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

6: Issa

Though he didn’t come to this park often, Issa liked it: it wasn’t as busy as some of the others, and it had a sense of calm that appealed to him. On this weekday morning there were few people about. He could see a man with a small, scruffy dog walking towards him, and further away he could see a woman wheeling a pram. She had to stop every so often to pick up a toy that was thrown out of it, which she would return with a smile before starting again.

While he was waiting Issa’s mind drifted, as it had done so often over the last few days, to his last session at the theatre group. He had done his best to understand what he had seen Oscar do, what he had seen in him, but, rather than finding answers, he only had more questions. This wasn’t even about the mystery of Oscar’s magnetism – he knew that would take time to unravel – but what he remembered him doing there, in front of Issa.

Most of his thoughts had been on the piece that Oscar performed. Though he was proud of how well he could now speak English, Issa had struggled with some of the words Oscar recited and had needed to find it, to study afterwards. When he did so, he was unsurprised to find that it was a piece by Shakespeare: Issa had always had difficulty understanding those plays in school due to the strangeness of the language. This time, it wasn’t the language that was puzzling him, though; he had worked on it until he thought he had grasped the meaning. Rather, it was Oscar’s selection. Why would he perform a monologue given by a woman, Lady Macbeth, and how could he perform it so well? Did Oscar mean something by his choice? Issa himself identified with the restriction that he felt Lady Macbeth described, but what did the ‘unsex me here’ part mean? Did it mean something for Oscar?

His was distracted from his thoughts by the sound of footsteps approaching. He looked up to find it was Nasir, familiar in his plain kameez tunic, waistcoat and pakol cap. Issa stood, and when Nasir reached him, they shook hands, Nasir with his usual grave smile.

‘It is good to see you, brother.’

‘It’s good to see you too.’

‘How are you? Is your life good? You were lost in thought there.’

Issa laughed. Yes, he had been lost in thought.

‘I am OK. I’m doing well. I am… learning new things.’

Nasir raised an eyebrow.

‘Come, let us walk. I would like to hear about this.’

As they fell in beside each other and started walking, Issa felt the release of a tension he didn’t know he had. It was good to see his friend again. In the turbulence of his life Nasir was, like Justin, a fixed point, someone he could rely on. They were different, though: where Justin was restless, constantly encouraging Issa to do more and to be more, Nasir was tranquil and reflective. He had a dignity and stoicism that Issa, in his darker moments, envied. Part of this was his gentle humour, such as his observing how odd it really was that they found themselves here, in Firth Park, together:

‘Look at us here, brother. Strangers to this land yet speaking English with each other. We use it, but it will never be our own. If only you could speak Pashto, or I could speak Bambara.’

Was Issa a stranger here? Would he never feel English was his own? He didn’t think so, but he had sympathy for his friend. At some point after arriving, Issa had started to not just speak English but think in it also, the words of his childhood starting to fade away. What did that mean for him, for who he was?

They carried on walking but soon, sooner than Issa liked, it was time for them to part.

‘I have to go home to ready myself for work, Issa. There are those I must care for.’

Issa nodded. He understood Nasir’s responsibilities. He wished more people were like him.

Once more, Nasir shook his hand.

‘I hope it goes well, this acting. I see that it gives you companionship. Remember, though, that others wait to welcome you. The doors to mosque are always open. Perhaps you could come with me, this Friday?’

Issa shook his head.

‘I understand. It will always be there; inshallah, one day you will come. Allah is always there; you know this.’

Issa was not sure that he did. As he watched Nasir going back to his own life, he wished he had his friend’s certainty.


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