A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture
By Tony Carden
Episode Forty Eight
Ahmed’s phone pinged. He checked the screen. A hire. He tapped in his acceptance. A moment’s silence. Another ping. Got it!
He switched on the motor, turned the wheel, put his foot on the accelerator, and the Prius glided smoothly out of the parking bay and into the traffic.
A few minutes later, he pulled in to the side of the kerb. A bearded man who had been looking at his phone momentarily turned his gaze on Ahmed before pocketing his mobile and coming over. It’s ‘im.
‘Ibrahim?’ Yeah, who else?
‘That’s me.’ Ahmed consulted his mobile. ‘You want to go to 27 Drew Gardens, is that it?’ Where’s that?
The man got in and settled himself on the back seat. The dashboard indicated the passenger hadn’t buckled up.
‘Yah mind putting on your seatbelt?’
Ahmed waited a moment. A change in the screen told him the man’s belt was secure. Checking for traffic, he pulled out and set off.
Ahmed followed the guidance on his phone. He headed North East. It was London-usual traffic. And London-usual lights. Shit, it’s one of those days.
They had to wait ten minutes to get through an intersection.
‘I could walk it faster.’ Yeah, now yah could mate. But wait till we’re through this and you’ll see we’ll be spinning ‘long.
Ahmed turned around and smiled at his passenger. ‘It’ll be better in a moment, mate.’
After another couple of minutes, they passed over the junction. But it wasn’t much better on the other side. What’s the friggin’ traffic up to today? He consulted the screen which showed his route. Ah, there’s a quick way.
‘Tell yah what, I’ll go the back way.’
Ahmed swung the wheel and headed down a side street. With a beep, his phone adjusted his route. Ahmed glanced at it. It wanted him to go back to the blocked main road. Stupid gadget.
The side street was much less crowded. He was able to get the Prius above twenty.
A van pulled out. Ahmed braked. ‘Effing wanker.’
‘What’s going on?’ His passenger sounded agitated. Calm yourself, mate. It’s London, like.
‘T’s alright, mate. A van nearly sided me, like.’
The van moved off and Ahmed followed it. It slowed. Ahmed slowed. It stopped. Ahmed brought the Prius to a stop behind it. The driver got out. He waved at Ahmed. What’s he friggin’ doing?
Ahmed put his head out of the window. ‘Move it!’
The driver gestured. ‘Be a mo.’ He dashed across the road to the front door of a house.
Ahmed saw him press the doorbell. There was a pause. The door opened. A conversation followed. Ahmed drummed on the steering wheel with his fingers. Com on, matey!
The driver nodded, the door closed, and he sauntered back to the van. He even gestured at Ahmed. Thanks for this, mate!
The van moved off. Ahmed engaged the gears and followed. At a junction, the van turned right.
Ahmed glanced at his mobile. Dead. ‘Shite!’
Ahmed quickly checked his phone. It was working. Just not the satnav.
‘Shite!’ Can’t just stay here. What was the direction? He gazed left and right.
He turned left, vaguely remembering that is what the route looked like. Within minutes, he was hopelessly lost. The road ahead had a no entry sign on it. He took a side turn. The road ended in a dead end. Oh, come on now!
With a bit of difficulty, Ahmed turned the Prius and headed back. He came to the junction. He turned to follow the direction the van had gone.
‘Hey, mate, I don’t recognise this neighbourhood!’
‘Yeah, neither do I.’
‘I think we should be nearly there. The app said about thirty minutes.’
‘We’ve got a spot of bother.’
There was silence for a while.
They came to a junction. Ahmed turned right as he thought this would take him in the direction he wanted to go. They came to a second junction. While paused, he switched off his phone and then back on. He tapped on the app. Still no map or directions.
‘Hey mate, where are we?’
They arrived at a junction to a main road.
‘Frigging ‘ell. This is where you picked me up.’
‘Well, got stuck didn’t I.’
Ahmed turned into the traffic. There was a growl from behind him.
‘Stop the car. I’m quitting this ride.’
At that moment, Ahmed’s satnav sprang to life.
‘It’s good. I can see where to take yah.’
‘You’re bloody useless. If you expect me to pay for this, you’ve another think coming.’
Ahmed twisted around to gaze at his passenger. He was undoing his seatbelt.
A car honked.
Ahmed turned back to see what the noise was about. A car was coming towards them. He slammed on the brakes and just avoided hitting the other car. Before he could address his passenger again, he heard the rear door open.
‘You’re bloody shite at this job.’
The door slammed.
Ahmed wound down the window. ‘I coulda got you there double quick. No fee.’
But the man kept on rapidly walking away.
Ahmed pounded his fists on the steering wheel. I’ve got shite from this and he’ll give me a poor rating. Shit. Shit. Shit.
* * *
Aiden slapped his hand on the copy of the Metro he was holding making it rustle loudly.
