Albert had fed all his bread to the swans. The swans didn’t know that of course and continued to pester him. It was of no consequence to them that tears were running steadily into his beard or that his rheumy eyes were feeling all of their eighty-four years.
Albert had told them everything. Who else was there to tell?
‘Grandad, can I borrow £20 pounds, just to tide me over until pay day,’ was how it had all started. Albert remembered this first request from David. Albert had been watching TV and, before giving his usual very considered response, had sent two puffs of smoke into the centre of the drawing room and taken his pipe out of his mouth.
‘Of course you can old chap. When’s payday then?’
‘It’s…er…a week Thursday Grandad.’ Albert had been a little disconcerted by the ‘er’. In his day he’d known exactly how long it was to payday. Nevertheless, he’d opened his floppy, shiny wallet, smiled fleetingly at his late wife Sarah’s photograph and taken out two £10 pound notes. He passed them to David, who pushed them into his trouser pocket.
‘Thanks Grandad. That’s well decent of you’.
Wincing at the misused adjective Albert smiled and said, ‘Go on, enjoy yourself’, and transferred his pipe back to his mouth. David had gone before he’d flicked the TV sound back up again.
The second request came before payday. ‘Grandad, I’m really short this month, could I borrow another £20 please?’
‘Are you sure you need it, old chap?’ asked Albert gently.
‘Yep. Yeah,’ said David fidgeting with his hair - not something he’d done when his mother had been alive, Albert reflected.
Again Albert had handed over two £10 pound notes, saying, ‘Are you sure this is enough?’ David had just nodded and pocketed the notes.
Albert was in his vegetable garden when David came home on payday. The front door slammed as usual and Albert got up from planting a new row of onions and walked slowly up the garden path to the house. Just as he was taking off his Wellington boots, leaning with one hand against the back door for balance, the front door slammed again. Albert sighed, went in and put the kettle on. He made himself a cup of tea, lit his pipe and went to sit in the lounge. David had been in the house less than two minutes before rushing back out again.
Albert made sure he was up for when David left for work the next morning. ‘Did you get paid yesterday old chap?’ he asked David, as they had their respective breakfast drinks of tea and coke.
‘I did Grandad,’ said David, not meeting his eyes. ‘I know what you’re going to ask me but can I give you the money later? I drew some out yesterday but spent it all last night?’
‘If you could let me have it tonight, before I go to the supermarket, I’d appreciate it,’ replied Albert.
‘No probs,’ said David, before swilling the last of his coke. ‘See ya later,’ was his parting shot.
‘Try not to slam the front….’ was all Albert managed to call before the house reverberated from the slam of the front door. He took his pipe from his dressing gown pocket and started to pack it with tobacco. David seemed to be avoiding talking to him and that worried Albert. Also, he had never met any of the new ‘friends’ that David had mentioned recently and Albert felt as though he had become an embarrassment.
David never came back until late that night and Albert again made the effort to make conversation at what passed for breakfast the next day. ‘Would you like some eggs and bacon, old chap?’
David shook his head with his mouth full of coke. He swallowed. ‘No thanks Grandad’. There was a slight pause. ‘Listen granddad, could I pay you that money next month – this is going to be another heavy month?’
Albert sighed and said, ‘The money’s not important old chap. Forget it altogether.’ He paused and caught David’s wandering eyes, ‘Not in any trouble are you?’
‘No,’ came back the reply from David, with no pause at all. ‘Crikey, is that the time. Gotta be going. Cheers Grandad’. With that he made for the front door before Albert had time to say any more.
Albert set out to do the weekly shop later that morning. He did not like to use his disabled sticker but he found the supermarket trolleys so unwieldy if he parked too far away from the checkouts. Albert ambled round the aisles with his neat list. His daughter – David’s mother – used to take such care that David had a balanced diet. Something that did not currently seem to figure on David’s ‘radar’, as David was fond of saying. Albert had got the message after continually throwing away uneaten fruit at the end of the week. And as for taking cod liver oil tablets, David had told him curtly where he could ‘stick them’ –something he would never have said to his mother. But then, so many things had changed since her untimely death.
Albert decided that he needed to try and ‘talk’ to his grandson and find out if there really was anything wrong. When David came home from work that evening Albert said to him, ‘Could we have a chat, old chap – before you shoot off out again.’
‘Sure granddad, but could I ask you to stop calling me “old chap” – my name’s David,’ said David, with a slight edge to his voice.
‘Of course,’ said Albert, ‘In all these years, I never realised you didn’t like it. But if that’s how you’d like things I’m happy to do that… David’. He went on, ‘I wanted to ask you if there’s anything wrong because you haven’t seemed yourself recently. I probably couldn’t do much if there was anything wrong – but I’m a good listener.’
‘Look granddad, I told you this morning there is nothing wrong and I’m telling you now, there isn’t – so can we drop this?’
‘Of course, of course,’ said Albert, anxious not to be thought of as intruding. ‘Would you like some shepherd’s pie – I made it this afternoon.’
‘No thanks grandad. If that’s it I’m off out now. OK?’
Albert nodded and smiled, saying his usual, ‘Have a nice time’.
Albert knew that things were not right, as he had told the swans – and in fact they got worse. David had asked to borrow more money, £50 this time, and Albert had felt deeply hurt when David had called him a ‘tight old git,’ for refusing. The fact he had not refused, merely asked what the money was to be used for before parting with it, had hurt even more.
The next week, to Albert’s surprise and delight, David offered to come with him to the supermarket to do the weekly shop. To Albert’s further delight David chose plenty of healthy options and seemed very chatty as they trailed along the aisles.
‘I will pay you back the money granddad, promise. Just give me a bit more time,’ said David as Albert drew out money from the cash-point on the way back to the car.
‘Oh, don’t worry about that old – er, David,’ said Albert, checking himself in time. ‘Like I said, it’s not important.’ He felt pleased that David seemed to be responding.
‘I’ve made some Shepherd’s Pie for tonight David. Would you like some?’ said Albert when they got home.
‘Certainly would granddad, thanks,’ replied David.
David didn’t eat much but Albert felt a lot happier and afterwards went into the lounge for his evening nap. He had his regular pipe-full, put his wallet on the coffee table, slid down in his chair and dozed off – more at peace with the world.
Albert’s next trip to the supermarket was a nightmare. When he came to pay, the assistant said, ‘I’m very sorry sir, the system is saying that there are not enough funds in the account.’
‘Are… are you sure?’ Albert stammered and knew he had gone very red. The assistant nodded, feeling embarrassed for the kindly old gent. Albert apologised, went outside to the cash machine and requested a statement. The statement showed five consecutive daily withdrawals of £200 – all his savings of £1000. Albert felt very unsteady – he’d never been overdrawn in his life. He took his card from the slot in the cash-point machine and walked slowly back to his car. He sat slumped in the driver’s seat. He couldn’t figure it out – at first.
He told the swans of his near certain suspicions that his grandson had carefully watched him put his pin number in the previous week and had taken his bank debit card from his wallet when he had gone to sleep in the evenings, to come out to a cash-point machine and take out the maximum daily withdrawal from his account.