What the Dickens? Magazine #2

Page 48

dickens & love writing

Number 84 by Amina Hachemi


t was a long avenue. Clay-tiled roofs atop brick and stone houses adorned both sides of a wide tarmac road. Bushes, trees and various other flora lined the paths that ran alongside the road. Oak, elder, hawthorn, ash and horse chestnut trees towered over daisy and dandelion strewn grass and rose and gooseberry bushes. Neatly mowed lawns were distributed at intervals in geometrically fenced-off gardens. Here and there, various forms of garden decor were placed: rosy-cheeked gnomes, white stone fountains, discretely ornamental benches, and the like. Concrete driveways nudged their way in between the stretches of council-sponsored roadside grass. Bus stops stood unassumingly displaying their route numbers, evenly dispersed so as to be equally accessible to all. On the whole, it was a pleasant street; there was nothing unsavoury about it and it served its purpose very satisfactorily. Of course, none of these perfectly admirable qualities were visible. The clay-roofed houses and tarmac road, the bushes and trees and flowers, the lawns and fountains, the driveways and bus stops; all became one, submerged in the heavy, thick, unforgiving depths of an inexhaustible fog. The fog bulged between grey houses, sprawled over grey roofs, and sank down grey chimneys. It crushed grey flowers, flattened grey grass, peeled the paint off grey fences and mocked the greyfaced gnomes. The fog had not been invited; it was not wanted, but it had come anyway, rolling and billowing, drowning all in an impenetrable Grey. At number 84, there lived a spinster. She had lived in the house all her life. Like their friends, her parents had bought it in the early years of their marriage and, like their friends, had spent a great many years paying off the mortgage. It wasn’t a big, spacious house, nor was it a quaint, cosy house; it was somewhat drab and entirely void of character, but it had been adequate for their needs, so they’d bought it. They’d lived the rest of their uneventful lives in it and eventually passed away quietly in their sleep within months of each other, leaving it to their only child.

48 ~ what the dickens?

Although she had no particular fondness for the dwelling and no sentimental attachment, she found the arrangement convenient and so stayed there, soon falling into a routine. She rose at six thirty every morning, completed her morning preparations, dressing in the outfit she had laid out the night before, ate her breakfast of a wheatbased cereal with warm milk and tea with milk – or rather, milk with tea – and two and a half teaspoonfuls of sugar, washed the dishes, took out a pre-cooked, packaged meal to defrost, put on her coat and shoes, picked up her handbag, walked out of the door, turned the key in the lock twice – checking its success with one sharp pull on the handle, and walked straight down the concrete slab pavement and into the Grey. She worked in an administrative position of a respectable level in a medium-sized office in a suburban business park that had once been considered modern, but was now just average, and had surrendered to the Grey some time ago. This was not the kind of job she had dreamt of in her youth; in her ambitious student days, she had had great plans for her future. When she graduated, however, life brought her back down to the unattractive, but practical cemented ground. Unemployment, once a legend of political television programmes and marginal protests in front of imposing, grey government buildings, became an intimate reality. After searching for several months, she received a job offer. It was not exactly what she had been hoping for, but it was not too bad either. The pay was not too bad, the hours were not too bad, the distance from home was not too bad, the traffic was not too bad, her supervisor was not too bad, the food in the cafeteria was not too bad; all in all, she couldn’t complain. She took the job intending it to be temporary, but time left her ambitions behind. She got on well with her colleagues, on the whole. They always ate lunch together, discussed last night’s episode of this or that soap opera, compared favourite toothpastes or washing powders, commented on the undercooked carrots or over-spiced balti, complained about the rain, and all the other usual topics of conversation for long-term acquaintances. Once lunchtime was over, they returned to their desks with parting nods and stayed there till the end of the day when

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