By Angela Gallagher
REGINALD didn’t like the name Reginald, had never liked it. He was named after his grandfather, Adolphus Reginald, so it could have been worse. Even so, the name was a burden he’d carried across his shoulders like a drenched woollen coat all his days. It wasn’t a name that promised much and he’d always felt locked into a certain image. A Reginald was not someone people took seriously or looked up to. He was not someone people wanted to hang out with. A Reginald was not interesting, glamorous or daring. And so his character had been set from the start. He slipped into it quietly, without fuss, though he’d like to have rebelled. But Reginalds didn’t do that.
Everyone called him Reg, of course, but that was even worse: it conjured up 1960s workmen in oily overalls, a fag behind the ear and a cavalier attitude to health and safety. It wasn’t very 21st century. During his early twenties he’d toyed with being a Reggie but that just seemed too far the other way – much too cool; so cool he wasn’t comfortable with it. And besides his family kept asking him why he was calling himself after a Jamaican music genre, before collapsing in tears of laughter.
Reginald passed into middle age far too soon, as was expected of him, somewhere in his mid thirties. It was like admitting defeat but it was also comfortable and safe. Home from work to tea and the telly five nights a week. Sliding into slippers, climbing into crisp pyjamas too early in the evening. It was what Reginalds did, so he complied. Off to bed at a sensible time, where he read of swashbuckling adventures, heroes and villains, spies and counter-spies, maverick policemen and reckless detectives. Of love and romance, chivalry and derring-do.
There was always a sigh as he turned the light off. If only his parents had called him Blaise or Clarke, his life could have been so different.
He’d never been in love. His mother always came out with the initially-hopeful “there’s a crow for every crow” before delivering the crushing “though some crows get shot”. He wasn’t sure he even believed the first part; why would anyone love someone as boring as him.
Then, one day, at the insurance company he worked at, they had a temp. The usual admin assistant, Sandra, was off, following a photocopier-related injury, so the agency were sending Gladys. Reginald knew all about Gladyses: they were approaching retirement, had grey, permed hair and sensible handbags and belonged to the Townswomen’s Guild. So he was somewhat startled to be presented with a woman in her mid-twenties with scarlet hair and a joyous sense of enthusiasm – even, it seemed for insurance. One of the younger, and long-since-bored-by-his-work colleagues was clearly amused by this. What could she possibly find so interesting? “But I’ve never worked in insurance before – it’s all new”. And indeed, she lapped it all up.
One busy lunch-time Gladys asked if she could take the only remaining seat next to Reginald. She had grabbed a tepid and weak cuppa from the machine. “You should bring your own in,” Reginald said, “That stuff is awful”. He offered her some of his. “What do you like?” He opened up his tea box full of Lapsang-Souchong, Earl Grey, Assam, Darjeeling. Gladys’s eyes widened. “I never knew there were so many! How do I choose?” So Reginald began to tell her about tea. He spoke of his beloved teas in the language of the stories he read, injecting his descriptions with romance and poetry that surprised even him. How Assam was rich and malty, its leaves grown on the banks of the Brahmaputra River; about Darjeeling – the rarest of black teas with its different tastes – first flush light and flowery, while second flush was fruitier and more rounded. He told her how Lapsang-Souchong was smoked over pinewood fires in the Wuyi region of China. Gladys was delighted to enter a whole new world she hadn’t known existed and every lunchtime she joined Reginald and continued her tea education by trying a different one. Reginald was a little bemused: she seemed to find him interesting.
When Sandra recovered from her photocopier incident and was due to return to work Reginald found that he was sad at the prospect of not being able to share his passion for tea. No one else at work showed the slightest interest. Tentatively he asked Gladys if she’d like to continue their tea odyssey by meeting occasionally for afternoon tea. She agreed and thereafter they met, increasingly regularly and each time at a different venue, sampling the tea, scones, sandwiches and cakes with a critical eye.
And of course during these meetings they began to talk of other things. Gladys was a collector of new experiences so always had some new adventure to relate: hot air ballooning on a sunny morning; kayaking down the river Severn; ghost walks; the opera; abseiling; street dance classes. He appreciated her vitality – so different from his own personality – and he was a little jealous of it.
One day, during a particularly fine afternoon tea at an upmarket hotel Reginald broached the subject of her name. Why had it not pulled her down like his had done? She seemed genuinely surprised at the question. She loved her name. It had such a sense of joy to it. And she was named after a great-aunt who was very brave and daring and was in the SOE during the war, fighting with the resistance in France. Gladys therefore associated the name with a spirit of adventure. And what about his name? She’d never judged a person by their name, only by how she found them. And how she found him was kind and interesting and funny and sweet. But she didn’t say that last bit to him. Though quietly and shyly she did say: “You know, we were meant to be together: your name means “powerful ruler” and mine means “princess”. We should start a dynasty”. Reginald was a little flummoxed.
A few weeks later, when Gladys had been telling him about her latest new experience Reginald plucked up the courage and said: “I want to try something new with you”. He realised that she inspired him to rise above the expectations of his name. He realised he didn’t want to be left behind by her; he wanted to be swept along with her. And so it was agreed that Gladys would choose and organise something for them both to do and he would just turn up – without knowing what it was to be. He regretted it almost as soon as they’d decided on this plan (he could feel his mouth go dry) but he was determined to see it through.
And that’s how he came to be jumping off a bridge with a bungee cord attached to his ankles: falling, falling, falling; air whizzing past his ears which rang with the whooping of Gladys on the bridge above.
And at that moment he knew he had fallen in another way too.
© Angela Gallagher 2016