TOYS. A Story by Stephen Gill

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I had seen her often at departmental functions and in crowds; she always looked lost to me. Yet, her tall and well-developed physique and serious appearance were fascinating. During coffee breaks and lunch hours she liked to stay in her office, or

The other day, I saw her at a distance while I was buying my lunch. She was sitting at the extreme corner table, sipping from a cup of coffee. A stray kitten happened to emerge from somewhere. She picked her up and began to stroke her back. The unique thrill which she experienced while doing so was apparent from her face. I stepped towards her under some strange attraction.

After saying "hello" I asked if I could share the table with her. "Please", she uttered the word, still playing with the animal. After a few minutes' pause she spoke,

"Isn't it cute?"

"I have no liking for them." When it seemed she would not reply, I added,

"I prefer dogs because they are faithful, unlike cats."

"It depends much on training, I suppose."

"Also on nature."

Before she could comment, a couple occupied the adjacent seats. The couple's arrival coincided with the expiry of the lunch break. I gave a quick glance at my watch and then left the table saying "sorry", while chewing the last morsel of hamburger which I had literally thrown into my mouth.

After three or four days I saw her at a bus station. I stopped my Chevrolet to offer her a ride. She declined politely, telling me that Fred was coming from Europe and she was going to the airport to meet him.

I saw her many times with Fred in the following two weeks. He was tall, handsome, in his late thirties. I was certain that Fred could be no other than her boy-friend or a fiance, whose absence made her unhappy. No doubt in his company she was relaxed and cheerful. However, the cheerfulness did not last long. She was alone again. Presumably, Fred had left her.

She was at Laroque's Store when I met her the next time. Two days of continual freezing rain and snow had paralysed city traffic. It was not really cold, though the temperature had dropped to twenty below. Treacherous and messy streets had rendered driving hazardous. On such occasions, I spend most of my time watching TV or reading. I would not have gone

out that day, but I needed a present for my niece whose birthday was to be on Sunday. Thinking the weather might grow worse by Saturday, I went out to shop at Laroque's, a place considered ideal for children's wear.

As I passed a show case, the "hey" of a familiar voice alerted me. I turned round. She was there examining toys. Both pockets of her coat were stuffed with toys, which she had bought perhaps from some other store. We talked about the weather and children's playthings. I discovered she had a wide knowledge of toys, at least much more than an average man has. When we were shopping, she asked me if I could give her a ride back home; I readily agreed. She purchased many toys and helped me buy a china doll for my niece.

When I returned home, I found she had dropped two tiny dolls on the car seat. I was not in any mood to go back and return them at nine at night, particularly in such a miserable weather. I postponed it until the next day. At five in the evening, I drove to her home. The door was opened by an old lady. The first thing she asked me was to come in. In the living room, where we sat facing each other, she told me her niece had gone to the mental hospital.

"Mental hospital ?" My whole being expressed a question. Noticing my amazement she said,

"Sandra's husband had a car accident on the second day of their marriage. The accident didn't cause as much physical injury as it caused damage to his brain nerves. When he opened his eyes after three days he was insane. His condition hasn't improved a bit. Normally on Saturdays she goes to see him. Sandra is very unfortunate. A few weeks ago, her brother came to see them from Europe."

I said nothing for a while. Remembering something, I broke the silence :

"Where are the children?"

"Which children?" She asked curiously.

"I mean those toys she bought yesterday!"

"I know what you mean. It's Sandra's favourite pursuit. I will show you her room upstairs."

I followed her. She opened the door gently. Toys were oddly arrayed on the book-shelf, table, fire- place, near the window, in the corner. These were of all sorts, colours and shapes. I turned my head to look at her. In an emotion-filled voice she said, "Don't go without having a cup of coffee. You may sit in the living room-- I won't be long."

Slowly, we came down and she turned to the kitchen. As I entered the living room, I saw Sandra already there. "Hey, Mr. Murphy ! When did you come?" She burst out in a mixed tone of joy and surprise.

"Just half an hour ago. Last night you forgot your dolls in my car. I have brought them back. By the way, how is your husband ?"

Her look indicated that she knew her aunt had told me all about her. Instead of answering my question she came closer. Dropping her head on my shoulder, she began to sob as a child does.
A recipient of several awards, Stephen Gill has authored collections of poems, literary criticism, novels, collections of short stories and books of historical nature.

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