After the dramas of last week I was looking forward to an update at Breakfast Club.
Had Bill been forgiven?
Had Lil softened in her view of the newer Crouch Enders?
Had Armando had sufficient customers of any variety this week to keep him happy?
Had Armando re-engaged in his personal life?
Goodness I barely had time for a working life around my writing and Chronicles of Crouch End.
I was first into the cafe, which wasn’t unusual. Armando came over and looked less tense than he had lately.
‘Morning Armando. How’s life?’ I asked.
‘Yes, busy week in the cafe, and I had met some new nice people at the weekend…’
Armando stopped mid-sentence and looked over at the door. I turned to see Lil shuffling in with her shopping trolley. She was adorned in the biggest pair of Jackie O sunglasses I’d ever seen. Victoria Beckham would have been proud.
Armando wolf-whistled. Lil didn’t react and shuffled over. She didn’t look at us, but carefully parked the trolley by her side and sat down. Something didn’t feel right.
Lil didn’t move for what seemed like forever and then raised her hand to her face and removed the oversized shades to expose a painful-looking black eye, which was mostly excruciatingly purple.
Lil burst into tears.
Armando and I both reached across. She rejected our hands and stopped crying – anger replaced the weeping.
‘Don’t let anyone in. It ain’t fucking worth it,’ Lil said. I’d heard her swear before but never with the f word. I was bewildered and had no idea what to say. I looked down and then at Lil. Her expression was frozen and she didn’t appear to want to add to her statement.
Armando signalled to the waitress that he wanted a pot of tea immediately and looked at Lil with love and care and spoke in a soft tone.
‘Lil, what has a happened? We need to know and a-understand.’ This was the Mediterranean quality I’d previously looked for in Armando. I’d no idea what to say or do and he’d delivered the perfect enquiry brimming with concern and compassion.
The waitress arrived and looked down realising this was not the moment to provide smiley, American-style service. She deposited a quite beautiful 1950s teapot and passed a cosy to Armando, and vanished from our side.
Lil still hadn’t spoken. Armando busied himself stirring the tea. This was one time when I wished that brewing was instant and not a time-consuming art form.
Several minutes had passed since Armando had asked his question and Lil was still in a trance. She was not surrendering to the immense emotion that was swimming inside mind and heart.
At last the tea was ready and Armando played mother. The china chinked as Lil lifted the cup from its mismatched saucer. She took a slow, long sip and set her china down. Tea had worked its elixir magic and revived her senses sufficiently to allow further interaction. She took a deep breath and started to speak.
‘Last week’s Breakfast Club was brilliant. Bill had irritated me and our chat was marvellously jolly and cheering. I always feel so young and worthwhile when chatting with you two.’
Lil paused and took another long mouthful. I wanted to order food but didn’t want to interrupt. I hoped my tummy growls would not get any louder.
‘I went home and my mind was fixed on Bill’s grovelling apology which I knew would happen. I wondered what flowers would accompany his protestations. I decided that he wouldn’t get lunch as punishment, but I would make a tasty Cottage Pie for supper.’
Lil paused and looked round as the door opened – there was fear in her eyes. She was nervous.
‘You two should order. I’m not hungry,’ Lil said.
‘Lil, I’ll make a–something light. We’ll all have sausage sandwiches. I know Boulevardier likes a sausage,’ said Armando. Lil smiled. She was too distressed to laugh or give us one of her cackles which we thrived on.
‘Anyway, it was lunchtime and the doorbell rang. I knew it would be bloody Bill. His stomach and its need to be full to bursting would override any need to make a point or maintain a stance. I picked up the intercom phone and greeted the visitor in a formal and offhand way – appropriate to my mood. It wasn’t Bill’s voice which responded. It was the man from British Gas to inspect the property. He had tried to call a week or so previous and I’d forgotten that they were due back that day. Bill and his shenanigans had put me out of sorts.’
Lil paused to cover her recently arrived sausage sandwich in tomato ketchup. She delicately lifted the fresh white slice to reveal a butter and sausage fused, grease smeared underside. Lil squirted without reserve. I did hope that ketchup wouldn’t jettison from the sides of her mouth amid an important section of her trauma report.
‘There had been reports of a gas leak and he needed to check my supply. Gas is extremely dangerous you know.’
Armando and I nodded in agreement, mouths full of pork encased parcels.
‘Anyway I buzzed him in and up he came. He flashed his ID card at me and I led him to the boiler in the kitchen. He was a little younger than I expected and he had one of those really short haircuts. His numerous tattoos were visible on his forearms and exposed upper chest where his overalls gaped. He asked for the layout of the flat and where the radiators were. I asked him if he wanted a cup of tea, which he declined, and directed me into the sitting room so I could relax and not get in his way. I sat down in my armchair and could hear him rooting around in the kitchen. My thoughts turned to Bill and I was cross that he hadn’t yet arrived.’
At this point Lil took a bite from her ketchup laden sandwich and as suspected the red liquid escaped and ran down the corners of her mouth. In addition to the eye, of which we yet knew little detail, it looked as if she’d just competed in a boxing bout. Lil dabbed the corners of her mouth with her paper napkin reminding me that she wasn’t a prize fighter but a vulnerable old woman. A feisty senior but an impuissant one too.
‘I thought of the slab of Battenberg sitting on my kitchen counter. It was for Bill who didn’t deserve it, and I decided to offer it to the man from the gas board instead. That would serve Bill right, and after all we know he could do with skipping a few cake portions. I’d heard the gasman walk through the flat so headed to my bedroom and as I walked in, his hands were rooting in my drawers. “There’s no gas in there. What are you doing?” I asked him.’
Lil’s hands went for her cup and were trembling. I wanted to reach over but wasn’t sure if she’d reject it. Armando reached his hand over just as Lil lifted the cup. She wasn’t to be physically connected with at this moment.
‘Please don’t continue if painful,’ said Armando.
‘I have to finish,’ said Lil. I saw a tear forming in the corner of her amethyst eye. The colour however throbbed more than sparkled. I didn’t like where this story was going and wasn’t sure if she should continue.
‘”Piss off grandma,” he said as he barged passed me, knocking me onto the bed. I was shocked but not so much as to allow him to get away with my property. I got up and started towards the door, caught my foot and fell face first on the door handle.’
‘Lil, no…’ I said not knowing how to finish my sentence.
‘The next thing I knew the nosy cow Maggie from across the hall was talking to me, and I was on the floor of my bedroom. She and the police thought he’d hit me. Bill eventually arrived.’
‘Did he get anything Lil? Have they caught him?’ I asked.
‘No to both Boulevardier. Or nothing physical. He got me. Why did I let my guard down? Bill is gone and I want nothing to do with him. I don’t need to worry about anyone else. I’ve got you two once a week and that’s fine with me.’
Lil looked longingly at Armando and me and we both affirmed and reached over and gently rested our hands on each of hers. After a few seconds she pulled back and replaced the sunglasses.
We were going to need more than another cup of Assam tea to fix this.