Auditor's Note: This story is dedicated to my friend Dr. Gibson with whom I worked as International Monetary Fund's Senior Fiscal Management Advisor in Malawi (1998-2000)
John Gibson ran a pub, next to the small bridge that connected Washington DC to Georgetown. It was a shanty pub mostly visited by the blacks. In the evenings, when the pub lights were dimmed and the loud and garish music resounded against its low ceiling, the guests danced brashly, brushing against each other, most of them in drunken state, eyeing the gyrating voluptuous females.
The pub was just breaking even, in fact on couple of occasions John had to tap his savings to keep it running. John knew he was the culprit for he himself was found of drinking and more often than not, by the time the pub closed, he was quite tipsy.
“Look, I am not going to live for ever and for the remaining years that I live, I want to make most of it,” John often told his wife, Cynthia who was also the bar maid of the pub. In fact, it was Cynthia who ran the show. She was clever and garrulous. John trusted her simply because he knew he was hardly of any use. In fact, he hardly had any strength left in him.
“She is handling matters better than I would have. Moreover, I don’t want to wreck my peace of mind.” That was the explanation he gave to his friends who often cajoled him to take active interest in the pub matters.
One evening Cynthia jolted him beyond his imagination. She had severe headache and she fainted vomiting blood.
John rushed her to a hospital. The doctors carried out the tests and found that Cynthia had brain haemorrhage because of malignant tumour. For three days and nights John was with Cynthia. On the fourth day Cynthia died on his laps.
“Why the hell should you have left me alone? You spoiled me all my life me and now you leave me when I am totally useless,” John moaned at her funeral.
After Cynthia’s death John left the apartment he had shared with his wife and shifted to the attic on top of the pub. His life was now divided between the pub and the attic on top.
John had no clue how to run the pub. It had never occurred to him that a day might come when he may have to manage it. He was annoyed about him self and thought of selling it off.
“Please find a buyer for the Pub. You know I can hardly look after it,” he told his friends.
After couple of days, a woman approached John for the bar maid’s position.
“You said your name is Emily, sounds poetic, no?” John asked her with a wry smile.
The woman before him didn’t react. She was forth right.
“Mr. Gibson, I need a job and I have the experience. I have been working for the Blue Ace for five years.”
“Why are you leaving it? It’s a swell of a joint. People with lot of money go there.”
“The new manager wanted me to sleep with him,” Emily told him unabashedly.
That made John laugh.
“Oh God, you mean, you are leaving a good job simply because the manager asked you to sleep with him?”
Emily was uneasy at the question. “Look, I didn’t like the man. And you don’t go to bed with every bastard who asks you.”
“Oh, come on, I am as much a bastard. How about sleeping with me?”
“Bastard, yes, you may be but a harmless one. I don’t mind hopping in to your bed.”
John knew it was a dig at his age, he didn’t like it.
“I will pay you three hundred a week, tips are yours.”
“And the bed, you forgot that?”
John smiled but it was a subdued one.
“OK, you start from tomorrow.”
“Thank you John,” she said and kissed his hairy chin before leaving.
John was unsettled. His tomfoolery vanished as he saw Emily going out. He suddenly remembered Cynthia.
And then it occurred to him that Emily looked a little like Cynthia. The curls in the front and her gait were quite similar and she was un-inhibitive like Cynthia. John also remembered that Cynthia used to kiss him in the similar way.
Emily was regular and efficient in her job. She was sharp-witted and would relate funny jokes and stories to humour the men. She had a curvaceous figure and a charming smile, which attracted men.
John noticed the change in fortune after Emily had joined. His profits were going up. The pub was generally full and even the rowdies paid for their drinks.
“How much were you making in Blue Ace?” John asked Emily one evening as she was preparing to leave.
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, I want to know what you are losing working here.”
“Forget it. I accepted the job,” she said and then added with a mischievous smile, though I am still sleeping in the cold.”
John remained quiet, which surprised Emily. She looked at his grim face.
