was Nester Marzipan. I saw him the first day of Lent, leaning on the bonnet of a silver Ford Capri that looked rusted beyond hope. He was smoking a pipe and staring up at the sky as if waiting for an important delivery, a pale yellow sweater draped theatrically over his shoulders. He appeared frozen in time, part of a picture that was absurdly stereotypical, posing insipidly as if involved in a catalogue shoot.
I paid no more thought to Nester Marzipan. Once he slipped out of sight, his place in my mind proved equally transient and as I passed through the jingling door to the village's local store, I began filling my head with what I would purchase on that fine day.
"Morning, Colin," I called to the sturdy bulk of a man behind the counter.
"You've shaved off your beard," came the reply.
"If you could call it that," I said, referring to the wispy grey tufts that I had been attempting to cultivate. "Yes, defeat came last night as I replaced a bulb in the downstairs washroom. Under a hundred watts it became painfully clear that my face was to remain as barren as my head."
"Stick to Bridge. That's where your real strength lies."
I chuckled to myself before ambling along the shelves and loading up my basket.
"That's all," I announced as I placed my shopping next to the old fashioned till that Colin was so proud of, despite its capricious nature. It had been known to ring up grocery bills of terrifying expense; a source of amusement to the regular customer, but quite the opposite to the unsuspecting day-tripper, in off the street for a chocolate bar and fizzy drink. Indeed, Colin's favourite story is of the man who clutched at his chest, claiming he was having palpitations, after he saw the amount his kilo of plums had come to. Despite this, Colin is a likeable fellow and certainly not the sort of man to wish misfortune on anyone.
He stared at my meagre pile of shopping and winked at me. "I've a lovely cut of beef, just came in this morning, haven't had a chance to put it out yet," he whispered across the counter, reeling me into some mini-conspiracy.
"No, no," I said, standing tall and trying to appear as staunch as possible. "I never eat meat during Lent."
"Ah, yes," Colin mused. "The time of abstinence has begun."
I smiled; Colin, a firm believer in the non-existence of a heavenly God, found my self-discipline during this period an immense source of confusion. His maker, he insisted, lived in the soil and provided his garden with food to grow, his animals with crops to eat and his hands with work to do. Thus such self-denial was an anathema to his beliefs and his sizeable belly.
I paid my bill, which today was quite correct, and left the store with my bags. As I made my way home, I passed Nester Marzipan again, talking to a young lad from the village. The bonnet of Nester's Ford Capri was propped up with a walking stick, and the two of them were fussing about with a set of jump leads. Nester was still puffing on his pipe, yet his former perfected manner was now somewhat corrupted. I noticed a peculiar twitch in his left eyebrow and a manner he had of gesticulating with his arm, as if swatting away some invisible insect. I laid these nervous manifestations down to the problem he was having with his car and, once I turned the corner at the bottom of the lane, paid no more heed to this man and his rusting vehicle, certain that once the leads did their job I would never see him again.
The following morning, after a breakfast of dry toast and black tea in keeping with my sacred diet, I set out for a stroll through the village. It was a stunning March day; the air was crisp and revitalising, each breath like a much needed gust of freshness for the lungs. By the time I reached the post box I felt quite purged from the daily grime that so often builds up within us. My thoughts were like a clear running woodland stream and my heart pumped with reassuring regularity. I saw Nester sitting on a bench on the opposite side of the road, frowning into the wind, his pipe abandoned on the seat beside him. His hair looked slightly more ruffled than it had the day before and I noticed that he was wearing odd socks. Some small knowledge of this man's plight compelled me to cross the road and introduce myself.
"Hi, I'm Mac," I said reaching out a hand. "I couldn't help noticing you outside the village shop yesterday."
"Nester," he said taking my hand in a ferocious grip. "Nester Marzipan."
We talked for some time before I took my leave, announcing that my wife would be waiting to start lunch. I left with no more knowledge on this strange individual than I had possessed before our introduction. He had manoeuvred between my questions with the artful design of one long practised in avoiding disclosure. However, what I did have (besides the knowledge that Nester Marzipan was a secretive man) was a plethora of strange images and expressions, which my companion had revealed throughout the length of our uninformative discussion.
Nester Marzipan was a man full of fidget. His body was so inclined to move that it seemed to dominate his life. He picked at his hair, he rubbed his ears, he blew his nose three times in the space of five minutes and yet I could not discern that this man had a cold or any other ailment that might necessitate such a course of action. When he smiled his eyes twitched, when he laughed his hands tapped at his knees, which also seemed to possess some internal quiver. It was an exhausting twenty-five minutes and I returned home quite ravenous, despite feeling so visually overindulged.
I tried to tell my wife about Nester Marzipan, but found it hard to move past the absurdity of his name. Lyne was so overcome by giggles that I knew to continue into a description of all his unusual mannerisms, would surely serve to make her quite incapacitated.
