De Ja Moo

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story which considers the attitudes of two long-term friends to homelessness when one is self obsessed and the other is more socially conscious.

Susan was early. Not that she'd needed to rush. Patricia was always late, if indeed she turned up at all. If it transpired to be the latter today then Susan was OK with that. There were worse things in life than to be stood up at her favourite café, Jericho. In fact a small part of her hoped that's how it would turn out.

Susan settled at a table for two, next to the condensation fogged windows which obscured her view of the busy street outside. She breathed in the familiar intoxicating aroma of newly ground coffee beans mixed with the freshly baked smells of their signature 'three cheese n chilli' scones. The bohemian rustic charm of the café began to soothe away her tension.

The café door jingled open and the snowy hands of winter ushered Patricia through. Her tall gangly friend quickly spotted her and proceeded to make short work of getting herself settled.

"Oh, the weathers just dreadful outside, isn't it? And the traffic! Thought I'd never get parked. Do you know I've been around the block at least five times before I could get a space. Five times! Surely there's somewhere easier we could have met? Anyway dear, how are you?" Patricia shook the rapidly melting white flakes from her long wisps of greying hair, whilst removing her thick woollen scarf and velvet gloves, before taking her seat.

Susan had counted at least four complaints during the initial greeting. Maybe it wasn't going to be so bad after all. Four was a pretty low tally for Patricia.

She was never certain how genuine the interest was in her own welfare, with Patricia's track record for being so self-absorbed. "I like it in here. Besides parking is bad all over town. That's just how it is at this time of day. We could have met earlier." Conscious that her reply sounded slightly sullen she moved swiftly on. "I've not ordered yet. I wasn't sure what you'd be in the mood for?" She proffered a copy of the menu only to have it waived away.

"I don't think I'll need that. What do you suggest? Think it's a pot of nettle and blackcurrant tea for me. Those scones look interesting," Patricia flashed her a smile.

Susan noted Patricia hadn't put any make up on again. Her skin looked pale, lips thin and her eyes a little bloodshot. A kind of world-weary look that suggests life was to be endured rather than enjoyed. Patricia had at least put in some ear-rings. A pair of dangly dark wood effect ones that resembled miniature wind chimes. Patricia had once famously announced at a dinner party that she could 'bling with the best of them.' To date, though, there had been no evidence to that effect and Susan had known her for twelve years.

"Is that what you'd like, one of those scones? I'll just order then. Pot of hot water? You've brought your own tea bag as per?" Susan went to the counter leaving Patricia rummaging around in her oversize corduroy shoulder bag. Most of her life must be in that bag, Susan thought. While she waited, she resolved to make more of an effort.

"Not be long," she said as she sat back down. "So what's new with you then? How was your Christmas with the family? You must feel so much more rested now after the break. Did David buy you those as a present? They're lovely!" She sat, partially resigned to listening to the inevitable tirade of woe that followed.

"Oh, you know," Patricia rolled her eyes. "It was OK. It's never a holiday is it, visiting family? I did all the cooking as usual. Karen didn't lift a finger the whole time and Mum, well, she just can't do it any more - not for so many." Patricia paused as the drinks were delivered. "To be honest I'm more exhausted than ever, but it's the only time we get to see them. It wouldn't be so bad if we lived nearer but David won't sell. He's just so very stubborn. We argue all the time, so much so I'm just not sure if we even have a future together. But then there's Ryan. I mean what would he do if we split up? He's anxious enough as it is. Did I tell you what a terrible time he's been having at school?" Forlornly Patricia dunked her tea bag into the teapot and gave it a vigorous stir as the steam trickled upward through her bony fingers.

Susan desperately wanted Patricia to reciprocate with a socially polite 'and how was your Christmas?' but she already knew how the conversation was likely to flow, if she didn't wrestle it back. Taking a nibble of her millionaires short-bread and a swig of her gingerbread latte for Dutch courage she took the plunge.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," she answered as Patricia sipped at her tea. "We had an amazing time at the Homeless Centre. Everything just went like clockwork, well nearly. There were one or two issues with the café team leader wanting to feed all the other volunteers, before we'd closed breakfast for the Homeless Guests, but I put him firmly in his place I can tell you."

