Chapter 10 – The Hermit
Leo walked up to Hoxton Street to check out The Magician’s furniture store, Parkers. It was a large shop, taking up what used to be two traditional shop fronts from the early 1900s east London. The outside of the shop had retained the original features and was painted in a cobalt blue colour with yellow lettering. Inside, the store was decked out in a contemporary style with white walls and wooden floorboards with cow hide rugs and Berber-style carpets.
The Magician had all the right moves when it came to slacks and threads, and he certainly had good taste when it came to interior design. As you entered the store, two upcycled brown sofas laid out diagonally opposite one another, welcomed you, encouraging customers to take a pew. Looking at the sofas, Leo thought he could be so bold to ask if he could park his butt and lie down on the sofa for a few hours until his date with Lima. But he knew that would be way to cheeky, besides he was always a good boy when it came to CDT classes with Mr Parker, and he didn’t want to offend.
Next to the sofas were two wooden trestle tables painted in a layer of white paint. The layer of paint was faint enough so you could see the wood and its originalities. On top of each of the tables were perched lava lamps. One in a rocket shape filled with purple lava and shocking pink bubbles of lava swirling round. The second was a cone like shape filled with bright blue lava and red globules of lava.
The furnishings and offering at Parkers was a mix of retro, contemporary classics and vintage. An assortment of mirrors and art adorned the walls. There were abstract paintings to buy and a series of life drawing style nudes. “Saucy devil” said Leo as he clocked the paintings of nude women, believing that his former teacher, The Magician, must have either purchased or painted them himself.
Leo went up to the cash desk where a tall man in his 30s was in charge. “Hi,” Leo said as he approached the cashier. “I’m here to see The umm, umm” he fumbled as he was about to say The Magician. “Sorry, let’s start again. I’m here to see Mr Parker.”
“Which one?” the man smiled. “There’s two of us.”
“Ah,” said Leo. “Ronald please.”
“Sure,” the cashier said. “Are you here about the interview?”
“Eh no,” replied Leo. “I just came to see Ronald. He used to teach me at Greycoats.”
“Ok,” said the cashier. “Is he expecting you?”
“Ermm not today as such,” Leo said nervously. “He gave me his card a few weeks ago and told me to stop by sometime, so here I am.”
“No problems,” the cashier said. “Give me a moment and I’ll tell him you are here.”
The Magician aka Mr Ronald Parker quickly emerged from a back room, with his sleeves rolled up and braces holding up his fine pair of twill pants.
“Leo, what a lovely surprise,” he said, holding out his hand to shake Leo’s. “I was wondering when you might show.”
“Come through and I’ll take you into the studio,” Ronald added. “By the way this is my son Carl,” he said, tapping Carl on the arm.
“Nice to meet you Carl,” Leo said. Carl shook Leo’s hand in acknowledgment.
Ronald took Leo into the studio-come-workshop space at the back of the shop. It was almost as big as the store itself, and was where they did some upholstery and upcycling work, as well as repairs.
“Take a seat Leo,” Ronald said pointing to a unique bottle green 2-seater leather sofa. It was a fine piece of furniture in a colour that Leo had rarely seen in furniture stores, or well Ikea at least. He wasn’t one for browsing in interiors stores.
Leo and Marcelo sometimes went to Ikea in Wembley, not to look for furniture though. But to get a big plate of Swedish meatballs with cream sauce and lingonberry jam served with chips. It was the best meal ever, especially if they’d been caning the weed and had the munchies. Leo and Marcelo would get in Leo’s mum’s car and drive to Wembley with red eyes and have belly laughs along the way, mainly due to how slow Marcelo would be driving after a few smokes. Usually he was a bit of a boy racer, but after a few spliffs, he’d drive around like “a granny in a Nissan” as Leo called it.
Leo took a seat on the green sofa. A wood coffee table stained with a deep burgundy paint was in front complimenting the shade of green. The combination of colours looked regal almost. There perched on the table was a few Pantone mugs and a packet of milk chocolate digestives.
Ronald came up to the table to clear the used mugs. “Leo, do help yourself to biscuits and can I get you a drink?”
“Sure, I’ll have a coffee please,” Leo said.
“Ah,” Ronald turned back as he took the mugs to a nearby sink. “We only have instant, unlike the stuff that you make at the shop.”
“Ermm, I’ll pass then,” Leo said laughing. “I’ve become a bit of snob when it comes to coffee now. I’ll have a tea though. Builder’s with two sugars please, Mr Parker,” Leo said, taking off his jacket and making himself comfortable on the sofa.
“Ronald, please,” Ronald reminded Leo to not be formal. “I see your taste for tea is not as connoisseur,” Ronald said in jest.
Leo laughed. “I’ll take you for a walk round the store after,” said Ronald. “But how long do you have? I don’t want to get you into trouble with that battle-axe of a boss of yours.”
