Black Van

Zoe asked Smuel, “Do you like driving around all day?”

He said, “Sure, but it depends on the day.” He checked his mirror and pulled out from behind a tractor, overtook it, and pulled in again. “That, for example, was an easy manoeuvre. It’s always a pleasure driving on the Lucerne Valley Road. But when I go to Strattus – or God forbid, the City – it’s not much fun.”

“Why is that?”

“Traffic mainly, but also parking, pollution, tempers, and wasted time. I really don’t like driving there.”

Soon they were at Open Hearts seniors daycare centre. Smuel dropped Zoe at the kitchen entrance and helped her unload produce and supplies. He enjoyed their weekly shopping trip together. She was a real nice lady, that Zoe, and a damn good cook too. Her cooked lunch was his main meal of the day. It was healthy, fresh, and free. If he didn’t fill up here he had only junk food to look forward to on his way home. As he was about to leave he said, “And do you like working in the kitchen all day?”

“The same as you, it depends on the day. I’ve worked at pubs, diners, restaurants, hotels, and at all kinds of events, but making meals here is quite a task. God help me with Irene’s vegan diet, James’s mainly liquids, Gemma’s organic food, Albert’s wish to eat local, and Mr. Amin’s dharmic requirements. I wish that manna would come down from heaven and that would be the end of it, or maybe we should just cut a deal with Pizza Hut.”

“But you love cooking,” said Smuel. “I’ve seen you. It’s what you were born to do.”

“You’re right,” said Zoe. “But sometimes I wonder if I should do something different. You know, have a total change. Go somewhere new and do something new. But my Tom likes it here. He says, ‘I was born here, I live here, and I will die here.’ So I guess that’s that.”

Smuel had held office jobs for twenty years, but then one day his life changed. His wife had an affair with his boss and left him. He wondered what the point of it all was – commuting daily, working for that swine, and killing himself with stress. The girls were grown up and he could be free now. He took his share of money from the house sale and came to Lucerne, where he was able to buy a condo outright, so all he needed to cover were daily expenses. The driver’s job at Open Hearts was not well paid but it paid enough, and he could use the minibus for personal errands. No more office jobs. Just the open road. What could be better?

He’d grown to love the old people too. “Clients” they called them in official language. His first pick up daily was the manager, Mr. Amin. What a funny guy he was, he’d been a diplomat in India, but you’d never know it. He treated people with great respect, as if they were diplomats themselves. He had a strange way of dealing with problems though. He’d call you into his office in the middle of the day. If you’ve got bad news then tell a man in the morning and give him the day to deal with it, thought Smuel, or at the end of the day so he can go home and mull it over. Not slap bang in the middle of the day!

He recalled being in trouble for not completing James’s paperwork. The guy’s a stroke victim – doesn’t move much, and doesn’t say a word – so what is there to write down about him? “James did nothing” and “James said nothing”? Ridiculous. It was just as stupid as office work. Mr. Amin said that he also didn’t like paperwork but The Authority required it, so would Smuel please ensure that it was completed daily. Smuel had of course said yes, but stewed that afternoon, driving around in his hot vehicle. Telling him in the morning would have been better. Or the evening.

He really liked Irene. She wasn’t a big talker, but was clearly a big thinker. Some of the things she said were so deep that he’d think about them for days after. When she told him about the Two Laws of the Universe – those of Attraction and Karma – he’d viewed his life in quite a different light. It was true that he had wished for and somehow manifested a life of beauty in the Lucerne Valley, and a life of ease driving around in the sunshine, and that maybe he had earned all this in a previous life through meritorious actions. He wondered if he really had lived before? Would he live again?

Smuel was less keen on constantly knitting, grumpy ex-math teacher Gemma, though she had her moments – such as getting drunk at the Christmas party and performing a slow “knit-tease”. Thank God Mr. Amin had stopped her unravelling her clothes before she’d revealed too much wrinkly thigh.

Albert, however, was always fun. This ex-cowboy quipped constantly and dispensed range wisdom. His impressions of Chinese Cowboy “Yee-Ha” and Indian Cowboy “Ride’em Singh” were hilarious, though of course he wasn’t allowed to perform them at the centre because they “infringed politically correct protocols”.

Smuel drove the seniors to and from their homes, to various physical and mental doctors, on shopping trips to Squashy’s malls, and daytrips to lakes and waterfalls. The black minivan was perfect for these outings, though the Centre should paint it a different colour. It wasn’t cheerful. Mr. Amin said they couldn’t do that as renting it out for funerals supplemented the Centre’s income. Well why not paint it white and rent it for weddings?

He couldn’t help wondering if Zoe would like to leave the kitchen one day and hit the road with him. Not only to do something new, somewhere new – but with someone new? Why not ride a white van today together, rather than await tomorrow’s black van which you only rode alone?

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