tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 45

No Future Ch. 45


Foreign Shores

Even when she had to do something as simple as making a phone call, Lindiwe was nowadays reduced to having to trade her body for the privilege. At least, Larry wasn't a client as such—those days were behind her—but neither was he exactly her lover. He was actually rather more considerate than most of her clients had been, though he didn't give her the kind of respect that she'd expect from a real lover. Lindiwe hadn't had one of those since the days she'd been working at the Reigate Refugee Centre. In fact, she felt so compromised by her year or so of working as a prostitute that she wondered whether she could ever again enjoy something as uncomplicated as a love affair.

"You know how to use the internet phone?" Larry asked after he'd switched on his computer and loaded the right application.

Did the man think she was a total idiot?

"I think so," said Lindiwe. "I just hope my Mum's in."

"Your mother's got a computer?" said Larry with slight surprise.

"Nan has," said Lindiwe. "My grandmother. Granny Lakeisha. She works for a foreign agency as a doctor. Not everyone in Lesotho is starving and poor."

"I don't know about that," said Larry. "What you see on television makes you think everyone in Africa is as a poor as shit. It's just all wars, famine, plague, all that shit. No wonder you wanted to get out."

"That may be so, Larry," said Lindiwe as she nodded meaningfully at the computer screen. "But if you don't mind..."

"Oh, of course, Linda," Larry said, as he walked out of his study and discreetly closed the door behind him.

Lindiwe composed herself. At least she was wearing a relatively smart blouse and had brushed her hair. She'd even had a shower, even though modern technology hadn't yet advanced to the extent that she could be smelt as well as seen. On the other hand, Lindiwe wanted to remove every last trace of Larry's body odours before she got dressed again. He was a gentler lover than most, but Lindiwe could never describe what they had as a loving relationship. For a start, Larry was some twenty years older than her. Furthermore, it was unlikely that any of his neighbours would welcome a black girl into the neighbourhood if he were ever to ask her to live with him. The few years of the Government of National Unity and the many more years of strict immigration control had wiped clean any pretence England might once have had of being a harmonious multicultural society.

Lindiwe would much rather be living in Larry's nondescript semi-detached house than the rundown squat in Redhill where she shared a room with three other women who were also illegal immigrants from Africa. She'd much rather have the benefits of central heating, wall-to-wall carpets, electricity, running water and well-sprung beds than have to sleep on bare boards and share a duvet with her roommates. In fact, she would much rather enjoy the luxury of the studio flat she'd once rented with Jiao-Jie, but this was something she could no longer afford after she'd worked her notice for Empire Cleaning Services. More to the point, she didn't want to be constantly reminded of her former life by the constant presence of a flatmate who was still employed by the same company. It was better for her to make a total break, even if she did now have to live in unspeakable squalor.

Lindiwe settled in the office chair, adjusted the desk lamp so that it didn't shine directly into her eyes and waited for the dialling tone. Then there was the agonising wait while the phone rang at the other end. Surely her mother would be there. Lindiwe tried to arrange her phone calls home on a regular basis although it was difficult for her to keep her appointment. To do so invariably involved having to agree to have sex with Larry or Mark or Derek or any of the other older men that Lindiwe had got to know on a casual basis. She hoped that her mother wouldn't draw too many conclusions from the variety of different backgrounds that accompanied her daughter's calls.

There was always an element of tension in these conversations. Her mother had never been happy when Lindiwe had escaped Lesotho's misery by running all the way to England. She'd be even less happy if she knew what Lindiwe had had to do to make a living so far north. She never told her mother that she'd worked for Empire Cleaning Services. She was evasive about what she'd been doing since she'd been forced out of the Reigate Refugee Centre. And she couldn't really say much about the squalid hand-to-mouth day-by-day existence she now had to live as a result of not being able to find a reliable source of employment since she'd handed in her notice.

Was this her reward for her principles? But then again they weren't so much principles as an accumulation of disgust.

Lindiwe glanced back at the door. It was still closed. Larry had probably retreated to the living room to watch television although there would be no problem if he happened to be eavesdropping. Larry didn't speak Sesotho.

"Hello, Nan," said Lindiwe when she'd made a connection and her grandmother's face was displayed on the screen. "Is my mother there?"

"That's Lindiwe, isn't it?" replied her grandmother. "No, she isn't. She's not been feeling very well."

"Oh dear, what is it? Not the plague, I hope."

"Your mother's got some kind of illness of the liver, dear. It might be one of those new strains of Hepatitis. Her doctor doesn't think it's especially serious. But enough of that. How are you, dear? How is England? Where are you living now?"

"I'm living just outside London. It's a town called Redhill."

"Really dear," said Lindiwe's grandmother. "I know Redhill. I used to live in Reigate once upon a time, you know."

"Did you?" said Lindiwe in genuine surprise. She'd forgotten that her grandmother had once lived in England. In fact, she'd lived there over ten years before Lindiwe was even born. She was reminded that the prospect of following in her grandmother's footsteps had been a factor that had originally attracted her to England.

"I remember Reigate very well," her grandmother continued. "That was between the two nuclear wars. It was a very affluent Surrey town."

