We got off the plane in Manchester, the rain blasting sideways across the glittering black tarmac.
We didn’t say anything to each other.
Beneath dead eyes lurked dark rings from lack of sleep and no lack of duty free booze.
We went through passport control, walked past the luggage carousel without stopping.
There was no luggage for us.
We waited, shivering, at the taxi rank.
A car pulled up.
We climbed wearily inside.
“Evening folks! Where are we going then?”
“Ok! Which one?”
He got the message.
We drove in silence for a while, but he was one of those drivers who don’t really do silence. Questions and chat bubbled to the surface.
“So! Just back off your holidays then?”
“Shame to come back to this weather! Been anywhere nice?”
“L.A.? Wow! Fantastic! How long were you over there for?”
“Hmm. Let me see… about six hours.”
“Sorry? I thought you said…”
“Six hours. We were there for six hours.”
“Blimey! Long way to go for six hours!”
“You could say that.”
It’s twenty minutes to the hotel…”
“*Sigh* Alright then. It’s like this…”
I’ve not travelled much in my life.
I’ve always fancied it, but I started work at sixteen, got a mortgage at twenty, and any money that was left over I seem to have pissed up against the wall.
My wife, Nails, has been all over the place.
We watch travel shows on the T.V. and she’ll say, “been there, been there, been there.”
You make choices.
Either save for a house and go to the pub a lot, or you see the world.
Unfortunately I chose the dull option.
One day, before we were married, Nails was doing the ‘Been there been there been there’ routine.
She noticed that I didn’t have much to say.
“Haven’t you been anywhere, Lucifer?”
“Nope. France when I was a kid, Cyprus, which was touristy, Crete, which was violent and touristy.”
“Don’t you want to travel?”
“Yeah, I’d love to, but it always seems to be low on the list of priorities. Shit like washing machines and carpets seem to pip Kathmandu in the necessity stakes at the moment.”
“We should go somewhere!”
“Los Angeles! I’ve got family there! We could stay with them and save on accommodation, book it all online, it’ll be great!”
I wasn’t sure. I didn’t earn much, she earned even less, but…
“Ok. We’ll go to L.A.”
Twelve hour shifts, seven days a week, three months.
I saved and saved, applied for a credit card, trawled the net for hotels and cool places to visit.
That whole Summer was a scorcher, but all I saw was a flickering computer screen.
Nevertheless, I started to get excited.
I’d watched a lot of T.V. as a kid, and a lot of what I saw on T.V. was America.
A lot of what I’d seen on T.V. was L.A.
The three week holiday would take us to L.A., California, Yosemite National Park, Las Vegas.
You bet I was starting to to get excited.
The day of the holiday came.
Nails and I took the train to Manchester, had drinks in the airport then boarded a 747 bound for LAX with $2000 in cash and travellers cheques in my bag.
We had twelve hours in the sky before we touched down, twelve hours of new books, excited chatter, Whiskey and sodas and inflight movies.
After a few hours I noticed that Nails had gone quiet.
“Hey, anything the matter, Nails?” I asked around a gobful of fish shaped crackers.
“Nothing, Lucifer. It’s Ok. Eat your crackers.”
I washed the crackers down with a Whiskey and Soda.
“Come, on, love! Somethings wrong! What is it?”
“Nothing. It’s just…”
“Out with it, Nails!”
“Well I’m just thinking that maybe I should have applied for an American visa, just to be on the safe side.”
I laughed. “We don’t need visas love. UK citizens don’t need ’em!”
“Yeah, but you know I said I worked in the US for a bit?”
“Yup. You were a nanny. So what?”
“I was working illegally.”
“Shit.” I took a drink.
“For three years.”
Whiskey covered the back of the headrest in front of me.
“Three years???” I hissed, dabbing my mouth. Now I was worried.
“Yeah, sorry. Didn’t really think that it might be a problem. I’m still sure it’s going to be ok though.”
“Erm… ninety percent sure.”
“Ninety percent sure means you’re ten percent sure that we’re fucked.”
“Not fucked. Just… they might be ask me a couple of questions.”
