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London stories.

This is a small series of stories about the life and adventures in London of a Russian-speaking emigrant

The lined cloak.
       2. Nobody and a millionaire.
       3. London survival guide.
       4. An oath to a fictitious bride.
       5. Failed bride.
       6. The dream requires sacrifice.
       7. Kitchenporter.
       8. On the run from London, from the heat.
       9. About one stupid cyclist

First story published in full
B. Draguns

The approximate number
of words 29 000

Sketch of a cover,
proposed by the author


the lThe lined cloakkTthe lined cloak

      I don’t think many people would consider doing what I did. At the end of November 2005, I came to England withnot having here no relatives or acquaintances, and I didn’t have a single English pounds in my pocket.
      Winter in London as it turned out is not very cold. But, occasionally, the temperatures can drop below zero, and the climate is quite humid, making you feel very colder.
      I came to the foreign country wearing a trench coat which I had bought in a second-hand shop for cheap. It looked quite decent, and it had a ‘made in England’ label. I was wearing a wide brim hat and grey a suit, a shirt, and a tie under my trench coat.
      I carried a laptop bag with my small personal items and relied on a DIY walking cane because of my bad leg.
      On day three, as i noticed, tourists saw me as a real Englishman and frequently took pictures of me. One couple from Japan or China asked if I didn’t mind them taking my picture with Big Ben in the background. They didn’t offer me any money as I apparently didn’t look like someone who needed handouts.
      Once on a gusty day when the thermometer showed zero, I noticed that all natives hid their faces in their scarves, only leaving their eyes uncovered. Some perched their knitted beanie hats on their heads and left their eyes and mouths uncovered. As if the whole city, today, was going to rob banks. It left an impression on me as I was not used to such a masquerade!!!
      I was amused and giggled quietly, covering my mouth with my hand so that no one saw me smiling, and took a deep breath through my nose.
      Then I couldn’t believe what had just happened to me. The tip of my nose got stiffened with cold and turned into an icicle. I felt a sharp pain, and tears squirted out my eyes. I stopped, pinched my nose with my hands, and started blowing on it with warm air from my mouth. All the passers-by who were moving towards me must have been laughing. But I didn’t care about them. I had to rescue my nose. In a minute, my nose seemed to be okay again. I carefully removed my hands and smelt the air. Luckily, my nose could breathe, but I didn’t feel like making another attempt to breathe through my nose again.
      The only more or less warm public place was a Victoria bus station where you could go in, sit on a chair, and nap. Sometimes there were around ten of us homeless people at once. These were mostly people who gave up in despair to find a job in London and were waiting for money to be transferred by their families to go back home. It seemed that I was the only one who couldn’t count on any help, so I kept looking for a job.
      The thermometer showed 5 degrees above zero that evening. I was dozing on a chair in Victoria station. Then at 9pm, I saw a young, dark-skinned guy who looked around twenty years of age or maybe older. Everyone at the station seemed to notice him. He had a small suitcase, similar to an attache case, and he was wearing just trainers, light-coloured trousers and a white T-shirt without sleeves with a picture from some ad. I couldn’t even imagine which country this gentleman had travelled from. The December weather in England and Europe was not hot as I remember right. But the guy ignored all the surprised looks, headed to the phone booth, and started making a call.
      At last, I managed to sink into a deep sleep and couldn’t recall if I had dreamed anything. I was woken around midnight when the station was starting to close. All the people inside were getting kicked out. Everyone went out of the building, but the dark-skinned guy in his summer clothes refused to go out. He was arguing, begging to stay, but all was in vain. The station was equipped with cameras everywhere, and any unauthorised person would have been spotted very quickly. The staff at the station were mainly black people. You could tell they felt sorry for the poor guy but couldn’t leave him in the station as they didn’t want to risk their jobs. The guy ended up outside and stayed by the closed doors.
      It didn’t take long for his skin to go bluish from the cold. When the station opened in six hours, the guy would have to be carried into the station unconscious as he would turn into an ice sculpture. What could I do? The trench coat I had on could be an all-season one as it had a warm lining for cold weather.
