26 Fruits


Maxine Gallagher: style of Sebastian Barry

“Well Jaysus it’s been one hell of a year,” he said. Out of the blue. Just like that, like a meerkat suddenly popping out of his burrow.

I watched him as he sat and stroked his beard, slowly, rhythmically, with the deliberation of a man who’s seen a lot of things. And not all of them good things.

Here was me, sat opposite him in the carriage, bringing myself and my few belongings away down the country to see my daughter and her new child. My new granddaughter. Here I was with an empty, contented mind, looking on as the British countryside spread itself out before me, when he started speaking. In that manner. Like I wasn’t there; and yet I suppose I needed to be so that he wasn’t caught talking to himself like an old drunk.

“Is that so?” I offered, unsure whether I was to console him or to congratulate him.

“That’s the truth of it,” he went on. He nodded purposefully in my direction. Knowingly, I would say now looking back on it. The way his eyes shone, I reckoned that on this occasion it was the good things that was on his mind.

“20% increase in sales!” He was raising his voice now and leaning in towards me over the Formica table, fixed tightly to the grey carpet between us.

“Can you believe it? In this environment? With nobody spending anything on anything. With Lidl opening up on Kensington High Street. With our competitors trying to outsmart us at every turn. It’s… It’s… Do you know what it is?” I didn’t. “I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a bloody miracle!”

I could feel tiny flecks of spit landing on my cheeks. I flinched a bit but didn’t want to disturb him from his dramatic outpourings. If a man has something to say, you’d better let him say it or forever be damned by his silence.

I noticed the name on his train ticket, sticking out of a very important looking document. Mr Sean O’Leary it read. What are the chances? In all of England, full to bursting with Englishmen, and there I sat opposite an Irishman. Mind you I suppose we’d gotten into every little nook by now, like that foam in an insulating wall. My eyes aren’t so good these days, least of all when reading upside down, but I managed to make out the words ‘Technology Holdings Annual Report 2009’ on the front. In big white letters. Framed by a field of sunflowers. Very fancy looking I might add.

But no more letting the eyes wander, for Mr O’Leary had more to say.

“And a 10% increase in profits! When all mobile technology companies around us drop like the flies on a randy sailor. Oh pardon me,” he said, suddenly remembering me.

“It was certainly those new products we launched. Certainly,” his eyed narrowed, knowingly again, “If we hadn’t built on the TH123 platform we would have been sunk. Absolutely sunk. But, you know, I think our best move was our continued efforts to connect with the consumer. We invested more than any of our competitors in R&D, marketing, user groups, customer services last year, and it’s been key to our success.”

He was speaking in code to me now, but there was something infectious in his honesty and his passion.

“Our customers see us as, dare I say it, a human being. A real person that helps them do things, communicate in new ways, not a faceless corporate entity that just gives them boxes and wires to confuse their lives even further.

“Yes,” he leaned back into the chair again, his hand returning to smooth his already very smooth looking beard, “yes, a very good year it’s been, and I can honestly say that for once I’m looking forward to the next one. With a growing subscriber base and staff that really care about working at TH, I think it’s going to be another hell of a year.”

He stopped. The steam train had run out of fuel. The music box was unwound. The sound and fury spent. I had enjoyed it. I had no idea at all what he was on about but it certainly helped while away the time. The trolley rolled down the aisle and stopped with a clatter beside our two knees.

“Tea, coffee, snacks?” said the girl, all dressed up like a snooker player.

“Two large whiskies,” I said, “and hold the soda.” Mr O’Leary raised a thick eyebrow in my direction.

“To celebrate our successes,” I said, handing him a glass.

“Cheers!” We both clinked, as well you could with those sad plastic glasses, and I swear he knocked his back quicker than I did. And on we went, clattering away from the city into whatever lay before us.

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