Almost Persuaded, by Nigel Ferguson
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From: Almost Persuaded, by Nigel Ferguson
A man does what he likes to do in his spare time and in his working time that which is required of him.
Colin Foster “retired” on his fortieth birthday. He was tired. Tired of the business world; tired of the constant attempts by the public to put one over the insurance companies he represented through the broker firm he worked for; tired of the constant pressure to perform and of the annual performance reviews; tired of the boss’s moods and the staff niggling and back-stabbing among one another. He was tired of the staff bonding days with the silly games and the social events he was obliged to suffer with his work mates, none of whom he cared a jot about. So on his birthday, he drank his coffee at morning break, swallowed a slice of the birthday cake his wife had sent in, listened without comment to the weak jokes about his age from fellow staff members and just walked out the door. He didn’t care about a reference from his employer. He would find something to occupy himself and as long as he was with his wife, money would never be a problem.
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. It could be likened to entering a building with corridors leading off in all directions, each with an outcome unlike the other. If Colin had any idea what was in store for him as a result of his decision to resign, he may well have remained in his boring but secure job.
Margaret was Colin’s wife. Educated at one of the best and most expensive private girls’ schools in Christchurch she had led a privileged life as the only and adored child of wealthy parents now deceased. She had been left the entire family fortune. Mag, as she was known to her close friends, was stunning. Tall and blonde, she turned heads wherever she went. A slightly aquiline nose, full lips, pale blue eyes and a defined jaw line gave her a Greek goddess look. Her lips were often parted in a half-smile that seemed to tease or appear condescending in a strange way. The smile too, revealed pearly white teeth neither protruding nor crooked but a small gap between the two front teeth added to her distinctive and eye-catching appearance. The constant playing of the smile as she spoke was like a Stravinsky violin concerto; a carefully woven piece of symmetry and ingenuity.
Mag had not married Colin for his looks for he was a tall, thick-set, plain man, with a receding hairline of reddish hair and a forehead that spoke of a hidden intellect. Despite his size, Colin kept himself fit with regular runs, swimming, cycling and weekly attendances at the local judo club. He took pride in developing the ability to act swiftly in both attack and defence. His judo coach regarded him as his best pupil and one who was eminently capable of taking care of himself in any dangerous situation.
The marriage from Mag’s point of view was a security judgement. A husband with good looks was a liability; a danger to the institution of marriage. More likely to stray in these free and careless times where women more often than not made all the running and most men were happy to go along with that; so all the handsome suitors of her youth were ignored when she chose plain, sensible, muscular Colin, the insurance broker, as her life partner.
They had been married five years when Colin left his job. The ceremony was held at St Barnabas Church on a beautiful sunny February day with 150 guests present. Mag was radiant. Colin had unfortunately added a few extra kilos to his already fuller frame and felt as though he had been sewn into a Rip Curl spring suit. During the service, perspiration glistened on his forehead and on either side of his face trickling down in front of, and behind his ears and dampening his pristine white collar. This act of being on public display was not to his liking and, though he loved Margaret and respected her strong desire for a large and meretricious wedding, he would really rather have been sitting in his shade house with a large cold Heineken in his right hand. Marriage, in Colin’s opinion, involved an unnecessary, costly and tedious ceremony that he would rather have avoided had it been humanly possible.
Once the service was over, the confetti showered and the handshakes, kisses and pleasantries done to death, Colin relaxed slightly, though, playing on his mind in the background, was the thought of the silly speeches and the ordeal of dancing at the reception to come. He was not one for formalities and, as for dancing, this was yet another public display he detested. Although quick on his feet, he felt self-conscious and dancing did nothing for him.
The trip in the hired black 1952 Rolls Royce to the reception was a blur but Mag’s radiance and warmth was enough to jolt him from his melancholy. The speeches, though peppered with compliments and wittiness fell flat with Colin and left him thinking again about the futility of it all. Mag lapped it all up and that sensual smile of hers never left her face the whole time, prompting many of the male guests to indulge in daydreams whereby it was them, not Colin, in the wedding bed with her.
The couple had purchased a large house in Fendalton some months prior to the big day and it was there that they spent the night of the wedding having quickly left the venue around midnight. The house was a splendid example of modern architecture. Large windows, dark stained weatherboards and a flat roof. Although there was a second storey, the architect had cleverly disguised the fact by setting off the top floor to the rear of the long low ground floor. A wide sweeping and tree-lined driveway graced the property leading to a three-car garage, a covered entranceway that was virtually a small portico and beyond and to the right was the covered lap pool which was an extension of the house but with sets of windows smaller than the house proper and built in at a height of about three metres. From the wide entrance beyond the solid rimu front door, a curved, carpeted stairway veered left then right to the five bedrooms and three bathrooms upstairs. The ground floor was spacious. White walls and an intelligent selection of modern art; mostly canvas wrap-around frames in the larger format, were hung on the wider wall spaces. The kitchen was state of the art. Granite bench tops, the best of appliances and a scullery the size of an average kitchen. Mag loved to entertain. Colin, though always a gracious host, played his part well but was usually a little distracted, rarely jovial, but very attentive to Mag. He often busied himself with the food, the wine or the dishes, thus rarely participating fully in the camaraderie of the gathering.
Part-time work at a local childcare centre gave Mag an interest, some income and time with little children, all of whom she adored. Mag was determined to start a family as soon as possible. The house was ideal. It was close to the better schools in Christchurch and with large grounds there was plenty of room for the boisterous games that children delight in. The first few years of marriage were crowded with activities; trips to the Gold Coast, Fiji, Hawaii, parties and shows. All the time Mag was expecting to conceive. She was demanding in bed often tiring poor Colin out to the point of exhaustion. He never complained or discussed the subject with any of his friends. Meanwhile, he found his job quite trying. It really held very little interest for him so he restricted his working hours to only the normal start and finish times, studiously avoiding any hint of after-hours work. This was noted by his manager and was often the subject of discussion at the annual performance reviews. Although his work was of a good standard and he was courteous to other staff and applied himself fairly diligently to the work in hand, it was quite obvious that he was totally uninterested in any form of promotion.
Bernard Maunsell was a tireless and demanding manager. Work was his life and the business prospered due to the numerous contacts he had made by networking, socialising and setting aside a generous advertising budget for radio and local newspaper spreads. He had excellent relationships with a number of insurance companies and the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 were a huge boost to the workload.
“I am of the opinion you don’t want to go any further in this company,” Bernard said to Colin at one of the annual performance reviews. “I feel sure you could apply yourself more and make much better progress in this company if you wished.”
Colin’s response was non-committal; he simply nodded then forced a wry smile and left it at that.
Bernard’s frustration was evident. He glared, reddened slightly and pulled at his right ear lobe; a habit that had extended the ear so it was out of sync with the left side. Both upper areas of his ears were a mass of puffy cartilage as a result of seven years playing hooker for the local Christchurch Rugby Club senior grade.
“Well, it’s your life Colin. I can’t live it for you. The company is on the verge of expansion. We will need good people to lead new staff and there will be plenty of opportunities for promotion for those who show they want it.”
Colin shrugged and it was at this point that Bernard decided it was pointless proceeding any further. He would have to look closely at other staff members for the promotions he had planned. Colin could stay in the same role for all he cared. His work was good but the attitude problem was obviously not going away.