Friday, 4 March 2016

People I've Met On The Road – Tracey

Needing To Get Away
"So what made you come to Romania, Tracey?" I asked.

"Oh, well I needed to get away," she replied.

Tracey was wringing her hands as she answered. I could tell straight away that she was not comfortable with the question. I needed to change the subject.

I had met Tracey in a shop, while I was trying to get a spark plug for my motorbike. The bike was due a service and had been playing up since the south of France – coughing and spluttering. I don't think many Romanians had seen a four cylinder bike in those days. The police had stopped me when it back-fired loudly, scaring a load of old people in a marketplace. My command of Romanian was almost nil. Tracey having been there for three months was quite an accomplished speaker. She stepped in and helped, explaining my problem to the police then to a shopkeeper in a hardware shop. She hadn't made a big thing about it but she'd brought me to the workshop half a mile away, where we now sat.

"It's so nice of you to help out Tracey," I said, sticking to what seemed a safer subject. "Please don't feel you need to hang around, wasting your day. I'm sure I can manage now."

"He says they'll be here with one in an hour. I'm not fussed waiting. Best I wait any-road. Happen there could be problems if that bloke's ordered wrong bloody part or whatnot."

Tracey's Northern English accent made me feel nostalgic for home somehow. I was glad she wanted to hang around but I would have to avoid questioning her too hard, I reminded myself. Yet I felt stuck for what else was there to talk about.

"I used to live up north, you know?" I said eventually. "Birmingham."

"Birmingham?" she laughed. "Birmingham's bleeding midlands."

"Yeah you're right," I said, shrinking uncomfortably. "Sorry I suppose that's a typically daft southerner thing to say, isn't it?"

"I wouldn't know," she said seriously, "I can't say as I really know any southern people."

I was really messing this up. She'd obviously got me marked out as some kind of private school educated idiot with no idea about the geography of my own country north of Cambridge.

"Yeah I rode all around the midlands years back. Fixing my old Triumph on factory forecourts, greased up to the eyeballs, freezing cold, jeezus. Broke down every trip nearly. Bits used to fall off left right and centre. Always someone came out and helped me though. Seems to run in the veins up there - bikes. Especially British bikes."

I was waffling. Worse still I was putting on a bit of a midlands accent. She'd hate that. Talking bollerks because I felt like a bit of an idiot in her eyes. She may have been from up north but she wasn't the slightest bit interested in bikes, I could see that.

"I'm not exactly a southerner you know," I said. "I mean my parents are but I was pretty much brought-up abroad."

"Oh yeah, where abouts abroad?" She seemed a little less cross now.

"Singapore, Malaysia, Germany. My Dad was an avionics engineer in the Army."

"Ex-pat life eh? Must have been great," said Tracey. "I've always wanted to travel. That's how come I'm here really. Well, that and me uncle."

"Your uncle?" I asked.

False Uncle Syndrome
"I call him that but he's not me uncle really. A friend of me dad's just. I've been... working in his shop." Tracey was delving into her handbag. I assumed she was about to produce a photograph until she pulled out a handkerchief and blew her nose hard. I waited while she snuffled and put away the handkerchief again. "I had to leave," she said, "the bastard accused me of nicking stuff from the shop."

"but you hadn't?"

"Had I buggery! He made it up, the bastard."

"I see. So why did he make it up - did he want to get rid of you?"

"He wanted more of me than I was prepared to give, if you catch my drift? He seemed to think if I were working for him as he could have whatever he wanted off me. But I could deal with that. I was well used to fighting off lads at the tyre place where I used to work. What I couldn't deal with was me dad."

"What did your dad do?" I asked. I felt nervous asking but it was the obvious question.

"Fat Freddie – that's me dad's friend – told me dad that I'd been flirting with him. Giving him the come-on, you know? He told me dad he'd have had to give me the sack before his wife saw something, regardless of if me dad paid him for what he said I nicked. Bloody lying bastard!"

"And your dad believed him?"

"Told me to get out of the house. Said he'd not have a harlot in his house. Me mam cried but she never stood up for me. I stayed a few nights at me cousin's. I was upset at first, then just angry. I went round and got some stuff. I had a passport thank God, from a school trip a few years back that I never actually went on. I had three hundred quid out of me dad's drawer. I know I shouldn't have but I wanted to hurt him, and I knew how he loves his money. I didn't even know where Romania was. I thought I must be in Italy when I got here."

"Blimey!" I said. "So how did you get here?"

Escape to Romania
"Hitching," said Tracey. "Buses here and there but hitching mostly. At the beginning anyway. Hitching's good 'cos you learns the language quicker and people help you. I've been amazed how kind people have been. I'm living above a teashop where I work evenings. The woman gave me a lift and says she was looking for someone to teach her and her kids English. She wants to go to live in England, see? I told her not to bother!"

Tracey laughed for the first time since I'd met her.

"When will you go back, do you think?" I asked cautiously.

"I'm never going back, me!" said Tracey, with certainty. "No way. That's all in the past. I'm moving on now. I'm going to San Francisco."

If You're Going to San Francisco
"Wow! I said. So you know people there then?"

"Oh aye. My brother's a movie star over there. Big mates with Tom Cruise! Course I don't, soft bugger. How would someone like me know someone living in San Francisco? But I wanna see the Golden Gate Bridge. Used to have a poster on my wall as a kid. Maybe it's still there – the poster I mean. Me teashop lady says I could get a job as an English waitress. Apparently there's a call for that sort of thing in San Francisco. So I'm saving up for the airfare. Got it half-saved already. Come with me if you like."

I laughed. Then I turned. She was not smiling and I was immediately filled with embarrassed discomfort. I had offended her.

"We'd... well we'd need visas," I stammered. Tracey sat quietly. She was wringing her hands again. She sniffed. I wished I had handkerchief to offer her.

"You've got a girlfriend, haven't you?"

I felt taken aback. I hadn't told her that. And she wasn't a steady girlfriend anyway – not in my mind. But I'd hesitated now, so she'd know that she was right.

"I'm looking to move on too," I said. "I'll write to her. She'll be expecting it. Probably she'll be relieved."

"Happen this'll be your spark plug arriving on this here cart. I'd better be going. Cafe's opening again in half-hour."

If you would like to read the bestselling travel book 'Long Road, Hard Lessons' by Mark Swain, you can find this along with his two collections of short stories on Amazon, Smashwords etc. 
In the UK his books can also be found in all Waterstones Bookstores.