tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 48

No Future Ch. 48

bybradley_stoke©

XLVIII
Foreign Shores
Betty
2038



"I don't see what's wrong with living in a squat," Betty insisted. "It's as good a way to live as any other."

"It's squalid and unhygienic," Lakeisha countered.

"Why do you live here then?"

"You know why I do," said Lakeisha as she kissed Betty adoringly on the lips as they lay entangled on the mattress in their shared room. "And if it wasn't you alone, well blame the restrictions your government has imposed on immigrants. Without the right paperwork I'm not allowed to rent anywhere. And if I don't have a legitimate address, I can't get the right paperwork."

"I know," said Betty while stroking her lover's bare dark skin. "The government are such fucking bastards. I don't understand borders and nationality anyway. Why can't people live exactly where they want on this planet? It just seems wrong."

Betty looked around the bedroom that had been so dramatically transformed more or less from the moment Lakeisha began sharing it with her. The older woman had made it much more homely. Her resourcefulness, not to mention her salary as a relief doctor at the Ashton Lovelock Medical Centre, had made a truly squalid room into one that might even be considered bourgeois if Lakeisha's taste in decor had been any less authentically African.

Having a relationship with Lakeisha wasn't that easy for Betty. It wasn't just that her black lover was older than her other friends. It was also that her cultural attitudes were so very different. Lakeisha wasn't the sort of person that Betty might normally meet. For a start, she had a job. They first met at the Medical Centre where Betty had made an appointment to deal with an exotic strain of Chlamydia. At first Betty thought Lakeisha was just another patient and chatted very openly about where she lived and the sort of company she kept. She noticed the woman's eyes widen when she mentioned that she didn't know how she'd got infected since she hardly ever had sex with men these days.

"I'm almost exclusively lesbian," Betty boasted.

"Have you got a girlfriend at the moment?" Lakeisha asked.

"No, not at all. I split up with Alicia ages ago."

"But you see other women, don't you?"

"Of course."

"In that case, shall we meet up for a coffee? I finish at three today. Early shift," said Lakeisha.

Betty almost blushed. This woman was a fast worker. "Yes," she said. "Of course. I'm not doing anything."

"Costa Nero at three thirty. Agreed?"

It was inevitable that after the coffee and then a beer at the Ox & Dragon, Betty would take Lakeisha back to the squat that was her home into which the older woman more or less immediately moved in. Betty was overwhelmed by the pace of change, but there were many ways in which Lakeisha was ideal for her despite the ten year age difference. She was also homeless, although this wasn't at all obvious given her income and generally smart appearance. She'd been living in one of the cheap and rundown lodgings that had proliferated since the housing market last collapsed. It wasn't very clean and it was expensive for what it was so, in comparison, Betty's squat wasn't as bad as all that.

"Have you always been a lesbian?" Betty asked when Lakeisha first placed her hand on hers and suggested that they spend the night together.

"Not at all. I'm not sure I'm really a lesbian now. I'm also a mother and a wife, so I can't always have been a lesbian."

"You got married? How weird. How old's your daughter?"

"Lisa? She finishes secondary school next year."

"Was it a mistake, having a baby and all?"

"You could say that," said Lakeisha. "I feel really bad about coming to the UK without her as well. I'm not as close to my daughter as I ought to be, but it was a way to escape from my drunken idiot of a husband. He was the real mistake. Not Lisa."

"Was it because he was like that you developed a taste for women?"

"What an odd question. Do you like women because of some man in your life, Betty? Were you traumatised?"

"Of course not," said Betty who was shocked by the notion. "I've always liked women. I like boys as well, so it's no big deal."

"It's the same with me," said Lakeisha. "Although if fewer men were bastards I'd probably not bother so much with women. They've let me down so often."

"Me too," said Betty in automatic agreement, although in her life the share of being let down was distributed fairly evenly not just between the men and women in her life, but between herself and her lovers.

Lakeisha was a woman who knew what she wanted and knew how to get hold of it. She'd known very few gaps between successive relationships in the years since her last heterosexual affair, although she'd never had the need to frequent lesbian bars or resort to internet dating. If she saw a woman she liked and the woman was amenable, it was Lakeisha who made all the moves. But she wasn't quite the liberated woman that Betty thought she might be. She didn't like it when Betty had sex with other men and she most definitely didn't appreciate it when Betty had sex with another woman.

"Aren't I enough, Betty?" she asked when she discovered that her lover had spent the afternoon in Tanya's arms.

"We didn't really have sex," said Betty. "I didn't have an orgasm or anything. We just kissed and cuddled."

"On our bed!"

"It wasn't anything we planned."

