The first time I met Sinclair was in a cheap hostel full of nature-lovers, new-age softheads and people in their fifties who still acted as if they were twelve. One big happy family it was indeed. All the visitors could use the communal kitchen (pasta, pasta, pasta, the occasional rice with ketchup, and loads of omelets) or sit in the garden and discuss world peace. The hostel was placed next to a lake, in a green valley with sheep on the hills, flowers in the fields and butterflies in the outhouse toilet facility.
I don’t remember how and why I ended up there, but then, I honestly never understood anything about holidays anyway. One suffers airports, crowded buses and expensive taxis in order to sleep in tiny beds with dirty sheets, eat food that upsets the stomach, talk languages that upsets the throat and visit putrid museums, desolate harbours and meaningless monuments. Still, it is supposed to be good for you, and who am I to protest, so each summer I dutifully pick another dreadful location for a dreadlock holiday and hope for the best.
Meeting Sinclair made up for all of this, however. Never had I met a man who was so out-of-place on this planet and so out of time in our current era.
More than anything else, the man was uniquely boring. He did not have any special interests, and he did not speak about things that did not interest him. As a result, he rarely spoke and when he was spoken to, he did not seem to listen much either. The only subject he appeared to have quite a strong opinion about, as I found out in the following years when I got to know him better, was common decency. Decency, moral standards, good manners, correctness, these all mattered very much to him. Already for this reason, he was and is – because he is still alive – very much an eccentric curiosity on this planet. This, however, did not seem to bother him much. The social etiquette that he valued so much, he only applied to himself, and quite rigidly so. What the rest of the world did, he would not give two hoots about as long as they left him in peace.
For me, the man was an absolute delight. Feeling awkward at any social occasion at the best of times, it was a wonderful experience to sit next to someone who did not care at all whether I said something or not or, indeed, whether I was even there. I had the best holidays in years. I would wake up in the morning, and after washing and dressing, I made some tea with the help of some sort of electrical appliance made for that purpose, and went downstairs to sit in the garden. Sinclair would already be there, and I would sit a decent distance away from him until later, in the afternoon, when we would play a silent game of chess (never more than one) which most of the time would end in a draw. Meanwhile, the rest of the hostel visitors would be running around making breakfast, keeping their children in check and have loud and clumsy conversations about where one was from, where one could find the nearest pharmacy (“my stomach does not hold out at all well with this strange food, you know”, they would explain), and how lucky they were with the weather. The mother or madre or matron, or whatever these women in charge of this kind of hostels are supposed to be called, was the loudest of all. A plump woman of German descent (Bavarian, was my guess) with a moustache, who all through the day shouted orders and advice nobody had asked for, all drenched in a particular sauce of sickening gay enthusiasm and a penetrating sweaty odour that followed her trail wherever she went. Amidst this torment of noise, smells and half-naked savages, Sinclair and I would sit silently in the garden, me drinking my tea and he smoking his pipe. Occasionally, he would wave at his wife.
The first surprising thing about Sinclair’s wife was the fact that he had a wife at all. One could only suppose this just had sort of happened to him and he was as puzzled about the whole matter as the next one. Still, one had to assume she really was his wife. The first time she waved in our direction, I frowned and looked questioningly at Sinclair. I had expected he would have shown some disapproval too, but instead he nodded stiffly in her direction, lifted up the hand that held his pipe and then said to me, by matter of explanation: “She’s my wife.”
Next, one would marvel at the woman herself. She was a round pink creature with a round pink face and long grey hair. She sweated even more than the hostel matron, but in any case, she normally would be at quite a distance, because she was camping. The hostel did allow campers to put up tents at the other end of the garden, and there she would be, busy with pots and pans and tent lines and all these other little camping utilities which supposedly come in quite handy when voluntarily sleeping in a tent, caravan or some such thing. Chairs with little holes in the arms to put a cup in. Cutlery that can be clipped together so as not too loose them. Plastic cups that are orange and green and always smell of plastic, even after having contained great amounts of tea, instant coffee or some broth. And always, a roll of toilet paper very much in sight. People who are not ashamed to walk towards a public toilet with a roll of toilet paper in their hands, never cease to bewilder me. How can they? Everyone knows what they are going to do! Aren’t they ashamed of themselves? How can they come out again, after their business is done, and talk to other people as if nothing has happened?