The following Sunday, after church, I followed the congregation on its usual tour of the village as we spoke on the merits of the sermon, which that week had included a passionate rant on the impersonalising fever brought about by the internet. I noticed a bit of delay up ahead and wondered what the cause could be. When I moved closer I saw that it was none other than Nester Marzipan, attracting quite a benevolent crowd about him. He was standing there, once again, with his bonnet propped open, this time with a fire poker, which immediately had me considering what other strange items this man was in possession of. He was also waving his customary set of jump cables and wearing an overly vibrant sun visor.
"I was rather disappointed with the sermon," he was saying, his shoulders bouncing up and down. "I find my connection to the internet immensely satisfying and, while it does take the smile out of the service, it also makes it a great deal easier. Only last week I purchased a set of antique bed pans in my underwear, a highly pleasurable experience and one which would have been rendered utterly criminal had it been done in the flesh, so to speak."
There were guffaws of laugher and I quickened my step. Catching eyes with Nester I tipped my head, but continued walking - having assessed from the growing throng that he had plenty of company to be getting on with.
I spent the rest of the day in the garden unable to think of anything else but this man who appeared to be marooned here. When my wife arrived home in the evening, having spent the day helping Colin in the store, I noted that she was a little late.
"I know," she said rather breathlessly. "I stopped to help a man with his car."
"That's Nester Marzipan," I said, an inexplicable wave of frustration building within me.
"Good gracious," my wife exclaimed, on the verge of another fit of hysterics. "No wonder he was so reticent with my questions, a man with a name like that probably wants to bury his head in the sand all day."
"But that's just the thing - he doesn't. He's been attracting attention from the whole village."
"Well, he got me just as I was coming out of Colin's. I was quite over laden with a bag of potatoes and he was very quick to assist me to my car. Then one thing led to another and within a moment I was pulling up beside him and popping open my bonnet."
"Unbelievable! You don't know the first thing about cars."
"I know, but do you know what? I don't know if he does either. I mean he propped his bonnet open with a tennis racket, I was certain the whole thing was going to come crashing down at any moment."
"Unbelievable!" I said again, vowing to head over to the store the following morning and help this man and his ridiculous car.
True to my word, the next day I climbed into my Range Rover and drove on over to Colin's. There was Nester, sunning himself and eating an Ice Lolly. He was wearing a bright red bow tie and his jaw was dotted with tiny pieces of tissue where he had obviously cut himself shaving that morning.
"Mac!" he called with such friendly warmth that I was inclined to smile at this man and wonder if in fact he simply took some getting used to.
"Hello," I said, stepping out of my vehicle and ambling over to him.
"What can I do for you?"
"I hear there is a problem with your car."
"Well, that is certainly something I won't deny,' he said as his nose began to twitch. I noticed a bubble of spittle on his chin, glinting in the morning's gentle sun. "She needs a jump, but I haven't been able to get much success."
I reached into my boot and pulled out a brand new set of jump leads. "What do you say we give these a go?"
"Righty ho!" said Nester with a fatuous smile; there wasn't an ounce of profundity in him.
He leant through the window into his car and released the bonnet. I began to lift it up as I felt underneath for the catch.
"Oh!" he exclaimed, darting towards the back of his car.
"Now hang on a minute," I said as he emerged with an old table leg.
"It's for the bonnet."
"I know very well what you intend doing with that," I said, pulling out the metal rod from the lip of the bonnet and propping it up in the regular fashion.
"Suit yourself," he said with a shrug.
We attached the leads and I returned to my vehicle and started the engine. "Let's leave it for a while, really give the battery a chance to charge."
"Righty ho!" he said, climbing into the driver's seat and slipping on a pair of white leather driving gloves.
After what seemed like a reliable amount of time, he tried his own car.
I climbed out, fiddled with the plugs and started my engine again.
We fiddled and fussed and took up half the day, but still nothing.
"Listen," I said. "I think you'll need a new battery entirely."
"Righty ho!" he said, his eyebrows bouncing and his fingers wriggling. I couldn't stand anymore so I jumped back into my car and drove off.
"I'm cooking steak for supper," I announced when I arrived home.
My wife stared at me with an expression of total astonishment. "But "
"Don't - say - a - word!"
We ate off our laps in front of the television and I went to bed with a guilty stomach ache, thoroughly miserable.
I avoided the local store for the next two days, but on the third we were low on groceries and necessity forced me into the village - not without a certain amount of trepidation, I might add. I chose to walk, rather than drive, on account of not wanting to be roped into any other futile efforts with Nester Marzipan and his confounded vehicle.
When I arrived at Colin's there was no sign of him. The rusting Ford Capri, complete with fidgeting driver and boot of oddities, was gone.
"What happened?" I asked Colin as I laid down my items on the counter.
"Well, he came in this morning, said he'd had a lovely holiday, met a lovely bunch of people, then climbed in his car and drove off."
"He just drove off?"
"Yeah, started the engine up, first time, reversed around and drove off," Colin said as the cash register spluttered and gurgled and spat out a receipt at least five times longer than my shopping list. "That'll be eight hundred and ninety-four pounds," Colin said with a chuckle.
I smiled, things were back to normal.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Gabriela Blandy. All rights reserved.