Gum – Part 4
… Continued from yesterday
‘This place looks so eclectic,’ Gum noticed that his enthusiasm was rising. It was his favourite style, rich and complex, yet elegant and more natural than any of the other styles he knew from Neston. Gum’s eyes rested on the statue. He could hear his own voice saying: ‘Once upon a time, someone had told me about … ’
Next morning, when Gali opened the store, Gum was finishing adjusting a window curtain in the storage room.
‘I don’t have much work for you today. You finished unpacking all the boxes in one day’, Gali made the announcement with some admiration, but the tone of his voice was sad.
Gum’s eyes smiled in response. ‘Why don’t we make a garage sale? Earlier this morning, I saw an ad about a garage sale in one of your newspapers. We could do the same thing with what you have in your storage room. You said that you don’t want to remember these things. Look, you could have more space for the merchandise and those who will come to the garage sale may find what they need … ’
‘If you feel that you can organise it, then go ahead. We can split the money.’ Gali liked the idea, but he had doubts that Gum could manage it all by himself. To his surprise, within a few hours, most objects from the storage room were nicely displayed in front of the store. Gum was preparing handmade advertisements to be pinned on boards in the town centre.
The Kingstons had sent their boy to ask for a job in Gali’s store, following Mrs Fox’s recommendation. It made Gali uncomfortable but he managed to convince the boy to help Gum with the advertisement for the garage sale.
Lilli Knopf came to the store looking for almonds. Each time her daughter had a bad day in school, Lilli would go to Gali’s store to buy almonds. She would use them to make a special almond salad for her daughter … and for herself. There were times when Lilli was a daily customer at Gali’s. On these days she appeared spaced out, and seemed to be in such a hurry to buy her almonds, that she didn’t have time for any conversation with Gali.
When Lilli was coming once in a few weeks, she was more relaxed and eager to have a chat. This morning Lilli came walking slowly, as she preferred to keep a distance to her surroundings. She stopped a few feet away from the store’s entrance, mesmerised by the variety of objects displayed on old pieces of furniture.
She wanted to have a closer look at a white porcelain bowl, when a young fellow approached her with an old umbrella in his hands.
‘I sensed that this is something for you,’ he said.
‘Did you sense that I need a sun umbrella?’ Lilli smiled trying to echo Gum’s words. At first glance she thought that the old umbrella looked completely useless, but her perception began to change when she had a closer look at it. The umbrella was larger than the one Lilli had at home.
Its colours had faded but one could see an unusual pattern of large, green leaves and blue parrots. Lilli imagined that this painted jungle could make a cool shelter from the burning sun, or … just from a bad day. On her way back home, Lilli was not sure if she felt happy because she had almonds in her grocery bag, or because she was shielding herself from the sun with an umbrella looking so unique and friendly that it made her smile.
Gum was explaining to a small group of school children how to use pots to plant an indoor rosemary garden, when he heard an unsettling sound. An old man in dark glasses, with a violin, and a white walking stick bumped into a small metal stool with a white porcelain bowl on it.
‘Sorry—I can’t see,’ he said apologetically into the air.
‘You can’t see what I see, I can’t hear what you hear and definitely, I can’t play the violin the way you do,’ responded Gum. ‘I have a bowl for you. It is made out of white, delicate porcelain, one of a kind. It was probably made many years ago in Vietnam.’
At the sound of the word ‘Vietnam’, the old man stopped.
‘It is a very special bowl’, continued Gum. ‘No money could pay for it, but if you will play for us your favourite piece, the bowl will be yours.’
Andy was closing the pharmacy for the day, when he heard the distant sound of music. Someone was playing a violin. For Andy it was an event that could go down in the history of the Unknown town. Within a few minutes Andy was in front of Gali’s store.
‘I am impressed,’ he said when he saw Gum. ‘You must have a gift, if you convinced Gali to hire you.’
‘Good evening. Please, help yourself.’ Gum felt uncomfortable talking to Andy.
‘I was looking at this vase. I like its flower pattern, only … the flowers seem to be growing upside down.’
‘If you will put the vase upside down, the flowers would grow in the right direction’, Gum was trying to reassure Andy.
‘I don’t like your jokes.’
‘It is a fact.’ Gum didn’t know what else to say. If he could only talk to people in Unknown town the way he used to talk to people in Neston.
In Neston, Gum had never worried that someone would feel uncomfortable with his ideas or will be offended by his suggestions. His intentions would not be questioned. There were no misunderstandings. In Neston, one could sense another. Gum knew that Andy could be rude, but he also knew that his own expressions prompted Andy to respond to him this way.
‘Do you have some photo albums?’ Andy had a habit to change the subject of an unpleasant conversation.
When Mrs Fox had arrived, Gum was showing Andy a photo album with pictures of children living on the streets in Pondicherry. It was a collection of photos showing an unexplored territory replete with secrets. Gum sensed that Andy would like it.
The children in these photos were both carefree and worried, naïve and cunning, gentle and vindictive, humble and arrogant. There were some pictures Andy could laugh about. But other photographs in this album could help him to discover something new about the world, where convenient simplifications and stereotypes became a way of knowing.
Gali was in and out of the store, replacing sold objects with some new ones from the storage room.
‘Kingston’s boy told me that there is a garage sale here. He also told me that there might be a decorative statue of a sitting man for sale. Can I see it, please?’ Mrs Fox’s voice sounded official.
Gum looked helplessly around. It didn’t cross his mind that the statue could be for sale, but Gali had no objections. He brought the statue from the storage room and placed it carefully on the display table.
Mrs Fox took her time. She was examining the statue carefully in silence. Gum was observing her from a distance. Suddenly he had the impression that the statue had moved. This time it seemed to be moving in a counter clockwise direction. Gum could swear that the light didn’t follow its movement.
‘Mrs Fox, the statue doesn’t seem to want to be with you.’ Gum tried to make a joke, but he sounded serious.
‘What made you think that he didn’t want to be with me?’ Mrs Fox was becoming suspicious.
‘It moved a bit to the right and then it turned its back on you.’ Gum described his impression literally.
‘He turned his back on me, and you saw it?’ Mrs Fox was raising her voice.
‘I sensed it.’ Gum was trying to be honest.
‘You are insane!’ Mrs Fox turned to Andy who was about to pay for the photo album. ‘You are in the medical profession, like me. Don’t you think that this strange guy is not acting normally?‘ Andy looked at the front page of his new album. There was a photo of a young boy feeding a seagull. Andy raised his eyes from the picture, looked at Mrs Fox in silence, and … left. Mrs Fox was inconsolable.
‘Whatever was he thinking? Whatever did he mean? He didn’t answer my question!’
Gali came to the rescue. He convinced Mrs Fox that he would deal with the situation.
‘Whatever you wish,’ she said ‘but hiring someone who is insane is a safety risk for your customers.’ Mrs Fox left without having a second look at the statue she came for.
There was no storytelling during this evening suppertime. Gali seemed distant and disengaged. When Gum finished eating, Gali gave him half of what they collected during the garage sale and told him that there is no work for him for tomorrow.
‘Sell me your statue and I will leave.’
‘Take it.’ Gali said as he made a random gesture with his hand. Gum was not sure if it was Gali’s way to say good bye or good luck, but he was convinced that it was something good.