Mr Klempsey was probably the most frightening man you would ever want to meet. He would peer at whoever entered his tiny shop through a little space in the counter. He would serve every customer through this space if he could, but the sweet shop was on one side and was more open, and the tobacconist was in this dark little booth.
There was a sinister air that surrounded the shop outside. Inside the sinister feel was oppressive. It was so heavy it was dense. It could be touched.
Mr Klempsey had a serious distrust of children. When I was little, I’d walk into the shop after my Mum and Dad and he’d be there, glaring at me through the square. The door to the shop had one of those bells at the top when the door was opened, but Mr Klempsey didn’t need it. He knew when anyone was approaching the shop. I think he used the bell just to let his victims – I mean customers – know they were in his shop.
He’d never say please when asking for your money. He’d never say thank you when you’d hand it to him. And woe betide you if you dared to take any bottles back to claim back the deposit on them.
(For the benefit of any younger readers, we used to be able to get some money back when we returned bottles to where we bought them – or anywhere that sold that particular brand. I don’t know if this practice continues to this day, if it does you’d probably know all about what I’ve just explained. Never mind. I’ll make myself sound even older anyway… I’m five hundred and one now, you know!)
One fateful afternoon, I was asked to take some bottles back. It must have been a Thursday, as it was always half day closing on a Thursday, but Mr Klempsey never closed. Needless to say, he was the only shop open for what seemed miles around. Why I had to take the bottles back that particular afternoon, I have no idea, but I was given the task to do, so I did it.
I walked the longest way round to get to the shop. The weight of the bottles dragging me down – I had about ten to carry. Glass can get heavy, you know… especially after a twelve mile walk up and down the avenues and alleyways with them.
Resigned, I wearily arrived at the shop door. The bottles weighed even more now due to the feeling of oppression that came from the shop. I juggled the carrier bags about a little, so I could turn the handle on the door – and opened it.
The bell above jingled and clanked.
Mr Klempsey was sat behind the other counter – not in the little hideaway. I shuffled over to the counter, and placed each glass bottle on the counter in turn from the carrier bags. As quietly as a mouse, I asked if I could have the money back on them.
Mr Klempsey counted the number of bottles, opened his till – I can remember it having a wind up handle on the side, and the figures used to pop up on top. It was always old money, so I never knew the price of anything. I can’t remember what the figures were on this day’s display. He gave me £1.50 – I think it was 15p a returned bottle.
I said “Thank you” to him, still very quiet like, and he smiled. He said “There you go. Don’t spend it all at once”
Mr Klempsey had been nice. He was very pleasant toward me after that day. It was as though he’d been replaced by a different model.
I think I saw a different side to him, other than the grumpy old person staring out from behind a desk. I don’t think he had changed at all though. I think my perception of him had changed, I’d allowed myself to see the person who he really was, rather than my idea of him.
Not long after this, the shop closed. Mr Klempsey had died.
Writing this now has made me wonder if other people had seen the real Mr Klempsey… whether Mr Klempsey had allowed others to see him; and whether others had allowed themselves to see him too.
I don’t know what made me think of this memory tonight, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I need to allow myself to see more of other people I know, and not let my pre-conceptions cloud what it is I actually see of them.
If you’re reading this, Mr Klempsey, thank you. It may be thirty years or so late, but better late than never.