means. When I say I knew her, she was in fact my wife. And this Ann you speak of?”

“She is my … lover and my friend. We live with another girl called Julie. Julie is also Ann’s lover.”

The old man seems a little disconcerted by this excess of information, but at length shakes his head and, muttering: “Autres temps, autres moeurs,” gets up and begins to rearrange his effects. Bruno swings the little suitcase on his back, and they begin to walk towards the spokes.

At length the old man regains the courage to speak, and begins tentatively: “Are you certain that your young lady friends would really welcome a visit? I mean, it sounds as if you may be a little crowded, and some kind of advance warning might be appropriate, might it not?”

“Ann will not care.”

“No, but … don’t you know, young ladies can be a little … exigent in the manner of personal appearance, and I feel uneasily conscious that I have not really been able to keep up my toilet in a way that my wife, at any rate, would have approved. What do you think?”

“You will be welcome. When I cried, they welcomed me.”

“You cried? You mean that you, too, were in temporarily embarrassed circumstances until rescued by these young ladies? Do you know, that makes me feel much better. I won’t deny having shed the odd tear myself after that most disagreeable interview with the security official on the other wheel. Really, I had done no harm to the rooms I was occupying, and one or two of the posters he tore down were really irreplaceable. He gave me no time to explain, but my Anthea, who was no mean artist, had drawn likenesses of some of my very particular heroes, with extracts from various forms of musical notation, and those were things I held very close to my heart …”

Bruno stops and embraces the old man, hard, then slaps him twice on the back before walking on. Bemused, but looking slightly more cheerful, the old man follows in his wake.

No comments: