Angelina has already said ciao a number of times, to her team, to us, to the office plants. She’s already put on her oversized coat and knitted hat, hooked a mask round her ears, picked up her bags of dressings and things, her laptop bag, her folders and what have you. It’s only then she remembers what it was she wanted to tell us.
‘Ooooh! My God! Listen to me! I have a story to tell you! You will love this story! It is soooo creepy!’
Everyone stops what they’re doing and waits whilst she puts everything back down again.
We know it’ll be worth it. Angelina tells a great story. Her enthusiasm, her playfulness, her Italian accent – the musical way it swoops, stops unexpectedly, tumbles enthusiastically on again – it all rushes together into a fast flowing river of words, carrying you along at breakneck speed and dumping you over a waterfall.
She puts all her things back on the desk, but leaves her hat and mask on. It’s like watching a great actress tell a story from inside a letterbox.
‘Weeeellll! You know Mrs Carpenter, the little old lady who live in the nice flat by the park? Yes? You know her? Well! She told me what happen to her. She used to live in a big old house with her mother, on the other side of the park. In fact, she was born there, and never went nowhere else. Just upstairs, downstairs, in the garden, out to work. She got on fine with her mother, they were very happy in their world. The daughter she do all the shopping and so on. Went to market. Went to work. Happy Christmas. Happy Easter. Like that for many, many years, and no-one coming round much, except a few friend for the book group and whatnot. All very nice and thank you very much and that is it. She told me they had a nice little summerhouse at the end of the garden. Not a shed for the lawn machines or the spades, but a nice little wooden place with windows and a little veranda for the mother to snooze in her lounger on sunny day and do the knitting and watching the apple blossom falling on the grass. So. Then. What happen was, the old lady died, suddenly. In her chair. Mrs Carpenter found her when she took her out some tea. Lying on the lounger, dead. Boom. So. What would you do? Mrs Carpenter panicked. She picked the phone up. She put it down again. She picked it up. She put it down again. She tell me she didn’t want anyone taking her mummy away, because she’d be on her own in the big house. So – she say – she need time to think. So she wrap her mummy up in a blanket, and closed the door of the summerhouse, and went back down the garden. And the more days went by, the more she couldn’t bear to think of her mummy being taken away. She was comfy on her lounger. It wasn’t too bad. And more time passed. She didn’t go inside and disturb the blankets when she went down there, so she didn’t see what happen. But she did go down every day when she finish work, and stand on the veranda of the summerhouse , and say through the door: ‘How are you mummy? How was your day? Mine was okay, thank you for asking…’ Like that. For ten years! TEN YEARS! Until she had to sell the house. She got so used to her mummy being down in the summerhouse she didn’t worry when the estate agent come round to say how much for the place. ‘That’s a nice little summerhouse at the bottom of the garden’ he said. ‘Oh yes,’ she say. ‘My mummy live there’ she say. ‘Your what?’ And oh my God! I would love to have been there when she took him down to say hi! I would LOVE it!’
‘I expect she was a mummy by that time!’ says Andrei.
‘Yeeeees! A big scary mummy, wrapped up in blankets, with a cup of tea and maybe a hat. I ask her if she get in trouble from the police, but she say ‘No – a pathologist took a look at her and didn’t think she had been murdered. So I only got a fine for failing to notify the coroner of unexpected death.’ So she sell the big old house and she move to this sheltered place. And now her mummy is propped up by the door with her arms out – like this – so you can hang up your coat when you go in.’
‘Of course I’m kidding. They buried her in the local cemetery. What you think – she CRAZY?’