The man walked down the narrow lane with his heart heavy on his chest.
He was heading towards Mr Langley’s little shop.
Mr Langley’s shop was located on a lane that looked towards the sea. It was quite a peculiar store: most people in the small town knew about it and according to everyone, Mr Langley’s place had always been there. However, no one could recall when it first opened and nobody knew which kind of items it sold. It was common opinion that Mr Langley’s had to be some sort of “rare things” shop but there was nothing on display on its windows and nothing was visible from the outside. Also, nobody had ever seen Mr Langley himself getting in or out of his shop.
It was said that the battered brass door knob would twist open only to certain people. Few times during a day, customers would enter it but they always seemed to leave it empty handed.
The man felt the tight grip of anxiety as he approached the shop’s door. He was strongly hoping it would open: he wrapped his fingers around the brass, closed his eyes and twisted as firmly as he could.
The door creaked and opened.
“Mr Langley?”, he called trying to sound cheerful while his faltering voice betrayed him.
“I..uhm..could I…erm..come in?”, he continued, not too convinced.
The man heard the faint sound of a gramophone softly playing a very old jazz record. The light inside the shop was dim and it didn’t look like there were any windows: few lampshades sparingly placed were the only source of light. Despite this fact, the air wasn’t stale but it rather smelt of fresh flowers. A beautiful vase of artfully arranged flowers was on top of a remotely placed desk. The shop was bigger than one could have guessed from the narrow door on the street.
The man was in fact puzzled as the size of the building could not physically accommodate such a space.
He took a look around and gaped: unusual items were neatly kept in glass jars, shelves and display cabinets.
“Mr Walker…please, come in..”, a voice finally replied.
The man’s heart pounded on his chest: as he never met Mr Langley before, the man could not possibly know his name.
“M-M-Mister Langley!” he stuttered, faking enthusiasm. His eyes were still taking furtive glances at the items all around him.
Mr Langley was sitting on a big chair, a pipe dangling from his mouth, hands resting on a sheet of paper where a fountain pen just finished tracing its path.
The man was old but his eyes were surprisingly young and dazzling. It seemed that his whole face was relying solely on them to convey all emotions.
“Unless you’d like to continue to browse my shop, make yourself comfortable, have a sit”, Mr Langley said pointing at the space in front of his desk.
The man looked around. He would have sworn there were no chairs besides Mr Langley’s, but suddenly he noticed it. He timidly sat, holding his hat on his hands. The chair was so big that he felt he was shrinking on it.
“So”, Mr Langley began, “Are you here to sell, to buy or to trade?”. His eyes sparkled.
The man was befuddled by the question.
“Oh..erm…I thought you..uhm..I looked around and you have so many beautiful things I’d like to buy..”, he replied.
“Hmmm..I certainly have many things around my shop and you see, I look after them and I am always sad to see them go unless they find a happy home. I generally prefer to negotiate”, he said taking a drag from his pipe.
“Have you found something of interest?”, he enquired with a glint of curiosity in his eyes.
The man had his gaze fixed upon Mr Langley but his mind was drawing a blank and his tongue was tangled.
Mr Langley continued: “Money is never the most important thing to me but it very often seems to be the main concern of those who enter my shop. Money and various other things. At my old age, I’ve acknowledged I don’t care much for any of those. Just things of beauty. Everything I have in here is extremely beautiful to me and truly unique, like these flowers, for instance” he said gesturing towards the vase, “they are imperishable. Quite an extraordinary thing, wouldn’t you say, Mr Walker?”.
The man was mesmerised. He felt snugly wrapped in the wonderful flower smell, the soft shade of the few lamps, the music playing and the surrounding, unusual objects. Everything was turning beautiful in his eyes.
“I know that you are very worried with money at the moment, and your wife is seriously ill”, Mr Langley continued.
The man was no longer surprised Mr Langley knew everything about him. His nervousness, along with his distress and despair had vanished, melted by the old man’s voice.
“So, let’s see if we could reach an agreement. I am sure you have something beautiful to sell”, Mr Langley continued slightly leaning over his desk, a light of vivid interest scintillating in his eyes.
The man finally spoke, no more uncertainty in his voice: “I do, Mr Langley”.
Mr Langley grinned: “I was sure of that. Anybody who enters my shop certainly has something beautiful to sell. And by the way, you can call me Old Nick”, he added, relaxing on his chair and puffing smoke from his pipe.
The man’s chest was no longer feeling heavy.
Old Nick rose from his chair with a bunch of golden keys, opened a display cabinet and extracted a tiny, dazzling charm: “You could bring this to your wife: it’s a keepsake”. He put it on the man’s hand and closed his fingers on it.
“Mr Walker, when nothing else is left for me to bargain and for you to offer, I am very keen to get the years you have left”, he offered his hand to the man who gratefully shook it: “Thank you, Old Nick”.
The man walked out of the store in the darkening afternoon. A strong wind was blowing from the sea.
His wife was enchanted by the small charm, she thought it a kind gift from her loving husband.
When the man suddenly died on the following day, crushed by the immense grief, she hung the charm on her necklace as a keepsake.