For a while I had a respectable job in this tiny town in the country surrounded by the farms and expectations of an all-seeing community. I was a younger man then and there were times when the weight of that town’s gaze caused me to look disconsolately down the bitumen road that would one day lead me back to anonymity.
Mostly though I survived by behaving myself and being a model of middle class propriety. Of course, there was always a faint air of disappointment about me in the town; my predecessor had been player and coach of the previous year’s local football side. Just before he left, he led them to their first premiership. But I tried to be what I could; on Sunday afternoon I would go down to the local clubhouse and drink beer with the team after their latest game. One day, a stocky little farmer who played fullback and was famous for his niggling ability to unsettle opponents with a quick jab to the ribs when the umpire was otherwise engaged, said to me in a voice dripping with innuendo and beer, “So what have you been doin’ today?” For a moment I flirted with a lie but then I heard myself saying quite truthfully, “Well, I made a beautiful chocolate cake this morning but I ran out of icing sugar.” Then I looked nervously around to see where the umpires were.
A year passed and I managed to keep my respectability in tact and even made some friends. I knew that this delicate detente would be sorely tested, however, when my girlfriend arrived in the New Year to live with me. Living in sin was not a passport to social acceptance in this little town of 11 houses and a wheat bin. I decided to tell my regional manager so that, when the complaints came in, he at least would be prepared.
In December, I had my chance to discuss it with him in his office. He was a serious man with impenetrable eyes. As I began to explain my dilemma, it suddenly struck me that I may have misjudged his willingness to be complicit in my tawdry living arrangements. But he heard me out and then assured me that de facto relationships were recognised by law and that he was sure that my reputation in the community was such as to sustain me through this perceived lapse of judgement.
I stood up relieved and grateful. I thanked him for his understanding and support. “It was my pleasure,” he smiled and then he bent back to some papers he was signing. I walked towards the door and then I heard him say, “There is one thing though.”
I turned back, trying to think of which angle of the problem I had not considered. “Yes?” I asked.
My boss paused and then, looking me directly in the eyes, said, “ You will be sleeping in different rooms, I presume.”