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

7: Issa

‘Right, everyone! We’re going to use the scenes you’ve written, but – and here’s the twist – you’re not going to use your own.’

This provoked muttering, at which Carol smiled.

‘Yes, I know, but you always have to be ready to understand and perform a new piece of work at any time. I think we’ll have new pairs too, since you’ve all been together for the last hour.’

As Carol started choosing the pairs, Issa hoped he’d get Isobel again, like last week. He liked her. She was kind, and more talkative than the intense younger boy, Dylan, he had just been working with.

‘Next is Issa.’

Fingers crossed.

‘Why don’t you go with Oscar.’

Oh.

Oh.

Issa didn’t hear the rest of the names. He was watching Oscar who, after exchanging scripts with one of the others, came towards him.

‘It’s Issa, isn’t it?’

Issa managed to nod.

‘Cool. I’m Oscar.’

Issa realised that, even though he had spent the last week thinking about how to get to know Oscar better, he hadn’t thought he would get his chance this soon, and without warning. It was too quick. He wasn’t ready. Swallowing, he dragged out a response.

‘Hello.’

Oscar, pushing one side of his hair behind an ear, gave a slight smile. He also softened his voice.

‘Why don’t we have a look at what we have to perform?’

In the days after, when Issa thought of that all too brief forty minutes, of what he tried to know of Oscar’s magnetism, he struggled to remember anything full, or coherent; he could only recall shards, fragments drawn through his flooded senses. Oscar’s eyes, a paler blue than he had ever seen, and the way they fixed on Issa when he was reading; Oscar’s voice, and the living quality it had, bright and shadowed and light and heavy by turn. Oscar’s form, how he seemed to be able to transform it to show whatever he wanted, and the way his old jeans and vintage Blade Runner t-shirt accentuated his spare frame. His black-painted fingernails. The way he cocked his head to one side and leaned slightly forward while listening.

Issa was finally starting to get used to being with Oscar, even venturing a suggestion or two of his own, when Carol gave a few quick claps.

‘Aaaaaand, stop! Let’s take a quick ten minutes to get some refreshments, everyone, and then we’ll see your interpretations.’

The group members started to disperse, with a few of the older ones moving towards Oscar and Issa. Oscar, however, paid no attention to them: he wasn’t finished with what they were doing.

‘That last line, Issa, could you go again, but maybe with a little more… hollowness?’

Issa was aware that his audience was now more than just Oscar. He coughed, glanced towards the door, and then looked back at Oscar, who was focused only on him. As their eyes caught, he knew that he would try.

‘She’s gone, don’t you understand? She’s never coming back.’

He exhaled. For a few seconds more, Oscar regarded him with the same searching intensity, and then broke into a flashing smile.

‘Yes, yes, that’s it. I felt you. Nice work, Issa.’

Issa himself felt something unfamiliar: pride.

‘Thank you.’

Oscar then seemed to realise that some of the others were waiting for him. One of them spoke, in an affected fashion.

‘When you’ve finished, Mr. Day-Lewis? We must discuss tonight’s soiree.’

‘Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. You couldn’t wait a minute? Unlike you, I’m committed to more than getting wasted and catching diseases.’

Charlie became much less arch.

‘Oscy, I may be a fuccboi, but at least I’m an honest one. And anyway, I use protection. Look, remember Jake, that bi rugby player that goes to High Storrs? I think he’ll be there tonight, and I wanna make it happen.’

Oscar gave a wolfish grin.

‘Oh, really?’

As Oscar, Charlie and the others wandered, chattering, to the other side of the room, Issa saw some of them glancing at him. They had noticed him, but it didn’t make him feel uncomfortable as it usually did. This was different, somehow.

It was only later, in his flat, that Issa knew why: Oscar’s brief moment of praise had given him something, something that to them had value. When they noticed him, they did so not with the pity or disdain he was used to, but with respect. Thinking back to his life in this country, and even edging towards before, he realised: this was completely new. Even Justin and Nasir, for all their good intentions and his gratitude towards them, treated him as someone to be concerned about, to be rescued. Oscar didn’t, and for the briefest moment his entitled theatre group hangers-on didn’t either.

A new world was now open to Issa. It was exhilarating, and he knew he had to chase this feeling wherever it went. Whatever it was that had happened to him these last few Saturday mornings, something had changed, something had shifted in him.

Lying there, on his bed, alone in the darkening light, Issa broke into a smile, a smile that turned into a laugh. It had come, it had finally come, and it had come from nowhere: for the first time in as long as he could recall, he had a future. He, Issa, the boy blown in on the wind, had a future.

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