It’s three in the morning, and, recklessly or otherwise, I have decided I am going to power on through the night with packing and final preparations ahead of a short jaunt to Berlin, which involves a pre-8am flight. My friend has gone on ahead, so I’ll be meeting him there and travelling alone.
Working backwards, even catching the 04.49am Gatwick train is cutting it a whisker fine if anything goes wrong, but it beats shelling out for a hotel room I’ll hardly use, or spending the night on an airport bench.
As the night deepens, I realise, admittedly somewhat belatedly, that I don’t really want to walk to the station at 4am. I even have to steel myself to go to the bins at 2am, convinced that rats are lurking in the shadows.
At 3am, and I pick up the phone to call my taxi to the station.
I would normally use textphone on most calls, but this is only a quick one. I mean, calling a cab. You tell them the time and your name. They tell you it’ll be five minutes. You know it won’t but thank them anyway and hang up. They rock up and collect you. How hard can it be, right? Wrong.
They pick up, I tell them what I want. But I just don’t catch the reply. The words escape for ever down the phone line, slipping through my fingers.
“Sorry. I’m very hard of hearing,” I protest. “Please. Say it again, just a little more slowly and clearly.”
Click. Brrrr. The line has gone dead. I stand in disbelief, still holding the phone. Bastards. How could they? I only failed to hear them twice. I try again. Straight through to answering machine.
I have turned off the computer, threw out my Yellow Pages long ago and it’s gone 3am, so options for researching alternatives open all night are limited. I can’t even try again with my textphone as they won’t answer.
I know, I know. It’s the middle of the night. The time when ghouls and freaks come out to play. The cab firm must have to endure all manner of demented callers and thought I was just another one.
But I am severely hard of hearing, potentially more vulnerable than most, and now I am going to have to walk the mile and a half or so to the station, with a suitcase, at gone 4am.
Admittedly, in the end it’s not that bad. It’s bewitchingly unusual to be out and about at this time, everything feels different at this hour. The moon hangs, full and buttery, over the Thames as I cross the bridge towards the station, my suitcase bumping behind me.
On the hotel on the far bank, a single light burns and I think about the person in the room. Domestic row? Jet lag? Early shift? Or, like me, do they have a flight to catch?
And there is enough early morning traffic around that I feel quite safe. Even so. I can’t help thinking that I wish I’d had the option to get a taxi, and that I had been treated better.
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