Gita was not usually one for early mornings. She seldom got up from bed prior to nine-thirty o’clock, and more than often found herself opening Bloomin’ Lovely for business much later than the ten o’clock stated on the front door. Alas, no one noticed - Foxgrove was one of those villages in which no one left their houses before midday bar students hurrying to school. On an average day, Gita would leisurely enjoy a full English breakfast for brunch (she avoided taking lunch breaks), cooked as she sung her heart out to 90s pop anthems playing on the mid-morning radio.
Today was not one of these days.
Having awoken at the crack of dawn, Gita was now recounting a list of things Haresh should do daily while in charge of her flower shop. Her long-suffering husband was rubbing the sleep from his eyes, disgruntled as to the fact this was the fifteenth time she had read the list.
“Gita, I don’t think this is necessary!” Haresh argued.
“You’re wrong - this is very necessary!” Gita retorted, turning a page over on the seemingly never-ending list, “No. 15: Re-arrange my herb cabinet located at the front right of the shop. No. 16: Create a display on the front desk. No. 17…”
Haresh turned his wrist to see his wristwatch face - it was half-past five! He knew taking over Gita’s business for the day wouldn’t be very easy for a headteacher who knew very little about plants, but surely waking up so early wasn’t a part of the deal; ‘the door says it opens at ten o’clock, for god’s sake!’ Haresh thought, ignorant to how Gita more than often ignored it.
“No. 23: Water the plants in the backroom in the morning and evenings and pop a plant-food pellet in each pot whilst doing so. No. 24…” Gita turned over yet another page, before finally finishing a good halfway down said page, “Got it?”
“Yes,” Haresh gritted his teeth in annoyance, “Yes, I have.”
Gita, picking up on this eminent emotion, wrapped an encouraging arm around her pyjama-clad husband.
“I just want to make sure you don’t run into any trouble!” Gita said, her soothing voice a contrast from her prior stern tone.
“I’ll be fine!” Haresh frowned, still envious with the thought of a warm bed waiting for him upstairs.
“Well, the list will be on the fridge if you need it!”
“I am sure I won’t.” Haresh murmured, thinking about the fifteen times she had already read it out.
Glutton with her preparedness, Gita sat next to her husband, resting her hand atop his knee. Haresh struggled to enjoy the moment as he had left his mind in his bed, where his desires also lay. Peevishly, Haresh drew attention to his wristwatch as he checked the time in an exaggerated manner.
“Oh dear!” Gita said, having checked her own, “I’d best be off!” She gave her husband a particularly rowdy kiss on the cheek before departing.
Gita was on her way to a flower convention in Inverness, hence the early start, and was to represent Bloomin’ Lovely with a small, but attractive stall. The drive was said to be a demanding nine hours, and Gita had hoped to get there bang on opening time, at 1pm, but that clearly wasn’t to happen. Still, Gita was happy enough to set up one hour late - flower-selling conventions like these were bound to bring in all types of new customers and business prospects, if not inspiration on how to attract more customers.
Gita was adamant as to go and had persuaded Haresh to spend his Bank Holiday Monday taking over for her. At first, he simply declined, but Gita had eventually won him over. And here he was - about to take over business for the small yet homely flower business located in the centre of Foxgrove.
Now alone in the house, Haresh decided on something he had been looking forward to for a while: a couple of hours of extra sleep. He headed upstairs and collapsed onto their double bed.
A jingle of chimes: a customer had arrived. Haresh straightened his shirt, retouched his hair and took a deep breath; he was about to greet his first customer of the day two hours after he had opened the shop.
“Hello?” a wavering voice called from the entrance of the shop. Haresh hurried to greet them. Before him stood an elderly woman, aided by the use of a crutch as she stumbled ungracefully into the shop.
“Hello, Mrs. Sprott.” Haresh intoned in his frighteningly stern ‘headmaster voice’ as Gita called it, “How can I be of assistance?”
“You must be Mr.Chandra!” cooed Mrs. Sprott, gazing up at him, “I say, you are tall!”
“Erm - thank you.” Haresh blushed - why am I so nervous? - “can I interest you in any of our stock?” He flailed his hands around rather pathetically to show off the collection of various flowers and seed packets but the elderly lady showed no interest.
