For as long as anyone could remember, Bill and John had fished together in the canal. Every day they were there together, without fail. One Tuesday morning, they were sitting side-by-side on the bank, as usual, when Bill said “I’m not coming tomorrow.”
“Not coming tomorrow?” replied John, utterly aghast.
“No, sorry, I can’t ‘cos I’m getting married. It’s OK though. I’ll be here again on Thursday.”
John heaved a sigh of relief “Oh, that’s OK then.”
Thursday morning, sure enough, they’re fishing together again. But John’s curiosity is piqued “This new wife: are you going to tell me a bit about her?”
“Well, there’s not much to tell, really”.
“Oh” says John.
After a while, John decides to try again: “Is she a looker?”
“No, quite plain, ugly even.”
“Oh” says John.
“Is she an intellectual then, clever like?” asks John, albeit without much conviction.
“No, I’d say she’s pretty thick, really.”
“Oh” says John.
John is nothing if not persistent: “Well, she must be a bubbly personality then; you know, fun to be with?”
“No, she’s quite boring.”
“Oh” says John.
“I’ll bet she’s loaded. Is she? Rich widow or such-like?”
“No, poor as a church mouse.”
“Oh” says John.
“I know, I’ve got the measure of you matey-boy: I’ll bet she’s a nymphomaniac, goes like a bunny, shags you silly every night?”
“No, she’s not interested in sex at all: totally celibate.”
“Oh” says John.
John’s confusion is growing. Eventually he can stand it no longer and challenges his friend “Bill, this makes no sense. If she’s ugly, stupid, thick, boring, broke and celibate, why on earth did you marry her?”
“She’s got worms.”
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
“Depends what you mean by “fairest”, Luv. Some folk mean “blonde” when they say “fair”. Others mean “just” or “sporting” or “egalitarian”.”
“You’re a magic mirror: I’m consulting you about beauty. Am I not the most gorgeous creature in the world?”
“I think “creature” is a mistake, to be honest, Luv. This is difficult enough without getting non-species specific.”
“All right! Am I the most beautiful woman in the world then?”
“Of course you are.”
“Why “of course”?”
“You own me. I’ve made a judgement that you want to be the most beautiful. Therefore, you are the most beautiful.”
“But am I REALLY the most beautiful?”
“Well, I think so, of course, but these things are very subjective.”
“That’s not good enough. I want you to tell me that I’m REALLY the most beautiful.”
“You’re REALLY the most beautiful.”
“But would you still say that if I didn’t own you?”
“But would you still say that if someone else owned you?”
“But wouldn’t she, your new owner, I mean, wouldn’t she want you to say that she was the most beautiful?”
“So what would you say then?”
“Look Luv, I’m doing my best here. My job is to please. I don’t know what my new owner looks like. Isn’t it enough that you’re the most beautiful owner I know?”
“Am I not the only owner you know?”
“Well, strictly speaking, yes, but I think you’re beautiful.”
“What’s the point in having a magic mirror, if I can’t get a straight answer?”
“With respect Luv, you don’t want a straight answer.”
Kevin was enjoying his Thursday post-work wind-down in the spare bedroom, playing chess on the computer, when the doorbell rang. A glance out of the window revealed Preeti’s mother. Her unexpected appearance brought all of Monday’s events flooding back from his memory and he gave an involuntary shudder. He’d been driving his tedious commute to his office through morning rush hour, much as any other workday. His mind was barely on the road or traffic. Suddenly, a figure in red shot out from behind the bus shelter twenty metres ahead, bounced off the bonnet of the blue car that had just overtaken him, arced backwards through the air like a spring-board diver and landed centrally in the lane in front of him. Instinctively, he’d hit the brakes, felt the snatch of the seatbelt on his collar bone, heard the squeal of tyres from behind and beside him. Everything came to rest and he fell back into his seat.
A red coat in the road contained a very still little girl, arms and legs at strange angles, long black hair fanned out over the tarmac behind her, no sign of any blood. A prickle of fear gripped him. “She’s dead!” he whispered to himself.
He opened his door and forced leaden feet to carry him to the girl’s side where he knelt down. The driver of the blue car, was also knelt, but in the gutter beside the bus-stop, noisily retching his breakfast into the drain.
Kevin instinctively picked up the girl’s wrist and felt for a pulse: nothing. He was aware his hands were shaking. The waiting bus passengers were walking towards him in a line, like sheep zombies, shocked and staring. Kevin yelled at the young man leading them “Have you got a mobile?” He seemed incapable of speech but moved his hand towards his coat pocket “Phone for an ambulance, now!” He seemed grateful for the instruction.
The crowd of onlookers was steadily growing. Kevin shouted at them “Does anyone know first aid?” Blank looks; enquiring looks to and from other enquiring lookers but no positive response.
Kevin had never attended a first aid course. He only knew what he’d seen folk do on the telly. He had to do something. This girl was already dead. What harm could he do?
