The Hope Diamond
When she was a young girl she had lived in the same country where they had found the largest diamond in the world. A 3.106 carat diamond weighing almost one and a half pounds was found no more than twenty feet below the surface of the land. She had spent her childhood there in the land of sunshine and wide open spaces. It was a land of discovery at her fingertips as she had roamed with her childhood innocence across the sun burnt veld exploring the vivid natural world around her. It had been a happy time, an uncomplicated life of freedom and family love back then and the memories still brought a smile to her face.
Now she was much older and life had bruised her mind and somehow scratched her soul with the sober knowing of darkness and death.
Death that could hide amongst the smiles and expectancies of others who cared not a bit.
She had felt it and fought it and eventually she had rejected it and with her heart in her mouth she'd left her home in the North of England to randomly arrive at a small seaside city with a back pack and a few hundred pounds in her pocket.
It was all so new and everything was going to be different she reminded herself continuously as the airport bus dropped her off at the bus station just on the inner edge of the city.
She thought 'sometimes there's nothing else to do but just go' and she recalled how unhappy she had been for so long.
At the city library she searched diligently for suitable economic accommodation and stumbled upon a website that advertised local properties for short term rentals. Searching the properties she found a very small top floor apartment in a building that faced the ocean. It was to be available for a new tenant in a few days time after Christmas and so after contacting the owner she arranged to move in then and spent the next three nights in a cheap hostel with no washing machine or proper hot running water available. She cried only once in that time when on Christmas day a sudden feeling of loneliness overwhelmed her.
'It's going to be okay' she murmured to herself repeatedly that night, 'it's all going to be okay'.
The new apartment she would move into would give her a needed base from where she could begin her new life.
The photographs of the place had looked so lovely, the clean bright walls and the laminated wooden floor. The double bed had a bright two tone yellow and green pastel cover laid across it and it all looked to be so well decorated and maintained.
Her money was stretched but she had just been able to afford the rent and once she was there she would begin to confront and somehow find a way to overcome her money issues.
The day after boxing day with her blue back pack on she strode into the apartment building and after being given the key from the reception she headed to the lifts and rode up to the top floor. A feeling of happiness surged through her as the key went into the door and she stepped into her new home.
After the third step she froze, something wasn't right.
Before her feet the heads of two dead prawns were laid on the floor and a strange smell permeated the air. With a growing feeling of anxiety she looked across at the bed. All the bed sheets had been removed and on the mattress a long streak of what looked like vomit was spewed diagonally across it. With an approaching nausea of her own she looked away towards the large glass doors and saw that the curtain had been ripped off the rails.
She placed her bag on the small sofa by the wall and stepped up to the bed to take a closer look. It was indeed vomit that that she saw and her heart sank with disappointment. In the small bathroom the bed sheets had been dumped into the bath and peering at them she saw that they were there for good reason. The person or persons who had been here had left their calling card.
A calling card of too much alcohol and too much vomit.
'Why do they do these things?' she said out loud in frustration. Outside the building a few seagulls flew adjacent to the glass doors out in the open sky oblivious to the drama of the young woman. In their own right they were perhaps the most graceful of the seabirds in the air, it was clear that they spent too much time on land.
After splashing her face with cold water and holding on to the edges of the bathroom sink for a minute as she breathed deeply and composed herself she went outside onto the small balcony. Immediately she felt better with the sun on her face and she looked out across a panoramic view of the ocean. The coastline spread out in a semi concentric sweep of rugged curvature. Rocky peninsulas jutted into the deep blue water and she could see a few small fishing boats dotted brightly upon the calm surface. She stood watching the new world on her doorstep until her thoughts returned to the problems inside.
Taking deep breaths and her resolve strengthening she faced the scene again. Finding cleaning products and a clean towel she first scraped off the disgusting dried regurgitations from the mattress with a blunt edged kitchen knife. Then after depositing it in the bin she went to work scrubbing the mattress with bleach and hot soapy water. After dragging it outside and resting it face upright in the ascending sunshine to dry she fixed the curtains and placed the soiled bed sheets in the washing machine. But there was no washing powder and she immediately considered her budget and whether she could afford to buy some just yet.
She began to sweep the floor making mental calculations regarding her budget for the week ahead. 'It's going to be tough' she thought, her remaining money was just over forty Euros and with that amount she had to eat and find a way to move around the city looking for work. For a moment she felt as though it was not possible, that she wouldn't be able to do it and a strange feeling of sadness began to immerse from the depths in her soul. 'Stop it' she said out loud in a sudden reaction and immediately placed her hand to her mouth. She sat down on the sofa with the broom still in her hand.
The feeling of sadness was still there.
From the angle where she had sat down she could see just beneath the bottom edge of the bed, she wondered how dusty it might be under there as her eyes followed the line of it towards the small dressing table.
It was a small glint that caught her eye.
