“I’ve been stuck over here for days now. I’ve barely eaten and I’ve been drinking water from the tap in the toilets over there.”
“Oh my word, that sounds awful. Well we can take you into Maidstone if that’s any help?”
“Thanks, but I have most of the money I need to get to Liverpool. I just need another £8 and I can buy a ferry ticket and then a coach straight back. I hate to sound cheeky but a hot meal would be nice too.”
“Hang on a second…Brian pass me your wallet..here, this should help. You look like you haven’t slept for days.”
“Thank you, thank you. I think I got a few hours last night, my head’s spinning. Honestly, you’ve really helped me out.”
“It’s okay honey, you get yourself back home That’ll be enough for the tickets and something to eat.”
“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver. If you give me your address I can pay you back when I get home.”
“I won’t hear of any such thing, I can’t have one of our soldiers stuck in this place.”
“Are you sure? I really appreciate it. Thank you.”
“My pleasure. Look the traffic is starting to move again. You take care. Bye now.”
“Bye, this means a lot. Again thanks.”
As the car moves away I begin to walk towards the main building. The ferry port is as busy as ever and I slink behind a cabin. Dodge is crouched down and leaning against the wall making a spliff. He looks up.
“Not bad. What was it? Soldier or stag night?”
“Soldier. They were an old couple. Very patriotic.”
I pass him the cash. He lifts up his t-shirt, unzips a money belt, jams the notes into it and smiles.
“Good, euros too, I’m sick of going into that bureau de change. Want some of this or are you going back out?”
“I’ll have a smoke later, I’m on a roll.” I peek around the corner to make sure the old couple’s car has moved out of sight, “Coast’s clear, back to work.”
Dodge nods then continues building his spliff as I make my way back to the roadside.
Welcome to The Port of Calais, France. This has been my temporary residence and workplace for nearly two years now. Now when I say workplace it’s not the type of work the you are likely to have done yourself. If you had then I’d probably know you and if I know you then you won’t be wasting time reading. You’ll be out doing the lines. That’s our name for it, the lines. It’s what we do.
Each day I grab breakfast from the vending machine. Usually just a butty or something light as I’m generally ill from the night before. Depends what I’ve had. If I’ve just been on the ale then I’m not that bad but if I’ve been doing coke or pills I can’t stomach much. I make my way to the road that runs through the port. On that road are cars slowly making their way off the ferry from Dover to the customs area. In those cars are my targets, who’s money will make it’s way from their wallets to my pockets. It’s pretty easy, all I have to do is ask and they will provide. I tell then that I am stuck in France without any money and that I need to get back to see my wife/child/mother/father/uncle/brother/best friend/grandparents/whoever. I tell them that I am in the army/on a stag do/working for a charity/family holiday and that I have lost my bag/ticket/wallet/credit card/mobile phone/suitcase/friends or family. It all depends really. If it’s an elderly couple I am in the army in an attempt to appeal to their patriotism and civic pride. If it’s a car full of younger people, particularly lads around my age, then I am on a stag do and have been separated from the rest of the gang. I tell them about the wild time I’ve had and how I was held up at knife point or how a prostitute stole all my stuff. They understand because they are young lads too, they know how it goes so they help me out. It’s situational, I think on my feet. I take the ‘nos’ and the and the ‘sorry can’t helps’ and the ‘fuck offs’ exactly the same way. I smile and move on. There’s always more cars. Always.
At first I was surprised myself how easy it was. Walk up, tell a tale and get paid. A majority of people generally give me something and even if it is just few euros or some food it doesn’t matter, it all adds up. I usually give the food to some of the homeless that hang round the port. If anything it keeps them away from the roadside so I can get on with my work in peace. I don’t need those tramps getting in on the action. Unless of course it’s something nice, and provided it sealed, then in which case I’ll have it or give it to Dodge.
At the end of the day Dodge and me split what we’ve got and head back into town. We’ve found a nice little B&B. The owner Al, an old guy from Morocco or Tunisia or somewhere sells us good hash. We are fairly sure his nephews are bringing it in but I mind my own business. Dodge reckons he knows where he keeps his stash. He started poking about but I told him to leave it, we’re onto a good thing here. I’m getting hundreds of pound a day and I’m not arsed about a bit of pot. The lines are where the money is at.
I get closer to the road and I scan the row of cars. As they crawl along I spot my first possible benefactors. A couple, slightly older than me, maybe married. The girl looks a bit like my sister. That’s it, I know what I need to do. I approach the car, it’s window is wound down. That’s good, I don’t have to tap on it to get their attention. That pisses some people off that, it’s not like I bang on their windows but some of them get a bit annoyed, which doesn’t help my cause at all.
“Excuse me, look I’m really sorry to bother you. I wouldn’t normally even dream of asking but I’m in a bit of a situation and I was hoping you may be able to help me out?” I’ve said the exact same thing so many times it just rolls off the tongue.
The guy driving looks at me and smiles slightly.
“What’s up mate?”
“Well the thing is I’ve lost my case with all my stuff in, all I have is my passport. I’m trying to get back home, it’s my sister’s wedding you see. My mobile was in the case so I can’t even phone anyone. I just need to…”
I stop as the window slides up. He’s not having it. Next.
I spend the next few of hours on the roadside only stopping to have a piss or pass money onto Dodge. It was his thing this, he figured it out. A few years ago he was genuinely stranded in France after losing his bag. He said that he’d only asked three people and had enough money for his ticket but he decided to carry on. By the evening he had close to £400 and a bag full of food and drink. He didn’t even buy a ticket back until six months later. When he got back home he told me about it and the next day we both bought tickets to Calais. I pop back over to the UK every few weeks for a day or two, put some money in the bank, have a laugh with the lads then it’s back over here to the land of plenty. I love it.