‘You’ve got to hear this, Quinn. It’s in the Rush-Hour Crush section. I bet it’s for you. “To the stunning long-haired blonde. I saw you the first time on the Jubilee Line, second in Westminster and now on the Central Line. I was shy or else I would’ve said hello. Drink?”’
‘What makes you think it’s about me
‘You take the underground, don’t you?’
‘Aiden, I’m not the only blonde in London who travels by tube.’
‘But perhaps you’re the only one who travels the Jubilee and Central lines and works in Westminster.’
‘You’re joking, right?’
‘Not really. It’s just the description seems to fit you, that’s all.’
‘Just because I’m a blonde?’ She paused realising something. ‘You didn’t send it in as some kind of a prank, did you?’
‘Wow, wow, wow, now wait a minute, Quinn. That’s some accusation you’re making there.’
‘I’m not accusing you, I’m asking you.’
Adrian put down the paper. He rubbed his cheek.
Quin could tell he was flustered.
He gazed at her in the way a little boy does when he’s been accused of wrongdoing.
‘Well, I didn’t.’
‘I don’t read the Metro, so how would I have found out about this…’ She couldn’t think of the word for a moment, ‘…this message?’
‘I guess that someone like me would bring it to your attention.’
‘Well, it isn’t me.’
After work, Quinn headed for the underground. Uncharacteristically, she decided to pick up an Evening Standard. As it was rush hour, she had to stand and try and read the paper.
‘I’ll never get used to this.’ She gazed around suddenly realising she’d complained out loud. A short distance away a rather dishevelled man was grinning at her. She turned away. The rest of the passengers seemed not to have heard her outburst.
At Oxford Circus, she switched to the Central Line. Once again, she found herself standing in a crowded carriage. No chance to read her paper. The swaying of the train jostled her up against the other passengers. They ignored her. Then she spotted the man who had smiled at her earlier. She quickly looked away.
Three stops later, the train pulled into Notting Hill Gate.
Quinn got off. She dodged and mingled with the other passengers as she made her way up to the exit. She was surprised to see the grinning man ahead of her at the barrier.
Using her card, she passed through the control. She climbed up the steps, emerged from the underground and started for home.
She turned into Pembridge Gardens. There were few people about. As usual, cars lined both sides of the street. She checked for traffic before she crossed. As she did so, Quinn was surprised to see the grinning man about fifty metres away from her.
Seeing her spot him, he stopped and turned and gazed towards one of the houses.
She shook her head as she considered his behaviour. She crossed over. On a hunch, she quickly turned to look behind her.
There was the man. Now on her side of the street and still following her.
Ignoring him, Quinn walked on, but now at a quicker pace. Every so often she turned to see if she was being followed. Each time, she spotted the man though she thought he was trying to hide his presence among the parked cars.
She came to Pembridge Square Gardens. Seeing the greenery, stories of women being pulled into bushes rose up in her mind. She hurried towards her home.
Climbing up the steps to the front door, she fumbled with the keys but eventually managed to let herself in. She slammed the door behind her. She found she was breathing rapidly.
It was dark inside. Just a small table lamp was on. The one her parents left burning when they were out. She was alone in the house. Her mother must have gone out to some social gathering. She knew her father was probably in Westminster dealing with the Brexit chaos.
She switched on the main hall light. It was then she noticed her hands were trembling.
Quinn made for the living room. The net curtains had been drawn back. Ever so carefully, so as not to be seen from outside, she crept up to the bay window and peered out.
The man was there. He was on the opposite side of the street, up against the park rails. She was not sure, but she thought he was examining the house. She started to shake.
‘Come on Quinn, get a grip on yourself. You’re safe here.’ But she did not feel it.
She headed out the living room towards the back of the house. ’What to do? What to do?’ Then she had it. She went into the kitchen and headed for the fridge. Held on by a magnet was a list. She scanned down till she found the contact she was looking for. Taking her mobile out of her pocket, she dialled the number.
‘Is that…’ She checked the name on the list. ‘Eric Jordan?’
‘Yes. Who’s this?’
‘Quinn Harcourt-Smythers. There’s somebody lurking outside the house.’
‘Right. Have they tried to get in?’
‘No. But they’ve been following me for some time. I’m the only one here.’
‘Right. You’d better call the police just to be sure.’
Quinn hung up and with trembling fingers dialled the local police station. She got a robot receptionist. She hung up. She dialled 999.
‘Which service do you need? Fire. Police. Ambulance.’
‘Please wait a moment.’
‘Hello, how can we assist?’
‘There’s someone lurking outside the house. I’m the only one here.’
‘We’ll send someone around to have a look. What’s your address?’ Quinn gave it. ‘Stay inside and don’t answer the door.’
‘The police will call you when they arrive.’ There was a pause. ‘Your reference number is 19345217. You may hang up now. Call 999 again if the situation should change. Help is on the way.’ The connection went dead.
‘…Err, thanks, I think.’
Quinn sat down and waited for the police to arrive.
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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