N meets her boss for coffee opposite South Kensington station. He’s there when she arrives and looks uneasy, unnecessarily stirring his coffee with his spoon. He talks about his weekend, about the weather and then he drops it: he’s closing the website. N is being made redundant. He pretexts another meeting, says they’ll speak about the details later and leaves swiftly. N decides to take the bus back home, the long way around, she’s in no hurry anymore. She heads to the top deck and finds a seat at the front. It’s a rainy December afternoon. Out there, life goes on: tourists taking selfies, shoppers disappearing into black cabs and underground stations, umbrellas getting blown inside out by the wind, couriers on bikes cutting through traffic, ordinary scenes of pre-Christmas London. The rain is lapping against the windscreen. N feels numb. The green light turns red. The bus stops. Is it the end of the road? Is now the right time to go home?
Approaching Stoke Newington, N calls a friend, ‘let’s go for a drink!’. They meet at the Prince on Kynaston road, it’s usually quiet on Tuesday nights. The conversation flows like nothing happened. N is not ready to break the news. A few glasses of wine later and more, all is forgotten, at least until the next morning.
N is woken up by the sound of the boiler which strangely lives in her bedroom cupboard. The rain hasn’t stopped since yesterday but she finds the sound of the water hitting her window reassuring. Bad head, too much wine last night, gets up for a paracetamol and straight back to bed. She can hear flatmate number 1 getting ready in the bathroom. Flatmate number 2 has already gone to work. She never knows if flatmate number 3 is at home as he never makes any noise and rarely leaves his bedroom. She calls him the Ghost.
N looks around the room that she’s called home for the past three years. It’s small and clean, there’s a Brigitte Bardot poster on the wall, books on the windowsill and holiday photos above the desk. It doesn’t feel like home though. It feels more like living in student halls or a cheap hotel. Flatmates have come and gone, often. Some were better than others. N is forty-two, has a full-time job but still has to share flats with strangers. She hates the cleaning rota, fighting for space in the fridge and washing other people’s plates, and cups, and everything else. Unfortunately, that’s the hard reality of living in London on a small salary.
Would I really miss this place if I had to go now?
N calls her sister from her bed, she doesn’t know where to start so she talks about the rain and coming back to Bordeaux for Christmas and the presents she will buy for the kids. They’ll talk again tomorrow.
It’s 12.00pm, all the flatmates have now left for the day, even the Ghost. N walks around the flat in her pyjamas, a cup of tea in her hand. Moments of her life in London start popping up in her mind. She was a waitress at Ottolenghi café on Upper Street, she lived with K and N in Finsbury Park. She dated C, the guy living on the opposite side of the road at number 38 for a while. She moved into a flat in Hackney with M, a fashion designer who shared her love for Nicole Croisille, they fell out eventually. She found a job as an editor for a website and was finally able to ditch the hospitality game. She dated J who went travelling for six months just after they met. They pursued a bumpy long-distance relationship until he came back and she realised he was a dick. She lived in his studio flat in Spitalfield while he was away, surrounded by his treasured Star Wars paraphernalia and a bike on the wall. That place never felt like home either.
It was a week and a few hangovers later that N finally found the courage to explain the situation to her sister, ‘I’ve lost my job, I don’t know what to do’. ‘Don’t worry sis’, M said, ‘you’re coming back for Christmas, we’ll have a good party and we’ll figure something out’.