Jake removes his Bose headphones and stashes them in his rucksack as he turns into the estate. He needs every sense down this end of town where, lit by a full moon, giant concrete Tetris shapes litter the landscape, vomited up out of the ’60s architectural nightmare. But he loves it, the tangible threat. He feels alive. He once lived in Whitechapel for 18 months and it was a nervous, thrilling existence.
He walks past four young men sitting on a wall, hoods up heads down, the one on the end flicking a lighter with casual menace. He steps over the piles of pizza menus and upturned recycling bins to reach her door and ring the bell to her ground-floor flat.
She answers in her dressing gown, scowls at the young men wolf-whistling and ushers him inside with a smile, the words ‘Get right up that, mate’ following him in.
‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ he says, taking a furtive look in the bedroom as she takes his coat. The room is immaculate.
‘It is not a problem,’ she says. ‘I needed a shower, to get clean you know?’
He nods and follows her through the dark hallway into the tiny living room, into which she has squeezed a sofa, a scruffy armchair and a desk, upon which a pristine Macbook sits incongruously. There is no TV.
She points to the sofa and he sits, feet together, hands on knees.
‘So what do you want to do tonight?’
An hour later, Jake stuffs the cash into his pocket and feels the burning gaze of the young men, still sat on the wall, and realises how it looks. Flushed, he starts walking a little straighter, a little taller. They nod slowly and punch hands. He is a baller. Respect bruv.
‘Hope you saw her straight. Fucking Polish slag.’
It was a good session. She worked hard and her English is improving. She has two job interviews next week, interviews she must ace if she is to have any chance of getting a job and staying in the country.
The young men continue to sit on the wall.