This is the thirty-first part of a fiction serial, in 747 words.
“Mrs Lee was nicer than she looked, but wouldn’t call me Helen, or tell me her first name. I had a lovely room on the first floor with a comfortable double bed, my own small bathroom, and a view over the garden. I was only allowed to smoke in the conservatory, so as you can imagine I spent most of my time there, Martin. For the first week, Mrs Lee went through the things I needed to know about in everyday life. She showed me how to use the Internet, and gave me a laptop to keep. The same one you saw in my lounge. I thought it was like a magic trick, and spent hours sitting in the conservatory looking at historical sites so I could find out what had been happening while I was in prison. There were lots of practical things too, like bank cards and PIN numbers. She told me nobody used cheques any longer, or carried more than a few pounds in cash. I had to create one of those PIN numbers for security, so used the first four numbers from my Soviet prison number. Nobody would ever guess that. Back in a minute”.
Helen returned with a plate of cream biscuits and a refilled vodka tumbler.
“On the Saturday morning, Mrs Lee took me by bus to the shops in Oxford Street. She showed me how to take money out of those wall-mounted machines, and we went into John Lewis so I could buy new clothes and underwear. They had set me up a new bank account, and were paying the Civil Service pension into it monthly. There was also a lump sum payment of twenty thousand pounds, so I felt incredibly rich. Mind you, I was determined to have a word with someone about that, as it didn’t really seem enough compensation for all the years I had been locked away. With so many bags of clothes, toiletries, shoes, and some assorted luxuries, we took a taxi back to the house. Mrs Lee appeared with a camera, and took a photo of me that was going to be used on a new passport. Although I had no intention of ever leaving England again, she said it would be useful as a form of identification. She also gave me a copy of my Birth Certificate and a new Medical Card, saying I should register with a doctor once I had moved into my permanent home. Then she suggested that I should think about how much I was eating, as it wasn’t good for my health. I was a bit snappy with her, and told her to try to imagine eating almost the same two things for dinner every day for nearly fifty years”.
As if to confirm Mrs Lee’s fears, Helen stopped to cram two cream biscuits into her mouth, holding a third ready for when she had made room.
“Once I had decent clothes lots of cigarettes, and I felt almost normal again, I asked about getting some Gorlovka Vodka. There was some Smirnoff in the house, but it wasn’t to my taste, nowhere near strong enough. She said she would pass on my request, but it took a week until a case of twelve bottles arrived. Mrs Lee cooked a nice meal every evening, but I was always hungry, so used to help myself to things from her huge fridge after she had gone to bed. She only sat with me when she had to, and i tended to eat, drink, and of course smoke in the conservatory. I spent my time looking at the laptop and reading the news from the last fifty years. I had no interest in television, so she used to sit in the large living room to watch her favourite programmes. For the first two weeks I was in the house, I never heard a phone ring, and there were no visitors except deliveries made from a white van. When I asked if there was a phone in the house, she showed me a mobile phone, telling me I would be provided with one when I left and shown how to use it. I smiled and said I no longer had anyone to ring, but it might be useful in an emergency”.
Three more biscuits descended down her gullet before she looked across at me again.
“Then on the Monday of the third week, two men arrived. Mrs Lee said they had come to interview me”.