Sinclair’s wife did not have these problems. As a matter of fact, she did not seem to have any kind of problems. She would potter about, looking like a pink skippy ball, jumping around her tent organizing “things”, dressed in one of those wide colourful hippie dresses imprinted with flowery motives. She seemed happy that way. At times, she would wave at us and we would wave back. Sometimes she would pass by with some fresh water from the kitchen, some apples from a tree on the porch or with a role of toilet paper. The rest of the day, she was cooking or cleaning clothes or digging canals alongside the tent or doing the dishes or any other of these things that camping people do. After the sun would go down, she would read a book by the light of a small torch and eventually disappear in the tent where she, judging from the strangely dancing shadows of her body that the flashlight threw on the canvas from the inside, would prepare herself for bed. And in the morning, while I was having my morning tea sitting silently next to a silent Sinclair, the zipper of the tent would open, and she would crawl out, her round face first and then the rest of her, clad in some kind of old man’s pyjamas.
I was increasingly curious about her, but of course, I would never have dared to walk up to her and present myself. Luckily, the third day, just when we were about to start our first game of chess, she suddenly popped up right next besides us, all beaming and sweating, and said out loud: “Hi darling! Aren’t you going to present me to your friend?” and then looked inquisitively in my direction. I was rather disturbed and quite a bit embarrassed that she had called me her husband’s friend and I did not dare look at his face. Therefore, I kept looking at her, and silently I marvelled at how beautiful she was. As is well-known, most men are stupid and tasteless and wouldn’t have looked at her twice. But anyone who paid more attention, noticed her eyes that shone, her mouth that looked fresh and her voice that lilted. Her long grey hair had a lustre that shone in the air and transmitted a savoir faire that was rather – dare I say it – sexy. She also had an enormous bosom and a funny little bud for a nose. Good heavens, even her sweat smelled inviting, like apples. One could not help but desiring to be hugged very much by her. There was nothing of that skeleton look about her that’s so fashionable these days. Next to her, Sinclair looked like an underfed undertaker and I am afraid I didn’t offer much of a sight either. An oversized and very timid weasel, maybe.
Mind you, I did not allow my observations for a second to lead into more lecherous, lascivious and lustful fantasies. Far would it be from me, to entertain any form of depravity in my mind and one can rest assured that my feelings were as pure as a snowflake. Nonetheless, after having been introduced, when she said that she was planning a little field trip for today and invited both her husband as myself to hop along with her, I could not help but to feel a vague form of excitement at the prospect. “Yes my dear,” Sinclair said, “If you want, we will join you for an excursion. Are you ready to go yet?”. She wasn’t. Dorothy, as I had learned her name was, went back to her tent, took out a semi-large backpack and started to fill it with water flasks, apples, sandwiches which apparently she had already prepared, towels, a swiss army knife and a number of other stuff I could not distinguish very well. I was wondering whether I should prepare something as well, but, really, I did not have any of those things: no backpack, no swiss army knife, no flasks, no prepared sandwiches. I could pick an apple on our way out.
Back she came, sweating more than ever, and we rose from our chairs and followed her. She wore a wide brown dress with orange and purple peacocks on it and sandals. She led the way up to the front lawn of the hostel. Here was the parking lot of the hostel and the black Bentley of Sinclair sprung readily in the eye. Next to the car, in a simple deck chair sat his servant and chauffeur, reading a magazine about deep-sea fishing. When we came close he stood up and waited for orders. Dorothy had come to a halt and said happily: “We are going for an excursion, Jackson, are you ready?”.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Jackson.
We had reached the car as well, and I was a bit confused about the situation. I assumed we would all get into the car and be driven to some appropriate spot to start off our excursion but then Sinclair said: “Well, my dear, off you go, we will be right nearby.” And after a nod to Jackson he walked to the passenger door in the back and waited for Jackson to open it.
“Right-o my darling,” she said and then looked at me. “Well, I am sure you would like to join my husband in the car. Off you go then,” she said.
I did not understand the situation at all and did not know what to say. I am afraid some rather incoherent noises were all that came out of my mouth. She kept looking at me, with a friendly smile while Sinclair got into the car. Would she walk on her own? What about her husband and me? And what was I expected to do now? Before I could think of how to react, she took my arm and led me to the car. “Silly shy man,” she said, “Do try to enjoy yourself more!” And with that she opened the other backdoor. I could only go and step in at that point. But just when I stepped in, feeling deceived and rejected, she held me back for a second. “Wait a minute,” she said and then she offered me an apple.
