The windowless interview room, the Officer in Case aka OIC, the interpreter booked by the OIC via Language Line, the ‘Big Issue’ vendor in long, multi layered Gypsy skirts that rustle as she plops on her chair.
Speaking to us is voluntary and
if she doesn’t wish to say anything then
she may exercise this right.
You have the
right to remain silent, but I urge you
to sing and to cooperate, right, crow?
But of course I'm happy to talk, boss. And, as the old saying goes, let there be heart both in the talk and in the listening.
Yeah she’ll talk all right.
Her name, her date of
birth, her occupation and her address?
Hand me your ID card, crow.
Which one, boss?
Are you taking the mickey? The UK
hasn’t issued IDs. Not just yet. Plain as
day, isn’t it, that I request the ID
from our homeland, that poor place to which you and your lot give such a bad name. Thanks. What else are you up to, apart from sponging
off the Brits and raising hell? And where is
it that you squat, crow?
I'm called Nadira, boss, Stan Nadira. Back in my and your country, Romania, my grandparents and parents were Caldarari. Coppersmiths. Oh, but we had a way with all the metals. And the fire! How at ease we used to be on earth, with tents, chattels, tools, everything bundled in our wagons, wandering from village to village, making and mending thousands of useful whatnots. But then times changed. We lost our trade. So some of my kin went to Spain and others sought their fortune in this Kingdom. Last year, I was allowed to sell 'Big Issue' magazines here in Wimbledon, but I live in Slough, in a rented room I share with my husband, my daughter, my son in law and their toddler boy and three year old girl.
‘Big Issue’ vendor. Lives in Slough, as a
co tenant in an HMO. Tzigane.
Is this the French word for Roma Gypsies?
I guess it is, though my French just doesn’t
cut the mustard. Anyway, back in my
home country, we also call these people
Tzigane and, sorry to be frank, but this
dumb ‘Roma’ label gets on our nerves
Because, sorry, once again, but that’s just
wokery – to call the Tziganes Roma.
We’ve had enough of almost everyone
confusing us decent Romanians with
the dodgy Roma. And, by the way, the
English word ‘Gypsy’, which is short for, did
you know, Egyptian, is quite confusing,
and ultimately dubious as well.
Could you, please, ask Mrs Nadira to
tell us what her ethnicity is, in
her own words, and whether she’s happy we
put it on the record?
He asks what you
crows call yourselves.
The neon lamp above them starts to sizzle. The room plunges into pitch blackness, then twinkling hazy greys and floury whites convulse across the walls. Sizzles, hisses, impenetrable darkness, once more, with odd fluorescent spears crisscrossing the musty air over and over again, slowly, as if thrown by a blind, hesitant police station poltergeist and then, as the copper, the translator and the interviewee raise their faces and interrogative stares towards the ceiling, the lamp calms down and, with an epic metallic cough, the supply of constant if minimal light is resumed.
We’re Roma, boss.
Give me strength. Tinker, sponger, beggar, crow.
What did she say? Did she mind the blinking
lights, just now, shall we look for another
This kind officer asks
if you mind the minor glitch with the lights
and wish to go into a different
room. I urge you to say no to that, right?
I’m already running late for tons of
But of course, boss. What counts is if there’s heart both in the talk and in the listen – what difference could any lamp or room possibly make
She’s absolutely fine about this room.
Is she also fine about the interview
itself? Please, confirm that she’s okay
to talk to us about the incident
outside the railway station.
Right, now you’d better do this heart doodah
you keep going on about and fess up
to what you did at the railway station.
I wasn’t there. I was standing by the tube doors. Both stations are on the same side of The Broadway but they’re about two minutes away from each other. And, mind you, I’m allowed to sell my magazines at the tube entrance, only, my licence fixes me, in black and white, to that one spot.
She was standing outside the tube station.
Around midday, two youths came into the piazza.
I grasped the word ‘piazza’
Yeah, she says two young men got there at twelve.
