Raza's home visit
Raza pulled up the van in the cream-gravelled drive of the executive four-bed detached house in Springtown.
He was on time but not getting out until the final score of the Man U V Chelsea match. He clenched the wheel as the last penalty saw Man U win by one lousy goal. His brother would be punching the air with his hands. Wherever he was. Raza picked up his kit bag, looked in the mirror and flattened his dark hair into place. It was raining lightly. The cul-de-sac had 15 replicated spacious houses that must cost an arm and a leg. They were so new even his Sat Nav got lost in the maze of roads named after birds, trees and flowers. A little black dog bounced at the window of Wisteria House in Birch Lane. Raza liked dogs, especially those that didn’t bite.
He was always anxious stepping into someone else’s home. As he walked up the crunchy path he took a deep breath, it steamed into the frosty February air. His olive green uniform with John Lewis badge invariably put householders at ease. He was a middle-class woman’s shopping dream. Well nearly.
He lifted the gold lion’s head knocker on the dark oak door and let it drop softly. It was a double fronted property with sweeping striped lawn bordered by glossy evergreen shrubs and a willow tree hung with three bird seed cages. A squirrel prized out peanuts with its tiny fingers while a ginger yellow-eyed cat slunk underneath, tail twitching. The dog was full throttle at both of them, nearly pinging off the window ledge. Raza straightened his tie and checked his black Doc Martins. All present and correct. The immaculate door mat stated ‘Welcome’ in blood red.
The dog scampered to the door frantically barking. A woman’s sharp voice said: ‘Jasper darling that’s quite enough. Come here sweetie pie, stop barking.’ Jasper’s breathy growls at the base of the door turned to whining at the key hole as he was picked up. The spyhole went black as Raza was inspected.
There was multiple clicking, lock sliding and key turning. The door slowly opened an inch, with a security chain splitting the woman’s face in two. It was enough for Raza to be eye to eye with Jasper who bared sharp, yellow smelly teeth. A jewelled hand clasped his shiny black collar. Raza looked at the woman’s pale-lashed blue eyes and went into automatic: ‘Mrs Lynch? Good Morning, I’m Raza Kazak from John Lewis’ to fit your new television.” He was careful about his accent, no swing or lilt for the likes of Mrs Lynch.
She blanched, then gave a smile which didn’t reach her eyes. She opened the door a fraction more to check his badge, cast her eyes over the olive green van with John Lewis plastered all over and his considerable amount of electrical equipment. Satisfied, she undid the chain.
Raza saw it was a shoes-off house with wall-to-wall cream carpets. There was a plastic see-through mat inside the door and line of shoes on a plastic runner under open-tread stairs.
Alex estimated Mrs Lynch at late 50’s; soft around the edges, swelling in the middle with a cut glass demeanour. She wore beige trousers and cream cotton top. A carefully highlighted blonde bob sat smooth on her head like a sturdy helmet. The sort of hair that could weather a storm Force 9. Pearl earrings and a string of pearls hung around her neck. The house smelt of lavender and bleach. Jasper calmed to a soft growl and was placed on the floor to sniff at Raza’s ankles. He ruffled the dog’s head. Mrs Lynch flinched as Jasper gave him a good licking. She blinked slowly at the Doc Martins.
Raza took off his boots with a little stagger hop outside in order not to get his feet wet in the rain. He wore odd socks. One red and one green, with a hole in one heel. He hadn’t worn a proper pair for a long time. Matching pairs was not his wife, Carla’s bag. He guessed Mrs Lynch had pegs to hold socks together in the washing machine. Raza heard a TV on in the kitchen following football results.
Mrs Lynch nodded to him and walked ahead into the house while Jasper sniffed Raza’s toes. The living room was huge, three times as big as his own. Mrs Lynch and the beige decor matched so seamlessly it swallowed her up; only her pink lipstick stood out. Raza bent in front of the just-unwrapped TV and rolled up his sleeves. Mrs Lynch placed down a square of plastic for his kit and let out a sharp ‘Oh’ when she spotted his wrist. Jasper found the hole in his sock and nibbled with his rough tongue. When Raza put his foot down Jasper trotted off to the fake coal fire and stretched out on a thick brown and cream rug licking his balls, making a happy gurgling noise.
