Just a story of everyday folk - Credit, public domain, Wikipedia

A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture

By Tony Carden

 

Episode Nineteen

 

The door opened. Ahmed looked up and blinked. ‘Omar! Whatcha doing here?’

‘As-salāmu ʿalaykum.’ What do you want?

‘Howdya get in?’

‘Fatima let me in.’ I just bet she did.

‘She did?’

‘Why shouldn’t she?’ You forced your way in, didn’t you?

Omar entered, moved across the small living room and sat down in the armchair. He looked around. ‘You living like this?’ Just because you’ve got money and can afford to live in a nice semi. I’ve got this shitty council flat in a high rise.

Ahmed shook his head. ‘It’s me home, dammit. Who are you to criticise me?’

‘Sorry. Was a bit surprised, that’s all.’ Yeah, I bet you was.

‘What da yah mean, surprised?’

‘There’s beer here, Ahmed.’ He pointed at a pile of empty cans. ‘You know it contains alcohol, don’t you?’

‘What’s that to you?’

‘Ahmed, it’s haram!’ So now you’ve set yourself up as my moral guardian, ain’t it?

‘So?’

‘You shouldn’t be drinking beer—it’s forbidden.’

‘Why should I worry about that, with everything else. Besides, I like beer.’

‘But you never used to drink.’

‘I do now.’

‘What’s happened?’ You want the truth? The whole damn truth?

‘I can’t work. Do you know what it’s like not to be able to provide for your family?’ Omar looked taken aback. Yeah, Omar, look uncomfortable.

‘I thought the doc said you’re fine.’ Yeah, fine to sit around all day and watch the tele. And drink beer.

‘Is that what Fatima told you?’

‘Well…yes.’

‘What else she say?’

‘That you’re not happy.’ He paused. Go on, ask me! ‘Why aren’t you back at work?’ That’s all you want to know, ain’t it?

‘‘Cos I can’t drive until I’ve been seen by some doctor at ‘ospital.’

Omar looked surprised. His gaze shifted to look out of the window. Yeah, turn your back on me; everyone’s doing it…including Fatima.

After a moment, Omar turned back to face him. ‘So, what about money? How you feeding the kids?’

‘Got me benefits, ain’t I?’

‘So, you’re OK, then.’ He smiled. You thought you’d have to lend me some dough. Now you don’t, so don’t bemute me. Ahmed frowned at him. ‘Tch. Fatima said you’d been down these last weeks.’

‘What do yah think? I’d be singing from the rooftops? I’ve no work. No money. Shit, Omar, you’ve no idea how it feels.’

‘But drinking…’

‘So? Everyone in London and their dog drinks. Why shouldn’t I? Tell me that?’

‘It’s not what we do. Remember your upbringing. What did the Imam tell you?’

‘Oh, I see it now. You’re here because I’ll bring dishonour on our family—is that it?’

‘No of course not.’ He shifted uneasily. It’s what you want to say to me, aint it? But you don’t want to admit it. Be the great mullah, then. ‘I’m sorry to hear about your problems.’ He looked pained. ‘Can I help?’

‘Yes, give me some dough. Why have you waited so long to come over and offer to help me? Why didn’t you lend me some money when I asked?’

‘Ahmed, Ahmed, don’t be angry with me. You know you’ve borrowed a lot from me and not paid it back. You know how these things go. Why should I just indulge your habit.’ He gestured towards the empty beer cans.’ Yeah, make it my fault.

‘Sure. Sure. You’ll lend me some if I pay you back first. But I’m skint, Omar, skint. Do you understand that?’

There was a noise outside. Omar jumped to his feet.

‘You brought someone along, then?’ He could hear voices but couldn’t make them out.

‘Ahmed, it’s Fatima. She’s in trouble.’

‘Oh shite!’ Ahmed leapt out of his seat and rushed into the hall. Omar crowded behind him. He immediately spotted two burly men standing at the front door arguing with Fatima.

‘You can’t come in. He’s not well.’

Ahmed muscled her aside. ‘Fatima, what’s going on?’

‘These men say you owe them money.’

Omar strutted forward and challenged them. ‘What right have you to come barging in here like this? Get out before we call the police.’

The larger of the two men sized him up. ‘Are you Ahmed?’

‘No.’

‘I’m Ahmed.’ He confronted them. ‘What do you want?’

The man pulled an ID card from a pocket and showed it to him. ‘Debt collectors. We’ve been sent to seek payment for the money you borrowed.’

Ahmed waved a hand int the air. ‘I can’t pay.’