Although Lakeisha didn't make a scene on this occasion or on the others, she made her disapproval very clear. She also didn't like it when Betty wandered round the house in the nude, but her concern related more to questions of practicality and hygiene rather than decency.

"Don't you think people might object to sitting where you'd just sat and where you might have been leaking?" she remarked.

"Leaking?"

"You know. Leakage can take place for several hours afterwards."

"It works both ways though, Laki," said Betty. "I could be sitting where someone else has leaked. I could be getting a man's semen stuck to my bum. It could even make me pregnant."

"As your doctor," said Lakeisha with a tolerant smile, "I would advise you to be more careful in future."

Despite her countercultural tendencies, Betty became generally more mindful of Lakeisha's opinion. She appreciated that her lover never had sex with any of the other men or women in the household although it could scarcely be more easy for her if she'd wanted to. And she was aware that there was something a little odd about wandering about naked when her lover never did. As a compromise, Betty got into the habit of covering her body in a bath gown or a large baggy tee-shirt when she was with Lakeisha, although she stripped it off when her lover was at work at the Medical Centre. And this could be at any time of the day from early morning to late at night.

The greatest differences between Betty and Lakeisha were of a cultural nature. It wasn't Lakeisha's African identity that was the issue. In fact, this made it effectively impossible for anyone in the household to criticise her in any way. Nor was it a generational difference. Green politics hadn't changed much at all since the century began. It was just that Lakeisha didn't really subscribe to the commune's ragbag of radical ideologies.

"I don't think it's right for you to disparage someone from Africa for not being environmentally conscious and conservation-minded," said Lakeisha when Lenny suggested that she didn't really fully understand the imperatives of Green politics. "I just think there's more to the world than recycling and not using an aeroplane. And I also don't see how living in squalor is in any way preferable to having a nice home."

"You just don't get it, do you?" said Lenny who was a bit stoned and probably a bit pissed off that Lakeisha had made it abundantly clear that she didn't want to have sex with him even when he'd pressed his fully uncovered semi-erect penis against her denim-covered buttocks. "The environment is all there is. There isn't anything else. If the environment goes down the toilet then we all go down."

"I don't quite get the connection between choosing to live in squalor and wanting to save the planet. I don't think living in filth is ever going to help halt the decline of the environment."

"If you're talking about the state of the house then just remember that you don't have to live here."

"That's where you're wrong, Lenny. I may not have to live at Number 2 Broad Oak Grove, but I do have to live somewhere. The government you so rightly detest has made it so hard for me that I don't have a huge choice of where I live. You, however, can choose to get a job and live somewhere much nicer. And, more to the point, I would wager that you and most of the other people in the Broad Oak Grove commune will do precisely that by the time you're my age."

"You wish!" said Lenny as if that clinched the argument but he clearly didn't enjoy Lakeisha's characterisation of him.

"You shouldn't be so harsh on Lenny," said Betty as the couple lay together naked in each other's arms under the warm duvet that Lakeisha had purchased for their bed. "He means well."

"You all mean well, dear," said Lakeisha. "None of you are bad people. And most of what you say and believe in is true. How can it be otherwise? You only have to look at the many many examples in Africa to see how bad things can get if you're not careful. The whole continent is one vast ecological catastrophe. But it's not only environmental degradation that blights Africa. There are so many other things. Poverty. Disease. War. Drought. Floods. Every possible disaster. What you and your friends want to do is right. You have to do something to stop the worst happening. But you're not going to get anywhere if the alternative you offer to a life of conspicuous consumption is squalid, unwholesome and decadent."

"It's a way of life, Laki," said Betty. "And it is what I believe in. It's what my mother believes in. It's what my children, if I ever have any, will believe in."

"A kind of mid-twenty first century hippy lifestyle?" asked Lakeisha.

"If need be, that's what it'll be," said Betty. "You say Lenny has a choice. He probably has. His father is a senior executive in a multinational bank. He doesn't need to live in the Broad Oak Commune. I'm not sure that I have such a choice. This sort of life is all I've ever known. Something like this is probably where I'll always be."

Lakeisha held Betty's face in her hands and placed her lips against her. Their tongues sparred in a passionate kiss. She eased back Betty's face and regarded her with an amused smile.

"I love you Betty," she said. "You are the most sincere and beautiful person, man or woman, I've ever made love to. But I don't think I could ever lead this kind of life forever. Not by choice, of course."

"What do you mean? Not by choice?"

"If I ever return to Africa and things get much worse there than it already is, then this may very well no longer seem so squalid to me," said Lakeisha. "But then that could equally well apply to the whole of England in the future."

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