There. She'd said it. Got it out there. She hadn't felt the need to say any of it because she wanted to be thought of as a wonderful person giving up her Christmas day for others in greater need. She'd said it as she knew Patricia would never have asked. Patricia didn't like to think of other people having a 'tougher' life than her own. Susan just wanted her to appreciate exactly what she did have. Just for once.

Patricia wiped a few scone crumbs from her lips. "They're actually quite nice, considering!" she said over the rim of her cup before taking another sip of tea. "You know I've always wanted to do something like that. Work at a soup kitchen or with one of the outreach teams. I suppose we could even open up our own café but it's hard to know what to do for the best, isn't it? You know, when there are so many good causes. I don't know how you decide, and besides if we did that then we'd never see the family at Christmas. And you know how difficult it is for us to get away at any other time of the year."

Peter, Susan's husband, had predicted Patricia would come out with something like this. He referred to it as Patricia's 'De Ja Moo' speech as she'd been known to say something similar on so many previous occasions. 'Bull' that just keeps being recycled, he called it.

Susan was only half listening. The condensation on the window had gathered into tiny runnels and raced downwards like so many tears. Perhaps the window has more sympathy for Patricia than I, she reflected briefly. She was about to make comment when her attention was caught by the blurred shuffling movement of a figure on the pavement outside. "Oh my goodness," she said with a start as she rubbed at the window with her napkin to get a better view.

"I know," Patricia was saying, "but that's just how my life is at the moment. Desperate! No let up."

"No, that's not what I meant," Susan answered snappily. "That man out there. I'd recognise that gait anywhere. He's one of the men from the shelter at Christmas. A chap called Lawrence. I can't believe he's out in this weather today and not at a shelter. Wait here a minute." Before Patricia could reply Susan dashed out of the café to find Lawrence.

He hadn't gone far. He was wrapped in multiple layers of clothing, including an old blue boiler suit with black oil streaks down the legs topped with an outsize overcoat. A long college scarf covered his mouth and was tied tightly about his neck. In his mismatched gloved hands he carried a rather tatty cloth shopping bag emblazoned with a supermarket logo.

"Oh, Lawrence," cried Susan as she caught up with him. "What on earth are doing you out here? You should be over at Wellington Street, out of the weather. You'll catch your death out here." He looked at her with his blue rheumy eyes trying to recall who she was as he backed away. Wary of the sudden intrusion. Wary of her. "It's Susan, Lawrence. We met at the Christmas event when you came to Flagstone. I served your lunch and then you went and got some new clothes from George and Ben. Do you remember?"

Susan knew it was a stretch as Lawrence was allegedly about 79 years old, living almost his entire life on the streets. His memory was known to be fading. Lawrence plight, in particular, had touched her the most at Christmas. She'd no idea why. Just a vulnerable old man with, quite literally, nothing to his name. The sight of him made her sad and angry at the same time. Lawrence was nodding.

Snow billowed about them as they stood looking at each other in the street. Reaching out to him reassuringly, she could feel the ice-cold of his hands even through his gloves. "Lawrence, you're freezing and I'll bet you've not eaten today, have you? Please let me get you something. Will you?" Lawrence nodded again before pointing to the deep recess of an entry door further along the street. It was the porch to an empty shop cluttered with wind swept rubbish. "You'll wait there, will you? I'll not be long at all. Hot tea, or a soup and something to eat?"

Lawrence wasn't known for his communication skills, in fact no one at Flagstone had ever reported hearing him speak. Susan knew enough though to appreciate that his hunger would persuade him to wait for her. She felt comfortable about leaving him to shuffle along to the doorway and confident he'd be there when she returned.