“Oh. Well. Fuck it. There’s nothing we can do now. Let’s have another drink.”
The seatbelt light came on.
“We can’t have another drink, Lucifer. We’re going down.”
“I’d rather you didn’t put it like that.”
We stood at the luggage carousel.
We were on our own.
“Where are our bags, Lucifer? We’ve been here ages!”
“I don’t know where they are.” I felt queasy.
“We’d better go ask somebody. Let’s go through passport control.”
We joined the queue.
I handed them my passport, they tapped a few keys, scowled at me, stamped my book, waved me on.
Nails handed them her passport, they tapped a few keys, scowled at her… tapped more keys… tapped more keys, made a discreet phone call.
A guard appeared.
He took her passport and lead us both to another waiting area.
I knew it was bad.
The waiting area was full of tired looking Mexicans.
It felt like the knackered coffee machine in the corner was only giving out luke-warm despair.
We sat together silently and waited.
At the front desk I saw a man in a uniform with a weasely moustache pick up Nails’ passport.
His eyebrows raised.
A grin formed under his scrubby tash.
He looked up, eyes searching the crowd.
“Well what have we got here?” he drawled. He flicked his head, indicating that she should approach the counter.
She got up.
So did I.
I ignored him.
“Looks like you overstayed your welcome on your last visit, missy!”
Nails looked down and whispered something.
“What was that, Missy? Couldn’t hear you!”
I didn’t know if she was saying it to me or weasel tash.
I had to say something.
“Excuse me, but I just want to…”
“Who the Hell are you, son?”
“Well, I’m her boyfriend.”
“And have you been working illegally in the United States of America?”
“Erm, no, this is my first visit.”
“Then get the Hell out of here!”
Weasel Tash came around the counter, unclipped a pair of handcuffs from his belt and slapped them on my girlfriend’s wrists.
I couldn’t believe what the fuck I was seeing.
He started to lead her away.
Nails started sobbing.
I stood in there way.
“Just wait a minute…” I said.
Weasel Tash dropped into this weird crouch.
One arm shot out towards me, as if to hold me at bay.
The other hand dropped to his holster, unclipped the strap with a flick of his thumb and curled around the wooden grip of the pistol.
Things seemed to be happen very quickly in America.
“Just wait a minute,” I persisted. “There seems to be some terrible mistake!”
Seems to be some terrible mistake?
What a stupid thing to say.
For whatever reason, British people become some freakish parody of Hugh Fucking Grant when they are faced with Foreign Bureaucracy.
I don’t know why, because a plummy accent and a nice turn of phrase has never helped anyone except in the movies, and I’ve never seen a movie where Hugh Grant is so frightened that he loses little drips of piss into the front of his jaunty palm-print holiday shorts while his girlfriend is in handcuffs and some frustrated T.J. Hooker just wants Hugh to give him an excuse to discharge his weapon right into his face.
Get out of my way, son,”drawled Weasel Tash.
He pulled the hand gun half way out of it’s holster.
The mexicans were watching with interest.
My girlfriend was quietly having a nervous breakdown.
I stepped out of the way.
Weasel Tash smirked and dragged Nails down a long corridor.
I saw her tear streaked eyes look back helplessly, then she was gone.
I was on my own.
I had $2000, Nails had the itinerary.
I had no luggage.
My girlfriend was being interrogated by the U.S. immigration authorities.
I had a piss patch the size of a Rich Tea biscuit on the front of my shorts.
Through the huge plate glass windows in front of me I could see palm trees, polluted skies, taxi cabs, Americans, America.
Various options were presented to me.
1. I could find out what had happened to Nails and try to rescue her.
2. I had a phone number of Nails’ cousin who we were supposed to be staying with that night, so I could ring that.
3. I could take the money, jump in a cab, and spend $2000 on fast living for three weeks on my own.
Only one of these options really seemed attractive and fun, but I thought I’d better try the other two first.
I phoned the number.
I heard a ringtone, heard it pick up, put some coins into the slot.
“Hee hee hee!”
“Hello? Who’s that?”
“Hee hee hee!”
“Er… this is Lucifer, Nails’ boyfriend. Your cousin, from England We’re supposed to be staying with you tonight?”
