”Ok Fred,” Rob said. “Are you trying to kill me?”

”What do you mean?” I said. “Are you playing the ‘old’ card again?”

Rob was my storeman, he was 60 years old but as strong as most 20 years old youngsters I knew. He went through a lot that bloke, just declared bankrupt, divorce dispute, and most recently health issues.

Well, to be fair, it’s not like he was taking care of his health, not with a bottle of wine every night! Sometimes I wondered how he managed to drive to the office every morning. Although it kind of explained those weird mornings where he seemed to come super early. He must have stayed the night!

Anyway, Rob was a good storeman. He was the only one who volunteered to do extra work when things went a bit quiet. He fixed the water pipe, washed the truck, and even offered to pull the weeds. He was such a humble old man.

“Fred, did you remember to order the white rags?”, I could hear Rob yelling from the warehouse.

”I did order them ..” I said, not too sure of myself.

”Well, where are they?”

”They’re not there?”

”No boss, they’re not.”

”Whatss .. ok I’ll call them now.”

Due to my million things to do I too forgot to do things. But fret not, my supplier was not far, and they were very efficient. The fact that I bought a lot from them probably contributed a little to the excellent service.

Anyhow, the white rags arrived in the afternoon (I told you they were fast). Rob looked rather excited for some reason. These rags must have grown on him. The destiny of a rags worker, sooner or later they would fall in love with those bulky rags.

The month went quickly and suddenly Christmas was just around the corner. It started to feel a lot like Christmas – it was just like the song. We had this tradition in the office to drink the day before Christmas. It wasn’t for us to get drunk or anything, or so we thought. Rob really got into it though, he bought a carton of beers for us to enjoy. Christmas present, he said. They were all for us, he said. He drank most of them, as expected.

***

”Fred, guess who got a new job?” Rob smiled at me in the morning.

”Who?” I asked.

”Me!” he replied.

And that’s how Rob broke the news of his resignation. He could not take the physical demand of the job anymore. He was getting older, and having health issues did not help either. Rob decided to get an easier job minding a hardware store near his place.

My wife and I went to visit him a few times at his new job. He looked good albeit rather bored. Well, at least he didn’t have to unload a truckload of rags there.

Rob returned the favour and came over a few times to my office. He didn’t get any younger though, and his liver problem got worse. I told him many times to stop drinking but you cannot teach an old dog a new trick.

He disappeared after a few months. His mobile was disconnected. We tried checking in at his workplace but to no avail. He vanished, God knows where.

***

”Ahh, there he is,” Rob suddenly appeared on the window.

”Whoa, look who’s here,” I said.

”Long time no see, boss,” he said to me.

”Yes, it’s been a while. How have you been?”

”Not very good, Fred.”

“What happened?”

”My liver stopped functioning, well almost,” Rob said slowly. “Doctor gave me a few months.”

”No … “ I couldn’t believe what I heard.

”It’s true,” Rob said. “I should’ve stopped .. drinking.”

”This is not happening.”

”It is, Fred.”

“Rob, what are you doing here?”

”What do you mean? I wanted to see you.”

”Yeah, I figured that out,” I said. “But why are you really here?”

”Fred, boss, I just wanted to see you.”

”I believe you, Rob,” I said. “Come, sit and I’ll make you some tea.”

We had a good long chat about work, life, family, and everything else. Rob said he missed working in the warehouse. He missed his babies, he said, referring to the bundles of rags he used to carry around.

That night I went to bed thinking I should’ve said something to Rob. Something along the line of ‘goodbye’. I didn’t because I was worried that it would offend him.

***

There was no news from Rob for the next few months. I was back to the usual hectic days at work, getting some daily physical workout in the warehouse. It was getting hot too with summer fast approaching.

”Hi, is this Fredy?” a lady called my mobile.

”Yes, it is,” I said.

”Oh .. this is Gillian, my husband Rob used to work for you.”

”Ahh yes, how is Rob doing?”

”Fred,” Gillian said slowly.

”Oh .. no .. don’t say it,” I said to her.

”He passed away, Fred,” she said. “He wanted me to tell you something.”

“Ok, I’m listening,” I said, trying to calm myself down.

“He said thank you for listening to him when he came last time,” Gillian whispered. “Thank you for not bringing up anything about him dying.”

”He also said that the last conversation gave him the peace he needed to accept his fate.” Gillian continued. “He said he felt his heart was light and he was ready.”

”Fred, Rob passed away the day after he met you.” Gillian finally said.

***

I will always remember that. That phone call. That moment.

I thought he came to say goodbye .. and I was right, but I’m glad I didn’t say anything.

Because I realised now.

He came to see me.

 

“Sometimes the best present you can give someone is to be present.”

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