Literally lost for words.
Carla! You’re staring… and you’re gaping.
I close my mouth, but there’s no way I can stop myself staring at what stands in front of me.
You know that old expression – I never thought I’d see the day?
That’s what I’m experiencing right now.
‘Clive! What..? What the..?’
He extends his arms like Jesus on the cross and glances down his body before fixing me with a cheeky smile. ‘You like?’
‘I don’t know what the hell to make of it,’ I say.
He’s still beaming, clearly delighted to have caught me off guard. ‘You know what they say. A change is as good as a rest… And I have you to thank for it.’
‘Yes you Carla, my angel – my liberator.’
Despite Clive’s jovial manner I feel more defensive than curious. ‘What did I do?’
‘Put your kit down and come in,’ he says, waving me through to the lounge. ‘I’ve just made some coffee.’
I’m thrown so completely off guard that I follow him into the lounge, still carrying my caddy.
‘Put that thing down and take a seat,’ he says, beckoning me to sit next to him on the sofa.
The smell of fresh coffee in the cafetiere brings me round a little. I pop my caddy by the side of the sofa and sit myself down.
A silence falls between us as he pours coffee into two large coffee cups.
I don’t know about you but I prefer my coffee in a mug. Have you ever noticed that in coffee cups, those with larger rims than bases, the coffee cools quicker than in a mug where the rim is the same width as the base? I’m not sure if it’s just my imagination but it certainly seems to be the case and I like my coffee to stay hotter for longer.
I’m rambling aren’t I?
It’s because I’m still so taken aback.
‘What the hell’s happened Clive?’ I ask. ‘Have you lost your job?’
He flops back in the sofa and bursts into laughter.
I’ve never really seen Clive laugh and I’m not sure whether or not this borders on hysterical laughter.
‘Oh Carla, you are funny,’ he says, sitting back upright.
Gently he takes my hand in both of his and strokes the back of mine. ‘Has my attire really thrown you so much?’
I nod. ‘You look so…’ As I speak I look him up and down. ‘You look so relaxed.’
As the words leave my lips the penny drops in my tiny brain. I realise what’s happened and why he called me his angel and liberator.
‘Yes,’ he says as though reading my mind. ‘You set me free Carla. I feel I owe you a great debt of gratitude.
‘Ooh… I see.’
A sense of relief washes over me and I feel my expression change from frowny concern to smiley happiness.
‘And that’s why you’re wearing joggers and a t-shirt?’
He pats the back of my hand. ‘Yes my dear.’
He breathes in deeply, inhaling through his nose. ‘This coffee smells good,’ he says with a smile, letting my hand go so he can take a drink.
He’s right – it does smell good.
Although I’m feeling relieved that Clive is okay, I’m still really surprised to see him in such relaxed attire. It’s such a departure from his usual, fastidiously neat appearance, and whereas he normally looks like Frank, Cuba Gooding Junior’s character in the film As Good As It Gets, today he looks more like he’s getting ready to go to the gym. Granted, his short hair still looks well groomed and he looks clean and fresh – nevertheless, I never thought I’d see Clive in anything other than a tailored suit and patent leather shoes.
‘So what’s happen?’ I ask, taking a sip of the very rich coffee he’s made. ‘What’s changed?’
‘Well Carla my dear,’ he says, setting his cup down and settling into the sofa. ‘After your visit last time I naturally began doing my own research into… into foot fetishism.’ He pauses for a second, his eyes drifting off into the corner of the room, lost in thought. ‘You know,’ he says refocusing on me. ‘Even though I’m much more comfortable with myself and my… my passion for feet… the words foot fetish still feel funny to say out loud.’
I nod, pondering his words. ‘Is it the idea of pigeon holing yourself? Putting yourself in with a group of people you feel you might not relate to?’
His eyes light up and he sits upright. ‘Yes! That’s exactly right.’
‘For what it’s worth, I quite liked your expression passion for feet. Given your profession you could say you have a passion for fashion for feet, or a passion for fashion and feet.’
I’m grinning at him like the village fool, pleased with my poetic, alliterative description.
I do love good word-play.
It’s like foreplay for the intellect.
If it were possible I’d say his eyes lit up even brighter. ‘Oh Carla my dear, I love it,’ he says. ‘I absolutely love it. I have a passion for fashion for feet. A passion for fashion and feet.’
He mulls over my words, getting a feel for how they flow off his tongue.
‘It’s yours,’ I say as though I’ve just handed over ownership of something worthwhile.
‘That would make a wonderful strapline for my business,’ he says.
Ooh… Maybe I have handed him something worthwhile after all.
‘I’m considering the idea of starting my own shoe design business.’
After he’s spoken he stops and looks at me. It’s as though he’s gauging my response. It makes me feel a little cautious about what I say next.
‘Well that’s wonderful, isn’t it?’
‘I’m hoping so,’ he says.
‘What’s brought this on Clive?’
‘You have, my dear girl.’
My mouth drops open, but not for long. ‘Me? But… what? How? I don’t get it…’
‘Oh Carla. For years and years I’ve been so uptight and…’ he pauses, searching his mind for the right word. ‘Restrained. Yes… restrained!’
His enthusiasm for what he’s saying is evident in his animated arm movements. ‘I didn’t realise just how restrained I was until you set me free. You helped me realise I’m not a freak. I don’t need to hide behind anything anymore. You, my dear, set the freak free. You helped me realise that I’m as normal as everyone else – normal, because everyone likes different things, and I just happen to like feet.’
