by Violet Carson
I returned exhausted from my evening shift to find the group of Africans sitting on the stairs as I made my way up towards my flat. They didn’t move out of the way and I fearfully had to squeeze in between them smelling the alcohol on their breath.
I was petrified and as I passed one said in a thick African accent.
“Hey lady, have you got any cigarettes?”
My mind raced: should I lie and say no or give him one.
I reached into my shoulder bag and said: “Yes, but I only have a couple for myself.”
“They’ll do,” he replied, snatching the half full packet from my hand and passing it amongst his friends. Amazingly he returned the packet with two remaining cigarettes to me.
I was so relieved that I’d actually got off so lightly. It had even crossed my mind that I might get raped, but I suppose I looked such a turn-off to a group of muscular young men that any such thoughts would have seemed repulsive to them.
Another worrying thought was that when they passed the packet around I thought to myself,
“Please don’t take them all. I’ll have none to smoke later!”
There was really no doubt. As repellent as I found it, I had become addicted to the dreadful things and again said to myself that as soon as I stopped seeing Mark and Lucy I would stop. But could I? This would be my challenge.
I turned the key in the door, closing it and locking it behind me, thinking such appalling thoughts as “Who were those people and what are they doing in my country. Don’t they work or do they just spend every day indulging in petty theft and terrorizing people?”
I couldn’t get away from it: seeing people like that on a daily basis was turning me into a racist. I could really suddenly see where people like Marj got their views.
I’d led such a sheltered life previously that I could afford my self-indulgent liberal views. But when I was faced with the reality of such things outside my own home, I could see myself beginning to think very differently.
I sat down and decided that as I wasn’t going out again that evening I would cook myself some scrambled eggs and then go through the remaining clothes that I’d inherited.
So after doing the washing up I put my hair in curlers and put a hairnet on and changed into one of my old nighties and went through everything. There were old photographs and medicines as well as old underwear from the 1950s and 60s. I thought I should wash them as well as the stockings that I found. I’d probably never wear the underwear but I thought to myself that I might not want to wear the nappies forever. There were old glasses but although possibly even more out of fashion than Rose’s, the prescription was very different to my own and one thing I wasn’t going to do was ruin my eyesight, but I couldn't resist trying them on for a few minutes, although I had to stand right next to the mirror to look at myself. They were slightly cat shaped horn-rimmed with faux jewels at the outer edge of the frame. They were actually a style that was becoming quite fashionable again with the hipster generation, but they weren’t for me. I would stick with Rose’s 1970s glasses for now at least.
I then caught sight of a pair of old hearing aids and simply had to try them on. They were certainly not very new as they wrapped around behind by ears, not anything like the discrete new models. I noticed that they had no batteries in them, so they weren’t working, but when I forced them into my ears things actually became quite muffled. I then sat down with a cup of sweet milky tea and watched a soap with the volume up to compensate for my muffled hearing. I then went off to bed dreaming of what Marj had in store for me tomorrow and whether I would receive the call about my second cleaning job.
The next day, sitting on the bus making my way to Marj’s my old mobile rang. I always loved the look of disgust and pity I got from anyone under the age of 25 as I answered it. It was Savannah telling me that there was a morning shift available at a food manufacturing plant not very far from where I lived and they needed someone extra on the shop floor to clean all the waste that was dropped during the manufacturing process, as everything had to be kept spotless to meet the food standard regulations.
They had received my details and were happy for me to start at 8 am the day after next when I’d receive a brief induction and be set to work. Clothing would be provided and I was to ask for the supervisor, a Mrs. Majumi. She was apparently a Nigerian lady who managed the small team of cleaning staff on site. The work would last from 7.30 am to 2.30 pm Monday to Friday but with two short breaks for breakfast and lunch that were supplied free of charge by the company. She explained that everyone thought this was a great benefit and I should count myself lucky to get such a good role with my limited experience. I expressed my gratitude to Savannah in my best dumbed down voice that I was finding far easier to put on the more I stayed in character!
