Delia Radu

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.

                               Nadira Stan.
                              ‘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
interview room?

                         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
                        other appointments.

                                                                                              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
                                                                                               to that?

                         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?

                                                                                               Both youths
                                                                                              bawled: ‘Speak En-Glish in                                                                                                 En-Gland! Fucking Bitch!
                                                                                               Gy-Ppo Something Else! Dir-
                                                                                                 Ty Something’s

I understand, no need to translate those
bits, obviously. Ask her to carry
on, please.

                        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.

Delia Radu

Delia Radu is a journalist, writer and translator. Born and educated in Bucharest, she’s lived and worked in London since 1999. Her journalistic work was published on the BBC News website and BBC Sounds. Her literary work has appeared in the Cardinal Points Literary Journal, Litro, Circumference, Mantis and Acumen.

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