Birthday money

341. 3pm. Bottom deck, a couple of rows behind the back doors, on the left.

‘Nah, Tottenham. As in IKEA.’ Two middle-aged blonde women boarded the bus, talking loudly in powerful East End accents. I thought at first that they were sisters, but soon realised that one was the other’s mum. There definitely were not two whole decades between them.

They talked briefly about this and that (the this was mostly a recent trip to Brighton; the that was how to legally extricate oneself from a family business that had gone into administration – I don’t think they meant theoretically), and then the younger woman asked for her mother’s phone. She scrolled the numbers. ‘What is it, “Stacey Blackberry” or something?’

‘Yeah. You’d better call her, she’ll be going into school tomorrow.’

‘Yeah I’m doing it… Oh hiya babe!’ Her voice suddenly went up an octave. ‘Just callin’ to say I’ve just given Nanny your birthday money ‘cos you’re seeing her later aren’t ya? You can spend it on the trainers or…’

‘Or I could hold it for her,’ cut in the older woman.

‘… Or Nanny could hold it for ya she says… How’s it going babe? Awww, you enjoying your day off? … Awww, what you up to? … No, better not…’

‘What’s that, what’s she asking?’

‘… Or I’ll be cruisin’ for a bruisin’.’ The woman had fixed a smile to her face as if she were cold-calling someone about contents insurance. Now she added what I guess you might call a ‘humorous eyeroll’.

I imagined Stacey cringing on the other end of the phone. I wondered how old she was now. I wondered how often she and her mum saw each other. I wondered if she pitied her mum a little.

‘Well alright babe, speak soon, I’ll text you or something… Just call me if you need me. Or text me. If you need me. Bye.’

The woman returned the phone to her mother, who stowed it away in her handbag.

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