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It wasn’t everyday I breezed by the showroom to check on business. True, the support staff had to be regularly deterred from thoughts of pilfering my profits, but that was not the real reason I came to the office. I came to watch the people that flowed through my world.

I had always marvelled at the shyness of the humans who found their way to my lair. Was there no one who knew exactly what they wanted? Was there no one who had seen it all? Why did everyone have to come in with the same misplaced enthusiasm and pretended courage? Everyday I came with a dim, flickering hope that I’d finally meet the perfect couple, secure in themselves and social status. Everyday I was disappointed, the bitterness of my disappointment fading away along with my expectations and the passage of time.

I didn’t understand the poverty of being just rich. If I were not a direct observer of humans at their most vulnerable, I would not have been able to believe it either. It seemed those with more money had bigger holes in their souls to fill. The way their eyes dimmed as soon I informed them the ring they liked was not actually in our designer collection. The way their eyes brightened when invited to the back room for an exclusive showing. They believed my rating of value so easily and applied the same to themselves without thinking to challenge me even when I was just being plain mischievous with my suggestions. Was I sorry for them? At first, yes. Until I realized this was the way of the world in general. Who was I to complain? I was merely the merchant of soul holes in the shapes of rings. To make profit, I had to trade the holes in their hearts for bigger ones in exchange while they filled my pockets. At the end of the day, both parties to the deal went home happy, at least for a while.

My cynicism for my profession was no greater than in the times when a philandering man walked in looking for a gold band to signify commitment. I never thought Deola the sales assistant would be useful to me as a litmus test of male faithfulness in this way. With her size six figure and impossibly double D bust size, it was a struggle for any man to maintain concentration, even with his fiancée around. When I made her leave her cage on some convenient errand, I could almost see the hesitation come over such men, as though they may have made a mistake bringing the wrong woman to my store of destiny. Well, I made sure to make the rings of such men a close tight fit to prevent them slipping it off on short notice.

Another set of humans I couldn’t stand were those in a hurry to get their rings. How could you come in asking for your ring to be fashioned in three days? My attempts to explain to them that fashioning the tokens of soul ties was a delicate art not to be rushed were met, much to my irritation, by insistent offers of more money for “express” service. Well, I would reluctantly accept the money, and assign them one of the many generics I kept in the store for Philistines like these. I’d even learned to spot such couples the moment they walked in the store, at which point I would feign indifference and act like a window-shopping fiance.

Few customers were more pathetic to me than the ladies who came alone. I could understand a man coming alone with his silly thread string in a loop as an estimate of his lady’s ring finger. At least he was willing to yield to the appeal of surprise to gild over the dire nature of a bond so spiritual as marriage. But what could be the justification of a lady going to a ring shop to get her own engagement ring or wedding band? Sent like a maid to fetch groceries from the store, she would walk in, often with a blank cheque at the back of her mind from her rich suitor, totally oblivious of the awkwardness of her situation. Many times she would turn her nose up at my classic designs in a fruitless attempt to hide her sense of incompleteness and low self esteem. Well, on my part, I’d do my best to strike back at her rich indifferent suitor by laying as heavy a bill on his cheque as I could. Yes, I knew she did not appreciate or commission my knightly activities on her behalf but it was my only way of trying to balance out such an egregious act of violence on the female psyche. My bank account was also in support of my crusades, which made me sleep a little easier at night.

The moments I lived for were the moments of young, crazy, stupid love. A young man, so easily swayed by the emotions of his spouse-to-be, bustling about the store, overwhelming her with choices, brushing away her protests of the price, alert to the intensity of light in her eyes – the catch in her voice, the slump of her shoulders, the pause in her responses – telling her with every movement he made how much he loved her. These, these were the moments I lived for. Perhaps because they reminded me of my brief but happy marriage. Such was I with ‘Becca before the cold hands of death snatched her from me right at the end of our honeymoon in a totally unexpected asthma attack, the first in her life. Sometimes I was twistedly grateful it had ended before any sour moment could soil her precious memory in my heart of hearts.

I remade ‘Becca’s ring after she passed. I felt so guilty for not putting in as much care as I could have to make the original as exquisite as her heart. Still it was not enough. I had to make a ring for a deserving female at least once every quarter to keep the recurring nightmares of that demonic night at bay. This was why I would never have an apprentice. This debt was mine to bear and mine alone. Perhaps one day her carbon copy would walk in the door on the arm of some sensitive soul and I would have the opportunity to serve her again.

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