Sooner or later we all come to that fork in the path and find we need to make a choice, an irreversible and life changing choice, one that will affect family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours as well as oneself in ways that one can never be predicted. Some people (sensible, responsible) take the path well travelled, others (foolhardy, careless) elect for the overgrown unknown.
My big life-changing moment, my peripeteia, wasn’t really one big moment as such, but rather a series of events that an unkind person would describe as ranging from foolhardy to downright seedy. And let me say that regardless of my weakness of character, my propensity to accept being nudged and shoved by others simply to get into and stay in their good books, I accept that the responsibility for that series of half-baked decisions, trips, and stumbles that have lead me to this point, is entirely mine and mine alone. All mine.
It all started one Friday afternoon two hours before knocking off time when, having persuaded one of the junior clerks to cover for me, I slipped out the back door of the bank and made my way to the Kings Head around the corner for a pint or two and the chance of having a chat with Beth who was usually on bar duty early evenings.
I was three pints in just about to suggest something divorce-worthy to Beth when a rather ravishing redhead plonked herself down on the stool next to mine, smiled at Beth, and suggested I buy her a drink. Surprisingly and at some cost to my feelings, Beth didn’t seem at all put out by this, indeed seemed to welcome the interruption.
“What’ll it be,” she asked.
“My name’s Graham,” I said.
The redhead looked me up and down, “That’s a name I’ve always admired. It’s reminiscent of a mix of Bertrand Russell and Richard the Lionheart – I’ve always found the Grahams in my life to be both thoughtful and decisive. I wonder if you are as the others.
“A gin and tonic,” she said to Beth, “Make it a double.”
“Another pint and chaser for me, Beth. Oh, one for yourself,” I added.
“I’m Flora,” said the redhead, “Flora Smith.”
“Delighted. Not seen you here before.”
“Nah. New to town. Broken relationship. Came looking for solace. And comfort. And a good time. Yeah but without commitments.”
“Well,” I said, somewhat out of my depth.
“Yeah, without commitment. How about you, Graham? Life’s okay? You do something exciting? Film star? Racing driver?”
“Nah. Work in a bank. Just around the corner. I’m a manager.”
Flora looks delighted. “A manager. Gosh. Exciting. And for a bank? Wow.” She gazed into my eyes as she sipped from the glass Beth had placed on the counter.
I drank deeply of my pint, “Well,” I managed.
“Listen,” said Flora, “It’s getting busy here at the bar. And noisy. Why don’t we go and sit at that table in the corner. Much quieter.”
This wasn’t my usual experience. I wasn’t used to being chatted up by beautiful young women, not without money changing hands, so wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. Somehow Beth must have sensed some indecision in me and, with a nod in the direction of the corner and with a private wink, made up my mind for me.
The next morning I woke up to find myself in a strange room lying in a Emperor size bed next to a very undressed Flora.
“Hello,” she said.
“Well,” I said, “Er, hello.”
“That was lovely. Thank you. I hadn’t realised that lovemaking could be as dynamic as that. Coffee, darling?”
“Well, er, that’ll be lovely.”
“And you’ll help us with the heist, not changed your mind? As we agreed, we’ll all be very rich and I’ll love you forever.”
Heist? I racked my brain trying to remember what I might have or might not have said. The pain must have shown.
“The safe deposit boxes? In the vault? Your idea. You have access. And know the alarm codes. So you said.” She sat on the bed and stroked my cheek.
Little by little it came back to me, the drinking, the flirtation, the meeting with Flora’s uncle, my bravado and my boasts, the slow forming of a plan, and the agreement to do my bit. It seemed that I had made a choice or two.
I looked over at Flora and knew it wasn’t just the alcohol that had led me to this point. I leaned over and pulled her towards me.
And so I went ahead with the plan. Flora suggested we weren’t seen together until it was all over and went to stay with her uncle for strategic reasons. The heist went well and within twenty four hours we were holed up in a safe house hosting a series of fences as we sold off the jewellery, coin and stamp collections, and gold and silver ingots. We made a fortune. And at midnight that evening we were blissfully ignorant of the posse of detectives just about to pull into the driveway.
Looking back I see that I chose my path. At any point I could have pulled back. I could have gone to my boss, gone to the police, gone to the press. But I didn’t. Every second between Flora planting her delightful backside on that bar stool and me punching in the code to open the safe depository vault gave me an opportunity to change the trajectory of my life, but I ignored these. And so here I am today.
Am I sorry. Do I regret my choices? Well, I’m sorry that Flora and her uncle got caught and that they ended up in prison. Beth too; she was in it from the start. I’m sorry that my colleagues at the bank think poorly of me. I’m certainly not sorry that I was in the back yard with one of the large bags of high denomination banknotes when the cops bust in with enough noise to waken a sleeping army and that I managed to make good my escape down a country footpath on an old bicycle I found in the barn. And am I sorry that I now live in a mansion in this beautiful, blue-skied Spanish-speaking country, where both the village girls and the bored middle class housewives find my expensive gifts and good wines most attractive, where olive oil and tropical fruit are in abundance, and where I can walk a hundred yards down to the beach, throw in a line and have hooked my next meal within minutes?
No. Not really.