They pranced around, in their trousers and shirts that were whiter than swans careening in twilit waves, and adorned with poppy red sashes and ribbons blue as cornflowers strewn in a wheat field. They had dozens of bells tied around their shins and brandished sticks dappled in the same lovely reds and blues at both ends and, when they put the music on and started to leap in the air, one would have sworn they were Calus dancers from our parts.
The young men wore traditional
dress and performed a Morris dance.
I drew nearer, like many other people, and looked at them, open mouthed. How they made my heart dance! As they finished their number, I started clapping my hands and shouting out loud ‘So beautiful!’ in the Roma language, twice. Then, in Romanian, I said: ‘You surely make your parents proud!’ How foolish of me, to draw attention to myself in such a way! Because that’s when they turned towards me, their peepers red and fierce like burning coals, and attacked me.
She joined the other onlookers and she enjoyed the dance a lot. She now regrets that at the end she shouted some words of praise in the Tzigane language and after that in Romanian. Those words seemed to anger the two young men.
Did she do or say anything else that
might have provoked the youths?
Are you sure you didn’t annoy those lads, crow?
You didn’t try to pinch their pot of cash, did you?
No, I swear by good, almighty God, He knows I didn’t do anything like that, boss, and sure the filming apparatus hanging like a fat spider with bulging eyes above the tube entrance knows it, too. On the contrary, as all the other spectators were still applauding the boys and dropping coins inside their tin, I, too, made to chip in a pound, but one of them slapped the coin out of my hand, then spurted a gob of phlegm on it. He had blonde hair and a thin, tufty beard, like a he-goat. Pinker than a piglet he was, boss, and his spit darker than manure on fallow land. He was beside himself and the tuft on his chin went up and down, as he yelled at me, up and down, like a bumblebee trapped in a jar.
She says she’s convinced the
CCTV footage corroborates
her version of events. She tried to put
one pound into their tin but one of them,
who had a goatee, struck her hand and, when
her coin fell on the ground, he spat on it.
Then what happened?
Then what happened?
bawled: ‘Speak En-Glish in En-Gland! Fucking Bitch!
Gy-Ppo Something Else! Dir-
I understand, no need to translate those
bits, obviously. Ask her to carry
Anything you want to add? Keep
it short. I’m late.
They both poked and pushed me with those beautifully painted clubs of theirs, boss. As if I were a stray dog. They forced me to go through the tube turnstiles and down the staircase but I opposed them, as I never take the tube, it’s expensive, I always travel by train and coach from here to Slough. Besides, it was too early for me to return home. I was lucky, because some kind and educated folks stood up for me, and scolded the youths. Then a scuffle broke out. The police arrived.
They prodded her with their sticks. Some members
of the public defended her. There was
a disturbance. The police intervened.
Was she hurt?
Did they leave any marks, with their sticks?
A few bruises only. It’s been so cold these last few days that I’ve been wearing a flannel sweatshirt and three jumpers over it, boss. So putting on many layers surely helped. But I also used my ‘Big Issue’ copies as a shield. The ones at the top of the pile got torn and twisted but otherwise all was well.
Nothing serious. Just a couple of
her magazines slightly damaged.
This is a hate crime. Let’s help her fill this
form in. Tell her she needs to tick ‘race’, here,
under the second heading of the form.
This kind officer says you should file a
complaint against those boys, and accuse them
of a hate crime. I urge you to stay out
of it, though, right? Not only because I’m
running late, but… honest, poor little crow,
it’d be such a foolish mistake for you
to go against two UK citizens,
young and silly though they are… you don’t want
to attempt to ruin these lads’ lives, right?
But of course, boss, all I want
is to keep myself
out of trouble.
She won’t make a complaint.
Will you, please, ask her again?
Are you sure about the complaint?
As sure as death, boss.
The neon lamp is sizzling, the room is plunged into a complete and this time irreversible blackness.
Hmm, let me light a torch. There. What did she
say in the end about the complaint?
Ah, she said no.
Did she? Then as OIC I’ll have to decide
on the most appropriate conclusion
which is that no further action will be
Case over. We’re done. Off you go.
