Herman was a moral man. Every time things didn’t go his way, every time he had to reassess his life, that was the idea that kept him feeling good. No matter what, through his choices and his beliefs, he could safely say he was a moral man. He had a house, that he had worked hard to pay for, a wife and children who never had reason to complain about anything, a respectable job. God had kept him in the right, he never smoked, he was a teetotaler, and he never told lies. And he thanked God every morning for having given him the strength it took to be moral.
Which he did that Tuesday morning, before leaving to work, between polishing his shoes and allowing Hilda to straighten his tie. She had put on her new dress to take the children to their grandmother, but she had grown so fat that no dress could make her look pretty. So he didn’t have any comment on her apparel, although he knew she would like that. He couldn’t afford to lie, even to her. He turned around to walk out the door and said “I’ll be home at six, dear, we’ll have dinner at half past.” Hilda nodded and casually added “Of course.”
The car was a pleasure to drive, he took care that it would always be in perfect shape, because there’s nothing as annoying as a car that won’t start. The way to work was so familiar that he never looked at the sidewalks or the billboards, but kept his eyes fixed on the car right in front until time came to turn right and park on the small street that led to his office. A beggar appeared from nowhere and asked for some spare change, which Herman provided out of his left coat-pocket. That was routine, the beggar was always the same, but he changed the place where he’d bump into Herman, because he knew the tall absorbed man never looked at him. Different places were enough for Herman to think he was giving money to different beggars.
But this time the routine was to change slightly. A hundred meters away, Herman was awaited by a young, blonde hooker that appeared to be friends with the beggar. She slipped her long leg in front of the busy-looking gentleman, as if to trip him, and gently asked “Isn’t it too early for work, honey ? Wouldn’t you rather have some fun ?”. Herman froze and was forced to look at his agressor, while contemplating how little he had to walk to his office. He wanted to give no reply, but his mouth formulated in spite of himself “That’s my usual hour for getting there. I don’t want to be late.”. The girl smiled, obviously amused by the matter-of-fact tone of the man in front of her, and retorted “We wouldn’t want to stop the big business from rolling, us, the little people.” Again, he was stopped in his track, almost against his will, by the curiosity that this answer aroused in him. “Do you need money ?”, he shyly asked her. “Sure”, she said, “but unlike my mate over there, I’m offering something in return.” Herman was far from considering the proposition, but he checked his pocket for some more change and offered it to her. She seemed repulsed by the gesture and took her leg out of his way. That’s when he realised he had been touching that warm thigh with his own leg for more than a minute. He blushed, and walked his way.
He was three minutes late at the office, and, considering his renowned punctuality, the colleague at the next desk tried a joke about the delay. Herman felt compelled to give a reason for it, and in the rush for the most harmless answer, said “There was a traffic jam on the way.” The colleague appeared somewhat incredulous, but gave it a rest.
The day went by without any other events, and Herman came home at six, as expected. The couple turned on the TV to watch the news before dinner. The second piece of the local news was about a big traffic jam on Sparrow Street, that apparently had prevented quite a few people from getting to work in time that morning. Hilda looked at her husband and said “Well, you managed to get there before this happened, right ? Such a weird place for a traffic jam, Sparrow Street, it’s unheard of.” Herman didn’t know what the good reply was. He hadn’t been in the traffic jam, but he had been late for work. He could omit that, which would have been a second lie, or he could reinforce the traffic jam lie that he had already told once. He chose the second way out. “It was barely starting, I was only three minutes late”, he said. Hilda took this for an incentive to start a conversation, for which she had longed for quite a while. So she pressed: “But why would there be a traffic jam on Sparrow Street ? The cars going through there are always the same, there was no digging…” Cornered, Herman offered an: “I don’t know, darling. Perhaps some milkman parked his van too much to the middle of the street, something like that.” Then they both went to dinner.
At nine, he went to his room to read, while Hilda stayed downstairs with something to mend, staring at the TV a bit longer. When she finally came up, she opened his door and told him: “It was like you said, a milkman van.” And she went to bed. Herman raised a surprised eyebrow, and turned out the light.
The next morning, the hooker was waiting for him at his parking spot. Herman protested emphatically: “Look, young lady, I have no business with you, please leave me alone.” But the girl (who apparently had the wrong biological rhythm for her trade) clung to his sleeve and whispered: “Please, I’ve had a rough night, just tell me that I’m attractive.” Herman had to ponder the point of doing that – he might have gotten rid of her for the moment, but she may have wanted something more. And then, there was the question of whether he believed it. He looked at her thoroughly, decided she was pretty, but not attractive to his taste. Then he took another look at her hands with long fingernails clutching his sleeve, and decided to humour her: “You’re an attractive woman, but I’m a busy man.”, he said. She let go of the sleeve instantly, and smiled. Herman felt an incredible urge to look at her once more before rushing to work, and so he measured her from head to toe. The truth, the stunning truth, was that he had never seen such an attractive woman in his life. He couldn’t lie to himself about this, and it might never happen to him again. He was ecstatic. The girl took his hand, ignoring his almost gaping expression, and led him away from the parking lot, and into her small room at the bottom of some stairs. As in a trance, Herman followed, allowed himself to be undressed while almost tearing her clothes off, and left half an hour later to work, his senses in a blur, his judgment a mess and his tie crooked.
The office was astonished at this incredible delay of the most dedicated employee and so the boss felt it necessary to call Herman into his office and ask him if everything was all right. Still at loss for words, Herman answered softly: “I think so. I’m not feeling too well.”(which was mostly true…). His boss wanted to give him the day off, but Herman insisted that he was fine, and started doing his paperwork. His deskmate sneered at him: “What’s wrong, Herm, are you ill ?”. Herman shrugged and said “Maybe a touch of the flu.” By the time he got home, Herman had a fever and was sneezing every thirty seconds.
Hilda pampered him, made hot tea and mumbled about the absurdity of the weather, now it’s warm, a minute later it’s cold, you never know what to wear, of course such things happen… When she stopped fussing, she asked: “Well, anything exciting in your day apart from getting ill ?”. Herman almost choked with his tea, and realised he hadn’t prepared a reply for that, in fact, he hadn’t even thought about a way to hide his weakness from his wife. The encounter with the girl seemed something so private that it wouldn’t have to affect anybody. So he shrugged the second time that Wednesday and said “No.”.
On Thursday morning, Herman went to work, saw a young, blonde prostitute on the way from his car to his office, wondered what she might be doing there at that time of the day, blew his nose, thanked God once more for being such a moral man, and got in at eight o’clock sharp.