The front porch was spacious and airy, the ground covered in thick white tiles coated in a rough glaze to stop one from slipping in the wet. A small green elaborately moulded iron table and chairs sat to the side with two small teacups adorning the table. The ground around the front door was littered with shoes – from sophisticated high heels, to converse sneakers, to sandals and thongs – so much so, that Andy and I had to stand in single file to avoid stepping on the mess encroaching on the doorway.
Swinging open the door, we came face to face with a huge, red smile, bright blue eyes and a mob of curly grey hair. Laughing gaily, Mrs Westcombe grabbed our hands and pulled us inside, exclaiming all the while about how happy she was that we could make it today. I turned back and shot Andy a furtive look – what had he told her our reason for coming today was anyway? I only wanted to check out the house in case it was suitable to rent… Not move in there and then! Shrugging his shoulders and smiling sheepishly at me, Andy moved up to walk beside Mrs Westcombe as we made our way down a spacious white tiled hallway into the living and kitchen area.
Andy kept Mrs Westcombe engaged in conversation, so that left me free to examine what we were being shown. Trailing behind them, we made our way through room after room and I appreciatively took in the high ceilings, polished hardwood floors and light and airy atmosphere of each room. Maybe Andy was onto something. I spent time examining the other inhabitants of the house; or at least their belongings to get a feel for who we would be living with if we took the room.
“And now for the crème de la crème!” Mrs Westcombe exclaimed as she threw open the final doorway, leading to the small staircase to the roof. Anticipating a spectacular view and decoration based on the rest of the house, I eagerly climbed the five stairs leading into the sunlight. Stepping out, I recoiled in shock at what lay around me.
“These are my prized possessions!” Mrs Westcombe trilled proudly as she gazed around in satisfaction. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t even stutter out a word. I wanted to be sick. Cage after cage after cage cluttered the rooftop; the cages to my right full of meerkats and those to my left full of boys… teenage boys who looked at me with desperation, sadness and fear in their eyes. Even Andy looked disgusted at this turn of events.
Seeing Mrs Westcombe’s expectant expression as she watched Andy and I take in the rooftop, I thought I should say something. “So… you kept meerkats long?” I asked, kicking myself mentally that that was the only thing I could think of to say.
Laughing, she moved towards one of the first cages and lifted the latch to open it up. “Since I was a child.” She replied, as the two meerkats scurried up her body and perched around her shoulders.
“And what about the kids?” I asked bravely.
“Oh those,” she scoffed, waving her hand in the air. “They’re just a little project I’m working on. Never mind them though, do you think you’ll take the room?”
“Uh, we’ll need to have a little chat.” I choked out. “We’ll get back to you soon.”
“Well don’t take too long!” She trilled as we started to back towards the staircase, “prime real estate like this doesn’t last long!”
Smiling weakly, Andy and I all but ran from the house.
“We have to save those poor kids and those innocent animals.” I said as we sat in shock in our car.
“Tomorrow morning when she leaves for work.” He promised, sitting stock still and staring out the front window.
The next morning, we turned up at the house as Mrs Westcombe was leaving for work and asked to look at the room one more time.
“Of course darlings!” She cried, “just let yourselves out when you’re done!”
Walking into the house, we smiled politely at the two girls sitting on the couch and made our way up the stairs towards the roof. With trepidation I reached out a shaky hand and twisted the knob to the final door that opened up to the small square of blue sky. We made our way quickly up to the roof, backpacks loaded with bolt cutters, food and water for the boys and meerkats. Turning to Andy as we ascended to the roof, I began murmuring the best plan of attack.
And then, once again, we were rendered speechless. All the cages were gone. All the kids, all the meerkats, everything – all gone. Moving to sit on the edge of the roof, I turned to Andy with wide eyes.
“Did we imagine them being here?” I asked.
“No” he growled in reply, “stupid bitch is onto us.” We sat in silence as we comprehended this, sending up a silent prayer for those boys who were once again at the mercy of crazy Mrs Westcombe.
“We’ll still save them though.” I said, more to reassure myself than anyone else.
“Course we will.” Andy said, standing up and holding out his hand for us to leave.
Photo credit: http://rateeveryanimal.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/meerkat-family.jpg