I bumped into the local drug dealer the other day. It was in Westfield, in Stratford. We fell to chatting. Suddenly I was overcome by embarrassment. Perhaps he was working. Was I insensitively interrupting a ‘drop’?
He laughed. ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘I’m doing the Sales. Big ‘S’ Sales.’
‘I was sad to leave the flat,’ I said.
‘Yeah. I left mine at about the same time. One thing and another.’
‘Nice building,’ I said. ‘The management were useless but the security were nice: useless but nice. And the crows.’
‘Yeah, and the poor old fox.’
‘We have two foxes in the new house,’ I said. ‘Glossy one in the front and mangy out the back.’
‘Like so much in life,’ said the local drug dealer, adjusting his baseball cap, which he wears at a rakish angle.
We fell silent. I was about to move on when the local drug dealer said, ‘And I’ll miss Mrs K-. A magnificent woman.’
He didn’t actually say ‘Mrs K-‘; he named her. In view of what follows, however, I shall use the initial to maintain her anonymity.
I looked blank.
‘Woman in the nails and beauty place. On the corner.’
I knew at once whom he meant.
‘I never met her: doing my own nails and beauty.’
‘Me just the once,’ said the local drug dealer. ‘Want to know about it?’
‘I’d often noticed her. Through the window. Leaning over a customer’s nails or whatever.’
‘Oh yes. Those shoulders!’
‘Those shoulders. Oh yes. Anyway I’m leaving the neighbourhood so I thought what the hell and I went in. There’s no one around except her. She seemed happy to talk. We were talking, five or ten minutes, this and that, cup of tea, when she surprises me. She puts a hand on my arm, meaningfully like, and she says, ‘I suppose you want a blow job.’’
‘Just like that? Was this in the nails and beauty area, in full view as it were of the street?’
‘No. We’d sort of drifted into the back.’
‘And what do you suppose inspired this approach, apart of course from your formidable animal attractions and noted headwear?’
‘Bored, I suppose. I was in two minds how to reply to her. It was mid-morning and I don’t know about you but mid-morning I don’t really think about that sort of thing. Even with some magnificent woman like Mrs K.’
This time he did call her ‘Mrs K’: just like that.
I remembered Amy telling me once, ‘Before lunchtime, Chinese people never horny,’ but I did not interrupt the local drug dealer’s flow by passing on that information.
‘Thing is, the night before, in bed with the girlfriend – did you ever meet the girlfriend?’
‘Yeah, Alfredo brought me to a party at your flat and I danced with her. If she’s the one. Slit up the side of her skirt, that party.’
‘A magnificent woman too, in her way.’
‘Yeah. In her way. Anyway in bed with the girlfriend, with her, night before, obviously the skirt off at this point, I indicated I was feeling friendly and she repulsed me – viciously.’
‘Viciously. So I’m feeling sort of receptive to Mrs K. I said, ‘No, but I’d like to give you one.’ That put the cat among the pigeons, I can tell you.’
‘And did you?’ I asked. ‘Give her one or whatever?’
The local drug dealer said that it was not for him to speak lightly of a woman’s name and reputation.
‘That’s for her to tell you.’
He may have added, ‘Innit?’
He did however allow himself a dreamy expression, sufficiently dreamy to be unmistakable in spite of his dark glasses.
‘She is a magnificent woman,’ he said.
I imagined Mrs K and her shoulders, the local drug dealer with his skinny body, together in the dark back area of her little shop, the sign on the door changed temporarily to ‘Closed’, the light turned off so that visibility from the street was largely obscure. It was a vision wholly at odds with the antiseptic glare and entrepreneurial optimism of Westfield, Stratford, which surrounded us. It was a vision, to give credit to the local drug dealer’s reticence, that might be wholly at odds with what had actually happened. And whatever had happened I wondered if it had been inspired by the looks and personality of the local drug dealer or whether it was part of the service supplied, semi-officially, at the nails and beauty place. We stood for a moment in silence.
‘Well, good luck with the Sales,’ I said.
‘There’s nothing, innit? Nothing anyone would want. You can see why it’s the Sales.’
I said that I rarely bothered with them. ‘I’ve been sent here by the better half for a loaf of ethnic bread.’
‘Ethnic bread? In Westfield?’
‘Ethnic, well, Russian. Lower ground floor. It’s quite good. Opposite Waitrose.’
‘Well, see you man. Say hello from me to your better half.’
There was a brief pause while the local drug dealer considered describing the better half too as a magnificent woman, but he evidently decided against.
A day or two later I was walking to a bus stop and I passed the nails and beauty place. By chance, Mrs K was standing at the doorway. She looked magnificent. Thinking for a second, as a result of the confidences, such as they were, of the local drug dealer that we were acquainted, I gave her a half smile. Not only did she not make any suggestions such as he had received but she looked right through me, confronted as she no doubt felt herself to be not with a skinny and not unattractive young man but an old fellow scrabbling through his pockets for a temporarily misplaced bus pass.
Like so much in life, as the local drug dealer might well have put it.