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Bryony Doran 
September 2017

Suppose I Was to Tell You...

 By Bryony Doran

…that when I first came here to this country I arrived at Victoria Station in London and changed to another coach going to the north of England. It was full of people speaking my language. I had not expected this. I felt like one of those creatures in Norway who every year jumps off the cliff. I did not know the English name for these creatures.  

I spoke to no one. I had come to this country to improve my English and get a good job. Every new word I learnt I put in my little black book my friend gave me. It had elastic around it and a hole along the back for a pencil. I looked out of the window at all the people and cars going around a big arch. It felt very exciting. I saw a sign that said Marble Arch. I wished I had stayed in London. 

I was going to the city of Sheffield because my friend Anna was there, she said it was okay, cheaper than London and I could get somewhere to stay before I came.  

I hoped there would be fields there so I would not miss my home so much, but there were no fields. It was a city of many hills and sometimes on the bus, if I sat upstairs, I could see fields far away. When I first came it was winter. When it became spring I liked the city better. I hadn’t noticed before how many trees there were.  

Anna said, if I didn’t want to work in the sandwich factory with her, to get a bus to the richer part of the city and ask in the cafés. The advert for the waitress job was in a newsagent window next door to a café.  

The advert said,  

-Waitress Wanted and a phone number.  

Next to it was another card 

-  Wanted: Live in Cleaner, Child minder, and other general duties to be discussed. 

Anna said I had to be careful not to go anywhere on my own so I went into the shop and asked the newsagent about the waitress job. He was a nice man. He told me the café was right next door.  

Agnes, the owner, who interviewed me, said my English was okay. Yes, I thought it is okay for a woman who wanted to be an English Teacher. You’ll get £4.80 an hour she said, and tips, so you’ll probably come out with about £5.  

I didn’t. People don’t give big tips when you are serving them coffee and sandwiches, not in this country anyway. She did not ask me if I wanted the job but told me I could have it! 

 

I would say that the newsagent man later became my friend. I was the one who would always go to get milk when we ran out. The other waitresses said he was pervy. I had to ask what they meant. They laughed at me and said you know – pervert. I had to ask them how to spell it and when I got home I looked it up in my dictionary. I think they were unkind. It was true he was always watching my bum but why in this country do women not like men looking at them? We had to wear tight black polyester trousers for work. Agnes told me where to buy them. They cost me £23, more than half a day’s wages. I had to use some of my savings. My old boyfriend back in Poland, the one everyone thought I would marry until I found out I could come here, he said I had a nice bum. I always thought it was too big but he said men like bottoms like mine and I think he was right, not only because of the newsagent man but also the men that came into the café. Several times I was asked out. Would I like to go for a drink is how they said it. I just smiled and shook my head. Anna said I had to be careful of going out with English men, the Polish men in our house would get very angry and throw me out.  

I liked working in the café even though the money wasn’t good. My mother shouted at me when I phoned her after I got my first wage packet. She had heard that Anna got more in the sandwich factory. I lied and told her there were no jobs left there. I did not want to work with Polish people. I didn’t tell her how much the rent was that I had to pay to the Polish man who owned our house, or that I shared a room with Anna and three other Polish women. My mother kept crying. She was very worried about our pope, John Paul. She had heard that he was unwell. She told me that every day she went to our church to pray for him. 

 

The customers that came into the café were polite people. The English are polite people. I had not believed Anna when she’d told me these people said ‘thank you’ to the bus driver when they got off the bus, but it was true. 

One of the waitresses, Becky, was kind to me, she laughed when I asked her the meaning of words, but she told me the answers. 

Sometimes the customers were friendly. Often I got asked if I was French. I liked that, I knew I shouldn’t and often I thought I should say yes, I am French, but something stopped me.  

I am Polish I’d say. Oh, they’d say, and I’d see a look of boredom come into their eyes. Us Polish here in England, we are, how would you say it, the weeds, the new weeds that have blown in, we are the two a penny. We are all here. 