Mahmoud, the owner at Jericho, let her have the ham and pea soup in a take away cup, together with a ploughman's rustic baguette and slice of tiffin for free. He knew Susan as a regular and suggested that it would be better for Lawrence if they kept it simple and non-spicy.

Patricia looked somewhat annoyed when she saw Susan at the counter but stayed in her seat. She'd finished her scone and began tapping her wrist impatiently when she caught Susan's eye. Susan just ignored her and hurried off only to find Lawrence in the doorway curled up on his side, his head resting on his cloth bag with a folded up cardboard box lining the floor beneath him.

A not so white van idled its engine at the curb-side as she tried to help him sit up. Diesel fumes mixed with the smell of urine and stale food odours from discarded burger boxes. Snowflakes continued to fall heavily upon the pavement. She managed to encourage him to take a few sips of the soup. "There, now that has to be better, eh? At least you're out of the worst of the snow sat in here. Please promise me you'll go across the Wellington Street Shelter once you've had this and get in the warm for a few hours. I'll call them and say you need a bed tonight, so they know to expect you. You can't stay out here." She knew there was a limit to how much she could do. She couldn't force him to go. He was still able to make his own choices, but she could at least make sure he had the option. Maybe the Wellington Street team would send the Outreach bus to pick him up. She stayed with him for about fifteen minutes to make sure he drank most of the soup and started his sandwich before heading back to Jericho. In the time she was with him he said not a word, only squeezed her hand in thanks before she went.

"At last!" exclaimed Patricia as Susan retook her seat. "Your cappuccino is cold and I've eaten your millionaires as well as my scone. I fancied something sweet. Where on earth have you been? Another five minutes and I was about to go. Can't believe you just abandoned me here."

"Look, Patricia, he's an old man. I met him at the shelter this Christmas. I couldn't just leave him to the vagaries of the weather. You weren't coming to any harm sat in here in the warm with your nettle tea and chilli scones were you?" Susan could feel her blood pressure rising.

"And you, my dear, can't solve all of the worlds woes single-handedly. That's why we have charitable institutions - to try and take care of all that." Patricia scowled at what she perceived to be her friend's naivety.

"And who do you think runs those charities?" Susan was exasperated. "People like me. Volunteers like me. People with a social conscience. People who care what's happening to the poverty-stricken and disadvantaged. There are people in far worse situations than you, you know!"

"I doubt it!" Patricia snorted with disdain. "You clearly have too much time on your hands. Look, this was obviously a mistake. You evidently have a different set of priorities these days. Friendship and loyalty seem to have gone out of the window. If you don't have time to spare a few minutes for me, after all the time we've known each other, instead of some old tramp, then I'm just going to leave you to it. I hope you and your new down-and-out friends will be deliriously happy with each other." With tear in her eye Patricia shrugged into her coat, threw her bag over her shoulder, gave a dramatic flick of her scarf and tartly pulled on her maroon velvet gloves. It was intended to delay her departure temporarily, long enough for Susan to realise the error of her ways and fire off a pleading apology.

Instead, Susan let her flounce out without a syllable passing her lips. A sense of relief flooded her as the café door closed with a merry jingle. The shadow of Patricia's passing flitted momentarily across the window. Susan suddenly became aware of the subdued chatter around her as the other patrons returned their own discussions, now the sideshow had concluded.

Mahmoud appeared at her shoulder with a fresh cappuccino and placed a reassuring hand on her arm. She nodded to him gratefully and then placed her call to Flagstone.

Two weeks later Susan read an obituary in the paper. It was titled 'Flagstone Favoured by the Fallen.' Lawrence Fallen had died of hypothermia five days after Susan had tended to him in the street. He'd left a note containing details of a bank account. The note bequeathed a £575,000 legacy to the charity.

Some acts of kindness are definitely worth the sacrifice, she thought to herself as she allowed a tear or two to leak from her eyes.


Submitted: January 27, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Agathos-Daimon. All rights reserved.

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