“It’s that obvious, isn’t it?” Leo said.
“Kind of,” replied Ronald, as he put one of the mugs he’d just washed on the side.
“Actually I’ve got two hours or so to be precise,” said Leo.
“Well that’s sometime then,” Ronald said.
“I was on the early shift today. Then I have a date in the evening and she finishes work at 6, so I thought it would be a good time to hang out with you now, if that’s ok with you?” Leo asked.
“By all means you can hang out here,” Ronald said pleased as punch.
“So who’s the lucky lady then?” Ronald asked as he dried the mugs with a tea towel.
“Her name’s Lima,” Leo said smiling.
“Ah,” said Ronald. “The look of true love on your face.”
Leo laughed. “You know something you are not the first one to say that to me in the last few days,” Leo said. “Actually this is our first date. We’ve met only a few times in passing, but you are right, she’s special.” He couldn’t contain the pride on his face.
“I see,” said Ronald. “Well, you do know when it’s the one,” he added with a grin on his face.
“So where are you taking her?” asked Ronald.
“No plans,” Leo said. “We’ll see how the night takes us.”
“Smart move son,” said Ronald. “Best to live in the moment.”
“Absolutely,” said Leo. Changing the subject, Leo asked Ronald where the table he’d been admiring was from.
“Actually I made it myself,” said Ronald. “Burnt oak table that I sanded down and put a burgundy tint on it. I made it in a warehouse space off Brick Lane.”
“That’s really cool,” said Leo. “You have a warehouse space too?”
“No,” replied Ronald. “I have a friend who owns it and he lets us use the space to do some upholstery and other work there. The projects that we get commissioned to make. We do it there as it’s a larger space for bigger projects.”
“I see,” said Leo, as Ronald made his way to the sofa with two mugs of builder’s. He placed the mugs on the table and took a seat next to Leo. Picking up his mug, he took a sip of tea and reclined back on the sofa, then sighed.
“In fact I’ve been interviewing this week for a new pair of hands,” Ronald continued. “Somebody who can spend time here and in the studio space in Brick Lane.”
“I know why you came here today?” Ronald said, denoting a light bulb moment. “You’d be ideal for this role. That’s if you want it. It’s like an apprentice role – carving and furniture making too.”
Ronald stared right at Leo as he dunked a chocolate digestive into his cup of tea.
“So how be it?” Ronald posed the question to Leo.
“Ermm…wow,” said Leo. “Thanks for asking, but I haven’t touched a tool since I left school.”
“And your point is?” said Ronald. “Don’t be scared son.”
“Eh, I’m not scared but you took me by surprise,” Leo said.
“Well, here’s the job description,” said Ronald, leaning over a ledge to pick up a piece of letter-headed paper. “Take a look Leo and get back to me,” Ronald continued. “No rush, but I would like an answer by the end of next week.”
Leo almost spat his tea out. No rush, thought Leo. He’d need time to think about this.
Failing his exams had kind of knocked his confidence, even though he passed CDT. He did a good job at hiding his lack of confidence, Leo believed. He never discussed how he truly felt with anyone but in solitary moments he would often ponder his “failings” and where he “could go” next. Not even Marcelo was privy to Leo’s concerns. Although his mum, Claudia, knew what was going on with Leo. She often encouraged her “second son”, as she called him, to “think outside of the box” when it came to opportunities. It wasn’t that she believed making coffee was a disagreeable job, but to someone who was doing the work that belonged to their inner being, Claudia thought it bizarre that anybody would choose to or have it otherwise.
Leo was on a 45-hour per week rota at Citizens of Coffee. It paid him the minimum wage. If Mehmet could get away with it, he’d make up his own “minimum wage” on a par with “the lowest paid workers in Turkey”. Claudia would tell her son that Leo was a “slave to coffee” in a bid to get Marcelo to give Leo a kick in to gear and follow his passions instead.
“I’d like for you to take me up on the offer, Leo,” Ronald boldly proclaimed. “But of course, no pressure.”
“Thanks,” said Leo, taking a biscuit. “That’s very kind of you. I will think about it.”
“Don’t think too long, Leo,” Ronald said. “I’m not fond of thinking. Intuition, yes. Thinking, no. It’s over-rated. Never gets you where you need to be. Trust your gut, son.”
Leo looked like he was pondering what Ronald had said.
“What’s your gut saying? Do you want to stay at Citizens of Coffee?” Ronald queried.
“Eh,” said Leo, nervously. He was taken aback, not by Ronald’s straight talking, but rather that what he was saying was making Leo face his fears.
“You can’t let failing your A-Levels stop you achieving your dreams, Leo,” Ronald said.
