“I want to buy that chair” said the dark haired, tanned young man looking straight into my tired eyes with his deep brown ones full of determination. I rubbed my stubbly chin. I only shave every second day now as the growth is less and nobody notices. Who is there to notice?
“That chair you can have. I was about to throw it out. You can have the lot, if you like.” I replied, pointing to the stack of painted chairs of many shapes and sizes that seemed oddly a set. I was bewildered at his interest in the old thing. It was ready for the skip, of no value and had obviously been recycled many times before. A battered patio chair, ugly old thing, aluminum and wood. Someone at some stage had tried to give it a new life, painting it mad colours of yellow and green and what not. The rest of the chairs were similarly decorated though none of them seemed to be painted by the same hand.
“No, that’s the one I want. It means a lot to me.”
“Fair enough, take it with you.”
And so he did. He picked it up and wandered over the road to the market house and sat on it in the centre of the car park looking for all his worth as if he was King Of The World. He sat there for an age staring at the blank wall in front of him and I stared at him. What on earth was he doing? It might have been summer but it was cold and windy and it felt like rain was upon us. He didn’t look very comfortable and I couldn’t comprehend his actions. I was so engrossed in watching the young man sitting with his jean clad legs, one crossed over the other, elbow leaning on his knee with his hand in his chin that I hardly noticed my next customer walking in and browsing through the brick-a-brac. He felt my gaze because he lifted his head and moved his woolly cap back from his curly locks and looked back at me smiling. He waved. I waved back and then noticed a moving hand beside me.
“Oh, he was waving at you” I said to the pretty young lady standing beside me.
“I don’t know, I think he was waving at us. He is like that, really friendly to his audience.”
“His audience? Are we his audience? What is he doing? Do you know him?”
“Not really, I just met him. He is going to do a mural on that building there. He’s rather famous you know. He travels all over the world painting. He’s here for the festival.”
I laughed. At least he had a reason for sitting in the middle of the car park. Not so odd after all. Though that didn’t explain his desire for that particular chair.
“Will he be long at it do you think?”
“I think he is going to do it over the four days, weather permitting.”
“Better put out the statue so” I said and went into the back room for a root on my shelves for it. She laughed when I came out with the statue of a young blond boy in a red cloak and white ermine and handed it to her.
“Do people still do this?”
“All the time, and it works, put it in that plant pot outside the door.” She grinned at me, did as I bid and came back in to my shop.
“I love this place, you have so much stuff!”
“Unwanted mostly, people’s rubbish”
“No, no it’s treasure, memories.”
She floated around the shop for a while, touching and feeling, cooing and awing as she examined the contents of my hoard. I enjoyed watching her glide gracefully around the tables and dressers. She was a pretty little thing, much like her mother was at her age. Long brown hair, white translucent skin, she moved her long limbs gracefully as her green gypsy dress swished around her bare legs. She picked up a music box, opened it and turned the key. She watched the tiny ballerina dance and hummed along to the tune of Für Elise.
“Twenty euro and cheap at that. It’s very old.”
“Yes, it is old. It’s like my granny’s. It reminds me of her.”
Everything in my shop reminds someone of someone. That’s why I still keep it open for it brings me in nothing.
“Here” she said and handed me the money without even a question. They usually haggle me down to nothing. I gave her five euro back and she smiled with glee, leaned over and kissed my old grizzly cheek. She skipped out of the shop, crossed over to the young man on the chair and started chatting to him. I know they were talking about me as they looked over and smiled.
“I know, I know, I probably shouldn’t keep staring but I find them interesting and what else would I do?” I shouted out to the silence. I regularly talk out loud to the silence. It keeps me sane. He waved his hands around pointing at the blank wall before him and she nodded her head in agreement with whatever whacky idea he was thinking of putting on the wall. I love watching young creatives at work. They are so full of enthusiasm and hope, it does my heart good. He jumped up from his chair and lifted it up. She examined it in detail, laughing and smiling. I hoped she would come back in to visit me and tell me what was so funny about the old thing, but instead they both walked off in the other direction towards the coffee shop, he with his old patio chair under his arm and she twirling in circles around him. If I didn’t know she had just met him I would think they were deeply in love.
“Hello Johnny. Lovely day for summer.” The door swung open, disturbing my reverie. Mrs. Eliza McDermott walked in with her toddler for her weekly duty visit to me and a big grin on her face.
“Indeed, we had our day of summer last week.”I replied.
“Will I put on the kettle?” she asked wandering into the back room before I replied as she does every time. The little one headed off exploring the shop and I followed her. She stopped at the chairs and examined them all as if they were things of beauty rather than a pile of junk
She pointed and explained their designs to me while I petted her little blond head. She delights me with her innocent love of the world.
