It’s not a competition!

This is unusual for me, to actually write a short story here – here on this page. This is a first draft so I’m guessing it will change. The topic was ‘contests‘ – I was inspired by something I saw at a junction, a cross roads where we waited for the traffic lights to change. However, apart from the traffic lights, everything else is a complete fiction!

“Martin! Martin! This gentleman wants some self-tapping washer-head screws, he wants six but I said they usually come in packs of five or ten!”
Scowling, Martin turned back from the door where he had been glaring through the glass, across the crossroads to the opposite corner of the junction.
“Yes, sir,” and his expression changed from fierce to friendly as he asked for details of the particular screws wanted.
Having gone into the further room and shown the customer, a small rotund man, his selection of loose screws with his usual joke, and found six screws for ‘the gentleman’ which he sold for the price of five, which was still cheaper than the packets Annette had offered, his humour was restored. A ten minute conversation with the small round man about screw heads, countersunk or otherwise and he was feeling quite cheery and said if Annette put the kettle on he would go and buy something to go with their cuppa.
He left the shop and the old-fashioned bell dinged in its friendly way and he glanced across the junction again. The traffic for the moment was stationary to let pedestrians cross, not that there were any. Martin sighed; well, he would ignore it.
He stopped for a moment to attend to the basket attached to the safety railings, to nip off some dead pansy heads and dying leaves, and to pull out a couple of errant weeds. Once their miniature daffodils came into flower it would look wonderful; they were ‘tete-a-tete’ and promised a lovely show. He’d made the mistake one year of putting in grape hyacinths – their colour was wonderful but they completely took over.
There was a toot of a horn and he raised his hand to wave at whoever  was passing by and then trotted across the road to the other corner even though the lights were still red. He stopped to admire Virginia’s basket attached to the railings outside her shop. Being in full sun for most of the day, keeping her basket well watered was a challenge, which Virginia had met full on – sempervivum, and clumps of  sisyrinchiums now twinkling with their small star-shaped blue flowers.
“Hello Martin, admiring my houseleeks?” Virginia had been washing her windows and advanced bucket and cloth in hand. Martin and Annette used to ponder endlessly why she wasn’t roasted in the leather gear she wore – she always looked as if she was about to jump on her bike and roar off somewhere. Annette had once remarked on it to her and Virginia said it was all part of having a bike gear shop, you had to look the part.
Martin stopped and had a pleasant few minutes asking about the succulents, Othello, Green Dragon  and a few flowering varieties due to bloom in the next couple of weeks.
“What do you think of over there?” Martin nodded across the road.
Virginia looked towards the shed shop but  didn’t seem to see what he meant.
“Look at their basket!”
Virginia still seemed puzzled but at that moment a huge man in  jeans, boots and a leather waistcoat and not much else called to her.
“You open for business, love, or should I just nick what I want?”
Virginia said cheerio to Martin and went to attend to her grinning customer.

“Martin, you have to stop being so obsessed with it!” Annette had cashed up, cleaned the counters, swept and hoovered the floors, dusted a few shelves she noticed had escaped her attention earlier, cleared everything away which needed clearing away, tidied the kitchen… and Martin had been at the shop door, staring across the junction at the shed shop… or the basket attached to the safety railings round the corner.
“I fancy a curry tonight – I was just looking across at the Moonflower, actually… Lamb vindaloo?”
No you weren’t looking at the Moonflower, Annette thought but with a sigh said yes, lamb vindaloo with parathas today not rice… She would walk home and lay the table and get everything ready if Martin would shut up the shop and get the take-away
The flower basket watered, the shop all locked up, the alarms set and Martin waited to cross the road, still frowning across at the shed shop. It’s door was still open – open at this time of year let alone this time of night, and the banner across the upper floor still flapped its luminous orange and yellow message – CHEAP SHEDS! SHEDLOADS!!!
Munir was standing outside the Moonflower enjoying his customary cigar.
“Greetings, Martin! Lamb vindaloo, butter chicken, mixed starters chappatis and rice?”
“Good evening Munir, I’ve been admiring your basket,” and Martin lent over to sniff the herbs. “All the different colour leaves… very effective.”
“Not as colourful as yours, but once the thyme starts flowering and this miniature lavender, it should look alright. Shame we can’t use them – I don’t fancy all the traffic fumes!”
“Yes I think we’ve put on a good show… all except one,” and Martin nodded meaningfully across the road to the shed shop.
Munir courteously opened the door to the restaurant and Martin went in for his usual glass of Bangla beer and maybe a few too many handfuls of spicy peanuts and channa…
Martin wanted to moan about the shed shop basket but Munir was called away.  There was another couple sitting, no doubt waiting for  their take-away, but Martin didn’t know them so there was no point in talking to them about the problem…
The door opened and the couple looked up and greeted the man who came in. They were saying something about their shed, how pleased they were and how good the blokes had been who had erected it and blah blah blah but luckily their meal arrived and they jumped up and departed.
“Hello, Martin! I thought I saw you come in here! I thought I might treat myself to a bit of the old Ruby Murray tonight!”
Martin was fuming. “Hello, Philip,” he would be courteous, and he wouldn’t mention the basket.
Munir came through and greeted Philip politely, handing him a menu and the door bell jangled and Virginia walked in. How fortuitous! Now was the time! With them all here!  Martin stood up ready to say something but Philip was introducing himself to Virginia.
“I know I’ve been here a month now, but really I should have popped across to say hello,” he was saying, shaking her hand. Before Martin could manage to start a conversation about the baskets somehow Philip had suggested that he and Virginia had dinner together and they went into the restaurant leaving Munir opening more bottles of Bangla.
Munir’s brother Tanvir came from the kitchen with Martin’s meal, I’ve put in a box of our new  kakori kebabs and mint chutney for you and Annette to try, on the house!  and before he knew it Martin was standing by the traffic lights waiting for the pedestrian crossing to operate.
The lights changed and suddenly he set off across the road, not to his hardware shop corner but to the shed shop corner. He glared at the plastic flowers stuck in the polystyrene blocks in the basket… Plastic flowers, plastic flowers!
He looked back across the road; Virginia and Philip were sitting by the window and he waved a menu at Martin.
The day after the plastic flowers had appeared in the basket, which was the day after Philip had taken over the shed shop, Martin had marched across the road. He had been so enraged that he couldn’t now remember all he had said, but he remembered waving his arms about ‘look at Virginia’s succulents and Munir’s herbs! Look at my spring display! And what have you got, plastic flowers! Plastic flowers – and they’re not even in season!! Dahlias!!
Philip had smiled, unmoved. His words were etched in Martin’s mind…  well, brother, from the day we were born, you five minutes after me, everything has been a competition for you, hasn’t it. Even flower baskets have become a contest between us… well, I like my plastic flowers, so there! and he’d stuck out his tongue at his twin.

© Lois Elsden 2018


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