Checking out

April 19, 2007 at 3:04 am (Los Angeles, Voices)


Sorry to say goodbye like this. I had to rush for the train I threw myself under. In two to three days you’ll receive another packet with the DVD I made – CCTV footage of my first suicide attempt, which failed (the 5.30 to Brighton was late). It also contains my final speech to the family. It is my wish for it to be played after the funeral. My last request is that Michael be barred from shovelling any earth on to my coffin. I know he would take a secret pleasure in this, nice though he is. If I hear those thuds I will never rest in peace.

I’ve put cash for Tim’s trumpet lessons in the microwave. It’s important that these continue. He has a future as a trumpet player. Perhaps, when he is sixteen, he can learn the harmonica. I wanted to learn an instrument, but I’m dead now. In a month or two – whatever seems reasonable – you and Michael will be shacked up together. He will become something of a father to Tim, I know. Mike has my blessing – he’s a responsible sort. Still, I know you will honour my wish for Tim to learn the trumpet, well after my bugle has sounded.

Jenny, I hope you’ll read my instructions for the DVD player I’ve specially prepared for you. These manuals start off in Japanese, are translated into German, then French. By the time they reach English they are far from the writer’s intention – how faithful to Ibsen’s original was my father’s stab at translating Ghosts into Persian from Swahili. I remember reading Ghosts at college. The teacher said it was about “skeletons in the closet.” I didn’t know this was a metaphor. I read it and read it again – but there were no skeletons, or a closet.

In my coffin I want you to place a double-double burger from In-N-Out – “animal style”, with grilled onions. I know that you can only get them in California. If you can’t UPS fast food internationally, I don’t want any other brand; but do make me a burger yourself. The thought of spending eternity without one upsets me – it’s dark, I’ll need one. Fries would be good too, who cares if they get soggy. Forget all of my last wishes if you have to, but do stuff a burger in, for me, as a goodbye.

Permalink 2 Comments

Two men in a pub

March 12, 2007 at 3:22 pm (Double espresso, UK, Voices)

BOB: Where are you from?
MAK: Battersea.
BOB: I’ve never seen you there and I live there.
MAK: It’s actually Clapham, not far.
BOB: My uncle lived in Clapham. He would have said something.
MAK: Okay. I grew up in Enfield.
BOB: Enfield? Hmm. My brother-in-law, he lived there.
MAK: Okay not Enfield, not Clapham. Richmond! That’s where I’m from – by the river.
BOB: Nah. You’re having me on. Went to school with a Richmond bloke.
MAK: “He would have said something.”
BOB: You from London?
MAK: Where does it sound like?
BOB: I’ve never seen you once on a bus, or the tube.
MAK: Well, here we are, pleased to meet you – Makan.
BOB: Pleased to meet you Mak — Bob. Tell me, not a Harrow boy are ya?
MAK: No. More of a barrow boy, me.
BOB: Only um, I don’t know anyone who lives there.
MAK: You don’t? Harrow it is then! Hold it, no. Me granddad was from Harrow.
MAK: Never mind. Anywhere else you haven’t been to? Sod it, I tell you what. I’m from Iran. That’s where I am from. Persia.
BOB: Purrrrrrsia, eh? Like the floating, grinning cat?
MAK: No that’s Cheshire.
BOB: My brother used to work there in the seventies.
MAK: What Cheshire?
BOB: No, Persia.
MAK: Well, obviously I can’t be from there then.
BOB: Eh?
MAK: He would have informed you, would he not?
BOB: You’re right, he would.
MAK: What was he doing in Iran, your brother?
BOB: He was training the Savak.
MAK: The Shah’s secret police? You are having a laugh!
BOB: He was. SAS. Training the Iranians.
MAK: To do what?
BOB: Bake biscuits.
MAK: Eh?
BOB: And cakes, Danish, pain au chocolate – the lot.
MAK: The British coached Iran’s Stasi to make cookies?
BOB: Yeah, well.
MAK: It’s not what you’d expect is it? I would have thought extracting confessions, forklift driving – not home economics.
BOB: It wasn’t all about violence. It was about cookery too. Reverie. Crockery.
MAK: Mockery. That’s probably where the expression “Take the biscuit comes from.”
BOB: Eh?
MAK: Brits teaching us how to cook the damn things.
BOB: Possibly. Look, my brother wasn’t in surveillance. It was more counter-surveillance.
MAK: What’s the difference?
BOB: Surveillance, you’re watching someone – or someone’s watching you. Counter-surveillance, you draw the curtains.
MAK: They needed the Brits to tell them that?
BOB: Well, a lot of people in your country had blinds. Not everyone had curtains. Lucky to have had him, you lot. Still, it’s got to be said. He never saw you.
MAK: Yeah, well, if truth be told, I was actually born in Baku in Azerbaijan. Not Iran.
BOB: Azerbaijan?
MAK: Don’t tell me someone – your niece, grandfather, uncle, your great-granny –
BOB: – No. No-no. Cousin. She got married in Azerbaijan.
MAK: I’m running out of land mass. Oh dear. Just out of interest how about Rio? De Janeiro.
BOB: Nephew, Stan.
MAK: Johannesburg?
BOB: Stepsister.
MAK: Reykjavik.
BOB: Aunt.
MAK: (LOSING PATIENCE) Tokyo. Adelaide. Prague. Lima. Tell me something, where are you from?
BOB: Hanwell.
MAK: Hanwell? Charlie Chaplin went to school there.
BOB: He did, you’re right.
MAK: Never said he saw you.