 

After I had worked in the café for a few weeks I began to see the same people. Sometimes they would come every day at the same time or sometimes they would come every week, like one man who told me he came up from London. He was a lecturer at the university. I asked him questions about London. He asked me questions about my life before I came to this country. He asked me if I would like to go for a drink. I told him I didn’t drink and he said that he thought all Polish people drank. I thought that was rude but later I thought I might say yes if he asked me again. I liked the way he dressed and his laugh. The only thing I missed about my boyfriend was the feeling of his skin against mine. 

There was one woman who came in at nine o clock on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then not again until the following Monday.  

She always sat at the same table in the window. I think she liked the sun on her back. I used to watch for her coming in and if someone was sitting at her table she would have a creasing of skin between her eyebrows. Back then I did not know what the English word for this was. She was a woman with hair the colour of amber, even her eyebrows. Her skin was very pale, like a chicken before it is cooked. On top of the pale skin she had little brown spots on her face and on her arms. She could have been a pretty woman, but I never saw any men looking at her bottom. Somehow she didn’t belong to her body. She was the only customer who ever asked me my name. I told her it was Klaudia and she said it was a lovely name and sounded like cloud. I looked this word up. I was not sure it was a good thing to have a name that sounded like cloud. I wanted to ask her what her name was but I didn’t think I should, but then when I brought her skinny latte she told me. 

Shirley, she said. I had to ask her what she meant. I had never heard this word before. She said, my name is Shirley. I wondered if Shirley would become my friend. Always she would read a newspaper for ten minutes and then she would get out some work from her briefcase and use a green pen to make notes. She would stay for two hours and drink two skinny lattes. The first time I served her, I had to ask one of the other waitresses what skinny meant. 

Over the weeks I learnt more about Shirley. She was also a university lecturer. I asked her what her subject was and when she told me English, I told her that my dream had always been to do an English degree. She smiled then and asked me why didn’t I turn my dream into a reality? She said she would find out for me if I could study in this country and she asked me what exams I had taken in Poland. I didn’t think she meant to help me, but then the next week she brought me a glossy book all about the university. I still have it. 

 

After I had been working in the café for two months, I think it would have been around the middle of March, it was still cold but there were flowers the colour of ripe plums in a concrete pot outside the newsagents. They looked like they had little faces. I saw in the window that the job…  

–Wanted: Live in Cleaner, child minder, and other general duties to be discussed. 

…was still there, after all this time. Every week when I phoned my mother she asked me if I had a better paid job yet. Every week she asked me if I have been to church to pray for John Paul. 

The man in the newsagents said he knew the woman who put the advert in the window. She lived in one of the roads just off the high street. He said she was a nice woman, nice family, a Guardian family. He laughed then. I asked him what he meant. He said they had the Guardian newspaper delivered every day, and on a Sunday, The Observer. Didn’t I know what sort of people read the Guardian? I shook my head and he pulled his lips together like a purse, they were thin lips, wavy like a child had drawn them.  

‘I suppose you could say they are socialists, well-off, educated socialists,’ he said. 

 ‘In my country,’ I said, ‘it is the poor that are the socialists.’  

He laughed, ‘Yes, I suppose…’ (he used that word a lot. I looked it up but I was still not sure of the meaning) ‘…you would think that. But you see it makes them feel good, being rich and supporting the poor.’ 

I wanted to know, do poor people read the Guardian? 

He laughed again at that. ‘Not many, love.’ (I noticed he always called me love,) ‘They can’t afford the time.’ 

He came out from behind the counter; I wondered what he was going to do. I knew he had a wife, a woman who wore a flowery overall.  

‘If you are interested in that job…’ He leaned into the window. I watched his bottom then. It was a flat bottom in cheap grey trousers. I thought, why he always wears dark jumpers? On each shoulder was that stuff that falls from your hair. I wondered what the English word for it was. I suppose I could have asked him. If he’d worn a grey jumper to match his grey trousers and his grey hair no one would have known of his problem.  

He handed me the card, ‘Take it, she hasn’t paid me for two weeks anyway. And if you want the job it’ll stop anyone else getting it.’  

