Rita was staring at her bare cupboard shelves with a dim look on her face. She crouched down to her mini fridge and found an out of date carton of full fat milk and a week-old slice of pizza. Her stomach grumbled in protest and she sighed as the inevitability of leaving the house dawned on her. She stretched her arms above her head, feeling every aching inch of her over-worked body. She haphazardly scraped her hair into a bun, strays escaping the black hair tie and settling on her neck. She shoved on a pair of old trainers and grabbed some loose change off the coffee table.
The sun was nearing the horizon as she walked, a lit roll-up placed between her index and middle fingers. Her baggy hoodie made no defence to the bone-chilling wind. She took one last drag before chucking her cigarette down a drain and trudging across the petrol station and into the shop. She snatched up a loaf of cheap white bread, a packet of sweet chilli crisps, a bottle of white wine and a knockoff chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle before asking for a packet of Amber Leaf from behind the counter. She paid with just enough change and left, stealing a small pack of gum on her way out. The alcohol slowly warmed her shivering body as she swigged at the sharp wine on her way home.
Rita stumbled into her tiny apartment room and immediately saw a man. This man was lying, curled up in her single bed. Three-day old stubble painted his chin and his short brown hair looked as if a bird had made its home there. Rita didn’t recognise this man but he gave off a strange peacefulness that made her not want to disturb him. She judged that he was in his mid-forties by the soft wrinkles around his eyes and the specks of grey in his hair. She found herself tiptoeing around the bed to the coffee table where her lighter and papers sat. She rummaged in her pockets, pulled out her newly-bought tobacco and carefully rolled while she contemplated what to do.
Hours passed as Rita sat cross legged, chain smoking, stopping only to take the occasional swig of her cheap acidic wine. She studied his features intently ’til she felt she knew him, her head swimming with theory*es of who this man could be. She thought of muggings, runaways and asylum seekers but nothing seemed to fit. She slurped up the last dregs of wine and placed the empty bottle on the floor. The sun had long gone and the room had darkened. She had been staring for hours at this man she now found comfort in. She watched his chest rise and fall with every breath he made. His striking features were etched on to her eyelids with every blink, as if she had been staring at the sun too long. Her bladder was threatening to give way and her stomach was churning with hunger but she could hardly bring herself to look away. She smiled as she watched his eyes flicker beneath his eyelids.
Rita sneaked out of the room, gently closed the door behind her and jogged across the hall to the small shared bathroom. The lights flickered and the lock on the cubicle door had been completely ripped off. Rita sighed and sat with her foot hooked on to the bottom of the door, holding it shut. She always tried her best to steer clear of the other residents in her building, occasionally bumping into the odd alcohol infused creep or the old lady from downstairs who was always too touchy feely. She prayed no one would cross her path. When she was done she sprinted back to her room and let her apartment door slam behind her. She stopped dead as she saw the man’s eyes open, their eyes locked for just a moment before he quickly averted his.
“I…I’m so sorry. I just-I just needed a place to sleep and your door was open and…I’ll be going now,” he stumbled out of the bed and fell almost instantly back down again, his face turned white and he brought his hand up to his mouth, a frown plastered his face.
Rita instantly grabbed an empty plastic bottle off the floor and filled it with tap water, “I assumed you needed a bed, so I let you sleep,” she said, passing the water to David’s shaking hand and perching on the edge of the bed. He took a few careful sips and thanked her.
Once he had drunk the bottle dry she filled it again, this time also filling the kettle and switching it on. “So, what’s your name?” she questioned as she bent down and picked the noodles from the abandoned plastic bag by the door.
“I’m David,” he replied with a weak smile.
“I’m Amrita…well, Rita to you. Since you’re in my bed we may as well skip the formalities,” she poured boiling water into the knockoff Pot Noodle, gave it a brisk whisk with a fork and handed them to him. She watched his blue eyes dart around nervously, she had expected them to be brown. His smile was that of an older man and yet, there was a hint of childlike helplessness about him.
“Thank you so much,” David smiled before ravenously gulping down the food and drink.
Rita took two slices of white bread and placed them side by side on the counter, ripped open the sweet chilli crisps, emptied the packet onto one slice and crunched the two together. Eager to fill her empty stomach she took a large bite and sat on the floor, her back resting on the cold metal bed frame and her feet flat on the floor in front of her.
“What kind of sandwich is that?” David mocked between mouthfuls.
“It’s my very own invention and I’ll have you know it’s actually very nice,” Rita mumbled through her own mouthful.
“I’ll take your word for it.”