By Mary Bevan
Kumquat Mojito - A traditional Mojito with added kumquat fruit - the
orange of Asia - for a sour twist
Immigration? Oh I know everyone's got a view on it one way or another these days, what with Brexit and all, but personally I'm in two minds about the whole thing. You see, I actually got involved in it in a manner of speaking. Her name was Shamira - that much I know. It was in the autumn of 2015, when a lot of migrants and refugees from places like Iraq and Afghanistan were trying to get into the UK via France. I'd only been driving the lorry a few months then. It wasn't a job I fancied doing, long-distance lorry driving, but when you're made redundant just like that you're glad to take what's on offer, keep the money coming in.
Anyway, this particular evening I'd stopped on the edge of Calais to fill up with diesel before boarding the night boat for Dover. The papers were full of stories about the camp called The Jungle, and how migrants were trying to board trains and lorries to get across the channel. The firm had even sent round a circular telling us to check everything carefully and that there'd be hell to pay if any migrants were found stowed away on our lorries. But I'd had no trouble. I figured I'd got plenty of time before boarding, so I got myself a coffee-to-go, pulled off the filling station forecourt and
parked up alongside on this piece of waste ground.
I was there for about forty minutes, I suppose, having a drink and listening to the news. That's when they must have crept up. Before I got going again I went round the back of the lorry like I always do
to check everything was alright, and that's when I found them - two women dressed top to toe in black, just like two shadows. One of them had climbed on to the ledge below the cold storage compartment and was trying the handle: the other was waiting down below, watching her.
'Hey you, what do you think you're doing? Get off there,' I shouted at her.
I was angry. She couldn't get down by herself, so I took hold of her arm and
pulled her down. It was almost dark and all I could see of her face was two
big eyes. 'This lorry is private property,' I said to her, but before I could get a
sentence out the other one, the mother obviously, was on me, clawing at me
and screaming, 'No touch. No touch my daughter'.
Well, that put the wind up me. I was afraid someone at the pumps would hear
and come across, so I let go of the girl's arm and just held on to her sleeve to stop her running away.
'You want me to lose my job?' I said to her.
Then the mother came at me again, snarling like some sort of animal. Would you believe, the old bitch spat at me. I would have hit her, I swear, but the daughter got between us.
'Hush mother,' she says, 'leave him alone, he won't hurt us - will you?' and she fixes me with those big, dark eyes. She had this deep, husky voice: her English was OK. 'My name is Shamira,' she said.
'Where're you from?'
Then the old woman starts screeching again, 'Bad men, bad men, they want kill us. We escape. Travel long, long time. My daughter beautiful dancer - dance in England for English.'
The daughter hushes her again, 'They burned our house. They put me in the fire - see,' and she rolled up her sleeve. Even in the half dark you could see there was a great red scar from her wrist right up to her elbow. 'We have nothing now. We have nowhere. Camp is very bad - fit for animals only.
My mother is very old woman. You help us?'
If you'd asked me beforehand what I'd do in a situation like that I'd have said I'd send them packing right away, explain to them they'd need the proper papers to get into the UK and so on. But when it came to it, having them there, right in front of you, it isn't so easy. You feel sorry for them and angry, too, because they're getting you involved in all this and it's got nothing to do with you, really, except when it comes to it they're just human beings like you and me, aren't they.
The mother was crafty, though. She could tell I was hesitating because she started talking very fast to her daughter in some language I didn't understand and then she turns back to me and says, 'Shamira dance for you.'
Well that did it. The girl started screaming at the old lady and pushing heraway, waving her arms about. It wasn't a pretty scene I can tell you.
'For God's sake,' I said, 'Shut up or you'll get me arrested between the two of you.' But they just went on arguing and going for each other, so I reckoned the best thing to do was to get out as quick as possible and leave them to it.
Well, I'd only got as far as the cab door when the daughter was on me, tugging my jacket, 'No, no go. You stop, please, please.'
I turned round to tell her to go away, that I'd had quite enough, but she was undressing - I mean taking off her robe and pulling off her headscarf, letting her hair fall all loose. And then she stood up on tiptoe and just started to dance.
I don't know how to explain what it was like exactly. She had on this flame coloured jumper, you see, and black trousers and long earrings that sparkled when the light caught them. She was so graceful. It put me in mind of a picture of Salome dancing in front of Herod for the head of somebody or
other in the illustrated Bible I had as a kid. It made me shiver, I tell you, just watching her, bending and swaying and spinning. Besides, I did want to help, of course I did, what with Christmas coming on and all. Oh, don't get me wrong, I knew they were trouble, but they must have been pretty desperate. I was thinking there were places in the lorry I could stow them where there was a good chance Customs wouldn't think of looking. But how was I going to explain it to the boss - or the wife, come to that?
In the end this is what I did - I just ran for the driver's door, yanked it open, started the engine and drove out on to the motorway as fast as I could, leaving her there behind me, dancing in the dark. I don't know if they tried to run after me.
Oh I know it's all yesterday's news now with the camp gone and everything, but it shook me up I can tell you. Made me think. I've told a few people like yourself: they all say I did the right thing - that I didn't have any choice, under the circumstances.
Sometimes on long runs I speak her name out loud. 'Shamira,' I say, 'I wonder where you are now. Shamira, forgive me. Because, God knows, I can't forgive myself.'