Rani is worried
It was 4 o’clock on Friday afternoon and Rani was really starting to worry. It was not that unusual for her friend to spend a weekend incommunicado, in fact she’d never known anyone as happy in their own company as Laura. She herself could not bear to be alone – perhaps that’s what came from being the middle one of five and growing up in a house that was always crowded and chaotic. But it had been well over a week now and not a word. The Witch had sent an email a few days ago saying that Laura was not going to be in and her work was to be redistributed, but when Rani tried to ask what had happened, Olga just snapped back something about Laura’s landlady phoning in sick on her behalf.
She’d tried calling of course, home and mobile, and had sent a selection of increasingly anxious emails, but still there was nothing. Rani hated not having Laura around, nobody there to moan with over coffee and cake, and no one to appreciate her latest hair colour. And now it was almost the weekend again and still she’d heard nothing. At 17.01 precisely she switched off her computer, threw on her new vintage broderie anglaise summer cape and marched out the room with a don’t even think about asking where I’m going expression on her face.
Rani had only been to Laura’s flat a couple of times as they always tended to meet in town, but she remembered where it was, and her adorable landlady too. In particular she remembered the lemon drizzle cake and lavender shortbread that Mrs Patterson had provided for the “girls” as she’d referred to Rani and Laura when they’d joined her for tea. The old lady had even dug out an old silk scarf in a beautiful geometric sixties print and insisted Rani (who had been channelling Mary Quant that day) have it. She smiled at the memory as she reached the steps of the house, but then frowned as she took in the peeling window frames and blistered front door. The house looked shut up, curtains closed and leaflets sticking out of the letter box. That week’s local freesheet had been left on the doormat and pages from it had blown down the worn stone steps and out into the street. Laura would never have left such a mess.
Rani had no compunction about peeping through the letterbox. She pulled out the crumpled leaflets advertising pizza delivery and taxis to the airport and bent down to take a look. The tarnished brass flap was stiff but she was able push it far enough to get a glimpse of a rectangle of floor strewn with envelopes and yet more leaflets. There was definitely no one home, Rani concluded, as she straightened up and stretched her back before tripping over the curled up corner of the worn coir mat and almost falling straight down the steps. An enormous grey cat was soon winding itself round her ankles, but Rani was not in the mood to fall for Brian’s charms and ignored him. She was extracting her mobile from deep within her voluminous green leather bag to try Laura one more time when she crunched straight into someone and almost dropped it again.
“Sorry,” she muttered automatically before looking up to see who she’d collided with. The pavement had been empty when she’d walked out of Laura’s front gate a second ago so where had this man appeared from – this slightly odd looking man in very strange clothes? Rani always noticed an outfit, and this one was rather special. The long overcoat was particularly striking, especially on such a hot evening, and when coupled with a wide brimmed hat that completely shaded his face he looked like an extra from a second rate spy movie.
“Are you looking for someone?” the man said, not moving from where he stood in the middle of the pavement as a hissing and spitting Brian shot past him at high speed with his fur standing on end. Was this guy for real? Perhaps he was one of those re-enactment types who liked to run around town pretending he was a secret agent or something.
“The only thing I’m looking for is the quickest way to get away from you,” Rani retorted, and scooting round him she stalked off down the street. Glancing back she saw he still hadn’t moved and was watching her.
“Fancy dress isn’t really the done thing in Muswell Hill you know,” she called over her shoulder, “not in daylight anyway!” And tossing her head she turned the corner into the Broadway, and headed for bus stop.
It was only when she was sitting comfortably on the top deck of the bus that she began to think how odd the man really had been. Why was he there outside Laura’s flat, was he looking for her too? This did not seem an especially appealing prospect and as the bus groaned into life and chugged past the end of Kings Avenue, Rani peered through the grimy window up Laura’s street. The pavement was empty again, and she tried to shrug off the sense of foreboding that had crept up on her. She sent one last text to her friend and then got out her headphones – she needed some music.
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