trading the exotic

‘I’ll bring some cushions too, if that’s alright.’ And then he hangs up. Half an hour later, he’s outside my front door, knocking expectantly. I canter down the wooden stairs, hoping he’ll hear the determination of my mood. I decide to do everything energetically. Keep him in check, I say to myself as I swing the door open. His face is closer than you’d expect, as if he’s been stood with his nose against the glass. His left arm hugs the waist of a large white sack at his side. They look like a couple. Just married, I think. He says, ‘I’ll bring this in then, shall I?’ and like before, on the phone, he doesn’t wait for an answer, but pushes past, dragging the sack of cushions along the floor, taking the doormat and the rug with him. I wonder about his wife. Does he treat her the same way? I know he’s got kids — four of them — so there must be a woman somewhere. Within a few seconds, he’s pulled half the cushions out. ‘I used to sell ’em on the market,’ he says. ‘But with the kids…’ He doesn’t finish the sentence; I’m not sure what he means. The cushions are nice enough though. ‘I wouldn’t sell that one for less than forty,’ he says. ‘It’s proper killim.’ It looks a bit faded to me, like something you might have bought in Liberty’s in the 1980s and then left in the line of the sun for too long. ‘It’s beautiful,’ I lie. ‘It’s a good price,’ he says, sharply, ‘you can have it for forty.’ I return to the phone call earlier: ‘Like I told you, we don’t really use cushions. They end up becoming cat beds.’ Now he wants to know how many cats I’ve got. He seems to think that if he can keep me talking, I’ll buy something. He’s wrong. ‘Two,’ I tell him. ‘Nice,’ he says, and continues pulling out more cushions. The sack’s been tossed aside now, lying at the bottom of the stairs like a homicide case. ‘Which one would you like?’ he persists. ‘The stripes would look good in here.’ ‘No,’ I say, ‘I’m not interested.’ So he suggests I look at his rugs. He starts stuffing the cushions back into the sack. When he’s done, he leans it against one of my chairs, and marches back to his car. I follow him out, dragging his sack behind me. I lean it against our garden wall. He makes a point of staring at it, irritated that I’ve taken control of his sack. ‘I need to get on,’ I tell him. ‘Yes, but first the rugs,’ he says. He pulls one from the back of the car. Lies it on the pavement. ‘Mongolian, that one.’ He lifts a corner. ‘Real Soviet stuff,’ he adds. ‘Right,’ I say, still trying to be polite. ‘Nice colours, but it’s not right for me.’ ‘Cost you three hundred,’ he says. ‘Right,’ I say again. He pulls out three more rugs until the temptation is too much for the neighbour’s cat, Nugget, who comes to sit on one of them. Then Nugget lies down and rolls on the rug, his long Persian hair catching on the wool, marking his pleasure for ever.

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