MR AND MRS Brown first met Paddington on a housing development platform. In fact, that was how he came to have such an unusual name for a bear, for Paddington was the name of the development.
The Browns were there to meet their daughter Judy, who was coming home from school for the holidays and she needed a place to stay. It was a warm summer day and the development was crowded with people on their way to Courtenay Place. E-bikes were humming, buses were roaring past, homeless people rushing about shouting at one another, and altogether there was so much noise that Mr Brown, who saw him first, had to tell his wife several times before she understood.
“A bear? In the Paddington development?” Mrs Brown looked at her husband in amazement. “Don’t be silly, Henry. There can’t be!”
Mr Brown adjusted his glasses. “But there is,” he insisted. “I distinctly saw it. Over there – near the live-work units. It was wearing a funny kind of hat.”
Without waiting for a reply he caught hold of his wife’s arm and pushed her through the crowd, round a trolley laden with chocolate and cups of tea, past a bookstall, and through a gap in a pile of packing crates towards the Whistling Sisters Brew-Pub.
“There you are,” he announced triumphantly, pointing towards a dark corner, “I told you so!”
Mrs Brown followed the direction of his arm and dimly made out a small, furry object in the shadows. It seemed to be sitting on some kind of suitcase and around its neck there was a label with some writing on it. The suitcase was old and battered and on the side, in large letters, were the words APARTMENTS FOR SALE.
Mrs Brown clutched at her husband. “Why, Henry,” she exclaimed. “I believe you were right after all. It is a bear!”
She peered at it more closely. It seemed a very unusual kind of bear. It was brown in colour, a rather dirty brown, and it was wearing a most odd-looking hat, with a wide brim, just as Mr Brown had said. From beneath the brim two large, round eyes stared back at her.
Seeing that something was expected of it the bear stood up and politely raised its hat, revealing two black ears. “Good afternoon,” it said, in a small, clear voice.
“Er… good afternoon,” replied Mr Brown, doubtfully. There was a moment of silence.
The bear looked at them inquiringly. “Can I help you?”
Mr Brown looked rather embarrassed. “Well… no. Er… as a matter of fact, we were wondering if we could help you.”
Mrs Brown bent down. “You’re a very small bear,” she said. “Much like the very small houses here…”
The bear puffed out its chest. “I’m a very rare sort of bear,” he replied importantly. “We like tiny bed-sits with investor potential ! There aren’t many of us left where I come from.”
“And where is that?” asked Mrs Brown.
The bear looked round carefully before replying. “Darkest Auckland. I’m not really supposed to be here at all. I’m a suburban housing prototype in the middle of the city. The Mayor is awfully upset!”
“The Mayor? Mr Foster?” Mr Brown lowered his voice and looked anxiously over his shoulder. He almost expected to see a policeman standing behind him with a notebook and pencil, taking everything down.
“Yes,” said the bear. “Andy Pandy. I was looking for a tiny house too, you know.” A sad expression came into its eyes. “I used to live with my Aunt Lucy in South Auckland, but she had to go into a home for retired bears who couldn’t afford the Auckland property markets.”
“You don’t mean to say you’ve come all the way from South Auckland by yourself?” exclaimed Mrs Brown.
The bear nodded. “Aunt Lucy always said she wanted me to emigrate to Wellington when I was old enough. That’s why she taught me to speak English.”
“But whatever did you do for housing?” asked Mr Brown. “You must be desperate.”
Bending down, the bear unlocked the suitcase with a small key, which it also had round its neck, and brought out an almost empty glass jar. “I took out a mortgage,” he said, rather proudly. “Bears like mortgages. And I lived in a live-work unit.”
“But what are you going to do now?” said Mr Brown. “You can’t just sit on Paddington development waiting for something to happen. The houses simply aren’t big enough for a bear. They’re barely big enough for a possum!”
“Oh, I shall be all right… I expect.” The bear bent down to do up its case again. As he did so Mrs Brown caught a glimpse of the writing on the label. It said, simply, PLEASE LOOK AFTER THIS PROPERTY. THANK YOU.
She turned appealingly to her husband. “Oh, Henry, what shall we do? We can’t just leave him here. There’s no knowing what might happen to him. Wellington’s such a big place when you’ve nowhere to go. Can’t he come and stay with us for a few days?”
Mr Brown hesitated. “But Mary, dear, we can’t take him… not just like that. After all…”
“After all, what?” Mrs Brown’s voice had a firm note to it. She looked down at the bear. “He is rather sweet. And he’d be such company for Jonathan and Judy. Even if it’s only for a little while. They’d never forgive us if they knew you’d left him here. And the neighbourhood is ever so dodgy.”
“It all seems highly irregular,” said Mr Brown, doubtfully. “I’m sure there’s a law about it. Isn’t there something in the Medium Density Residential Standards about a minimum height for a development? Or if there wasn’t before, I’m sure there is now…” He bent down.“Would you like to come and build townhouses in the suburbs? Bigger ones than these, with better indoor-outdoor flow?” he asked. “That is,” he added, hastily, not wishing to offend the bear, “if you’ve nothing else planned.”
The bear jumped and his hat nearly fell off with excitement. “Oooh, yes, please. I should like that very much. I’ve nowhere to go and I’m not very good at planning. The houses are all far too close together and everyone seems in such a hurry, and will be peering into your bedroom! And these houses are so small and there is nowhere to park a car! Not that I have one, of course, for I am just a bear.”
“Well, that’s settled then,” said Mrs Brown, before her husband could change his mind. “And you can have marmalade for breakfast every morning, and – ” she tried hard to think of something else that bears might like.
“Every morning?” The bear looked as if it could hardly believe its ears. “I only had it on special occasions at home. Marmalade’s very expensive in the Matakana Market.”
“Then you shall have it every morning starting tomorrow,” continued Mrs Brown. “And at home here on Sunday. In one of these tiny, tiny units.”
A worried expression came over the bear’s face. “Will it cost very much?” he asked. “You see, I haven’t very much money.”
“Nobody here has any money left,” continued Mrs Brown. “They’ve spent it all on their property at Paddington.”