The fog, shape-shifting its way through the evening air, disoriented Joseph as he slid from one kerb to the next. Shop windows all looked the same now. Having retraced his steps several times, he once more cursed his decision to come to this country at all.
His short-term goal was simple. To find his way back home. But this was proving much more difficult than he had imagined. Home. The meaning of the word had degenerated in his mind; stripped back to simply connote the place where he had slept for the past three nights.
The silence was broken as a car drew alongside Joseph. With its headlights dipped, it lit up the mist like stage lights rippling through liquid nitrogen at the start of a rock concert. Joseph gazed into the light, searching for a clue...
The engine turned over quietly, like the comforting swell of a washing machine. A heady scent of diesel discharged from the exhaust as the car idled for a few seconds, then moved off into the night.
In its wake, a tall, silhouetted shape began to move towards him. As the outline approached, a tingling sensation ran down Joseph’s back and arms. Closer and closer the shape came towards him.
"You miss your home?" Joseph’s attention, until now focused straight ahead, was suddenly diverted by a voice which seemed to drop out of the ether into the space behind him.
Joseph immediately twisted round to find that a huge form now blocked his way on the other side. Little flashes of light seemed to glow around the figure's arms and legs.
Joseph had an urge to sit down on the pavement.
Under the man's long blue scarf, Joseph could make out what seemed like a purple and red tunic. It draped the form's long body like a magnificent royal ensign. In the swirling fog, Joseph felt unusually serene. In spite of the fact that he was now surrounded on both sides by complete strangers, he was calm.
"You miss your home," stated the same gravel voice, " and what you have only just begun to recognise in your mind about what home is now, is one way of understanding this fact. But it runs deeper than you will ever be able to understand, Joseph."
"Have we met before?" Joseph could recognise nothing familiar in the face.
"We have never met, but there is a reason why we are now here." The first man’s voice now pierced the night. "You have made a long and difficult journey. It may have seemed meaningless to you at the time, but we want you to know, that your steps have had a purpose."
Joseph could make out that this man wore the same outfit as the second. Squinting more closely, he noticed that the red and purple blended a little into cloudy bubbles. They reminded him in design, if not in colour, of army khaki. Joseph looked down to notice that both men were wearing what seemed like black Doc Martens. He began to search almost instinctively for a weapon of some sort, perhaps hidden in a pocket or belt.
As the first man spoke again light flickered from his eyes to momentarily provide a perfect view of his bearded face and sharply defined cheek-bones. Joseph fell to his knees, unable to withstand the tremor that was overpowering his body. It felt like an electric current was being sent through him. His tongue quivered but he could not speak.
It was the first man who broke the short silence: "You are right to be silent. It was Mark Twain who said that if we were meant to talk more than listen we would have two mouths and one ear." He turned to address the second man: "Sometimes I believe that you have two mouths, Rafa."
Rafa let out an infectious bellow. A wry smile creased the corner of the other’s lips. Joseph couldn’t help but smile too.
The second man became serious again: "Don’t be scared Joseph Elijah Takana. After what you’ve been through, fear is natural, but you should try to let yourself smile once more. Laughter is like a medicine which can heal you, if you will allow it."
With that, the two turned and headed off into the fog, their bodies quickly disappearing from view, but the surge of the light that surrounded them, was clearly visible from where Joseph knelt, immobile and tranquil, on the tarmac pavement.
"You’ll not find home from there!" Rafa’s voice ricocheted through the air and the words seemed to hit Joseph’s ears from various unforeseen angles. He roused himself and began to follow.
As the two men walked on Joseph was never able to catch another glimpse of their faces, but by keeping his eyes looking forward, he was able to discern the two bright shapes. Moth-like, he was propelled through the bitterly cold streets in the right direction.
Finally, the glow died out and Joseph, catching his rasping breath, felt his way across the pavement to the nearest wall. His throat was raw with the taste of the biting winter air. His emotions were raw too.
Reaching the end of the bricked building, he turned into the next street. He immediately recognised it as Sitevale Lane. He had been brought back to within five hundred metres of his flat.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Joseph pulled the thin, silver key from his pocket and opened the security door. A few seconds later he was back inside the flat, crouching by the electric heater. His heart was not here, but for now it was home.
This is the third part of Joseph Takana's story. If you want to read more it begins with
Unforeseen Arrival and continues in New Start