It had just gone six o'clock in the evening and I'd decided that I needed a little cash in my pocket. There are quite a few 'hole-in-the-wall' ATMs in our town, but the nearest one to the multi-storey car park where I'd left mine was located in the outside wall of the nearby supermarket.
There was a small queue of people waiting, of which I was the next in line. As I stood patiently waiting my turn, it was obvious that the woman in front of me was having problems, as she had tried to use her card several times and was getting quite agitated by her lack of success. Now, we British are usually a stoic race, but I could hear the mutterings from the people behind me, so I stepped forward to see if I could help.
"Is there a problem with the machine?"
"I don't know—must be! I got paid yesterday, so I know that there's money in the account, but it keeps declining my card. I'm worried that if I try again it will keep it, and I need some money for the weekend."
"Look, why don't we let these other people go first and if they get money out, it could be either your card or a problem with your account."
She seemed a little calmer, then, so we stood and watched as the next few people in the queue withdrew their cash without any problem.
"Well, we can't do anything about the bank, now, but we can try the card," I offered.
"You mean go to another machine?"
"No, not necessarily—let's go into the supermarket and buy something fairly cheap and offer them your card—it is a direct debit card, isn't it? If they accept it, you can ask for cash-back, but if it's declined again, we can pay cash and we'll definitely know that there's still a fault, somewhere." The woman smiled at me.
"That's quite clever! Then what?"
"We go to Plan C."
"Let's just try Plan B, first."
Well, neither of us smoked, so she picked up a jar of coffee and took it to the 'Up to 10 items' check-out.
"I'm sorry, it won't except your card!" the young cashier said, so I pulled out a handful of coins from my pocket and paid.
"Plan C?" the woman said, quizzically. I nodded:
"Looks like it—how much cash do you need until Monday?" I said, taking out my own card. The woman caught on quickly. She looked sad and shook her head: "Thanks, but I can't—"
"So, can you get through the weekend without any money?"
"Well, no, not really—but—"
"Look, Miss, Mrs—take the money, absolutely no strings, then we'll think of a way for you to give it back to me once you've sorted it out with your bank, next week."
"Well, then I suppose so."
"No problem! How much do you want?"
"I was going to get £50, but £40 will do, if you can manage it."
"£50 it is then! Let's go and try again."
It didn't take long and I handed over the money. I suppose it might have been the last time that I saw it, but I took the chance. She handed me the jar of coffee we'd bought and I handed it back to her.
"You can open this and make me a cup when you get home, if you like; otherwise, I'll write down an address where you can send the money."
"Do you have a car, Mr— I have to catch a bus, but I should be home in about thirty minutes."
"Quicker if I give you a lift! And it's Tom—Preston."
"Sue Moseley. Thank you! Do you know Evesham Crescent?"
"Very well: I used to have relatives there—number 8."
"We've only lived there a few years, at number 34."
As we walked to the car, I wondered who the 'we' are that she referred to: a husband and children, perhaps? I opened the front passenger door for her and she looked at me and smiled as she slid onto the seat.
"When was the last time you used your card?" I asked as we pulled out of the car park and I pushed my ticket into the slot to raise the barrier.
"It must have been Monday evening, at that same machine; I pass it on my way to the bus stop."
"And is it due for renewal: sometimes on old cards that get used a lot, something happens to the magnetic strip; I had it happen to me a few years back, and it's bloody inconvenient, because the bank has to order a new one."
"I'm not sure, Tom, it might be, I'll check when I get home. And speaking of home: I'm not keeping you from yours, am I?"
"No, nothing to go home for! You said that you'd only lived there a few years, where did you live before that, if that's not being too nosey?"
"No, it's okay! My husband and I got divorced three years ago and I felt like it was time for a complete change, so the kids and I moved here from Bedford; I got a better job here. Do you know Aldenham's, the accountants? I'm their Office Manager. That probably sounds grander than it is, it's only a small company, so there's only me and a couple of other admin people; but I suppose we keep the wheels oiled and turning!" I had to smile.
"I should know them, Sue, I was at school with Keith, and I've used him and his brothers for years, but I don't get to your office much. You might have handled correspondence to my company, though: TMP Heating and Plumbing Services. The TMP stands for Thomas Michael Preston. It's a small world, as they say!"
"It is indeed, Tom—I don't feel quite so bad about borrowing that money from you now that we have a connection! So do you have a family, Tom?"
"No—a short story: I was married to Deborah, but it wasn't to be and the wheels came off after two years. Funny, I was thinking about that the other day: we would have been married twenty years this year. Were you and your husband married long, Sue?"
"—Mmm—just over nineteen years: I have a daughter, Emily, who's 20 this year and a son, Andrew, who's 18. God, that makes me feel old!"
"But if you don't mind me saying, Sue, you look good on it!" She gave a little laugh.
"I don't know about that—but thanks anyway! Hey! Looks like we're here!"
"Look's like Andy's home," Sue declared after opening the front door, "He's at that age where he's usually out more than he's in."
I followed her into the kitchen, where she filled the kettle and switched it on. She continued talking as she pottered around, collecting the necessary coffee-making things.
"Emmy's at Warwick University, doing History and Politics, although she doesn't have a career in mind for after she graduates: Andy's in his last year at school; he doesn't know what he wants to do—full stop!"
I sat at the kitchen table while Sue wandered back into the hall. "Andy, have you eaten yet, Love!' I heard her call up the stairs, 'Yes, thanks!' came the reply. Sue came back into the kitchen, minus her coat. She was an attractive woman who looked like she took care of herself, although I'd already done my sums and worked out that she must be a bit older than me: I'm 38.
"If you're in no hurry, Tom, I can offer you a spot of supper; I'm going to be cooking for myself, so it's no bother."
"That sounds like an offer I can't turn down, Sue! I usually just grab something out of the freezer when I get home."
"Yes, I suppose I'd do something like that if I was on my own, but when you've got a family, you get into the habit of cooking for them. Has there been anyone else since you and your wife split up?"
"No, not really. I think when you're younger—I was only 18 when I got married and 20 when it ended—you keep looking, trying to find someone, and I was quite active in searching, shall we say! But as I've gotten older, my business has taken up more of my time, so although I'm still technically 'on the market', it doesn't seem so important any more. How about you, Sue: it's been three years and you're still an attractive woman." She looked at me kind of coyly.
"Thanks, Tom—but I've sort of forgotten how it all works after all that time being with one man. And you hear stories about older divorced women dating, and men thinking—well, I'm sure you know!"
I did know what she meant—and I knew that there was some truth in it, too. Anyway, when you're your own boss you need to be confidant and take risks sometimes:
"So you wouldn't be interested if I asked you out, then?" The coy look was still there on Sue's face.
"Erm—I, er—I wouldn't say that, exactly. But you do know that I'm older than you. Keith is 38 so you must be the same if you went to school with him, and I'm 41."
"—That's only three years, Sue! It might be different if I was 14 and you were 17—but then again, if I could have pulled a 17 year old at that age, I would have been well pleased, and probably some kind of hero at school!" She laughed at that. "And as for sex, if that's what you're worried about: if it happens, it happens—and as far as I'm aware, people over 40 still do it the same way! So, Sue Moseley, 41 year old divorcée and mother of two—would you like to go out with me some time?" She had a beautiful smile when she let herself do it.
"Yes, I'd like that, Tom—very much!"
.... There is more of this story ...