‘Now listen, mate. It would be in everyone’s best interest if you paid us sommit now to show goodwill, like. You don’t want this matter taken to court. Bailiffs ain’t as friendly as we are.’

‘How much does he owe?’

Ahmed pulled him back. ‘You stay out of it, Omar.’

The debt collector locked eyes with Omar. ‘I don’t think we can disclose that. Let’s just say it’s enough to make it worthwhile for us to come around and ask for the dough.’

Omar reached into his back trouser pocket and pulled out his wallet, opened it and held up two fifty-pound notes. ‘Will this do?’

‘You shouldn’t give ‘em noffing.’ Ahmed tried to grab the money.

Omar pulled it away. ‘Leave me to do this.’

‘Don’t give ‘em shite.’

‘Ahmed, I’m paying them.’ He pushed Ahmed away from the door. ‘Now let me handle it.’ He proffered the money at the men.

One of the collectors took it and pocketed it. ‘It’ll be a start.’ The man produced a small booklet and biro from his jacket. He opened the notebook and wrote something down before tearing off a page and handing it over to Omar. ‘Your receipt.’ He glared at Ahmed before turning back to Omar. ‘You’ve done the right thing. Now what yah got to do is knock some sense into your brother here. Tell him to set up a payment schedule with FastCash. Then we don’t have to trouble you again.’

‘We’ll sort it out.’

The two men turned and left the flat. Omar quick closed the door.

‘Ahmed, we need to talk.’ He led Ahmed back into the living room and pointed at the sofa. Oh, fine.

‘Tell me, Ahmed, how much do you owe these people?’

‘Not sure.’ He picked up his phone and opened his messages. Scrolling down he came to one from FastCash. One thousand three hundred and thirty-six quid. I never borrowed that kind of dough. Silently, he passed his mobile over to Omar.

Without a word, Omar returned the phone. Ahmed instinctively locked it down. Omar wagged a finger at him. ‘Ahmed, you’re in trouble.’

‘You don’t say.’

‘Well the money keeps on growing, you know that.’ Ahmed nodded. ‘And you owe me over six hundred quid. Who else have you tapped for cash?’

‘Well, Mohammed, I think.’

‘You think?’

‘Well, it would ‘ave been last year—sometime.’

‘But how much?’

‘Possibly five hundred.’

Omar let out a low whistle. ‘Two thousand four hundred quid, give or take. How did you spend that much?’

‘I ain’t been splashing out, if that’s what you think.’ He rose to his feet. ‘There was the car cost, plus…’ plus everything else, rent, food, bills, I don’t know…how can I keep track of where it goes.

 

*   *   *

 

‘Well, Des, checkers went as well as could be expected.’

‘Oh Mary, you think so?’

‘The cabinet agreed, didn’t it?’

‘And the resignations?’

‘Nothing really.’ I knew I’d get some good of it. ‘I’m only too happy to see Christoph go. That bastard was only looking to take over here.’ She looked up at Thatcher’s portrait. He’s like Heseltine, isn’t he; he’s trying to force me out—but I won’t have it. He’s not even as competent. Bah!

‘And the Foreign Secretary?’

‘That buffoon? I think the Foreign Office is delighted he resigned.’ And now he’s out no more ministerial perks. Yeah, back on your bike, traitor!

‘To borrow from Oscar Wilde: “To lose one cabinet minister might be seen as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.”’

‘Are you lecturing me, Des?’ Sometimes you can be insufferable.

‘Just pointing out the awkwardness of it all. Won’t these “ex” ministers…’ he strongly emphasised the ex, ‘…now be on the backbenchers fermenting revolt?’

‘What? With the Brexit Brigade? That lot couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery even if they had been given an IKEA instruction guide.’ I, yes, me, the party appointed me to deliver Brexit and, by Jove, they’ll get it—my way. Her eyes strayed to Maggie’s picture. You would know what to do now? You played your party like a fiddle. Why can’t I? But the portrait remained mute.

‘What will you do now?’

‘Ralston will take on the negotiations with Bernard. He knows what he’s doing.’ At least I pray he does. If this whole affair goes pear shaped, I’ll end up reviled like Eden. This cannot be allowed to happen. I won’t let it.

‘Do you have a plan B?’

‘Oh, come off it, Des; do you have a plan B when doing one of your plumbing jobs?’

He laughed. ‘We have different ways of getting it done. But we know what we want. Do you my dear?’

‘Don’t you, dear me, Des. I hate that condescending tone you use when you call me that.’ You don’t believe I can do this, do you?

‘Should I call you PM, then?’

‘No, of course not.’ Why are you riling me?

