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

4: Issa

The next hour was much the same, with Justin talking and asking questions, and Issa offering, through halting replies and observations, the occasional scant glimpse inside himself.

Issa felt relaxed, and not only because of his full stomach: after so many such meetings he had come to feel that Justin cared for him, and it was good to be in his presence. He sometimes wondered why Justin cared like he did, as their relationship was so one sided that Issa had never been able to see what Justin gained from it, but he did his best to ignore such questions. Without Justin’s help over the last few years, he didn’t know how his life would be. He certainly wouldn’t be in this café, finishing off this cassata and thinking about how he might, one day soon, read words from plays out loud. He could speak more, even if the words he spoke were those of others. What would that mean?

‘So, how are things in the flat, Issa? Has the council got that leak sorted out, the one coming through the kitchen ceiling?’

‘No. They sent someone and he tried, but couldn’t fix it.’

The man from the council really had tried, so Issa felt the need to defend him: he knew Justin would be annoyed.

‘It’s not as bad, though.’

Justin sighed.

‘This really isn’t good enough, Issa. They should treat you better than this. They’ve let you down time and again, and many others like you. I don’t know whether it’s a failing at an organisational level, a lack of funding or just plain incompetence, but…’

Issa knew that this would go on for a while, and that the best thing to do was to wait until Justin had vented.

As he finished off his cassata he thought, not for the first time, how exhausting it must be to be Justin. He seemed to care so much, about so many things, and to have so much to say and do about all of it. It probably helped that Justin didn’t have a job any longer, even though he obviously had plenty of money. Still, Issa thought it was good that there were people like Justin, doing what they could to make the world better. One day, Issa hoped to have built a life that meant he could care about things in the same way.

‘Ah, Issa, but here I am, tilting at windmills again.’

It seemed Justin had finished venting.

‘Anyway, I’m afraid I have to go. I have a meeting with one of the other trustees from The Harbour. Some of the appliances in the kitchen are a bit worn out, and need replacing. We’ve found a pot of money that might help, and we’re just starting to put together a bid. No rest for the wicked, and all that.’

His tone then turned sympathetic.

‘Speaking of The Harbour, I understand you haven’t been there for a while. Is there anything going on?’

It was true. Issa hadn’t gone there recently. He still thought about The Harbour and the people he had met, and had especially fond memories of the food, but something kept him away. It was the nature of The Harbour that as time passed people came and went, so he was used to seeing new faces. The last couple of times he had been, however, there was a new group of young men that had made him nervous. He struggled to say why, but he couldn’t be around them.

‘No, nothing. I’m just… busy.’

For a moment Justin regarded him, and Issa felt uncomfortable under the weight of his gaze. Quickly, though, Justin’s face softened.

‘Of course. Well, I’m sure you’d be welcome back any time. People there miss you; Myriam asks about you whenever I’m there. I’m sure she’d like to see you, for one.’

Issa nodded and, after placing a number of coins in a clear spot on the table, Justin rose from his chair.

‘Well, I have to be elsewhere. It’s been lovely seeing you. Here again next time?’

‘Yes, and… thank you, Justin.’

‘Please think nothing of it. Remember to pick a sandwich to take away with you. It’ll already be paid for.’

Justin started to walk away, then he stopped and turned.

‘Oh, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of your theatrical adventures. Break a leg this Saturday!’

With that, he went to the counter. Issa watched him shaking the hand of the owner and taking out his wallet, from which he produced a credit card. The Issa turned back to the table in front of him and picked up the menu. He thought he already knew which panini he would have, but it would be good to check.


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