‘Hello Lawrence, it’s Auntie Anne.’ A gasp from the other end of the line. Anne Bunting was hardly a prolific user of the telephone at the best of times, and had never before dared to dial America.
‘What’s wrong Auntie. Are you ill?’
‘Not at all, dear. Never better. In fact absolutely best! How are you all? Are the children well, and Elaine?’
‘Yes, yes, we’re all fine. But to what do we owe the honour of a telephone call?’
‘Weeell’ Anne was enjoying drawing out the suspense. ‘I’ve come into a bit of money and I want some advice on what to do with it.’
‘Spend it, Auntie. That’s what you should do with it. Treat yourself. Have a little holiday. Do up your apartment. Or wouldn’t there be enough for that?’
‘Oh yes, plenty and then some.’
‘How come?’ said Lawrence, knowing that his Aunt, while not exactly on the bread line, was poor by his standards, frugal, not given to spending on herself.
‘Well then, I was bored. I bought a lottery ticket for the first time in my life. I wanted a little flutter.’
‘And I won. All of it. It’s called a triple roll or something. I’ve won eleven million pounds.’ More gasping from the other end.
‘Wow! Auntie Anne. I can’t believe it. Are you sure? Someone’s been having you on.’
‘No dear, really. I really have won all that money. A man from Camelot came with the cheque yesterday and we went and put it in the bank together. Doesn’t that sound funny – a man from Camelot? That’s the company that runs the lottery.’
‘Well then, congratulations Auntie. What are you going to do with it? You need to be careful. There are so many grasping people about.’
‘It would be so helpful if you could all come over and visit me, to advise me about it. I’d pay your fares and hotel of course.’ Anne didn’t want them thinking she was asking them to pay.
‘It’s a bit difficult just now. Oh, don’t get me wrong Auntie – I’ll help you all right. But David is about to graduate and has exams for the next few weeks. Jennifer is going through a difficult time just now. But maybe I could fly across for a few days on my own. I should hate you to be fleeced by crooks, and I can probably help you put your money somewhere safe.’
‘Oh would you dear? I’d so much like to see you, it’s been so long. Tell me when you’re coming and I’ll find you a good hotel.’
‘Don’t worry, my secretary will see to all that.’
‘We mustn’t keep on talking – the phone bill will be enormous. Love to everyone, and good luck to David in his exams. Bye for now.’
And now to do something about that poor man in Tesco. But how? The bank manager had given her a debit card – the first she’d ever owned, and showed her how to draw money from the cash machine. If I go across to that machine outside the supermarket, I could get some money out and leave it for the lottery man.
With almost a spring in her step, Anne crossed the road and made her way towards the machine. Now what was that special number I have to use? Oh yes, the year I was born. Good. I’m not likely to forget that in a hurry. Painstakingly Anne worked her way through the instructions on the screen. Why it’s easy. Now how much should it be? Would £500 be enough – or too much? I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but he should have a tip for his part in my win. Waiting patiently by the machine for her money to emerge, she looked around her. No-one about. The bank manager had impressed on her that she must be careful not to let people see the cash in her hand. She hurriedly counted the notes and stuffed them into her shopping bag. She had always been careful with her money and wasn’t about to change the habits of a lifetime.
She marched up to the kiosk. Oh dear. It’s someone else. What should I do? ‘Can you tell me when the usual man will be here please?’
‘He’s on his break, Madam. In the café . He’ll be back in ten minutes. Can I help you?’
‘Oh no, dear. I’ll wait. Better still, I’ll go and have a drink too.’ Anne felt very daring. It was quite an adventure for her to go into the café on her own.
There he is. I wonder if he’ll mind me coming to sit at his table. Having bought a cup of a strange copper-coloured liquid which purported to be tea, she made her way through the maze of tables of chattering customers to where she spied her quarry.
‘Good morning Madam. How nice to see you. How’s it going?’ Inwardly seething, but polite as ever, Malcolm Pitkin was unable to be less than welcoming to the object of his envy.
‘I’m so glad I caught you. I wanted to say thank you for all your help last week. I do hope you won’t be offended if I give you this. Please don’t take it the wrong way. I wanted to show you how grateful I was’ and Anne handed over the bundle of £50 notes from her shopping bag, carefully shielding it from prying eyes at nearby tables.
Malcolm took one look at what could be his salvation and turned a puce colour. His voice deserted him and his eyes filled with tears. Hastily pretending to blow his nose in a big handkerchief, he struggled to regain his composure.
‘Oh please’ spluttered Anne. ‘If it would upset you to take it, you could always give it to charity.’
‘It’s not that.’ At last Malcolm’s voice returned to him. ‘You couldn’t possibly know what it means to me to be able to pay my wife’s debt. I’ve been expecting the heavies to appear at any moment as I’ve got behind in the loan repayments.’
Anne thought for a minute and put a tentative hand on his arm. ‘Is it enough?’ she asked. ‘I could make it a bit more if that would help you. I can’t bear to see you so distressed when I have all that money in the bank.’
‘No, of course – it’s too much, but you can’t believe how grateful I am. I have been at my wits’ end as to how I was going to make the next payment. This money would mean that I can buy time to save some more in order to keep going, so I’m going to bite your hand off. Sorry – I shouldn’t talk like that. I can’t believe this is happening to me. No-one has ever done anything like that for me in my life.’
Anne broke in. ‘It would do something magical for me too, if I knew that I’d solved your problem. I’ve never had enough money to do more than survive decently. I’ve often wanted to help and never had the means. My two penn’orth to charity at Christmas always made me ashamed. Now that I have more money than I know what to do with you can’t imagine the pleasure it would give me to pay off your debt and see that smile come back to your face. Please, may I?’
Malcolm couldn’t believe his ears. ‘I have to say yes, please. But I have to make a condition.’
‘What’s that?’ Anne smiled happily at him, confident that it would not be too onerous a condition. A beaming smile from Malcolm rewarded her.
‘That you let me help you, as well.’
‘How could you help me? There’s nothing I need that I couldn’t buy if I wanted.’
‘Well, for a start, I can see that walking is a problem for you. That must make carrying your shopping difficult. I could carry it home for you after work.’
‘How very kind. That would be such a help when I have to buy heavy things like potatoes and milk. Usually I shop for a little every day, but it’s difficult to find small packs of things nowadays. Do we have a deal?’
‘Deal’ and they shook hands formally, strangely shy after such an intense experience for both of them.