“Where is Mrs. Chandra today? Sick? Has she got a stomach bug? There is one going around the village you know! Mr.Jenkins got it! And his wife! No, no - it wasn’t them. I got it wrong - it was Mr.Cogsworth, or Dr Cogsworth as he likes to be called. My son’s a doctor, did you know? Astrophysics or something like that! We wanted him to go into the local bakery, but no! Off he trotted to university and got himself a degree! Ever so proud, I am! He’s up there with all the bigwigs working on secret space projects. Have you seen the news? An awful lot of space news! Been some sightings of UFOs! Fancy that! Where was I? Doctors - oh yes. Are you taking Gita to a doctor’s - you can never be too careful, you know. I knew a Mrs. Bennet once - or was it Mrs. Balshaw. Anyway, this Mrs. Balshaw…”
Mrs. Sprott continued this one-sided conversation for a while - Haresh thought she would be a good match for Gita. He could imagine the two attempting to hold a conversation, trying to get a word (or two, or three) in edgeways. No wonder Mrs. Sprott seemed so fond of Gita.
“... Anyway, as I was saying, you should get any lumps checked out. That’s what my Larry did and now it’s healthy as anything!” Mrs. Sprott beamed. Haresh thought it odd that she seemed not at all out of breath considering she had just spoken for a solid five minutes.
“...Right.” Haresh coughed nervously, “so what can I help you with? Would you like some flowers? We have some brand new azaleas - I think they’re azaleas.” He departed Mrs. Sprott’s company for a few seconds to go check the labels of a new display of exuberantly coloured flowers. “Yep, azaleas!”
“Oh, no, I’m alright!” Mrs. Sprott waved her hand in dismissal, “I was just popping in to check on Mrs. Chandra - you know, she is never open this early! I must be off now!” she said before departing onto the street outside, where she, almost instantly, struck up conversation with Mrs. Jenkins.
Haresh raised an eyebrow. “Just popping in?” he said to himself, “She just read me a bloody essay about doctors and aliens and… lumps in odd places!” He shuddered at the content of Mrs. Sprott’s rant.
Haresh returned to the counter and it wasn’t long before the counter phone rattled in its holder, emitting a high-pitched jingle. He picked up the phone and held it to his ear.
“Hello?” he said, before remembering his position as temporary shop manager: “Bloomin’ Lovely flower shop! How can we help you?” This time, he spoke decidedly lighter - if a little bit camp.
“HARESH!” an excitable voice cried down the line, “It’s me! Gita!”
“I figured. Where are you now? You can’t be in Inverness yet!”
“Where are you then?”
“Lancashire! Just stopped off in my childhood home for a snack. I’m thinking a black pudding or Eccles cakes. Maybe some Parkin!”
“How about something less sugary? Remember what the doctor said?” It was typical of Haresh to while expressing concern and love for his wife, also be a bit of a party-pooper.
“I guess so…a butter pie? No - that’s rather fattening. Umm - I guess I’ll just grab a sandwich from Tesco.” She sighed, “Anyway, how’s business? I assume you’ve opened - you didn’t pick up the home phone.”
“Dull,” Haresh said bluntly. “I’ve had one person in -”
“Oh, who?” Gita interrupted.
“Mrs. Sprott. I’ve had one person in and -”
“Oh, she can be a bore. She loves to ramble on, doesn’t she, and she doesn’t half interrupt often!” Gita said, oblivious to the irony.
“Yes! As I was saying, I’ve had one person in, Mrs. Sprott, and she only popped in because she was wondering why the shop was opened much earlier than usual.”
“Oh - well, I usually open at twelve…” Gita began.
“TWELVE?” Haresh cried.
“Yes - twelve! Anyway, I must be off! I’ve got my sandwich - cheese and tomato, by the way! They didn’t have any ham ones left. I’ll call you when I get to Inverness!”
“Okay, bye!” Haresh sighed. He put the phone down on the receiver and decided it was awfully boring standing sentinel at the counter, especially when running a shop in a small village like Foxgrove (with only a couple of newsagents to its name). Time to start Gita’s list, he thought, unfolding a piece of paper from his pocket.
