Tea with Alice

Ricardo Marcelino

Alice always invited me for tea after I finished working on her garden. I always thought she was a proper English lady, although I never met one before so couldn’t know for sure. Her politeness, wit and, I admit, unapologetic arrogance, attracted me from the very start, and even though she could be quite patronising and disconnected from the world I had come from, or from the London I was living in – which seemed very different from the London she inhabited, – I could feel that not only I had her respect and empathy, but she enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed hers.
It was a strange friendship, no doubt, me being the immigrant gardener and her being a wealthy and much older lady, but a real one none the less, and I often think of Lady Alice, which I used to call her in jest, and of the wonderful conversations we had while I chain-smoked my rollies and Alice her cigarettes, always using a holder, making her look even posher, and always while drinking tea which like most British people, Alice adored. She would regularly utilize it in her analogies, which was something Alice was quite fond of using when trying to make a point. “A good life must be intense, my dear,” she once said to me, “the same way tea must be drunk hot. Put some chamomile in a kettle with cold water and see what happens. Nothing.” She paused to light a cigarette she had just put on the holder, and took a drag, saying the next words while holding the smoke in, which caused her voice to sound weird as it came out of her mouth. “Please don’t settle for a tepid life. Make sure you keep it interesting, always have that kettle ready to boil.” She expelled the smoke gently through her lips, almost as if she was whistling. Finally she concluded: “And if it gets too intense, well, just add a bit of milk.” She always seemed pleased with her analogies, and a smile would often follow one. She had a way with words, and never seemed to use more than necessary. We finished our cigarettes in silence and I got up, ready to leave.
“Thanks for the tea Alice, see you next week”
“Have a good evening, dear,” she said, again replacing the cigarette on the holder for a new one.
I was her gardener for a little more than a year, until Alice died during her sleep one summer night. I got a phone call from her maid while I was making my breakfast. Two pieces of toast, butter, jam and coffee. Thinking of Alice, I boiled some water and made a cup of tea, which I don’t usually have in the morning. A splash of milk, one sugar. It was delicious and comforting. And I drank it fast before it turned cold.

Βorn in Portugal, Ricardo attended Film School and now lives in London where he works as a video editor. He’s worked as a tuktuk driver, hotel receptionist, cheesemonger, barista, among many other things, finding that putting himself out there and trying different things is a great way to taste the different flavours life has to offer.

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