 

It’s funny what you notice once someone has told you something. All that day I looked at the newspapers the customers were reading, and he was right. The same sort of people were reading the same papers. The Guardian readers, they looked educated, but weren’t smartly dressed. Two asked for decaffe coffee.  

I thought, the man from London, and Shirley, I think they must read the Guardian newspaper.  

 

I didn’t want to leave my job. I was finding out a lot about the English and I think my English was improving but I knew my mother was right, I had to earn more money. If I could send enough money home to keep her quiet and save some, I might one day be able to study. Shirley had checked my qualifications and said she thought I could study here. 

Anna again mentioned the job in the sandwich factory but I told her I had found out about a job with a good family. If they were good people I would get a good wage and maybe if the hours were shorter I would be able to take a bus and go out into the country.   

 

After work that night I found a phone box that was working and rang the number on the card. A man answered. I told him why I was ringing but he didn’t seem very interested. 

He said, ‘I’ll get my wife.’ I heard him walking through the house. I remember thinking they must have wooden floors. 

‘Hello. Yes, can I help you?’  

A funny question to ask, I thought.  

‘I was ringing about the advertisement you put in the newsagent’s window for a cleaner and child minder.’ 

‘Is that Klaudia? The girl from the café?’  

I did not understand how she knew my name.  

‘It’s Shirley here – what a coincidence.’ 

I went to her house the next evening. The clocks had just gone back. That is what they say in this country. It was March and suddenly there was another hour of sunlight in the evening. I wanted to go to see Shirley straight after work, it would have been better for me, I wouldn’t have to pay two bus fares, but no, she said, it wasn’t convenient. So I had to go back to my house on the bus. It was better anyway. It gave me a chance to wash and change.  

I put on my black skirt and coiled my hair up at the back of my head.  

 

She took me to the kitchen at the back of the house. As we passed through the hall I saw her husband sitting on a white leather sofa watching a big television. He had a glass of white wine in his hand. He had long hair and an old face. 

Shirley asked me to be quiet for a minute, putting a finger up to her lips, then she pointed to me to sit at the table. She was listening to something on the radio, voices, and then music started and she switched the radio off and picked up the kettle and took it over to the sink.  

At least she was hospitable. That was a good sign. I had heard that English people weren’t hospitable. But Shirley was a kind person so I should have known that anyway. 

‘Just getting my daily fix of The Archers,’ she said, ‘Of course you can’t ever have heard of The Archers, it’s a very English thing.’  

She didn’t explain any further so I had to wait until I got home to look the word up, and I was still none the wiser – as the English say. Why would she think a person expert in the use of bow and arrow is such an English thing? 

 

She offered me a coffee. She made it in a cafetière. I noticed when she was making the coffee that she was quite slim except for her hips. She wore a skirt in a heavy brown cloth and around the broadest part of her hips, down the back below the zip, the stitches had come apart. The coffee was good. She kept looking at me and smiling, ‘You look younger somehow.’  

I told her I was twenty-eight, she said she was surprised.  

I could hear voices of children coming from upstairs. I had never thought of Shirley with children. 

She sat down opposite me, holding her mug like a baby would a bottle, grasping it tight with both hands. 

‘I haven’t really thought this through. I’ve had a few people apply but none of them were suitable. But you!’  

She smiled at me then. She had a nice smile and I remembered why I had liked her. Somehow in her home she seemed different.  

She asked me how much I was getting in the café. I thought it was rude but I told her and she made this funny sucking in sound as if she had burnt her finger.  

‘That’s a bit expensive. If you lived in that would make it a lot cheaper for you wouldn’t it? And I could help you with your studies, couldn’t I?’ 

I nodded. I didn’t know what to say.  

‘I could pay you say, £3 an hour and you’d still be a lot better off wouldn’t you?’ 

 I used the newsagents word then – ‘I suppose… but. Yes, well, I don’t think, excuse me for saying, but I don’t think £3 is the minimum wage.’  

I saw the crease appear again between her eyes.  

‘Are you legal here?’  

I nodded.  

‘Oh, but,’ she clapped her hands together, ‘…it won’t apply will it? You’ll be getting board and lodgings.’ 

‘I would be working full time?’ 

