By Colin Garrow
He should have said no. If it had been anyone else, he’d have done exactly that. But he hadn’t. Because she was young. And blonde.
Except, that’s not entirely true. It wasn’t just that. It was also, perhaps mainly, because she smiled, was friendly, engaging, chatty.
After all, she’d started with ‘Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything.’ And she’d laughed, as if the awkward bit was over.
But as it turned out, she was, actually, selling something. Not a product, admittedly, not double glazing, roof insulation, a handy set of brushes. No. She was selling charity, and that’s why it had been hard.
He listened and nodded, made the right noises, knowing the longer he let her go on, the more difficult it’d be to stop her.
And she must have known it too. How could she not? I mean (he reasoned, three days later), this is what she does—travels the country knocking on doors. She’s heard the excuses, the reasons why they can’t/won’t/don’t want to dig into their pockets. And she probably waits for it, expects it even—the bit that starts ‘Can I just…?’
And before he knew it, she had the form out, ready to sign. In fact the clever bitch had it in her hand the whole time, but because it was square and in a plastic wallet he’d assumed it was a CD, a free gift for taking time to speak to her, a thank you for his support? But no. It was the form, and as soon as she’d unfolded it, he knew he was doomed.
So he’d given in, fully aware he’d cancel as soon as it showed up on his bank account. And he knew he shouldn’t feel bad, since, after all, there was that clause, there in black and white, the ‘right to cancel’ bit. So it wasn’t as if he was doing anything wrong, was it?
Three days later, Simon rang.
It sounded like yet another one of those cold-callers, but before he’d a chance to hang up, the guy got in quick with the name of the charity, so there was no opportunity to deny the whole thing (which crossed his mind and just as quickly, exited).
In any case, Simon was simply asking ‘a couple of quick questions about our agent,’ just to verify she hadn’t misrepresented, made clear the donation would be a fixed monthly sum, and that no underhand methods had been utilised in persuading him to sign up.
It was true the blonde had not lied; she’d made it plain she wasn’t selling anything, that it was a charity and of course she’d clearly indicated the amount and number of monthly payments he was agreeing to.
And to be fair, the guy (Simon), gave him the opportunity to cancel, although he’d have had to get in pretty quick since Simon was obviously reading from one of those scripted things and wasn’t wasting any time. So when the speech suddenly ended with ‘So there’s nothing else I can help you with today, is there?’ He said no. Thank you.
Thinking about it later, which is what tended to happen with these things, he recalled there were probably three points in the conversation (though it wasn’t really a conversation as such, since the dialogue was pretty much one-way), but at least two opportunities when he could have said, ‘Actually…’
But he didn’t.
So when the first payment came out of his account, he again felt aggrieved that he’d let it happen. However, somewhat curiously, he also experienced a wave of pleasure that he had, after all, donated money to a worthy cause. Money that would go towards helping people less fortunate than himself.
But then, thinking about his own situation, he wasn’t really fortunate at all. For instance, he’d had to sell his car after the marriage breakdown, and while he enjoyed walking the three miles to work, it was a mite inconvenient to have to go on the bus to do his shopping. And his social life had dropped off when he moved to the smaller flat, but that hardly mattered, since he couldn’t afford to spend evenings in the pub now anyway. But then again, a least he did have all his faculties, his health, and so on. In fact, the only thing he could complain about was the lack of money.
Which is why he hadn’t wanted to donate in the first place.
Next day he called the charitable organisation and arranged to cancel the direct debit. The young woman on the other end was pleasant, and though she did question him about why he was withdrawing his support, she did not, as he’d feared, belittle his decision. For which he was grateful.
Going over the conversation later, he’d congratulated himself on making that decision. He’d promised the young woman (Jenny), that he would, at some point, when finances permitted, set up regular payments. He’d always believed it was the responsibility of everyone on the planet to ensure that basic human rights—dignity, shelter etc, were provided for those individuals who needed them.
Therefore, he told himself, there was no reason why he should feel bad about it. And he didn’t. Until the blonde turned up again.
That she was just as friendly, engaging and chatty as before was at first a bit of a mystery to him. As she went through her presentation, he waited for the hesitation, the sense of uncertainty, the realisation she’d been here before. And then he saw it—the briefest of pauses, so brief in fact that he almost missed it. But in that moment, he prepared himself for the irritated glare, the time-wasted stamping of feet.
Then something odd happened. Instead of cutting the conversation short and retreating, she simply carried on. Her smile returned as wide as ever, her engaging, chatty manner caught him in its beam just as it had before.
And when she unfolded the form, he filled it in. Again.