“Mrs Morgan died last night,” Monica announced, dropping the shopping bags on the floor. She ripped open her jacket and sank into the chair. “At her 40th wedding anniversary party.”
“What are you saying?” her mother gasped, hands flying to her mouth. “How? What happened?”
“Dunno. I overheard in Sainsbury’s. Woman in front of me was there at the party. At one of the posh restaunrants down in Cardiff Bay, you know. And it seems she just collapsed in the loo.” Monica jumped up and switched on the television. “It’ll be on the news,” she said.
Mrs Jhaveri sat down and wrung her hands. “Sian Morgan? From next door? My God. She’d invited me, of course. But I couldn’t go. Have to look after Rani in the evenings until you get back. But I cannot believe this...”
But Monica wasn’t listening to her mother. She had developed a way to filter her mother’s voice through her ears and only retain key words that had to do anything with Rani, her five year old daughter. Her mother was visiting from India. And Monica was tired of her constant criticism about everything here in Cardiff. It’s never sunny. It’s much too cold for her aching bones. Not many ‘known’ faces in the neighbourhood. Too lonely. But Monica needed her here. The divorce had made things financially difficult, and someone had to look after Rani while she worked double shift.
Mrs Jhaveri moaned under her breath. “She was a nice lady. So nice to me. She invited me for a cup of tea in the afternoons. So beautiful, she was. And such a lovely house...”
“Is Rani in bed?” Monica asked, shoving the ready meals into the freezer. Her mother eyed the boxes and frowned. Chicken Tikka Masala. Taste the Difference Spaghetti Carbonara.
“I’m really exhausted and I don’t want any tamasha today.” Monica glared at her before she could comment on the contents of the freezer.
Mrs Jhaveri walked into the conservatory and peered out. The Morgans’ house was submerged in darkness. Where was poor Mr Morgan? She wondered. She decided to go and pay her respects in the morning and plodded back into the kitchen. The January cold had seeped into her bones and refused to thaw out. She sighed and switched on the kettle to ready the hot-water bag for the night.
The next morning, after dropping Rani to school, Mrs Jhaveri went over to the Morgans’. She rang the doorbell and pulled her enormous fleece jacket over her sari. There was an itch in her knee but she couldn’t bend to scratch because of the many layers she had on. She clicked her tongue in irritation. She had dressed carefully. It had been a struggle to decide whether to wear black, or white, which was traditionally worn to funerals in India. In the end, she compromised on a pale grey sari with black flowers.
The door opened a crack and a pair of eyes peered out. Mrs Jhaveri screwed her eyes to look into the darkness inside.
“Yes?” cried a nasal voice from within.
“I’m the neighbour, from house next door. Tarla Jhaveri. Mr Morgan at home, please?” Her voice came out in a shiver.
“No one’s ‘ere,” the voice cried. “Come back later.”
“Then who are you?” Mrs Jhaveri asked sharply. She stuck her toe in the crack of the door and jutted her chin out. She was going in, and that was that.
The door opened. A woman stood there, duster in her hand, a lop-sided apron across her chest. She had a sour face. Like curdled milk, thought Mrs Jhaveri, bitterly. “Can I come in?”
The woman nodded, resignedly. “I’m cleaning up. Mr Morgan hired me to clean the place. He’s not in. Still at the hospital, I think. His Missus died, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” said Mrs Jhaveri and strode in, shaking her gloves at the woman. “You know what happened?”
“No, I don’t. I only came this mornin’. Mr Morgan told me to get the house ready for his Missus funeral. With people like yourself visiting, the house needs to be all proper and all, innit?”
The doorbell rang again, and the cleaning lady sighed. “Won’t be an end to this. Now how will I get this place ready?”
There were a few words exchanged at the door and then a large woman came bustling into the sitting room and nearly tripped over Mrs Jhaveri.
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t see you,” she wheezed and sat down and clutched her chest. She sat down heavily on the sofa and sank into the depths of it. “I’m Mrs Jones, Sian’s friend.” She stopped and her eyes filled. “I can’t believe she’s gone. Such a terrible accident.”
“Accident?” repeated Mrs Jhaveri. “What happened really?”
Mrs Jones flapped her hands about and gasped. “I was at the party. We were having such a great time. There was champagne and caviar. The works. I said to Daffyd that he had gone all out to please her.”
Mrs Jhaveri nodded and leaned in towards the other woman. “And…?”
“Well, I was on my third glass … oh, I’m afraid I did indulge myself a bit… One doesn’t drink Dom Perignon everyday, and I did get carried away…”
“Mrs Jones,” said Mrs Jhaveri, touching the woman’s knee every so slightly. “What happened to Sian Morgan?”
“Huh?” Mrs Jones visibly deflated. “Oh yes, I was coming to that.” She pushed some imaginary strands of hair away from her face and gulped.
“I needed to go to the toilet, after all those… glasses of champagne. So I went, and I was inside when I heard a gasp and a thud. I didn’t think much of it, perhaps someone’s handbag had fallen or something. But when I came out, I saw Sian on the floor.”
Mrs Jones stopped for breath and fanned herself with her hat.
“I didn’t realise it was serious. I joked with Sian that she had had one too many herself and couldn’t keep her balance. Then I saw she was out like a light. Her dress was all stained and her shoes were lying by her head. She looked dreadful. I remember thinking there goes that two-hundred quid dress. What a beautiful outfit she had on. A violet satin dress it was... from Howell’s she told me... and her mother’s pearls. Old, gorgeous pearls. They went so well with her dress. And black suede shoes…”
Mrs Jhaveri shook her head in disbelief. “Mrs Jones,” she said. “Your friend is dead. Perhaps you can tell me how, and not what she is wearing.”
“Of course, of course,” Mrs Jones said, her lips trembling. “It’s all too much for me to bear. Imagine, I discovered her there. She’d had a heart attack. Poor girl.”
“Did the doctor’s say that?” Mrs Jhaveri asked.
“Yes, Daffyd rang me and told me.”
“So when is the funeral?”
“Day after tomorrow. They’re waiting for Sian’s sister to come down from Norwich. She’s quite poorly herself, you know.”
“Oh, I don’t know her,” said Mrs Jhaveri and got to her feet slowly. She rearranged the folds of her sari and looked around. The cleaning lady was rattling about in the kitchen. “I’ll come back to see Mr Morgan. I’m from next door. Well, my daughter, Monica, is actually, I’m only visiting…”
But Mrs Jones wasn’t listening; she was blowing her nose into her handkerchief. It didn’t matter. Mrs Jhaveri was used to this.
To be continued...