It was a rolled-up ball of newspaper, tossed on the pavement, a paper globe with a surface occupied by all sorts of local and world events, a self-contained world lying abandoned until he picked it up. He picked it up and unrolled it. The first thing to catch his eye was a news headline about the increasing throng of refugees. Below the headline was a description of an effort to prevent them from entering into the country in such large numbers. His eyes lingered on the description before moving onto an advertisement for female undergarments. His thoughts turned erotic for a brief moment before he was distracted by something on the road. He rolled it up into a ball again but in a way that brought a different side of the sheet to the surface and tossed it away on the pavement. The refugee question that had previously occupied its surface had now given way to the exploits of a refugee midfielder who had scored a hattrick of goals, whose picture in dotted black and white now covered about one-third of it. It lay there again forlorn seeking the attention of some other curious passerby, a bystander or even an animal.
She was waiting on the pavement a little distance away from the crowd gathered at the bus stop. She had left her place of work and come straight here. “He must be on his way now,” she thought. A few minutes later, a rather stodgy helmeted man on a sleek motorcycle comes screeching to a halt in front of her. He gets down, opens the carriage on the side, hands over her helmet, a sea-green coloured head protector, with a feminine style. She promptly puts it on, sits behind him, making sure not to get too close to him, yet placing her hand on his shoulder before the motorcycle speeds away from sight. But just as it starts something drops onto the pavement from her hand. The nature of that something is unclear. It could be a plastic wrapper of a consumed bar of chocolate or a handkerchief, something pink with stripes. The something remains there without a claimant, the crowd at the bus stop unaware of its existence.
They had a fight over the size of the bed. He wanted something that would force them to cuddle. She wanted something that would give them room to roll towards each other. The fight had originated from a point of strict unanimity: a mutual feeling they shared about their current bed that it was too old, too creaky and simply too narrow to be tolerated any longer. This cheap piece of plywood purchased long time back when they were students was falling apart in strips. The mattress had become too tired having faithfully borne their supine weight night after night for close to a decade and a half. They were not going to get anything for it. They decided the best place for it would be the pavement, to be left there for anyone who needed it.
The newspaper is neatly folded out on the make shift plywood board placed on four bricks doubled up on each other to form two legs. There is a plastic water jug without a lid displaying scratches from long use by its first owner or who knows how many other owners. It has now found its place on top of the refugee footballer, part of whose face, left arm and chest are covered by the base of this lidless water jug. A pink handkerchief with stripes hangs from a nail on a wall of a public garden, which is the only solid wall of this makeshift home, whose three other walls are combinations of cardboard, discarded asbestos and equally unwanted plywood. There is a mattress occupying one side of this home. The two adult bodies this mattress had grown accustomed to supporting have now been replaced by an adult and a child.
The two, the woman and her infant son, had been living alone for quite some time, it seemed. The third, the man was dead although it is not quite clear for how long. Although it could not have been that long. But now came the tsunami, a tsunami of carefully cultivated rage against people of her kind caused by the tides of political machinations originating in countries whose name she could not even spell, sweeping her away into the rubbish heap of humanity, turning the faint residues of her kind into transnational perambulants. After the tsunami, she had started out walking alone with the infant in her arms. By the time she was temporarily settled again in this country, the infant was a seven-year-old boy who could keep pace with her. She had managed to walk the length of a small continent by now, tossed back and forth between countries, held intermittently in refugee camps, prisons and internment centers. In between there were brief periods of inertia. This was one such period in a country which she had left and reentered who knows how many times, an inertia that arises from brief periods of apathy, an apathy that arises from exhaustion, where one is exhausted from constantly taking notice, where one briefly stops taking notice. The tumults of hate always gave way briefly to periods of apathy like this, it seems. And thanks to it, here she was, unnoticed, abandoned, left alone. Free to pick leftovers and to be left over here alone, free to pick leftovers and to be left over here alone, free to pick leftovers and be left over here alone…
Arun Iyer teaches, translates and writes on philosophy. He has been doing this for a decade and plans to continue doing so as long as he can. He has a great love for Western classical music, especially the music of Franz Schubert. His greatest regret is not having learned a classical musical instrument although his partner insists there is still time.