Previously, in Leeford Village: Is Vera Cleeve about to be arrested for the theft of garden gnomes and who is the mysterious Swedish talking stranger, who appears to have lost his memory?
‘What’ll it be Suptra? The usual?’
Ethel Lucas knows that it will be the usual. It has been the usual for the past twenty-odd years, even when her poor Bill ran the café. In fact, she is so confident it will be the usual that she has prepared it beforehand, at 9.42 precisely, in time for when Suptra makes his entrance at 9.45 precisely. He enters the café without saying a word and sits down glumly. Ethel notices that he not wearing a tie and there is a tuft of hair sticking out at the side of his head.
She places the two slices of toast smothered in Marmite and a cup of very milky tea on the table. The usual table, at the far end of the café, where Suptra will sit for the next hour, before slowly making his way to the over-60s bridge club, at the Community Centre.
Suptra Singh looks down at his plate.
‘Something wrong, love?’ says Ethel, knowing that there probably is.
‘No, no, no.’ Suptra confusingly nods his head up and down.
‘No, what, love. No toast? No Marmite?’ Ethel looks at the tea, or rather the tea flavoured milk. ‘Tea too strong for you, Suptra?’
‘No, no, no,’ repeats Suptra, sill nodding his head, but with a diagonal motion that Ethel copies until they are nodding in unison.
‘The toast is fine. The Marmite is fine. The tea…,’ here Suptra pours out a saucer of tea and slurps it up noisily, smacking his lips together, ‘…the tea is a little strong to be honest, Ethel.’
‘It’s the tea, then,’ says Ethel, impatiently placing the cup back onto the saucer. A splash of milky liquid spills over the side and onto the table.
‘No! It’s not the bloody tea.’ Suptra ceases nodding and looks up at Ethel. She is sure that the beginning of a large tear is forming in his eye.
‘Well, if it’s not the…’
‘It’s Nita.’ Suptra almost shouts out the name.
‘Nita? Your niece? The teacher?’
‘Yes, she wants to go to India. She says she wants to explore her heritage.’
Ethel breaks into a smile, a smile of relief.
‘Oh, how lovely. You must be so pleased.’
Suptra shakes his head from side to side, then nods at a 37-degree angle.
‘Pleased? Why should I be pleased?’ He is shouting now.
‘She wants me to go to India with her!’
A customer, whom Ethel has never seen before, comes through the door and sits at the first table.
‘And what’s wrong with going to India? It’ll be lovely for you both.’
Suptra puts his head in his hands and lets out a strange wailing noise that causes the new customer to turn around quickly. Ethel smiles at him, apologetically.
‘No, no, no. I can never go back to India. Never. Do you understand?’
Ethel nods, then shakes her head, then moves it up and down diagonally.
‘Can’t say as I do, love, to be honest.’
Suptra looks at Ethel as if she should understand him.
‘I can never go back to India. They will kill me!’
Monday is always the busiest day for Clara – and the most frustrating. Twenty years ago, when she first became an Oxfam shop volunteer, people would donate interesting items, items of value inherited from their grandmothers, or crusty aunts that had spent a lifetime hoarding bric-a-brac. These days, all the valuable items are being sold on eBay and the left-over worthless junk deposited on the shop’s doorstep over the weekend, after people had had a clear out, or failed to sell items at the car boot. Today was no exception and Clara had arrived at the shop to find three black bin liners full of clothing, unwanted by anyone, particularly Clara. She had arrived early, knowing there would be the usual rubbish to sort through, to repack in bags ready for the recycling van to take away.
George, her husband had gone away for a long weekend to an Old Boys function at the school where he had been headmaster for thirty-two years and she had spent her Sunday in the garden, taking the opportunity to relocate plants without George’s interference. She had pruned, tidied the shed and thrown George’s failed horticultural experiments out of the greenhouse. George would be so full of his conversations with his old colleagues and students when he returns that it will be at least a week before he notices what she had done and then she will deny it and convince him that they had done it together, before he left for his weekend away. Sometimes, George’s increasing forgetfulness serves her well.
Two bags of clothes, smelling of mothballs and God knows what else have been emptied and there has been nothing that could be put out onto the racks. The third bag is a bit more interesting. There is a nice pair of shoes that look like they have never been worn and an imitation fake-fur stole that is quite trendy these days. She puts both items to one side for pricing, later. A few more clothes and then, right at the bottom of the bin liner, a handbag. A very nice handbag. Real crocodile skin, she thinks and wonders who in Leeford would possess such an expensive bag that they were prepared to donate.
‘That should fetch a few quid,’ she thinks. She unzips the pockets at the side to check for any loose change, or tissues that might have been left inside. Nothing. Then she sees a small zipped pocket on the inside of the flap. She unzips this, but there is only enough room to put her finger in. At first, she feels nothing, then as she wriggles her finger to one side of the pocket, she feels something solid. She prises the pocket open a little wider and there it is, a shiny ring nestling in the corner. She scoops the ring out with her little finger and hears it drop onto the laminate floor. She hears it, but does not see it and, for the next ten minutes she is on her hands and knees crawling along the floor, as if taking part in a police search for a murder weapon. When she can stand the pain in her knees no more, she slowly pulls herself up using the leg of the large table that spans the centre of the room. As she takes a step backwards, she hears the sound of metal sliding across the floor.
‘There you are!’ she says, bending down to pick up the ring; a gold ring, encrusted with a row of five diamonds.
‘Oh, my life!’ she exclaims, holding the ring up to the light. ‘this is worth a fortune.’
She tries the ring on her fingers, but they are too swollen these days and the ring does not pass beyond the first joint. The ring is so beautiful it brings a lump to her throat. She holds it up to the light again and watches as each facet of the diamonds changes colour as she turns it, this way and that. She is mesmerised for a few moments and fails to hear the first knock on the door. The second, much harder knock rouses her from her reverie with a start. It will be her assistant for the day, arriving just before opening time.
Clara goes over to the locked glass cabinet where the more expensive items are kept. She pulls the key out of her pocket and unlocks the cabinet. There is a further knock on the door. Clara unlocks the cabinet, pauses and takes a deep breath. She closes and locks the cabinet and puts the keys into her pocket.
And the ring.
Linda Cross loads the first service wash of the day. The machine gurgles for a couple of minutes and then begins to fill with water.
‘So, you’re saying that Jesus was Italian?’ Her sister, Sherry is sitting on a bench by the window eating her lunch, as she always does at 8.30 in the morning.
‘Of course, he was,’ says Linda, with an air of authority.
‘Think about it. The Pope is Italian and he is a direct descendant of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus was Italian.’
Sherry looks at her quizzically. Her sister’s strange logic never fails to amuse her, though it always fails to convince. She lets out a laugh, which annoys Linda, who is convinced of her own logic and pleased that she had worked this connection out for herself.
‘Also, if you think about it, the Bible was written in Latin, right?’
‘And Latin used to be Italian, right?’
‘Well, wrong way round, but I see where you’re coming from.’
‘So, the Bible is Italian and Jesus wrote the Bible.’
Sherry very nearly chokes on a mouthful of sandwich.
‘Well, I never. I learn something new every day, Linda.’
Linda fills the next machine and slams the lid shut.