Gum – Part 3
… Continued from yesterday
The opening hours of Gali’s corner store were from 10.00 AM to 19.00 PM. Gum arrived at 9.00 AM and found the door to the store wide open. Before looking inside, he touched the doorframe gently, of fear that the door might close at any moment. Contrary to Gum’s imaginative expectation, the inside of the store did not have an exotic ambience. It was not a place filled with various objects of different styles and origins, unfamiliar smells and colours, and new things to be discovered.
What Gum found inside fitted well with the landscape and culture of the Unknown town. There were large metal shelves with a variety of snack foods tightly packaged side by side. Among bags of potato chips were chocolate bars and popcorn. Flat boxes with oranges, apples and bananas were on the lower shelf near the counter. Gum looked around searching for ripe tomatoes but there were none. In the shady back of the store was a small table with sunflower seeds, nuts, raisins, and almonds. A few bottles with mineral water were on the counter, next to the local newspapers.
‘I see on your face that you like it here’, said Gali coming out from the back of the store. ‘I’ve got some new merchandise yesterday. It has to be unpacked and put on the shelves. Do you want to help me?‘, the smile on Gali’s face was contagious.
Gum smiled back. ‘Would you pay me?’
‘Of course, you need to pay for your room and for food, right?’
‘Yes, and I need to find a place to stay’. Each time Gum was revealing something about himself, he felt embarrassed.
‘OK then ‘, said Gali hesitating for a moment, ‘Follow me.’
Gum followed Gali to the back of the store. There was a small storage room where Gali had placed his new merchandise delivery. The room had one window. Like most windows in the Unknown town, it was covered with a heavy, dark curtain which protected the room’s precious inside from the outside light. The air in the room was dry and surprisingly fresh. Its smell reminded Gum of the smell of the rosemary bushes in his grandmother’s garden.
‘Do you keep small, fabric bags with dry rosemary here?’
‘No, I don’t. Rosemary makes you remember things. There is nothing in this room that needs to be remembered‘, Gali was straight forward.
‘Here’, he said to Gum opening the window curtain. A few golden beams of light rushed through the window, passed an old burgundy armchair, and rested on a round cherry desk. There were twenty four small boxes of merchandise under the desk, yet Gum could not take his eyes away from what was on the desk. He was mesmerized by a small wooden statue of a sitting man who seemed to be smiling gently to the beam of light.
‘I will show you where to put the merchandise’, said Gali noticing Gum’s interest in the statue.
‘When you finish your job, I will tell you about my statue. Now it is time to unpack a few boxes.’
Gum was eager to do a good job. He was determined to make a good impression on Gali, and to earn another storytelling time. For Gum, storytelling was a way of knowing. He believed that life was like a sea with an infinite amount of unique tidal waves, and each tidal wave was somebody’s story. Gum was a dreamer, and he had a gift for weaving his dreams into his everyday life.
‘Twenty–four boxes is a lot for one day. Do whatever you can,’ said Gali before leaving the storage room.
Gum became so absorbed with unpacking boxes that he paid no attention to what was happening around him. When Mrs Fox came to the store to buy some matches, Gum was unpacking a small box with cigarette lighters.
‘Maybe I should buy a cigarette lighter instead of matches‘, Mrs Fox wondered aloud.
She was a tiny lady in her forties, wearing a navy dress in white polka dots, and ballerina shoes. Mrs Fox was a psychiatric nurse, and for the past twenty years she had been lighting her cigarettes with matches. She strongly believed that cigarettes keep her in a good shape, although to all her patients she had an official story about harmful effects of cigarette smoking.
Mrs Fox had divorced Mr Fox ten years ago and kept telling everybody that she doesn’t need another man in her life. Gali saw Mrs Fox as an independent, energetic, and opinionated person. For some reason he believed that these qualities are necessary in the nursing profession. Once he saw Mrs Fox ordering pharmacist Andy around, he decided that she is a person who is better not to be confronted.
‘How much are these lighters?’ Mrs Fox was determined to have a conversation with Gum.
‘Good morning Mrs Fox,’ said Gali, greeting his first customer. ‘This is Gum. He works here today.’
‘Does he understand our language?’
‘Gum, Mrs Fox is talking to you. She is interested in our cigarette lighters.’
‘Sorry, I was busy.’ Gum felt embarrassed, not by Mrs Fox’s comment, but due to his undivided attention.