He raised himself up on his knees, placed the heels of his hands atop each other, to the left of where he judged her sternum to be and started to press down in a jerking rhythm. He was aware of the murmur of approval and concerned tones from the crowd. He could hear a woman sobbing. Mr Blue Car’s retching had stopped. He caught snatches of muffled conversation “no point”, “already dead”, “does he know what he’s doing?”, “when’s the ambulance coming?”, “who is she?”. This last question prompted him to inspect the girl’s face. She was pretty, dark lashes and eyebrows to match near ebony hair, Asian colouring, Indian he guessed.
Suddenly, a piercing scream behind him and someone fell over his back. A stout woman stepped in and pulled someone away from him saying “Let him work, he’s doing everything he can.” But the screaming didn’t stop. He glanced up at the woman, mother he guessed, barely restrained, struggling to get to her daughter. He scream slowly developed into a piteous keening interspersed with “Preeti, oh Preeti, not Preeti.”
Kevin, still in his car-coat, was sweating from the exertion and starting to wonder how much longer he could keep this up when Preeti gave a cough and spasm, as though she’d been punched in the guts. He found a pulse, checked she was breathing, then pulled wrist and knee over so she lolled onto her side. Mother was weeping “Is she OK? Oh thankyou. My Preeti. Will she be OK?” Someone in the crowd started a half-hearted round of applause, but not many joined in, though Kevin could feel the collective sigh of relief.
The ambulance arrived shortly afterwards, then the police. There was much scurrying around, moving Preeti, lots of questions from the police, taking down of details and statements, measuring the positions of the vehicles and their skid marks. Kevin didn’t see Preeti’s Mum leave though he guessed she went with her daughter in the ambulance. It was almost lunchtime when Kevin finally arrived at work and his boss was hopping mad.
Kevin opened the door and Preeti’s Mum beamed at him. “Mr Walton” she said and smiled some more.
“Kev, please” said Kevin, smiling back “I’m guessing Preeti is on the mend?”
“She’s doing really well, thanks to you. May I come in for a moment, please Kev?”
Kevin felt a sting of embarrassment “Oh yes, of course, please do”, stood aside, then wafted her into the lounge and into an armchair.
He took the opportunity to look her over as she walked through. He guessed she was about ten years younger than him and as pretty as her aptly-named daughter. She perched erect and prim on the edge of her seat in her bright summer frock, making him feel slovenly as he lounged on the sofa opposite.
She began in a very formal tone “My name is Simran and I’m Preeti’s mother, as I’m sure you guessed.” He nodded. “Preeti is everything I have in the world since the death of her father, six years ago. The debt I owe you for her life is beyond calculation.”
“Hey, I’m just glad she’s OK. I didn’t really know what I was doing. No-one else seemed to have a clue either. I was just the first one there. It could have been anyone….”
Simran held her long fingers erect to silence him. “That simply won’t do! Preeti was dead. You brought her back to me. No-one else offered any help or contributed in any way. I have quizzed the police on this. The doctor’s and ambulance crew have confirmed to me that Preeti owes you her life.”
“Well, if that’s true, then I’m very pleased I was able to help. She’s a very pretty little girl.” He added lamely, thinking how stupid it sounded: as if only pretty girls deserved to live.
“Thank you” she gave a slight bow “now to the debt….”
“No, really, there is no debt. You can’t pay me for helping her.”
Now Simran snapped at him “Are you suggesting my daughter is worthless? A debt is a debt: it is a matter of honour, but also, a personal desire of mine that you should be suitably rewarded.”
Kevin felt hurt “Of course I don’t think she’s worthless: that’s why I saved her! I just don’t feel right accepting money from you.”
Her formal demeanour seemed to soften at this “Well, I am pleased about that, because I am not a rich woman and I would not feel comfortable putting a monetary value to my daughter’s life.”
Now he was confused. Simran continued to look at him, waiting. “So, what did you have in mind?” he tried.
“Anything!” she said immediately, as though she anticipated his question.
Even more confused, he said “What do you mean by “anything”?”
Again, he thought she had her response prepared “Anything that is in my power to give is yours.”
“Well, “anything” is a very big word indeed. Don’t say “anything” unless you really mean anything.”
“I said “anything” and I meant “anything”. You only need to tell me what you want.”
Now he was annoyed. He knew she couldn’t possibly mean “anything”! That was just silly. He tried to think of something outrageous, just to call her bluff and show her how silly she was. He struggled for something for a moment but nothing sprang to his mind. Then suddenly he blurted out “How about if you become my sex slave?” then gasped. He couldn’t believe he’d said that out loud. He looked at her face in fear, expecting anger or tears or disgust. But none of those things: to his amazement, she just smiled, nodded and said “I shall be honoured to make you happy that way.”
He felt like he’d been slapped. Had he heard correctly? He could barely speak.
“You’re not….are you….you’re not serious?”
Suddenly, she was out of her chair and upon him, standing over him, grabbing at his hair, pulling his head back, then in a fierce whisper “What do I have to say to make you understand: you are my hero, I want you like I’ve never wanted anyone before. I AM YOURS!” Then she stepped back, took his hand, giggled at his still gaping jaw and said “Shall we go upstairs?”