tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 47

No Future Ch. 47

bybradley_stoke©

XLVII
Foreign Shores
Molly & Mark
2072




It had taken a long time for Mark and Molly to get used to living in Dagenham. It was a definite climbdown from North West London and it still wasn't a change in circumstances they were comfortable with. However, at least they'd both found jobs: not particularly good ones compared to what they had before but the compensation was they didn't have to squeeze themselves together all day long into the cramped space of a studio flat. The novelty and delight of spending every moment of their waking life together would most definitely have palled by now.

Mark was working in a second-hand car emporium where his experience at Tata Benz came in very useful not so much in the day-to-day business of selling rusty old cars but in getting the job in the first place. The price of second-hand cars was continuing to fall as the cost of fuel became increasingly prohibitive. Many old cars were now having their engines refitted for chemical batteries or hydrogen power.

Molly was now working evenings and sometimes nights in a synthetic fish bar, where her vegetarian tendencies were partly assuaged by the knowledge that the fish fillets she was frying had never once been part of an animal that had swum the open seas. Or ever swum anywhere at all.

Both Mark and Molly were close enough to where they worked to walk there which probably took them less time than if they chose to use one of London's rusting buses that weaved through the congestion of cycle rickshaws and horse-drawn carriages.

The difficulties of getting to work on a normal day were nothing compared to what it was like when London flooded. And this was something that was happening increasingly often. What was once described as a once-in-a-lifetime event had become just another routine hazard of urban life. Dagenham's flood defences weren't as resilient or as elevated as those in Docklands, Westminster or the City. It didn't take much rainfall to sink the borough beneath half a metre or so of water. On one memorable occasion it was almost waist-height, which made it impossible for either Molly or Mark to get to work. Fortunately, as it was similarly bad for everyone else in East London, it was only their wages they lost rather than their jobs.

When this memorable occasion was repeated, what before had been almost exciting was now greeted with world-weary resignation. The roads and pavements were sunk below dark muddy water that had risen steadily over the day and through the night. Heavy rain in the West of England combined with another surge in sea level resulted in yet another once-in-a-lifetime deluge.

Fortunately, Mark and Molly lived two floors up in what had once been a grand block of flats so, although the water caused an interruption to their water and electricity supplies, it didn't flood the apartment. The couple were high and dry although neither they nor little Monica could venture out onto the flooded streets below.

There was some compensation in the novelty of being able to look out the window at a familiar environment now radically transformed. There were rivers and streams where traffic normally flowed. Those vehicles that hadn't taken heed of the flood warnings were submerged in murky water on which floated dead rats, the detritus of household waste, and a traffic bollard. Not only was the water wet, it was filthy and disease-ridden.

Small boats and inflatable dinghies floated by, but as Mark overheard from the yelled conversation their task was only to ferry emergency workers such as nurses and doctors. They were not for other people unless they were seriously ill or dying. They were most certainly not provided for the benefit of those who just wanted to get to work. In any case, the barriers that enclosed the financial districts would keep all foreign transport from entering West London. The entrances to underground stations would be sealed to keep water from flooding into the tunnels below.

Mark and Molly had resigned themselves to having to settle down to a day besieged by the sluggish waters in the company of a wind-up computer, when there came a sharp rapping on the apartment door.

"Who is it, Mummy?" asked Monica.

"I don't know, dear," said Molly.

"Should I find out how who it is?" volunteered Mark.

"Do we really want to?" wondered Molly.

"I'll check through the eyehole," said Mark. "Keep quiet just in case they're crack dealers or muggers. I don't know whether there are any police about."

"Almost certainly even fewer than usual," said Molly. "What with the floods, they'll have more than enough on their hands today."

Mark tiptoed into the small hallway and peeked through the eyehole just as the rapping was renewed. He tiptoed back to the bedroom/lounge.

"It's that black girl from downstairs," he said. "The one who looks ill and is always coughing."

"Downstairs is a squat," said Molly. "It can't be rented out because of the damp and the disconnected mains supplies. No downstairs flats are habitable in East London anymore."

"So she's a squatter..."

"Evidently," said Molly. "She lives in a squat. She must be a squatter."

"Why's she so ill?"

"Wouldn't you be if you lived somewhere as damp as that?" said Molly. "She's probably an illegal. She's not English. She's got a foreign accent. Probably African. Illegals often carry diseases and things."

"Why's that, Mummy?" asked Monica.

"Probably because if they went to hospital for treatment although they might get cured of whatever they're suffering from they'd also get deported back to where they came from," said Molly, hardly caring whether her daughter could really understand her.

"Are we going to let her in, Mummy?" asked Monica when the rapping at the door began again.

"I think we should," said Mark. "She can't very well sleep in her squat."

"Why did she have to come to our flat?" Molly asked irritably.

