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 lavely little ‘ous.’
Alem and his father couldn’t understand what he said, but they knew that they had arrived.
‘I beg your pardon?’ By now Alem’s father had dropped his pseudo-posh accent.
The taxi driver pointed to the house and spoke louder and slower. ‘That is a love-er-ly little house, I said.’
‘Oh, yes,’ replied Alem’s father as he raised the corners of his lips a tiny little bit in order to represent a smile. ‘It is a nice building. How much money shall I pay you?’
‘Eighteen quid and fifty pee, boss.’
It was a family-run three-star hotel with a pub and restaurant. The walls of the reception area were covered with paintings of idyllic English countryside scenes that led all the way up the oak stairs. Alem and his father stood at the desk for a few minutes waiting for someone to come. After checking out all the paintings and reading all the notices, Alem’s father rang the miniature brass bell that was on the reception counter. Immediately a man appeared from the room behind the counter, a very big, bearded man who Alem thought looked very much like the customs officer they had not long left, except this man had a smile and no uniform.
‘What can I do for you, sir?’ he said, towering above both of them.
‘We have a twin room reserved for us. My name is Mr Kelo, I spoke to you on the phone last week.’
The big man flicked through the pages of the registration book on the