He scours streets, bus and tube stations for newspapers. Two years since he arrived in London and he is still amazed at how many newspapers lie discarded around. Although he cannot decipher the writing, they are ideal for keeping warm.
He stuffs them inside his pullover and feels like a king: he needs for nothing. He is warm and fed: the city overflows with leftovers. He beds down whenever he is tired, wherever he finds a warm doorway from where he can look at the sky.
He loves summer best. At night, sneaking into Finsbury Park, he heads for his favourite bench, near the lake. It is cool and the sky is full of stars. Not as spectacular as the sky in his village, in the floodplains of the Mesopotamian Iraqi marshes, where the stars shine like diamonds on black velvet, but it works.
It illuminates the memories that follow him like his shadow: the rice fields and the boat he made himself from reeds, the water buffalo; his father, punting through narrow channels. The Garden of Eden.
Then he counts the stars, looks for patterns, for directions; for a sign that it is safe to return home. His heart, filled with nostalgia, trembles like a bird. Often though, he counts his blessings: here, among the floods of people filling the channels of this city, he can blend in and feel safer than in the marshes of his homeland – till it is time to return.
Hot from my computer keyboard, this new short story written for the 52/250 A Year of Flash project, was first posted on their website. A story about a war-savaged, homeless man sleeping rough in Finsbury Park, North London, and the cruel strands of present-day displacement and identity.
10 December 2010
Where is your home?
For photos of Finsbury Park I took myself, see here