Hope on the Bumpy Road

The truth was that I was tired – tired of living from hand to mouth, looking at the time and urging the days to ebb away, searching the ground and hoping desperately that someone had dropped a fiver.
I can’t go job hunting because my visa has expired.
I applied for a renewal of my visa a few months too late. I can’t secure a job without a letter acknowledging this so I’m not eligible to work, and only a gonzo can employ me under the pressure of a £10,000 fine. As if that wasn’t enough, I hear there is a three-year backlog on applications. Three years.
Meanwhile, I’ve been squatting at my best friend Trish’s place. Trish is a petite Nigerian with silvery blonde hair and facial features which reminded me of Jet Li. I’ve been thinking of what will happen to me when she relocates to her home country in a few weeks. Meanwhile, Bola, who’s in a position to help, needs her husband’s permission since I’m not a relative. My only option now is to squat with an acquaintance whose offer of unsentimental copulation I’ve turned down numerous times.
With no family, I’ve texted everybody I know and can pull some financial strings, but they expect something in return. One was nice enough to give me some bloated hope by asking for my account number only to etch an enormous blight in my ticker, having never sent any money to my account. No one seems to know the meaning of “nothing ventured; nothing gained” anymore, and I’m skint in every sense of the word.
My eyes glazed with tears when I thought of what could have been. I had £3.10 cash and 30p in my account.  In other words, my “home and abroad” is £3.40.
I sat at the bus stop waiting for the bus that would carry me anywhere but here. I think I nodded off because someone woke me up just as the bus arrived. I got onto the bus, and only then discovered that the bus fare had been increased by 50p, and even if I had my debit card with me, I couldn’t possibly withdraw 30p from a cash machine. Flushed with embarrassment, I climbed down and turned away until the bus drove off.
Last Saturday, I decided I needed to take a breather.  I got ready to go out of the house, a habit I disdained the past weeks. I wore a blue floral printed tunic that I bought from Dorothy Perkins seven fashion seasons ago, but the dusty pink, long-sleeve sweater was a bit too faded and the blue skinny jeans were frayed between the thighs. After combing my hair, I rifled through the wardrobe and picked up my best friend’s cream-coloured waterfall cardigan with a scowl-like neckline. It was the only item of clothing she had that I could fit into since I was a dress size larger than her, though my batwings were much more slender than hers.
By the time I got to the Town Centre, the shops were open. I looked up at the mannequin used to display summer clothes and for first time in my life I did some window shopping. Suddenly I didn’t even feel weird wearing clothes that were so out of date. I bumped into one of my former classmates on my way out of one of the shops. I felt smug after we hugged and she told me I smelled nice.   She didn’t know that I was wearing the last drop of Echo by Davidoff I owned.
The sky was blue and sunny. The wind blew lightly and the sound of rustling leaves was soothing to me. I sat on the green, rusted bench situated close to the bank of a watercourse. I stared dreamily at the water as it drifted unerringly and wished it was me. I felt calm and drowsy…
I looked around as I walked on the tiny path leading to a bridge and when I saw there was nobody around I bent down, gathered some leaves into my arms and threw them into the air. I did it again, laughing. Then I stopped suddenly with a third armful of leaves because I noticed someone standing a few feet away.
“Please don’t stop on my account,” a man said, laughing and walking towards me.
The brown leaves suddenly felt like dirt.  I dropped them and rubbed my palms to remove any residue. I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want to say anything. I scratched the back of my head and started walking away.
He cleared his throat, “I could use the company.”
I sized him up, shrugged and waited.
He walked towards me with a slanted look. He stopped a few inches away and shoved his hand in his pocket. “You’re not going to say anything, are you?”
I shrugged and smiled.
“You’re not in the mood…” He peered at me. “Well then, I’ll do all the talking. My name is Earl.” He pointed at me, laughing when I frowned at him. “I got you there, didn’t I? You know, the television show. Anyway, my name is Andrew Johnson. I came to visit a friend, but it turns out she’s got something to do.”
Same old story…wait for it! Wait for it!
“Can I ask you out on a date?”
I shrugged. I wouldn’t mind being asked out. It’s been a while since someone did.
“Can I at least have a name?” he asked, his eyebrows rose expectantly. When I didn’t respond, he continued.  “You want me to make up one? I will. Okay then, Rebecca it is. No? Okay, Prue? Why am I not surprised? Fortunately, you can’t read my mind right now.”
I twitched my lips, raised my eyes, shook my head and shrugged.
He crossed his arm for a few seconds and then tucked his hands in his pockets.
“May I call you Phoebe? She is adventurous, and I’m hoping you are as well.” He thinned his lips and looked into the brook below us. I took a sideways glance to see what he was looking at and saw a few ducks glide over the rising tide. I  sighed.
When he looked at me, I looked away. I didn’t want it to seem like I was staring at him and it was really hard not to. Why was I being difficult? He could be a player. But I was curious. It was cold and lonely and I just needed someone to talk to. I had gotten to the stage where books no longer bore solace and the fantasy was dull. I cautioned my heart and start walking away reluctantly.
I was relieved when he blocked my path. My heart raced as my brain fought to control its decision.