“Here’s your tea and a nice fresh scone from the bakery too.” said she as she does every time. I accepted them and smiled at her.
“Thank you m’dear. Much obliged.” and we sat watching little Mary.
“Are they the chairs from the childrens’ home?”
“Aye, junk, have to get rid of them.”
“Ah, I remember when they were painted. It’s a long while now. Can’t believe they are still going.”
“Going to the dump. My Thomas put them in here while I was home getting my lunch yesterday. I would never have let them in. He’s forever doing that to me. Why were they painted? Strange looking things some of them.”
“Do you not remember the first year of the festival we gathered them all from shops and homes and God knows where. The local artists and school children, well, everybody painted them. They were displayed as a sculpture over there”. She pointed to the car park where the young couple had been.
“We gave them to the childrens’ home then to brighten the greyness of that damp, cold building. What did we call it? The chairs on the square or something ridiculous like that. I did one too. I painted the yellow brick road on mine. I often wondered what the children thought of them but I never went in to check. I should have went in and visited them. I never had time. Is it there?” She jumped up and wandered over to the pile and examined them as Mary continued with her one word descriptions.
“I don’t remember that at all. What year was that?”
“Ah 1995, sure it’s twenty years ago now. Imagine they are still around! God those were the times. We had such fun. I was in the thick of it all. I don’t see mine. It was mainly yellow and green with splashes of colour for flowers along the side of the path and tiny little footprints to represent Dorothy, The Tin Man, Toto, The Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion. I’m off to see the wizard” and she was off singing away in her memories with Mary looking up at her puzzled and amused. 1995, no wonder I don’t remember. That was the year my Maggie left us for good. I don’t remember anything much from that year. She was sick for it all and slowly wasted away as we watched, little Tommy and I. Another reason to get rid of that pile of junk. Oh Maggie my love I don’t need any reminders.
“My one must have gotten broken. Funny, it was a sturdy one, I did my best to make it pretty but it was aluminum and planks of wood, ugly old thing to start with.” she broke into my misery and I was glad of the interruption.
“I gave that to the young artist earlier today.” I pointed out the window and there he was wandering over to his thinking spot again, on his own. He still had his chair which he plonked on the ground and sat down on again staring at the wall.
“What is he doing?”
“He is looking at his canvas. He is doing a mural for the festival. Your Jenny knows him, she told me this morning.”
“Well I don’t know him. That Jenny, she is forever picking up strays.”
“Ah ‘Liza sure you were the same yourself love.” I looked fondly at my niece.
“She bought your mother’s music box. Here.” I handed her the fifteen euro and she snorted.
“Ah Johnny, keep it. The little minx. She never wants me to get rid of anything. She is from your side alright!”
“I think I will go over and have a look at my chair. Watch Mary for a bit.”
She walked out purposely to interrogate the young man that her daughter had taken a shine to. The protective lioness gene is strong in Eliza. She is determined that Jenny won’t follow her path though I don’t see anything wrong in her choice. Hasn’t she lovely children and a devoted husband who she met when she was around Jenny’s age, seventeen and determined to do what she wanted. Yet she seems wistful and full of regrets at times. She was a wild young one, flitting about talking of traveling the world, full of mad dreams.
“Uncle Johnny, where’s Mammy?” Mary had stopped her description game and looked straight at me accusingly. This also happened every week. Eliza would make the tea, chat a bit, find some reason to leave the child and the child never forgave me for it. I brought her over to the window so she could look at her mammy talking intently to the young artist. They were laughing and joking and her mother looked young again. She looked over at us and waved. Mary giggled.
“Mammy’s happy Johnny.”
“It would seem so.” I replied. The young man picked up his chair and came over to us with Eliza skipping along beside him.
“You’ll never guess.” She burst in through the door full of beans. “I am an inspiration!”
“Indeed you are and always were ‘Liza” I laughed.
“No, no, tell him Luke.” She looked intently at the young man who seemed slightly embarrassed.
“It’s the chair” he said. “It’s my chair”.
“Which was my chair” said the giddy forty something year old woman. “My chair inspired this young, talented man to become the amazing artist he is. My chair! Luke had it in his room in the home and he used to imagine himself wandering up the yellow brick road, following his dreams. He decided to paint because of my chair!”
“Road” piped up Mary and we looked down at her walking her tiny hands along the faded footprints on the chair.
“That’s it” said Luke. “I’ll paint the chair”.
He grabbed his camera, took pictures of the child’s hands on the chair and went off smiling to himself, leaving the chair back where it started its day, with me.