“Hee hee hee!”
In the one minute and thirty four seconds that the phone call lasted I discovered that the phone number I had was wrong, and in fact belonged to a Mexican drug addict who was off his tits on crack.
It didn’t really help my situation.
I had two more options left.
I approached the help desk, told my story.
They told me that they would look into it, and that they would put a call out for me when they knew anything.
I said thank you and went to the bar.
The bartender was the biggest, blackest man I had ever seen in my entire life.
He must have been nearly seven feet tall, easily thirty two stone.
He was very, very black.
“Good afternoon, sir. What can I getcha?”
I’d like gin and tonic please. A large one.”
“Comin’ right up.”
He made it with Tanqueray gin and a thick wedge of lime.
It was very nice.
So I had another.
I spent a few of those crisp dollar bills from my bag in that bar, and had just decided to spend quite a few more when I heard my name called over the speaker system.
The echoing tinny voice instructed me to go to the Help desk.
I slurped the last of my drink, tipped the giant black man and made for the desk.
Another giant black man was waiting for me.
You wait for one giant black man to come into your life and suddenly two come along at once.
I thought about taking his photograph, but considering the circumstances I didn’t think it would be wise.
This giant black man looked very sympathetic.
“Mr Lucifer, I’m real sorry, but the decision has been made to deny your girlfriend Nails access to the United States of America. You however are free to go, but we do have a ticket for you on the same flight out of here, should you wish to take it.”
He held up the ticket.
So I had two choices.
I felt the bulge of the money in my bag. I could see the heat shimmering in the early evening haze outside those plate glass windows, and I realised that I’d not been outside yet, not taken a deep breath of unfiltered, smoggy, spicy LA air. All I’d seen was the crappy airport and two giant black men.
I sighed, and I took the ticket.
I was the second person on the plane.
The first was Nails.
They had brought her onto the plane under armed escort, and only uncuffed her when she was in her seat.
She was a wreck.
I sat next to her, put my arm around her and let her cry.
She was still crying when we took off, exactly six hours after we had first landed.
The seatbelt light went ping and an air hostess hurried over. She had Nails’ passport in a heavy manilla envelope. She looked very sympathetic.
“What drinks would you like?”
I wanted a whiskey.
Nails wanted a gin.
The air hostess returned with ten bottles of each and put them on the spare seat next to me, along with mixers and fish shaped crackers.
We sat in silence and drank our drinks.
We watched a crappy movie, I can’t remember which one.
We ate a crappy meal, then we got quietly drunk and passed into an exhausted, restless sleep.
When we landed we had spent twenty four of the last thirty hours in the air.
In the same underwear.
The taxi driver dropped us at a chain motel.
He didn’t have much to say after I’d told him our story.
We checked in, showered, went to bed.
Put on that same underwear.
I think it was the underwear that was the turning point.
“Right! Get you’re stuff, Nails. We’re getting out of here.”
“Where are we going Lucifer?” She looked like a tired ghost.
The taxi pulled up at the airport.
We got out, walked to the ticket desk.
I turned to Nails.
“Have you ever worked illegally in Italy?”
“Have you ever been to Italy before?”
I turned back to the ticket desk.
“Excuse me, miss. When does that Venice flight leave?”
“In just under two hours, sir.”
“Are there any seats left?”
“Good. I’ll take two.”
We went to the bureau de change and swapped dollars for lire.
We bought a guide book, booked a hotel from it over the phone in the departure lounge and told the lost luggage people to forward our cases to the hotel.
We then shopped for clothes in duty free, bought sunglasses and hats with the labels still attached and put it all on the credit card.
Then we ran for our plane.
Three hours later we skimmed across the Lido di Jesolo in a speed boat taxi. We stood up in the back and felt the heat of the Italian sun and the chill spray on our faces as we raced across the aquamarine sea towards Venice.
We wore our new cloths and our new sunglasses.
Nails looked across at me.
“Lucifer, after all that’s happened, how can you look so happy?”
I looked back at her and squeezed her hand.
“Because I’m on my holidays, Nails. Because I’m on my holidays.”