THE HUFFY AGENT
It was already mid morning, just past eleven and Julie was still in bed. The throbbing in her head had awakened her an hour before, but her body was in pain. “Have I fallen down the stairs,” she asked Adam, but it was her drinking. Under the steadily growing pain she managed to recall patches from last night; wine, vodka, Prosecco and a shot of Tekila. How did she manage to get home? That’s right, she fell of her bike.
Adam burst into the room one more time before Julie dragged herself out of bed. They had an appointment in an hour to see a flat in upper Kreuzberg next to Victoria Park.
The estate agent didn’t greet them when they arrived fifteen minutes late. He turned his back, slid the key into the dusty keyhole and led them up to the forth floor. The building had no elevator and the agent could barely conceal his irritation when Julie reached the top.
He wore a coal coloured pointed shoes made of fine leather and a matching jacket with a floppy handkerchief sticking out of his pocket. “What a fop,” she thought. He was slim and well build, taller than her, but shorter than Adam. His teeth were stained from smoking and even the use of excessive perfume couldn’t silence the disturbing smell of fags he carried with him. He never introduced himself and they did not bother to ask. He spoke in German and since Julie knew just how to order her double espresso, she had to wait for Adam to translate.
The flat had two adjoining rooms with a one overlooking the backyard and the other had a balcony with a splendid view over Victoria Park. The building was a few meters away from a small cemetery that could easily be mistaken for another small park if it wasn’t for the cross at the front. The flat ticked all the boxes and the agent noticed the growing interest in their voices. Julie and Adam spoke French between them and the agent wondered around waiting for Adam to say something. His cold blue eyes became softer and his row of stained teeth formed a vague smile.
But he lost interest as soon as he heard that Adam was jobless. What the agent said, Julie did not know for sure, as translation was delayed, but when Adam tried to interpret the conversation, his voice was trembling with outrage. The softness in the agent’s face was replaced with impatience. Adam felt the urge to defend himself, but the agent kept shaking his head and talked along with him.
“What’s the problem?” Julie asked impatiently, her head pulsating from the pain.
“If we want the flat we need to pay it for a year in advance” Adam retorted.
“What? This is ridiculous!” she exclaimed.
The man with the leather boots suddenly put a few words in French to tell Julie that he was in the business for twenty-six years and he heard a lot of promises.
“Promises,” she snapped. “We are not here to promise anything. You let the flat and we need to show that we can afford it.”
He asked her how much she earned, a directness she rarely experienced in England.
“Enough to afford the flat on my own,” she said crossly.
“Ordnung! I’ll wait for your documents.”
He escorted them down to the entrance in silence where he spoke to Adam for another moment. Adam stretched his hand to say good buy, but he ignored him and reached for Julie’s instead. He bowed slightly and gave her enticing look from bellow his eyebrows as if they shared a secret. He held her hand with the tip of his fingers and just before he landed a kiss on her hand, he whispered “Аu revoir.”
THE KILLING STREET OF CHILDHOOD
I found her in the bedroom hoovering the floor. It was just past nine in the morning and the sun was shining through. The windows were big and wide with no blinds or curtains. She had them both fully opened and letting in the smell of Spring. Her apron was hanging loose and the pair of cleaning gloves she wore looked huge on her. Her raven black hair was up in a ponytail; I had never seen her like that before.
She didn’t notice me at first as the noise from the hoover was deafening, but I started screaming “Mum, Mum,” until she suddenly turned around and saw me. Her eyes opened in astonishment and a grim expression immediately overcast her round face. She dropped the hoover and stared at me in disbelief. I had run away from the kindergarten to be with her.
Moments of silence started to dampen my excitement. My little heart was beating in fear that something wasn’t right. The love and cheer I so much yearned for were suddenly replaced with anger. I was confused and started to cry. This wasn’t my mum whom I adored and loved dearly. Where was she? I so much wanted to be with her, to hide in her loose linen skirt and pull her hand just the way I liked to. I had brought her a flower, which she seemed not to notice. It was clutched in my right hand and suddenly lost its meaning.
The tears were gushed out and my entire world collapsed. She said my name, but this is all I heard. I stood there; lonely and betrayed. The warm air coming from the window began to suffocate me. I felt her tight grip on my shoulder and at that moment, I knew that something has changed forever.
She sent me back, with no smile, reassurance or little gesture to make me feel that I was still her little girl.
A FLICKER OF HOPE
In the dying days of January, I found myself thinking about her again. Left in a cold and frosty flat, I was so lonely. The evidence of my self-deception became too hard to ignore and waiting was not an option anymore. I put my coat and closed the door behind me.
It was the beginning of the morning and the wind was ruthlessly exploiting everything around me. I was shivering and tired. I was scared. “What have I done to deserve this?” I couldn’t stop asking myself. As the aged bus crawled through the snowy streets of Sofia, my self-doubts kept mounting up. There were flashes of drama and beauty, a touch of hope and despair. I was alone and was trying to imagine what our conversation might be. The cold was cruelly cutting my face, I couldn’t endure it anymore.
