Time to Identify

I couldn’t wait to see Lil today. I needed to get an update. She’d called on Monday evening to let me know that she had heard from the police.

‘What do you mean Lil, they think they’ve found him?’

‘The bugger who conned his way into my home. He was caught on CCTV going into another block and someone called the police,’ Lil answered. She sounded more like her old self.

‘What happens next?’ I asked.

‘Well he hasn’t admitted to all his crimes, but if I’m able to pick him out at an identity parade then he’ll get prosecuted for mine too.’

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‘And how do you feel about that?’ I asked.

‘Sick. I don’t want to see his horrid violence-filled face again, but what choice do I have? I want him to pay for what he did to me as well as to others. From what the police said I think there are a number of identity parades. There are cases in Muswell Hill too,’ said Lil.

The line went silent for a few seconds.

‘Are you sure you’re OK Lil?’

‘A bit shaken and I feel sick but… I need to ask you a favour. Is there any chance you can come with me tomorrow?’

What was I going to say? I had to drive to Cardiff first thing Tuesday morning for work meetings and wouldn’t be back until late Wednesday evening. I didn’t want to let Lil down.

‘I wish I could Lil but I have to go to Cardiff tomorrow and won’t be back until Wednesday evening. Shall I see if Armando can go with you?’

There was more silence on the line which hung heavy with disappointment – on both sides.

‘I understand. And I am quite capable of asking him myself,’ said Lil.

‘Please don’t go on your own – even if you have to ask Mavis – just please don’t go on your own,’ I said. I had to remember that Lil was responsible for herself but I did feel guilty at not being able to support her. She wasn’t someone who found it easy to ask for help at the best of times.

‘Wayne, I have a number of options and I can assure you I won’t need any help from her.’

I told her I would be thinking of her, wished her luck, and confirmed that we would catch up on Thursday. I did call Armando from the car Tuesday morning to see if he’d spoken to Lil, which he had and was able to go with her. This eased my conscious a little.

I was tired.

It had been a long couple of days in Cardiff but I put on a jolly and encouraging attitude as I set off for the café and to my hopefully reviving Breakfast Club.

Lil and Armando were already at the table. I kissed them both on the cheek and sat down.

‘She was a brilliant,’ said Armando with pride bursting from his voice. He reached across and took Lil’s hand.

Lil looked tired.

The cups were dry and empty so I knew they’d not been there long. I poured the freshly brewed tea into the three waiting cups.

‘Are you OK Lil?’ I asked.

‘I am glad it’s over Wayne. It was him – the bastard… seeing his face there glaring at me through the wall was horrific… it took me straight back to the moments when I saw him in my bedroom… it’s weird, you see identity parades on the TV and I often wondered if they actually worked – they bloody do.’

Lil paused and picked up her cup. She did look frail or was that just my guilt at not being able to support her this week?

‘Apparently not all the old people turned up for the parades but enough to guarantee a longer sentence. Thieves should still have their bloody hands chopped off. That might make them stop and think before they cause so much pain.’

‘Well done for going Lil. It can’t have been easy.’ I wasn’t sure I agreed with such severe punishments but now was not the time to debate.

‘Armando was a rock. We came back to the café afterwards for tea with rhubarb crumble and custard – delicious.’

A few sips of tea was all it took, and Lil was starting to show signs of recovery.

‘It was my pleasure, and today I have freshly cooked kedgeree for all for breakfast. Time to move forward,’ said Armando.

Fantastic – I hadn’t had kedgeree for some time. I tried not to outwardly lick my lips. This wasn’t the time for obvious displays of greed.

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‘Indeed Armando it is time to move forward. Any new dates arranged? You were trying your hardest in the police station yesterday, and don’t think I didn’t notice you gawping at every officer and detective who walked passed us. It kept my mind off the matter at hand,’ said Lil.

‘Not yet but I did start talking to a new guy online yesterday,’ said Armando.

‘Excellent. No time to waste,’ said Lil.

Reading between the lines I suspected that Armando had filled Lil in on his love life or lack thereof. I nodded my agreement to Armando.

The kedgeree arrived. The smell of smoked fish filled my lungs. The mixed white and yellow dish before me made my mouth water. This wasn’t going to be a diet day. I’d start tomorrow morning. I picked up my fork and shovelled a portion onto it. The taste was exquisite.

‘Thanks Armando, this is delightful,’ I said.