I got to Marj’s to discover a smart suburban semi-detached house in a middle-class area and her husband was out at work so she sat me down in her kitchen and reminded me of our agreement. She would support me and cover for me if anyone became suspicious, but I was to do as she said and when Jack asked me out I was to accept his offer and stay as Rose. I agreed wholeheartedly, the thought of her making me look more convincing was very exciting, but I couldn’t hide my alarm at the prospect of going out with Jack. I would simply have to overcome that hurdle when it presented itself. I also told her about my additional job and she told me that in a place like that I would really learn what it was like to be a cleaner. It was hard work, in a tough environment. I was suddenly very apprehensive, but now that I’d made a commitment to Savannah there was no easy way out.
Marj made me a cup of very sweet milky tea that I was becoming quite addicted to and then immediately sat me at her bedroom dressing table and removed all my make-up. She noted that I hadn’t been moisturizing or cleansing recently, which was excellent if I wanted to dry my skin out and look older. Then she got to work. Wherever there was a slight line on my face she managed to exaggerate it with a line of both black and white eyeliner and then by applying very heavy foundation and very pale powder, a rather elderly face started to appear in front of me. She then added some very bright deep pink lipstick and pink blusher with some rather unpleasant aquamarine coloured eyeshadow. Then finally her masterstroke was to brush pale powder through my thick bushy eyebrows. Suddenly they stood out even more, but looked grey and when I put my glasses and clip-on earrings back on, there was no mistaking an elderly lady trying to look her best staring back at me. If I could manage to recreate something even approaching this every day I’d be delighted and I told Marj what a genius I thought she was. After that we sat in her kitchen with another cup of tea and both lit our cigarettes, confessing that we should both give up, but knowing that we probably couldn’t.
On the drive into the travel company Marj revealed that she’d decided to change my work slightly and that I could now clean part of one of the office floors. She’d decided that as I had convinced her I could thoroughly clean the toilets and that the Facilities Manager had actually remarked to her how clean they were recently that I deserved something else. Although it would mean a little extra work, I would now also clean an open plan office area with about 20 workstations that was the home to the marketing department. She told me that they were all pretty young and considered themselves very much on trend in a hipster type of way and so she’d be keen to see how I coped. She explained that there were always one or two of them working late and so I’d have to work hard to stay as the unintelligent elderly cleaner.
I was absolutely thrilled, the prospect of being looked down in for my lack of style by all the young girls in the office would be so exciting and I was to start that evening.
As soon as we got to the office I put on my tabard as usual and got to work. I kept looking at myself in the toilet mirrors and loved the way Marj had made me look and did my usual cleaning I an absolute trance thinking about getting to clean the marketing department and my new job at the food plant in a couple of days.
I walked through the double doors of the marketing department with its trendy décor to see two young blonde girls, probably in their late twenties. One was at her desk and the other leant against it facing her as they chatted about their boyfriends and what they’d done at the weekend. I was invisible to them as they chatted away in their fashionable ripped jeans. I did notice that both were wearing flat shoes and I though how as AJ I would never have gone to work looking so casual. Marketing in the travel industry was obviously very different to my old world of work I thought to myself.
Then I saw one guy, probably in his late 20s, staring at a computer screen that was covered in some vibrant graphics. For some inexplicable reason my heart jumped. I couldn’t think why, but I found him to be absolutely gorgeous. He was the exact opposite of the men I’d always been drawn to. He wasn’t muscular at all. He was very tall and rather skinny with a trendy haircut, almost shaved at the sides and a long bushy beard. Why on earth did I find him so attractive I thought? I couldn’t resist getting as close as possible and he smiled at me when I asked if I could empty his waste paper bin. I practically gushed a “Thank you” like a teenage girl and I could feel myself blushing.
“You’re new,” he said in a slight East European accent.
“No” I replied catching my breath. “I’ve just not cleaned this department before.”
“Well welcome to Marketing” he responded. “I’m Andrzej.”
“I’m A, sorry I’m Rose” I quickly replied in a state of panic.
“Andrzej's a lovely name, where’s it from?” I asked, just about covering up my mistake.
“Its Polish. I came here 5 years ago to improve my English and seem to have stayed,'' he said.
