Skip to content

Almost Safe in Dover

When can you let down your guard when you travel? In your hotel room? At passport control? Never?

The tea was hot, the cream seemed fresh as I shared my digestives with Alec, the terrorist. I’d been waiting for him in the Dover tea shop for twenty minutes, and now we sat huddled at the table, eating biscuits like grateful refugees.

I was glad to be back in an English-speaking country. In Salerno I’d seen the headlines “E MORTO IL PAPA!” It was August of 1978 and Pope Paul VI had just died. People would be rushing to the Vatican; it was time to hightail it home. I’d picked up Alec on the way.

Alec stroked his tea cup.
“Did you have some trouble at passport control?” I said.
“Yes, I had a lot of bloody trouble. The buggers strip-searched me.”
“What are you talking about?” I’d never heard of strip-searching.
“They’re British, and I’m from Belfast, so they thought I must be carrying a bomb. I had to take off all my clothes, and they fingered me all over. That’s what I’m talking about.”

He snapped a biscuit in half. The tea shop was quiet. The street down the hill to the ocean was dappled with sunlight. People lay on the beach on huge striped towels. A phone rang in the back of the shop.

I was heading for England when I’d met Alec in the hot Gare du Nord waiting room in Paris. It was midnight, and a knot of sullen Algerian laborers slouched in the other chairs. They never spoke or closed their eyes, and the next train to Calais wouldn’t leave till seven the next morning. Alec brought me rolls and coffee without asking, me falling all over myself like he’d made Christmas dinner.

Alec put another sugar in his tea.
“They asked me if I’d gotten a leg over you,” he said.
“Who did? Whose leg?” Couldn’t he just speak in normal English?
“The bloody policemen. They asked if we’d had sex.”

I gripped my cup and looked away. The cops must have watched us as we left the boat and separated at passport control. I’d been so relieved to leave Paris, get onto the train, and get back to England. I’d finally felt safe. I’d counted on Alec to keep me away from the Algerians and other questionables. Now it turned out he was the one who needed protecting. When are you finally safe out on the road? Right then I didn’t want to travel anymore: no more politics, popes dying, former colonials raging, differentness.

“My next trip out I will be carrying a bomb,” Alec said, looking up at me, his eyes red, humiliated, furious.

We stood and murmured goodbyes. He shouldered his rucksack and took a bus to Brighton where he knew somebody. I cinched the straps of my backpack and headed for another train. I just wanted to get back to where I knew—and could really trust—somebody.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *