Sally looked up from her dressing table and counted twenty-five Laughing Doves perched on the thick telephone cable than ran more or less above the boundary between her garden cottage and the house next door. It was only half past six and already the sun highlighted the red cotoneaster berries weighing down the branches growing above the clipped hedge on her neighbour’s side. Her landlord didn’t believe in close-cropped hedges or lawn edges. Mr. Greyling didn’t believe in clearing gutters of leaves either – the Olive Thrushes scratched some of the accumulated debris overboard every now and then instead.
The doves disappeared in a flutter only to be replaced by a Black-collared Barbet, a Fork-tailed Drongo and a Village Weaver – all perched equidistant from each other. Sally listened to the deep-throated cooing of the Rock Pigeons on the roof of the main house and the cheeky calls of the Black-eyed Bulbuls feasting on the neighbour’s figs. She wondered briefly if the Sleets ever managed to salvage enough intact figs after the visitations from Red-winged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds and Cape White-eyes.
She usually enjoyed the lush wildness of the Greyling’s garden and was particularly fond of watching the birds from the patch of lawn outside her ramshackle cottage. She felt impatient this morning though as she twisted her hair into a pony tail, checked her camera bag and slipped in her notebook and binoculars. Sally checked her watch for the umpteenth time: there was still an hour before Karin would be ready!
“I’ll buy the snacks and drinks for our picnic lunch now to save time.” Sally laughed at herself for talking aloud. “What a twit!” She admonished herself as she locked the door and pressed the remote to open the gate. If only Karin was an early riser too! Then they could have left for the Addo Elephant National Park at six. Still, at least she had agreed to come and Sally knew it would be much more fun to have company there for the day.
She frowned at the construction work which blocked off swathes of parking bays outside the supermarket. This meant she had to park some distance from the entrance. She looked at the almost completed shop on the opposite side. Rumours had abounded for weeks and she wondered which franchise would be moving into the new premises.
Her frown was short-lived as she could not suppress the happiness that welled up from within. Sally had a four-day break ahead of her and intended to enjoy every minute of not having to think about preparing lessons, marking, pupils, parents, or even her colleagues. She would not have her days punctuated by the shrill ring of an electric bell either! Almost skipping across the cobbled car park, Sally smiled at the three workmen, dressed in heavy boots and blue overalls, walking towards the incomplete shop behind her. Two wore yellow hard hats; the third carried a red one in his hand. All had their eyes focused on the building.
“Good morning!” Sally greeted them impulsively. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Be lovely if you could bring us a cup of coffee lass,” Red Hat grinned as they passed each other. The other two ignored her.
Sally stowed her shopping bags in the boot of her car. There were still fifteen minutes before she could pick Karin up. She looked at the shop being built, a smile playing around her lips. “Why not?” She looked down at the House Sparrows pecking at a mess of crumbs near her rear tyre. “I’ll give him a surprise!”
Armed with a take-away cappuccino, Sally boldly entered the construction site. Workmen swarmed all over it: on the roof, and across the floor; some were drilling holes in the walls and several were fitting what looked like ventilation piping at the rear. All wore hard hats in either yellow or white. Where was Red Hat? For the first time Sally’s bubble of happiness halted in mid-stream to a slow ‘gloop, gloop’ that barely ticked over. She clutched the warm cardboard cup tightly and, for a moment, thought of backing away and drinking it herself.
“This is a hard hat area, ‘mam. You will need to get out of here.”
Sally turned at the sound of the voice: a warm voice, a younger voice than that of the stockily built Red Hat. She looked into the curious eyes of a dark-haired young man wearing jeans, a golf-shirt emblazoned with ‘Harrowsmith Designs’ and a blue dust coat. “I’m sorry,” her tongue eventually moved. “I’ve brought coffee for the chap with a red hard hat.”
“A red hard hat? We only wear yellow and white ones here.”
“Corporate colours?” Sally’s face flushed under the scrutiny of that quizzical look. “Well, technically he wasn’t wearing it when I saw him. He was carrying it.”
“A short, stocky man with a greying beard?”
“Sounds like him.” It was half past seven; time to go. “Look, I must go. You have the coffee if you like.” She made to thrust the cup into his hands, acutely aware that her own was now shaking.
“Hold on a minute.” Gorgeous Eyes touched her fingers lightly.” Leon!” He called across to a man opening a large cardboard box. “Ask Trevor to come and collect his coffee please.”
“I really must be off.” Sally smiled awkwardly at the young man next to her. Why could she never meet such a person at work? “This was all a joke really. I don’t know the man from Adam. He isn’t expecting me to bring him coffee, but I had time on my hands and –“
“Blimey girl! You actually brought me a cup of coffee! Now there’s a special one Eric!” Red Hat/Trevor bowed slightly and let out a raucous laugh. “Better get her out of here, son.” He winked at them both.
Gorgeous Eyes touched her lightly on her back as he led the way through conduits and wiring lying on the floor. They walked together towards her car. “I’m Eric Miller,” he said casually. “You’ve made his day – and mine.”
“Who is he?” Sally halted, keys in hand.
“And why your lucky day?” She looked at him in anticipation. Those bubbles of happiness were beginning to pick up a new rhythm. He handed her a business card and a pen. “Your number please,” he smiled. “I’d like to see you again. As you can imagine, we don’t get to meet many attractive women in our industry.”
“I never had you down as someone who’d be late! You didn’t even answer your phone!” Karin snapped on her seat belt, her face like thunder. “You said half past seven! You said we’d stop at the shop on our way out and now look at the time!”
“All done and we’re ready to go!” Sally drew away slowly and nosed past two Black Crows pecking at something in the street. “Sorry about the delay, Karin. Blame it on a cup of cappuccino. Let’s enjoy the rest of the day!” She could barely hear herself speak above the roar of frothing happiness in her ears.
“What are you so happy about?” Karin looked at her friend sharply.
“Grab a muffin from the packet behind my seat and open our coffees – they’re on the floor.”
“You darling woman!” Sally knew that would mollify her friend and forestall any further awkward questions. For now they had a day in the national park to look forward to and tonight … dinner for two at The Hatless Hare!