tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 27

No Future Ch. 27


The Pursuit of Happiness

The old lady staggered across the floor of Costa Starbucks while also carrying a tray on which unsteadily wobbled a mug of cappuccino and a slice of rich chocolate cake. It was obvious to Tamara that she needed help. There was also the fact that the coffee shop had no free tables available.

"Can I help you?" Tamara asked as she stood up and approached the old lady who looked at Tamara with a startled expression on her face.

"Help me?" she asked.

"Yes," said Tamara. "Can I help you carry your tray?"

"Of course you can, dear," said the old lady as Tamara took the tray from her and guided her towards the other seat on the table where Tamara was sitting. She regarded Tamara's uniform. "Are you a cleaning woman, dear?"

"Cleaning woman?" asked Tamara.

"The way you dress," said the old lady. "It's what cleaning women wear." She squinted through her thick lenses at the name plate on Tamara's bosom. "Empire Cleaning Services? I know them. I didn't think they still existed."

Tamara blushed. What did this old woman know? Ever since the Refugee Centre was burnt down in an anti-immigrant riot, she'd been living on a very slippery slope indeed and her descent towards starvation had been arrested only when she'd reluctantly resorted to work for a company that employed her to provide the kind of services that the now tarred, feathered and deceased Mehmed had hoped Tamara would never need to do.

"How do you know Empire Cleaning Services?"

"They used to do work for my Dad. Years ago. Fifty years ago, I think. When I was a young girl. I use a different cleaning company now. They're a lot cheaper. The girls are all immigrants. Arabs I think. I'm not sure. Once upon a time they all came from the Eastern Europe or Africa. What's your name, dear?"


"Pretty name. Is that an Arab name?"

"It's Jewish. It can be an Arabic name, but I'm Jewish."

"Jews. Arabs. They're all the same aren't they? Is there much left of Israel now? I saw the news about it on the TV years ago. Tragic, isn't it? My name's Zoe. That's a Jewish name too, isn't it? But I'm not Jewish. I'm English. I'm thousands or millions of generations of English. My family was here before the Romans. Either that or they came over with the Normans. Whatever. Stinking rich my family. For bloody generations."

Tamara was conscious that this woman was rambling. She probably had no idea what Empire Cleaning Services really was. Tamara wondered how much she truly understood about the world around her. But it was curious that for the first time in her life someone expressed the view to her that Jews and Arabs were the same. That certainly wasn't an opinion shared by most people across the world.

Then the old woman spoke to her in a way that Tamara really didn't associate with a person who was clearly well beyond what was still officially a retirement age even if the state so rarely provided old age pensions these days.

"I need some smack, dear," she said confidentially. "Or coke. Even blow or E would be better than nothing. You don't know where I can get some do you?"

"Those are illegal drugs," said Tamara in a low voice. "You shouldn't be taking illegal drugs."

"Don't talk shit," said Zoe. "I've been without a decent dealer for months now. The Arabs and Africans who sell stuff on the street always try to rip me off because I'm old and they think I don't know any better. But that's rubbish. I know good gear from bad. You don't know where I can buy some do you?"

Tamara had no idea of what to say.

"I'll pay," said the old woman. "I'll make it worth your while. I almost don't care what drugs they are. Being high is about the only good thing left for me now."

Tamara reflected on the life she was now forced to lead. The blowjobs, the hand jobs, the fucking and the times when clients were tempted to pay for just a little bit more and Tamara suffered several days of blood-specked stools. Was there anything much worse than that? What escape routes were open to her?

"Yes," said Tamara determinedly. "I know where you can get quality gear."

"That's a good girl," said Zoe, feebly patting her on the wrist. "I could tell from the moment I first saw you that you were a good girl."

In actual fact, Tamara's knowledge of drugs, especially the illegal variety, was very sketchy indeed. She'd only ever smoked cannabis or dropped Ecstasy tablets at parties. She'd never thought to pay for drugs. But it was also true that she knew where to go. The refugees and immigrants with whom Tamara worked had all faced the same employment issues as she and they'd not all taken the route she'd chosen. A trade that involved the purchase, preparation and sale of drugs was a natural choice for those who understood prescription drugs and were otherwise forbidden from taking legitimate employment. The alternatives, such as they were, weren't much better but for many refugees options such as prostitution and burglary were beyond contemplation.

Tamara was entrusted with a substantial sum of money to secure the drugs that Zoe wanted. At first she was tempted to take the money and spend it on other things, but that would be theft. Tamara wasn't a thief. She wouldn't take even from those who were undoubtedly able to afford the loss. Zoe was visibly wealthy. She might be scruffy but she was expensively so.

Zoe was very unspecific about what drugs she wanted beyond the fact that they should be of good quality. Tamara's most obvious contact was Mohammed who'd worked as a nurse at the Refugee Centre but was now more often found on Church Street by the charred remains of where they'd once all lived and worked. Nowadays rather than provide medical aid for the needy he provided those who could afford it a welcome source of distraction and a less welcome route to drug addiction.

"Man!" said Mohammed. "She must really trust you to give you that much dosh."

"I'm a trustworthy kind of girl," said Tamara.