I’m grinning so hard it’s making my jaw muscles ache.
You just never know what you’re going to do that will help someone.
‘I know I paid a lot of attention to my attire Carla, and I can see now that was a mask. I thought if people noticed how smart I dressed then they wouldn’t be looking at anything else about me.’
‘Clive this is really deep stuff. I can’t believe you’re saying I helped you discover something so… so profound.’
‘You didn’t know this but I was at a snapping point when you last came. It shames me to say this Carla, but I was contemplating ending it all…’
The impact of his words stuns me. ‘Ending it all? You don’t mean…’
‘Yes my dear, I do.’
Silence falls between us.
I can’t stop myself. I dive across, my leg catching the coffee table causing the spoons and cups to clink as I take him in my arms and hug him. Warm tears run down my cheeks and onto his shoulder and he returns my embrace.
I sob into his ear. ‘I had no idea.’
‘I know, I know,’ he says, his arms wrapped round me, one hand gently patting me on the back. ‘But that’s what I’m saying, my dear. I’m okay now. In fact better than okay.’
I can feel the muscles on his face and head moving as they press against mine and I can tell he’s smiling.
I release him from my embrace and settle back down beside him I retrieve my coffee from the coffee table, thankful nothing had spilled when I caught the table with my leg.
‘I can’t wait to hear more about your business idea,’ I say, necking the last dregs of coffee.
‘Let me make some fresh coffee first.’
‘That would be wonderful but I really ought to make a start cleaning.’
‘My dear, you aren’t lifting a finger today,’ Clive says, smiling kindly at me. I guess he noticed the look of concern on my face. ‘Don’t worry, I’m still paying you because this is my decision. My house is still clean after your last visit and it won’t hurt it to get a little dirtier.’
Oh my… he really has changed.
I can’t imagine the ‘old’ Clive ever saying anything like that – but neither would the ‘old’ Clive have ever worn joggers and a t-shirt.
I shuffle to the edge of my seat. ‘Oh Clive… I’m not sure I’m comfortable being paid when I haven’t worked.’
‘Carla, you work for yourself and you have a wonderful reputation. You have already done many of the things I’m going to need to do with my own business idea – I want to pick your brains – so yes, of course I’m going to pay you.’
It makes me feel a bit better knowing he’ll be getting something for his money, even if it’s my limited knowledge rather than cleaning. I sit back into the sofa again. ‘Oh okay. Although I’m not sure self-employed cleaner is anywhere near the same as being a shoe designer.’
‘We’ll see,’ Clive says placing our cups and the cafetiere on a tray. ‘I’ll be back in a few minutes.’
With that he disappears into the kitchen.
While he’s busy making coffee my mind starts mulling over what he’s told me today.
I can’t believe he was contemplating killing himself.
I had absolutely no idea.
I wonder how many people in my life have similar thoughts, all tucked away and hidden behind masks and daily routines.
A contrary mixture of sadness and relief aches in my chest and my eyes feel moist, almost tearful.
Seeing Clive walk back into the room carrying a fresh tray of refreshments, sporting a huge smile right across his face brings the feeling of relief to forefront and the moistness melts back into my eyes.
‘So tell me, what’s made you want to branch out on your own Clive?’ I ask as he sits back down next to me.
He places his hand over the top of the cafetiere plunger, holding it there as he turns to me. ‘I realised my job was another place I could hide. Designing everyday footwear for a large firm is hardly going to set the world on fire.’
Slowly he pushes the plunger down, forcing all the coffee grounds to strain against it, releasing their wonderful flavour into the hot water.
It’s probably because of what Clive is saying that I start imagining the plunger and coffee as something of a metaphor for life, in particular how he’s been feeling – trapped, forced to the bottom with all the creative juice squeezed out of him.
He sighs as the plunger reaches the bottom of the cafetiere. ‘Whilst I’m excited at the prospect of starting out on my own, it’s also really daunting. There’s just so much to consider and do.’
I nod, thinking back to when I first started out. ‘It will probably drive you crazy if you try to do it all at once. You’ll get despondent and downhearted.’
I wonder if he’s quit his job.
It never occurred to me before that he might have already quit and taken the leap.
‘Hey Clive, you haven’t left your job have you?’
He pours coffee and milk into our cups. ‘No I’m still gainfully employed. All I’ve got at the moment is ideas but I’m not sure what steps to take next.’
I feel a little relieved. It can put a lot of pressure on you if you suddenly quit and have no income coming in while you’re trying to start a business.
Some can cope with that kind of pressure and thrive on it.
‘So, how are you planning to do this?’
He smiles as he hands me a fresh cup of coffee. ‘My dear, that’s what I need you for today – to give me some ideas of what I can expect and to help me decide my next steps.’
‘You might want to get a pen and paper.’
‘I can go one better than that,’ he says, pulling a small device out of his pocket. ‘A voice recorder.’
Over the next couple of hours I tell him how I set myself up in self-employment with Clive asking me lots of questions along the way, prompting me to examine the decisions I made and the steps I took.
We discuss the mistakes, the things I could have done better and the things that worked out really well.
By the time we’ve finished talking my tiny brain feels all buzzy and alive. I haven’t felt this mentally stimulated in a long time and it makes me realise I’ve actually done quite a lot that other people might find useful, especially if they wanted to step out on their own into self-employment, or maybe start their own business.
Should I write all of this down?
Should I maybe write a little book about it?
I’m not sure…
What do you think?
Please feel free to let me know in the comments.