Retirement is a cruel transition and if you don’t occupy yourself, insanity can set in and muddle up your thoughts entirely. My point is best illustrated by Mr…. umm… let’s call him Mr Otto Von Bismarck. I should mention that the protagonist in my little narration bears little resemblance in either appearance or character to that great, iron man who served Germany in her Unification.
Mr Otto once worked as a civil servant, just as his namesake did, one could say. Now, having worked for most of his life, Otto found it rather unnerving that he suddenly had nothing with which to occupy his mind except for the colour, number and size of pigeons in the park by his humble lodgings west of Chord Road. They were usually a dark brown or grey- the latter being his favourite- were usually to be found in flocks of twenty or thirty and were of such a size that he could just wrap his hands around them. He liked the feeling of their warm bodies in his hands and also the beating of their hearts. Perhaps he was being a bit obsessive. Most of them didn’t mind as they were accustomed to be being fed by humans, although he did find the occasional one leaving in his hands some decoration in an attempt to flee from him. In fact, one of the few hobbies in which he indulged was bird-watching. He never had any luck with spotting any rare species despite — as his fellow birders saw fit to remind him — his waterproof was decorated by at least eight different species of birds.
Preferring not to marry, Mr Otto was quite lonely in his one-bedroom flat which he rented with his rather adequate pension. However, he did allow himself the company of a little cat, a striped tabby, he had named Spinks (a misspelling of the word: Sphinx, as he thought she looked a bit like the Great Sphinx when she lay on her chest with her head upright.) Now, Spinks was quite charming most of the time, but she had a peculiar habit that revealed itself when she was “in season”. Mr Otto had never bothered to have her neutered and hence, resigned himself to endure the inevitably constant stream of suitors who besieged her. This wasn’t quite as much a problem as the one I will describe to you. She had an uncanny quirk of finding and retrieving walnuts where there were none to be found; yes, a regular feline retriever, except that Otto had never thrown her walnuts to retrieve apart from that one time and she’d been retrieving nuts ever since! He had no idea whatsoever as to where the walnuts came from. There weren’t any trees of that sort close by and the closest market was almost eight kilometres away.
Now, you can only imagine how perplexed Mr Otto might have been about the whole business, but needless to say, he stored them away in his pantry until it was quite full. So, he began garnishing his meagre food preparations with them and yet his food never tasted better, only exotic. Though, this still wasn’t enough to stem the flow of incoming walnuts. This was the beginning to be a serious matter and so Mr Otto decided to learn the fine art of producing liqueurs; a finer walnut liqueur could not be found within the Chord Road area, what with its peculiarly rich aftertaste. Unfortunately, inebriated conversation was hardly considered intellectual and he was shunned by the Park’s Philosophical Society for as long as he was under the influence.
Around this time, Spinks had ceased to bring home any more walnuts. Nevertheless, she had brought home enough for Otto to weather a drought which could last up to five years or more. Obviously, he had to rid himself of the walnuts without allowing Spinks’ idiosyncrasy to become known for, after all, a man’s cat was his pride and joy and the last thing he wanted was for nosy people probing into this episode.
It was a fine, little conundrum which lay before him, until he hit upon the idea of the gift baskets. He would distribute the remaining walnuts amongst the residents in his colony, anonymously of course, saving one for himself so that none would suspect him. The more he thought about it, the more the idea seemed to appeal to him. In fact, by the end of the afternoon, he had convinced himself that walnut gift baskets were the sole way of dispensing with his burden. So, a sunny, Wednesday morning found him on his way to the convenience store to purchase no fewer than thirty-two, medium-sized, cane baskets; hand-made cards to display some cryptic message and to the tailor’s to obtain nearly ten feet of yellow, satin ribbon- the kind that flows through one’s fingers so marvellously — and some inexpensive fabric made from chiffon upon which the walnuts would rest. He set about his work immediately: filling the baskets with walnuts after laying down the fabric, decorating the baskets with even more copious amounts of fabric and leaving handmade cards which read “A nut without a shell is a danger to society.” So, the baskets were now ready for distribution.
He would deliver the baskets tonight and rid himself of all the extraneous walnuts. HA! He laughed and clapped his hands in glee at his own cleverness. Not only would he be free from his burden, but he also felt the warmth inside which only an anonymous gesture of kindness brought with it. He could almost imagine Ms Jayanthi’s shriek of delight as he dropped off the last of the thirty-two baskets. Ms Jayanthi (name changed) was a pretty, little widow who lived above him and baked the most heavenly of biscuits. He smacked his lips just at the thought of them.
He slept quite poorly that night for he was excited and arose early the next day. He would play his part in the theatrics and act pleasantly-surprised at the generous gift delivered right to his very doorstep. He chuckled as he brushed his teeth and as he drank his morning coffee. Spinks herself seemed to meow her congratulations to him. He ambled over to the door, opened it and would’ve exclaimed, betraying his pleasant surprise, when his breath caught in his throat in a silent, petrified scream. His “walnuts” were crawling all over the corridor. Stories were told later of Ms Jayanthi’s shriek, which was said to have been heard by the morning walkers all the way in the Park.
The matter was cleared up by a rather smartly-dressed man from the agricultural institute who was called upon to clear up the matter.
“Staphyliniformia juglans or the Walnut Beetle” said the smartly dressed man.
They had probably been hibernating in some dried-up lake bed nearby and no doubt, this was where Spinks had been foraging.
Otto’s embarrassment couldn’t have been more acute and he thanked the innate sense of self-preservation that had prevented him from revealing his identity in the fiasco. He had sworn to himself that this story would never see the light of day and would remain buried beneath the weight of time…
However, I just had to get the shame of it off my chest. After all, I had nobody with whom I could converse freely, except maybe dear Spinks.