He gets out and leans against the bonnet as I park up.
‘Do you want to come on board to talk?’ I say to him, whispering a little and leaning in, although there’s precious little point – the ambulance diesel engine must already have woken everybody up. He nods, and limps after us up the steps and into the back.
Bilal pulls up his left trouser leg, then plants his left foot on the seat in front of him.
‘See what injury they cause,’ he says. ‘See here. Look. Is broken skin, and blooded. Here. Look. Is gate they smash across the leg only when I ask them just to pay.’
‘So what exactly happened then?’
‘Okay. I take drunk girls all the way home. They say to me can we be stopping at cash point for to get the cash. I say fine, I have done this before. I say is okay. But when I stop at petrol eh-station, the girls they don’t get cash. They go straight away inside to buy the foods. I watch them from the cab. They buy many foods – the crips, and the nut, bag of cake, cocas-cola. Much foods. So then they get back into cab. And I tell them, I say Please - do not be eating these foods inside the cab. Is not far to go and can you wait please until home. I point to sign I have on window, saying this things. And – one thing – I put on my phone and put it on seat next there, and I record it, because this happen before and there was much trouble. So then listen to this. Please.’
Bilal takes out his phone, finds the record function, places it on the trolley beside him and presses play. After a second or two there’s a dreadful noise. If he’d told me he’d lowered a microphone into a cage of wolves at feeding time I wouldn’t have disbelieved him. And in amongst the crunching and grinding and gulping and smacking and swallowing and belching the occasional word or two: please! don’t! from Bilal, and a semi-human response of drunken swearing from the girls.
Bilal turns it off.
‘You see,’ he says, trembling. ‘So then when I get to their house and ask for the fare, they swear at me. They say I insult them and bully them and cause trouble, and they say they will not pay me the fare. Then they laugh at me and they go inside the house. So what I do? I put on my recorder phone again – for the evidence later on, because this has happen to me before – and I go to the door, and I knock on the door. After minute and minute one girl come out again, and before I can speak she swear and then she – how you say ... ‘ Bilal makes a gesture, describing an arc from his mouth out into the air.
‘She spat at you?’
‘Yes. She eh-spitted on my face. Then she punch with fist in the eye, and when I go back and back like this ...’ he puts up his arms and leans backwards in a mime of pantomimic horror ...’she slam gate of the garden on my leg. Shall I play you this recording also?’
‘No. It’s okay, Bilal. Have you called the police?’
‘Yes. And I think it was police who call you.’
Just at that moment there’s a knock on the back of the ambulance. When we open it, two police officers lean in.
‘So do you understand what I mean by Community Resolution, then, Bilal?’
‘If you could eh-splain it again, please.’
‘Okay. So Community Resolution is a way of settling disputes outside of the courts. They’re quite effective because they have an immediate result, right here and now. They force the offender to acknowledge the crime, there’s a record made of it so that if they commit any other crimes it’ll be taken into consideration, and from the police and court’s point of view, it gets the whole thing wrapped up quickly. So – is this something you’d like to see done tonight, Bilal?’
Bilal shrugs and rubs his leg.
‘Hm. I think I just want this not to happen again. I just want make honest money. I don’t want trouble. But these girls – they make mess of my car with the crips and the nut, and then they refuse to pay what they owe. It’s not good, sir. Not good at all.’
‘No. It’s not good, Bilal. But what you’ll get is the fare paid, an amount on top agreed by all parties as suitable reparation for injuries and damage, and a letter of apology.’
‘But the other way...?’
‘The other way means statements, attendance at the station for all parties, and then a case for criminal assault. The fare itself you’d have to pursue through the civil courts.’
Bilal winds his trouser leg down, puts both feet firmly on the floor of the ambulance, and sighs. Then he takes out his mobile phone and holds it out to the policeman.
‘You want hear recording?’ he says.