‘Yes, I need someone to look after my daughter, she’s eighteen months, and do all the household duties of course. God, it will be such a relief. When can you start?’ 

I added up the numbers is my head. If I didn’t have to pay for my food or rent or bus fares I would have just a little more money, maybe I could do some overtime too, and I could begin my studies with Shirley’s help. I wondered if I could trust this woman, but then I remembered what the newsagent man had said.  

When I told the man from London I was leaving he asked me for my number. I told him I didn’t have one. What about email? I had to explain that my email address was in the Polish language. He gave me his card. He was a professor of English. 

When I am no longer in the house of a Polish man, I thought, I will be able to go out with English men.  

Becky gave me a hug when I told her I was leaving. She said she was going to miss me. I hadn’t realised how much I liked Becky until she did that. I think you could almost say we were friends. She said we must get that pint in before you leave and so the day before I left, after work, we went to a pub a few doors away from the café.  

It was the first time I had been in an English pub and I liked it, everyone was friendly to us and said hello. We were the only women in the pub. There were men at the bar in work clothes, as if they had been working on a building site all day. I felt a little shy but Becky pushed through to the bar and asked me what I wanted to drink. I didn’t know what to say so I asked for the same drink as she was having.  

One of the men said to me, ‘You’re not from around here are you?’ Which seemed like an odd question, though I was polite and answered him, ‘No.’ 

Becky got out a packet of cigarettes and asked me if I wanted one. There was an ashtray on the table made of green glass. It was empty except for one smoked cigarette. Becky asked me about my new job and I told her about it and how Shirley was going to help me to study. She asked me if I was sure it was all Kosher. I explained I hadn’t asked whether the family were Jewish. She started laughing at this, laughing and laughing, making me laugh too, though I didn’t know what I was laughing at. The men at the bar looked over at us and raised their glasses. Becky had got me a large glass of pale beer. I liked it.  

‘We use Kosher to mean, is something legitimate. Is it a proper job,’ she explained, wiping her eyes. 

‘She is paying me money if that is what you mean?’  

‘Do you know how much, how many hours and who’s going to pay your tax and National Insurance? You won’t get your old job back. Agnes is pretty pissed off at you, I heard her grumbling about all the bother she’d gone to, to get you a work certificate. Mind you, that’s not stopped her employing another Pole.’  

‘She is an educated English woman, a university lecturer,’ I explained, ‘She will know all this.’ 

Becky made a noise like a startled horse blowing through its nose, ‘Seriously, you need to check these things out. You could end up not getting any benefits or not being able to study here. You could even end up getting sent back. And if you want to do a degree you need to start soon, the fees go up to £3,000 next year.’ 

‘Don’t worry,’ I told her, ‘It will be alright. Shirley has promised to help me with my studies. She is a good woman. A Guardian reader!’ 

That started her laughing again. I don’t know why but I started laughing too. One of the men from the bar brought us two glasses of the same beer. He didn’t try to sit down with us or talk to us. He just put the beer down and smiled and went away. When I stopped laughing I asked Becky should I go to the bar to pay for the beer but she shook her head and raised her glass and shouted, ‘thanks,’ over to the men. They raised their glasses. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so happy.  

My evening with Becky I enjoyed very much. I wish I could learn to tell when she is joking at me. I found out that she has a degree in philosophy. I wanted to ask why she was working in a café but I thought it would be rude. I learnt many English words that evening. This is the reason I change my job. I shall learn much English and study with Shirley. 

 

On the first day of my new job I had to get a much earlier bus. The people standing at the bus stop were not the people I usually saw. My suitcase was very heavy and a nice man helped me onto the bus with it. 

As the bus went along the dual carriageway I saw bunches of daffodils. This should have made me feel happy but it did not. On Saturday our Pope had died. We were all so happy when a Polish Pope was chosen. The world woke up to Poland, and now he is dead.  

