She must translate them for me, what with being written in Romanian. Teodora is from Bucharest. She lives with her mother, who translates for peanuts and cleans the houses of hedge funders in Notting Hill for little more. She is prone to depression. So would you be, if your parents went missing in the tyranny of Ceausescu.
Teodora and her mother live in a hostel off Queensway. It’s not much fun. The prime minister calling her an “educational tourist” didn’t help. Nor did his “Go Home Or Face Arrest” vans. Nor did Farrago saying a trillion Romanians would soon be living next door. Boys on baby bikes yell obscenities at her. They call her “gypo” or an “illegal” and threaten to “grass you up”.
School is a gentler, kinder world. The tutor set loves her, especially after she gave a talk about Romany culture. And she’s good at football. Midfield. She’s in our five-a-side team. Ronald Crumlin discusses tactics with her.
“Your Berbatov is great!” She smiles and gently points out to the clot that Dimitar comes from Bulgaria – another UKIP favourite.
On Parents’ Evening, her mother looks haunted. She’s very worried about “papers”. Two days later, a secretary delivers a brown envelope in registration. Doom.
Teodora and her mother must leave my wonderful country. Why? They’re “illegals”. Teodora and her mother will be dragged away at dawn by unsentimental thugs with clubs. They will smash open the door and she’ll be dragged, shivering and weeping, on to a train or plane to go back to where she came from. Otherwise we’ll be swamped by Romanians or Bulgarians or Martians and or “gypos”. I can’t tell her the news. She probably knows. She smiles and says thank you. I delete her name from a database, like she never happened.
She’s absent on Monday. I feel compelled to tell the class why. They are outraged. They decide to write to Parliament. Ronald is inconsolable.
“She was alright, she was,” he sighs all tears. “She was my sweet’art”. He wonders if he can get the Boys round.
A month later we get a parcel from Romania. Presents. I get a cigar box, the class a volume of Romanian poetry, and Crumlin a kiss and a picture of Gheorghe Hagi. Who he? Ronald Googles him. He now supports Romania.
“I might emigrate, sir. This fucking country!”
This is no time for profanity, Ronald. Or sentiment. We’re no longer “a soft touch”. We’re well hard. UnKind even. This is the New World Order.
Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.