The ties that bind
THE SHORT drive to Pat’s apartment, just off Praia da Rocha’s seafront tourist mile, passed in an uncomfortable silence. As the front door of the spacious fourth-floor home slammed shut, Russ had failed to account for the draught created by the stiff breeze coming off the Atlantic – the still speechless would-be Romeo attempted to make a lunge for the object of his desire.
Had it not been for Jim and Jam, the impromptu ambush would have succeeded, for Pat was completely unprepared for such an assault. The two tomcats had sought to ingratiate themselves with their mistress in their desire to be fed, and now caused Russ to trip and tumble headlong to the tiled floor of the entrance hall. A stifled scream followed by an almost inaudibly whispered “sorry” thus became the first sounds emitted by the strange visitor.
The two startled cats took flight with a squeal, but Pat could not help herself but burst into a fit of laughter at the sight of the felled cowboy. Somehow the ice had been broken and, half-an-hour later, the unlikely couple sat chatting amicably in the living room, Jim and Jam having returned, observing the intruder suspiciously from a safe distance.
Russ had just produced a glossy six by four portrait of Abbot, the other love of his life, when the front door opened once more. Shock and confusion spread over his face as a tall, vaguely familiar man in his 30s approached, moving towards them confidently. He half-rose to his feet, his lean frame tensing up in anticipation of having to defend his presence by physical means. This time, however, he did not forget to keep an eye on the two feline interceptors. A lazy smile spread over the other’s face as Pat made the introductions. “Russ, may I present my brother Kirk. Did I mention that we share this place?”
Relief flooded through the suitor. His brain recognised the word ‘brother’, not husband, ex-boyfriend or anything similarly threatening. “No”, he said, “but it is a pleasure to meet you, Burk!” Russ did not suffer the same sort of stage fright experienced earlier, when confronted with a member of the same sex. “Kirk,” Pat’s brother said, “the name’s Kirk, not Burk. I’ll catch up with you later. I’m dying for a pint. You two get to know each other better.” With those affable words he disappeared just as quickly as he had come. Russ did not have time to apologise for the misunderstanding, but repeatedly did so to the giggling Pat in any case. Things were going well, he felt. Five minutes later, he was fast asleep.
When Kirk awoke at seven the next morning, it was to the sound of running water. On his way to the kitchen and the very necessary strong, black coffee, he noticed a pair of slightly scuffed black cowboy boots, neatly arranged in front of the bathroom door. One hour later, they were still there. Kirk was late for work and eying the gas bottle testily. The water continued, much like a prolonged spell of Chinese water torture. For the first time in his life, Kirk envied his sister. Pat had the strange habit of getting up at 5.30am to go to work, unwittingly avoiding the current blockade of the essential facility.
When Russ finally emerged from the clouds of steam, he found himself alone in the apartment. Kirk, too, had gone, furiously chewing on a Polo mint while running his fingers through his tussled curls. The toilet in the café downstairs was his first port of call.
That evening, brother and sister returned home to find the house guest installed on the sofa surrounded by DVD covers, empty cups, plates and an overflowing ashtray. His prematurely thinning ginger hair was beautifully styled and he was dressed in the manner he had appeared the previous evening. The boots had been restored to their former glory, their high polish reflecting the ceiling lights. Pat was the first to find her voice.
“What on earth do you think you are doing, Russ?” A hint of hysteria accentuated her strident tones as Kirk, who knew his sibling only too well, retreated silently from the scene of the impending massacre. “Wait … waiting; for you of course,” came the unfortunate reply. Pat stormed out of the room, the crashing-to of her bedroom door sending shivers down the sinner’s spine who as yet remained oblivious to the multitude of his crimes.
Kirk waited. When an imminent return of his incensed sister seemed unlikely, he ventured out of his own room and rejoined Russ. “First and foremost”, he explained, “no one, but no one is permitted to smoke in this apartment. Myself included,” he added ruefully. “Secondly, Pat hates returning home to find a mess and, thirdly, she detests anyone moping around after her. She likes her men to show some initiative, independence, if you know what I mean. I don’t know how you are going to get out of this mess, but good luck mate.”
Kirk was gone, presumably making his own escape to facilitate his enjoyment of a hard earned cigarette. Russ stayed behind to spend yet another night on the piece of living room furniture that had become his home from home. He awoke unaccustomedly late that Friday, the sun standing already high behind the French doors exposed by the non-existent curtains. Russ vaguely recalled Pat telling him on their first, short evening together that she intended to reclaim them from the dry cleaners that Saturday at Modelo, a shopping centre not far away, she had said. Kirk’s words came back to him: “initiative”, “independence”. He would go and replenish the fridge he had so thoughtlessly raided the previous day and relieve Pat of the chore of collecting the clean drapes on her free weekend. The trip would also get him out of the house. Those actions would surely regain her favour. Russ headed for the bathroom, determined to turn the tide that threatened to transform his quest into an unmitigated failure.
A taxi had been easy to find and Russ soon found himself jostled by a crowd of hectic midday shoppers. A tug-of-war with an outsized trolley ensued before he realised that a coin was needed to release the four-wheeled monster from its moorings. Desperately searching his pockets for a suitable token, the redemption seeking Yorkshire man immediately regretted having tipped his driver. Relenting, he decided to head for the dry cleaning counter instead, hoping to come into possession of some change there. Again he encountered difficulties. The girl in the white overall refused to deal with him without the ticket identifying the item he wished to collect. Only when tears of frustration and self-pity started streaming down his cheeks did the attendant, worried by the growing queue, agree to search for Pat’s unusual last name in her register. Five agonizingly long minutes later, the precious curtains and a 50 cent piece were his.
Russ staggered back to the trolley depot outside, clutching his voluminous cargo in a bear hug against his chest, gratefully releasing it into the large metal basket, which he now managed to free. The well-stacked shelves were very near, but a burly security guard stopped his relentless progress. The shaven-headed army-reject intercepted Russ, the curtains to all intents and purposes representing a danger to the retail trade. Tearing away at the fabric, the hooks entangled themselves not only in the mesh of the basket, but also in the buckle of Russ’s belt. A loud tearing noise was accompanied by the metallic clatter of the ‘longhorn’ landing on the floor and disintegrating into several pieces.
The chaos was complete. Choking with embarrassment and frustration, Russ abandoned his mission, leaving both torn curtains and broken buckle behind as he beat his retreat. Twenty minutes and a further taxi ride later, he realised that he did not have keys to open the firmly closed apartment door barring his return to Pat and Kirk’s sanctuary. How would he explain the unfortunate train of events that had befallen him? A despondent Russ left the building and headed for the nearest bar where he ordered a large Tequila – it was going to be a long afternoon.
Read the concluding part of this Algarvean misadventure in The Resident in a fortnight’s time …
by Skip Bandele