Was he simply seeking attention or did he perhaps have something to hide?
“Don’t even ask,” said Walter giving his usual reply to any question that might cause him to make any commitment whatsoever.
Walter hated commitments of any kind and always dodged giving a concise answer about anything: When are you going away? Where are you going? When will you get back? All of those polite conversational enquiries would evoke the same response, “Don’t even ask!”. Enquiries about his day, his demeanour, his health, his family would all produce answers either avoiding commitment or designed to provoke an expression of sympathy for his bad luck.
Walter’s friends would joke between themselves about his behaviour. What could he possibly have to hide? He was very much a run of the mill sort of character and essentially quite boring but harmless enough.
But he was obsessed with secrecy. Was he simply seeking attention or did he perhaps have something to hide?
Rodney remembered the time that Walter spread the word (only to a select few, of course) that he was gravely ill. At first people thought that it was just another of his attention-seeking ruses but the rumours and the symptoms seemed to persist so perhaps Walter really was gravely ill.
Ignoring the advice of genuinely concerned friends, Walter did not go for the surgery his doctors had recommended as urgent but he continued to go about his life as normally as he ever had. Gradually people forgot about his illness and gradually Walter talked of new problems that had arisen.
Once again his friends talked about him in subdued tones. Was he working for some secret agency? Was he a wanted man? Was he the victim of a hyperactive imagination?
One day during a very hot summer, Walter disappeared and the only thing remarkable about that was the fading of the Molton Brown fragrance that he liked to use to counter his heavy perspiration and which irritated some of his friends as he used it so profusely.
There was nothing else different about his mysterious departure: he loved to create an atmosphere of mystery and for him to go away without notice was, for him at least, quite normal.
This time Walter did not come back. People asked about him for a time but eventually, and with no leads to follow (Walter was always changing his phone numbers), he was talked about less frequently and more or less forgotten by his friends who also, over time, became dispersed by time and destiny.
Rodney, too, moved on and went to Yangon as a project manager on some whizz-bang new hotel. The work was hot and hard but Rodney loved Myanmar, its people and it’s food. Some evenings he would go to meet his friends at the bar of the Strand Hotel, a great place to wash out the trials and tribulations of a busy day.
Rodney chatted happily with his newly found friends. Suddenly the words “Don’t even ask!”, uttered lightly in a nearby conversation, made Rodney’s back straighten and freeze.
He dare not look round, the whiff of the Molton Brown was unmistakable.