Saturday, 11 September 2010

A666 revisited

"Yes, I think this economy will be easy to fix.
Just put it out on the A666"
(with apologies to Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited)

I got a message today from Etsuko, we'll call her. She left weeping copiously the week before all her teachers left too. The best thing about her message was not so much that she had passed her Business English exam, which I expected, but that she was so pleased and she got in touch.  This means it was all real, then, despite the unreal management and the surreal bureaucracy.

Hearing from Etsuko put me in mind, by contrast, with someone I sometimes meet out on the A666. This is Mahad, who is not young, literate, and highly educated.  He's an ex-merchant seaman from Somalia who came in the sixties, and he was in a class of mine that took place about ten tears ago in a prefab that was like a damp cardboard box. Mahad has always called me Derek, I don't know why, because it's not my name.

Mahad could remember Beatles' songs, and he could imitate a camel in a way that alarmed some classmates and had others helpless with laughter. He could place a bet, I knew well, because I often saw him going into our local betting shop, but he couldn't find the page if you said "Go to page 14."

Once, on a day when the only people present in the class were men, Mahad informed us he would really like to be married only for a month at a time.  Encouraged by the controversy this created, he went on to tell us that when he had been working in the UAE he had been selected by an American woman to be her lover. This was highly illegal but apparently she occupied a powerful position - apparently in more ways than one - and was not to be denied. Mahad had open-mouthed attention as he told us in graphic terms how he had been, as it were, wrung dry. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was fear of the authorities, it was never clear, but this had something to do with how he came to head for the UK, and thus why he he got to know Yellow Submarine

Could he find page 14 now? I doubt it, though I did do my best.  He walks with a stick these days, and his eyesight is failing. But he's still out there on the A666, neatly turned out with a little round cap, calling me Derek and asking if I'm still at the college. I haven't seen him lately, but you couldn't think of someone more different from Etsuko, whose message came on Facebook from Japan today.

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