The door opened, and Fatima came in. ‘How’s your head.’
‘Much better, thanks.’ He shifted a bit. His vision swam briefly before settling down again. ‘I’m all set to get back to work.’
‘The doctor said you’re to rest and no driving.’
‘Damn the doctor. We need the money.’ It’s been more than a week now. Effing dustcart banging me like that.
‘He said that if you drive and have an accident…’ Yeah, yeah, yeah.
‘I’ll go see ‘im and get it sorted.’
‘Ahmed. I’m so worried. With you without work, we’ve got no money coming in.’
‘So, what did they say at the Advice Centre? Benefits, like. Can we get some whilst I’m out of work, like?’
‘It all seems so complicated.’ Fatima sat down next to him. ‘They said we should get something, but it’ll take some time.’
‘Two, maybe three weeks.’ We can’t wait that long!
‘How much money you got?’
‘Just twenty.’ She started crying. I’ve got about thirty stashed away. We’re skint. Shite. We need the money now.
‘I’ll sort som’in out.’ Let’s see, food, rent, the money for the loan. Um! Bout seven hundred smackers at least. ‘Do you think your uncle…?’
She looked up at him, her eyes red from her crying. ‘He says he won’t lend us a penny.’
‘I’ll talk to him.’ He pointed at his phone on the floor where it was connected to a charger. ‘Pass me mobile.’
She got up and brought it over. He took it from her.
‘I’ll call him now.’ He dialled Mohammed’s number. He heard the line connect and the phone start ringing.
‘Ahmed.’ At least he’s picked up.
‘Hello there, Mohammed.’ How do I do this?
‘You’ve good news for me, I take it? You’re not just calling to use up your minutes, are you?’
‘Well, I was hoping you could help out, see. I’ve had an accident and not been working-like this last week and I need a bit to tidy us over.’
‘So, it’s money you want.’ Hey! Don’t go all shirty on me.
‘Well, I was hoping you’d help out, like.’
‘You haven’t repaid me for the last time.’
‘But I will.’ Come on, we’re family.
‘Ya zebala.’ He hung up. Khara.
Fatima looked at him expectantly.
‘He can’t.’ Fatima’s gaze fell to the floor. Yeah, you told me. But I had to try.
‘I’ll try Omar.’
Fatima got up. ‘I’ve got to fix the kids’ dinner.’ You do this when you’re angry with me. You find an excuse to leave. You think I’ve screwed up, no?
‘You do that.’ She closed the door behind her. ‘Shite.’
He got up. His arms tingled. He felt dizzy. The room swayed around him. ‘Shite. Shite.’ He steadied himself on the arm of the sofa before staggering across to the window to gaze out. The view showed him the neighbouring block and the tatty park between. He noticed that someone had put some washing out. That’s stupid, ain’t it. It’s gonna rain. He turned away and found his place back on the sofa.
He flipped through his address book and found Omar’s number. He dialled it. He heard it connect and start ringing.
‘Hello Ahmed. You well?’
‘No, I’m bloody not well. Got rear-ended and now the doctor says I’ve got whiplash.’ Sorry, I’m pissed off with everyone asking how I f—king am.
‘Well make a speedy recovery.’ There was a pause. ‘You working?’ Oh huh!
‘No. Doctor says I’ve got to rest on account of me neck, like.’
‘You calling for a reason?’ Do I need to spell it out for yah?
‘Well, was hoping you could ‘elp us out a bit till I get back to work.’
‘I’d love to, Ahmed, but things ain’t too good at the moment…’ You’re effing me on this ain’t yah?
‘Just a bit?’ A couple of hundred would help.
‘How much you need?’
‘Well, with the kids an’ all, the rent like and a bit extra, its less than a grand. Just till I start working, mind.’
‘You still owe me.’
‘I’ll pay yah back, honest.’
‘Now listen, Ahmed, we’ve been good friends since school. I would like to help you out again, but you still owe me for the past times I’ve lent you money.’
‘But I’ve paid you back!’ I’m sure of it.
‘There’s still the two hundred you asked me for at the start of November. Promised me it back in January. It’s now May, Ahmed.’ He stopped talking. You’re angry, ain’t yah? ‘You’ve got to get your finances sorted, Ahmed, and not keep coming and tapping me for money.’
‘Just a bit for a week.’
‘No. No. No. You’re not listening to me, Ahmed. Until you sort yourself out and pay me back, no money.’ Shite.
‘I’ll pay you back, Omar.’ But how?
‘You do that, and we’ll reconsider. Bye.’ The line went dead.
