He sat at the desk, looking down at the blank sheet in front of him, pen in hand, ink ready. The oil lamp flickered and brightened. He was nearing the end of his days and he had only one thought on his mind. Soon he would see her again. His thoughts took him to far off places. To the sights and sounds of the bazaar. To the music, the dancing, the smells, the colours. Memory upon memory. And Lily. His Lily. He prayed to God that he would see her again soon. Benjamin, Adam and Isabel would be all right. They had their own lives to lead. Their own histories to write. He could rest safe in the knowledge that he had done his best for all of his children. They had their own families now, their life paths stretching out before them. They did not need the burden of an old man who had nothing left to give. Nothing but this. One thing left to do before his final journey – tell the world what had happened to him. He started to write.
When she woke up on that cold Monday morning it felt just the same as usual. Rachel had no idea how that day would change how she looked at her life for ever. As far as she knew, it was just a normal January day – get up, have breakfast, go to work, attend another tedious meeting or two, come home, watch the same old TV shows, eat another lonely take-away and then back to bed. Same old, same old and as boring as ever. She took a look at the clock and then, as it was only saying 6:57, pulled her duvet closer to her chin and snuggled down for an extra three minutes, thirteen if she were forgo her usual cup of morning coffee.
Forty minutes later she was standing in the narrow hall trying to struggle into her warmest coat. A quick glance out of the window once she had finally wrenched herself out of bed at 7:20 had shown her a world coated in a thick white layer of snow and her neighbours struggling to pull out of their driveways into the road. Even though her boiler sounded as if it was about to blow a gasket, it was freezing cold and there was a thin film of ice on the surface of the soil surrounding the spindly geraniums on the windowsills in the so called sun room at the back of the house. January had certainly turned down the thermostat to arctic. Rachel shivered. In the battle between buttons and frozen fingers the buttons were winning and she was going to be late and miss the bus again if things didn’t improve fast. The rattle of the letter box and the heavy thump of mail hitting the mat did nothing to improve her spirits. It was time for the post-Christmas bills and her bank balance was not healthy. Presents for the family had been even more expensive than usual now her cousin’s twins were old enough to understand the concept of Santa and her meagre December pay packet had been eaten up in an orgy of retail therapy the previous weekend. Sure she had picked up some great bargins but did she really need a coffee maker when she already had two kettles? And the purple dress from the designer boutique at the end of the street looked awful in the natural light of day, however much it had suited her in the soft mood lighting of the poky changing room.
She sighed deeply and bent to grab the half dozen envelopes that lay scattered on the floor. As expected, the first one looked uncomfortably like an electricity bill, the second had the logo of the gas company on the front and then, just to complete the set, the third one was from the phone people. She put them on the shelf under the mirror by the coat hooks – they would have to be dealt with eventually but not right now. She looked down at the other three envelopes in her hand. What looked like a corporate Christmas card from her hairdresser went straight in the bin and was rapidly joined by the yet another request for a donation from a national charity that had nothing to do with her or her family. This left an expensive looking manilla envelope with her name and address typed on the front and the name and address of a firm of solicitors in a swanky London street printed on the back. Rachel stared at it. What on earth…..? Tentatively she ripped open the envelope and pulled out the single folded sheet it contained.
‘Dear Miss Fareman,
Further to the instructions of our late client, Mrs Millicent Frobisher, of Simonstown, South Africa, we would be pleased if you would attend our offices at the above address on Tuesday 29 January at 2.30pm. Please confirm your attendance at this meeting by telephoning the number shown above.
Robert Winterbourne, BA (Hons) Dip Law’
Millicent Frobisher? Simonstown? Robert Winterbourne? Rachel glanced at her watch. 8.00am. With a shriek of horror Rachel quickly refolded the letter and shoved it in her bag, pulled open the front door and shot outside. Time to worry about strange letters she didn’t understand later. She was going to be late again and that would three times in as many days. Her manager, Mr Mohammed would not be pleased. She rushed down the road toward the bus stop, narrowly avoiding the frozen dog shit by the gate and the icy puddle by the litter bin on the corner whilst still remaining upright. Just. Hopefully most of the others would be late too due to the weather and Mr Mohammed would not notice.
