‘On the search for my wife’s perfect birthday present things took a sinister turn..’

It’s Fionnuala’s birthday and a bargain set of ear buds seemed like too good an offer to refuse

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan writes a weekly diary about getting to grips with his new life in rural Tyrone

Ear buds
Ear buds make a perfect but pricey present (Emilija Manevska/Getty Images)

A sense of doom enveloped me a week ago as I remembered Fionnuala’s birthday was on the horizon.

I wasn’t dreading her advancing years or the celebrations; it was my inability to read her mind.

On previous birthdays when I gave her my present, her face would smile through a grimace, and later she would remind me of the many, many times she had said “Foot spa”.

So, I racked my brains to figure out what Fionnuala had hinted at this time. Then, eureka – and I almost yelped with joy.

She had asked a number of times this last while about my ear buds; and I had told her about the subtle EQ and the phone call quality and, best of all, the magical noise cancelling. “No wonder you have them in your lugs all the time.”

I began the hunt. I ruled out cheap and cheerful and settled on a refurbished premium pair. An internet search unearthed several online options but I had been stung before ordering stuff from England, so a well-known social media outfit with its own “shop” was where I spotted a seller in Belfast with an unopened box at a good price.

I pinged him and he responded immediately. Genuine unwanted gift, still available, and yes, he could meet me in the next day or two. John, he was called.

“I have to go to Belfast.”

Fionnuala was bathing Dermot, who splashed me with bubbly water.

“Were you not in Belfast last week?”

I spoofed that I was checking some old documents my ma found and thankfully she never blinked.

My new friend John said if he couldn’t meet me, his son would nip over. “Over where?” I messaged. “Sure I can call to your house.”

He said there was work going on and there would be no-one there so would Sports Direct car park on Boucher Road suit? Look for a Ford Focus.

I thought about this and said that’s fine but if it’s his son, could we negotiate a tenner off the price now? A thumbs up came back and I headed up the road merry, with the cash folded in my pocket.

There was no sign of a Ford Focus in the car park and I was getting a bit concerned when I saw a young fella waving at me with a white box in his hand. I jumped out and went over: he was smartly dressed and said his da was busy so here’s the buds, just give us the cash.

I couldn’t place his accent – Irish with a bit of English – but I didn’t like the feathery weight of the white box.

“I need to see them,” I said and he stared at me.

“Give me the money and you can open the box.”

“No, I’ll open the box and when I see them, I’ll happily pay.”

“No, you have to give me the money first.”

“What if there’s nothing in the box?”

“Then you’ll get your money back.”

“Look, this isn’t deal or no deal.”

“If you want the box just gimme the bloody money, mate.”

I looked at this kid and realised that I was being stiffed. I also knew there was a vehicle nearby with, minimum, his “da” in it, and my heart started to thump.

I had my money gripped tight in my hand and I set the box on the ground and walked to my car. “I don’t want them, thanks.”

“What are you wasting my time for?” The boy’s voice was hard and unpleasant. “My da’s not gonna like this. Are you calling us liars? Eh?”

I was never as relieved to get the car started, and I saw his incensed face shouting on his phone as I sped off. ‘John’ left a barrage of spiteful, threatening messages for me, but I had escaped.

“Happy birthday, darling.”

“Ach, thanks Fabien.”

Fionnuala smiled with a grimace, opening the box. “A foot-spa.”