Always in that headscarf, often scuttling across the precinct. You’d whisper in my ear as she passed by. ‘That’s what happens when you only have cats to talk to.’
I never understood what you meant but I accepted it, like everything else back then; my little hand clamped by yours, looking up at you in that blue coat. ‘Shows off my figure lovely, doesn’t it?’ you’d say smoothing it over your hips. I don’t think I ever replied but thinking about it now, yes I suppose it did.
I wonder what happened to Aggie, whether she still lives on the third floor. I remember going there once; the novelty of the stairs leaving me breathless, you in a flurry of giggles. Aggie peered from beyond the door, cats curling about her ankles. ‘It all helps,’ you said, shaking the collection tin, like you did as we traipsed door to door. And then we’d get home. You’d turn the tin upside down for one last shake. I was never sure how much you got out of it. But I didn’t tell anyone, just like you said.
But now you no longer comment on the less fortunate; about my weight or what you say hides behind the hirsute faces of men I bring home. And that’s not to my liking either. Perhaps I’m like you after all. I’m probably the same age now as you were when you used to wear that coat. But blue isn’t my colour.
I lift the spoon towards you. You turn away. ‘You’ve got to eat,’ I say. And then without warning you let me guide in the spoon. You moan. You’re either telling me you’ve had enough or you don’t like my cooking. Perhaps there’s more of the old you in there than I’m giving you credit for. And then, you prove me right.
I return the bowl to the kitchen pulling pieces of rice from my hair. The bowl clatters on the draining board. I lean against the worktop, catching my breath. I grab my keys.
I find myself on a bench opposite the shops. A lady stands by the bookmakers smoking a cigarette. A dog fouls the pavement. The owner yanks the lead and walks on. A man and a woman yell at each in a language I don’t understand. Things round here aren’t like they used to be. I’m on the edge.
And then I see a hunched figure heading my way. Whether or not it’s Aggie I’m unsure. I think of you. And for a moment we’re outside Aggie’s front door and she’s there, cats curling around her ankles. You’re in your blue coat, shaking your tin. I look back at her. I think of you, how you used to be. The things you used to say. As Aggie, or whoever she is, approaches I look at her. I offer her a smile. She looks away.