‘So Lil, dare I ask whether you’ve seen Bill?’ I added.

‘No. I was supposed to meet him for a friendly tea yesterday but I wasn’t up to going out. When I called him to cancel he acted as if we weren’t due to meet in the first place. I’d been through enough and didn’t have time for his nonsense.’

Armando and I nodded our agreement, our mouths too full of kedgeree to issue forth a wordy response.

I might have to go for a double length run this afternoon, I thought, as I was likely to accept any offer for second helpings.

 

Relight the Fire

I’d bumped into Bill outside the dentist near my home during the week. It was presented as a coincidence, on his part, but I wasn’t convinced.

‘I’ve still not heard from her. She won’t return my calls. Do you think it’s all over?’ Bill rattled off his questions in quick succession without giving me chance to answer. This reminded me of my mum. She was also adept at that skill.

‘This has hit her hard Bill and I don’t know what’s in the future for you but we have to get her up, out and fighting again. I’d rather see her screaming at Mavis than this.’

‘Mavis has been trying to coordinate different members of our group to call on Lil to try and get a response. She suspects it’s time Lil went into a home. Mavis thinks she’s past it.’

‘Does she indeed,’ I said.

This was typical Mavis-esque behaviour. However this behaviour gave birth to the semblance of an idea. The strategy was highrisk but if anything was going to spark Lil’s fire it would involve Mavis. Lil had to be jumpstarted. Love, support and concern hadn’t worked. I think Lil’s fending for herself too often in life left her unable to rely on and accept the support of others. She blamed this event on her guard being down, and partly due to letting others into her life.

‘Perhaps we should meet up on Thursday Bill? Do you think Mavis would be up to brainstorming ideas?’

‘Yes of course she would,’ answered Bill sounding a bit more enthusiastic.

‘Good then why not come to Breakfast Club on Thursday. How does 10.30 sound?’

‘I thought you met at 10?’

‘Errrr, we do but it’ll give Armando and me a chance to catch up first.’ I spoke firmly and decisively and hoped for no more challenges.

‘OK – great in fact. I hope we can get my princess back to her good ole self. I’ve been so worried; I’ve not been eating… But you know what I’m going to get cake now and a proper dinner to build up my strength,’ said Bill.

I smiled and glanced down and noticed the buttons on Bill’s waistcoat as ready to explode as ever. I’m not sure his concern had dulled his appetite as much as alleged.

I went to the cafe and grabbed a quick word with Armando. The cafe was busy and we couldn’t catch up properly. I managed to ascertain that he didn’t want more trouble in his establishment. He was also looking forward to a date Thursday evening and wanted karma in all quarters.

I called Lil and as usual had to leave several messages, the last of which mentioned an impromptu visit.

‘Wayne I’ll get back to you when I’m up to it. You’re too pushy,’ said Lil as soon as I answered her return call.

‘OK, I wasn’t sure if you were worse –’

‘What did you want so urgently anyway. Sorry if I sound cross. I’m finding life very difficult at the moment,’ interrupted Lil.

‘I hope you’ll be attending Breakfast Club this week.’

‘I’ll have to see.’ The strength was gone from her voice.

‘I’m off to Santorini on Saturday and was hoping to see you before I leave, and even more importantly Armando has a date Thursday evening and I’m sure you’d want to wish him well.’ I nearly added ‘your honour’ as I felt I was pleading a case in court.

‘I’m sure Armando is capable of getting ready for a date without my interference,’ she said.

‘Come on Lil, give me a break,’ I said. I was running out of persuasive arguments and I wanted to see her in public again, at least once before I went away.

‘How will I get there?’ Lil’s voice was incredibly meek. Her will wanted her to attend but fear was disabling her.

‘I’ll come and get you en route, say about 9.45?’ I said hopefully.

‘All right. Don’t be early or late as I’m not answering the door at any time other than 9.45,’ Lil affirmed.

‘Then perhaps we should sync watches.’ I started to snigger as I finished my sentence.

‘Don’t be facetious Wayne.’ And with that the conversation was over.

Thursday morning soon arrived and Lil let me into her flat without incident. It was precisely 9.45 BST.

Lil was wearing a nice light dress with a floral pattern. I hadn’t seen this before but then again I’d only known her since the winter. Her hair was white and there was no sign of a recent funky-coloured rinse.

‘Is the trolley coming?’ I asked.

