‘Armando? Are you joining us today?’ Lil was shouting at the wall, the other side of which was the café kitchen.
There was no answer.
Lil waved one hand at me in a decisive manner which seemed to indicate that I should sit.
‘Armando? Are you there?’ Lil was louder and almost trilling her request.
Armando’s head popped out through the kitchen hatch. His hair was messier than usual and a black grease shone from his face. ‘Dishwasher not a-working now, bloody expensive, and I’m a-trying to fix.’
His head disappeared again into the recesses of the scullery.
Lil raised her eyebrows and gave an omnipotent purse of her lips.
‘Armando’s been avoiding me since I asked about his boyfriend. I don’t know why. It’s not as if he needs to be embarrassed to talk to me about it,’ said Lil.
‘How’s your boyfriend Lil?’ I asked.
‘Who?’ Lil knew exactly what I was asking.
‘Bill.’ I answered.
‘He’s not my boyfriend.’ Lil’s response was sharp and fast.
‘Where is he anyway?’ I asked.
‘Now listen here Boulevardier. I know exactly what you’re trying to do and it’s not going to get past me. Bill doesn’t need to come every week. This is my Breakfast Club and as he recently left me for weeks to go and visit his family, I’m not having him here. And don’t try and change the subject.’
Lil lifted the antique china pot and poured the golden liquid into the mismatched vintage cup and saucer in front of her.
‘Armando hasn’t yet told me he’s gay,’ she continued.
‘Is he?’ I asked innocently. I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable having this conversation with Lil. Armando had been open with me but it wasn’t for me to gossip about him, even if it was only with the third axis of our intimate group.
‘Look here. I know these things. Take Cyril for instance,’ said Lil.
‘Who’s Cyril?’ I asked.
‘Don’t you listen to a word I say Wayne? Cyril, the guy who lives in my block.’
‘Lil I promise you haven’t mentioned him before.’ Lil told so many stories it was difficult to retain the detail. They were invariably colourful, contained drama or tragedy or both. I’m not sure I’d have forgotten hearing about her other gay friends though.
‘Well anyway, he’s in his late sixties and a confirmed bachelor, or so he says.’ Lil released a mammoth cackle, ‘I wasn’t fooled. I managed to wheedle it out of him.’
I was glad I’d ordered a vegetarian breakfast, with a sausage on the side; listening to Lil on a roll was hungry work. I sliced a juicy grilled tomato and pressed it against a sliver of Halloumi. I raised the loaded fork to my mouth and looked expectantly at Lil to continue.
‘He moved in three years ago and wears yellow Marks’ trousers with floral shirts and silk scarves and I knew straight away. He’d lived in Brighton and done a flat swap.
I asked him if he watched Downton Abbey. He said he did, and then I asked who his favourite character was, and do you know who he said?’
‘No idea Lil.’ I didn’t know where our conversation was going or how many clichés we would be embracing.
‘Thomas the Underbutler.’ Lil’s response was perspicacious from her tone but I wasn’t so sure.
‘Thomas is a conniving, sly manipulator. Perhaps Cyril likes those qualities. I don’t think identifying with a character in a TV show gives certainty Lil, although the clothing you describe could tell a different story,’ I said. I started to laugh and thought I’d been funny. Lil wasn’t laughing.
‘No, Cyril is a nice chap. He’s drawn to Thomas as he hides his sexuality too.’ Lil was orating as if a University Professor. ‘And I’m certain that Thomas would be your favourite character too Mr Boulevardier.’ Lil crowed again.
‘I like the Dowager Countess. Maggie Smith has all the best lines,’ I said. In fact I liked Maggie Smith in most of her roles, ‘Tea with Mussolini’ being my favourite.
‘Exactly. That’s precisely the same,’ Lil wasn’t for turning today.
‘Thomas, Maggie Smith, it doesn’t mean anything and I think you’re rather jumping to conclusions Lil.’ I hadn’t seen Lil using stereotyping in such a blatant and shallow way before. She wasn’t being negative or offensive but equally was drawing conclusions from pathways which didn’t link.
‘Let me finish. I also asked Cyril last winter if he’d watched Vicious, you know the show starring Derek Jacobi and Ian Mc’what’s his name, about the two senior gay men who have been together for years. And he said that he was watching it.’
‘Perhaps he fancies Frances de la Tour,’ I offered.
‘Ha, don’t be so bloody stupid. Anyway I know these things. Remember I worked in the theatre for years.’ Lil speared a piece of sausage and thrust it into her mouth in an authoritative manner.
Armando appeared from the kitchens looking flustered but clean, and collected a cup and saucer from the counter and sat down.
‘Is it fixed?’ I asked.
‘For now, but I think I have to call engineer to check. Staff don’t like too much a-washing up.’ Armando was trying to straighten his hair. His hair generally had a mind of its own but being stuck in a dishwasher had heightened its coiffeur. Armando’s ‘just got out of bed’ cool mess was bordering on just being a mess.
One of the waitresses arrived with a fresh pot of Assam tea.
‘We were just talking about television shows Armando. Do you watch Vicious?’ asked Lil with as much subtlety as a baboon’s backside.
‘Yes, I’ve a seen it. I’m not sure it is good.’
‘I knew it,’ said Lil as she sat back in her chair and folded her arms.
A ringing from Armando’s pocket interrupted Lil’s gloating. The dishwasher repair people were en route and Armando was off and to the kitchen again.
‘How’s Mavis?’ I asked Lil.
That wiped the smile from her smug face.
‘Another tea?’ I added innocently as I held the pot above Lil’s empty cup.