"I guess she'd seen us coming and going and worked out that we're not gangsters or rapists or drug addicts."

"I don't know whether we should..." said Molly cautiously.

"I think we ought to," said Mark.

He went back to the door and peeked through the eyehole again. He then laboriously unlatched and unclasped the many bolts and locks that secured the door against intruders. He tugged open the door and hurriedly signalled to the black woman outside that she should come in.

"Thank you. Thank you," said the woman as she rushed in. "I had nowhere else to go. It's the second time..."

Their grateful guest was clearly very poor. Her clothes were torn and stitched and already appeared to be soiled by the muddy water even though they were dry and probably clean. She had shaved her head and was carrying a bundle that had once been a relatively robust travelling bag but was now strapped together by cords of leather and string. One of her eyes was dull and lifeless. She had something of a stoop and one arm was limp.

"My name's Mark and this is my wife, Molly, and our daughter, Monica. What's your name?"

"Lindiwe," she said. "You can call me Linda."

"Sit down, Linda," said Mark kindly.

Even though there were plenty of chairs for Lindiwe to sit on, she chose to perch on a stool. She let her precious bag drop to the floor between her legs and smiled timidly at the company around her.

"You're from downstairs, aren't you Linda?" remarked Molly.

"Yes," said Lindiwe.

"Why are you living in Dagenham?" wondered Mark. Then, correcting himself automatically, he added: "Not that I think you shouldn't be, of course. Living in Dagenham, that is. Or England for that matter."

"I've lived in England for about seven years," said Lindiwe. "I've lived in the Midlands and in Surrey. I moved to central London because of the immigration police. They're especially vigilant in Redhill where I used to live."

"England's not as friendly a place as you thought it might be," remarked Molly who was still annoyed at this woman's invasion of her family's tiny modicum of privacy. She still nurtured the hope that Linda might decide to go somewhere else though until the flood waters receded there would be no place for her to go.

"It's not all bad," said Lindiwe. "But it has got steadily worse since I first arrived. And it wasn't that good to begin with."

If you don't mind me asking, Linda," asked Mark, pushing at the outer limits of his skills of diplomacy, "why did you come to England in the first place? It's not the country it used to be. It's still a great country, but it's definitely got a lot worse."

"A lot smaller, certainly," said Molly bitterly. "Kingdom of England. It's smaller than France, Italy, Spain and almost all the other European countries. No wonder they don't want us back in the Northern European Union. We're just another small country like Belgium or Lithuania."

"It's been my home for years," repeated Lindiwe. "I wasn't born here, but home in Lesotho isn't what it was when I was a child either. I sometimes think no one any longer lives in the country where they were born. They've either left it or the country they live in is no longer what it used to be."

"Like the Americans?" Mark wondered. "Who'd have believed the United States would collapse the way it has? What's going to happen over there? Do you think they'll have to cut the Stars and Stripes into little bits?"

"I don't know," said Lindiwe. "Thank you again for helping me. It's cold and dangerous sleeping on the stairs at night. The people on the seventh floor..."

"You mean those lads who play their stereo so loud at night?"

"Yes, them," said Lindiwe. "I don't trust them. They're always smoking crack and meth and they leave needles on the stairwell. If they saw me sleeping rough and there was no one about..."

"Would they actually do that?" wondered Mark incredulously.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they did, Mark," said Molly. "They don't look like nice people to me either. In that, Linda and I very much see eye to eye. That's why we've got all those bloody locks on the door."

Mark studied Lindiwe carefully while Molly was talking. She was shivering although her brow was dampened by perspiration. A persistent tear dripped from the corner of her lifeless eye.

"You look very poorly, Linda," Mark remarked. "Shouldn't you be in a hospital or something?"

"I'll be all right," said Lindiwe. "It's only the cold and damp from downstairs. All I need is somewhere warm to sleep."

"You can stay here until the waters subside," said Molly. "But then you'll have to leave. There's not enough room here."

"I know that," said Lindiwe. "You've already been too kind."

"Where will you go when you leave?" asked Mark.

"Back downstairs," said Lindiwe. "It's better than sleeping in the streets."

"Why don't you just return home to Africa?" said Molly. "Surely it can't be as bad as here."

"Is here so bad?" asked Lindiwe.

"It could scarcely get much worse," said Molly.

Lindiwe shook her head. "There aren't armed gangs in the streets. Water runs from the taps when you turn them. Electricity flows to every home more or less. The diseases that have spread round the world are relatively contained in England. There's enough for everyone to eat and drink. In Africa, however..."

"Perhaps the way things are going," said Mark pessimistically, "when Monica is your age, there won't be much difference between life in Africa and life in England."

"I can't believe that," said Lindiwe. "You just don't know how much worse it can get."

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