“John, any thing is wrong?”
“No, I was just thinking, I took an undue advantage, I mean I knew you were desperate for a job.”
“I am thinking to give you a raise. Fifty a week, OK?”
“Well, well you seem to be in an expansive mood. I should have asked for a slice of moon.”
“Go to NASA for that and now buzz off,” he said and a shadow crossed his face as he saw Emily giving him a kiss and walking away.
Emily had been working with John for nearly a year. It was the month of December. There was festivity in the air as Christmas neared. Rich and poor, everyone cherished the hope of some thing good happening in their life.
One evening John told Emily, “I want to paint the pub and I want a live band for Christmas Eve. Entry will be only for the regular guests and it will be free, all on the house.”
“John, are you crazy? You sure have you gone nuts. You better get your self examined unless you want to go broke.”
“Don’t you worry for it. You issue invites to the regular customers and arrange a good band to play for us.”
And then pausing a little he added, “Emily, when Christmas comes, there is an expectation in every heart. I want to do a little bit for my clients who have stood by me all these years.”
Emily having failed to convince her employer got busy in making the arrangements.
The clients were elated. “John, have you got a jack pot or the treasure of Sinbad?” Someone asked.
“Hope, it is not one of your pranks?” The other asked.
“No, it is not, I promise,” John assured them.
It was the Christmas Eve. John called Emily and told her, “I have pain in the chest and I feel a little uneasy.”
“John, shall I call a doctor?”
“No need for that, I will be OK, I simply need some rest.”
“You sure you want the evening show to continue?”
“Yes and I want you to take care of the guests. Make it a memorable night for all of them.”
“Sure,” Emily said briefly and left to look after the arrangements. There were lot many things to be done and she had to do it single handed.
Emily was relieved that all was under control. She had been running like a hare from one end to another. She thought of seeing John before she took a bath and got dressed for the evening.
Emily knocked at the door but there was no response. Emily was nervous as she entered the room. John was lying on his bed, his both hands hanging outside. She touched his face and tried to shake him.
John was lying unconscious. Emily was nervous but lost no time in calling an ambulance and rushing him to a hospital.
The doctor told Emily that but for timely treatment, John would have been in serious trouble.
A little later John came to senses. He was weak and could hardly speak.
He gestured to Emily to come closer to him and then whispered, “Emily, a million thanks for saving my life. Emily, I wonder what would have happened to me if you were not there.”
Emily didn’t say anything.
John was still looking at Emily. Suddenly he told her, “You know, I have been fooling my self all my life. To be honest, I have been naïve and selfish.” Then after pausing a little, he added, “It never occurred to me to ask you about your family.”
Emily found it difficult to hold her tears. She didn’t know what to say and how to say it. There was a long pause as John looked at her intently.
“John, I am Cynthia’s younger sister. She had told me you needed some one to take care of you and I had promised her to do so.”
John was dumbstruck.
“Oh God! Cynthia wanted to look after me even when she was gone and here is this angel working for me with total dedication … and … what have I given them in return? How mean of me? … God forgive me… God.”
Emily pressed his hands softly. “Cool down now. Get well soon and then we will celebrate,” she said and then added with a smile, “We will go for honeymoon.”
“Emily, I am OK now. Please return to the pub and take care of the guests. I want the guests to have a good time.”
“You sure, John?”
“Yes, and please do as I say.” John sounded better.
Emily looked after the guests diligently who enjoyed the liberal hospitality. They sang and danced and made merry. It was the liveliest Christmas they ever had.
“Emily, it has been never so good. We never had such grand Christmas. So much of food and wine and whiskey … and lively music …… it was simply great,” one of the guests told Emily.
“And tell us where is that blighter John? He must be lying drunk somewhere. Tell him, we really enjoyed. Please say our thanks to him,” the other guest said gleefully.
“ I will,” Emily said continuing with her work.
“John I wish you were here to see these cheerful faces and share their happiness and I hope the evening was up to your expectations,” she whispered as the last guest left the pub.