Monty repaired typewriters. He knew all there was to know about repairing typewriters. And about the typewriters themselves. The back room in his north London semi was a private typewriter museum full of Underwoods, Olivettis, and Remingtons. He showed me his collection while his wife made “tch-tch” noises and told him that not everybody was interested in his silly old machines.
“They saved my life,” he said.
I met Monty just after he’d had a stroke. He struggled to find the correct words and his writing was jagged and misspelled. Tears of frustration formed while he strove to get them right but he never gave up. At the beginning of each of our speech therapy sessions he handed me his completed homework from the last one. No matter how much work I’d left, it was all done with bits he added himself. He would have spent hours working on it. Over the weeks his writing became clearer with fewer spelling mistakes and his speech gained clarity although articulating full sentences sometimes remained difficult.
“Why waste time on writing?” his wife asked him. “You could type. You have enough typewriters in that room. Dust collectors!” Monty ignored her comment. He ignored most of her comments.
“You’re wasting your time on him,” she told me. “He never talks. I have to do all the talking in this house. I ask him a question, he doesn’t answer. I have to answer it for him.”
Monty gave me a sideways glance and raised one brow.
But in our sessions he talked. Conversation was therapy and he revelled in it. We talked about the news headlines; we put the world to rights and he often talked about typewriters and those who had used them. He loved words and was gratified that his skill had enabled words to be written. We talked about books, of which he had many. Some had been written on typewriters he had repaired. He shone with pride as he showed me an inscription: “To Monty, without whose help this book would not have been completed.”
“Not many of us left now. Computers!” he said as he closed the book and replaced it on the shelf.
But about himself, he volunteered little.
“Tell me about your life,” I said one wintery afternoon over a warming cup of coffee.
“Ach, nothing much. Grew up in Poland. My uncle taught me to repair typewriters. Came to England in 1946. I got work with an East End tailor for some years. Then I set up my business, the typewriters, and that’s all. I’m just an ordinary man.”
Soon after, on the 27th of January 1995, the news story of the day was the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I mentioned it.
“Ach, I don’t talk about it,” said Monty as he unconsciously touched his arm. Just where the tattoo was imprinted on his forearm.
“I converted looted Russian typewriters into German there. For the Nazis. That saved my life.”
Just an ordinary man.
Lindsay Bamfield recently moved from London to Melbourne. She has written a number of short stories and flash fiction pieces as well as non-fiction articles. She has been published in Hysteria 6 Anthology, Stories for Homes 2, Greenacre Writers Anthology, Mslexia, Writers’ News and Writing Magazine as well as on a number of literary websites.