Every day he goes down there. To his shed at the bottom of the garden. A place of silence, solitude, old biscuits and stale coffee. And memories. He’s been coming down here for four decades now, ever since they moved into that thirteen up-thirteen down. He’s been there in the heat and the cold, weather-wise and life-wise. When he’s been wanting to celebrate, and when he’s been wanting to cry. He’s often done neither, at least not on the outside. But inside, in his chest, and in his shed, he’s somehow expressed it all. A hidden CCTV camera might not have noticed, but he feels free in that place. No one to make demands on him, or expect him to be something, or behave in a certain way. He’s found God in that shed too. A different God. The kind that understands, listens, and sometimes, in the guise of nudges and creaks and whispers, talks back. Outside of this shed he might seem to some like an atheist, but a man of private faith is still a man of faith. In here, with the dust and the shadows, he’s an out-and-out believer. Prays with his eyes wide open and his hands crafting and shaping models. Jeeps, tanks, planes, boats. He’s fashioned them all, and with his hands coated in paint and glue, he’s talked to the one who fashioned him. Often brought lists in his head from the day, people he’s met who need a helping hand of some kind, situations where the mountains just don’t seem to want to move, moments when he’s been grateful to see the hand of God crafting a way forward in the lives of colleagues and strangers. He knows it’s inexplicable, gave up trying to reason it all out years ago. He just senses, deep within the hinterland of his heart, some things are beyond tidy explanations. They just are what they are. So he comes down here, plugs in the old paint spattered kettle, mixes steamy water with a few off-colour coffee granules and mutters to himself and his maker. Chewing on an old custard cream at the same time. Sometimes it’s a bourbon too, not the whiskey variety, though goodness knows there were years when he drank his fill of that, but now it’s just the biscuits. The crumbs gathering on his cardigan.
I asked him over the phone if he wanted to meet in a pub or a bar but he was happiest in his shed. He just looked to me like a regular time-worn guy, his ordinary past written in the lines on his face. But of course, you have to read between the lines…
‘I’ve been married only once,’ he said, ‘but I’ve had two families. All grown up now of course.’ He points at a small window. ‘I broke that, put my fist right through it. Dark days. Dark nights. I was lost, everything had been washed from under my feet. Never saw the storm coming. A wave that took my business, my children, my money, the lot. Wanted to die. I think subconsciously I had a hope that smashing my arm through a piece of glass might damage me irreparably. Put a cut in my wrist that no one could fix. Didn’t happen. Three friends came round, found me curled up in here, mumbling and nursing my wounds. They took me down to the pub. We supped and talked night after night.’
‘So you lost everything?’
‘For a while. It all came back though, later. We picked ourselves up and started again. Wasn’t easy.’
‘We started again. Rebuilt from the ground up. Even started a second family.’ He glances towards the cobwebbed window, a lonely look in his eyes. ‘More successful than ever now. Which sometimes strikes me as dangerous.’
I look around as I perch there on a cracked tea chest, squeezed into that confined space. ‘I don’t understand, you have so much, yet you choose to be in here.’
‘Simplicity. A place to escape the distractions. An earthy place too. Dust and reality.’ He scratches at a paint stain on the blotched workbench. ‘A refuge from the clutter… and the fig leaves.’
‘The fig leaves?’
He chuckles. ‘Yes, the fig leaves. Adam had them didn’t he? To cover up. I’ve thought about that down here. The things we clutch to ourselves, the statements we make to hide behind. Concealing ourselves. Letting go is hard. So I come out here to the dust and the spiders and the biscuit crumbs.’ He brushes a few off his cardigan. ‘To try and leave the fig leaves for a while. To sit with Him in the cool of the day.’ He sighs, puffs out his whiskery cheeks, scrapes at the glue on the butt of his thumb. ‘Losing everything helped me see something of the futility of the fig leaves. Other things matter. You know, I met God powerfully in the loss. In the mess and the confusion. There was a tangible presence in the darkness. We practically had conversations. Never quite had the same thing since.’
I chewed on that one as I scribbled it down. I waited to see if there was more. There wasn’t.
‘How d’you want to be named in this interview, by the way, because to be honest I’ve only ever heard your first name?’
He gave a final small smile and nodded at me. ‘That’s fine, you just put me down there as Job.’