The Romanian

London, 2003. Midnight.

This time it’s the Romanian, asleep in the back of his blue PCV. I knock on the window and he stirs, laughing in mild embarrassment. I open the door. He gets in the front.

“I have early start tomorrow,” he says, keys turning in the ignition, “So I thought I would catch up.”

“Busy, yeah?”

“I start my own business. You remember, I tell you about it before.”

I flick through my mental Rolodex, checking the facts on the Romanian.

He has a moustache and drives cars for a taxi firm. He is somewhere in his fifties. Nothing about a business.

“I’m not sure,” I say. “You’ll have to remind me.”

“I have a storage unit on Park Road. Storage, removals, couriers. All three are thriving. Plus, I drive this car three or four nights a week. Tomorrow,” he says, pulling away from a roundabout, “I get up at four. Two seven tonne lorries to remove.”

“Wow,” I say. “That’s a lot of stuff.”

“And you,” he says, meeting my eyes in the rear-view- “How have you been doing?”

“Not bad,” I say. “Off on holiday next week. Spain.”

“Spain? Ah, marvellous. Where are you planning to stay?”

“Malaga. Barcelona.”

“I lived there for eight years,” he says. “Beautiful city. Nicer than London.”

“I bet. Not too nice here, is it?” I say.

“I hate London, ” he says, “I am one of those people who likes to fit in with the society around me. There is no society here, only huge numbers of foreigners. There are no English left in London- they have all moved on. It is not like it was when I first came here.” He shakes his head.

“When was that?”

“Thirty years ago. November 1973. Ah, this was a beautiful place then. Still, if I could live in Spain now, I would.”

As we approach Tower Hill, a white van swerves in front of us. We brake sharply.

“What the fuck-?” I say.

In the van in front, the driver, a shaven-headed scrawny guy in glasses is turning round, laughing and screaming at us to fuck ourselves, banging his fist down on the headrest of the passenger seat. The lights change and he squeals off.

The Romanian sighs. “I just wish, at times like these, that I did not have a passenger.”

“Why’s that?”

“That man deserved a good beating,” he says. “I wish I could have given him one.”

“Hey, don’t mind me,” I say. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. I could have even helped you out with a couple of kicks myself.”

“No, no,” he says, “Thank you, It is very kind, but I could never agree to such a thing. I could not drop a passenger off late.”

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