Serial fiction. Updated at 6.00am UTC on Monday and Friday.

18: Issa

Next, Issa thought he would have another panini. He was especially hungry today as, due to money being tight, he didn’t have much food in the flat at the moment. Whatever he took away from here would feed him for the rest of the day, but he had to think about tomorrow; perhaps if he went to the local Tesco later he would find some of the cheap food that had yellow stickers on.

He didn’t need to think about that now, however. Here he was, eating food that he loved, listening to Justin talk and talk in that comforting way of his, feeling that things were starting to go better.

‘You know, Issa, I’m so pleased that you’re enjoying it at the youth theatre. Drama, there’s nothing like it. The play’s the thing, as they say! Who knows, one day you could be walking in the footsteps of some of the greats. Imagine following Olivier at the Old Vic! Saw him play Shylock there as a boy. Of course, even at that age I was never comfortable with Shylock as a character…’

As his friend continued, Issa thought to himself how right Justin had been to suggest he start going to Abbeydale Youth Theatre on Saturday mornings. Though he had only been attending a short time, it had become the most important thing in his life; everything else he did each week had become a preparation for being there. He spent so much time lying on his bed thinking about what he had experienced there that, in a sense, he was spending less time in his flat than he ever had. He thought of Isobel, and her talent for improvisation, and those odd, preening characters she created that made him laugh. He thought of serious little Dylan, and his determination to be a Great Actor, and how obsessively he practiced and rehearsed, and how admirable his commitment was. He thought of all of the children that went to the youth theatre, and of the choices they made each moment when they acted. He thought of Oscar.

Oscar. After working with Oscar for the first time, Issa had realised that, somehow, he had to get close to him. How, though? Not only was there Oscar’s wall of magnetism, that vibrancy that Issa felt he couldn’t approach, but there was his gathering of… Issa didn’t want to be mean, but they were followers. Whether it was smart, foul-tongued Charlie, or regal Sienna, the girl Oscar seemed bound to, or any of the others, they all, in their attachment to Oscar, seemed like barriers to Issa making the connection he needed. Issa was baffled. How could he get through all of it to Oscar? When would his chance even come?

‘…so by then, of course, I was off to university, and that was that. Would you like another one of those slices of pear and chocolate torte, Issa?’

‘Yes. Thank you.’

‘I’ll be right back.’

Justin went to the counter, and started talking to the young woman behind it, dressed in the standard black apron and dark t-shirt the people that worked here seemed to have. Issa watched him, talking animatedly and laughing, and, not for the first time, wondered about him. Where did he get his need to do so many things, to be so constantly energetic? Where did he get his obvious love for words, and stories, something that Issa was now coming to appreciate more and more?

He thought back to earlier parts of their time together today. He was ashamed to admit that, as usual, he hadn’t really been concentrating on everything Justin had been saying, but some of his friend’s earlier words started to come back to him, his talk of himself as a boy younger than Issa, in love with the theatre, obsessed with plays and actors and films, someone who, as life passed, seemed to have fallen away from his dream of ‘treading the boards’.

In a way he had never done, Issa thought about who Justin had been, rather than the man in front of him today. Who was he, before Issa knew him? Was he once like the Saturday morning theatre kids, loud and passionate and bright with the possibility of an endless future? How would it have been to know him, when all of his life was ahead?

Issa looked at Justin, still keeping the young woman’s attention, and for the first time he didn’t see the powerful man that had helped him so much. Instead, he saw a someone whose life had, perhaps, taken an unexpected course; he saw someone who was out of place somehow, who was in a different place to one he ever imagined. He saw a human being. What had happened in Justin’s life for him to be who he was, here, in this moment? Before his thoughts were drawn inward, towards that part of himself he could not approach, Issa rose to welcome Justin as he returned to their table.

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