Stopping outside ‘Cosmo Carpets’, owned by Wally Herding, I grabbed my clipboard and some new catalogues and walked inside. Wally was a very easy going man and totally informal with his customers. His conversation with them was more like a casual chat and he put everybody at ease.
He was also utterly reliable and gave his customers good service. That’s why they kept coming back to him time after time. I, too, liked to call on him; he always made me a cup of coffee and liked to sit down for a friendly chat. Wally also had been a company representative in his younger days, with a flooring company, and therefore could relate to us in the trade. He never treated me as ‘just a rep’, an attitude I encountered in some other establishments.
‘Hey, Peter,’ he greeted me whilst showing a customer a swatch of carpet samples, ‘Don’t go away. Please wait, if you can. I’ve got something to show you!’
I’ve never minded waiting for Wally. His wife, who worked just as hard as her husband, was also in the shop and she took over.
‘Have a seat, Peter’ she smiled ‘Do you have sugar in your coffee?’ She was well-rounded, very motherly and made the fastest coffee in the West!
‘That’s very kind of you Shirley, but don’t go to too much trouble. I can make it myself - and make you one too!’ I went to the little nook in the large warehouse where the electric jug was waiting for me and went to work.
Soon I was back, sitting with Shirley, sipping coffee and talking about all sorts of things - except flooring. There was no need to; they had been good supporters of mine for many years.
‘Nice suit you are wearing, Peter! You look great in it.’ She gently reached out and fingered the fine fabric.
‘Thanks, Shirley. I just got it made and today is my first day in it.’ I was genuinely proud of my business suit and at the same time, tried to forget its cost.
Half way through my cup of coffee, Wally had finished with his customer. He noted down in his business diary another ‘free-measure-and-quote’ and the agreed day and time.
While the customer rushed out of the shop with purposeful strides and an expectant expression on her face, Wally turned to me, all smiles: ‘How are you, Peter? Hey, great suit you are wearing! Sorry you had to wait but now I have time for you!’
‘Thank you, Wally. May I assist you with anything?’ I had no idea what he wanted me for but was keen to be of help.
‘You’ve always told me how much you love animals, Peter! Now I have something to show you.’ He opened a large wooden crate, a kind of army chest with holes in it, reached inside and pulled out two ferrets. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘say “hello” to Max and Joe,’ and he held them towards me. Like two mink stoles they were hanging down from his hands, their black eyes blinking at me with curiosity, their whiskers twitching and at their bottom end, their little feet were pedalling in the air.
They seem to be straining to get to me. ‘Do they bite?’ I had heard stories that they had a vicious bite and that some people would only handle them with strong leather gloves.
‘What? Max and Joe? Never! Here you are’ and he handed me the pair. They seemed to enjoy this and cuddled up to me and looked at me with pure pleasure. They seemed to be happy in my company. Despite my dignified, expensive business suit, white shirt and tie, I became instantly a babbling fool, stroking them and whispering sweet nothings in their cute little ears. Whilst ferrets do not purr like cats, they do have a way of looking at one and conveying their pleasure at what one was saying: ‘you really mean that?’
Wally, their proud owner, stood there, beaming. ‘I can see that you love animals, Peter.’
‘Yes, I do. You should see me when I call on a veterinary surgery. I never want to leave. Looking at all the “patients” there, I talk to them and I really have to pull myself together to go!’
Wally just remembered something and pointed at the two cute little fellows who were rubbing against my cheeks: ‘They are in season now!’
I had not understood the meaning of this remark and he realised that he had to explain something. ‘What I mean is, right now, they smell a bit!’
‘What do you mean?’ I was looking at the little fuzzy, furry, faces and then the stench hit me! It took my breath away. I looked around for the source of it, not wanting to believe the obvious.
‘Oh, I see!’ Gasping for breath I ripped the stinking, mangy, rags off me and handed them back to Wally. ‘Thank you for showing me Max and Joe, Wally, but I really have to go now. I am already late for my next appointment,’ I lied.
‘I am glad you like them’, Wally called after me. His wife Shirley nodded proudly, the ferrets nodded and winked, and that was the last I saw of them, rushing to my car.
The cloud of stench followed me. It had penetrated my suit, shirt, tie and singlet. Calling off all further appointments, I rushed home. Driving all the way with my window down, I finally reached my place. There, I tore my clothes off me, had a lengthy shower, donned another suit, put the soiled clothes in a plastic bag and dropped them off at a dry-cleaner. Mrs Murphy, our neighbour and source of local gossip, saw me driving home during mid morning and looked definitely disgusted. In her eyes, I was definitely a bludger who did not do an honest day’s work!
From that day forth, whenever Wally phoned me and requested that I call or whenever I happened to enter his warehouse I automatically asked the same worried question: ‘Are there any ferrets?’