We were on our way home from the cafe – where Alfie gobbled up the porridge and I tried – and failed – to ignore the implied rebuke of my cooking – when Alfie saw a cat. I know he saw a cat, because he roared “CAT” and toddled off at speed, his wobbly Charlie Chaplin gait even more pronounced as usual as he gave chase.
The Norma Desmond flat is on a quiet-ish road – hence Alfie’s unfettered toddling – that leads from the main road Hornsgatan, round a corner and up a hill towards a church with two steeples. It’s lined on one side with buildings (the Swedish equivalent of tenements, I suppose), old and grand and mustard colour. I’ve taken a mental note of the children’s playpark opposite our building, tucked behind some trees. Alfie hasn’t noticed it yet; it could prove to be a trump card one of these days.
He crouched down next to a parked car, head cocked to one side, and waved enthusiastically and shouting greetings at the black and white cat. It cowered against a wheel, its eyes glowing in the dimness. Suddenly, it scarpered and Alfie looked wounded.
“Ach don’t worry, pal.” I swooped him up to ride on my shoulders for the last wee bit. I shivered; the wind was biting this morning. “He just had to go home.”
“Had to go home… his mummy?” asked Alfie, sounding, as Tess observed the other day, like the world’s cutest Dalek.
“Exactly, it’s his lunchtime.”
“Your mummy’s at work, isn’t she? Will we make her something nice for tea?” Even as I said it, I realised she probably won’t be in before Alfie’s bedtime and I shouldn’t get his hopes up, though at the same time he’s barely two and is unlikely to recall this conversation in several hours’ time.
Tess looked knackered when she got in last night, but she was high on her first couple of days, her eyes sparkling as she told me all the plans she’s going to kick off. She was a freelance business consultant in London, a kind of trouble-shooter who comes in to companies, tells them everything they’re doing wrong and charges them a fortune for it, until one of her clients asked her to become their CEO. It’s a Swedish tech start-up, one of these genius apps that no one can remember how we lived without. It was swimming in financing, but, as the founders are genius-geeks who can code like nobody’s business but, to quote Tess, don’t know their arses from their elbows when it comes to running a business, was hemorrhaging dosh. Anyway, Tess is going to lick them all into shape, and she’s happy, so I’m happy.
That sounded dead cheesy, and unnecessarily so. I’m happy in general, actually. I mean, here I am, striding along the pavement in a fascinating and foreign country, my wee pal on my shoulders who’s playing with my hair and singing a song that appears to be of his own composition (genius). I wouldn’t swap this for my slick City office, absentmindedly munching a sandwich at my desk at 3pm as I frantically prepare a petition to Court quibbling some minutiae in a decades old document that might save my client a few grand in tax. Just typing that makes me depressed. I hated it with the passion of a thousand suns.
Truth is, I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, other than rich. Well, solvent. Which always surprises folk, because I grew up in a castle. An actual castle, turrets and everything, in the Highlands of Scotland. But the thing about castles, is that they cost a helluva lot in upkeep, and my family doesn’t even have a helluva little. The words “pot” and “to piss in” come to mind. Put it this way, kids in my class at primary school loved telling spooky stories about my home, and all I could think was that I wished ghosts paid rent. I once woke up to find I was being snowed on, and my room wasn’t even on the top floor. Money may not make you happy, but it does keep you from being snowed on in your bed.
All through law school I harboured visions of riding in on a white steed with the money to repair the place to its former glory, but when I was still a poorly paid newly-qualified lawyer my mother sold it to the Scottish National Trust. She still lives there, in a flat in the former servants’ quarters, and has been warned by the police several times for threatening tourists with assault.
Whenever Alfie goes to school I’ll figure out what’s next for me, but for now I’m happy making like a Swedish dude and keeping the home fires burning. I might even grow a man bun.
I won’t grow a man bun.
“Cat, gone,” intoned Alfie solemnly, and I rolled him off my shoulders to give him a cuddle. “But I love him.”
He looked so melancholic (after only three days in Scandinavia!) that I nearly laughed, then the thought invaded my mind that me and Tess are depressingly like Alfie and that cat.
We’re two days into our new start, what am I thinking like that for?