Russ Thomas

Ida was opening the front door when the buzzer rang.

‘Crikey!’ she said, clutching her chest. ‘You gave me a fright.’

The young man standing on the doorstep grinned at her. ‘Sorry, love.’ The grin widened to show a few more teeth. ‘Ah didn’t mean to scare yer.’ She didn’t recognise the accent. Something Northern, she thought. He was a pretty young lad though.

‘I’ve got a few things I’m selling, you know?’ He held up an enormous kit bag that must weigh a ton. ‘Household stuff, that sort of thing. Thought you might be interested. It’s all cheaper than the shops and I’m only here for the day…’ The young man rattled on with his spiel but by now, Ida thought she had the gist.

‘I don’t think –’

‘Only, ah was talking to your neighbour up a ways, and she thought you might be interested. She buys stuff off me all the time, like?’

‘You mean Shirley?’ Ida didn’t know many of the neighbours anymore. It wasn’t like it used to be in the old days, everyone in and out of each other’s houses. Of course, you could leave your doors open back then, with no fear of the consequences. It wasn’t like that now. But Shirley looked out for her. And having Gary next door was a great comfort as well. She glanced at the elaborate chain Gary had fixed to the front door a few weeks back. ‘You can never be too careful, Ida, love,’ he’d told her. Yes, it was nice to have someone she could rely on and she knew Gary felt the same, especially since the divorce. He helped out with a bit of maintenance, that sort of thing, and in return she popped round while he was at work and fed the cat, did a few household chores.

‘Ah haven’t got long,’ the young man said, somehow managing to make it sound like an apology. ‘Ah’ve got a lovely set of kitchen knives, like on the telly, only cheaper?’

Ida frowned at him. ‘It’s very kind of you but I was just on my way out. You see this –’

The man interrupted her again. ‘Look, love,’ he began, placing a foot on the doorstep and his hand on the door. ‘Ah’m in a bit of a hurry, myself. Ah’ve got other people to see, you know? People, ah’ve promised stuff to.’

Ida really wasn’t sure. She shouldn’t let a stranger in; Gary would be ever so cross with her. And he had a right temper on him, did Gary, when you got him riled up. It’s one of the things about him that reminded her of her Stan. On the other hand, where was the harm? This was just a young lad trying to make his way in the world. ‘Well, I suppose it’ll be alright, as long as you’re not too…’ The lad was pushing past her and on his way into the house before she’d finished her sentence.

By the time Ida had caught up to him, he had half the contents of his bag already laid out on the living room carpet. ‘What did you say your name was, again?’

‘Er… Matty. So, these are the knives. You’ve got your paring knife, Chef’s knife, bread knife…’ And so it went on.

There was a veritable treasure trove of goods in the bag. The knives, of course; an electric cheese grater – easier for arthritis sufferers; an egg-cup shaped like a penguin – the grandkids’ll love that; oven mitts with kittens on; a set of old-fashioned weighing scales with all the weights. How he’d managed to carry all this was anyone’s guess!

‘You’d be doing me a favour, love. You really would.’

Dusters, cleaning cloths, Hoover bags. Allsorts. All designed to make her life easier in ways she didn’t even realise were possible. And all of it, so much cheaper than the shops.

Before long Matty had thrown together an irregular-shaped pile of goods that he thought Ida might be interested in. It was a much bigger pile than the pile of things he thought she wouldn’t be interested in.

‘Right then,’ he said, finally running out of items to pull from the bag. ‘Ah’ll just tot this lot up, eh? See what the damage is?’

She couldn’t remember saying that she was actually going to buy anything. ‘I’m not sure if I can stretch to –’

‘Ah don’t suppose there’s any chance of a cuppa, is there? It’s thirsty work this, you know?’ He grinned again. He did have a pretty face. And a lovely smile.

*            *            *

When Ida got back with the tea, Matty was looking at the photos on the windowsill. ‘These the grandkids are they?’

‘Well, no…’ She glanced down at the kit bag which Matty had moved nearer to the hallway. It seemed a little bulkier than she remembered, but perhaps that was just her imagination. Or maybe, he’d put some of the items back, although, looking at the pile of items still on the carpet, she didn’t think so.