Fifty minutes later she was standing in the kitchen in the office, only five minutes late, making her missing cup of coffee. For a wonder, Mr Mohammed had not arrived yet and she had got away with it.
“Me too please.”
Sandy had made it in too.
Rachel grabbed another mug off the rack and shovelled coffee granules and sugar into it.
“So so.” Sandy dropped into the comfy chair by the table. “How about you?”
“Felt good at the time – went shopping and bought loads but I reckon I’ll be taking most of it back. Got the winter bills this morning and I haven’t got enough bank balance left for food and rent, let alone gas, leccy and phone.”
“I’m with you on that one.” Sandy agreed, nodding “A lottery win would be really good right now – if I actually played the lottery – or a nice little legacy from a long lost relly.”
“Couldn’t agree more.” Rachel carried the mugs over to the table and sat down. “Talking about legacies, what do you reckon to this?” Reaching into her bag she pulled out the manilla envelope and passed it over. “Do you think it could be something good?”
Sandy took the letter from the envelope and read it through. “Who’s Millicent Frobisher?” she asked.
“Dunno. Maybe she’s that long lost dead relly you were talking about.”
“Well it does say ‘the late client Mrs Millicent Frobisher’ so it sounds like she’s dead at any rate. Are you gonna go?”
“Dunno. Would you?”
“Might if I had nothing better to do.” Sandy looked down at the letter in her hand again, “29th is tomorrow. Feel like taking a day off?”
“Dunno. I could ask Mohammed for leave if he’s in later or chuck a sickie if he’s not. What would you do?”
“I reckon I’d go. Can’t hurt and its something different at any rate.”
“That’s true. And January is usually such a boring month…”
Rachel picked up her mug and took a drink. “I’ll do it.”
“Good. And don’t forget to ring me in the evening and tell what it’s all about. Promise?”
Rachel stood up, grabbed her mug and started to walk from the room. “I suppose we better go and do some actual work, the phones won’t answer themselves and you never know when Mohammed will turn up. We can’t let him catch us in here gossiping or it’ll be both of us to the Jobcentre tomorrow rather than me to a solicitor in Mayfair. Coming?”
Sandy sighed and stood up. “OK. Guess you’re right. Only three hours to lunch…”
During the morning Rachel had made up her mind and had snatched a chance to ring the number on the letter to confirm she’d be going to the solicitor the following afternoon. For the rest of the day she and Sandy had tried to guess what it might be about and Rachel had decided that, when she got home, she’d ring her mother and see if she had ever heard of Millicent Frobisher of Simonstown, South Africa. Rachel had racked her brains and still hadn’t got a clue. As far as she was concerned, as the afternoon dragged on seemingly slower than usual, 5.00pm couldn’t come fast enough, but eventually it was time to go and she hurried to the bus stop as fast as she could given the icy conditions and her not very practical high heels. Because of the conditions the bus seemed to take forever to get to her stop but, nearly an hour later than usual, she was finally home.
Chucking her bag on the chair in the hallway, Rachel kicked off her shoes, hung up her jacket and headed for the kitchen. It was Monday and her mother would be a choir practice until 9.00pm so there was no point in ringing her yet – she might as well check out the meagre contents of her fridge and have something to eat. As usual there was nothing much apart from a half eaten take-away from Saturday, a bit of cheese, three sorry looking tomatoes, a wrinkled excuse for what might once have been a mushroom and something unidentifiable but furry in the bottom of an open can. She grabbed the cheese and the firmest tomato and went over to the bread bin. With any luck there’d be a slice or two left that weren’t too green and she would be able to have cheese on toast.
Supper prepared, she took her plate into the living room and switched on the TV. Tucking her legs under her, she curled up on the sofa and tried to concentrate on the depressing goings on in her favourite soap whilst trying not to stare at the clock every ten minutes willing the hands to go faster. A fast paced quiz show followed the soap where she had no idea of most of the answers, but neither did the contestants and no-one won anything worthwhile and then a documentary about some wildlife in hot country that wasn’t South Africa but eventually it was 9.00pm and her mother would finally be home.
Rachel went out into the hallway, grabbed the cordless phone and headed back to the comfort of the sofa. She dialled her mother’s number and waited impatiently for the older woman to pick up.
