this is a blog for short stories and other things which we may call short writings. for now the writings are mine, but if you are willing to add yours short stories or comments, please do.

Monday, June 19, 2006

All happened at Oxford Circus

All Happened at Oxford Circus

by:Hassan Bahri

One afternoon she phoned me on my landline asking directly:
- Hi, still at home?
I answered her in the same way without beating about the bush:
- And where are you phoning from?
- From home, I’m wondering if we could meet up today?
- Wonderful! Come straight away. Could you?
- Fine, but let’s meet in the street, I don’t want to go inside your place.
Trying to persuade, her I ask:
- Even if I have a great bottle of wine?
- No, I’m not interested in anything but a walk and a talk.
- Well, we’ll sit and talk.
- Drop it; you’re more interesting in the street than at home.
- I could be interesting at home as well…
- No, no, you are one of those men who’ve developed their brains and forgotten about other parts of their bodies…
I interrupted her before she could take it any further:
- And are you saying I’m not interesting as a man?
- Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that ….
- But you were about to say it?
- All I wanted to say was I like walking with you because you have many things to talk about, and I like that.
- And for my part I want to develop other parts of my body.
- It requires daily practice; you can’t make up for all the days lost
- I can try.
- You can’t, it’s like eating. If you stop eating for a week and then start eating again, you no longer need to eat as much to satisfy your hunger. You can’t eat all the food you missed out on.
- Okay, that’s enough. We’ll meet at Oxford Circus.
- At the same place, in an hour.
- See you there.

On any street in London you meet representatives of most countries in the world. English streets, the buildings with their beautiful facades, the attractive shop windows with their displays, red buses and pavements swarming and buzzing with crowds of people of every colour human genes can mix, wearing both modern and traditional clothes, like a continuous carnival of colour on those city streets. Three hundred different languages on London’s streets, and English is the common one. About the same number of religions, mostly reflected in the clothes of their adherents. And on every street there are dozens of different restaurants, snacks and coffee shops, stretching from American fast food to West African couscous and Indian curry. Everybody comes here with his or her own distinctive food and clothes. It’s a never-ending multinational parade.

London is the answer. London accepts all people as they are. London asks everybody to be proud of what they are and of what they have…

I came from the other side of the Mediterranean sea and she came from not far from the Baltic sea. She separated with her husband who is from Latin America and managed to stay in a council flat London had given them before. I got mine from London as well. We met in London, talk in English, we both love this city.

I arrived at Oxford Circus first and I stood there. A pretty girl gave me a phone card; she was distributing them to everybody who passed her. A middle-aged man with a loudspeaker in his hand determined to recruit more people into his religion. Gazing directly into the faces of the crowd, with oily hair and a face painted with a sarcastic smile, he kept preaching through his loudspeaker which he held firmly to his mouth: ‘You are sinners, and yet God loves you..’ I kept looking directly at him, at his humble, faded clothes and his slightly parted legs, one in front of the other. He gave the impression of being ready to launch a merciless attack on me, but something held him back. Or maybe he was waiting to finish his current stream of oratory: ‘Death will happen to all of us. Let’s think before we die…’

It started drizzling again; very tiny drops of rain were tossing and bouncing down so you never knew which direction they would hit you from. It wasn’t rain, but something between rain and fog; maybe you cannot find it except in London, like many other things here.

I stepped back and took cover under the awning of ‘Ashley’s’ shoe shop. People here seemed not to be bothered about this foggy rain drizzling on them. The preacher was still calling the passers-by to follow him, and not far from where he stood there was a young man in smart clothes with a handsome face holding a few flowers in his hand; he had the other hand in his trouser pocket, he looked a little bit nervous. He got a cigarette, lit it and started puffing out clouds of smoke. Now and then he looked at his wrist-watch. Everything was perfect about him except his long nose, which, I don’t know why, reminded me one of my friends and his nose. He was a good friend; we used to tease him about his big nose by saying:
Your beak is so big that while you are singing in the house and he, your beak, is roaming on the street…” (!)

He would respond to our words with a gentle smile and a quick touch of his nose. Apart from that he was a nice and handsome man, and thanks to him I, and a few other friends, started learning English in our early days in prison.

I remembered, watching the young man waiting at Oxford Circus, how one day, a long time ago, a gaoler opened a heavy door and pushed me in. He had brought, or chased, me there after three months of solitary confinement.

Suddenly I found myself in a big room between four of my friends and another four I did not know before. One of the first four was He, the friend with the big nose; he was there, and his nose as well. I was utterly surprised. They hugged me a lot, and I remembered kissing his big nose.

It sounds strange, but how relaxing it is to find your friends are in prison with you!

Imad, my friend with the big nose, was lucky when he was a child. He was from a big village where there was a school; it was a “mission school”; that kind of school which was opened and run by missionaries from European countries early last century or late the century before. He went to this school for his elementary schooling and he learned good English there, as it was an English school. Then Imad grew up and forgot most of it but still, when we met in prison, he had enough to give us a start.

So after a week or so, we asked him to give us what he had of words and phrases…

Every day after that we would lie on our backs, legs high on the wall, and he would say one word which we should repeat time and again after him; every day our ration was five words. After ten days he gave us the verbs ‘to be’ and ‘to do’, and then he looked at the wall and pointed to a fly on it. It was a lovely fly, small, black with transparent wings and tiny legs with which it never stopped caressing its head. In our language, ‘fly’ is a feminine noun and when you talk about it you must say “she”. She was the sole female thing living in that room. Imad said:
- Here is she!
- What is that?
- That fly.

We had to follow her movements, and say what “she” was doing in English. It was fun, and as if “she” knew our game, “she” kept moving from place to place. We followed her not to silence her, but to find out and report what “she” was doing.
- She is on the wall.
- She is cleaning her wings.
- Where is she flying?
- She is flying away.
- She is eating our food.

And so on…

Here she came, not my friend or the fly, but the girl the young man was waiting for with his flowers. His smile was brighter than hers; he kissed her, gave her the flowers and they walked away.

I felt sorry for myself; I wished to be him, waiting for a girl with three flowers, poetry and love. Who says big cities kill love!