‘Ah bet you’re right proud of them, aren’t yer?’

‘Well, they’re lovely kids but they’re actually –’

‘Ah ‘spect you spoil them rotten, eh? Oh, thanks love.’ Matty took a large slurp of tea, wincing a little at the heat. ‘Anyway, Ah’ve added up what you owe me and I thought we’d call it a round ton.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘A hundred should cover it.’

‘A hundred pounds? Oh… I didn’t realise it was going to come to that much.’

‘Ah’ve done you a good deal there, love. The knife set for half price, and I haven’t even charged you for the marigolds.’

‘That is good of you but… I really haven’t got that sort of money.’

Matty’s face began to harden.

‘Not here, anyway. I was just on my way to the shops when you arrived. I’ve not taken any money out yet.’

Matty’s face softened again. ‘Don’t you worry about it, love. Ah tell you what, why don’t I come with you to the bank while you get the money out? I can even help you carry your shopping back.’

That was very sweet of him, she thought. A nice touch. ‘Would you? That’s very kind. But didn’t you say you were in a hurry? I wouldn’t want to put you out.’

‘Don’t you worry about it, love, it’s no trouble.’

As she shrugged back into her coat she saw Matty reaching for his bag. ‘Oh, you might as well leave that, dear. You can pick it up when you get back. Save those shoulders of yours.’

‘But I –’

‘You did say you’d help me with the shopping?’

Matty let the bag slip back to the floor with a clink. ‘Sure,’ he said.

*            *            *

She made sure she locked the front door as they left. You just couldn’t be too careful these days. It was a nice afternoon and she enjoyed the walk in Matty’s company, although he seemed much quieter than before, almost as though he was worried about something. It didn’t matter. It was nice just to have some company. And handsome company, at that. She took his arm and found herself telling him about Stan, about their life together. But she got the distinct impression he wasn’t all that interested. Hardly listened at all. Still, that was the young for you. Always thinking they invented everything.

They were passing the mini-market when Ida stopped short. ‘Oh dear,’ she said. ‘I haven’t done my shop yet; I’ll have nothing for my tea.’

‘We can get it on the way back.’

‘Oh, but they’ll be closing soon. I’ll just nip in now.’ She turned to go and then stopped again. ‘I forgot, I haven’t taken any money out yet.’

‘What about your card?’

‘Oh, I don’t use them. I like to keep track. I’m sorry, your visit’s thrown me out today. I’m all at sixes and sevens.’ She smiled sweetly at the young man. ‘I don’t suppose… well I realise it’s an imposition but perhaps I could borrow a little money and we can add it on to what I owe you?’

Matty hesitated, then sighed and pulled out his wallet. ‘Ah’ve only got a fifty,’ he said.

‘That’ll be fine,’ Ida said, snatching the note from his fingers. ‘Shan’t be long.’

*            *            *

Shortly after Ida got home she heard a huge commotion outside. It seemed to be coming from next door. She inched back the net curtains to have a look and saw Gary arguing with someone on his doorstep.

‘But… she owes me money! And all me stuff!’

It had been good of Mr Abdalla to let her out the back door of the mini-mart. She wondered how long Matty had waited for her. Long enough for her to get home and nip back round to Gary’s to collect all her new gear. It had taken her three trips too, to carry all that stuff. She’d put Gary’s belongings back first, of course. You didn’t widdle on your own doorstep. Stan had taught her that.

She almost felt sorry for the poor boy, but if he’d stopped to listen to her for two minutes he’d have known it wasn’t her house. It hadn’t been a bad con but the lad still had a lot to learn. If she was a few years younger she might have taken him under her wing. Just like she had Stan all those years ago. But those days were long gone. She’d settle for fifty quid and whatever the crap in the bag got her on eBay.

‘Look, mate,’ Gary said. ‘I’m telling you for the last time, there ain’t no old lady lives here. It’s just me, the kids, and me cat. Now piss off out of it!’

The argument went on a bit longer but, inevitably, Gary lost his temper. He was a good man, Gary, but he didn’t half have a short fuse. Poor boy, Ida thought as she drew back the curtain. Not such a pretty face now.

Copyright 2020 Russ Thomas

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