“No. 1: Water the azaleas,” he read aloud, “Well, that’s easy! The Azaleas are over… they’re over…” He was stumped. “Hang on, where are they?”
It was half past four and Bloomin’ Lovely was at its customer peak. Two elderly and one middle-aged women stood discussing their garden displays at the centre of the shop, seemingly unaware of Haresh, hovering, desperately trying to draw their attentions away from each other and to the shop’s stock.
Haresh picked up stray sentences from the group of cackling women: “I used some fertilizer for the flowers lining my wall but not the ones along the fence because on the packet it says not to use it… My Irises are coming along very well despite the unfavourable soil… Tulips, I find, don’t go well with wooden garden furniture. Bare that in mind when organising your garden.”
Giving up, Haresh resided to the counter. He was really very bored. He checked the time - Gita must have arrived by now, he thought. He picked up the phone and dialled Gita’s number. He waited a while before she picked up.
“Hi, Haresh! You called just in time! I’ve just set up my stall!”
“How is the flower convention?”
“Busy! I was supposed to have arrived four and a half hours ago to set up - whoops! I’ve found a spot and it’s all set up now! Now I’m waiting for my first customer!”
“How’s the shop?”
“Our only customers are a bunch of cackling women who don’t show any sign of actually wanting to buy anything.”
“Oh - is it Mrs. Wendover?”
“There are three of them - two old and one about our age.”
“Our age being?”
“Well, at least you didn’t categorise us as old!” Gita cackled in a similar manner to Haresh’s customers - it’s weird how, once women reach a certain age they tend to cackle, Haresh thought, careful as to not say it aloud.
Gita continued, “Anyway, if it’s Mrs. Wendover tell her her order will be ready Wednesday evening. How are you getting along with my to-do-list?”
“Not particularly well. I can’t find the flowers you’ve written about.”
“Look at the labels!”
“I have done and it doesn’t help. Your handwriting is getting increasingly poor!” Haresh said.
“Oi! Don’t use your headmaster voice on me! Right, I must go! Some woman is heading in my direction! She might just be my first customer! Bye!”
At the flower convention, Gita hung up and watched as the woman approached. She was eying the stall with intent - perhaps she was to strike a business deal or something? Gita mulled. Just metres away the woman had immersed herself into another stall to Gita’s dismay. I really should have gone for something flashier, she thought.
“Erm - are any of you ladies Mrs. Wendover?” Haresh asked sheepishly.
“I am!” One of the old ladies stood into the role.
“Your order will be ready by Wednesday evening apparently.” He reported.
“I see. Was that Mrs. Chandra on the phone? How is she? Mrs. Sprott told Mrs. Damien, who told Mr.Grove, who told my daughter’s friend’s sister, that she’s very ill. Flu is it?” Mrs. Wendover replied.
“I heard it was a leg operation.” said the other old lady.
“I heard chicken pox!” said the middle-aged one.
Before Haresh could correct any of them they resumed their cackling.
Haresh was finally home. He collapsed onto the bed.
He had just completed all thirty-three tasks on Gita’s to-do-list which had taken him right up to eleven o’clock at night. He was exhausted and was planning on enjoying a hearty night’s sleep as a reward. After all, he had the next day off as well!
Just when he had dressed into his pyjamas and slipped in between his warm bed and duvet his phone went off. He groaned and reached for his bedside table to retrieve the damned device. It must be Gita, he thought, calling from some service station en route home. He hadn’t spoken to her since her arrival at the convention and she hadn’t picked up her phone when the convention finished. He assumed she must have hit the road as soon as it finished or had made some florist friends and decided to get a meal together (she often was quick to make friends.)
“Hullo? Gita?” Haresh mumbled into the phone.
“Is this Haresh Chandra?” A distinctly male voice growled on the other side.
“Yup.” He perked up a bit - who could this person be?
“This is Inverness Police Station. We have detained your wife on suspicion of drink driving.”
Haresh leapt out of bed.
“I’ll be right there!”
To be continued tomorrow in The Rivalry...
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