Lost in the City

Jeannie was usually awoken by nagging hunger. Or by the city’s dawn chorus of gulls squabbling over last night’s take-aways. But this morning was different. A slightly bewildered but earnest robin sitting atop the straggly tree nearby was drawing her gently into the new day. She sat up, pulling the scratchy blanket around her. Still muffled in sleep, she looked over to the majestic plane tree in the centre of the green. An old armchair had appeared overnight. An unexpected hint of home and hearth. She shuffled off her coverings and wandered over, curling up into its large, wide-armed welcome. A perfect circle of Georgian terraced houses surrounded her, their glaring windows looking down – stuffy and judgemental. So she looked upwards through the branches to the blue sky beyond. The swifts were arc-ing way up in the atmosphere, so free, unhindered by the mess of humanity sprawling below. Jeannie felt overwhelmed and very small in the midst of the city, and looked longingly at the birds far above her.
Suddenly shivering, she hugged her knees tight, and glanced down. Sticking out from under the seat cushion was the tiniest corner of an old-fashioned manila envelope. She awkwardly pulled out the bulky package. After a moment’s hesitation, she ripped it open and fished out the contents. Monopoly money. The paint box colours of the notes glared out from her grey street-grimed hands.
She suddenly remembered how a year or so before her passing, her grandmother had started leaving bundles of notes hidden around her little flat. In a biscuit tin, under the pillow, under the cushions of her chairs. As she had become housebound, she had started to use the Monopoly notes from the board game under the coffee table. It had lain there from when Jeannie and her brother had spent wet Sunday afternoons playing with their grandparents. Jeannie looked around at the serried windows and doors hoping there was no one witnessing her sickening embarrassment.
A face moved from behind a curtain. An old lady smiled at her, pointing, and nodding her head encouragingly at the young woman.
Smiling weakly, Jeannie waved the wad of coloured paper, giving a “thumbs up”. She fell back into the chair and glanced over to her bundled belongings, the plastic carrier bags and bedding, ripped and muddy. She knew that if the stranger’s gift had been real money, she could have left her squalid life behind her and escaped to something better. The woman had reminded Jeannie of her beloved but demented old grandmother. Living alone, her life had started to unravel, with her flat becoming scruffy and even smelly and with her rejecting offers of help, acts of love.
“Just like me”. Jeannie thought and turned to acknowledge the small figure. The old lady had gone. Tears welled up and as they fell, they started to clear the smirch of the city from her face.

by Tessa Edgecombe

From: Friday Flash Fiction

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