The Gardener by David Macfie
I saw him often. The gardener I mean. He worked at a couple of houses in my street. We always waved to each other and gave a thumbs up as I drove past. Sometimes he stopped me and came to my window.
“I’m looking for job,” he’d say, with a great big smile. “I got Mondays and Thursdays. Any job Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays. Even Saturdays. I must feed my wife and two boys. Pay for schools. Any job, please?”
“I’m sorry,” I’d reply. “My garden is small and I’ve got somebody. He works Thursdays. I don’t have enough work for another day. But I’ll look out for jobs for you.”
“Thank you. Thank You. Have a nice day,” would be his parting shot.
And he was a very good gardener. His edges were dead straight. His flower beds were meticulously tidy and weeded. All the flowers were carefully dead-headed to encourage more blooms. He checked the sprinklers were working properly every time he came. Bushes, hedges and roses were properly pruned. All the paving was spotless. And, at the right times of the year he’d take out the plants that were spring and summer bloomers and replace them with autumn and winter flowers, and vice-versa. Many times I wished I wasn’t a pensioner living on a small monthly income. Then I’d have a big garden again and he could work for me, full time. Then I’d have enough work.
This situation carried on for a long time. One day he came to my window, with the usual smile.
“Good news. Now got job, Tuesdays. Only need Wednesdays and Fridays. Even Saturdays.”
Much to my disgust, I had to give my usual answer. When I drove past, he was always in a good humor, in spite of his trying circumstances. He even smiled after one of his employers gave him a rude and degrading lecture while I was close by, walking my dog. How could the man be so rude to such a good worker? It was beyond me. I thought of saying something. But, not wanting to make the situation worse and being a little bit chicken, I let it go. I, of course, berated myself afterwards, but the moment had gone.
More time passed. The gardener continued doing a splendid job on his three gardens. All of them always looked in pristine condition. He even managed to recommend and plant things under big trees. Things that actually grew and covered that ugly patch of bare dirt that is usually seen under big trees. And to make it better, his stuff got flowers on it too. Seasons passed – spring, summer and into autumn. The forecast said we were in for a bad winter, very cold and with icy winds. The temperature dropped more quickly than usual. One day the gardener came again to my window.
“Bad news, lost Tuesday job. Owner transferred. New people have own gardener. Need job Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Even Saturdays. I must feed my wife and two boys. Pay for schools. Any job, please?”
Reluctantly I gave my usual answer and drove away, with a heavy heart.
Two weeks later he came once more to my window.
“Bad news. Thursday job gone. Now only working Mondays. Any job, please? Hard to live with only one day.”
But the huge smile was still there. I gave him what I had in my wallet ‘as a gift to tide you over.’
But I also gave him my usual answer. I couldn’t try to help solve his problem by creating a problem for my own gardener, who has worked for me for years. I knew my place couldn’t justify two days a week and I couldn’t afford it anyway. Autumn turned to winter and the promised bad weather arrived. Now the gardener didn’t look so cheerful. The big smile was gone. He still waved and gave me the thumbs up sign but he seemed smaller somehow. I found some old clothes – trousers, shirts, jerseys and some pairs of thick socks. I also found a couple of old blankets. He was so grateful, it made me ashamed, but I still gave him my usual answer.
The weather turned from bad to bloody-awful and still the gardener worked his one day. He still did a great job, but he didn’t smile. One day I stopped and gave him another gift, as much as I could afford. But I still couldn’t give him a job. I found some more blankets and an old gas heater with a small cylinder and gave him these as well. He was so grateful, I wanted to cry. I really tried to find him more work, I really did. But I wasn’t successful.
Then one Monday, I didn’t see him as I approached the garden he still had. I got closer and closer but didn’t see him. It was only as I passed a big tree with no bare patch underneath, that I saw him lying, all twisted and stiff, in the vegetation he’d so lovingly created. I could see he was dead. I sat in my car and phoned the police and the ambulance and waited for them to arrive. I didn’t get out because of the cold. And he was past caring anyhow. The services arrived and the police took my short statement. They said there were no signs of violence so it looked like natural causes.
As I drove away, knowing that something good had just gone out of my life, I suddenly realized that I never even knew his name.