He sauntered over to the drinks cabinet and opened it. ‘Drink?’ He pulled out a bottle. ‘Your favourite?’ He held it up. Crème de menthe. It’s been a tough week. Maybe one wouldn’t matter.

‘Just a small one.’ He poured out a half glass and passed it to her. ‘That’s too much.’ But she took it anyway. He fixed himself a whisky.

‘Come sit next to me.’ He patted the place beside him on the sofa.

‘If you’re thinking…’

He cocked his head and smiled. ‘Of course not.’ I’ll take that as a “yes”.

She came over and sat down. He offered up his glass for a toast. Their glasses tinkled as they touched. ‘To success.’

‘To success.’ Do I believe in talismans?

Des downed his whisky in one. Mary sipped her menthe. He got up and fixed himself a second one before resuming his seat.

‘Two?’

‘I deserve it—so do you. Drink up and I’ll give you a refill.’

He put his arms around her and she relaxed into his. Maybe it will be all right.

There was a knock at the door. Mary jumped up from the sofa and smoothed her skirt. ‘Come in.’

Adrian’s head appeared. ‘Oh!’ He suddenly looked flustered. ‘Have I interrupted something?’ From the look on your face, you know you have. Oh dear, it’ll be all around No. 10 by tomorrow. I can just see the headline in The Sun: “Un-Official Leak: PM flirts with Plumber in Drowning Street”. Grr.

‘What is it?’

‘Andrew Harcourt-Smithers is here to see you. He wondered if you had a moment.’

‘Oh very well, see him in.’ One can’t say the vultures have taken long. She felt annoyed. He could have called ahead at least.

There was a moment’s delay.

Andrew entered. The door closed behind him with a thud. He immediately spotted Des, nodded in recognition, then turned his attention towards her.

‘I was hoping we could have a quick chat about…’ there was a momentary silence, ‘…developments.’

‘I see.’ You’re here to sound me out about stepping down, aren’t you?’ What with your deputies’ resignations and all that, you’re rattled. I can sense it in your voice.

Andrew looked towards Des. So that’s your game.

‘I would like Des to stay. After all, anything that concerns me, also affects him.’

Andrew frowned. ‘As you wish.’ He gazed around. ‘Mind if I take a seat?’ he came over and put himself into one of the armchairs. He sighed.

‘Feeling the heat?’

‘Well, I sometimes wonder why I want the job.’ Yes, so do I. Then her eyes strayed to Margaret’s picture. Now I know.

‘So, what brought you here unannounced?’ She emphasised the last word.

‘You know the party’s not happy that Christoph is out and Johnstone’s gone.’ He coughed lightly. ‘And my vice chairmen.’ Your vice-chairmen? A bit of a giveaway, that, isn’t ,it? ‘There’s talk of a leadership challenge.’

‘Who’s being touted?’

‘JRM is one. There are rumours he would challenge you over the way you’re handling Brexit.’

‘What’s wrong with my Brexit?’

‘Well, your Checkers proposal doesn’t really mean leaving does it?’ You’re a Brexiter! I should have known.

‘It is best for the country.’ And me; let’s not forget that. I’ve got to keep my wits about me with these vultures all around. An old pop tune by Gloria Gaynor came unasked into her mind:

…Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye
Do you think I’d crumble
Did you think I’d lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive
I’ve got all my life to live
And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive
I will survive…

‘PM?’

‘Sorry, I was just thinking.’

‘A leadership contest will tear the party apart.’ He coughed. ‘If it happens, there’s a good chance we’ll be letting Cotton and his Momentum Mob take over.’

Mary rose to her full height, backbone strait and glared at him. ‘This lady is not for resigning.’ Her eyes strayed to Maggie’s portrait. You weren’t for going without a fight, were you? More of the song came to mind:

…I grew strong
And I learned how to get along
And so you’re back
From outer space
I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face
I should have changed that stupid lock, I should have made you leave your key
If I’d known for just one second you’d be back to bother me
Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore

‘I see.’ Andrew rose to his feet. ‘You’ve made your position perfectly clear.’ He stepped over to the door. Let us hope your proposal works out.’ You expect me to fail, don’t you? He opened the door and let himself out. I think we need a new chairman. Then she had another thought. I could also get rid of Quinn.

‘Well, that went as well as could be expected.’

Des patted the place beside him on the sofa. Mary glared at him. The song’s refrain echoed in her head:

Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore
Weren’t you the one who tried to break me with goodbye
Do you think I’d crumble
Did you think I’d lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive
I’ve got all my life to live
And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive
I will survive
I will survive

 

Gloria Gaynor: I will survive

To be continued…

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

 

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