“I’m a bit hungry, so I’m hoping you can join me for dinner.
I wasn’t sure if he was asking or telling so I shrugged.
“You don’t talk, do you?” he said in a syrupy voice.
I clear my throat, but suspecting I’d betray myself, I stayed mute.
For about an hour we scouted for a restaurant that was open. It was late, so we settled for Desperate Dan, a van that supplied food on the run, and decided on chicken kebab. He talked for over an hour and I enjoyed listening to his baritone voice. I shuddered, but I was having such a nice time, and no cold wind could rain on my parade. I laughed so hard that my ribs hurt. Then at 10pm, the stupid alarm chimed from my phone.
He got up and clasped his hands behind him and turned to face me squarely. “I have a favour to ask of you, so… directly or indirectly?”
I tilted my head up, angling it to my left shoulder frowning, and narrowed my eyes at him. He must have casted a spell on me because I want to be with him and I have only just met him, in the park, in the night, a mysterious handsome face. It was the weekend and with his looks he should have a woman clinging to him, that is if he was a student at the university.
“Can I have the privilege of tickling your pickle?”
My frown deepened.
“Well, I have an offer…please don’t judge or shut me out…” he paused. “I want you to be my fuck buddy.”
It felt like something had been smashed into my chest. Was he expecting me to agree to that? Seriously? He obviously wasn’t ready for proper relationship and didn’t want any strings attached, but to think…
“I just wanted to see your reaction. What I really want, is, someone to pretend to be my girlfriend for three months, or maybe less, depending on when my mum goes back to the States. I will pay you handsomely if you agree, and I promise I will not touch you unless…” he smiled mischievously, “you want me to. Don’t give me an answer now. Please think about it.”
He walked me home.
“I had a nice time.” I said and pressed the buzzer to my friend’s room.
“Wow!” His voice boomed as his eyes widened. “You finally said something.”
“Why did you ask me that?” I said holding the door open but preventing him from joining me.
“I’m not sure. First, it was because we got along so well in no time and secondly, my mum will practically lick your fingers…sorry for the choice of words.”
“Huh?”
“You are very beautiful…” he turned his head away slightly while scratching his ear then added, “and curved in all the right places.”
“How much?”
“What?”
“How much will I be paid?”
“I will pay you ten thousand pounds a month whether she buys the story or not.”
“Okay, there will be no sex, right?”
He nodded.
“Then it’s a deal! Goodnight!”
As soon as I shut the door, I started jumping around with excitement. I couldn’t sleep or concentrate on the latest Men in Black movie I was streaming, and it was hard to resist planning my expenses for when the money would arrive, even though I knew that it was bad to count your chickens before they hatched. I wondered if he had something else up his sleeve. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained! I said to myself.
It was 4am and sleep still hadn’t set in. So I browsed YouTube, played exercise videos and after thirty minutes of aerobics and one hour of dance exercise I started feeling tired but I had to fight sleeping because I had a doctor’s appointment that morning. Seeing that it was a losing battle I quickly ran into the bathroom to take my bath.  My well planned list of expenses gradually changed as I stared at my teeth and face in the mirror. An hour later, as I appraised my reflection, I became a believer in cosmetic surgery and decided to browse the internet for the closest laser liposuction clinic in the area.
I had barely come out of the bathroom when I heard the buzzer.  I rushed downstairs to answer the door. It was a parcel and I signed for it. The delivery man said he was told to wait for my reply. I shrugged and quickly tore the wrapper. It held a Samsung Smart phone; a note was attached to it:
 I didn’t get your phone number or account number. Please call me on this number. 
-Your Pretend Boyfriend.
Later that day, I checked my account and discovered it was in the black. I had more than enough money for the first time in forever.  Suddenly, I was free from debt, except for my tuition, which would be taken care of in twenty-three days, ten hours, seventeen minutes and eleven seconds, when the next bill is scheduled to roll in. Right then, I had to get ready for my second date with my pretend boyfriend, Andrew. With my bandeau-enhanced bust in a little red dress nothing could go wrong. I was still putting the final touches on my make-up when my phone started to ring. I ignored the first two times because it was from my ex-boyfriend.
I felt something wet and cold and opened my eyes. I jumped up, thinking it was drizzling. Still drowsy with sleep, I looked around. The sun was up and the sky was clear. I squinted and looked around again. There was giggling and rapid footsteps for a while before I saw little heads spring up from the footbridge a short distance above where I sat. I shook my head and sighed, a few years ago someone said a hungry person bore the most creative mind. Perhaps that’s true, oh how I wish this wasn’t the case.
I stretched my length across the bench I had slept on and inhaled deeply. My stomach growled. I chose to ignore it. It’s not like I had food in the house or any friend in town to pester. It growled again. This is going to be a long day. My phone was ringing but I didn’t pick it up on time; it was my Dad. I prayed he would call back and decided to sit a while and ponder my almost realistic dream. It was so real I had to pinch my arm to remind me that it was only a dream.
My Dad had sent me £100 but fortune smiled on my bank instead because they had debited £96.66 and left me with only £6.74. Alas! Half bread is better than none! I better hurry before Tesco closes for the day.

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