My story: Extraordinary Circumstances
Calling an extraordinary meeting of the residents’ association demanded attention and I’d made sure of their attendance with some minor untruths.
Now I watched them. Their eyes glanced up to the clock; left to the window; down to their wristwatches and ended with a unified shake of the head like some bizarre dance routine. Suppressing a snort, I buried my nose in the paperwork on the table before me, enjoying the tension the delay had created amongst them. If tutting and clock-watching were Olympic sports, then this group hunkering towards the back of the room had serious medal potential. But there’d be no podium for them tonight.
Their customary table overflowed with glasses as they refuelled on Rioja and San Miguel in the upstairs room of our local bar. Outside, lamplights flickered into action, coating their corner of the room in a fitting, but eerie glow.
Last year they’d pounced on me like hungry wolves attacking an intruder and I was voted in as president without even knowing their names, let alone their terms. One chap joked, ‘Hey, this one’s still got his own teeth,’ which resulted in uneasy laughter from the pack. Awkward compliments were not their only tactics. A welcoming party three weeks earlier masqueraded as a slick, fact-finding mission. Days later, white-haired ladies presented me with cakes and biscuits. ‘Gluten-free,’ they chimed in unison.
Such a sweet gesture.
Then, old Arthur (I’d been introduced to him as such) knocked at my door, bearing a brass bicycle bell. Another fact gleaned from the party.
My suspicions multiplied together with the gifts, ranging from veggie casseroles to yet more sugary offerings. Well, there’s friendly, and friendly. My ex-wife had befriended the guy next-door. Now they have two kids, a mortgage and a gas-guzzling Lexus.
The woman never understood me.
Days into my term of office, Ralf, a neighbour not of their clan, delighted in informing me that I was not the first to be seduced by their generosity. He implied these random acts of kindness came at a price. My subservience.
Perhaps he was resentful of their camaraderie.
Soon after, a portly man, grey hair fringing his bald head that brought to mind my auntie’s lace doilies, introduced himself as Ron, the book-keeper.
‘I’ve got the accounts sorted. If you’d just sign these cheques…’ he said, thrusting several blank cheques and a silver-nibbed fountain pen at my right hand.
‘Sundries,’ he said, in answer to my unasked question. ‘Won’t have to bother you over trivial stuff then.’ It was a remark delivered by a sergeant-major on drill, communicating orders not to be refused.
Purposely, I took the pen from him with my left hand and signed the cheques with a flourish. The hairs feathered on my arms as I caught sight of his icy glare.
I doubted we’d be friends.
Getting into the inner sanctum of this group proved impossible. Every time I called for a meeting, they’d find some excuse. ‘Not this weekend, we’re parachuting,’ or ‘Can you make it after our jet-ski challenge?’ These pensioners were living life to the full, ticking off goals from their bucket lists. Who was I to interrupt their “joie de vivre”?
But months passed and still I had no idea of how the community accounts operated. I contacted Monica, the community’s Lilliputian legal advisor.
‘Yay!’ she squealed, pulling me into a vice-like hug. ‘At last, a Gulliver to stand up to those silver-haired bullies.’
I towered her by a mere five inches, but as she explained how the community showed clear signs of neglect in spite of vast overspending, I felt empowered to act.
But, what could I do? Their constant excuses to avoid a meeting left me floundering in the deep end of our empty-and-waiting-to-be-re-grouted swimming pool.
Their repeated rejection of his ideas and exclusion tactics saw him labelled a trouble-maker. But he agreed to be my fall guy.
Whilst I appeared to maintain a neutral stance as he pushed for an investigation, together with Monica, we forced Ron to reveal the true accounts. After much finger-pointing and name-calling – mainly at Ralf’s expense – I finally got my hands on that precious information, and the contents only validated my earlier doubts.
A throbbing headache exploded like fireworks across my temples when I read how the community bank account had been plundered: from a healthy high of twelve thousand euros to a miserly eight hundred now.
Where had the money gone? The same question was soon asked of Ron.
With no receipts to explain the outgoing payments, we were forced to scrutinise the figures further and a disturbing pattern soon surfaced. The dates matched those of certain spectacular activities that Ron and his merry posse had bragged about. I recalled having been impressed by their antics, that was until I realised where the money had come from.
With Monica’s help, I cancelled the outstanding unused cheques and called an extraordinary meeting. Following Ron’s subsequent disappearance, I convinced the rest of the group to attend, assuring them there were no allegations directed at them. Indignant huffs and cries of, ‘It was all Ron’s doing anyway,’ came as no surprise.
The other residents took their seats and the air in the room grew thick with voices. The committee shrank into their well-worn seats as the newcomers drowned out their mutterings with good-humoured banter. It promised to be a lively affair.
A strange blue light invaded the room and below us a commotion could be heard before heavy footsteps pounded the stairs. These late arrivals formed a blockade across the single exit, only allowing the diminutive Monica to squeeze through.
‘ Over there, Officers.’ She waved her manicured hand at the corner table where my inebriated neighbours glowered, open-mouthed. The policemen slapped the cuffs on and guided them outside to the waiting black van. Inside I recognised Ron’s bald dome.
Monica winked at me, acknowledging her own personal triumph.
‘Now, Mr. President,’ she said, ‘We have a community to rebuild.’