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We hired him to paint our shopfront. He said it would take three to five days. We hoped it was closer to three, as the week’s takings would barely cover even that.
“You know, in Morocco,” he said the first day on his ladder, “the Muslims when they’re tiling a pattern always turn one tile the wrong way, because perfection would be an insult to Allah, who is the only one who can be perfect.”
We didn’t care about perfection. We just thought all the job needed was some scrapping away of old paint, some sanding back, a bit of undercoat on the worn sections, a quick roller of gloss. That’s what Old Alun did when our Rhys was a toddler. We just needed the job done so the real estate office could take photos.
But he kept finding things that no one would have noticed just walking past.
Not that he was trying to rip us off, mind you. Just didn’t want to do a country job, as they say around here, even though no one in the village would really notice city perfection.
He repaired wood that had rotted or broken away.
He dug out badly done filler around the windows and doorway, which was lifting because water had gotten under it.
He scraped away paint that had been brushed onto the windows but had never been removed.
He washed and cleaned the windows inside and out, “Cos you can’t have a clean paint job and dirty windows. Not good to show the prospectives.”
We always wanted to clean them windows, but couldn’t get around to it. Too much work to do keeping the shop going, what with no one left to help us.
Up in the fancy trim above the windows he found big splotches of paint that you could pop like a blister. No one could see ’em, of course, so Old Alun hadn’t bothered smoothing the paint out. Rough and ready, as they say.
No, he wasn’t trying to rip us off. He just wanted to do everything right. Didn’t want anyone to look at his job in twenty years, like he was doing now, and say “What damn fool did that?”
He was a craftsman, though he probably didn’t think of himself that way. He just did the odd job around the village. Was painting another shop front, a café with real coffee and wifi, which is what the young ones moving into the area seem to want. The café will probably take to selling groceries when we go. And our place will probably become a gallery or a gift shop. The locals would shake their heads and stop in the pub next door to natter about the newcomers and their funny ideas.
Actually, everyone in the village seemed to be walking past more than they used to. Over the years they had pointed out the crumbling plaster, the missing trim, the weathering down to bare wood, but now the job was being done they had to help.
“There’s a spot you missed.”
“You’d better be careful with that ladder.”
“Nice dog you got.” A tawny and white whippet tied up to the doorpost or in a cage in his estate car. Always looking at him with sad eyes. Never made a sound.
“What colour will it be?”
“Speckled,” he’d say, then bob his head and launch into one of his stories.
About how he turned vegan after seeing a thick film of flies on the milk being poured into a bucket by the small van that roamed the jammed Delhi streets.
About famous football players who never seemed to play the game of life as well as the one on the field – four wives, eight kids, ten houses, all gone. Our Rhys supported the local club, but couldn’t watch the big games on the hospital telly.
On the second day, the prepping still not even half done, it rained. Typical valley rain. Constant mist-drizzle. Stop. More drizzle. Then droplets the size of bees. Sudden sunshine. More drizzle. We could see the job falling further and further behind.
“Rain,” he said as he tied up his dog after a short walk, “you call this rain. In Venezuela it comes down in sheets, vroom, just like that. You wouldn’t be able to see that red car over there. Two seasons. Wet and dry. You bin?”
Our Rhys went overseas, but not to anywhere nice.
He went up the ladder and ignored the wet. We felt happier about that.
When he finished the prepping, a half-day over schedule, he did the undercoat just as slow and careful-like, long, deliberate strokes over wood and plaster. Wanted to peer at the paint through his thin, oblong glasses and make sure there were no bubbles anywhere. That the paint didn’t smudge the windows. That the colour was evenly spread. The better the undercoat, the longer the gloss would last. Didn’t even use the roller on the flat sections. Roller was a quick lash across the surface. Superficial, he said. No fool, him. Just like our Rhys.
In the kitchen the next morning, we made him his usual green tea and watched as he put his homegrown tomato and cucumber in the fridge for the sandwich he’ll make at lunch.
“People are loving the undercoat colour,” he said. “Wait till they see the gloss.”
It was the colour of Rhys’s favourite toy. And his regimental flag.
We told him we couldn’t go into town that afternoon for our haircuts.
Before we could say we were worried about costs, he said, “Snap.”
We looked at each other, then back at him.
“Snap,” he said again. After a long pause, he pointed to the front of the building. “I can’t go either. I’m working. Same shift, another day.”
He shrugged his shoulders, took up his daily paper, and loped down the corridor to the front door.
Somebody walked past and made a comment.
“Yeah,” he said, “probably a day behind. Everyone seems to care about this, but not me.”
We looked at each other again.
Not like our Rhys at all.