Did I ever tell you about the time I found an egg in my garden? No, not a bird’s egg. Nothing like that. Much bigger. The size of a watermelon and covered in pale blue spots. Right in the middle of my veggie patch. While I was standing there looking at the egg, wondering where it had come from, and what clumsy critter had trampled all over my tomato plants, there was a knock on my front door.
I wasn’t expecting anyone. It was that dead time between Christmas and New Year and finally I had some peace and quiet to work on my novel. Instead I was distracted and disturbed by that egg. And now an unexpected visitor. I opened the door.
‘Ahem,’ came a gruff voice. ‘Someone called about an egg?’
I looked down and there, standing on my front door mat, was a stout little man in a three-piece suit. Only as high as my knee. Standing there looking up at me, his hands crossed over his round belly.
He cleared his throat again. ‘Erhm…the egg?’
‘Oh!’ I said, startled out of my staring. ‘Um, yes, I do have an egg, as a matter of fact. It’s out the back.’
He followed me through my kitchen and into the garden. ‘Who told you it was here?’ I asked him.
‘Sorry, Madam. I don’t get given that kind of information. Just get told where my next job is.’
He handed me a crisp white business card, with gold lettering.
Poulterkin and Sons
Egg-sitters since 1801
No egg too big or too small
And, sure enough, when I looked up from the card, the little man was climbing up onto the egg and making himself comfortable.
‘So… ‘ I said. My day was getting stranger and stranger. ‘You’re here to sit on that egg…’
‘Until it hatches.’
‘Until it hatches. Of course. How long exactly do you think that will take?’
The little man shrugged. ‘Hard to tell, really.’
‘Right. Well. Are you okay if I get back to work then?’
‘Don’t mind me,’ he said. ‘Just pretend I’m not here.’
But this proved extremely difficult. My studio looks out over the garden, and every time I lifted my eyes from the computer screen, there he was. That little man. Sitting on that big egg in the blazing sun. I sighed, pushed back from my desk and strolled outside.
‘I was thinking of making myself a sandwich and a cup of tea. Would you like something?’
‘Oh, that’s terribly kind of you. I was in such a rush to get here this morning I didn’t have time for breakfast.’
‘Great!’ I said. ‘Ham, cheese and tomato, okay?’
‘Oh,’ he said, reddening. ‘I don’t eat ham. Or cheese. And I’m not very keen on tomatoes, to tell you the truth. Would you happen to have any honey?’
‘Sure. One honey sandwich coming up.’
‘White bread. How do you take your tea?’
‘White with ten.’
He blushed again. ‘I know. I should be cutting back on milk. But I’ve got a long day ahead of me.’
I made the tea and sandwiches and we sat in my garden chatting. Turns out he was a keen gardener. I admitted I’d never had much luck with tomatoes. Put them in every summer but they were always disappointing.
‘So, what’s in there?’ I asked, finally. ‘I mean it’s much too big to be a bird’s egg.’
‘Oh, no, no!’ He chuckled. ‘We leave bird eggs to the birds. They’re perfectly capable mothers.’
‘Well, what then?’
He looked down at his hands. ‘Sorry, dear. Top secret. Part of the job, I’m afraid.’ And he made a gesture like he was zipping up his mouth. ‘Thanks for the tea, though. Now, if you’ll excuse me…’
That afternoon I rearranged my bookshelf and sorted through my filing cabinet. I was far too distracted to work. Every now and then I’d glance out the window of my studio towards the vegetable patch and see the little man perched on the big blue-speckled egg. Occasionally, he’d nod off, but most of the time he just gazed peacefully up into the birch trees. I finished up and wandered outside.
‘I’m going to start thinking about dinner soon,’ I told the little man. ‘I don’t suppose you’d like to come in and join me?’
The little man’s eyes widened. ‘Oh no! I couldn’t leave the egg. Especially now it’s getting cooler.’
‘Can I bring you something then? Some dinner?’
‘Just a cup of tea, would be lovely. Thank you. But can you make them heaped teaspoons this time, please? I like my tea sweet.’
And so it went on. All that night and all the next day. All the next day and the next. The little man sat on the egg. Rain, hail or shine. I took him cups of tea that were so sweet you could almost stand a spoon up in them, but apart from the honey sandwiches, that was all he ate.
I grew to admire that little man, I have to say. I’ve never seen anyone with such patience. And I think he grew rather fond of me, too. When the weekend came around, I was faced with a dilemma. Friends had invited me down to the beach to celebrate New Year’s Eve, but I was loathe to leave him on his own. I knew I wasn’t the greatest company, but I guessed I was better than no one.
‘Go, go. Of course you must,’ he insisted. ‘It’s not healthy for someone your age to stay cooped up all summer with only an old egg-sitter to chat to.’
So, I drove down to the beach. I tried to join in the fun, the conversations, the festivities. The fireworks that year were the biggest they had ever been. But I couldn’t help thinking about the little man and worrying about him all on his own. The next morning, I got up before anyone else was awake. I drove all the way back to the city without stopping. The streets were quiet and litter was strewn everywhere.
‘Hello?’ I called as I unlocked the front door. ‘Hello?’ I strode through my kitchen and out the back door. ‘I’m home.’
But he was gone.
Where he had sat day after day was a small tomato plant, already brimming with tomatoes. When they ripened, everyone said they were the best tomatoes they’d ever tasted. Which was just as well, because all the bushes I’d planted had been squashed flat. And leading out of the veggie patch, up the garden path were the biggest footprints I’d ever seen. Big three-toed footprints that sunk deep into the earth.