On Sunday morning I went outside and found that my recent bout of mild depression had gone, the sun on my cheek felt as warm as it does in May, and the birds were singing different songs. I was the first person in the gym — my first visit of 2010. I wished the bleary-eyed attendant a happy new year. Two hours later, showered, changed and brimming with vim, I jumped in the car and set off across town to find the address I had written down on a creased bit of paper.
The evening before, I had answered a free ad for a 30-kilogram chrome dumb-bell set and arranged with the vendor to be there at noon to inspect them. They were for my boy, not me. He’s recently expressed a wish for firmer muscles. His partner’s younger brother is a body-builder of Incredible Hulk proportions, and I think he’s been putting ideas in my boy’s head. Always eager to help him, and always on the lookout for a bargain, I’d spotted the weights advertised for sale in the local paper for a tenner.
My watch said 11.30. I dialled the vendor. Instead of the friendly chap I’d spoken to the night before, a woman answered. She answered diffidently, as though unsure of whether she had permission to answer the phone. Would it be all right, I said, if I turned up to view the dumb-bells half an hour earlier than arranged? There followed a whispered argument with a third party, then she was back. Could I give them another ten minutes? Say, 11.40?
The address was flat G in a court of flats. Parking was underneath, in a spacious communal garage with trip security lights. It wasn’t clear how to gain access from the garage to the flats above. I tried an unlikely-looking side door and found myself on a concrete stairwell. I looked up to see where the stairs went and, as I did so, a head poked over the parapet and greeted me. It was the vendor. He looked and sounded very cheerful. Please, I must follow him, he said.
We climbed several flights of concrete stairs. So why was he selling the weights? I said. (I said it to break the monotony as much as anything.) He’d recently got a job, he said. It involved digging and heavy lifting, so he no longer needed to work out. What kind of job? I said. In a pets’ cemetery, he said. It wasn’t all budgies and goldfish, though, he said. I should try picking up and burying a dead Great Dane. Or a St Bernard. He had one of those on Friday. Weighed a ton.
He wasn’t moaning. He was just correcting any misconceptions I might have had about pet-cemetery work. Right at the top of the concrete stairs was his front door. On the other side, more stairs, steeper still, but newly carpeted in a light, attractive shade of biscuit.
At the top we turned left into a spacious sitting room, also newly carpeted in biscuit, and spectacularly illuminated by sunshine entering via the large roof lights.
The flat was entirely bare. There was no furniture, no personal belongings, no pictures on the walls. Through an open doorway I could see into another room — I guessed the bedroom. Nothing but biscuit-coloured carpet in there, too. The only object or item in sight was a boxed, chrome dumb-bell set lying in the middle of the carpet. The lid was open, displaying the shining chrome weights, barbells and locknuts to fine effect.
They looked so lovely I didn’t even bend down to look at them. I just gave him a tenner. As I did so a woman materialised in the doorway of the empty bedroom and leaned against the wall with her arms folded. She was small, dark, pretty and very fit-looking. Her folded arms pronounced the muscle definition of her deltoids and biceps. She looked me over approvingly, as though filing me away as a possibility.
Didn’t I used to see you in the gym? I said. You might have done, she said. But she doesn’t go any more. So how did she get those muscles? I said, admiring the form. ‘Body Pump,’ she said, staring at the vendor. ‘I go to Body Pump classes four times a week.’
I tried to think of a gallant reply, but failed to come up with anything except telling her I must be off. Watched with interest by the vendor and this woman, I bent down, snapped shut the lid, and tried casually to pick up the box with one hand by the carrying handle. I’d lifted it about 18 inches off the floor before I realised I must either get both hands on the handle, quick, or lower it back down to the floor as gently as I could.