I wanted that apple more than I ever had wanted anything in my life, but for reasons unbeknownst to me (and I never managed to discover them), I said: “No, thank you.” And after thus metaphorically closing the door in my own face, I closed the car door for good measure and heard how Jackson started the car.
And this was what the excursion was like. She walked in a steady pace on a small route that allowed cars, and we, in the car, would follow her slowly in the Bentley. Inside, the car, the silence did not break and unlike when we sat in the garden, here, in the Bentley, it did make me feel rather uncomfortable. I opened my window and let the cool air in. After about an hour, a small path broke away from the road up onto the mountains. We stopped the car and stepped outside. Dorothy had already started up the winding path, turned around to wave at us, and then continued. I saw that the hair on her ankles was grey as well, and it made me feel quite sentimental. Still, one had to contain oneself, so I stayed with Jackson and Sinclair and waited for her return.
“We should have brought along the chess game”, I suggested.
“Quite”, affirmed Sinclair. And then we waited some more.
She came back after almost four hours, covered in a film of sweat and burned red as a lobster by the sun. She seemed extremely satisfied by the trip she had made and we followed her back to the hostel.
“If you´ll excuse me, this has been quite an exciting day”, said Sinclair once we had stepped out of the car, and he kissed his wife on her cheek and went up to his room without another word. She smiled broadly and after a playfully wave with her hand to me, she walked to her tent.
I noticed there was another tent now, next to hers. And just as I turned to get into the hostel and prepare my evening tea (a chinese blend, I was thinking, something light and delicate. Yunnan, possibly), a man crawled out of the new tent. One look sufficed to see that he was of the flute-and-dog variety although he didn´t have a dog with him. Nor a flute as a matter of fact. But you know the type: the typical Rastafari hair-do, the indian guru beard, the bare chest, and the striped pyjama trousers with holes in it so that a lot of what was under it could be seen. Also, of course, he walked barefoot and smoked a thing that even from this distance I could smell contained illegal substances. He didn´t pay any attention to Dorothy of course, probably she wasn´t cool enough for his vulgar standards and scratched his bum shamelessly. I was glad to see Dorothy didn´t even stop to talk to him and went into her tent right away. That would teach the rascal. I went inside the hostel and prepared my tea.
The next day, when I came down with my cup of tea, Sinclair was not in his usual chair in the garden, nor anywhere else. His wife´s tent was not there either. And when I walked to the front lawn, I saw that there was no Bentley and no chauffeur reading a magazine about deep-sea fishing.
It was the German hostel woman who explained it to me. I am sure the patient reader of this story has guessed already. I have always been more than a little naïve. Very ingenuous as a matter of fact. The hostel matron saw me wandering around in the garden and on the porch and I guess there must have been quite an anxious look on my face.
“Ah, you are looking for your strange friend, ah?” she said loudly. And then, with relish, she explained it to me.
The patient reader must have guessed it but I had to have it spelled out to me till the last letter. I actually ran back to the garden to see with my own eyes, that indeed, the other tent, the tent of that bearded caveman, was gone too.I hadn´t noticed before. As a matter of fact, I had forgotten all about the unpleasant fellow.
“What? With that… with that… monkey?!” I yelped.
“Ja ja! She and him, they went away like that, ah. She said first goodbye to your friend and he, he said goodbye to her too as if he did not care. And then, she went away, so, with that other man and they took their tents and their backpacks and everything. And then your friend also stepped in his car and he goes away also.”
I was so upset that I could not bring myself even to finish my tea. I walked away. Away from the hostel, away from the lake. After a while I realised that I was following the same route Sinclair´s wife who wasn´t his wife anymore, Dorothy, had walked only yesterday and that we had followed in the car. When I reached the small path up the hill, I went up too, following her footsteps albeit one day later. I walked all day and came back at the hostel very late in the evening. I was exhausted and went to bed immediately.
The next morning I left and went back home and back to my routine life at the office. In the following years, I kept on meeting Sinclair occasionally, and got to know him as a much as a reserved guy such as myself could ever get to know a guy as reserved as he was. We never spoke about her nor did I ever meet her again.
But even after all these years, it still pains me to think that I should have accepted that apple when she offered it to me. I will never know whether things would have happened differently if I would have accepted it.
I console myself by thinking that probably everything would have happened just the same way.