‘How did you find him?’ Mrs Fox continued her investigation about Gum.
‘He found me,’ replied Gali. ‘How can I help you Mrs Fox?’
Mrs Fox lowered her voice. ‘Do you have too much work lately? You could hire the Kingston’s boy. He would be a better worker than this one, who obviously doesn’t have any manners … and poor hygiene.’
‘I have found something for you, Mrs Fox.’ Gum stepped from behind the counter with a cigarette lighter decorated with a vivid design of a purple rose. ‘I would like to imagine that when you light this lighter your cigarette will change into a rose.’
‘What a strange joke,’ Mrs Fox’s face expression showed discomfort. She did not get any special gifts for a long time, and she did not remember the last time someone wanted to give her a rose.
‘How much for the lighter?’ she asked, looking at Gali.
‘If you buy some apples or oranges it will be free,’ he offered.
Mrs Fox left the store carrying two pounds of apples, one orange, a pack of sunflower seeds, and a cigarette lighter decorated with a vivid design of a purple rose.
Each time Gum was picking up a new box from the storage room, he got the impression that the statue of the sitting man had moved. Gum liked to imagine that the statue was following the beam of light coming through the window, and that it was doing it in a clockwise direction. By the time Gum had finished unpacking boxes, the sun moved to the other side of the building and the statue was barely noticeable in its shady corner. Gali was closing the store.
‘It was a good day, in case you haven’t noticed,’ he said watching Gum unpacking the last box. ‘You can wash yourself now. There is a shirt and sweat pants for you in the bathroom. We can have supper together before you go to sleep in the storage room. This is how I will pay you for the day. You will have to learn to do everything by yourself. Then I may pay you some money.’ Gum took Gali’s offer without hesitation.
The idea that he could sleep in the room with the statue of the sitting man had awakened his new enthusiasm for the journey. For the first time since Gum had begun his journey, he would have … a roommate.
‘Do you want to hear my story?’ Gali was prepared to begin his supper and his storytelling at the same time.
Gum looked deep in Gali’s eyes and attuned to his melodious tone of voice. The story about the wooden statue, which was given to someone in Gali’s family in India by a Chinese traveller, had begun to unfold.
Gali’s family accepted the statue out of courtesy. It was used for years as a piano decoration in the main family room. Each time Gali’s mother was playing piano, she would look at the statue of the mysterious looking man and surrendered to the imaginary world of music and art. It was how she fell in love with music, with life, and with the entire world. At that time, she was betrothed to a young lad from a befriended Hindu family, but when she realised that the two families had begun to plan the wedding, she took the statue from her piano, packed her belongings, and went to visit a family of her distant relatives in America.
‘Do you know why your mother didn’t keep the statue?’ Gum inquired.
‘She put it aside when she married my step father in New York. She was not playing piano anymore,’ said Gali finishing his story and standing up from the table. ‘There is a yellow cover on the couch in the storage room, you can use it tonight,’ he said to Gum before leaving the store.
When the window curtain in the storage room was closed, the room was filled with darkness. Gum knew that there were many objects in this room, objects he did not pay attention to during the day, when the only thing he could think of was doing a good job for Gali. Now he found himself standing alone in the dark storage room filled with a variety of objects he couldn’t see. Gum waited until his eyes got used to the darkness.
Soon he could recognise the familiar shape of a round, cherry desk with the statue on it. He moved slowly along the desk checking the wall with the open palm of his hand until he found a light switch.
The first thing Gum noticed when he turned the light on, was a sun umbrella lying on the floor. It must have been old, its colorful patterns had faded, and it seemed like it hadn’t been used for a long time. Gum lifted it gently from the floor and placed it on a nearby rocking chair. Next to the rocking chair was a pale blue couch with a yellow cover. An old mirror in a rococo frame was hanging above the couch. Gum caught in it his own reflection and realised that he had changed.
The change wasn’t so much about his face or about his hair. It was about the look in his eyes. Gum took a long glance at the mirror. It seemed to have served few generations, yet, like most furniture in the storage room, it was surprisingly well preserved.
Still looking in the mirror, Gum noticed a reflection of a few containers with a variety of small objects. There were some old photo albums, picture frames, books, and clay pots. Near the entrance door was a small metal stool with a white, porcelain bowl. A large ceramic vase with a pattern of exotic flowers was standing upside down on the floor.
Continued tomorrow …