It was a freezing Thursday morning, and as I pushed back the duvet a gust of cold air hit me. I wanted to re-cover myself and stay put. However, Thursday was breakfast club and I didn’t want to disappoint Lil and miss a chance to hear another of her great stories.
I gathered enough strength to throw my legs to the side of the bed, grabbed my warming towelling robe and got up. I walked to the kitchen and felt the hallway radiator en route. It was hot but I still felt cold. After flicking the kettle switch and popping a mixed-berry Berrocca into a glass of water I walked back to the bedroom and opened the sliding wardrobe doors.
I always have found it so difficult to decide what to wear. I even pause before getting ready for the gym. I looked longingly at my leatherette jeans which were currently too small. I wish they’d shrunk in the wash but quite simply I’d gained weight. When it’s cold style suffers slightly and I chose my fleece-lined Gap baggy combats. They were a relic from the late 1990s but the fleece lining added a layer of warmth which I relished. I remember the television commercial promising free movement as skaters sped across the ice wearing those combats which had reflective patches on each of the pockets. I wanted them in black but the shop only had mid-brown and those were pre-internet shopping days.
Time was ticking on and I selected a black T shirt and my multi-coloured H&M sweater, and decided to wear a cap which would save on quiffing time.
I exited the front door at 9.55am which made sure I would not be late. Lil didn’t like it when I arrived after 10am. The air hit my face and felt glacial.
As I entered the café the corner table was empty. There were a number of mumbling patrons but no Lil.
Armando looked up and we exchanged smiles by way of greeting.
‘Morning Armando. What would happen if someone was sitting there when Lil came in’? I asked pointing to the corner table.
‘It more than my life worth. I would have to say ‘reserved’.’
‘No sign of her yet then?’ I enquired. Armando shook his head. ‘I’ll start with Assam as always please, and a bowl of porridge with blueberries.’
With my order placed I unbuttoned my Parka with the fake fur hood and sat down. I sat sideways to the table so I could keep an eye on the door. Lil always sat facing the doors. I took my iPhone from my combat pocket to check the time – 10.05. Lil was late which was unusual but she had been late before, and the cold weather presents additional challenges.
After tweeting and updating my Facebook status I took my Kindle from my coat pocket. I hadn’t really expected to get a chance to read but brought the digital reader just in case. I was midway through Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Dellafield and couldn’t put it down. Despite a rather prim title the book is extremely funny. It’s the diary of an ill-fated lady in the 1930s, who’s trying to juggle a succession of demanding servants, children’s needs, financial worries and a husband who doesn’t seem interested in her, all the time keeping, or rather trying to keep, up with the other middle and upper class families surrounding her little life.
I know I’m not helping in selling it but trust me it’s worth a read. There are not too many laugh-out-loud moments but plenty of smiles.
I smirked as I read ‘Cannot many of our moral lapses from truth be frequently charged upon the tactless persistence of others’; an excellent introspection. Sometimes we have to bend the truth to satisfy our interrogators, especially when they won’t take no for an answer. I reasoned that if they are sufficiently tactless to not read our discomfort at the constant pushing and pulling then we need to steer them away in a demure and smooth fashion. I was reflecting that indeed the Boulevardier lives by this standard when Armando was back with the porridge and tea. I looked at my phone again and it was 10.20. As I said the book is consuming.
‘Thanks Armando. This is odd. Lil has never been this late before. Has she always come in on a Thursday?’
‘Yes, more often than not. In fact now I think of it she did telephone a couple of months ago when she had a bad cold and wasn’t coming. She knows I save the table and didn’t want me to lose customers.’
‘Well this is indeed odd. I’m starting to get a little worried. Do you have her number? Can we call her?’
‘No. I don’t have her number. She called here.’
‘Do you know where she lives?’
Armando sat down and we looked at each other mirroring expressions of concern.
I’d been chatting merrily away with this lady weekly for a couple of months but I didn’t know very much about her. She tended to ask the questions.
The picture in my mind was of the previous week where I had waved goodbye to Lil at the café door and watched her disappear along the street towards the clock tower pushing her trolley with the stick jutting out.
What had happened to Lil?