He is employed by the University in a rather mysterious role.
Clearly he acts as the gardener for the University Botanical Gardens – he is most often to be seen in the grounds with a wheelbarrow or a spade; keeping things in order, trimming hedges or planting bulbs.
But he is also a sort of laboratory assistant for the Botany Department. He can be glimpsed sometimes clearing up petri dishes or flasks by the sink in the prep room, and it seems he also knows how to run the Electron Microscope and the computer that goes with it.
He is perhaps forty years of age, which makes you wonder what he did before this and what sort of career has led him to be spending hours alone cutting grass or tidying pots in the greenhouses.
His looks are striking. Tall and lanky, with longish blond hair and a rugged face, sometimes unshaved. You might cast him as Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, or as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Maybe it’s just that he spends so much time outdoors, it makes him look weather-worn and a bit wild.
He doesn’t speak much. When I’ve come across him – like the time he made me jump by suddenly looming up from behind a wall in a big black waterproof – he’s hardly even acknowledged me, but just turned away and carried on with his task.
Once, after a tree fell in the grounds during a storm, word spread that he had been injured. But when a colleague and I asked after his health a little while after, we were dismissed with a grunt. He was either embarrassed or rude, but either way, it seems he doesn’t have much to say for himself.
This all adds to the mystery.
Could his gardener role be a cover for something more intriguing?
Perhaps he is a fugitive with a secret past, hiding himself away in an obscure manual job to avoid discovery.
Perhaps he is an under-cover government agent, deployed to expose corruption at the top of the University’s administration. That time I saw him talking to an unfamiliar character in a suit, by the delivery gate, he might have been checking in and getting new instructions. (Or he might have been giving an order for fertiliser to the local garden centre salesman.)
He could be a policeman, sent in as advance security for a prestigious event shortly to be held at the Botanical Gardens. Maybe the City Mayor is visiting, or even the Prime Minister! There are conference facilities, and it is quite a pretty location, with the formal gardens and the woodland walks.
Maybe he will draw a gun, one crucial day, and reveal himself to be a hero – the hero who prevents a calamity and saves the day. The Prime Minister will thank him, we will see him on television being knighted by the Queen. He will appear afterwards at a formal reception, transformed in a designer suit and with a charming and glamorous young woman on his arm.
We will look at him from afar and wonder how we could ever have thought he was merely a lowly lab assistant who cleared up after experiments and planted seedlings in the potting sheds. (Or he might shake our hands with an apology and a completely different accent, saying; “Ladies, do forgive my rudeness over the past few weeks, but you do understand, I couldn’t reveal my true identity”.)
Oh, see what fantasies spin themselves around a man with exotic looks and a churlish manner!
Very probably he’s just a gardener.
Very probably he’s there still, an aging recluse, digging weeds in the spring and clearing leaves in the autumn.
Maybe I should visit soon, just to check.