She got up off the sofa and crossed to the bed, on her knees she looked and felt for what had caused the glint. Her fingers pulled out a small clear stone and as the full force of sunlight caught it face on it glinted brightly again. Still on her knees she stared at it, 'It can't be real' she thought but it did look real she had to admit. She put it on the dressing table. It was very small, probably from an ear ring. Perhaps whatever reckless hedonistic behaviour that had gone on with the previous tenants had caused the small stone to dislodge she thought.
The next day leaving her newly cleaned and fresh smelling apartment she walked into the city. In her small travel bag pocket inside the cap of a pen stuffed with tissue paper was the stone. By the time she'd reached the city centre she had convinced herself that it was not real.
She concentrated her mind on the task at hand, she needed a job.
She went to the library and from her small memory stick she opened a file containing her Curriculum Vitae. Making subtle changes to the document she doctored the Curriculum so that her employment and experience could apply to three different occupations. Retail, Customer Service, and Marketing.
It would have been much easier to apply for work online or at least make first contact with an agency in the city to attempt to distribute her C.V. but on her first day here she wanted to walk in the city and to at least see for herself what the general working outlook was regarding her new environment and hopeful home.
She couldn’t wait to get out of the library, it reminded her of the place she had left to come here, a place of administration and walls. Ambling along the pedestrianised walkway that led into the heart of the City she considered that perhaps she would be better doing something completely different to what she had known before.
If she could get a foot in the door, find an opportunity this week then in perhaps six weeks she would be able to access her first pay. It would still be two weeks too late for her rent though and she cast the foreboding practical reminders of her situation from her mind quickly.
She trailed around the City approaching possible would be employers and handing in her Curriculum to them with a personal introduction. They were mostly friendly and sympathetic towards her, surprised that she had bothered to be there in person and not just another email with an attachment. Inevitably the answer was the same ‘sorry but we are fully staffed, we can keep you on file though’. She had agreed to that thanking them for their time and moving on to the next possible place of employment until she became hungry.
She bought a banana and sat on a metal bench as she considered her coming afternoon agenda. She would try a slightly different approach. For the next twenty minutes she sat on the bench watching the world go by. She liked the city, it was small compared to Leeds and the people seemed less in a hurry here. If she could just find a job to bring some income in she’d could stay here. ‘Think positive’ she said to herself as she got up and deposited the banana skin in a nearby bin. She hadn’t walked far when she saw a small cafe with an English menu on a board stood outside.
Stepping inside in a very spontaneous manner she approached the middle aged darkly tanned man behind the counter.
‘Hello’ she said and he looked up at her.
‘Hello’ he responded smiling ‘what can I get for you?’ he asked the pretty thirty-something fair haired woman in front of him.
‘Well a job would be nice’ she smiled back at him and he laughed in slight surprise only to then lower his eyes slightly as he shrugged his shoulders.
‘I know what you’re going to say’ she broke in before he could speak his thoughts. ‘You’re fully staffed etc but I can offer you a free trial to show my abilities’ he looked blankly at her ‘I can cook pretty good and wait tables for you but my speciality is in marketing’. He began to shake his head slightly and opened his mouth to speak but she broke in quickly again ‘Do you know that your menu has two spelling mistakes in it?’ she said in a slightly dramatic way, his head stopped moving from side to side. ‘I could write out a new amazing flashy menu for you and help to sell your lovely grub with my brill marketing skills’ she made a mock superhero pose in front of him and the man laughed again.
He studied the woman in front of him for a moment, her slightly freckled face, small crows feet at the edges of her blue eyes, her hair just over shoulder length and her perfectly white teeth that forced a smile that spoke of slight desperation. She was trying not to look desperate though, he wanted to help her but…’I would really like to help you’ he said as he folded a tea towel over his left arm ‘but I am fully staffed at the moment’. The woman didn’t seem to want to hear him as she continued ‘I can get you some good references’ she said ‘and I’ll work any hours you want and I’ve got loads of ideas to share with you for this place.’
Her eyes swept around the twenty seater café with its shabby décor and faded walls. An old wedding picture of Princess Diana and Prince Charles hung close to the entrance and a cheap poster of a drooling British bulldog hung opposite the counter. ‘Look lady’ he began with a tone of authority raising his hands slightly only to be cut off again by the random woman. ‘Alison’ she said looking directly at him ‘my name is Alison’. He sighed, his hands falling back to his sides. ‘I can’t give you a job just like that Alison’ he said watching her eyes blink a bit too quickly. ‘I am fully staffed here and I could probably be doing a lot better with certain things and with one of the team but..’ she butted in again before he could finish ‘I don’t know your name’ said the woman. His mouth still open he stared at her and she smiled at him, her face reminding him of a woman he used to know a long time ago. ‘Cecil’ he responded ‘my name is Cecil’ and he offered her his hand across the counter.