It’s getting dark and I feel like a smoke and a few drinks. I’ve got a case of Moet back at the B&B and start thinking about jumping in a taxi. Dodge will have made enough by now so I head off to find him. He’ll either be further up the roadside or at the cabin, I’d call him but I’ve no phone on me. Once, mine started ringing the second after I’d told some Scottish blokes that I’d lost it with my other stuff. Two of them, big fuckers, jumped out the car and chased me round the port. Now we keep them at home just to be safe.
When I get to the cabin Dodge isn’t there. I’m about to check the road when I notice a chunk of hash on the floor. I pick it up, there’s at least an ounce of it and it’s the same stuff we normally get so it must be Dodge’s. I put it in my pocket and walk back to the road. Fancy leaving that behind. Dodge must be smashed. I hope he’s made some money and not been sat there smoking all day. Divvy!
I get to the road and hunt for Dodge. I can’t find him in any of our usual spots so I decide to go back to the cabin and have a pipe of hash. I’ve only taken a few steps when I hear his voice. He’s standing next to a green and white van and he’s holding his arms out. He looks stressed so I begin running over to see what’s going on. Just as I get next to the van I hear who Dodge is talking to before I can see them. There’s two voices, they’re shouting at Dodge and they sound angry as fuck. No idea what they are saying because they are yelling in Arabic. Dodge sees me and looks slightly relieved but I can see him trembling. What the fuck is going on? Then there’s a flash of black as I’m hit from behind.
I wake up in the back of the green and white van feeling groggy as fuck. My whole body is sore but it’s my throbbing head that bothers me the most. I’m thirsty and I can hear Dodge moaning. He’s curled up at the the other side of the van and there’s blood coming from his ear. The van is moving and it’s moving fast. I go to get up so I can speak to Dodge but I can’t even move. I’m tied up. I’m fucking tied up!
“Dodge! Dodge! What’s fucking going on!” My voice is croaky. My shout whispery and weak.
He groans but I can’t make out what he’s saying. My stomach rumbles and I wriggle a bit and to try to loosen the rope around my wrists and ankles. I can’t do it. The rope’s too strong and I’m too weak. I feel well and truly battered. Also, I need a piss.
The van doesn’t stop. Dodge doesn’t move and eventually I give up trying to hold it in and just let it flow. The warm piss soaks into my jeans and I enjoy the relief. It’s a moment of bliss in an otherwise shitty situation. The piss goes cold, the van continues on and on and on, I get tired and fall asleep.
It’s dark when I wake. The van carries on and my body still aches. I’m starving and mouth feels like it’s full of sand. How long it’s been? I call over to Dodge but he’s asleep. I try to move but it’s pointless, plus the ropes hurt when I try. At least my jeans are dry. How long has it been? So hungry. The van never stops and eventually I drift off to the sound of the creaking van and the rumbling of the road.
As the rattle of the door wakes me up I see three faces staring at me. Three familiar faces. Al the B&B owner looks angry and he is holding a bottle of Moet. His two nephews are smiling. One of them is tall and thin with a mop of curly hair and the other is a big guy, muscly and hard looking. They both start banging the floor of the van.
“Wake up English shit, time to get out,” the thin one shouts. Before I can utter a word the big one has grabbed my feet and is pulling me out the van. My already sore head bashes against a crate and drop onto the floor in the sand. The sand?
I’m in a fucking desert!
I crane my head to see where exactly I am but all I can see is more sand, no people, buildings, no anything. Just sand. Then I hear a thud and look back to the van. Dodge is on the floor, he shakes his head and mouths the word ‘sorry’.
Why am I in a fucking desert and why is Dodge sorry?
The answer soon comes in the form of a bottle of Moet to the ribs courtesy of Al.
“You English fuck. I let you stay in my house and I treat you well and you steal? Why?”
“Stupid fuck.” My ribs crack after another serving from Al. That’s my fucking Moet that. Why is Al twatting me with a bottle of my own champagne in a desert? What the fuck?
“It was me Al,” Dodge’s mouth is bloody and messed up as he splutters. “I took it Al, I’m sorry. It was a mistake. Al please.” Dodge is crying. What’s he done?
“You both stole my hash you fucks. You both now pay you thieving shitheads”. At first I’m just happy that Al doesn’t hit me again, but then he reaches into his jacket pocket, leans forward and holds a knife close to my face.
“Mate, Al, look this has nothing to do with me. Dodge told you. Dodge tell him again! Al stop, please.” Now I’m crying.
Al laughs and pops the Moet open, the cork lands in the sand, he takes a swig then tips the bottle over my my head. I feel it pour onto my face and as some goes in my mouth I realise how thirsty I really am. I feel like lapping up the champagne before it hits the sand. Al takes the knife and cuts the ropes on my ankles and wrists. I keep still as he walks over to Dodge, kicks him twice in the stomach and then cuts the ropes from him.
“Now you go home boys. Now you fuck off to England and stay there. I give you this as a gift.” Al drops the bottle of Moet onto the sand. I indistinctively grab it before it spills. Al and his nephews start laughing.
“Goodbye English.” Al chimes as he climbs into the van. The nephews take a final look at the broken messes that are Dodge and me. They are both grinning at us as they get into the van. The engine starts, there’s a cloud of sand and I watch it drive off into the desert.
Hungry, thirsty and feeling like shit I lie there motionless.
I think I might be stuck.