I wrote a story and I gave it an odd title… Chutney. I based it around three unlikely friends and set it on an east London allotment in the year 1999. It was very British, quirky and I did not really expect it to do well but I sent it to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2013 . You could have knocked me over with a feather when it only went and got shortlisted, and with only one other UK writer… yikes!
A later developed this into a novel that I am still working on…
The short story was never published so I thought I would share an extract today… enjoy! And tomorrow I might tempt you with something from the novel, hot off the press!
I mark out time with giant crosses: the world will end in six months and four days.
I lean one elbow on a table stacked high with gardening magazines and press the flattened tip of marker pen to date. Most of June, and everything before is crossed out. I imagine when the entire calendar is black crosses.
It’s just after five. Emma will be here soon. She always come to the allotment after school for cup of tea and slice of banana cake. We won’t talk about the date. All that matters is it’s Tuesday. Tuesday is for algebra.
Except not this Tuesday.
Perhaps not any more Tuesdays.
Steam rises from plastic kettle, one with dirty smudges on side, looks like a face: two eyes, a nose and wonky smile.
“How does that look anything like a face?” Emma said when I showed her the first time. “You’re mental you are Georgy B.”
“Mental?” I said. “I not know word.”
“Yeah, mental, as a froot loop.”
She put her hands on her hips and said, “Georgy it’s simple, I can’t see no face.”
“Here,” I said running my fingers over the smudge. “See, face – it look like baby.”
I remember the way she looked at me then, the same way my dear Irina used to look at me when I make – what’s the expression? – ‘a cock up’ – which was often.
“Always foot in mouth,” Irina would say. She called me “glupy starik.” It’s Russian for silly old man. Then she laugh. Big laughs, what you call belly laughs. But right now I don’t feel so much like laughing. When I think about Irina and Emma I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.
I look back at the calendar. Fifty-four years is a long time to be with one person. And fifty-four years is never enough time to be with one person. I pick up a tissue from the table and dab my eyes. Then I think about what will happen when the world ends.
Or maybe it already has.
After I told Emma about smudges on kettle looking like face, she told me about the baby. She was picking at threads on her glove, smiling. Maybe she thought telling the silly old man was funny, maybe she just scared. Or maybe she had no one else to tell but silly old man. I offered her banana cake (buy one get one free at Tescos) and I watched her slurp tea, holding mug with both hands. Then she said, “I thought if you did it standing up you didn’t get pregnant. That’s what Darren said anyway. Fuckwit.”
“You no need to swear.”
“What-ever,” she said.
“What you going to do?”
“Dunno. Might get it adopted.”
“It?” I said. “It’s not an ‘it’. You can’t call it it.”
“What-ever,” she said.
Young people, they always use that expression, always say it the same way like they’re talking about something what’s the word … trivial. But a baby is not trivial. So I looked right at her and I said, “Yeah, what-ever.” She screwed up her face and belly-laughed.
“Georgy B you are funny. I might adopt you as my granddad,” she said.
I had to look away then.
When I turned back she got what was left of her slice of banana cake and put the whole thing into her mouth. “Got any more? It’s fuc—I mean it’s effing lovely Mr Beletsky. Better than the lemon one.”
Next to the kettle are two mugs, one is blue and white. It’s the Spurs Football Club. Irina gave it to me many many years ago.
“I know how you like the Spurs,” she said. “Though I not know why.”
Many years before that she gave me ticket to White Hart Lane. She saved a long time for that; did a whole lot of cleaning houses. But in the end I didn’t go. I was with Irina in the hospital. It was the night we lost our fourth baby.
The Spurs mug belongs to Emma now. I gave it to her when she started coming for her lessons after she told me about the baby. She said she was going to get rid of it because Darren said it was best. The baby. Not Spurs mug. I tried to tell her, “Who it best for?” A week later, in the middle of vectors, she told me she would keep it.
“Where are your parents?” I said.
“Dead,” she said. Just like that. “Dead.” She said it with a sweeping motion of hand like she was chasing away flies. “Same as Darren.”
“Darren is dead?”
“He might as well be. The fuckwit is well and truly dumped.”
I was going to tell her: no more cussing. My Irina, she was a lady. She never learned English cuss words, except for “Shit.” She said that was different because all it means is fekalii which is Russian for poo. And every time she say the word ‘shit’ we laughed.
“Forgot to get carrots for chutney,” she’d say. “Shit.”
“Council put rent up again,” she’d say. “Shit.”
“Totten-ham Hot Spurs lose again,” she’d say. “Shit.”
But I never told Emma off for her cussing that day. Maybe because there are far worse things people do than cuss.
A few days later Emma told me she grew up in a children’s home. All I said was, “Shit.” I never laughed…
©Debz Hobbs-Wyatt 2013