Of all questions to be interrogated with “how many languages do you speak?” was quite possibly the one I least expected.
‘Just the one,’ I responded, ‘though my boyfriend will probably say that needs vast improvement.’ I smiled at my interrogator. Quite why, I don’t know. I was seething inside and I’d guess with hindsight that it was the only thing stopping me clawing his eyes out and demanding to see Danny.
The interrogator didn’t laugh, he just nodded and played with his tablet computer. ‘Are you quite sure about that, Miss Salter?’
This was weird and he was acting weird for a terrorist. I had no idea who he was or why he would want me. If he was a terrorist, he was well dressed and wasn’t the technological luddite I imagined. Wanting to know what languages I speak, what the hell was that all about? ‘Yes. I took German and French at school like any English boy or girl, and like most English boys and girls I was quite hopeless at both.’
‘This is your voice?’ he asked.
He spun his tablet around so I could see it. He’d opened YouTube of all things; a video was playing but there was only audio – the image was of a woman in a bed, sleeping peacefully. It wasn’t me, it was just a stock image.
My boyfriend said I regularly woke him up in the night speaking in tongues, sometimes mixing English with strange gobbledegook words yet seemingly holding a conversation with myself in two languages. He recorded my voice one night to prove it to me, and put it on YouTube for everyone to have a laugh at my expense.
‘Yes that is my voice, but it’s a joke.’
‘A joke?’ the man raised his eyebrow.
‘My boyfriend recorded me “speaking in tongues” as he says. That’s one of my conversations in whatever gibberish language my brain has imagined.’
He nodded thoughtfully. ‘Does it sound like gibberish to you, Miss Salter?’
‘Not really, it sounds a bit like Arabic or Jewish.’
‘No, it is not Arabic. Nor is it Hebrew or Yiddish. I should know, I am fluent in all three languages.’
‘What do I call you, by the way?’ I wanted a name, anything really.
‘Call me Mister Brown.’
I didn’t believe that was his name but went with it anyway. ‘So what language is it, Mister Brown?’
‘It’s interesting you ask, Miss Salter because you seem fluent in a language few people have heard spoken.’
Now it was my turn to look at him with incredulity. ‘That’s an actual language? What is it, Aramaic?’ I remembered the language from that film about Jesus, and the other film about the girl who recites a lost Gospel. I thought I sounded clever, but he didn’t look impressed.
‘No, this language is dead and Aramaic is not. What do you do for work, Miss Salter?’
‘Something tells me you already know.’
The man shrugged, ‘please – as you English say – “humour me”?’ He pulled a packet of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. ‘Would you like one?’
‘No, I don’t smoke.’
‘Do you mind if I…? You are not pregnant?’
‘No I’m not pregnant, be my guest.’
He took in a long drag and flicked the ash into the ashtray.
‘We were saying, what do you do?’ he took another long drag.
‘We both know I’m a nurse.’
He nodded. ‘And your boyfriend?’
‘I presume you already know Danny works in forensics for the police.’
He nodded again. ‘Miss Salter, perhaps you can explain to me how yourself – a nurse who freely admits to not being an adept linguist – appears to be fluent in a language that only ten people on the planet have ever heard spoken aloud, a language in which only three other people in the world are fluent… a language that linguistic historians believe to be in the region of 100,000 years old?’
Can’t wait for the next one? Go to part 3 now