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May 29th 2018
Published: June 1st 2018
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"I do not stink, I swear, I do not stink, Do not say I stink, because I. Do. Not. Stink." The language is Moroccan Dutch. Ethnic dialects of Dutch are being added to the purely regional varieties.

The young, very overweight woman is sitting right behind Mr Henry in tram line 23, which goes into the poorest part of Rotterdam, Rotterdam South. No one has said that she stinks, as far as Mr Henry is aware, but maybe her boyfriend, also very overweight, who is standing beside her, has sniffed. Maybe it's a thing between them. Whatever it is, she's very stuck on the subject of stinking.

"I swear, if I even think I stink, I shower. I would shower five times a day if I had to. I do not stink."

They do manage to get off the subject of stinking and switch to discussing somebody they know, one Evertje, pronounced.'eevercha'.

Line 23 moves past a triumph of sorts. No one in Holland needs to be homeless. They can live in the vast apartment blocks such as Rotterdam-South lays on in spades. These are offerings of hundreds of apartments in one block. The blocks stand wide and tall, their tops obscured from view during even minor fogs.

"He's a vies Hollandertje (dirty little Dutchie)", opines the boyfriend.

"He screws his stepsister", confirms the girlfriend.

"I know", says the boyfriend, "and he's only seventeen."



"Nah, he's got his licence."

"Does he?!"

"Yeah, he says he screws her on the backseat."

"But before that he used to screw her ..."

Line 23 lurches violently through a short, sharp bend, and the boyfriend's words are muffled as he pretends to hang on to a stanchion for dear life. "... lock up", he manages to utter.

"He's a vies Hollandertje", the girlfriend sums up when line 23 and her boyfriend have righted themselves and are once again progressing on an even keel.

For some reason only Evertje is named and shamed. His stepsister avoids scrutiny. How old is she? Did she have her licence when Evertje had not yet gotten his? Isn't she a vies Hollandertje, too, or what? What about this "lock-up" business? For the first six years of his life, Mr Henry was raised in a post-war, monolithic, football field sized apartment block in what is now a satellite city of Rotterdam. The basement contained a vast warren of lock-ups. These were storage cum bicycle sheds separated by fence wire. Surely, Evertje, given the see-through nature of fence wire, would not have ...?

These are the questions burning on Mr Henry's tongue.

Line 23 pulls up and girlfriend and boyfriend leave, waddling their way towards one of a number of apartment blocks that would presumably accommodate Evertje and his stepsister, too.

At the end of the line, where the tram driver solemnly collects his things and disappears until it's time to rattle back to the more prosperous parts of Rotterdam, Mr Henry disembarks from his little sightseeing tour. He does not want to catch the same driver and the same ticket collector on the way back. They might think he's a bit weird. Report him, even. So he makes his way to a block and waits. An old man with a bicycle goes in and Mr Henry follows him in matter-of-factly.



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