Mrs Lynch pushed the dog with her slippered toes and tugged at her pearls, then briskly rubbed the expensive gold watch on her left wrist and arched her eyebrows: ‘I expect you know what you’re doing, so I’ll leave you to it.’
Raza smiled and nodded. The less said the better in these kinds of houses. He kneeled awkwardly and undid the kit. He found that if you so much as hiccupped with some people they’d be on the phone to customer services that would be grief for him and for her, the chance to refuse to pay.
He started wiring in the 50-inch HD TV on the wall, in front of which Mr and Mrs Lynch would watch the horrors of the world pour over them from the safe harbour of their three-piece brown leather corner sofa with foots rests, behind their triple glazed and super-insulated home. A copy of the Daily Mail lay open on the bloody warfare in Syria. Beside it The Perfect Garden and Bespoke Five-star Cruises.
He felt Mrs Lynch linger as if she wanted to talk but Raza got on with testing, cutting, adjusting. If he was quick it would take 30 minutes and cost them £90, of which he’d get paid less than half. He liked John Lewis’ and unfortunately so did Carla because they got money off shopping in Waitrose, although Raza tried to point out that it wasn’t as cost-effective as Poundland. Carla took no notice whatsoever.
He heard Mrs Lynch whisper in the kitchen: ‘He’s got a Help for Heroes wristband on and speaks good English.’
Raza winked at Jasper’s watchful eyes and wagging tail. If Carla were here she’d be cuddling the dog and noting the whole place but she’d given up asking him what the interior decor was like. She was glued to house builds, swaps and make-overs.
He preferred the vibe of a place. Lonely, angry, happy, sad. Once the husband of an occupier was laid out in coffin upstairs. Raza liked the smell and chaos of new babies best. He trusted his intuition and something here spelled trouble.
Raza look past the spotless mantelpiece crammed with porcelain figures of hunters and shepherdesses. Behind him was an 18ft wall plastered with photographs layered up like an archaeological dig. First the faded 1970s picture of the wedding. Mrs Lynch was a petite blonde beauty with nervous bright smile holding back a stray hair and laughing, while 6ft Mr Lynch had a thick head of dark-coloured curls and his arm around her tiny waist. Above them were pictures of children, two boys and a girl by the look of it, baby snaps, toddlers, school pictures with wonky teeth and graduations all mad hair and flushed champagne faces. He stopped at a set of photographs tucked behind a cream-fringed standard lamp. Army uniform. Paras. Sergeant. Straight-backed, staring in the way you’re taught at base, Memento Mori fashion. His blood ran cold.
The door opened and Alex briefly looked before unravelling cable. His knee throbbed. Nothing would fix that. It was Mr Lynch, or the dwindled image of the man he once was. Gone was the height and six-pack. He was as rugby-ball shaped as Raza but with a lattice-work of lines on his face. Mr Lynch smiled, carefully balancing a pink and black cup which stated he was on the gin and tonic diet and had lost five days.
Insurance, wondered Raza at the symphony of Marks and Spencer’s beige before him, from tufts of fawn hair to furry brown slippers.
Mr Lynch cleared his throat but before he could say anything Raza asked: ‘Is that your son in Paras?’
‘It is’, said Mr Lynch ‘Was. Paratroop Regiment. Stepped on a mine on his second tour. Had two commendations.’
In the silence Jasper farted. Mr Lynch coughed and the tick tock of a golden clock filled the room.
Mr Lynch said tentatively: ‘See you support Help for Heroes?’
Raza gripped the screwdriver and felt moisture bead his forehead. The house was a furnace. Sweat ran down his arms. He wiped his hand across his face and onto his trousers.
Raza: ‘Given that I’m Muslim?’
Raza, pulling wires the colours of a rainbow and said: ‘I worked with your son. He saved my life.’
Mr Lynch’s cup dropped on the cream carpet. The sound he made brought Mrs Lynch running.