by Gill James
The woman only came up to my shoulder and I'm not particularly tall. Her hair was amazing though: shoulder length, very fine, wavy and almost silver. She was sponging away at the front of her shirt, a shirt I noticed that dazzled almost as much as her hair. It was like an advert for washing powder. "Darn. It won't come out." She buttoned up her jacket and patted her chest. She giggled. "That will have to do." She ran her fingers through her hair and then took out a mirror and lipstick from her minuscule beaded handbag. She put on the lipstick, and pressed her lips together. She blew herself a kiss. "Gorgeous or what."
"Very nice," I replied.
She nodded at herself in the mirror. "You're beautiful, sweetheart."
She took out a pouch of tobacco and some roll-up papers and made herself a cigarette which she lit straight away. She was standing a bit too near to me so I moved away a little. The bus seemed to be taking an age though they are normally only a few minutes apart on this road.
"Sorry, love. Filthy habit, isn't it?" She threw her cigarette on the ground and stamped it out.
She started to pace up and down and mutter to herself.
"Do you know what time the bugger's due?" she asked. "Do you think it will be a big one? Do you remember when they used to let you smoke upstairs?"
Well, yes I did. But she didn't look old enough to be able to do that.
I nodded. "I'm glad they've stopped that."
She fumbled in her handbag and took out the pouch of tobacco again. Then she seemed to think better of it. "I'd given it up you know. But then I started again after he robbed me. Because of my nerves."
She nodded. She stared into the distance. "My life savings."
"That must be awful for you."
"It is. Everything I'd ever had. £32,000. I'd worked hard for that."
"You kept that amount of money - what - in the house?"
She shook her head. "On no, no, no. Even I'm not that daft." She squinted at me. "You don't think I look that daft do you?"
"No, not at all."
"It was fraud. He got into my bank account and transferred the lot into his. Then spent it."
"Won't the bank help?"
"No. They say it was my own fault." She sighed and started chewing her nail, then slapped it away from her mouth with her other hand. "Had to sell the house. Couldn't keep up with the mortgage. Had to give up my job, it made me that ill. I live in a grotty little council flat now."
"Oh dear. Did you know the man?"
"Oh yes, I knew him all right." Her hand was in her bag again, massaging the tobacco. "Tony Mackenzie."
"Tony Mackenzie? What, was he some relation or something? Friend?"
"Kind of. Both. He used to live with me. We used to rattle around in this great big house on Ringley Road. Before the footballers moved in."
"A partner? A lodger?"
She shrugged. "Neither. You probably wouldn't get it. I wouldn't have time to explain. Not before that bus gets here. It will be here soon, won't it?"
"I hope so."
"He was a blooming little squirt. Black hair and dark blue eyes. Handsome though. That was part of the trouble. He took you in. But I tell you, if I ever see him again, I'll wring his bleeding neck. He should be locked up. Pervert he is an' all."
"Really? So what else has he done?"
"Told you it would be a big one," she said. "It's a good job they don't let you smoke up top no more else I'd be making myself another fag."
The bus pulled up at our stop.
She stepped back. "You go first my love, age before beauty."
"I know it's my middle name. Suits me, don't you think." She pushed me gently from behind.
"Oh hello, Sandra," said the bus driver as I placed my wrinkly pass on to the card-reader. "Not got Tony with you today?"
"Naw. Left the old fart at home. He's getting to be too much of a miserable bugger."
She poked me in the back as I pulled my pass back. "You go and grab that place, my lover." She pointed to an empty seat next to the window. She seemed to want to get rid of me.
I couldn't help looking at the pass she slid on to the card reader, though. It was like mine but had a different colour around the edge. Well she certainly wasn't over the state pension age for women so she wouldn't be entitled to a wrinkly pass. Hard to tell how old she was really. Fifty? Forty-five? It was clearly a pass for the disabled. What exactly was her disability, though?
Then I saw the name and the photo. Anthony Mackenzie. A youngish dark-haired man with deep blue eyes.
Sandra winked at me.
"He was drinking too much," she said. "Drank the whole lot away. This is the only way I can keep him sober."
About the author
Gill James edits CafeLit and writes shorter and longer fiction for older and younger readers. You can find out about her books here.