back to britain (I)

“No! The college said there’d be one of you,” snarls a tall white man with silver hair and a piece of black plastic, like a USB key, sticking out of one ear, and a piece of A4 plastic in his hand with some black letters written on it. He is standing in front of two young men who I assume come from the Middle East; they both look confused and a bit scared.

“No,” shouts the older man in a Cockney accent that makes me feel nostalgia for home, “the college said one man. I’m not authorised to take your friend.”

The man he’s talking to raises his hands to plea.

“No! I said, No! I can’t take anyone apart from you. The college said there’d only be one of you. I can’t take two. I don’t have the instructions. The college said one man. You are two. I can’t take anyone without authorisation.” He jangles a set of car keys in his hand. “You can’t just bring someone. I take instructions from the college – not you. I can’t take him. I’m not licensed. It’s not allowed. I can only take you. Look,” he holds up the A4 plastic, “there’s one name on there,” he tries to read it, “Akkk… Akkk… what’s that? Ak-medd.”

“Ahmed,” says one of the men softly.

“Yeah! Ak-medd. I can take you, Ak-medd, but I will not take anyone else, whoever they are. I’m under instructions to take you and noone else…”

Later, I see the two men at Heathrow Central Bus Station looking at a short line of coaches and talking. The wind blows wavy black hair across Ahmed’s face. I board the bus to Reading, lean my head against the damp window, and think of all the people who’ve given me lifts across southern Africa during the last 11 months, all the taxi drivers who’ve welcomed me and anyone else with slaps and laughs and opening and closing car doors.