It’s early, around five in the morning. The sun is rising, but I can’t feel anything, nothing at all. I have no idea what happened last night. I know where I am, but I don’t know how I got there. I really need God, but he’s likely quite busy. My clothes are wet and I’m beginning to feel the chill of an English morning. The strawberry fields where I’ve been working for months now seem to blend into one. I’ve fallen in love. Hard.
I arrived in England three months earlier. Made it to Belgium by train, then caught a ferry from Oostende. I’d already been in Oostende before, once, a couple of years earlier, and I’d already tried to cross border illegally, but I hadn’t made it. I got cold and scared. I chose to go back.
In Dover I bought a ticket to Higham. The man at the ticket office didn’t understand my destination until I wrote it down for him. I asked him when the train was leaving. In a few minutes, he said. I ran towards the station, tripped and fell, smashing the two jam jars I’d brought with me. I realised I had no chance to make it to the train, so I went back to the ticket office and asked the man when the next one would be. He grinned at me sarcastically and told me the trains went every half hour. I cursed him in my mind and smiled at him amusedly.
I try to get up, but I can’t. This time I’m the one who feels shattered in a million tiny pieces. They have a better word for it in English: “numb”. It’s as if somebody had ripped out a whole chunk of my body. The sun is now big and red.
On the train, I asked the other passengers where I should change to get to Higham. I’d pronounced it the way you write it. An elderly lady figured out what I meant and told me that the correct pronunciation was “Haai-aam”. It was pouring down when I finally got there. Our lodgings were caravans. When I heard that, I thought that having being born a rom might have turned out to be an advantage.
We were almost all eastern European, some were Irish. We worked in the fields. The vast majority were students trying to make some money. That’s where I met Agnieska: in Rochesterm on a bridge. She was beautiful. Polish, blonde, blue eyes. She looked like she belonged to another world. We went to the bar and I asked for two beers. The barman was in tears of laughter: I’d asked for two bears. At that time, beer and bears sounded the same to me. Agnieska laughed to, but it was a different laugh. It was a good laugh.
At the time, I was pretty skint. Her dad, on the other hand, was the mayor of a small Polish border town. In the space of two weeks, I’d moved into her caravan. There were five of us: two Russian girls, Agnieska and a friend of hers. I remember I found it amusing to think that perhaps this is how harems were born. I was crazy about her. She was calm, and good. We slept in a tiny bed and the shower was outside. We didn’t have anything, but when I was with her I felt good. On weekends we’d go for walks and make plans for the future, like emigrating to New Zealand.
One morning, Agnieska scratched herself on a strawberry crate. By evening, the cut looked infected. The next morning I took her to A&E, but she was just a Polish girl in England, and nobody bothered with her. She got septicaemia and died four days later. On the day that she died, I remember listening to the radio to improve my English while in the fields. They were talking about whether it was right to put a dog on death row for having killed a cat.
That evening, I heard Agnieska had died. I lay in that field and tried to stop remembering. I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to do anything.
It was Valerie who found me. She and her partner Nicole were our French caravan neighbours. They spent all night looking for me. She stayed close to me, she held me and she cried. I cried too, even though I didn’t know how to. Nobody on the radio or the TV ever spoke about how Agnieska had died. The entire following week was devoted to the dog on death row and fox hunting.
Many years have passed since the night I’ve tried so hard to forget. A few days ago, while listening to Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson before the Brexit referendum, I decided, for the first time, to let the memories of that night float back to me.
Translation done by Laura Gozzi