"It's changed a lot, Nan. Everything's changed since you lived here. Reigate's affluent, but all the rich people live in gated communities and on private roads. It's more like it is in Maseru. The wealthy live totally apart from the poor."

"They always did, dear. I suppose it's just more obvious nowadays."

"Where else did you live when you were in England, Nan?"

Her grandmother smiled on the internet link as she thought back to her youth. "All over the place, dear. Mostly in London. Though I was also in the Midlands for a while. In a town called Ashton Lovelock. You've probably never heard of it."

Lindiwe returned her smile in utter amazement. "I have, Nan."

"You have?"

"It's where I stayed with my friend, Apara. It was the first place in England I lived."

"It's a fairly small town from what I remember. I wasn't there for very long. Somewhere like that soon seems incredibly small after you've lived in London. So... we've both lived in Surrey and Ashton Lovelock. What a coincidence! I mostly enjoyed my time in England. That was when it was part of the United Kingdom. Who'd have believed that Great Britain would disintegrate the way it did."

"Why did you leave England, Nan?"

"Well, it wasn't because I missed Lesotho. Lisa, your mother, was at university in Jo'burg then so she didn't need me as much as she did during all the years I was working in England. I wanted to make a life for myself in Britain and I'd hoped that your mother could join me out there; not the other way round. But things were getting increasingly difficult for foreigners in England. Each successive government pledged to get ever tougher on immigration at the same time as people in Africa and Asia were getting more desperate. The fallout from the India-Pakistan war was a factor—and I don't just mean the radiation. The British government was terrified that the country would be flooded by Indians and Pakistanis and that they'd bring their conflict along with them. It seemed only natural after all the Muslim-Hindu riots on British streets."

"Lesotho isn't Lahore, Nan," Lindiwe reminded her grandmother.

"No, but it all used to be the British Empire once upon a time, dear. So the government made it a lot harder for me. I still hadn't got a British passport and it looked like I'd never be allowed to stay even though I'd lived in the country for nearly fifteen years and had never worked anywhere else. It got to the extent that I wasn't allowed to work in England even though I was a doctor. I had to return to Lesotho and my darling daughter whose education had been paid with what I'd earned in England."

"And grandfather?"

"He was a total waste of space," said Lindiwe's grandmother. "It's only because he's got to feel so guilty after a lifetime of whoring and drinking that you've ever got to know him at all. The last I heard from him he was living in Soweto. Plenty of whores and booze there."

"And typhoid, cholera and other things, Nan."

"Who knows if he's even still alive, dear. What are you doing now?"

"This and that, Nan."

"Oh. And are you going to get married soon? Your mother seems to think that you've found a nice man."

"There's no man in my life, Nan."

Lindiwe wondered where her mother had got that impression from. Perhaps it was when she'd called her mother and Derek was hovering about in the background. If that was the case then her mother must be expecting a future son-in-law who was much older than her and considerably more stout.

"Well, good for you dear. Men are nothing but trouble. Stay clear of them. Are you living in a nice house? It looks nice from here."

"I'm at a friend's house, Nan," said Lindiwe. "He's just letting me use his computer to get in touch with Mum. The place I live in isn't nearly as nice."

"Weren't you staying with some Chinese girl, dear? Didn't that work out?"

Lindiwe was uncomfortable with her grandmother's probing. "I've moved in with some other friends, Nan. They're all African. Two of them come from Uganda and one comes from Eritrea."

"They must all be illegal immigrants like you, dear. You'd better be careful. Things were bad enough when I was living in England. It must be much worse now after that horrible National Unity Government."

"They're not in power any more, Nan."

"They'll have poisoned the atmosphere, dear. England wasn't especially tolerant when I lived there, even though it thought it was. It can't be any better these days. And now that England's isolated itself from its neighbours and the rest of Europe it must be really insular. Do you think you'll stay there much longer, dear?"

"It's not as if I've got much of a future in Lesotho, Nan," Lindiwe said miserably.

"You've got a point, dear," her grandmother said.

When Lindiwe had finished her call, she sat in the chair for as long as she could dare. She knew that Larry would want to reclaim his study, but Lindiwe wanted to enjoy the sensation of staying in a nice warm house for as long as she could.

Outside, through the windows, was another of England's typically damp days which made her shiver even when it wasn't particularly cold. Although every year was marked by yet another record temperature in an inexorable upward trend, English weather was still nowhere near as benign as that of Southern Africa. Lindiwe was dreading the walk home across Reigate and Redhill through the persistent rain and drizzle. And it wasn't as if the hard wooden floor of her squat was ever likely to be welcoming even when she and her three roommates huddled together in the encroaching damp.

"How did it go, Linda?" asked Larry who couldn't wait any longer to reclaim his study and had quietly eased open the door.

At least he didn't call her Ebony, even though he'd probably never be able to pronounce Lindiwe's real name.

"It was very nice. Thank you, Larry. Could I have some toast or a cup of coffee before I leave?"

"Of course you can, Linda," said Larry obligingly, although Lindiwe was sure that he'd never have offered it to her if she'd not asked. "Let's go to the kitchen."

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