Scotland Street Volume 15, Chapter 31: Garlic Naan
“Do you have any brothers or sisters, Bob?” She asked as the waiter prepared a bowl of Indian breads.
Bob nodded. “Four sisters,” he said. “Amelia, Annie, Maddy and Ginger. All except Ginger are younger than me. Ginger is two years older. Maddy is the baby of the family.
“Where does Ginger get her name from?” Big Lou asked. “Is she a redhead?” “
“Very slightly,” said Bob. “Just a touch. Her hair is lovely – kind of like a fox coat, you know – that kind of red. Her voice was filled with pride. Tit’s a man talking about his sisterBig Lou thought.
Bob offered Lou the bread basket before pouring himself a piece of garlic naan. “Yes,” he said. “Just like you.”
Big Lou caught his breath. Did he say Ginger was pretty – just like her? Did he really say that?
She blushes with embarrassment.
Bob reached out to put his hand on hers. His touch lasted only a moment and was soft. The strongest men are the sweetest men, she thought.
“I really mean it,” he said. “You are a very beautiful woman, Lou.”
Big Lou didn’t know what to say or where to look. She wasn’t used to compliments and couldn’t even remember the last time she received one. She was used, of course, to hear her bacon buns greeted – and her coffee cups too, on the milky surface of which she often traced a characteristic thistle – but such a personal remark was quite different. She wasn’t the flattering type and would never have sought applause of any kind, let alone for her appearance. And yet, hearing Bob say this was intensely pleasurable, and she felt a sudden surge of affection for this well-placed man with his fresh, open face and somewhat old-fashioned manner; with his gentleness and esteem for his sister. She could definitely fall in love with this man, she decided – and in fact maybe she already had.
– You are very nice, she said. “But you don’t have to tell me things like that.”
She immediately realized that sounded ridiculous. Of course, he didn’t have to say things like that – and calling attention to the fact made her ungraceful.
Bob was not discouraged. “I know not. But I want. I want you to know what I’m thinking.
She took the opportunity to show her appreciation. “It was really sweet. And thank you. “Then she added,” You’re not that bad yourself. “
He smiled. “Oh, far from you. Not me. I’m… ”He hesitated. Then he continued: “I am nothing. Not me. I am nothing.
Big Lou was adamant. “You are not nothing, Bob. You are strong.”
Again, that wasn’t what she intended to say. Of course he was strong. He was, after all, a strong professional – or semi-professional – man and that was what such people were: they were strong.
“I’m doing my best,” said Bob, taking a bite of the garlic naan. “But there are guys who are stronger than me, you know. There’s this guy in Glasgow who can pull a train. I never thought I would see it, but I did. It was for charity – for the lifeboats, I think. He pulled a railroad car along a platform at Queen Street Station. It was in all the papers.
Big Lou shook his head in astonishment. “You would think it would be impossible.”
“You would,” agreed Bob. “But he did. And then there’s Neil Ainslie. Have you heard of him, Lou?
She shook her head. “I don’t know much about these things.”
– Well, Neil could tear a phone book in half. I have seen him do this several times. He tore them up.
Big Lou took a sip from the glass of mango juice the waiter had brought him. “Incredible,” she said. “A phone book? A big one?
“Yes, a big fat one. Just like that.”
She wanted to keep the conversation going, so she asked him about Aberfeldy. Had they lived in the village itself? He explained that they had lived just outside of town, on a large farm, where his father was a rancher. “My father never had his own farm,” he says. “He would have loved that. Nothing big – just enough to keep some cattle and maybe grow some hay – a few neeps, maybe; that sort of thing. But he never got the money. Neither the earth. He therefore worked as a breeder on this farm belonging to a woman who had inherited it from her father. She was a good farmer and treated the people who worked for her very well. But she’s dead. It was a tractor accident.
Big Lou grimaced. “Poor woman.”
“Yes,” said Bob. “It was bad luck. She left the farm to her nephew in Glasgow. He was drinking and owed a lot of money. So he sold it to a man who wanted to do everything himself. He gave my dad his notice and, well, he got sick. My mom said it had nothing to do with losing her job, but it was a bit of a coincidence if you ask me. There are people who can die of disappointment, Lou. I’m sure and certain.”
Big Lou agreed. “They called it the death of a broken heart. It’s the same, don’t you think?
“Yeah. And that’s what did it for my dad, I think. I was sixteen at the time and it was really hard for my mom. We lived in a terraced house on the farm. And so we had to move. It was difficult and we ended up living in a small damp apartment in Perth. My mom had to scramble to get enough money just for food, let alone anything. other, so I quit school and got a job so that I could contribute something to the household. We were really poor. We had nothing, you know.
Big Lou waited for Bob to continue. “I’m sorry,” she said. It was hard to think of anything else to say.
“There was no work where we were,” said Bob. “I tried to get an apprenticeship in a panel driving workshop, but the owner hired his nephew for me. I tried to get an apprenticeship in plumbing. Nothing to do. So I went to Glasgow. I was sixteen and I was still wet behind my ears. I had a suitcase and fourteen pounds that I had saved. That was all. Fourteen books, Lou.
“What happened, Bob?” She felt an uncomfortable feeling. The towns waved to the children of farmers. They always had. The promises they made have rarely been kept. But Bob smiles.
“Don’t worry, Lou. Sometimes the world surprises us, don’t you think? Not all results are gloomy; not everyone is ready to take advantage of the weak; there are good people, Lou – there really are.
“Yes,” Big Lou said. Bob was right; but why, she wondered, was it even necessary to say what he had said? How did cynicism, mistrust and mistrust take such a role in our lives? What had happened, she wondered, to the trust, kindness and courtesy?
© Alexander McCall Smith, 2021. A Pledge of Pegs (Scotland Street 14) is available now. Love in the Time of Bertie (Scotland Street 15) will be published by Polygon in a hardcover version in November 2021.