Poor old crow, I actually feel sorry
for the way they ruffled you.
Thank you, boss.
Thank the kind officer for listening.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
Think nothing of it, Mrs Nadira.
They walk along a corridor in single file, solid muteness, scumbled light. Outside, there’s no light, either, it’s the time of the evening when the French (and perhaps other poetic nations?) say one can’t tell apart a dog from a wolf. The December air bites their faces. The copper rushes back indoors to attend to his vast panoply of various if repetitive cases. The interpreter hails a cab, to make it to a lecture he’s due to give, not take, on some subject or other (human rights, perhaps). The woman plops on the bench screwed inside a nearby bus stop shelter, to compose herself. But of course she remembers how much wider this bench used to be, not long ago. But of course the new bench is nicer in colour, poppy red they made it, though why is it not flat, but cambered? Not straight, but slanting downwards? And narrow as a tree branch? Yes, boss, sure, boss, this perch isn’t for people, but pigeons, those parasites, or crows urged to sing, fess up, keep it short, thank the kind officer. At least she’s not like other souls in need of a proper rest here, the elderly, yes, she pictures in her head the elderly, perched tightly on this red pole, and propping themselves in a steady position with the help of their walking sticks, only, their faces sinking closer and closer to the pavement, while their sticks, like fishing rods, seem to be angling for something precious trapped under the asphalt. And how about the folks taken ill, on their way to the doctor, and how about the women with babies on the way and prey to spells of nausea or wooziness? At least with her all’s well, isn’t she lucky she’s still going strong, one minute of peace she needs, only, leaning on this here poppy red trestle leg, then leg’s the name of the game, she’ll leg it up to Slough. Lo, talk of bits and bobs trapped in the asphalt: shiny metal spikes they planted around the department store, everywhere a wall juts out and forms a bay or a nook they sowed row upon row of spikes. She knows the souls who slept inside those nooks, the white haired man she calls in her head the weeping Jeremiah, the wrinkled lass who strums an out-of-tune guitar and of course the younger bloke with a sheet of cardboard adorned with a smiling face, big mouth, arched and full of promise as a lifeboat, and eyes smaller than a badger’s, but of course that picture of his is of him, his face is exactly like the drawing. So what now? Where can Jeremiah, missy Twang-Twang and Lifeboaty-Smiley go sleep? Luckily, she’s got the room in Slough, with its soft beddings for six and the kitchenette in the far corner, where the plywood cupboard fell off the wall but the oven’s fine, so she’ll turn the knob to high, put a pot on the flame, broth? stew? she’ll rustle either up within the hour, hurry, hurry back she must. But no, hurry’s no good, because lo, and the going-strong heart skips a beat, and the good old dark peepers always on the qui vive squint, to catch a clearer sight of this… this, and the good old jumpy ears go up, like a stray dog’s, to catch a clearer sound of this… this, this-this what?
There’s music now in her piazza, under the Christmas lights, old-sounding folk music, is it that Maurice (she’s spent a couple of years in Sangatte), as the bossy translator full of vinegar put it, stuff? (perhaps not, just some cheery instruments a-carolling). So what now? Where can she go? Or should she stay put? Wait till the Maurice boys, if indeed it’s them, finish their number? No, off she goes across the road. She glides along the side of The Broadway opposite the tube and railway stations, in her long multi-layered skirts, not too fast, not too fast, the bits of lamé they’re adorned with might flash big time in the shop-window lights, turn her into something like a big upside-down torch in big winter boots, on the run, she’ll be drawing attention to herself, let’s go get her, they’ll say, there, there she is, the ‘Big Issue’ Bitch, the Parasite and Something, dressed like the Olympic torch. That’s it. Just gone past her railway station. But of course she’s still marching straight on, for now. Just to be sure. But of course she’ll cross back over The Broadway, she’ll walk back towards her station any moment now. But not yet. Go, glide, stride ahead. Big round detour on way to big round stockpot. To winter warmer. What’s for supper, Grandma? Bear’s Arse and Cabbage. Ha-ha, hee-hee. Sure as death, all’s well.