‘Why would I need that? I’m coming straight home,’ Lil responded.

We shuffled along and admired the beautiful blooms in the Crouch End gardens. It seemed that the front garden fleur du jour was Forsythia. We were surrounded by delicate yellow flowers.

The cafe was quiet and sedate and we shuffled to our usual table. There was a small vase bursting with daffodils.

‘For you Lil,’ said Armando as he greeted Lil with a tender kiss on the cheek.

We sat automatically and Armando stirred the pot.

‘I might just go straight home again boys,’ said Lil.

Armando put his hand across the table on top of Lil’s and looked right into her eyes and implored her to stay. Lil yielded and seemed to settle.

Everything was gentle and I wondered whether this was all Lil needed and not the shock therapy I had planned.

We chatted generally covering the weather, the spring flowers, and adjusting to our spring wardrobes. Lil ordered a Full English on the proviso that Armando wouldn’t be offended if she couldn’t clean her plate.

Full English Breakfast (4)

Time was ticking by and I knew that immanently the door would open and Mavis and Bill would enter. What had I done? I wondered whether I should just up and leave. I reasoned that I shouldn’t leave Armando in the lurch.

Lil was eating slowly and had only lightly scraped butter onto her toast rather than the usual decadent lashings.

‘Have you been to your age group?’ I asked Lil.

‘No,’ she answered and looked forward. Her eyes widened and I knew from the sound of the door that my ill-formed plan was about to kick in.

‘Princess,’ Bill exclaimed with ecstasy as he surged forward forgetting to hold the door for Mavis.

‘Hello Bill,’ said Lil ‘moved on have we?’ She was looking behind Bill. Her voice was still quieter than it should have been and wore a defeated tone.

‘Morning Lillian,’ said Mavis before Bill had an opportunity to respond to Lil’s question, ‘how are you feeling dear?’

‘Not great Mavis to be honest. Thanks for the card,’ responded Lil.

Armando jumped up to allow Bill and Mavis to sit. The table seated four and another chair could have been added but he was making his escape in advance of any untoward behaviour. ‘Coward’ I uttered under my breath.

‘I’ll bring a fresh pot of tea,’ Armando said to give a smooth fluidity and reason for his sudden movement. He may have also heard my comment.

Lil placed her cutlery on her plate and looked across at Bill. She looked as if she would start sobbing.

‘You look so pretty,’ said Bill meeting Lil’s eyes.

Mavis shuffled in her seat and patted down her cardigan. Her body language suggested her resolve to help Lil was waning.

‘Do I? I don’t feel it. And I’m getting tired. I don’t think I can cope with too much company today.’ Lil looked away from Bill, and at me with longing. Her eyes yearned to be back at home, safely behind a locked door.

Goodness, I didn’t know whether to press on or assist her freedom plan.

‘I’m so happy to see you. Let’s just sit here for a while and rest,’ added Bill.

Mavis put her glasses case on the table in a rather heavy handed way. I wasn’t sure whether this was accidental, or a growing annoyance at Bill’s puppydog behaviour.

‘Well at least you’re out. You mustn’t let those ne’er-do-wells win,’ said Mavis.

‘Precisely,’ said Bill ‘and I’m not letting you go into a home.’

‘Why would you say that?’ ask Lil. Her sorrow had turned to bewilderment.

‘Mavis was concerned –’

‘I’ve seen so many fall victim of crime and end up in homes and was worried,’ interrupted Mavis.

‘Oh I see,’ said Lil accepting Mavis’ explanation.

‘No, you said she should go into The Arbours in Highgate last week Mavis. Remember at age club? Dotty and Hilda were there,’ added Bill helpfully.

‘Did you indeed,’ said Lil. The truculence in her tone was increasing. Was that fire I saw in her eyes?

‘I may have suggested it.’ Mavis picked up the milk jug and moved it to the side of the table. She put it down heavily. This time I knew it wasn’t accidental. ‘You have had a few funny incidents lately Lillian and perhaps you’re not capable of looking after yourself, and others, anymore.’

Lil looked at Mavis and had tear droplets starting to form in the corner of her eyes. I might have to intervene. Had the fight really evaporated entirely from Lil after a few lines of banter with Mavis?

Mavis continued ‘And poor Bill it’s not fair on him.’

‘I’m fine – ‘ Bill started to respond and was interrupted by Lil.

