It was morning, like it is most mornings. I was waiting for someone to realise that I rose each day, that I was awake in the morning, that I got up, that I washed, brushed my teeth, that I was living, although perhaps for no reason and with nothing to live for, yet I was still alive.
I was waiting for Everyone to recognise this.
I was sitting out because I wasn’t working and I was in the sun in the garden in a patch of it by the tree. It felt right to be out. A bit of joy sandwiched in between the days of serving popcorn and rotating stock so that the General Public could gorge itself on snacks and make itself fat. I was not free and wanted Everyone to know about it. Nowadays’ though, no one’s interested. It’s kind of your fault now if you’ve not made the most of yourself, if you’re not doing a job which makes you more free or getting paid for something you enjoy.
“Someone’s got to do it”, Everyone says, but blame you when it’s you.
Actually I was out here for a reason, in my patch of sun. I was wanting to catch Miss Economy. I called her that because a) she was exactly that in running the house I lived in and b) she was a student at LSE, though I didn’t know what she studied. She was my Landlady and married to Mr Landlord and they lived in the top apartment but I hardly ever saw them- they had strict rules about when I could use the living room or the kitchen, even the bathroom. Mr Landlord would, I was told on the regulation list I was handed only when I took up the tenancy, need use of that space between the hours of 6.30 and 7.30am every morning and it was not to be used by anyone else, not even Miss Economy. I think if I had known about the rules before hand I would never have taken the room but then I was also desperate. Some of the other rules were that loo paper would not be provided, nor plates or pans etc, use of the garden was allowed but not when Mr Landlord was there, the study with the computer and wi-fi was off-limits and no visitors, under any circumstances and of either sex, were permitted to stay over night. If I wanted to have a friend around I had to clear it with Miss Economy at least a week in advance first.
As I say I was waiting to catch sight of Miss Economy. She fascinated me because I could not understand what in the world she was doing with Mr Landlord. It was an unlikely match. She was softly spoken, slim, dainty as some Chinese women are, but always with the sense she was withholding some special secret or knowledge. Mr Landlord, by contrast, was her opposite in everyway- large, loud, a bit of a bull in a china shop as I soon discovered..
“This is your room”, he said, showing me around, “and next to it” he continued with a wink and a nod, “is ours.”
He didn’t need to but he flung the door open wide to reveal a huge double bed. I tried to imagine Miss Economy and Mr Landlord having a shag in that but failed. Surely a marriage of convenience, I thought. He was older than her by about twenty years. Yet she doted on him like a loving wife, although perhaps more a domesticated and servile one rather than as an astute career woman might. If he said tea, she got tea, if he said cushion, she got cushion. I could see her IQ was perhaps way higher than his but she made herself inferior and he lapped it up, he was definitely king of the castle.. I could see the life of the house, the mechanisms for getting up and eating and going to bed again revolved entirely around his needs. He was a Lie Detector Reader by trade and it meant he had to get up very early in the morning and pamper himself he assured me, but to me he just looked like he stepped out of Craven House -he was not a man of his times. I have to say that everything in my body was initially warning me not to take this room but I had to leave my friend’s in a few days and nowhere else I could afford had come up. It was the best of a bad lot.
Well, Miss Economy finally arrived into the garden, holding a watering can daintily between her finger tips. She was dressed in floral pajama bottoms, the kind you can get away with wearing at the supermarket, a light top and flip-flops.
“Hello”, I said to her when I saw her.
“X68” she muttered to me.
She meant the bus. From West Norwood to Waterloo ran an Express only the sacred few knew about, it seemed to be used exclusively by “professionals”. Miss Economy used it all the time to transport her quickly to LSE, I never did, it was often so packed I did not bother.
“X68, you haven’t used it yet I can tell.”
I wanted to lie and assure her I had, but I knew then I would be quizzed about the passengers, the stops it halted at, the times it took to get to Central London and I didn’t have that knowledge.
“Me and Beni use it,” she added breathlessly as if doing me a favour, ” We use it everyday. So quick, so quick. It’s there, so fast.”
I bet they did. Her and Beni. Beni was the other lodger, also Chinese and also a student at LSE. I saw him even less than I saw Mr Landlord and Miss Economy. The day I was introduced to him he opened his door, which was next to mine, and stood sweating- it was the height of summer yet he had the heating on full blast, the room smelt with it.
“I’m just studying Economy” he said when I asked him what he did. “I take the X68 to LSE, you must use it too.”
I admired, as I watched a drip of sweat run from his nose, how both he and Miss Economy were obsessed with transport. Beni seemed very insular, blinking at me and pushing his spectacles back up his nose and pumping my hand with his slippery palm , I felt sorry. I saw him steal a quick glance at Miss Economy but she ignored him, only saying “He is my friend.”
Miss Economy was in the garden now and had again imparted the secret of the X68 to me. I in turn was preparing to impart my own secret, a secret I had to reveal daily, the times when I could expect to use the kitchen for lunch, dinner and supper. But Miss Economy was strangely ignorant of me.. a cough had bellowed down to us from Beni’s window which backed onto the garden and on hearing it she had immediately stood still, as if frozen.
“Oh I do hope he’s not ill,” she said to me when she felt my eyes on her.
But she didn’t fool me. When Beni let out another rattling cough, perhaps after sympathy, who can tell, she dropped the watering can and half ran towards the window, but then she collected herself and gave me a guilty look.
“Oh don’t worry, I’m not your husband,” I said and picked up the watering can.
For the first time I saw her stutter, she opened her mouth at me but no words came. A voice from above saved her.
“Rose”, for that was her English adopted name.
I looked up and Beni appeared at the window, a handkerchief pressed sentimentally against his mouth. He did not see me but Rose was guarded.
I wondered when they had fucked. Undoubtedly they must have. I used to think sex and desire and love- the forbidden kind- was always played out through hidden gestures and subtle glances. But that was in books. In reality because lovers were their own secret they thought they were to everyone else too, and that made them indiscreet. Now a days too, people shagged an awful lot more, it seemed to be the norm. I imagined them doing it on the X68 but it wouldn’t be possible.But perhaps in some back room at LSE somewhere- that could happen. And always the fat man between them. It must have occurred to them that they could marry and have as many children as they wanted here in the UK, if circumstances were different. But Rose was dependent on Mr Landlord, at least whilst she was still studying. But what after? A travesty to split Mr Landlord’s heart? Perhaps they would go back to China together? I could see Mr Landlord loved Rose in his own way, she gave him materialistic comfort, cooked his meals, kept house, slept with him, though I am sure if he had mounted her he would probably have broken her bones- she would have to be on top. But I never heard anything, I must confess. No tell-tale loud music. I suppose it tickled the bureaucrat to have such a slim intelligent wife. I could see it would never occur to him that she might be having it off with the other lodger.
Rose knew I knew. She kept watering the garden, her hand shaking, but she had been watering the same passion-flower for over 5 minutes now. Finally she came up to me.
“Don’t tell him”, she said, ‘Please don’t, it will break him.”
“Alright,”, I said, pretending to consider. “But I want something in exchange. I want to be able to use the kitchen and the bathroom in particular, when ever I want.”
Rose took in her breath sharply but she saw that I meant it.
“OK, I agree”. she said. “I’ll talk to him tonight.”
“Good,” I said.
And with that Rose walked into the house, presumably to fuck Beni, it seemed like I’d given her permission somehow. And at least I was going to be more free and I couldn’t complain about that.