I have a pusher. She is with me when I am arrested.
You can tell a pusher at once. They are always the nicest of people. They want to help – whether you like it or not. Mine appears beside me as I huddle in the indoor bus-shelter that is the London City Airport disabled muster-point, adjacent to one of those airport shops that sell strangely expensive U-shaped cushions, electricity adapters and stale biscuits in small replicas of those nice telephone boxes that no longer exist.
I look up. Short (but taller than me, natch), a smudged hi-vis tabard stretched over something knitted, both straining at the buttons. Sensible shoes. The pleasant, plump face of a mother of three; of a dutiful wife.
‘Looks like a pusher’, I think. From her single word, I try to identify the accent. It’s the one thing I’m good at.
“Jeh -nee-va?” she says again, diagnosing me slow-witted. As I mumble ‘yes, ..’ she grabs the handles of my wheelchair and propels me wordlessly towards the lift. As I thought, a pusher.
“Are you Czech?” I ask, confident. “Please, no need to push me…” The uncarpeted floor is perfectly smooth and, hell, I can manage for myself. Have you ever seen me back-wheel balance? She spins me around and pulls me into the lift. Maybe she is so Czech that she does not understand English.
“I prefer not to be pushed” I say. “Are you from the Czech Republic? Prague?” In the lift I almost tell her how nice she smells, but think better of it; too creepy. What next? Lick her and tell her how nice she tastes? But she does smell very nice. I wonder about all those security-confiscated perfume bottles.
We are through passport control; she is still resolutely pushing. There is a crowd at the security area but my pusher rewards my loss of agency, going straight for a side-entrance, releasing the band of nylon webbing that has my fellow passengers zig-zag obediently, her hi-vis podgy pushing presence legitimising our queue-jumping. We empty my rucksack of its electronic devices into plastic trays. I can see the body-scanning machine arch and realise I’ll never get through – too wide, too metallic. A small man in official-looking black is beckoning, so I wheel over to him. Unreliable facial hair and wet lips, untrusting eyes – he looks like he was bullied at school, not long ago. He points to a frisking kiosk and asks, as I wheel in, “Can you stand?” I hate this question. I resist the temptation to ask why the hell he thinks I am in this wheelchair. As he closes the curtain I see the pusher is collecting my items from the plastic trays.
“Has this bag been through the machine?” The body search has yet to start and I can tell from the tone that Mr Wet-lips thinks he’s on to something; he’s right. The bag that always hangs on the back of my wheelchair – I’d completely forgotten it. I quickly do a mental inventory of the contents – mostly catheterisation paraphernalia – and think it’s OK, except a small bottle of hand sanitiser, 100ml, bound to be a bomb. Shamefaced, I mention this to him as he takes the offending bag off to be scanned.
“I’ve called the police” he says, rather loudly, as he draws back the kiosk curtain minutes later. It seems a bit extreme for a small forgotten bottle of 80% ethanol (V/V), but now I think of it, ethanol does sound quite combustible. Two police officers, a short one and a tall one, multi-pocketed uniforms laden with instruments of repression and communication, appear behind him.
I am not surprised when my pusher materialises – with my rucksack on her back – and pushes me the short distance to a side area where the policemen are waiting. My interrogation is to be public, it seems, but at least this reduces the scope of any police brutality.
Mr Wet-lips is there with my wheelchair bag, its embarrassing bladder and bowel management contents spread across the blue formica-topped table. The short police officer picks up my pocket-knife, a gift from my father, and says “This is an illegal lock-knife”.
“Oh gosh, I use it for cutting fruit” I say, lamely, “and opening envelopes.”
“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.” The short policeman is actually saying this to me, as I sit in my wheelchair at the airport, my pudgy pusher fretfully fidgeting behind me. The policeman draws my attention to his body-cam and informs me everything is being recorded.
I am being arrested.
What follows involves my signing a bit of paper beside the words ‘Offender’s signature’ – at which point I look directly into the body-cam and say “society will be grateful to you, officers, for ridding the streets of the menace of a bald man in a wheelchair armed with a dangerous knife given him by his deceased Dad, ready to stab and mug passers-by and run away laughing fiendishly”. Childish, I know, but I am hoping the video will be played in open court if it comes to that.
Hearing me mention my late father the tall policeman speaks for the first time. “It was your Dad’s? Of sentimental value?” I nod and make some smartass remark about the level of risk from a 3-years-dead octogenarian, saying his arrest would pose even them difficulties as he has been cremated and scattered on Helvellyn.
My thus-far mute pusher intervenes to say we are being paged to board the aircraft. I am surprised – she does not sound Czech at all. “Sentimental value!” says Tall to Short. “Sentimental value” he replies, slightly disappointed. I am told they will post me the lock-knife, at which even I hold my tongue.
I make it to the ‘plane in time thanks to my not-Czech pusher. So after all this, what do I think?
I’ll go with Austrian; it’s the one thing I’m good at.
Apparently I’m also quite good at writing – The Umbrella Men, my first novel, is due to be published on 4 April. Check it out (or pre-order!) here: