in the cab, whispering the words as he read them: ‘No smok-ing. Li-censed Hack-ney Car-riage. Red light in-di-cates doors are locked. This seat-belt is for your per-son-al safe-ty.’
After a while his attention turned to the road outside, the M4. It was so straight and wide; the ride was so smooth, no potholes, no wild bends, just the sound of the engine and the tyres on the road.
They had travelled for only about seven miles when they turned off the motorway and headed towards the village down Majors Farm Road. It suddenly went quiet; there were very few cars on the road and no farms to be seen, just a few empty fields. As they neared the village, Alem looked towards all the semi-detached houses for any sign of life. He could see the houses but where were the people? All the houses had cars in their driveways, usually two, and many had cats in the windows, but no people. He looked up at the chimneys and wondered what they were there for.
When they entered the village, things became a little busier but still remained very orderly. And now Alem began to see animals; they were only dogs that people had on leads but he was sure that he would soon see the local goats and chickens.
The taxi pulled up outside the hotel. It was an old-fashioned building that looked to Alem more like a big house than a hotel, after all, he had seen the Holiday Inn in Addis Ababa and he thought that was a big skyscraper, so he expected English hotels to be even bigger.
‘Here you are, guvs,’ said the driver, ‘the Palace Hotel, wot a lave