The Disappearing Room

Timothy was not a clever man, but he was hard-working and kind. He had a very good heart, open and sunny and loving. He would have been as happy as the day is long, except that he lived with his mother, who was a mean, selfish woman who never had enough. “I cared for you when you were a child,” she said, several times a day, “and now it’s your turn to take care of me.”

Timothy worked at a big shop that repaired bicycles, working long hours every day. He would get up before it was light and walk to the centre of the town, turn right at the fountain and then go across to the other side of town to work. At the end of the day he walked all the way to the centre of town again, turned left at the fountain and walked the rest of the way home. When he got home, he had to cook his mother’s dinner and do all the washing and ironing, as well as cleaning the house from top to bottom.

His mother took every cent that he earned and only gave him a little each week to do the shopping with. His clothes were old and tatty and he slept in a small, dark room with worn, grey sheets and a pillow as hard as a board, while his mother dressed in the finest clothes and slept in a bed covered in soft, thick quilts. When his mother didn’t like the food he cooked for her, which was most of the time because Timothy was a terrible cook, she beat him with a stick.

One night, after a particularly awful meal of burnt rice and under-cooked parsnips, his mother beat him as usual and said, “I can’t stand this any longer. You’ll have to learn to cook so that I can have decent meals.”

She sent Timothy to a cooking school once a week. Every Tuesday, after a long, tiring day at work, he had to leave work and walk all the way to the cooking school, on the opposite side of the town. He tried to learn what everyone else was doing, but it seemed to be all tricky things like cracking eggs without getting any of the shell into the bowl, and squeezing the juice out of oranges without squirting it in his eyes.

At the end of the cooking class, he set out for home, even more tired and hungry than before. He walked along in the dark, and when he reached the fountain in the centre of the town he turned left as he always did. When he got to his house, he knocked on the door, expecting his mother to let him in. Instead a beautiful young woman opened the door.

Timothy was too surprised to say anything. The young woman bowed and took his hand and led him inside. She knelt and took his shoes off, then she led him to the most beautiful room he had ever seen. There were curtains at the windows, paintings on the walls and pretty rugs on the floor. There was even a vase with flowers on the table.

A fire was blazing in the fireplace, making everything warm and cosy. In the middle of the room was an enormous bed. It had clean, white sheets, and pillows like smooth, fluffy clouds, and a soft, thick quilt in bright colours, red and blue and gold. At the end of the bed, in front of the fireplace, there was a bathtub, full of warm, foaming water.

Timothy took off his clothes and got into the bath. It was wonderful! His mother only let him have the cold, dirty water left over from her own bath for him to wash in, so a bath full of hot water was delightful. When he had soaked long enough and the water was getting cold, he got out and put on a robe that the girl had left for him. On the table beside the bed there was a feast laid out for him: boiled eggs and cabbage, fresh tomatoes, milk, and a nice piece of cheese. Timothy ate as much as he wanted, making sure to leave some for the girl in case this was her supper too. Then he fell into bed and slept like a log.

In the morning, before it was light, the beautiful young woman brought him his clothes, all washed and mended. She bowed low and sent him on his way.

That evening after work, he hurried home, hoping very, very hard that the young woman would be there to open the door to him. When he got to his house, it was just his mother as always. She beat him around the head and said, “I’m hungry! Hurry up and make my dinner!” Timothy looked around, but there was no sign of the beautiful room with its curtains and rugs. It had completely disappeared.

He cooked a terrible meal of fried eggs with bits of eggshell in them and was beaten by his mother as usual. When he got into his cold, hard bed he sighed deeply, thinking what a wonderful dream he had had the night before.

But the next Tuesday, when he went home after his cooking lesson, it happened again. The beautiful young woman opened the door and took him to the comfortable room, and there were fresh peas and pumpkin soup for dinner, and banana fritters for dessert, and the bed was just as soft as before.

And so it went on. Every Tuesday, Timothy slept in comfort with a full stomach, and by the next night it was as if it had all been a dream. The young woman, whose name was Almira, didn’t know Timothy’s language and he didn’t know hers, but gradually they learned to say, ‘Thankyou’, and ‘hello’, to each other. Every time Timothy saw her, he fell more deeply in love with her. Eventually, after several months, he asked her to marry him. Although they had never spoken more than a few words to each other, Almira knew that Timothy was kind and gentle. She had come to love him dearly, so the following Tuesday they were married, and no two people have ever loved each other more.

In time, the cooking lessons ended. Timothy felt he was no better at cooking than he had been at the start. The next Tuesday he went straight home from work instead of going to his cooking class, and he had the most terrible surprise. His mother opened the door. “So you’re home!” she said. “Hurry up and make my dinner, I’m hungry.”

Timothy looked around desperately for his beautiful wife, Almira, but she was gone, and the home of his dreams was gone too. Week after week he hoped and hoped, and week after week his heart cracked with sorrow. Months went by, a whole year, and he never saw Almira again. His mother beat him almost every day because in his despair his cooking was even worse than before. It seemed to him that without Almira, there was nothing left to live for.

One Saturday his mother took him to the market so that he could carry her heavy bags home. He was standing idly outside a shop, dreaming of his beloved Almira, when he heard a voice behind him. He turned to see a young woman, with a baby in her arms.

“Timothy!” she screamed, and fainted.

Timothy rushed to her and caught her in his arms. “Almira! Almira, is it really you?”

It was his beloved wife, and the baby in her arms was Timothy’s own son.

Timothy’s mother came bustling out of the shop, shouting, “Who is this woman? Timothy, get away from her!”

Timothy stood up with his arm around Almira, and said, “This is my wife, and this is my child.” His cheeks were wet with tears of joy. He went home with Almira to the house he had visited every Tuesday night, and they lived as happily as any two people have ever lived. In time they decided to go and live in Almira’s country. Timothy set up his own bicycle repair shop there, and since everyone had bicycles and they all needed repairing from time to time, he made plenty of money, enough for himself and his wife and their six sons. And they lived in peace and prosperity for the rest of their lives.

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