of remaining grey hair and chewed his bottom lip for a bit.   We thought we must have offended him with so while his eyes remained fixed on the chest, we upped it.   Still no response.

Then he looked up switched subjects and asked us about ourselves, what we did and where we lived. Maybe this was some kind of test to ensure the chest was going to a good home so we told him Mt Eden.   A nice flat but unfurnished.

“Ahh” he said. “That’s why you’ll be needing this then.” We asked if he’d let it go at our price but he said he’d have to let us know. Others had made offers too.   We understood – it was a fine chest.

We got into our car just as another couple walked up the cracked concrete path to his front door.

Curious, we rang him the next day, and the next. He told us it was good to see a young couple like us but the chest had been sold. Better offer? I asked. Better offer he confirmed.

We drove past his house one Saturday a few weeks later –  and stopped.   A man was being ushered out of his house, smiling just  as we had and so once again, we wondered…. I walked up the path again and knocked on the front door.

“Scotch chest?” I asked. He didn’t recognise me without my wife and without a word, he led me back to the lounge where it  still stood in pride of place.

I made a bid. He agreed. We left shaking hands. When I called a few days later, said  it had been sold but thanks for coming anyway.

Months later  when we were all but fully furnished, we spotted his ad for the chest, just as we had all those months ago. We realised then, that for him this was more than just a piece of furniture.

It was his lure, his way of meeting people at his place, his time, on his own eminently agreeable – but non-negotiable terms… Thanks for coming he’d said.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.