Harry Rose had a very distinct character. It wouldn’t take long for anyone meeting him for the first time to come to this conclusion. I certainly knew this to be true the minute I met him. I also instinctively knew that we were destined to get along together. From the moment his lips parted revealing a single gold tooth, I warmed to him. It looked so incongruous, dwarfing as it did all his other teeth and dominating the centre of his top jaw. But it was obvious too that Harry was extremely proud of it.
Harry was short, around 5 feet 4 inches in his platform cowboy boots. But he acted as though he was tall. And there was no denying his ever-ready smile, his generous spirit and his ever present eagerness to please. Harry had acquired the attributes in life to be everyone’s best friend. His less endearing qualities, if he had any, included an awe-inspiring facility for recalling some of the most intimate details of his sexual habits and boasting about them to whoever cared to listen. His other less endearing trait was to constantly flex his custom-built biceps, lavishly illustrated by an assortment of cheaply tattooed love hearts and waving his glossily manicured fingers around despite the fact that his broad mechanic’s hands were usually encrusted with a congealed mixture of grease, nicotine, Swarfega and engine oil.
I soon found out that it didn’t take much to make Harry happy. As long as people around him were happy then he, too, was cheerful. He had also acquired – though I’m sure more by accident than design – the enviable gift of being able to say just the right things to the right people at the right time – the things people most wanted to hear.
And so Harry arrived at my flat one autumn afternoon looking about as immaculate as he ever could be, kitted out in a pair of form-hugging blue jeans, a crisp white T shirt, platform cowboy boots which, in spite of their venerable age, had been buffed to a high polish and his favourite sky blue leather bomber jacket.
“Uh, uh, it’s me, ‘Arry Rose…” he stuttered through my intercom, “I’ve, er, come to pick up the stuff for Bosnia, right?”
“Oh, thanks Harry, I’ll be right out, “ I said, “Hang on a second.”
And through the glass doors I could make out the slightly comical, slightly distorted image of Harry standing on my doorstep, nonchalantly leaning up against the door jamb, a post both shy and cocky, squinting against the late afternoon sun, a freshly-lit cigarette dangling from his manicured fingers. As I approached I could see him casually flicking the ash over the railings into the basement below. His studied posture and his expression of intense concentration reminded me of a diminuitive caricature of Marlon Brando in one of his early screen roles. That immortal moment when the actor appears on the verandah of Anna Magnani’s Mississippi shop, a drifter guitarist in search of a job, casually wearing a tight-fitting snakeskin jacket, in Tennessee William’s excellent and unforgettable melodrama, “The Fugitive Kind.”
I opened the door and there on the threshold was the real Harry. It didn’t take me an instant to realize that this was West Kensington, not southern Mississippi. I was no earthy Anna Magnani simmering with volcanic passion. And there was no way on earth Harry, in either looks or stature, could ever be mistaken for the brooding, young Marlon Brando, oozing sexuality and smoldering anger. Nor could Harry’s much loved, much worn sky blue leather bomber jacket be compared in any way to the drifter’s figure-hugging snakeskin jacket.
I was about to let Harry in on my cinematic daydream but then he drew himself up to his full height on his platform heels, gripped my hand, grinned from ear to ear, his single gold tooth proudly sparkling in the evening sun and the moment and the image evaporated. Later I thought perhaps I should have told him. It would almost certainly have been the first and the last time in Harry Rose’s life he had been compared to the incomparable Marlon Brando! Although, knowing Harry as I do now, he would have thought it quite natural that a woman would mistake him for one of the twentieth century’s most enduring sex symbols.
Behind Harry stood an aging Dodge van, brightly hand-painted in blue and white. This, then, was Harry’s trusted vehicle which would bring him and my supplies to Bosnia. I fervently hoped it would drive more smoothly than its shabby exterior suggested.
“OK, let’s go to work then,” I said, shaking his hand. “I hope you’re prepared…There’s an awful lot of stuff.”
“Don’t you worry about me!” Harry flexed his bulging biceps. “These have never let me down yet!”
It took us over two hours to haul the supplies out of my flat and into the rear of the aging Dodge as Harry regaled me with intimate details of his sexual escapades. Halfway through the operation it occurred to me to enlist the help of several bemused onlookers, my neighbours and the resident porter, who were standing around curiously watching our activities and giggling at Harry’s verbal barrage of erotic anecdotes. I asked them to form an assembly line between my flat and the Dodge and, hastily barking out orders like a sergeant major, I managed to speed up the process considerably.
When, finally, everything was neatly stacked into the back of the truck, when the helpers had drifted away still chuckling from the memories of Harry’s sexual fantasies and when the Dodge was securely padlocked, I invited Harry in for some refreshment before he set off on the road.
It’s in Harry’s nature to be garrulous, more so, I discovered, after a glass or two of his favourite Merlot. He couldn’t help marveling at the sheer amount of supplies I had not only managed to collect for charity but had been able to squeeze inside my somewhat cramped flat.
He kept repeating, “It’s a bloody miracle, I can’t believe it, Caroline, ‘onest. I just can’t believe it ‘ow much you got in’ere!” He shook his head in disbelief, “And you collected it all in four weeks? Must be some of bloody miracle!”
He paused briefly, swallowing the last dregs of his Merlot, “Now did I tell you about Maria, this Slovakian girl I met last week?”
I shook my head. “You mentioned Anna and the tennis racquet, I think it was. And Lizzie and Angela in the shower. And Tracey and her twin sister in the garage..But Maria, no, Harry, I don’t think you’ve mentioned her.”
Harry grinned, flashing his gold tooth. “Ah, the beauteous Maria,” he sighed. “Shall I tell you what ‘er and me did in the basement of ‘er building right beside the central ‘eating boiler?”
“No Harry, I think not!” I laughed, “I am sure I can hazard a guess!”
Harry looked distinctly disappointed. “Well, another time then, huh?”
“Another time,” I agreed.
“Well, in that case I’d better be off now!” He rose from the sofa, smoothed down his thigh-hugging jeans, pulled on his sky blue leather bomber jacket and reached out to shake my hand again.
“Good to meet you, Caroline.” He flashed his gold tooth and teetered towards the door on his platform cowboy boots. “Rest assured all these goods will go to the poor little kiddies in Bosnia!”
Impulsively I leant towards him and kissed his cheek. “I know they will, Harry,” I said. “I know they will.”
It’s hard to believe what an appalling judge of character I was. For, alas, Harry Rose did, after all, turn out to be like the drifter guitarist Marlon Brando – one of the fugitive kind.
For that was the last I ever saw of Harry Rose, his sparkling gold tooth, his platform cowboy boots, his sky blue leather bomber jacket, his lavishly illustrated biceps, his manicured fingernails, his aging handpainted blue and white Dodge and , most sadly of all, the charity supplies for the refugee children of Bosnia.