We did not have a television in our house. Pavel, one of the Polish men, told me the news and on Sunday I went to the newsagents near our house and asked for a Guardian. The man laughed at me and said there was no Guardian on a Sunday. He suggested I get The Observer. It was very heavy when I picked it up. There was a picture of John Paul II on the front. He had a very kind face our Polish Pope, and now he was dead. I forgot to look at how much the paper was and when the man asked me for the money it was nearly half an hour of my wages. I said that I was sorry but that I could not afford it and he was very nasty and said, You mean you’ve already read what you want. Bloody Polacks. It was the first time I had cried in this country. This man was an immigrant too, I could tell by the colour of his skin. Why would he be so unkind to me? 

 

When I arrived at the house, Shirley’s husband answered the door. His name was Peter. We have this name in my country. It is a biblical name. He shook my hand. His hand was damp and soft like a woman’s. He was wearing a beige suit and already, early in the morning, it looked as if it needed ironing. I think this fabric is linen.  

He said that Shirl was in the shower. 

I didn’t know what to do. I could see the children through the door, the baby girl and a little boy of about five. They were watching the TV. They still had on the clothes they slept in.  

When they are all out, I thought, I shall put on the TV to hear about John Paul.  

Peter’s hair was like the colour of a hay field. The children had red hair like their mother. I wondered why an old man should have long hair. I asked him if he was an artist and he laughed. Why do these English people always laugh? 

‘Media studies,’ he said, ‘I suppose,’ – that word again – ‘you could call me an artist.’ 

 

I heard Shirley coming down the stairs. She was dressed. She had trousers on in the same fabric as Peter’s suit and they were creased too. Her hair was still wet from the shower. She looked at me and again there was a frown between her eyebrows (I had asked Becky for the word). 

She didn’t say, ‘Hello Klaudia,’ but, ‘Oh, you’re here.’  

I thought this was an odd thing to say and I got the feeling that she wished I wasn’t.  

‘Have the kids had their breakfast?’  

I was not sure who she was asking. She asked the kids. They said, ‘No.’  

‘And they’re not even dressed. For Christ’s sake Pete, couldn’t you have been giving Claudia some instructions?’ 

Then she noticed my suitcase, ‘I’m sorry, everything gets a bit chaotic round here in the morning, come through to the kitchen and I’ll give you some instructions for today.’  

The children had breakfast out of a packet that said Coco Pops. They ate it in front of the TV. Shirley told me their names were Chloe and James.  

I walked to school with Shirley’s friend, Penny. She also had two children the same age as Shirley’s. She was what Becky called a ‘yummy mummy.’ I recognized her from the café but she didn’t recognize me. The women she came to the cafe with were very messy. We had to clear up after their children. A bloody bombsite, Becky used to say. 

I was glad Chloe was in her pram. I did not like the way English people let their very small children run along the pavement. That morning the traffic was not moving. I think the English name for this is rush hour. I did not want to talk to Penny, as I was anxious about watching James running ahead, so I just listened. 

‘Shirl is so lucky having an au pair. I wish I could afford one. I don’t know how they’re going to pay you though, with the mortgage they’ve got.’  

I don’t think Penny liked Shirley very much.  

At the school gates she asked me if I could do any babysitting for her. I didn’t know what to say so I tried.  

‘I suppose so.’ 

‘You suppose? What do you mean, suppose?’ 

I must have got the meaning wrong, I thought.  

‘You either can or you’re can’t.’ 

I didn’t know what to say. I was not sure about the word au pair. I made a note to look it up and hoped Shirley had a good dictionary. 

 

I put the key in the lock. It was a pale gold key with Chubb written on it. I was glad there were no cars on the drive. The television was still on. Chloe went to sit in front of it. I made myself a cafetière and some toast and butter. It felt very strange doing this in someone else’s house. Shirley had left me some books to look at from the University. I thought about what Becky had said about the tuition fees going up. I had to start my degree before this happened. 

I walked through the house into each room. Shirley and Peter had a double bed and their own private bathroom.  

At the top of the house there were two small rooms, offices, one was Shirley’s and one Peter’s. Doctor Shirley Mason, it said, on a university letter. She must be an important person I thought. There were dictionaries too heavy to take down with one hand. I looked up the word Au pair. But I was still not sure what it meant. 