As they shook hands a paunchy bespectacled man dressed in a shabby green T-shirt enterered the café. He approached the counter ‘I want a full English’ he said gruffly and Cecil acknowledged him with a nod. Alison turned to the side and said ‘It’s okay Cecil, I’m sorry if I sound a bit desperate but I just really need a job right now’. Cecil had a frying pan in his hands and he shrugged his shoulders again, he was thinking of the breakfast he was about to cook ‘I’m sorry Alison’ he said and looked down into fridge to get a packet of bacon out. After rummaging around for a while to find the older stock to be used before the fresher bacon was opened he stood up again only to find that she had gone. ‘Damn’ he thought as the pan sizzled and he reached for the eggs, he wasn’t certain why he’d wanted to speak with her again before she’d gone though as there was really nothing else to say wasn’t there?
Outside in the afternoon sunshine Alison walked around the rest of the central parts of the city. She’d felt a little bit upset at the rejection from the café but then it was completely normal for a person not to find a job in such a random spontaneous manner. She had been hopeful though and she hadn’t lied, she could cook and she was great at marketing. She’d had a feeling while she was stood there too, a feeling that she’d get a job. ‘Silly woman’ she said to herself and began to prepare herself mentally for the next couple of hours of job hunting. Her approach was to be one of informality in comparison to the slightly formal approach of the mornings’ efforts, notwithstanding the strange experience at Cecils' café of course. She did her best to find an opportunity but it was always the same response and in the end she left her last three C.V.s in various stores without even saying a word to anyone, she just left them on counter in their brown envelopes with the title of C.V. neatly written across them.
Her feet tired and her spirits low she suddenly realized that she had walked a full circle to the same spot where she’d eaten her lunch hours earlier on the metal bench.
‘I’ll have a little sit down’ she thought but then out of the corner of her eye she saw the sign. It was above a small jewelers store that was tucked away on the corner of a wide alleyway. Her heart beat a little faster as she remembered the small stone in the pen cap in her money bag. Hope began to echo within her and her tiredness seemed irrelevant because of it.
She stepped through the doors of the jewelers.
An elderly grey haired lady sat behind the glass cabinet reading a magazine.
‘Hello’ said Alison, ‘do you speak English?’
The old lady nodded.
‘I erm, I came to see if I’ve actually found a diamond’ she continued and the old womans’ eye brows raised slightly.
She got up off her seat.
‘May I see it?’ she asked.
Alison produced the pen cap and after removing the tissue paper rolled the small stone onto the glass counter of the display cabinet. The woman looked at the small stone for a few seconds and then turned towards the door behind her and shouted ‘Luis, come here’. From out of the red velvet curtain covered back door a short stocky aged man appeared with a look of curiosity in his brown eyes. The woman pointed to the small stone on the glass top ‘She’d like to know if it is a real diamond’ she said and the man looked up from the stone to the young woman. ‘Well’ he said smiling ‘there’s only one way to find out’. He fumbled in a drawer next to the cabinet as Alison tried not to get too excited.
‘Could it really be a diamond?’ she thought.
It would be the answer to her hopes, she would be able to sell it for enough money to see her through for some time and her mind quickly began to contemplate a number of possible and favorable outcomes. Outside some of the shops and stores were beginning to close for the day and she heard the metal shutter of a store being pulled down noisily. The old man placed the stone in his hand and with a small black hand held machine that resembled a car cigarette lighter but with a clear transparent narrow edge that protruded from it, he pressed the end against the stone.
He moved the stone in his hand and tried again.
He frowned and took his wife’s hand. Onto one of her many rings he pressed the clear tip of the machine.
‘Beep beep’ it registered audibly and Alison understood.
‘I’m sorry I wasted your time’ she said as he gave the small stone back to her. They both smiled sympathetically at the young woman before she left the store.
Alison crossed to the bench and sat down heavily with a feeling of weariness and disappointment. With her arms crossed she gazed up at a section of fading blue sky between the buildings and felt sorry for herself. ‘Life is a cruel thing sometimes’ she thought. As self pity washed over her she remembered how life had played with her heart, how in vain hope had too often flourished only to whither like glimmers of light that sank into the unfathomable darkness.
The sinking feeling began to grow within her as though it was eating away at her insides and she felt too tired to fight it.
It was like a cold shadow of apathy and regret and she knew that she was beginning to fall into it without wishing to. Suddenly she burst into tears and struggled to fight back the sobs that broke forth. ‘Life is so hard’ she thought as she blew her nose on a tissue. Placing her hands to her face she began trying to gain control of herself and fumbling in her pocket for another tissue she suddenly felt a tap on her shoulder. Startled she turned quickly to see the man from the café. Cecil stood in front of her with a faint smile on his lips.
'I'm glad I found you here, I didn't get your number' he said to the tearful woman looking up at him.
‘Listen’ he said ‘about that job….. can you start tomorrow?’