Abdul Waseem was desperate for a coffee. He’d been trying to master the high-tech integrated coffee machine ever since he had arrived at his son’s home a few days earlier from Pakistan. He had searched all the glossy cupboards in the big kitchen looking for something more user-friendly. However, he could find no coffee percolator, no cafetière, no filter papers, nor even a jar of instant. He didn’t need anything fancy, just a caffeine hit. Despite his repeatedly pressing every button on the machine’s electronic keypad, whilst cursing it loudly, the gadget refused to co-operate.
He hadn’t wanted to embarrass himself by asking Tariq to show him how to operate it so he could make himself a coffee whilst his son was out at work. He might come from a small village in Mirpur, but he didn’t want to be thought of as unsophisticated. At the umpteenth attempt and having once again shouted ‘shaitan!’* at it, the machine suddenly began to snigger and snort at his ineptitude as it grudgingly disgorged its welcome beverage. Abdul sighed with relief as he made a mental note of exactly which combination of buttons he had successfully pressed. The machine was still strutting its noisy stuff when he heard an urgent knocking at the front door.
Standing on the doorstep was a well-built man in his forties, wearing a smart suit and looking a little flustered. The man looked about him anxiously. Beyond the caller, parked outside on the main road, was a large black car, with an elderly lady seated in the back. Another man stood at the front of the vehicle holding up the bonnet and peering in at the engine.
‘The Bentley has broken down, I’m afraid,’ the man told him. ‘Would it be all right for my elderly lady employer and me to come into your house and await the breakdown vehicle? Our driver just called them, and they should be here very shortly.’
Abdul assured him it would be perfectly all right for them to come in. As the man returned to the car and helped the lady to alight, Abdul told himself these people weren’t likely to be burglars or murderers – not driving a Bentley, they weren’t. As he led the pair into the lounge, however, it occurred to him that it was just possible they might have stolen the Bentley. However, seeing their smart attire, especially the old lady’s plum-coloured woollen overcoat and matching bucket hat, he dismissed the thought and reminded himself that this was affluent Gerrards Cross, after all. Once the stranded couple were seated in the lounge, Abdul offered to make them each a coffee.
The ‘shaitan’ coffee machine was persuaded to produce two more coffees, which he served up in his daughter-in-law’s best china cups and saucers. He found a tin of fancy biscuits, which he placed on the tray along with the coffees and returned to the lounge. As he poured milk into their cups and went to open the biscuits, he suddenly noticed that his lady visitor bore a striking resemblance to the image of the lady on the lid of the biscuit tin.
‘Don’t I recognise you, Madam?’ he asked. ‘Have I seen you on television – in a biscuit commercial, perhaps?’
The lady laughed heartily, ‘quite possibly. I am on the box from time to time.’
That evening, Abdul told his son about the visitors. Tariq chastised him for allowing strangers into the house, but Abdul reassured him that the lady had been a TV celebrity.
‘Really? Who was she?’ Tariq asked.
‘She was the lady on your biscuit tin,’ Abdul told him, pointing at the tin which still sat on the coffee table.
‘Don’t be daft, Dad,’ Tariq laughed. ‘That’s the Queen.’
*Shaitan = Satan or devil