The doorbell went. We’re not expecting anyone. He could hear talking out in the hall.
The door to the living room opened and Fatima poked her head through. ‘The doctor’s here to see you.’ What? Why? No one gets a house visit.
The door opened, and his GP came in, bag in hand. ‘Hello Ahmed, how are you feeling today?’
‘Much better, thanks.’
‘Your tests came through and I thought I had better come around rather than call you into the surgery.’ This ain’t good.
‘I see.’ What’s got ‘im worried? OK, I’ve got a few blurred spells but notting serious.
‘Let’s have a look at you, shall we?’ He deposited his bag, opened it and pulled out an instrument. He fiddled with it and switched it on. ‘Look into the light.’ Ahmed did as instructed. You’ve already done this twice, doc. The doctor examined both eyes before switching off the light and returning the instrument to his bag. He retrieved out a pair of surgical gloves and put them on. ‘Just going to see if your neck is still sore.’ He felt around Ahmed’s neck. Pain lanced through his head and neck.
‘Hurt me a bit that did.’
‘I see.’ He continued his probing but more gently than before. That hurts.
‘Your neck’s very sensitive.’
‘But I’m on the mend, ain’t I doctor?’
‘Well, I hope so, but it’s taking a lot longer than it should. I’m going to have to send you back to the hospital for more tests. It could be you’ve damaged the vertebra in your neck. We need to be sure there’s nothing wrong there.’
‘But I can go back to work, can’t I?’
‘You still getting double vision?’
‘Just a bit of dizziness. But it’s nothing. I’m good to be driving.’
‘Sorry, Ahmed, you are not to drive. There’s no question of going back to work before we know the results of the new tests.’
‘It won’t be long, will it doc?’ I need to work, doc, to get some loot. We’re skint. You don’t care, do you?
‘A couple of weeks—three at most. I’ll try and get you an early appointment.’ Three weeks! How are we to get by in the meantime?
‘Thanks doc.’ Shite and triple shite.
* * *
Andrew threw off the duvet and headed into the bathroom. He turned on the shower and got in. The hot water felt good on his back.
‘Won’t you come back to bed?’ Can’t you see I’m up and having a shower?
‘Jill, it’s nearly noon.’ Half the day’s already over and we’re not out of bed.
‘It’s Saturday.’ So? I’d still like to spend a bit of my day standing up.
‘Well I feel the need to rise and shine.’
He lathered himself up and enjoyed the sensation of water dripping off his head and shoulders.
‘Oh, very well then.’
He heard the bedroom door click shut as Jill went out. Jill, you may like to lie abed all day, but I feel that spending half of my weekend in bed is…Is what, really? He thought of them cuddling up and stroking each other…Just sex.
He grabbed a towel and dried himself off before wandering back into the bedroom. He eyed the untidy bed, the piled-up duvet and ruffled under-sheet. Lit à la Emin. Artist and exhibitionist. A free spirit, judging by how she describes her life. Is that how you see yourself Jill? But I don’t really know, do I? I come around, and after a drink or two it’s into the sack together. Then, you turf me out on some pretext or other. Just the sex. I’m a gigolo, that’s what I am. That’s supposed to make me happy, isn’t it? Sex without attachment or commitment. That’s what you think boys want. Now, how would you feel, Jill, if I didn’t come over when you called? Not a lot probably. You’d go and pick up someone else, wouldn’t you? He had a moment’s realisation about something Tim had said about his life. You’re like your brother in more ways than I could have imagined.
He dressed and before he made for the kitchen took a quick photo of the empty bed.
The TV was on and blaring out loudly. Jill was sitting watching it, sipping at a cup of coffee. It showed Windsor Castle and the surrounding park in long shot. Of course, the wedding! He screened out the commentator’s spiel.
‘Is there any more coffee in the pot?’
She waved in the general direction of the kettle, beside which was a large coffee jug and a milk carton. ‘Help yourself.’ Ah! Your friendly side.
He went over and pulled out a mug from the wall cupboard and poured himself a coffee. He picked up the cartoon. Empty.
‘Jill, is there any more milk?’ He jiggled the cartoon. She pointed at the fridge. He went searching.
Opening the fridge, he quickly spotted the two-pint plastic bottle in the door. He noticed the date. End of April? Suspicious, he smelled the contents. Whoa, this is just so off. He put it back before retrieving his drink and joining Jill at the breakfast table. I can live with black coffee. He sat down opposite her and tried to catch her eye. Her gaze remained on the screen. He waved his hand in front of her face. Yes, I’m interrupting you. Whoehee, it’s me, Andrew, remember?