From February 2006

Permalink 1 Comment

Ali – diary of a UK asylum speaker

March 6, 2007 at 7:48 pm (Double espresso, Voices)

14 February 2007
I drop on my bed with my work clothes. Vowed never to do that, here I am, soaked in grease and kebabs. The blacks give us a hard time downstairs, I thought they were good people but they are arrogant and rude. In Iran we learned blacks are an oppressed people, that the Europeans treated them badly. Morteza says “It’s nothing to do with skin colour, it’s poverty, even if you went to a white area it would be the same – in fact you would be black.” I’m tired of them ordering me about and sucking their teeth and counting on the fact that I’m afraid of them because they’re black. I’m not. If I hesitate in responding it’s because my English is not good, in fact it’s terrible. Three months, and all I’ve learned to say “Chilli sauce salad?” “Everything salad?” So I am not as confident, also I am tired, I am on my feet 4pm to 6am and they pay me fifty pounds. Mr Majidi is a decent guy. He doesn’t pay me much but at least he doesn’t talk to us as if we are shit. That is the customer’s job. This boy is spending two pounds on a burger – two pounds – and he watches over me intently as I put the burger sauce on. If I put a little bit too much or too little he’ll talk to me like I’m dirt. If I say anything, he’ll take the burger and throw it in my face or who knows, shoot me. They shoot each other here, the blacks, I don’t know why they shoot each other, but they do. Not that they should be shooting anyone else. I’m tired of them. It’s poverty isn’t it – “We’re all black in this country,” Morteza says. What country? England to me is a greasy kebab shop where I break my back five nights a week.

17 February
Woke up late – missed sunlight. I hate it when that happens. Went to work on no sunlight. The food they feed us here is shit. Have to learn English. Three months now. All I do is work. Phoned mum. They’re all good, dad’s good. Miss them. When will I see them next? Cannot even bear to think about my dear little sister, Sara. She’ll be a bit bigger now, not a great deal, but children don’t wait. Adults, on the other hand, have to be patient. Next week I will find out if my asylum application is accepted, it probably won’t be but I’m hopeful. Most of the boys I work with have failed and are working illegally. None of us knows why they don’t let us work, why we can’t learn the language, they won’t let us. “Their most important rule is to stop us from learning English,” says Morteza. “Language is a weapon”. So, we come here to work. Afghans come to Iran for God’s sake. How screwed must they be. You can tell the Poles from a mile off, they try too hard to pass for English. They’re black too, in away. English people don’t crack open cans of Polish beer in the street. I need a haircut. Then maybe I can think about getting a girlfriend – who’d want to go out with Mr “Chicken or lamb shish”? One of my teeth, I think, is rotting. I’ll give it a few days and hope it disappears. The pain, that is, not the tooth. There’s a home dentistry kit in the local chemist. It’s got mirrors, dental picks, the works. Who needs a medical qualification? This country is amazing, this little corner of it anyway.

19 February
Spent five pounds on a Travelcard to get me to an Iranian restaurant near Oxford Street. It was a posh place. They said I need a work permit, the woman apologised for not having mentioned it on the phone. I was angry about the blacks yesterday. Now I’m angry about these Iranians who wasted my travel money. They can drop dead for all I care. But they were nice. They said I’d get the job if I get a permit. But why would I want to work there if I’m allowed to? I’d go to college and get a degree. I’d work there, anywhere but this shit-hole.

21 February

Two policemen came into the shop tonight. I was scared shitless. But the other guys were fine. I thought they’d ask for our papers but all they did was ask for a kebab. One of them was black and the other was Indian. You see, there you are, give someone a uniform and a pay cheque and they’re not going to use a threatening tone for burger sauce. They thought I’m a Turk. I let them think that – we’re about to be bombed. Too wrecked to think about the war. They won’t attack us. Of course they will. I don’t know. Twenty-two. I feel sixty two. I’m off to bed.

Permalink 6 Comments