ZW11 Third Place

CENTRAL STATION 7.03 am – Arna Radovich
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Early in the morning, Ahmad comes to get him: grudgingly, silently. He gives Jafar a jerky nod and then turns and walks out. He doesn’t wait to check if Jafar is following. Another morning’s work lost… this useless apprentice of his! Silently Ahmad curses his sister back home for sending him this imbecile, another empty mouth to feed! He curses Jafar, he curses his luck, or lack of it.

Jafar stumbles along behind Ahmad. The sunlight stings his eyes like soap; spasms of pain bite hard. He doesn’t know where he is, or where he is going. As the crowd thickens and congeals, he fears losing Ahmad.

Jafar is hungry. The friendly woman, who yesterday had brought him such a delicious breakfast, had not yet come before Ahmad appeared. Ahmad argues with the Boss Nurse, who says that Jafar cannot leave until the doctor has seen him again. She threatens to call security, but Ahmad is not easily frightened.

‘The doctor said yesterday that he could leave today,’ Ahmad insists, ‘and this is the only time I can come.’ Does the foolish woman want Jafar to catch the train home by himself? No, he didn’t think so. This useless nephew of his couldn’t find his way out of the hospital, let alone find his way home. Jafar watches the exchange silently. All he understands is Uncle’s anger and his own hunger; his stomach hanging flat and empty under his skin, like a deflated balloon.

Jafar’s legs are weak and unresponsive; he is slow climbing the stairs to the platform. For a moment he loses sight of Ahmad. He hears Ahmad shouting for him to hurry. As he reaches the platform, he sees the tail of the 7.03 snaking away. Ahmad stamps his feet and curses again, this time not silently; but it doesn’t bring the train back. The next train is not due for another half hour. The chill autumn wind pipes between the many rows of platforms. Ahmad pulls out a newspaper and turns his back on Jafar.

The child's bright eyesA small girl skips up the station steps ahead of a large red-faced woman. The woman is dragging a tapestry-fabric suitcase. One of its wheels has broken. The woman is breathing hard; she too has missed the train. The child’s bright eyes view Jafar with interest. She takes in the particles of grey concrete dust still stuck to his clothes, the pure whiteness of the sling, its bandaged contents. She sees the gap where fingers two and three should be. ‘What happened to your hand?’ she asks outright, just like that. But Jafar shakes his head. He understands the question in her face, but does not know how to reply.

‘I’m going to get coffee,’ Ahmad says suddenly, and he disappears down the platform steps.

The mother calls out to the child, ‘Kaylee, come here right now and help me with this! Now!’

Jafar looks around for somewhere to sit. But the platform is getting crowded and all seats are full. He sees the child smile at him as she turns to follow her mother; her face shimmers like a desert mirage. Jafar sways on his long legs. He sees black dots and outlandish creatures swimming before his eyes until his vision narrows to a nailhead and he pitches face forward. The child turns back in time to see the look of surprise on Jafar’s face as his head bounces twice on the concrete.

Jafar makes no sound but his body twists with the pain of it, his dark eyes roll back in his head until all that is visible are the whites. Blood sprays from his nose.

Kaylee’s mother tries to pull the child further towards the other end of the platform, but a group of excited head-scarfed school-girls are gathering for an excursion. Before the teacher can ask them to move out of the way, Kaylee’s mother has pushed roughly past them. ‘This country is going to the dogs,’ she mutters to no-one and everyone.

in the shadow of the child's concernAs the mother fusses with the suitcase, trying to straighten the broken wheel, Kaylee slips away. When the mother finally turns, Kaylee is already crouched on the concrete beside Jafar. She has pulled a clump of tissues from her pocket and is gently holding them against his nose. In the shadow of the child’s concern, Jafar is quietly weeping.

Images: J. Hemsley

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2 thoughts on “ZW11 Third Place

  1. This is a fantastic little story. An excerpt that we may see in the daily travel of our lives. Where has all the kindness gone?

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