Lila met Mr Hocking by the steps of Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common and they walked along Rectory Grove to the Sultan Cafe and sat in a booth at the back. The cafe was warm inside and the windows were clouded with steam, the wooden sill beneath swollen and blistered from the damp. An elderly man at a table by the window looked up when they came in and regarded them with mild curiosity. He rubbed his sleeve on the glass and peered out into the morning cold like some grizzled watchman sentineled over the empty street.
Lila removed her scarf and hat and placed them on the seat beside her. She kept her coat on and when she caught him staring she told him that she felt the cold more than most people did.
‘Bad circulation,’ she said, almost apologetically.
They ordered tea and eggs and toast. The waitress didn't write down the order, she nodded when they were done and disappeared through the saloon doors into the kitchen. Mr Hocking slid the menu back between the bottle of ketchup and napkin dispenser. His hand tremoring as he did so.
‘It’s the medication,’ he said.
‘You sound embarrassed.’
‘Well, I am. That stuff gets to me.’
Two workmen came in and sat at a table across from theirs. Mr Hocking watched them. One of the men nodded to him politely as he drew out his chair to sit down and he nodded back. Both men sat forward, resting their elbows on the table. Staring at their mobile phones, wordlessly.
The waitress brought their mugs of tea and set down two spoons beside them. ‘Can I get you anything else?’ she said, glancing at Lila.
‘Can we get some more milk?’
Mr Hocking smiled and nodded to her as she left.
Lila stirred the black tea, thinking. It was only after a while that she realised he was murmuring under his breath. She said, ‘Are you okay?’
‘I’m fine. I’m just collecting my thoughts. It’s been a long time, you see.’ He folded his hands over the tabletop. Watching her. After a while he spoke, ‘I suppose I should start at the beginning.’ And so Mr Hocking, the frail and unassuming elderly man she had been visiting and reading to for eight months now, began regaling the story of the time he had a shot and killed a woman outside the Flamingo nightclub on Carnaby Street in 1952.Read More