As soon as he had taken his seat on the bus the next morning, Tom turned to the sports pages of his newspaper, hoping to find an article about England=s prospects in the test match against India that was due to start on Boxing Day. He was a keen follower of cricket and wished that the Daily Mirror would provide better coverage of the sport. Being also a creature of set ways, it never occurred to him to by a paper that would better suit his interest.
The two women sitting behind him were talking about their preparations for Christmas.
>And what have you got him for Christmas?= one asked the other. She was one of those people whose voices have a strange carrying capacity. However quietly they whisper, every word can be heard clearly across the room, even if a dozen other people are talking at the same time. There was no way Tom could avoid hearing what she said, although he was not conscious of doing so. It was only as he was descending from the bus that the question worked its way to the front of his mind.
He stood there as the bus pulled away.
>What have you got him for Christmas?=
If he was having his Christmas dinner with Irena, would she expect him to buy her a present? He would be taking the wine, but that was really no more than sharing the expense of the meal. Should he buy a present as well?
Although there were no students at the University in these days before the holiday, a few of the academic staff were in their offices and the caretakers used the time to carry out work that could not easily be done during term time. Tom=s mind, however, was not on his work that morning. He had decided that he should buy a present for Irena, but that only led to another question: what should that present be? The last Christmas present Tom had bought had been for his mother, and she had died nearly six years earlier. What had he used to buy her? But that wouldn=t do. Irena, a woman of his own age, wouldn=t want the same sort of things that his mother, an elderly lady, had liked. Fortunately there was a supermarket only a few hundred yards along the road and he could easily go there during his dinner break. Browsing their shelves would be less embarrassing than going into any other shop where he would be expected to have already made a decision and say just what he wanted.
Being just three days before Christmas, it was hardly surprising that the store was busy and Tom found himself bustled and jostled as he meandered through the aisles. He dithered in the toiletries section, tossing up between hand cream and bath foam. He couldn=t remember ever noticing whether Irena used scent of any sort, let alone what sort of perfume it might be. Lily of the valley? Lavender? Perhaps it would be safer to buy something completely different.
He wandered into the confectionery aisle. Chocolates were always a safe bet. But did she prefer plain chocolate or milk? Or perhaps this new-fangled white chocolate that he=d never tried? Oh well, maybe not chocolate either.
In the end he settled for a glass vase, the most ornate glass vase on the shelf, which he thought would be perfect for an exotic person like Irena.
Tom made his way to the wine section. He stood gazing in disbelief at the astonishingly wide selection B and this was just the white wine. How on earth was he supposed to know which was sweet and which dry? Then he noticed that the price tickets also gave a little information about the wine, whether it was sweet, medium or dry, and which foods it went with. This didn=t help a great deal as he assumed that different varieties had different tastes and he didn=t know which would suit his own palate, let alone Irena=s. Eventually, he spotted a label with a name which rang a bell: Blue Nun seemed vaguely familiar. He quite liked the look of the label, and the bottle was a nice shape as well. That would do. But should he buy just one bottle, or would two be better? Tom drank an occasional pint of bitter at the Potter=s or while watching cricket at the County Ground, but he had no idea how much wine one drank with a meal. Deciding to play it safe, he picked up two bottles.
He was standing in the checkout queue when he noticed that the woman in front of him had a roll of wrapping paper in her basket. Sighing in resignation, he left the queue and went in search of paper with which to wrap Irena=s present.