“Your English sounds perfect to me,” I said, sounding like a little schoolgirl.
“I need to get on,” I said. “I’m sorry to have disturbed your work.”
“No problem, he replied. “I’m always happy to talk when I’m here in the evenings. I’ve got noting to rush home to.”
I made a mental note of that. I wanted to speak to him again but had to be careful how I approached this in future and reminded myself he thinks I’m an old woman. He doesn’t fancy me. Just forget about him, but for some reason I felt exactly the way I did the first time I met Mark, but physically they could hardly be more different. What was I thinking.
I felt elated and excited by meeting Andrzej and when I had a cup of tea with Marj before leaving couldn’t resist mentioning how nice it was to meet some younger people now I had some of the offices space to clean.
“Its my pleasure, now finish off your tea before you get off home. I don’t want an elderly lady like you out too late at night. You have to be careful at your age Rose. Especially as you don’t have a man to take care of you, for the moment at least,” said Marj in a slightly domineering tone which was possibly one of the reasons I liked her.
Five minutes later I took up my seat on the bus hearing the faint crackle of the plastic pants that I secretly relished so much, when I started to feel somewhat strange with a desperate urge to go to the toilet. I almost thought I’d be sick, but soon realized that it wasn’t my stomach but my bowels that were upset.
The most dreadful fear overcame me. I was in urgent need of a toilet but was at least 15 minutes from home. I simply had to hold on and contain myself. I counted down the stops towards the housing estate but knew I couldn’t contain myself. I just had to get off the bus early and walk home alone in the dark. The thought of emptying my bowels on the bus even though it wasn’t full was simply too much for me to bear. What would people say if they smelt me? Even as Rose that thought was just too horrifying.
I rose to get off the bus and just as I stretched against the pull of my corset as my left foot hit the pavement my bowels exploded into my incontinence pants with an audible roar and a few seconds later the stench hit me. Thankfully there was only one person waiting at the bus-stop who I don’t believe noticed, but I was forced to literally waddle home with what I could only imagine was a horrendous sticky mass between my legs.
I couldn’t believe what had become of me! Here I was an elderly lady who couldn't control her bowels! How could I sink so low? I was absolutely disgusted with myself. How had I let this happen and allowed myself to sink so low. I really had become a pathetic helpless creature. I moved gradually down the street cursing myself when my mobile rang.
It was Marj.
“Rose dear, how are you?” she asked. “I thought you looked rather pale before you left work this evening but with all the make-up you were wearing it was hard to tell, are you ok?”
“No I’m not,” I practically cried to her.
“Its awful, Marj, but I couldn't get home before I had to go to the toilet, I’m so disgusted with myself.”
“What Rose, you mean you wet yourself?” Marj asked
“No far worse than that,” I replied sounding more miserable than ever.
“Oh. No, that’s awful, but I believe that is a problem that affects some elderly people. I noticed you were wearing incontinence pants when you were in my house this afternoon and I nearly mentioned it as I thought it might be another one of your strange fetishes, but thought better of it in case you really had a medical problem. Now I realize that that must be the case,” she said.
”No Rose you don’t understand, I’ve never done anything like this before, I just don’t know what’s come over me,” I replied.
“So Rose if this has never happened before why are you wearing incontinence pants?”
“Marj, I honestly don’t know, when I moved into my new flat they were left behind and for some reason I just couldn’t resist wearing them and on the same day I had most of my underwear stolen so I just thought I’d try them, but I’ve never needed them until now!” I pleaded, possibly not very convincingly.
“Well, Rose, you did want to live as an old woman and suffer some of the indignities that can go with that. I do hope you’re better soon, but I suggest you keep wearing them, just in case, as the consequences of that type of accident happening again could be extremely embarrassing."
“Yes Marj. I suppose you’re right,” I replied, ringing off.
I finally got home and removed the pants and after spending an age cleaning myself off, replaced them with another pair, as I daren’t go to bed without them. I put my curlers in, added my hairnet and cried myself to sleep thinking of what a helpless creature I’d somehow managed to turn myself into.