It was a day of frantic phone calls.

The first one came just after noon. Dad, in hospital 100 km from us, was being discharged. Please come fetch him. Now. Since I was the usual “lock and alarm” person at school, I hastily had to turn over the responsibility of closing to the secretary. I briefly gave her the procedure and then dashed to pick up my husband. We faced an eighty minute drive to the hospital. Now.

By half-past-two we were at the hospital. We dressed Dad, transferred him from bed to wheelchair and with discharge papers in hand headed toward the car. It was a major business getting him into the Land Cruiser, a good metre from ground to seat. After much pulling, pushing and lifting we managed to settle him in the passenger chair and off we drove. It was now close to four in the afternoon.

The next call came as we approached the entrance to the freeway. It was the school secretary, who had closed the office at two-thirty. “I don’t know how it happened,” she started. She sounded stressed. “I was so careful. But Mrs C called me to say that the cat got locked in the building. She was probably sleeping on your chair and I didn’t see her.” I assumed it was the cat sleeping on my executive chair behind my principal’s desk, not Mrs C. “Could you swing by the school on your way back through town and let her out?”

“Don’t worry,” I said in a voice that I hoped sounded soothing, for I was still feeling a bit frazzled. “I’ll take care of it. See you tomorrow.” With a hefty sigh I pushed the red “hang up” button on my phone. At the rate we were going with Dad I would have to go back to the school after we’d settled him into his place at the Home, and that would be after seven. I made a quick decision.

I jabbed the speed-dial icon on my phone that would call the school bursar. He travels back and forth across our little town many times each day. Perhaps he’d be making a trip in the vicinity of the school and could go open. “Yah, not a problem,” he said. “I was headed to the shop anyway, so I’ll be in the neighbourhood. Don’t worry!” I thanked him heartily and hung up, congratulating myself on having solved a problem so easily.

Our bursar is NOT a cat person. He is madly in love with his two Jack Russells and thinks cats are a nuisance at the best of times. I’d adopted this feral cat on behalf of the school when she came to us starving and pregnant. We nursed her to health, found homes for the babies and then had her spayed. She settled into life at the school quite happily, begging from the children at break time, curling up on the secretary’s lap with a motor-boat purr during meetings and greeting staff each morning with a myriad of meows. Although she has a lovely disposition, is gentle with the children (even when they pull her body parts) and has taken out two rats since she’s been with us, she still hasn’t quite won the bursar over. The fact that he heartily agreed to do this for me without a derogatory comment about the idiocy of cats was a major coup. With a satisfied sigh which came from a well-delegated job, I sat back and tried to enjoy the passing scenery.

The next call came about 45 minutes later. It was from the bursar. “Listen, my remote for the street gate is not working. I couldn’t get in so I climbed over the wall.” Our bursar is seventy-four years old. He has been having issues with disequilibrium for the last five years or so. It has been so bad that he cannot even climb on a two-step ladder for fear of having a tumble. Now I had images in my mind of this man trying to climb over a brick wall.

“Oh, no! You should have just left it. Are you okay?”

“Yah, I think so. Climbing up was okay, but I fell a bit coming down.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yah, I fell on the grass. But listen! I opened the office and called for that cat, but there’s no cat in sight.”

“Oh.” Drat! “Well, maybe Mrs C was mistaken. I don’t know how she knew the cat was inside the office anyway. I’m so sorry to send you on a pointless mission. But thanks for checking. Are you going to be okay getting back over the wall?”

“I hope so. Bye.” He hung up.

I stared at my phone. Blast! He didn’t sound happy. All I could think of was this seventy-four year old man trying to climb back over this wall. There was only cement on the other side. I said a prayer under my breath.

Two hours later Dad was in his bed and in the good hands of the nursing staff at the Home. I walked straight to our landline when I finally got home. I punched in the bursar’s number. His wife answered. She assured me that he was okay. He was out in the garage fiddling around. Good sign! I told her to give him my thanks again and wished them both a blessed evening.

The next morning I was my usual first to arrive at school. I pulled into my parking bay and the cat came running. As soon as my feet touched the ground I was greeted with a head rub up and down each of my ankles. I bent to scratch between her ears. “You indirectly caused a lot of trouble yesterday,” I addressed her. She looked at me and seemed to smile. “So you weren’t locked in! Let’s go see what it was all about.”

The minute I got close to the office I saw something that made me laugh aloud. The secretary had forgotten to close the curtain to the small window next to her desk. Immediately I knew what all the fuss had been about. Shaking my head with a smile, I unlocked the office, eager to share the joke with my colleagues when they arrived. I was also glad that the bursar had not been injured in a pointless exercise.

 

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Can you figure out the riddle?

Here’s what happened:

The secretary left at 14:30, locking up the office, but leaving her little curtain open.
At 15:30 when the custodian was leaving the building, she noticed the open curtain.  She didn’t want to disturb me since I was out of town, so she texted Mrs C the following message:  “Office curtain left open.”  Mrs C texted her back: “Okay. Thank you.  I’ll call Mrs H.”  She called the secretary and told her, “Mrs H, N says that the curtain was left open in the office.”  Of course, Mrs C has an accent that is different to Mrs H’s accent, so Mrs H heard, “The kitten is left in the office.” The secretary HATES opening the building for fear of setting off the alarm.  She refuses to go in alone, so she called me.  And the rest you know.  

By the way, the bursar didn’t fall on his way back over the wall, but he did get quite a few interesting looks and comments from the people walking on the pavement.  And he says he “wounded his man pride,” whatever that means.

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