I’d called into the café a few times in the last week to see if Armando had seen or heard anything from Lil. His response was consistent and negative. We hadn’t discussed possibilities as neither of us wanted to articulate what could have happened to our elderly friend.
It was Thursday and I had no trouble getting out of bed. In fact I was out of the door at 9.30am and seated in the café with a cup of Assam tea by 9.45. I’d sat in Lil’s seat so as to have the best view of the door.
I’d hoped she’d already be there or that Armando would finally have some news.
I didn’t order breakfast until I knew.
9.50 and 9.55 passed and still no sight. I couldn’t focus on anything other than the door and my hands wrapped around the cup containing the tea.
The time indicator on my phone changed from 9.59 to 10am and still no sign. I called Armando over.
‘This is ridiculous Armando. There must be something we can do to find her. Have you asked anyone else who comes in regularly if they know anything about her?’
‘I’ve been asking everyone I could think of. You know what it’s like in London. People don’t know too much about each other. It’s very different in Spain.’
‘But this is Crouch End. People do care. It’s like living in a village.’
The door opened and we looked from each other to the entrance.
Thank goodness. It was Lil. There was no shopping trolley and she was unsteady and heavy on her stick but it was her. She wore a long puffer coat and a fancy felt hat with an artificial rose on the side. Armando efficiently wove through the tables to her side, and offered his arm, and his support.
‘What you doing in my seat? Bloody hell I miss one week and you’re in my grave!’ Lil said with a weak cackle.
I apologised and moved. I’d forgotten where I was sitting when I’d seen her arrive.
As she removed her hat I noticed two new features; a purple rinse and a purple face. I let Lil settle, remove her outer coat to reveal her housecoat and reached across for her hand. We looked at each other with appreciation to be in each other’s company once again. Armando pulled up a chair and instructed the kitchen assistant and waitress not to disturb him, and to bring fresh tea.
‘What happened? Are you OK?’ I asked.
‘I’ve been a bloody fool,’ said Lil with water welling in her eyes. ‘I was fed up with a particular piece of peeling wallpaper above the mantelpiece in my sitting room. I got the steps from the hall cupboard and climbed up to rip the paper off. I lost my footing and fell off cracking my face on the side of the armchair and smashing to the floor.’
‘Lil, that’s awful. Did someone take you to hospital? When did it happen?’
‘It was last week Tuesday afternoon, and thank goodness my care-worker was due to visit otherwise I could have been stuck all night. The pain in my side was excruciating and I felt so sick.’
Lil looked away from us both as if deep in thought. ‘I’ll have my usual Armando please. I need to keep my strength up.’
‘Of course,’ and with that Armando ordered breakfast with a look to the staff. We could now settle a little and enjoy some sustenance. I, as usual, had a vegetarian breakfast with one sausage.
‘I was in the hospital for two days while they checked me out. Fortunately it’s all knocks and bruises, but I could have fractured my hip and cheek. Apparently I was in shock but that all sounded a bit like the modern mental clap-trap.’
‘Who’s looking after you?’ I asked.
‘I have some support but I’d rather do it myself. I have to keep moving. There’s no use relying on others.’
Lil said that when she was young an older lady she’d looked up to had taught her a rhyme, a mantra she had applied her whole life and proceeded to share it with us:
‘If your face wants to laugh, let it.
And if a smile you can get, get it.
Never look down. Don’t wear a frown
Because everyone else will hear about it
All over town.
So if at times you think you’ve got troubles
You’ll find someone else has double.
So laugh and grow fat
And if your face wants to laugh, let it.’
It made me think of my Auntie Rose who lives in Norfolk who says something similar.
‘Lil, we’ve been so worried and had no way to get in touch with you.’
‘Trust you to make it all about yourself Boulevardier.’ Lil smiled and picked up her cup with both hands. ‘And I’ve missed this bloody Assam, and that’s your fault too! I used to be fine with PG Tips.’ Lil was lightening the atmosphere. I would have to do likewise.
‘So what happened to your hair?’ I posed.
‘Bloody cheek. It’s to match the colour of my face. One of the support workers thought it would cheer me up! I hear Kelly Osbourne has hers the same colour.’
‘More like Mrs Slocombe-‘
‘-You can give us your number now, and we give you ours,’ Armando interrupted before Lil had a chance to react to my amusing comment.
Lil knew better than to refuse the offer and we exchanged telephone numbers and continued breakfast. We conversed and laughed about the mundane, with Lil offering blog improvements as always. Equilibrium had been restored to Crouch End.
Our breakfast club was a recent but increasingly special event for us all and it was clear we were determined to keep it intact.