The small, black broken bell still had her name on. She hadn’t taken her husband’s name after they got married the previous winter. She opened the door, inviting me in as if I were a stranger. She seemed to be unmoved by my appearance. “Take your shoes off,” she ordered. If only she knew how cold I was.
I walked into the corridor that I knew so well and was hastily ushered into the living room. “Don’t sit there,” she mumbled. “Okay,” I said and stood next to the open door. The unnatural politeness was shrinking the moment even faster. What to do? My tears began to make their way to the surface, but I didn’t want to show how vulnerable I was. The tempting oranges on the cabinet were impossible to ignore and I quickly stretched my hand. A wave of anger and hate had sweapt over my fragile soul. She crossed the room and grabbed the orange from my hand. “Leave it. They are not yours!”
The pain was spreading like a cancer and I just couldn’t bear it anymore. “Mother,” I screamed, “what have I done?” – a lament that she, sitting a few inches away, seemed not to hear. The subject was closed. So was my hope.
Mel: Jerome, have you seen my glasses? What time is it?
Jerome: Just past 10.30. Come on darling. A little enthusiasm would cheer me up. It will come as no surprise that we are running late again!
Mel: Your little fit of irritation doesn’t impress me. I refuse to allow myself to be drawn into this pointless conversation yet again!
Jerome: Do you get some kind of satisfaction out of trying my patience?
Mel: Well, since you ask, I have no opinion on that earth-shattering topic darling.
Jerome: Well, you never fail to disappoint me on that score dear.
Mel: If you stop staring moodily out of the window and give me a moment of piece, I might skip curling my hair so we can leave sooner.
Jerome: It is not in your nature to behave in a perfectly natural and intelligible manner, dear, and I am beginning to regret our wasted years.
Mel: Excellent news. Now you can close the door behind you and let me finish with my make-up.
Jerome: Right! I will be waiting for you in the car.
***20 min later***
Mel gets in the car and the conversation continues.
Mel: I can see you are thrilled to see me darling.
Jerome: A rather far-fetched conclusion. Some sign of friendliness might look well on your face dear. You should try it.
Mel: You don’t get it, do you?
Jerome: What exactly?
Mel: You never cease to amaze me, darling. Your behaviour…what exactly!
Jerome: What about it?
Mel: Jerome, stop behaving like a child. Your attitude is suffocating me. Don’t you see? Put the radio on please and drive.
Radio reporter: More than thirty people have been killed and seven hundred have been injured in a series of bomb attacks on London’s transport network this morning.
Jerome: (Gasps) Good Heaven Mel! We must call the children!
Mel: (Gasps) Lord! Calm down Jerome. The kids are in France. Just relax.
Jerome: Oh darling, this is devastating. We should check on Julie. These poor people.
Mel: Why would anyone want to do that? To bomb a city in Europe in 2007! Please Jerome, drive carefully.
Jerome: Yes, yes, yes darling. We must call Oliver to check on the cats.
Mel: Are you all right darling? We live in Tunbridge Wells remember? I don’t think the cats will be worried about any of this. Call Oliver, indeed!
JUST A BOY IN 1942
This morning I didn’t have school and mum wanted me to go with her to the Imperial Playhouse cinema on Portobello Road where she could have tea served during the interval. And me? I would have lemonade.
“Mu-mum, ca-can I have a Butterfinger?”
“Peter, you already had one darling.”
“I know, bu-bu-but may I have one more?”
“Well, ask your dad.”
“But Dad i-isn’t here.
“Darling! Eat your breakfast!”
Mum wouldn’t let me have a Butterfinger. I knew Sue had one in her room left over from the other night. Maybe I could sneak in and take it. She never lets me have her sweet. She keeps it for a week until she gets another one, and another one, and another one. She likes to tease me with her sweets, taking them down during dinner and putting them right in front of my eyes. Then she would lift the sweet, looks at me and says: “Mmm, I will have it later.”
I heard the clunk of milk bottles on our front step. I will take them to the kitchen and maybe I can go and take Sue’s sweet.
“Muum, I am go-going to my room.”
“Hurry up sweetie. We are leaving soon.”
I climbed the stairs and went to Sue’s room. It was so tidy and errr…cissy. Her books were in a neat pile on the cabinet and there was a small colourful notebook next to them. Her name was written on the top right corner circled with tiny flowers. How typical! I opened it, her writing was delicate.
“…I miss grandpa. Mummy told me that he will come soon. He promised me to bring ‘Brownie and his Friends’ when he comes to see us next…”
I lost interest and remembered the reason for my visit. I noticed a small wooden box right next to her bed covered partly with a blanket. This must be it. I crossed the room and opened the box. Unbelievable! She had two sweets and one Butterfinger. How on earth could she keep them for so long?
Huh, I am dying to see her face when she discovers that one of her sweets has disappeared and is in a better and much warmer place.