‘You are a beast Bellamy.’ Lil picked up her fork and pointed it at Mavis.

‘I’ve had a dreadful time and maybe you meant to help or maybe you didn’t, but to try and manipulate Bill is disgusting,’ said Lil. There was definitely fervour in her eyes now.

‘Here we go again,’ said Mavis, you’re a liability Lillian –’

‘Hang on Mavis.’ It was Bill interrupting this time ‘you told me that we’d have to replace Lil on the committee and you’ve offered to cook me dinner three times this week. You said something about the grass being greener and every cloud. I had no idea you meant Lil!’

‘You said what? Evil –’ Lil started to say.

‘I’m not having another public row Lillian,’ said Mavis firmly. Armando looked relieved from his station behind the counter. ‘All I do is try to help and it’s not my fault if people don’t know what’s best for them.’

Lil slammed down her fork and went to speak but Mavis held up her hand and continued ‘I’m leaving now, and you Bill need to learn to keep private conversations confidential.’

Mavis picked up her glasses’ case and pushed it into her handbag and was up and off before anyone could get another word in.

Lil picked up her cutlery and started tucking into the half-eaten breakfast which must have been cold.

‘Everything seems to be going to pot. I take a couple of weeks to get over a traumatic experience and anarchy sets in,’ said Lil. She sliced her sausage as if a woodsman chain-sawing a tree trunk.

Bill smiled, ‘that’s my girl,’

‘I’m not your girl especially as it seems you have been cavorting and two-timing me with her.’ Lil was starting to sound more Lil-like and was tucking into her cold breakfast as if it was the first meal she’d tasted in weeks.

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‘Wayne we’ll catch up on your Greece trip when you’re back. What is that round your neck?’ asked Lil as a mushroom plunged into the depths of her mouth.

‘It’s my spring scarf,’ I answered.

There was a semi-cackle followed by ‘spring scarf! I wouldn’t take it to Greece. I’m not sure they’d understand your London ways.’ Lil looked towards the counter and called to Armando ‘So where are you going on this date tonight? I hope it’s somewhere appropriate.’ Armando looked at Lil warmly and nodded.

Lil put down her cutlery. She hadn’t managed to clear the plate but there was definitely an improvement.

‘Wayne, could you walk me home please?’ Lil asked. She was looking tired.

‘I’ll do it,’ said Bill enthusiastically.

‘Not today thank you Bill, I’m with Wayne. I’ll consider calling you at the weekend.’

As we walked home we didn’t exchange a word. Lil gripped my arm tightly and kissed me tenderly as we parted. She suspected my part in this chance cafe showdown but would never be able to openly thank me for involving Mavis.

Down But Not Out

It was disappointing but not surprising to receive a note from Lil on Tuesday indicating that she wouldn’t be able to attend Breakfast Club this week. I called in to see Armando and he’d received a similar note – delivered by a rather forlorn Bill. We agreed that I’d call Lil to establish whether a house call would be more amenable. I wasn’t holding out much hope as she hadn’t been receptive to anything since our last meeting.

‘If only I could get my hands on that bastard,’ said Armando.

‘That wouldn’t do any good, you’d end up in trouble with the police too,’ I responded. I shook my head as I raised the 1970s pottery coffee cup from its saucer to my lips.

‘Maybe, but it make-a me feel a lot bloody better. There is no respect for older people.’

We consumed a second slice of Madeira cake to suffocate our sorrows.

I called Lil – answer-phone, again. I explained my concern and that in the absence of a response I would have no alternative other than to make a personal visit. I tried to sound funny rather than forceful. Lil was down due to a forced invasion, but I wasn’t going to let her be out.

She called back and sounded like a vanishing echo of her former self. Fortunately there was a glimmer of her essence. I detected a sliver of indignance.

‘I’m not feeling great Wayne and I don’t appreciate your “or else” scenario,’ Lil said as soon as I answered her call.

‘Sorry to hear that Lil. I hadn’t heard back from you and then I got your note and I had to try again.’ I always found situations of this nature impossible and struggled to balance supportive and directive against pushy and interfering.

The line hung quiet for a few seconds and then I heard a tut, another pause, and then she continued.

‘Well? What did you want?’

‘I wanted to persuade you to receive two callers tomorrow morning, just briefly, and as a tempter Armando is baking Battenberg today and there is a wedge with your name on it,’ I said.

