I came out onto New Bond Street. The office door was wedged between the manicured shopfronts of Smythson, where SamCam (the last Prime Minister’s wife) is said to work, and an exclusive gentleman’s clothier. The street was lined with monstrous sleek black cars, some purring, contentedly exhaling their oxides of carbon (mon-, the poison, and di-, the greenhouse gas) as chauffeurs awaited their shoppers slaking unquenchable material thirsts. It was warm and the light was beginning to fade. I completed a text to Isabelle making a witticism about sore Achilles’ tendons, and there he was: Indian, bearded round face, intense, standing slightly too close and addressing me with quiet urgency.
“Sir. You have the troubles but they will soon pass. This I know, this I can see.”
‘He’s right.’ I thought. Then: ‘but true of most people most of the time. This I too can see’. He was scrutinising me, bright brown eyes flicking over my face.
“You will have the great success but there is a man who hates you, says nice things but wishes you the ill. Do you know this man?” I shook my head. “You have had troubles. Write down your troubles.” He proffered a small and battered organiser with loose-leafed, square-lined pages. It looked recycled. I reflected on my troubles and wrote the word ‘cheated’ on the grey paper. It seemed to sum things up.
“Sir, might I ask you, how many children you have? Daughter, son? You are married, yes? Your wife’s name?” He was scribbling on a scrap of paper in the organiser, tore off a part, screwed it up and placed it into my palm, closing my fingers around it. His hands were soft and warm. Two ladies of middle-eastern appearance swept from Smythson to the hurriedly opened rear door of a Rolls. It opened backwards; old-fashioned.
“Two daughters” I wondered why I told him. “Wife, Anne.” No need for details.
“Sir, tell me your greatest wish” he was writing again, holding the organiser balanced on his left hand. I thought for a while. The Rolls had whispered away, to be replaced by something noisier, low-slung and Italian. A slinky young woman in a short skirt emerged with skilful, parallel-legged decorum. She knew she was beautiful.
“I want my family to be happy and healthy” I said, virtuously.
“Sir, blow on that piece of paper, touch it to your forehead Sir.” I did so, with an unnecessary flourish. Somehow I knew my next act was to open the screwed-up scrap and read his scribbles. I did so, and saw written there:
2D 0S Anne
Two daughters, zero sons. Anne was spelled correctly, with the ‘e’. His quick eyes flicked to mine again.
“Sir, how old are you, which month were you born?” His voice was low, intimate. He handed me his second screwed up piece if paper. March, I said, 57. I nearly lied, thinking ‘identity theft’.
“You must be careful driving the car. You are very fortunate but must be careful driving on the Saturday”
“I don’t have a car.” Gotcha. He ignored me.
“How much you want give me?” he asked, writing again. “I am holy man, yogi.” He paused to hold his beard between index finger and thumb, as if this proved it. “Poor people give this” he pointed at the number 20. “middle people give this, and rich people give this.” 100 and 200.
“I’m not going to give you any money” I said, wishing I had made it clear earlier, when it had first occurred to me.
“You must be very careful driving Saturday” he repeated. “Put the paper here. Throw it here.” He held the organiser out, open at a page with some scrappily handwritten letters and numbers on it. I dropped the small ball of paper onto it as he watched closely; he handed it back. Unbidden, I opened it, and written there were
My birthday is in March and I am 57 years old. “The man who hates you, who wishes you the bad, his name it starts with J. Does this mean anything? Do you know now who?”
“I’m not going to pay you anything”
“I am holy man, yogi” he said again, stroking his beard. “Do you know anyone with the name starting with the J?”
I grabbed his hand and shook it. “Thank you. I have to go now. Dinner with someone” I lied, and set off briskly between the swish shops and the gleaming coachwork towards the underground station. I heard him call something after me, but could not make out the words. I’m going to take extra care when driving on a Saturday, though.