“Kiss me. You drop.”
I recognised the phone he was holding out as my own. I felt sheepish as I saw how I’d misjudged him. He was trying to say ‘excuse me’, but his accent and the effort of chasing me had conspired to turn his words into something I was far too conventional to want to hear from another man.
“Thank you.” I took the phone. “Look, are you OK?”
I asked because I felt the need to atone for making him run. He was panting a bit, but he didn’t look any the worse for it.
“Fine, thank you.” As he spoke, I took in his faded T-shirt and jeans that looked about to fall apart. There was something dull about his black skin and he looked thin.
“When did you last eat?” It felt like a strange question to ask. I couldn’t be seeing true starvation. Not in Folkestone. Could I?
He shrugged. “Calais.”
I could fill the gaps. He’d slipped out of a migrant camp and hidden on a truck, or perhaps walked the Channel Tunnel. I’d heard of people doing it. Either way, my duty as a British subject was to take him to the police.
Instead, I took him to McDonalds and brought him a burger and chips. He fell on the burger as if he’d never seen one before. Perhaps he hadn’t. I had no clue about what Europe looked like from his perspective.
“I wonder if this makes me an accessory to a crime.” I spoke to fill an awkward silence. I doubted he’d be able to understand me.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
He paused between mouthfuls.
“Sudan. One year to France.” He gulped down the last of the burger and smiled ruefully. He needed a dentist. “Dream come England. Get job. Not sit Calais three years.”
He started on the chips.
“Am here now. God is good.”
I wanted to ask him how he got here but if I asked him, he might confess to a crime. Instead of keeping my mouth shut, I asked, “Do you have a job?”
Of course he didn’t. I wanted to bite my tongue as soon as it slipped out.
He shook his head. “Not yet. You know someone need good boy?”
I’m pretty happy sitting at a desk and going home to Sarah and the kids at five thirty. I found myself wishing I’d been more ambitious. If I was running a business of my own, I might have something to offer him. If he’d dedicated four years just to get here, he wasn’t exactly workshy.
He shrugged again. He must have faced worse disappointments.
“I go London,” he said. “Plenty work there. Building, security, houseboy. Anything.”
He finished he last chip, rummaged in the packet with his finger and liked the last fragments off it. “Maybe I work McDonalds. Make burger. Good smell, people happy. Good job!”
“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe.”
I slid the chair back and we went outside.
“Which way London?” he askd.
“You can catch the bus by the shopping centre, just up that road.” I pointed up West Terrace.
“No bus. No money. I walk.”
“But London must be sixty miles!”
He flashed another grin of crooked teeth. “Used to walking.”
We shook hands. I watched him go, silently wishing him well.
A man walking an Alsatian stopped beside me.
“You alright there, mate?” It was a local voice, strangely foreign to the thoughts it pulled me out of. “He bothering you, was he?”
“No, no. Not at all.”
“Good to hear it. Hard enough to get a decent job already, without the bloody immigrants doing it for half the wage. If they work at all. He’d probably fiddling the benefits and hassling people all day.”
I said nothing. He probably took my silence for agreement.