‘If you mean that you and Armando are going to pop over tomorrow morning with Battenberg then I suppose that’s OK, but you can’t stay long, I’m too tired,’ Lil answered.

‘Thank you Lil. I know it’s not easy. We’ll come at 10am if that’s convenient. Don’t eat too much breakfast.’

‘Righty-ho – see you then.’

And with that the line went dead.

I met Armando at 9.50 as planned. The café, ironically, was full and it was odd seeing two young women and their oversized perambulators inhabiting our usual spot. I pursed my lips at them, in honour of Lil.

Armando asked me to wait for a few minutes as Lil’s ‘meals-on-wheels’ wasn’t ready. He passed me a bag and informed of the muffins and cake inside. I licked my lips.

After a couple of minutes Armando emerged with a plate wrapped in foil and indicated that our mission had commenced.

It was 9.55 when we closed the cafe door and spotted Bill looking in the window of a neighbouring shop.

‘Shit, I forgot Assam,’ said Armando and disappeared back inside his cafe.

‘Morning Bill,’ I said.

‘Morning Wayne. Isn’t your Breakfast Club about to start?’

‘Lil wasn’t up to it. We’re popping over to her flat instead. Have you spoken to her this week?’

‘No, I tried a couple of times, but Mavis said probably best to leave her to it, until she’s ready to deal with life again. I don’t want to hassle her, however much I miss hearing her cackle,’ Bill said.

I wondered if it were wise to be seeking the counsel of Mavis. Bill read my face.

‘There have been a spate of bogus callers in the area and Mavis is working with the police to heighten awareness for us oldies…’

I wasn’t sure he should be jumping to Mavis’ defence. It was perhaps fortunate that Lil wasn’t talking to Bill. I doubt she’d want to hear Mavis’ pearls right now.

Armando re-emerged, armed with Assam, and we politely excused ourselves from Bill’s company.

We made it through the intercom without incident and were soon outside the front door waiting for entry to be granted. Lil didn’t look too bad physically and the purple from her eye had all but mottled into her skin.

Armando took charge and inhabited the kitchen with purpose and I guided Lil to her sitting room. She sat gingerly and gave a weak smile. My eyes wandered and I was pleased to note the mantelpiece was full of cards.

Lil read my eyes, ‘Old people, ha, never miss a chance to send a condolence card. There’s even one from Mavis stuffed with pamphlets. It’s a bit late to read about validating unknown callers. That ship has sailed…’

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Armando walking into the sitting room with a tray. The foil was gone and its absence revealed a full-English which he set on Lil’s lap. Lil didn’t say anything but picked up her cutlery and set about consumption. He was a generous guy. His café hadn’t dabbled in take-away until today. Lil didn’t speak but her appreciation needed no wordy confirmation.

Armando went back to his temporary kitchen and returned with muffins on side plates and a pot of tea, and sat beside me on the sofa.

I poured the tea and placed a cup by Lil’s side.

‘Wow, I never thought I’d actually get served by you Boulevardier,’ said Lil. Her voice wasn’t as confident and determined as usual but the sarcastic spirit was encouraging.

‘Needs must Lil,’ I answered.

We fell into silence again. Who should lead the conversation, and what subjects should we cover?

Lil ate slowly and managed a few forkfuls, but didn’t shovel with her usual gusto.

I tried again. ‘Have the police been back to see you Lil?’

‘No…’

‘We saw Bill outside the café today. I think he wanted to bump into you,’ I continued.

‘I’m sorry I’m tired and I need to lie down. This is too much. I have to be on my own,’ said Lil.

Armando and I looked at each other. Our eyes wore a mutual concern.

‘Now stop that. I’m fine. I’m just tired. Armando could you please put the foil back on this lovely feast. I will reheat it later.’

‘Of course Lil, and I’ll leave the Battenberg in the bread bin,’ said Armando.

We knew that she wouldn’t be eating it later. Who reheats breakfast? But she wanted her solitary sanctuary. And hopefully she’d savour the Battenberg.

As we left she allowed us to kiss her on each cheek and raised an affectionate smile. There were the early signs of tears in her eyes.

I was frantic with worry but didn’t want to let it show. I didn’t want to let Lil sink. It would be like abandoning my own mother.

As we walked back to the café I said to Armando ‘We need to come up with a plan to lift her spirits.’

Armando agreed and suggested I purchase a slice of his lemon meringue pie to feed my plotting.