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I had just caught the last train out of the city. I could not have afforded a taxi, and it was dark and cold. There was a loud clattering sound as it passed under a bridge. The lights dimmed and then flickered back on again. It was then that I noticed my empty carriage had gained another three passengers: a trio of bulky teenage boys with shaved heads and tight T-shirts packed with muscle and tattoos. Although there were plenty of other seats, they sat around me in such a way that getting out instantly became a problem.
The tallest one leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. He stared at me and then casually asked for my wallet as if he wanted to know the time or what the next stop was. I shuddered at the horror of my situation. There was no guard, no alarm to pull, and certainly no way I could fight my way out of this. I stayed silent and after a few moments he repeated himself more gruffly. “I said, Mate, give us your wallet.” I glanced at the other two boys; they had shoulders that could lift a car. The other was completely bald with biceps like grapefruit covered in foreign scripture. I remained silent as the train swayed. Suddenly the leader stood up and shouted. “I said, give me your fucking money.”
I replied in the most fluent fake Russian I could.
“Da, ik chin kring goski da stravinka na da.” My accent was strong, even though what I had said had been complete nonsense. I knew that everybody was slightly scared of Russian people, even the skinny bookish ones; they have a hardness about them no other nationality can muster. The leader sat down, confused. “What’s that you’re saying? English, do you speak English?” I knew I couldn’t get away with not knowing any of my mother tongue so I said “Russian” like an old general with a mouthful gravel and whisky.
The leader chuckled loudly then shook his head as if giving up. I felt a small rush of relief, but then he turned to his bald companion, “Kristov, tell him to hand over his money.” Kristov stood up and eyed me before saying, “Janovich mit Brita das niki vlad von ming ka.” I stared back having no idea what he had said but knowing full well what he had meant. I noticed a bead of sweat form on the side of his forehead. His inky arms seemed to vibrate. I saw nothing else I could do so I stood up too and yelled back at him waving my arms like I’d had a litre of vodka already. “Nacht macht bacht ving vlad blad Natashca Volga.” His boys became alarmed by the tone our conversation had taken.
Then he shouted back at me, “Kak vas boot mit vishka.”
So I said “Kak vas moot vit mishka.”
And he whispered, “Da…?”
and I said, “Na…”
and he sat down.
There was a long silence interrupted only by the announcement of my station. “Well, Kristov, what the fuck did he say?” asked the leader. Kristov’s confidence returned.
“He said that his Uncle in London would have our throats cut if we touch him. I asked him which gang, and he told me. We’d better leave this.”
I kept a steady gaze on the leader who tried to stifle a gulp before beckoning his troop to the next vestibule. Kristov hung back a little. Before his wrinkly skull passed out of sight, he nodded at me with moist eyes and smiled. I smiled right back and then waited for the train to stop.
Daniel Bird was born in the UK. His stories are usually comical, occasionally dark, and always short. He lives in Hong Kong. His first collection of short stories 'Sorry Men' will be released in early 2024 by Signal 8 Press.
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