Our neighbours are on holiday and a promise to mind their garden is proving to be more work than anticipated. I stopped counting the number of pot plants after reaching one hundred and my next job is to mow the lawn.
There is a familiarity and welcoming in a garden shed, even in those never visited. The cheap, weathered tongue-and-groove is blistered and shows layers of creosote laid on with thick brushes many years before. This one beckons me inside as relief from a baking sun.
Three generations of men and boys have fixed, covered and botched this construction with plank, nails and pitch. It is a masculine place. If it was to take human form it would appear as a bent old man with flat cap, dull brown raincoat with Yorkshire terrier at heel.
The door sags and scrapes as it opens. A spanner and can of grease sit handily on a nearby shelf. The lid opens easily to reveal light green gunk peaked by the probing of fingers. Specks of dust hang in the shafts of sunlight through a cracked window and a spider scuttles towards a new feast tangled in its threads.
The shelves are lined with brushes in jars, cans of paint, boxes of nails, screws, wire, fertiliser and weed killer. There is a faded photograph of a cricket team hanging alongside a pair of baggy-arsed overalls; torn, stained and crusted. The floor is stacked with deck chairs, plant pots, spades, forks, hoes and a rusted engine about the size of a bread bin. Next to me is an old push-me lawn mower. Hints of orange paint linger in the hard-to-reach corners of the blades, which have a dull sheen from care and regular use. Oh well, at least I don’t have to worry about tangling an electric lead while mowing.
It is the smell that holds me there with a sense of belonging. The claggy earth, oil, turpentine and a faint scent of wet dog recalls summer days with Dad helping his tending of our garden. I was young and eager to please then.
I pull out a deck chair, fix it in the shade of the shed and unwrap my ice lolly. It’s bloody hot today!
Katherine is hot and tired. Her plane is delayed by more than two hours and she calculates that she’s unlikely to arrive home before midnight. Beads of sweat trickle down her neck and back. She plucks again at her blouse where it clings to her skin. She knows by now that this doesn’t help as the damp, silky material is irresistibly attracted to her fevered stickiness. It’s a habit born of a day travelling in an oven of a taxi to an oppressive airport. She has coped with the rest of the week in Istanbul, but those days were largely in air-conditioned rooms. Today, the city has launched a headlong assault of intense light, heat, clamour, smells and confusion at her, and it’s too much. She is defeated. She resolves that her future visits will be in the winter months.
The queue nudges forward and she follows shuffling her bag with her feet, anxious not to delay progress. Something is stuck under her foot. She steps back and sees a purple or maroon piece of… a passport. It isn’t hers; that’s in her hand with boarding card. She picks it up and opens it. Her first thought is to hand it in, but no-one official is nearby and she doesn’t want to lose her place in the queue. She clears her throat.
‘Anyone here called Kupp?’ Too soft. She raises her voice. ‘Is there a Mikael Kupp here?’
She holds up the passport and checks behind; a wall of blank faces; no response. Turns back to find the man in front of her patting his jacket pockets.
‘I’m Kupp. I think that’s mine.’ A big man with shaved head and an accent, which she thinks might be Polish or Romanian. He’s wearing a leather jacket over a white t-shirt and her tongue catches a tang of his heat.
‘Are you Michael Kupp?’
‘Yes, but most people call me MT.’ He smiles and stretches his hand towards her.
Katherine takes half a step back and blinks at what is more of a snarl than a smile. Thins lips are drawn tightly back against a mouth that shocks with black voids and flashes of gold. She’s surprised to find that she’s clutching the passport to her chest, passes it to him and snatches her hand back. Too quickly. She thinks her gesture must appear rude.
‘Oh, er, Kupp, that’s a strange name. Is it Turkish or…’
‘It is Hungarian, madam. A thousand thanks for finding my passport.’ He tilts his head to one side. ‘Are you an English lady? You look very fine and gracious.’
Katherine is confused by this unwanted compliment. She doesn’t wish to continue this conversation and would rather put some distance from this man. But politeness demands a response.
‘Yes I am. My name is Katherine and I’m a pianist. I’ve been in Istanbul mentoring a group of piano teachers.’
‘How lovely.’ He smiles again. Katherine shivers and utters an involuntary ‘Uhh,’ sound.
She says, ‘And what do you do, Mr Kupp?’
‘Please lady, call me MT. I am a sales person for selling high class spectacle frames. A very fine business with many English customers.’
She forces a smile of acknowledgement. The queue shambles forward again. Katherine leans to her side, peers ahead and is thankful to see that the gate is open. They are ready to board the plane.
‘Please lady – Mrs Katherine – allow me to carry your bag.’
She wants to refuse, but is too late. He has picked up her cabin bag and has gestured for her to lead the way. When she passes, he removes his jacket and places it over her bag. He reaches down the front of his trousers and with a series of deft movements he removes two soft packages, larger than his hand and stuffs them deep inside the bag. Katherine glances behind, too late to notice the violation of her travel goods, and receives a nod of reassurance from MT.
Another delay, and the line halts at the last doorway before the wide sweep of tarmac leading to the waiting aeroplane. MT removes a mobile phone from his pocket and types a message. The message is in Serbo-Croat and a translation into English reads ‘Woman, English, age about 60, short grey hair, white shirt, green skirt, blue bag.’
At last the doors open and the short trek towards the boarding stairs begins. Katherine turns again to check her bag and offers a limp sign of appreciation to the carrier. She climbs the steps, presents her pass and disappears into the cabin. MT Kupp boards behind her.