I tried to find the room where I was going to sleep. There wasn’t one. The children had a room each so I supposed that Shirley would put them in one room. I would have liked to unpack my things. 

On the kitchen table there was a long list of shopping to get from the supermarket. I read down the list. I saw the word polish and wondered did Shirley mean me to get Polish sausage. I shall have to do two trips I thought. But there was no money. How should I pay?  

I hoped Chloe would have a sleep so I could change the TV channel and watch the news about our Pope but all she wanted to do was watch the TV, even in the afternoon she did not sleep. 

The little boy did not like me very much; when I walked back from the school with him he made a joke of my accent – ‘Please to come here.’  

When we arrived to the house I was surprised to see, so early, two cars on the drive and the door wide open. Peter and Shirley were in the kitchen. He had the fridge door open.  

He didn’t say, ‘Hello Klaudia,’ but, ‘Where’s the beer?’ 

This man, he had the face of a peasant – like a potato. He pointed to the list on the table.  

‘Shirl did not leave me any money.’  

I had said something wrong. I could see it in her face, but he started laughing. I don’t know why. 

‘Shirl is it now, hmm?’  

Shirley talked to me like Agnes used to. ‘Surely you’ve got a credit card?’  

This woman must have thought I was rich. I shook my head. I saw then she was sorry.  

‘This is going to take a bit more sorting out than I thought. I’ve got so much on my plate at the moment I haven’t had time to think things through.’ 

I saw there was no plate in front of her and I remember thinking this must be an expression I do not know. 

‘Right, what shall we have for tea?’ She looked in the fridge and then the freezer below and pulled out some frozen pizzas. ‘Will you be eating with us before you get off?’ 

I did not understand what she was saying. I no longer had my bed at the Polish house. I noticed my English always was not good if I was upset – when I needed it to be good. 

‘I have brought my suitcase.’ 

‘Oh God, of course you have.’ She patted me on the arm, ‘I’d forgotten all about you moving in.’ 

‘Please where am I to sleep?’ 

‘I was thinking about that the evening you came round for the job. Come with me.’ She took me upstairs and showed me a couch at the top of the stairs. ‘This is a bed settee, I’ve got a screen in the cellar – it’ll be perfect. This is where our guests sleep.’ 

She helped me pull out the bed and explained I would have to put it away every day. I think she knew I was not happy and I saw it worried her.  

‘If you remind me later I’ll send you some course links so you can have a look at what doing an English degree actually entails.’ 

Links! I did not understand. She saw I was confused. 

‘Let me have your email address.’ 

I understood then. I told her I did not have a computer and asked if she would mind if I used hers. She said for security reasons this was not possible. 

 

On the Friday at the end of my first week, the funeral of John Paul II was on the TV. I did not care if Chloe cried. I had to watch John Paul’s funeral. Maybe I could work out how to switch James’ game machine on, and she would be happy with that but, when we got back to the house, Shirl’s car was still on the drive. I had to watch the funeral. I would have to be brave and ask her. She was sitting at the kitchen table reading the Guardian, drinking her latte. At home she did not drink skinny latte.  

She looked up and smiled, ‘I’m working from home today.’  

I had to ask her. ‘Would you mind very much if I watched the funeral of John Paul?’ 

‘Who?’ 

‘The Pope!’ 

‘What about Chloe’s programs?’ 

‘It is my duty. I have to pay my respects. He is our Pope.’ 

‘Are you religious?’ 

Why do the English always ask this, as if it is something I have a choice about.  

‘Well okay, but I want you to babysit for me tonight.’  

I felt strange sitting on the white sofa. It was the first time I had sat there. I would have liked a cup of coffee but somehow it did not feel right. 

There were many people in the square in Rome. Three or four million the newsman said. All to honour our Polish Pope in his red robe. I thought of my mother and I cried. Sometimes I missed my country. 

 

Peter and Shirley drank a bottle of red wine before they went out. They did not offer me a glass. Shirley looked very nice. She had a shiny dress on. Peter still had on his linen suit. 

They came to stand in the kitchen doorway. I was washing the dishes.  

