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 presently live in a hostel off Queensway. It’s not much fun. Boys on baby bikes yell obscenities at them. They call her “gypo” and threaten to “grass” her – as they are taught to do by the tabloids.
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. She’s in our five-a-side team. Ronald Crumlin is very keen to discuss tactics with her.
“Your Berbatov is great!” She smiles and gently points out to the clot that Dimitar comes from Bulgaria…
It’s Parents’ Evening. Her mother looks haunted. She’s very worried about “papers”.
Two days later, a secretary delivers a brown envelope to me in registration. Doom. Teodora and her mother must leave the school ... and London and my wonderful country. Now! Why? She’s an illegal alien, what our prime minister calls an “educational tourist”.
We are no longer a “soft touch” and the right wing need placating. 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 put weeping on a boat or train to go back to where she came from. Otherwise we’ll be swamped by trillions of Romanians and Bulgarians and Martians and “gypos”. I can’t tell her the news. I just say goodbye.
She’s absent on Monday. I delete her name on a computer, like she never happened. I feel compelled to tell the class, who are outraged. They decide to write to Parliament. Sabrina is inconsolable. Crumlin too.
“She was alright, she was,” he sighs – and wonders if he can get the Boys round. No, Ronald. She’s gone.
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. “Ted” is his new pen friend.
“I might emigrate!”
But this is no time for sentiment. We’re no longer “a soft touch”. Rather the opposite. We’re well hard. Unkind even. This is the New World Order.