Joseph arrived here a little revived: a new start is what most people long for and as his ship came ashore, a burning, alien hope welled up inside him. From Egypt, he had edged gradually towards these shores, having left his Sudanese homeland several weeks earlier.
Each port had been a stepping-stone towards a new continent where abundance caught his eye, like grapes clustering from every branch in a vineyard. Liverpool to Glasgow had been the final leg. For the first time since the blackest day, his life began to have possibilities again.
But walking down Hillend Street on a cold November morning seemed a million miles from the shores of the Red Sea. Reaching his destination, he was swept, abruptly and unexpectedly, by a surge of emotion for his people and his village. The freezing air seemed to punch his face leaving him breathless and numb...
He walked slowly towards the restaurant, checking his gangly stride as he glanced down at a small piece of paper. Recognising the restaurant’s name in the scrawly handwriting in front of him, he edged through the heavy, silver door into a bright red and yellow room. Joseph asked the man behind the counter, in his best English, about the waiter’s vacancy. As a prerequisite of his claim for refugee status, the job centre had insisted that Joseph apply, even although he had no previous experience of this kind of work.
"So, when can you start? We're in a bit of a fix with winter flu and that..." said the burly owner, appearing suddenly through the set of beaded curtains that hung to the left of the bar. He rubbed his greying beard with one of his huge furry hands, as he waited for a response.
Joseph was taken aback by the speed of his success, having expected a more thorough interview with questions about his background, or at least a mention of his accent. When he revealed his willingness to begin right away, the owner’s bushy, grey eyebrows curved upwards in half-surprise, but he seized the moment nevertheless, throwing Joseph a notepad and half-size pencil. A short while later he was ready for action.
Feeling conspicuous in his checkered apron, he moved slowly towards the window table to take his first order.
"The chicken curry," ordered a sharp-suited man, even before Joseph could utter a word.
"The chilli," spat out his female companion.
"And a Budweiser."
"Me as well."
Finding the accents difficult to understand, Joseph was forced to ask his first customers to repeat themselves. Slowly and grudgingly, with little eye-contact, they did so.
Bewildered by their lack of empathy, Joseph trudged back towards the kitchen, his hands shaking. As he pushed the red swing doors to deliver the order, what he saw made him feel physically sick.
Back home, his drought-prone climate, like a cosmic roulette-wheel, had chosen to curse with a poor harvest for the past three years. Joseph had witnessed many families struggle to survive: many fathers, once strong and proud, becoming shadows lurking in fields, divining rain, scratching around for the slightest sign of enough grain to ward off total despair. When none appeared, the burden of responsibility often became too much....
Now Joseph’s eyes were fixed on a chubby man of medium height wearing an off-white apron, stained and unkempt, with a shaven head and matching stubble. He was repeatedly turning the half-eaten contents of several plates into a large metal bin. The bin was bulging with enough food to feed the children of his village for a full week.
"What will you be doing with that?" Joseph managed to ask.
"Hungry mate?" grinned the cook. "Don’t worry-you’ll get your meals for free. Only the best for the staff of All Weathers!"
Giving him the order, Joseph left the kitchen.
As he walked between his designated tables and the kitchen, during the sluggish hours of his first day, thoughts crept through Joseph’s mind like unwelcome visitors. This is the land to which he had travelled? The inhospitable wind seemed to whisper the character of its inhabitants-an arrogance and lack of recognition of the wealth and well-being that was pouring out of every shop window.
Yet, Joseph sensed despair, in spite of this; in contrast to the joy-filled community that had been his home for these past twenty-five years. He felt an atmosphere of hopelessness in this refuge. With these thoughts came a sense of guilt, as he thought of those who had helped him greatly since his arrival here only three days ago.
Joseph left his new employment at six thirty, having unburdened himself of apron, notebook and pencil. The day had been an eye-opener, and by the end of his shift Joseph felt tired and was functioning on automatic pilot. Walking almost robotically back out into Hillend Street, he silently manoeuvred out into the black night.
His temporary accommodation was a ground floor flat on the other side of the town. At a steady pace he had made the journey to the town centre that morning in around fifteen minutes. Now, however, as fog began to fall, Joseph realised, for the first time, that he was unsure of the direction in which he should go.
Following the written instructions had seemed so easy during the hours of sunlight, but as he wandered methodically through the waterfall glow of lampposts, he struggled to find any clue which would tell him where he was going. He walked on, feeling more and more uneasy. Darkness had come quickly, chasing away any signs of life from the streets he walked on. Like a restless ghost treading the same ground over and over, unable to rest in peace, Joseph merged with the mist. He was lost.
You may wish to read more about Joseph. Here is where his story begins:
Posted for Theme Thursday: Rebirth
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