This is the eighth part of a fiction serial, in 917 words.
Teacher Lady was still wearing her fixed grin as I looked her up and down. It was plain to see that she expected me to just agree to let her use the parking space. She had gone to some length to explain why she wanted it. After the car park fire incident, she had manaaged to persuade her husband, Middle-Aged Biker Man, not to buy another motorbike. She had replaced the sporty hatchback with an identical model in the same colour, but now he wanted to get a car too, and had his eye on a Mazda MX-5, a two-seat sports car. Even when it came to his car choices, his mid-life crisis was still apparent.
I eyed her up as she was talking. Dressed in her reasonably smart teacher-style outfit of business two-piece, a skirt and jacket that was probably from Marks and Spencer, and navy court shoes that she kept slipping one foot in and out of. She had a chunky build, but was very attractive, in a mumsy way. Looked after herself too. Make-up just right, nice hair, although it was dyed and streaked, and she smelled good, really fresh. I had to wonder what she had ever seen in the pompous sad sack she was married to. I was also wondering whether or not I would, given the chance.
I decided I most definitely would.
But that was not enough to make me give up the space. I told her I didn’t want to play favourites in the block, and liked to keep my space for visitors. Besides, they could always buy a parking permit off the council for sixty quid a year, and park one of their cars in a bay on the street outside. To give her credit, she kept her cool. She didn’t rant or rave, or even mention that she knew damn well I never got any visitors. But the fixed smile faded very quickly, and she just said to let her know if I ever changed my mind.
As she turned to walk down that one flight, I was left in no doubt I now had at least two enemies in the block.
It had seemed to take a long time until someone finally moved into flat three. Edna caught me by the ploy of taking in a parcel for me when I was at work. I had no option but to go down to get it, and she had me captive at the door until she decided to go in to fetch it. She had met a man who she described as a ‘nice Indian chap, and quite light-skinned’. He had told her his name was Mr Faizal, and he had bought flat three. Edna had contrived to wander outside her flat as the guy was overseeing the delivery of some furniture being taken up to the flat. She told me it was basic stuff, describing it as ‘cheap hotel’ furniture, whatever that meant.
He wasn’t going to live there, he had told her. Seemed he already had a nice house up in Willesden Green, and had bought this flat as an investment to rent. He had a lot of other rented flats already, according to Edna. I was wondering how much more she had managed to get out of him, but luckily she went and got my parcel, so I didn’t have to hear the rest.
We saw the van in the car park before we ever saw the new tenant. It wasn’t really a van, as it was plain to see that it had once been an ambulance. The flashing lights had been covered over with black tape, and the ambulance signs painted over crudely. Where there had once been a side window, there was now a big drop-down metal shutter, and in childish writing on the sides were the words ‘Burger Babs’. It barely fitted into the space for flat three in the car park, so it was lucky that Market Boy’s small car left some clearance on one side.
Over the next few days, it attracted some attention. I saw Biker Man and Teacher Lady examine it in great detail, and he wrote something down on a pad. Probably the registration number. Then one morning I spotted Fat Bald Bloke standing on the front bumper, peering through the windscreen to see what he could make out inside.
The Babs who belonged to the van showed up about ten days later, and I walked straight into her as I was leaving, and she was entering. She was really nice. Bubbly, open and friendly, real east-end salt of the earth, with no side to her. I liked her immediately, and her curvy body and pretty face didn’t hurt. Suddenly, Frizzy-Haired Sexy Girl didn’t seem so sexy after all. Like a younger and prettier version of Edna, Babs was happy to blurt out her life story in the hallway of the block. But unlike with Edna, I stayed around long enough to hear it all. Well, most of it.
Barbara was around my age, perhaps a couple of years older. She had been living in Spain for ten years, running a bar with her ex-boyfriend. When they split up, she had moved back to her family home in East London, and bought a van to sell burgers and breakfasts from. Her brother helped her convert it, and she had just got her trading licence from the council.
I told her that I would buy a burger from her anytime.