This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 735 words.
I wanted to send Justina home in a taxi, and offered to pay. But she got the late bus instead, after telling me she had really enjoyed herself, and would be very happy to see me again. Due to her punishing work routine, it was only weekends at first. She was up in the dark, to go into the city and clean in offices before they opened. Then she went home for a rest in the aftenoons, before doing it all again in offices that had just closed. I thought it must be an awful life, but she just shrugged and said it was a good way to make money, as it racked up a lot of hours. And she knew more about buses in London that I had ever learned.
The working week was now spent looking forward to seeing her at weekends. I deliberately avoided waiting around to see her at the office, just so she wouldn’t think I was getting creepy. By the end of the month, I had seen her three more times, and at the end of that date she brought up the question of sex. “You don’t ask me back to your house, Francis. What’s wrong? You don’t think Justina is attractive?”
I loved the way she pronounced my name. ‘Frannn-ssiss’.
After blabbering on a bit about not wanting to be pushy, and being respectful. I told her I didn’t want to rush things, and was waiting until she was ready. She had an answer for that. “Well I am your girlfriend, no? And I am ready now”.
Everything about that night seemed natural, and perfectly normal. Neither of us had anything to prove, nor sought to impress with stamina or showy antics. It was as if we had always been together, and for the first time in my life I made love instead of having sex. She was relaxed and unembarrassed around me. Walking around the bedroom naked, and using the bathroom without closing the door. I loved that closeness, that easy familiarity.
Over breakfast the next morning, she sat grinning at me wearing one of my sweatshirts. She wiped her mouth using the back of her hand, and stared straight into my eyes. “I think you really love your Justina, I feel it’s true”. I might usually get fed up up with someone referring to themself using their own name, but in her case it was just so cute. I told her she was right, and her wide mouth spread into a huge smile. “Then good. Because Justina loves you too. Very much”.
After that, we didn’t have to keep saying it. We both had the confidence of knowing it just was.
Naturally, it wasn’t long before I suggested that she move in, and try to get a job with better hours. I looked online and found that Newham Council were looking for bilingual classroom assistants. The pay worked out about the same, but the hours were far more civilised. I helped her with the application forms, and she got an interview. When she took time off from her cleaning job to go to it, they didn’t pay her. Luckily, she passed the vetting process to work with children, and was offered a job. It made her so happy, and she kept telling me she had never even thought about applying for anything else before.
The Sunday before she was due to start, I drove her over to her room in Neasden to collect her stuff. She didn’t want me to go inside with her, so I waited in the car parked a few doors up the street. Forty-five minutes later, she appeared carrying two large carrier bags, and a big sports holdall. That was it. Nothing else. All those years working and living in London, and that was all she had to take with her.
The drive back was tiring, with solid traffic everywhere, even on the short cuts I had worked out. Justina reached over the gearstick and squeezed my knee all the way home, her arm moving up and down as I changed gear. When I finally pulled into my parking space at close to six at night, she turned and gave me a serious look. I wondered if she had regrets about leaving her friends in the shared house, but she wasn’t thinking about that at all.
“Thank you, Francis. You have changed my life”.