      I needed to help the guy. (This was the first time I had ever talked to a black man)
      I took off my trench coat, detached the lining, put it on, and gave him my trench coat.
      The lining was sleeveless, but I had sleeves from my suit jacket. Under the jacket, I only had a shirt, so I had to hold the part of the lining, which was not fastening. The black guy was still freezing in my trench coat, but in six hours, he no turned into an ice sculpture.
      We, a group of four poor sods, were chatting and, at times, trying to warm ourselves up by squatting and doing push-ups. One resourceful guy found a blanket, wrapped himself up in it, and tried to sleep on the pavement. He noted that it wasn’t cold with cardboard laid under the blanket. But I was not too fond of the blanket that came from who knows where and possibly had fleas.
      The black guy didn’t join us but stood by the station’s doors. I wasn’t watching him all the time, so he managed to disappear without my knowing.
      ‘Well’, I thought, ‘now I am in a ridiculous situation – how can I go places dressed like this and how am I going to look for a job?’
      As it turned out, I shouldn’t have been worrying as the guy came back in about five minutes. He probably went to the loo.
      When the station opened, and we were all warm enough, I asked for my coat back. He was only there for half an hour longer before someone came to pick him up.
      I forgot all about him as I busied myself looking for ways to survive that afternoon. But that evening, when I returned to the station and was about to doze a bit, another black guy reminded me of him. A cleaner who had thrown the black guy out of the station carefully touched my shoulder and asked me to follow.
      ‘Look at this guy’, I thought to myself, ‘yesterday he was kicking his own people outside, and now he doesn’t let me have a nap.’
      I started resisting and told him I was not going anywhere. But he insisted that his boss wanted to see me. I felt he wouldn’t leave me alone if I didn’t go, so I trailed after him.
      Next to a station’s paid toilet, there was a door to an auxiliary room. There were five cleaners and their boss, a black man of around fifty years old.
      The boss started saying something to me, but he was speaking so quickly that I, with my bad English, couldn’t make it out. I could only understand that he was telling me ‘I was a good man.’
      The boss and cleaners no thanked me and only decided to help me as well. They probably thought that if I was sleeping at the station, I also had problems getting enough to eat.
      I n the end, the boss pulled a big plastic bag from under his table and handed it to me. The bag was full of wrapped sandwiches – there were around ten of them.
      I thanked them, took the bag, and went to the station to look for companions in misfortune who were sleeping in the station just like me. They all needed food, and ten packs of sandwiches were too much for one person, even a very hungry one.
      The next day, or maybe, later, I found a job – not a very good job but one that paid. Now, my goal was to earn enough money, at least for a bed in a common room.
      I didn’t have to go to the auxiliary room for sandwiches anymore. A cleaner brought a whole bag of them every evening as I would turn up at the station. I give some of them out to the ones in need, my homeless fellows in misfortune.
      Already on the first day I understood where the sandwiches were coming from. They were coming from the station’s cafés because they were expiring on this day and should be thrown away. The cafés agreed to let the cleaners take them.
      I had to live in Victoria station for around another two weeks. In the end, the head of the station came up to me, apologised and asked me to find another place to stay as soon as possible. He said that another 5-6 people were sleeping in the station except for me.
      He could not drive them out of the station. Because of me and if he did, the cleaning staff promised to start a strike
      It was now time to look for accommodations, and the next day I paid for a bed in a three-person room.

      Two years later, I found myself at the Victoria bus station again, where I was picking someone up. It was a surprise, but those cleaners didn't forget me. Three of them even greeted me with a smile and nodded in greeting. I couldn't recall their faces. However, I remembered their boss's face. He turned up once I made myself comfortable on a chair. He asked me how I was and if I needed any help. And then he boasted that now they had some clothes to give away. But in the last two years, the only person that needed his help was just one white man.