‘Not sure when we’ll be back,’ Peter laughed. ‘But I don’t suppose it matters.’ 

Shirl smiled, ‘It’ll give you a chance to do some studying,’  

‘Please, before you go, can I have my wages?’ 

They both looked at each other and laughed. ‘Wages!’ 

I was not sure if I had used the right word? 

Shirl laughed. ‘You’ve only been here five days.’ 

‘At the café I got paid every week. I have to send money home. My family are poor.’ 

‘I’m really sorry, but you’ll get paid monthly. I can’t possibly afford to pay you weekly. We’d have to dip into our savings.’  

‘How am I going to manage without any money?’ 

‘You haven’t got any expenses, you’ll be fine, I suppose I could always loan you a small amount in advance. Let me have your bank details tomorrow and I’ll pay your wages in at the end of the month, after I’ve been paid.’ 

I took off the blue rubber gloves I bought with my own money. ‘I do not have a bank account.’ 

They looked at each other and laughed. I did not find this funny. 

‘No bank account!’ They said it both at the same time. 

‘We’ll have to remedy that, won’t we?’ Shirl said.  

I remembered what Becky had said and followed them to the front door.  

‘You will give me a wage slip showing my National Insurance payments and tax, won’t you?’ 

They looked at each other like puppets in a children’s show. These people were drunk. I should have asked these things earlier. 

‘My dear girl,’ Peter shook his first finger at me. ‘What do you expect? We’re not the council. We’re not employers.’ 

I did not understand what he meant. He shut the door in my face. 

They woke me up when they came in. They were very drunk. I heard them having sex. It made me feel lonely. They went into their bathroom. They were laughing.  

‘National Insurance – what planet is she on?’ 

He was urinating. ‘How much are you paying her?’  

I did not hear Shirl’s reply but I heard him say, ‘Bloody hell, we’re going to be quids in.’  

In the morning I thought I shall look up this word. I said it over and over to myself so I wouldn’t forget it. Quidsin, quidsin, quidsin… 

The word was not in my small dictionary. On Monday I looked it up in Shirl’s big dictionary. I turned all the pages for ‘Q’ but I could not find the word.  

On her next day off Shirl took me to the bank and helped me open an account and paid £30 in to it as a loan. I said thank you, but I was not sure if I meant it.  

At the end of April as promised my wages were paid into my new account. I had to go to the bank to see how much my wages were. They were not as much as I had expected. Shirl was helping me with my studies so I did not say anything. In the evening, when the children were asleep, I went to an Internet café and looked up the links she sent me. I also emailed the London man. I wondered if I would get a reply. 

Shirl said that when the exams were over and she was less busy, she would arrange an interview for me at the university. To tell the truth I was not very happy in my new job but the thought of the interview helped me to keep going. I supposed it would all work out as it was supposed to in the end, and my English was improving every day?  

 

The 7th of July was my birthday. I had not told anyone. I had been with Shirl for three and a half months. I liked England in the summer. Shirl’s garden had many beautiful flowers. It was one of my jobs to look after them. 

On the way back from school that morning I went to the newsagent. Peter had asked me to pay the paper bill as they had received a nasty letter. He had given me a cheque. I had not seen the newsagent man or been in the café since I started my new job.  

The newsagent man was pleased to see me and asked if I liked my new job? I did not know what to say. He looked surprised. 

‘I am not sure,’ I said, ‘if they are good people.’ 

He frowned then, ‘How do you mean?’ 

I had to wait a minute before I replied. I wanted to cry.  

‘You said they were socialists. Socialists are supposed to look after poor people.’ 

He laughed then, not just a bit, but so much that he had to hold on to the edge of his counter, I saw his belly moving up and down under his shirt.  

‘I forgot the word that should go before socialist: Pseudo.’ 

I had never heard this word before. 

‘They play at it like kids,’ he said. 

I did not understand what he meant so when I got back to the house I put Chloe in front of the TV. The sound was turned off and there was a News channel on with lots of fire engines flashing blue lights and a bus with its top blown off. I did not stay to see what was happening but ran upstairs to Shirl’s room and got down her big dictionary, and turned the pages to ‘S’.