Recently I had to paint a portrait of a border collie puppy because a philanthropic Polish lady keeps bringing me eggs. Morally it was the only logical course of action. Let me start at the beginning.
Not long ago one of my neighbours got a puppy. I wouldn’t even have known had it not been for the weird bloke next-door (whose ancient border terrier I sometimes look after while he’s out) who said so. I didn’t know the family, but apparently they were looking for someone to keep an eye on said puppy when they weren’t home.
‘You could do that!’ the weird bloke cried and before I knew it I was knocking on their front door and offering up my services as bona fide pet-sitter extraordinaire. It was arranged that I would go back the next day for ‘coffee’ so they could ‘get to know me better’.
I’m not socially inept or particularly reclusive (I’ll have you know I’m in regular communion with the neighbourhood ninja, but that’s a story for another time) but I knew that ‘coffee’ meant a minefield of polite conversation and I was abjectly terrified. It felt like an interview. I suspect in a large way it was.
I became paranoid about my appearance but eventually settled on wearing a high-necked fluffy orange jumper* and a pair of indigo flared jeans, because that’s about as fancy as my wardrobe gets. Retrospectively I probably looked like the lost member of Mystery Inc. but if you’re alive long enough you’re bound to end up dressed like Shaggy Rogers’ bride at some stage.
I had ‘coffee’ with the lady, A, and we talked about life and the future. They were originally from Poland, she was chatty and easy to talk to and she clearly adored her pets. Then came the question I’d been dreading.
‘Have you got any animals?’
I don’t know if you’ve ever had to tell someone you own seven cats, but I’ve had lots of practice and the best way about it is just to get it over with.
‘Yes, I’ve got seven cats…’ And I went on to give her a comprehensive list of my family’s glorious spectrum of fauna. Her eyelids flickered in surprise but she soon reeled it in.
She can’t have been too worried, or put off by my orange jumper, because she let me look after her dog.
When the dog-sitting became more regular she asked for my mobile number.
‘Oh, I don’t have a phone.’
She eyed me speculatively. Because what twenty-one year-old doesn’t own a mobile phone in this self-indulgent technological zeitgeist!?
‘No phone…’ and her words tapered off in question. I couldn’t stand that she might think I was lying to her.
‘No really, I just don’t have one. I never have. I kinda missed out on the whole mobile phone hype.’
‘But what do you do in emergencies?’
‘Oh, I don’t have emergencies.’ I grinned at her. She looked wildly unconvinced and a bit concerned as she left.
But she came back the next day, and with a phone in each hand.
‘Which of these would you rather have?’ she asked brandishing the offending gadgets at me.
I was dumbstruck.
‘Maybe the iPhone,’ she mused aloud, ‘you might find the BlackBerry difficult to use. I will set it up for you.’ She smiled warmly at my surprise. ‘You must have a phone for emergencies,’ she said.
So I was to have a mobile. And that was that.
I continued to mind her dog, and she text me the times on my brand new phone. But it wasn’t long before her unprecedented selflessness surfaced again.
‘Are you home?’ she text me. ‘I have something for you.’
She appeared at the door with a box of fruit so heavy she could barely carry it. Then the next day she showed up with a tray of thirty eggs!
I couldn’t keep up with her kindness.
I baked her biscuits and cakes with my copious clutch of eggs hoping to reciprocate some of her generosity. But when she returned the Tupperware boxes she also presented me with a ruddy great block of cheese and a packet of Parma ham!
We were at gift-wielding loggerheads. Somehow I’d become embroiled in an all out neighbourly war of the most wholesome variety. Never before in my life had I encountered someone so altruistic in such an everyday way.
I had to give her something she was at a loss to return in equal…
Even during the interim it took me to paint the portrait she’s gifted me thirty more eggs and two kilos of caster sugar. If the world was filled with more people like my neighbour no one would ever go hungry.
I’m hoping to gift her the portrait soon, preferably before she arrives with anything else.
*Incidentally, since then that fabulous top has earned itself the moniker ‘Lorax jumper’ and prompted multiple friends to tell me I look like something off Sesame Street. Jealous much?