A short story by Miranda Rijks
Like all students of her generation, Anna’s plans had flown out of the window. What she hadn’t expected was a rent demand from their landlord. After a flurry of emails, it came to light that her flatmate Jon, hadn’t paid his half.
‘I’m not paying,’ Jon’s What’sApp message read.
‘What do you mean?’ Anna’s fingers flew across the screen of her phone.
‘I’ve gone home so I’m not paying.’
‘But you can’t just not pay. We signed a lease together. We’re both liable.’
‘Not my problem. I’m on the other side of the world.’
Anna tugged at her long curly hair. She was studying law. She knew perfectly well that under the terms of her lease, if Jon defaulted, she’d be responsible for his half of the rent. She paced up and down the tiny apartment, a knot of panic curdling in her stomach. She wanted to be a lawyer. She couldn’t afford to default on her lease but at the same time she couldn’t afford to pay the full whack. It was so unfair. Jon’s family were taking advantage of Covid, and they were loaded. She walked into his room and stared at his belongings. Two of the designer jackets hanging in his wardrobe would cover his portion of a month’s rent.
She rang her mum, but Louise couldn’t help. She’d been furloughed and there was barely enough money to pay the mortgage. Louise was sympathetic and very proud of Anna, the first member of their family to go to university. She was amazed by her daughter’s highfalutin plans to become a lawyer. Most of their family were on the wrong side of the law.
Anna wrote to the landlord. The reply was swift and unrelenting. He would offer her a ten percent discount, but she was responsible for the full amount. A lease had been signed and she had to abide by it.
Anna sent Jon a long imploring email. It went unanswered.
Anna and Jon had been flatmates for two years and she thought they’d been good friends. For a couple of days, she wondered if something had happened to him. Was he sick, perhaps? Had his family suffered like so many others and gone bankrupt? But no. Jon popped up on Instagram, prancing around his parent’s outdoor swimming pool, palm trees gently swaying in the breeze.
Anna asked one of her university tutors for advice. ‘You can’t sue him so long as he is out of the country. You’ve got no choice but to pay his portion.’
Anna raided her savings, the money she had spent the past three years earning working in a coffee shop; the money she put aside to support herself through law college. She sold as many of her things as she could: not easy during lockdown. There was a moratorium on evictions, so Anna knew the landlord couldn’t chuck her out, but even so a debt is a debt.
She didn’t have enough money.
What could she do? There were so many people in a much more desperate situation than she was in. Her woes were a drop in the ocean of misery and hardship.
It was a busy lunchtime, but Anna preferred it when the restaurant was hectic. She didn’t have time to mull over what might have been or let resentment nibble at her soul. Of course she should be one of the diners, drinking fine wine and consuming foie gras and truffles, dressed in designer clothes.
‘Can you serve table five?’ Casey asked. She was balancing a tray of twenty glasses on the palm of her left hand.
‘Sure.’ Anna strode over to the four men perusing the menus.
‘I’ll have the lemon sole,’ said the man in a pin-striped suit. He was the only one who didn’t say please. Anna did a double take. Surely it couldn’t be him? He glanced up at Anna, a fleeting look of confusion on his face. ‘Do I know you from somewhere?’ he asked.
Anna shook her head and turned to the man seated to his left. But by the time she had taken the order through to the kitchen, her face was pale and her hands shaking. She couldn’t remember: what was the statute of limitations for civil cases? Was it five years? If so, she was three years too late.
‘Can you take the drinks through to the bunch of lawyers on table five?’ Casey asked Kyle, the restaurant’s newest recruit.
‘Lawyers?’ Anna said.
Casey nodded. ‘I overheard them talking about barristers and clients in court and boring stuff like that.’
When chef announced the order was ready for table five, Anna picked up the Dover Sole and surreptitiously spat on it. She would have liked to have done more; found some poison perhaps, but she didn’t have time. She smiled sweetly as she put the plate on the table in front of him. Half an hour later, the four lawyers were drinking coffees and the oldest of the men had asked for the bill.
‘I don’t feel well, Casey. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to go home.’
Anna slipped out of the back of the restaurant and got into her ancient car. She drove slowly towards the front carpark where their clientele had left their fancy motors. She got lucky. Jon was the last of the four men to exit the restaurant. As he was approaching the cars, he bent down to tie up his shoelace.
Anna put her foot on the accelerator.
She didn’t stop.
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