“Hi Mum, its Rachel.”
“Hi Rach, how lovely to hear your voice. What’s the weather like in London? It’s absolutely rotten down here, hasn’t stopped snowing all day – I haven’t even been able to get to choir. Thank goodness I froze the left-overs from Christmas or there’d have been nothing to eat and you know what your Dad’s like when he doesn’t get his proper supper.”
Rachel sighed. She hadn’t needed to wait so long to phone home after all, her Mum had been there all along.
“It’s been snowing here too Mum but not so bad as too stop me going to work unfortunately. Hey Mum, I got a strange letter this morning. Do you know who Millicent Frobisher is, or was, cos the letter seems to be saying she’s dead.”
“Oh Goodness – Millicent Frobisher dead? Oh dear, your Dad will be so upset. Alex! Alex, come here! Rachel’s on the phone and she says she’s had a letter saying that Millicent Frobisher is dead.” Rachel could hear her mother calling to her father.
“But who’s Millicent Frobisher Mum? Does Dad know her then?
“She’s your father’s aunt – your grandfather’s younger sister. She went out to South Africa just after the war and hasn’t been back since. You’ve heard your father talk about his Auntie Millie haven’t you? She married a farmer from what used to be called Rhodesia back in the early 70’s. He must have died about 20 years ago though – he was quite a bit older than her. She went on to run a B&B.”
“Of course! Great Aunt Millie! I’d forgotten all about her! Well I’ve had a letter from a solicitor here in London and he says it’s something to do with Great Aunt Millie. I’m going to see him tomorrow afternoon.”
“Says what about her? Has she left you something then?”
“Says nothing except that she’s their ‘late client’ and can I go and see some guy called Robert Winterbourne tomorrow.”
“Perhaps she’s left you the B&B, or at least a bit of cash – Neville Frobisher wasn’t short of money you know.”
“I could do with some money right now Mum. Mohammed pays practically nothing and I’ve just had all the winter bills. There’s always too much month left at the end of my money but January is always the worst”
“You’re really going to have to find a better job you know. With your brains, call centre work is a little demeaning you know, and such a waste of your talents and that degree you borrowed so much to do.”
“Oh, leave off Mum. I’ll look for something else but there’s not much out there at the moment. I’m lucky to have a job at all.”
“Well just you make sure that you do.”
“I will. Anyhow, I better sign off now – there’s a good film starting in a min and I don’t wanna miss it. I’ll ring you tomorrow after I’ve seen the solicitor and tell you what he had to say.”
“You’d better! I’ll be waiting with baited breathe. Love you…” With that her mother hung up.
Rachel returned the cordless to its cradle and sat back. Next thing to decide on was her excuse for the morning call to work. Mr Mohammed hadn’t been in all day so she was going to have to rely on a sickie to explain her absence. The unexpected cold wouldn’t work, she’d already used that one twice before Christmas so she could get some extra shopping done and she was a really bad actress anyway. Mohammed hadn’t really been fooled by the ‘I’ve got a blocked nose and feel absolutely awful’ act last time so he was even less likely to believe it now. Maybe unspecified ‘women’s problems’ would do it! She looked at the clock – nearly ten. Good. Now, what to wear. Smart, but not too smart. Professional, but not over the top. Warm but not so warm she would end up bright red and sweaty – smart Mayfair solicitors’ offices probably had decent central heating unlike crappy call centres and impoverished call centre worker’s flats.
Without actually getting up she went through her wardrobe in her head. Not that there was much to choose from – her dark grey woollen winter interview suit or the light-weight beige linen summer one.. No choice really, grey wool it was – and her Mum’s Christmas pressie, the red silky blouse with the cute, antiqued metal buttons she had loved as soon as the wrapping paper came off. Thank goodness she’d bought those black real leather heels during her Saturday shopping splurge and had a bag that matched them quite well. It wasn’t like she had to dress up or anything but she felt that she’d better make a good impression, she was an heiress after all!
Another glace at the clock. Eleven twenty! Where had the evening gone? She got up, switched off the TV and the lights and headed for the bathroom. Better get a good night’s sleep as she would still have to get up early enough to phone Mohammed and sound convincing. As her Dad often said, ‘tomorrow is another day and let us see what we will see.’