‘We must talk.’ About us.
She turned to look at him He could see her annoyed expression.
‘I’m watching the TV.’
‘This is important.’ You know, that couple thing of engaging each other in conversation.
‘If you say so. Talk then.’ This isn’t going to be easy, is it?
‘Jill, you know how fond of you I am…’
‘Is this a Dear John speech?’ Christ, no.
‘No, no, nothing of the sort. It’s just…’ I can’t say it.
‘Well, I’ve been talking to Tim.’
‘Ah, yes.’ She paused ever so briefly. ‘About me.’ That should have been obvious.
‘And what did he say?’ I’m not sure me telling you his honest opinion of his sister is a good idea just now.
‘I asked him about you and me.’ And you know what he said, don’t you?
‘So, he’s the expert about us, then? Why didn’t you come to the source—me?’ Hey! Don’t get angry.
‘I… I…’ You can do this, come on, man. ‘I wasn’t sure I could ask you.’
There was loud cheering from the TV. Unwittingly, he caught some of what the commentator was saying. ‘…here they come. Her Majesty is riding in a Landau and at her side…’ Jill grabbed the remote and muted the sound.
‘Well, now you’ve started, you’d better get your question out.’ In for a penny, in for a pound.
‘It’s like this. Tim says you’re into polyamory. Is it true?’ Tell me it isn’t.
‘If by polyamory you mean I have several lovers on the go, then yes.’ OH no! What Tim said is true!
‘So, I’m not special?’ How many lovers, then?
She ruffled his hair. ‘Of course, you are, you hugsy wugsy.’
‘These lovers of yours are in the past, then.’ Whew! So what Tim said isn’t true.
‘I didn’t say that.’ What? You are two-timing me?
‘You’re having a physical relationship with different men at the same time?’ I can’t believe this. ‘I’m just one of your lovers.’ Oh, shite.
‘Andrew, I haven’t told you this but since you’ve brought it up, yes, there are other men in my life. And yes, we get intimate. Do you have a problem with that?’ Like how many?
‘The other day when you turfed me out and were talking to that man who came to the door, was he one of them?’
‘Yes. That was Gerald. He lives in New York and passes by London on business every so often. He normally lets me know ahead of time. But he just turned up. I’d not have had you around if I had known he was coming.’ I knew it!
‘So where does that leave me?’ I’m just a suitable stud when you need one, aren’t I?
‘Leave? Why should the fact I like to spread myself around affect us?’ I really, really don’t believe you’re saying this.
‘Is that what you call it, spreading yourself around?’ There’s an old word for this.
‘If you prefer, call it polyamory then.’ That’s not what I would call it.
‘You’re two timing me and Gerald.’ I bet he just loves the idea—like I do.
‘He and I have an understanding on these matters.’ She got up and went over to the kitchen worktop and opened a drawer and took out a bread knife. Then she opened the breadbox and pulled out a loaf.
‘And I don’t.’ I bloody well don’t.
‘Well, now you do.’ She started carving a slice from the bread.
‘And if I don’t like it?’ Some people like the idea of fidelity and commitment in their partners, Jill!
‘You like the sex, don’t you? That’s my impression, at least. Or are you faking it?’ But now I’m learning I’m sleeping with a whore! That’s not what I want!
‘What about the rest of the relationship? There’s more to it than just f—king, surely?’ What about a proper rapport, you know Jill, with some emotional depth? Thinking of the long term…
Jill laughed and waved the knife in the air. ‘Is that how you see it, then? We’re just f—king?’ No. that’s how you see it.
‘Well, it seems like it to me.’ This is the first time you’ve ever really shown any emotion about anything.
She pointed the breadknife towards him. ‘Don’t lecture me.’
‘But it’s not right...’ Can’t you see that?
She took a step towards him. ‘You’re behaving like a biblical patriarch. I own you. That cust no ice with me.’ I don’t know how I could have been so wrong about our relationship. Sorry, scrub that, there’s no relationship here.
‘That’s all fine and dandy. I’m not the one sleeping around here, Jill.’ He got up. ‘I was mistaken about what I thought we had between us.’
‘Are you walking out on me?’
‘Well, if you want to call it that—yes.’ Yes, I’m leaving. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over. Don’t bother to call me.
‘Why you...!’ She lunged at him with the knife.
Caught off guard, he brought his arm up to shield his face.
She stabbed him.
He screamed in pain. He reeled back, clutching his arm. ‘What have you done?’ He could feel blood on his hand.
Jill sprung back, dropping the knife. ‘Oh God! No! Andrew!’