The office was a dump, depressing. Dust and fluff and bits of rubbish everywhere. Roy had brought in the hoover and some cloths from Purley. The hours ahead daunted him – there was no Tour stage today.
He was thinking again about the old house, Don and Gwen and Mary Rand. Gwen had made a game of having a crush on Lynn Davies, who’d won the men’s long jump gold in Tokyo. “He’s my boyfriend,” she would say, and Don would grunt. The nine year-old Roy had wondered why Davies had a girl’s Christian name, but accepted it as a Welsh thing.
Roy sat at his desk and googled, seeking other British medallists from 1964. He found them all and remembered several: Paul Nihill, the long-distance walker; Ann Packer and Robbie Brightwell, engaged to be wed; Basil Heatley, silver in the marathon; Louis Martin, weightlifter, Jamaican by birth. That part of the past now seemed so very far off, almost before his time, almost as distant as the war. The word “amateur” could only mean incompetent these days. Back then it had signposted a sort of honour, a component of a code that Roy had been brought up to revere.
The framed photo was still on his desk, its surface the only one in the office he’d yet to clear. It showed his daughters and his wife as they had been five years ago: Leila laughing, already putting her biology degree to use in the fight against crime and recently married to Glen; the history student Lucy, all sceptical reserve, various enthusiastic boyfriends dumped; Kristie young for her years, still slight, a proud mum, kind eyes, she might have posed for the photo yesterday.
Roy thought about his first steps into Kristie’s family’s world, half familiar, half strange. The Pang family were not so different from his own but he’d felt naïve in cosmopolitan company; Daphne softly, shrewdly, Yorkshire, had met Azim through food retail channels and adapted comfortably to London life; Azim insistently courteous, his attention close, his accent strong, more at home in the heart of the metropolis than Roy.
On the first two or three visits to their home Roy had stayed very near to Kristie, starkly conscious of her being her parents’ only child, nervously enacting a deep respect for her that he hoped would find favour with her father, on to whom Roy projected his well-meant but essentially comic book idea of an Oriental mentality.
The relationship’s thin layer of unbroken ice finally gave way when Azim invited him to play a round of golf. Neither was much of a player but Roy was certainly the better. Azim suggested match play, just to make it fun, and he was three down at the turn. This hadn’t bothered him one bit, it seemed to Roy. They’d talked companionably about export-import, deductibles and VAT. Then, on the eleventh, Azim had found a bunker off the tee.
Roy’s drive landed close by, Azim played first. His ball was underneath the bunker’s lip. He tried once, twice, three times to chip it out and each time failed. Then he stepped away, turned a little circle in the sand raised his sand iron above his head like an axe, brought it down hard towards the ball and missed it. “Shit!” he said under his breath. Shit! Shit!”
Later, in the clubhouse bar, Azim had bought Roy a beer and himself a lemonade. “I’m very sorry for losing my temper out there,” he said.
“Oh, well, it’s that sort of game, isn’t it?” said Roy.
Azim had laughed heartily, then said, “So, I’ve a feeling you’re going to marry my daughter.”
Roy had had that feeling too, but hadn’t yet acknowledged it. He did so then. “I have thought about it, yes,” he said, with a calmness that pleasantly astonished him.
Azim had raised his glass of lemonade. “Cheers, then.”
“Cheers,” Roy had replied, lifting his beer.
All of this came back in a one-minute rush. Roy got up and switched the hoover on.
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