Leo looked at Ronald wondering whether he could mind read. Psychic skills, for one, clearly ran amongst the circles Leo kept these days.
“I’m not,” said Leo, a tad defensive. “The coffee shop job was only to pay my mum back, and until then that’s what I’ll erm probably do,” said Leo taking another slurp of tea.
“Hmm,” uttered Ronald. “I’ll leave it with you Leo. Do let me know by next Friday please, and I have to say the job is yours, if you want it.”
“Really,” yelped Leo. “Without an interview?”
“Son,” said Ronald. “I taught you for five years, if I don’t know your handy work and what kind of person you are, I wouldn’t be sitting here making you an offer, would I?”
“I’ve had a few people interview for the job,” Ronald added. “But I’ve had the blessing of seeing your craftwork Mr, so don’t underestimate yourself.”
“I guess so,” said Leo, taking another pensive slurp of tea. Maybe he could give the apprenticeship a try, Leo thought. He loved making things and enjoyed getting his hands dirty. And some of the things he saw in Parkers was a true inspiration to Leo.
“Look you can pay back your mum by working here, you know,” Ronald said. “I pay a fair wage and I’m not going to work you like a slave.”
Leo jumped. That’s exactly what Citizens of Coffee had been doing with him – employing him to make drinks with fair trade coffee, yet treating him like a slave. Leo was flattered by Ronald’s offer and support. This was an opportunity he’d be foolish not to accept.But what if I let Mr Parker down and what if I don’t live up to the job? Leo questioned himself.
Ronald could see Leo drifting into thought. He gave Leo a light slap on the leg. “Where are you going with that one son?” Ronald asked. “Remember, follow your gut not your head.”
“I know,” said Leo. He had a desire to discuss the offer with Lima. He’d be sure to do anything that Lima would advise him on. Leo wanted to leave Citizens of Coffee, but those sods had put him on a “rare” contract – meaning they made up their own contracts under the laws of Mehmet – in other words, illegal. Under Leo’s contract, he would have to give six weeks notice, but they, only one week to terminate it.
“Right,” said Ronald. “Fancy a tour? I’ll get Carl to show you round the shop but I’ll take you round the studio.”
Ronald gave Leo a brief tour round the studio space, showing him some of the furniture making equipment and tools. Leo started to feel creative inspiration surge through his body. He was already aware of some of the items he would make, under the apprenticeship of Ronald. He couldn’t get a detailed vision of what they looked like or what they would be even. But again he had that inner knowing. It was also that intuitive nudge that he would be taking the job.
Carl showed Leo round the shop floor and gave him the lowdown on their stock, and the inspiration behind the items. Carl and Ronald had made quite a few of the items themselves, but then there was produce from around the world that the Parkers picked up on their travels. In fact Ronald’s wife, Patricia, was currently in Thailand in search of silk materials to sell in the shop.
Leo liked Carl. He was a lot like his father but with a different creative energy altogether. Ronald leaned towards the indigenous artisanal crafts, while Carl erred towards the design classics. Parkers had caught the attention of many local design agencies and architecture firms, some of whom had commissioned them to produce furniture for their office spaces. Carl headed up and worked on many of these commissions. While Ronald’s wife, Patricia, project managed.
Leo and Carl rounded up their tour with a high five as Leo was getting ready to leave. He was feeling more than enthralled by Ronald’s offer by the end of the tour. As Ronald entered the shop floor to bid farewell to Leo, the scent of Ronald’s aftershave reminded Leo to visit the bathroom before he left.
Making his way to the bathroom, Leo intuitively knew he would find some aftershave there. There he found a large bottle of Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir cologne – a unisex fragrance with woody undertones and a hint, albeit strong hint of patchouli. He shouted out to Ronald who had returned to the studio to pick up some paperwork.
“Yo Ronald,” Leo yelled. “Do you mind if I use your cologne?”
“Sure,” Ronald replied. He muttered “yo” to himself and smiled. Leo’s buoyancy often made Ronald reminisce about his own youthful times.
Leo returned to the bathroom, and not long after, he walked into the shop floor wreaking of cologne. Ronald laughed and said: “You must smell good for the lady friend.” Then he put his index finger to his forehead, around his third eye chakra, as if he were pulling a memory from a hard drive. “Oh yes and patchouli has quite the desired effect,” he said chortling.
Oh gosh, thought Leo, he better run incase Ronald decided to impart another one of his visions from the 1960s. Perhaps this time, patchouli-wearing naked hippies at some orgy at Woodstock or something along those lines, Leo thought.
Leo said his goodbyes and made a quick exit out of Parkers. He walked the short distance to pick up his “missus” from Brazilian Emporium. He had a real good knowing that tonight was going to be lucky.
All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Twins At Work are a writing duo. ‘Tarot Tales: The Mirror’ is their latest book.
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