This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 1101 words.
Nan answered the phone before he could tell her not to. It was Hamza, Cozy’s brother. He still lived in the family home near Ladbroke Grove, and had been tasked by his brother to see what was happening with the business. Benny wasn’t good at being evasive. He had never been a natural liar, though a few weeks on the stall was a good education in that. Hamza didn’t really want the hassle of sorting out his younger brother’s business, and made that clear. “Just send Omar his money, and stop messing about. Don’t make me come over to Camden to see you”. For a moment, Benny wondered who Omar was, then it dawned on him that was Cozy’s real name. “Sure thing, Hamza. Leave it to me. I will be sending some money this week. It’s just that business has been slow. No need for you to come over, no need at all”.
He hadn’t even convinced himself, and was relieved when Hamza said “Pleased to hear it”, and hung up.
At the end of trading, he totted up the takings. Less than one-fifty, but better than a slap in the face with a wet fish, as Nan always said. He would send Cozy the hundred from the Post Office, and keep the rest to give Nan for the food bill. She had talked about going to see a new play at The Donmar Warehouse, but he would have to put that off for now. But on the way to the Post Office, Benny forgot all about why he was going there, and became distracted by some music booming out from a tiny half shop in Chalk Farm Road. He knew the guy who ran it, Edgar. He was a Rasta, and a familiar figure around the area. His record shop specialised in West Indian music; Reggae, Ska, and Bluebeat. Benny went inside to listen to the rest of the track. Edgar nodded at him, and continued to stand behind the tiny counter, rocking almost imperceptibly. He was smoking a spliff the size of a baguette, and surrounded by a cloud of pungent dope smoke. Openly breaking two laws, without a care in the world.
“That’s a good one, Edgar. Who was that? Have you got a copy for sale?” The older man reacted slowly. He smoked so much weed, he seemed to live life at a different pace to everyone else. Slow motion. His grey dreadlocks were housed in a huge Rasta hat, a woolen arrangement the size of a pillowcase that hung down his back and bobbed slightly as he spoke. Benny thought it looked a bit like the alien queen’s head in the film ‘Aliens’, but wisely chose not to mention that comparison. “It’s ED-GARR, boy. I keep telling you, not ‘Ed-ger'”. He rolled the Rs with a natural drawl. Although he had been born in Harlesden, the man was more Jamaican than Bob Marley. He seemed pleased that the young white boy liked the record. “Them’s The Skatalites, boy, before you were born. Yours for ten pound”. Benny was an easy customer, so by the time he left Edgar’s small shop, he had parted with sixty quid for six albums, and was keen to get home and play them on the midi-system.
Cozy’s money had slipped his mind.
Nan enjoyed the music too, and jigged around the living room doing some sort of dance that looked very cool, in her head at least. She was wearing lace-sided leggings and an oversized t-shirt, but her velcro-fastening slippers were not helping the footwork. “This takes me back, love. Smart clothes in the 60s, and some great times at the clubs. Those black guys knew how to woo a woman, I can tell you”. He had seen photos of her back then. She was very attractive in her youth, a mixture of flower power love-child, and swinging sixties model. She made no secret of her past, including having posed for some dodgy glamour magazines, and even appearing in a few soft porn videos, during the heady days at the start of the VHS tape phenomenon. Dad had said he was ashamed of her, and would never talk about it. But Nan loved to reminisce, and once Benny was living in her flat, she was keen to show him what she called her ‘box of treasures’.
The old suitcase was stuffed full of magazines, and loads of loose eight by ten glossies. She wasn’t at all embarrassed to show them to him, though she did take out the VHS tapes, and put them to one side. “Maybe not these, love, not until you are much older”. He had been surprised to discover that her modelling career extended well into her fifties, in magazines with titles like ’50 Plus’, and ‘Treasure Chests’. She casually flicked open a centrefold, showing her huge breasts dangling down in front, as she pretended to be a French maid doing some dusting. “I was nearly fifty then Benny. They loved me. I even had my own fan club, used to answer their letters at the back. Well, not me as such, one of the staff did it. But I loved what he wrote”. She closed the case, and a wistful look passed across her face. “Anytime you want to have a look at these again, the case is on the bottom of my biggest wardrobe. Help yourself, I don’t mind. But promise me you won’t watch any of those videos when I’m out”. Benny promised her, and didn’t watch them.
There was only so much his young mind could take in at the time.
When the record finished, Nan was out of breath, and sat down heavily next to him on the sofa. “Phew, that puffed me out, love. But I enjoyed it”. She turned her head and planted a big smacker on his cheek. Benny felt overwhelmed with love for the funky old lady. “Why don’t I ring up about that play, Nan. See if I can get tickets for tonight?”
He got two tickets, and arranged to pay on collection at the box office. Cheap ones, on the side, near the back. Restricted View they called it. No view, Nan said. But she didn’t mind, as she thought the play was overrated and pretentious. At the intermission, she balked at the price of the drinks. “Tell you what, Benny love, let’s skip the second half, and go back to Quinn’s for a drink. They have Irish music tonight”. Benny nodded, hoping he had enough left to buy a round.
To be continued…