I was sitting in the Doctor’s waiting room the other day when, unbeknown to me the whole of my life was about to change. I don’t go to the doctor’s very often. Well men don’t as a rule, do they? But I’ve been having trouble with my back and the pain has been so bad lately that I deemed it wise to stagger down to the doctor’s to get something to relieve it. It’s a sure sign that something’s wrong when a chap can’t cock his leg over the saddle to mount his bike.

It was three years almost to the day since I lost Elsa and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. I’d been managing quite well until now, I thought. I’d carried on coping with all the everyday things and I’d almost convinced myself that I was getting over it but there was still an awful emptiness inside. What with that and the back-ache I didn’t feel as if I could push a bus over, as my old mother used to say.

There is always an embarrassing silence in the waiting room as if those there are slightly ashamed of being caught going into a confessional. A small boy, with no shame was busy raking through an assortment of broken plastic toys, which had been well fingered and chewed by previous tiny visitors. I picked up a magazine. I’m not a one for magazines as a rule…except ones about motor cars and I didn’t expect to find anything in this one to interest me but my eye was caught by a column offering me friendship.

Friends have been very scarce on the ground since Elsa went so I decided to see what was on offer. There was a scattering of men modestly stating their attributes and rather a lot of ladies interested in gardening and long walks. Several declared that they were non-smokers and loved animals and I was invited to contact them. Some cautious applicants suggested that they would appreciate a photograph. They all seemed to be very sincere genuine people but the thing that struck me was that most of the ladies added to their list of acceptable requirements, ‘car owner preferred.’ Now, I don’t own a car…used to, but not any more. No one stipulated ‘bike owner preferred’. So, it seemed to me that I was destined to remain friendless. This made me feel worse than when I came in.

Just then, my name George Belling came up on the electric notice board announcing to all and sundry that the doctor was waiting to see me. In the time it took me to hobble the few steps to his consulting room I was already convinced that he would tell me I’d only got two weeks to live, the up-side of which, I bravely assured myself, was that it would solve the friendship problem. In the event, I was given a prescription for some liniment and told to bend my knees when lifting anything heavy. Being friendless didn’t seem to be so important any more and I walked out with a much lighter step. However, I missed the bus and sitting on the seat in the bus shelter, purposely designed to be uncomfortable, I realised that I was still clasping the magazine and the lack of friends re-imposed itself upon my mind.

For several weeks I could think of nothing but the possibilities opened up by the friendship column. The lack of a car was, it seemed, a failing on my part. I’d known that for a long time for I did miss my car and being retired, I hadn’t the means to replace it.

Thinking of the opportunities I was missing I was, at first, bitter at my inability to claim a friend because of my mode of transport. The men advertising, it appeared to me, were just hoping for someone who wasn’t bad looking and who could cook and would appreciate their jokes. Suddenly I had an inspiration. Why shouldn’t a man request ‘car owner preferred’?
No sooner the thought than the deed and I penned my notice and sent it off to the address on the bottom of the friendship page. I felt I owed it to myself to present my qualifications in the best light so I did not mention my weak back, my knock-knees or the fact that I tend to get wind when excited. I am a non-smoker and six foot tall so that should count in my favour.

I spent the next few days in an agony of suspense but endured this time of apprehension by cleaning and polishing my bike in case I received no replies and in a sort of attempt at an apology to it for classing it as second-rate to a motor car. After all, it had been a true friend to me since I became car-less.
When I deemed the time was right I went by bike to the local post office to fetch any mail from the box number I had given and had wind all the way home knowing there were three letters resting in my saddle bag.

Arriving home I considered myself very restrained for I made myself a cup of strong sweet tea with an extra spoonful of condensed milk to strengthen me before I opened them. There, at the kitchen table I opened the first one. It was a great disappointment. She sounded quite nice but had no car and hoped that because of her other attributes I might consider her even without a car. It hurt me to do it but it went straight into the bin.

The second one was from a lady living in Russia who had a Skoda. She was hoping I would pay for the transportation of herself and her car as she had always wanted to come to England. I was tempted but the state of my finances meant that this was another one for the bin. My hand shook as I opened the third. Two photos fell out and I stared with wonder at the photo of the car. It was identical to the car I used to own, my beloved Morris Minor. This is the one, I thought. It was love at first sight. I turned over the other photo and there staring straight at me, smiling and looking just as lovely as the day she left me for the insurance man, taking my car with her, was my wife, Elsa. I was stunned. Surely this was fate. Elsa, I knew, was a great believer in fate and I felt sure that here was my opportunity to win back the love of my life …and of course, Elsa. What’s more she already knows about my weak back, my knock-knees and my tendency to wind.

© Marion Sharville

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