A friend of mine asked me to speak to someone he does not really know. This is about concrete and I do know concrete. I also know that he’s doing her a favor by not letting her submit a contract for bidding until she knows a little more about prices and quantities. He can’t do this because, technically, he might cost his employer money but the reality of the situation is no one really wants to see anyone get hurt in the business world, at least not around here. It’s already going to cost her a lot more money than she likes. It’s my chosen responsibility to explain this to her while not giving away who asked me to do it. I am the disinterested party here. I try to be firm but friendly without it seeming like I’m trying to be a little too social. My personal life is a little too much of train wreck right now for me to flirt with any woman much less one who I am doing commerce with.
One thing I’ve noticed about a certain percentage of married women is they’ll get into a conversation with a man and wait a while to let him know she’s married. I think they just want to know he’s interested or that she’s interesting, and then “I” becomes “we”. This woman lets me know up front she’s acting in the interest of her husband and her family. He’s over in Texas buying equipment and she’s here trying to nail down their infrastructure. I like her honesty. She’s plain spoken and she isn’t very happy with the business rules and regulations that are not going to go her way, much less the idea that concrete isn’t cheap or easy. I tell her that I’m a customer, just like herself, and I was cross referencing some prices.
The conversation drifts towards the overall state of her trying to get business licenses and labor laws that sort of thing, and suddenly she opens her phone and shows me photos of a desk she built because she likes to work with wood, and I realize she enjoys talking to me. A ten minute conversation stretches into a conversation that wanders a bit, but it’s friendly not flirtatious. I don’t mention the fact that she’s pretty. I don’t compliment her on her looks at all and it’s not that she’s beautiful, but she’s wearing no make-up, no jewelry, no ornaments of any sort and her hair is pulled back, tight and severe from her face yet this is a face that a man could sit across from at a table and be enthralled. She has lively blue eyes that seem to dance a bit when she smiles.
At the same time this is someone who does her homework so she closes the desk photos on her smart phone and starts looking at concrete prices as I have suggested that we both do. She had let a subcontractor give her quotes but now she knows what I am telling her is the bare bones truth. She’s got a head on her for business and we talk for a while about what she’s done with what she’s got on her place, she and her husband, that is. She catches herself, that one time, and mentions his name, touches base with her reality, and I know I’ve caught her drifting a bit into a world where she’s doing her own thing. This isn’t flirting still, but she’s beginning to think of the things she does as her own and she reels herself back in.
I don’t offer her anything at all about my personal life because it isn’t something I would do anyway. I’m sure as hell not going down that road, even if I thought it was open, and there is nothing in this woman’s voice or demeanor that suggests there might be, but damn, you know what? The thought comes unbidden and unsummoned; this is a hell of a woman.
I’ve photographed enough wildlife to know better than try to enter the scene because it will break the spell. What I admire about this woman, this person, is the life she is describing of working with tools, bringing food from the earth, landscaping and planting trees. She mentions her daughters but doesn’t reveal anything about them to me at all, and caution is a worthy trait in anyone who is a parent. We talk about property taxes and where they are highest and lowest in the area and this is someone who is thorough in her research. There comes a time in a conversation where there is a natural pause and everything that I believe that is right tells me to leave now. I hand her a piece of paper with various prices that have been charged by a couple of companies and I tell her that she cannot tell anyone where she obtained the information. She studies the figures against what she found online and asks me point blank who I am working for. I tell her that while a company protects itself the people who run that company protects the potential customers and in this, I am helping a friend.
“And I owe you what in this?” She asks and the way her eyebrow raises I can tell she isn’t used to people just doing the right thing. The woman takes a step back and offers to hand the paper back to me. She’ll take a loss in money before she sells anything of herself, however small.
“If you see a chance to help someone in this situation then do it and ask for nothing in return, and I will have been repaid.” It’s time to go. It has been time to go for five minutes, maybe longer, and I wonder if she knows it. Businesslike and professional, we shake hands and part ways.
I make the phone call and tell my friend the contract will not be submitted and he sighs. I suspect very strongly that he found himself caught between his job and his ethics. It is a perilous place to be.
It’s an odd form of relief that I feel, a mixed emotion, because I am glad she is married. I don’t want to be attracted to anyone at all right now and any excuse to keep from extending my emotions out past what you read in front of you is a good excuse. I feel burned. I feel burned out. I feel empty inside. But at the same time I am capable of seeing good in people, of seeing good in woman, and this gives me some sort of hope, like a man on a deserted island, who finds a piece of a treasure map, but still has no boat.
No, it isn’t very much at all, but right now, it’s all there is.