As the pilot announced the descent into Heathrow, Benny wished he had opted for the much cheaper Ukranian Airways rather than expensive British Airways. The food had been unappetising and the stewardesses had mostly ignored him, especially after he requested a third drink. Never mind, he would recoup the cost of his air ticket within a month of landing in London. The immigration queue took longer than expected and Benny wondered if the corpulent man in a smelly jacket behind him, holding a large mobile device, could be persuaded to send a message to Jason who would be waiting outside. No, let the bugger wait, Benny decided, as he fingered his shiny new jacket. If only Airtel hadn’t demanded a deposit for international roaming, he could have called Jason from his mobile.
‘What do you plan to do here sir?’ the immigration officer asked politely.
Benny managed to make a hash of his prepared speech. ‘I want to see UK. I know about England and Scotland and Ireland and I come to see everything.’ As his bowels tightened and he swallowed his articles and burped out conjunctions, a funny feeling rose to his throat. Would the officer see through his miserable charade and deport him, Benny wondered.
‘What’s your occupation back home Sir?’
‘I am credit officer at Amrao Bank.’ It made sense, since tourist visas are usually issued to folks with solid, verifiable jobs, who would want to return home before their visas expired.
The officer looked up and grinned, as if they had known all along that the letter from Amrao Bank, which had been submitted months ago along with the visa application, was a forgery. As Benny steeled himself for the handcuffs that were on the way, cursing Jason for his pig-headed advice, he heard the words, ‘Welcome to the UK, enjoy your stay here.’ Benny nearly screamed with relief.
Outside the terminal, Benny would have hugged Jason if it hadn’t been for Jason’s scruffy appearance and nervous face. A man who had been in London for the past nine months and who was an assistant manager could surely be expected to dress better and look happier? ‘Have you been waiting for long?’ Benny politely asked Jason as they carefully scrutinised each other.
‘Not a problem mate,’ Jason responded in an accent which had undergone substantial change and Benny immediately felt better.
‘Where’s your car?' Benny demanded of Jason.
‘In the parking lot. Where else?’ Jason laughed and all was well.
As Benny sank into the luxurious seat next to the driver, he reached out and punched Jason on his shoulder and said, ‘you’ve got to tell me how you did all this, buy such a nice car, get a good job.’ There was no response from Jason who continued to have the same strange look. ‘Never mind, there’s plenty of time.’
Are we having dinner at a restaurant?’ After a few seconds, Benny added, ‘entirely up to you. Either way, you are paying for my meal.’ He laughed at his own joke. It was easy to laugh about food, now that every meal would most certainly include a meat dish.
Once they hit the motorway and saw other cars whizz past across multiple lanes, Jason exulted, ‘I can’t believe I made it. I am in London finally!’
‘I am working tonight,’ Jason informed Benny all of a sudden, breaking the silence.
‘Night shift? Aren’t you an Assistant Manager?’
‘It’s up to me, how and when I want to work.’
‘You mean, you can choose? Well, then don’t work tonight!’
‘This is a cab.’ Jason looked deadpan as he stared ahead and focussed on driving.
‘You mean you hired this car to pick me up?’
‘No, this car is a cab. I drive this car.’
‘Yes, I can see that you are driving this car. Jason, what are you saying?’
‘I drive this cab. They call it a mini-cab, it’s a private taxi, not a black cab.’
‘You mean you are a taxi driver?’
‘Yes, not a regular taxi driver, but a mini-cab driver.’
Why did you lie to me, you bastard? Benny almost screamed. Then Benny slowly said, ‘I’m sure you make enough to eat.’
‘Yes, these days I do.’
‘So when you promised to help me find a job, is this what you meant? A taxi driver’s job?’
Jason gave wry smile and said, ‘It’s not easy to be hired as a cab driver. Takes time. So............. maybe........ you could start working in a ...........restaurant?’
As Benny maintained his stunned silence, Jason said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m around, you’ll never go hungry. Also, there’s a temple near my place. They give free meals in the evenings.’
‘At a temple?’
‘Yes, vegetarian, but filling.’
‘Sounds good,’ Benny said and tried to smile.