"I guess you must be," said Mohammed. "And she was definitely not specific about what she wants?"

"Well, she mentioned the stuff I just mentioned," said Tamara. "I think it's quality she wants."

"You think she'll be a regular customer?"

"It's in my interest that she is."

"Well, I won't short-change her then. I'll sort out some wraps and a few pills. You'll have to come back to my place for me to do that. You don't mind, do you?"

"If it's business only," said Tamara.

"Well, it's not the kind of business that Empire Cleaning Services employs you to provide," said Mohammed. "Unless, that is, you do fancy cleaning up the place where I'm squatting."

Zoe's home couldn't be more of a contrast to Mohammed's. Even getting to the house was a real problem. It was nearly ten kilometres away in the Surrey countryside, relatively remote from London's suburban overspill and at the end of a private road that was in considerably better repair than any road in Reigate or Redhill. It was enclosed by a looming security fence whose intent was made apparent by the plethora of electric wires and lethal spikes. Nevertheless, only one person was actually resident in a house that could easily accommodate very many more.

"Oh, it's you dear," said Zoe when Tamara buzzed the intercom. "Did you see the security guard when you came in?"

"Yes," said Tamara, who had passed a uniformed man sitting in a small guard box at the entrance to the private road.

"He didn't frisk you or anything, did he?" asked Zoe.

"No, he didn't," said Tamara.

"You can never be sure what these security guards might do, dear," said Zoe. "I told him that a foreign looking woman might be coming. I'm glad you're wearing your cleaning maid outfit because that's what I said you'd be wearing. And you've brought some good gear?"

"Yes, of course."

"Great!" Zoe said with obvious delight. "Come in. Come in."

The security gate slid open and Tamara walked into a small antechamber that was there to ensure that only one person could enter the house's grounds at a time. She was then permitted into Zoe's extensive garden and there, waiting for her at the open front door, was the old lady herself wearing a night-gown and smoking a cigarette.

Of course, as an employee of Empire Cleaning Services, Tamara had been admitted into houses in Surrey as large as this before. There'd also been the villa in Israel that she and her family had so tearfully abandoned. That had been at least as large as Zoe's, but blessed also by good sunshine and blessed with a glorious swimming pool. Her family home was now almost certainly overrun by Palestinians in a land where it was entirely inadvisable to be identified as an Israeli citizen. A hundred Arabs could cram into a villa that had once been occupied by only Tamara's immediate family.

It was also very different from not only Mohammed's filthy squat but the similarly decrepit single-room apartment that Tamara rented from the burly Armenian man who collected rent from the properties along Fairfax Avenue.

Zoe led Tamara into a vast living room dominated by a massive holoscreen television that was broadcasting a drama series set in an idealised corner of England where the streets weren't potholed, the police didn't accept bribes, and the villagers' chief concerns were their relationships with one another. The old woman pressed the touchpad remote and the image changed from a drama series to a surreal landscape designed to match the percussive rhythms it accompanied which unfamiliar music was most probably the soundtrack of her teenage years.

"What've you got, dear?" asked Zoe eagerly when Tamara sat down on the huge leather sofa beside the similarly oversized one on which Zoe was sprawling.

"A mixture," said Tamara. "I'm not sure what they all are."

"Let's have a look," said Zoe who carefully opened the package with her crabbed fingers and examined the contents with what appeared to be an expert eye. She dipped her small finger into the powder and dabbed it on her tongue. "It doesn't look bad. The skunk smells okay too. Of course, there's only one sure way of finding out though. Do you fancy sharing, dear?"

"Erm..." said Tamara. "Not really. Anyway, I'll have to go home soon."

"Where do you live?" asked Zoe. "Somewhere nice?"

"No, not really."

"It won't be safe walking back in the dark, will it? I never wind down the windows of my car when I'm driving and it must be even more dangerous if you can't drive away from trouble. You hear such stories. Of course, the security companies like it that way. It gives them jobs, especially since the police are so overstretched and undermanned."

"I don't have to work this evening," admitted Tamara.

"I'd say not," said Zoe. "Who'd want their house cleaned in the evening? Look, you don't have to join me in sampling this stuff, but it's nice to have company even if I'm not gonna be very chatty. Most of the friends I used to have sessions with are dead now."

"Was it the drugs?" wondered Tamara.

"I don't know. They're just dead. Maybe it was drugs. Maybe it was other things like venereal diseases or stuff like cancer they would've got whatever they'd been doing. You never know. When people die, the coroner doesn't normally specify what the ultimate cause might be. Anyway, I'm old. Fucking old. I'm in my seventies or something. It's normal for people my age to die. And I'm proof that you can keep going however many times you've had your stomach pumped, your nose repaired, your blood transfused and your heart defibrillated. Anyhow, you are staying aren't you? I've got plenty of spare beds you can sleep in."

"Yes, I suppose I can," said Tamara who hadn't really looked forward to the possible hazards of a two hour walk in the dark.

"Good girl," said Zoe. "I knew you were a good girl. And if this gear's as kosher as you say and you don't mind scoring some more for me, you can stay here for as long as you bloody well like."

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