Sad, funny and angry. I am honoured to have been privy to a tiny aspect of each tale. All three shook me up- mind, body and soul.
The sad one played out in my lunch break when I encountered an elderly man atop the first floor landing hunched over and gasping for breath. One fist clenched around an Inhaler and the other on his rickety knee. I was a heartbeat away from calling the Emergency number when he stopped me and insisted on narrating his story. Seeing that he had calmed down I hesitated and let him vent. His raspy voice told me how tobacco is killing him swiftly and surely. He has been at the doctor’s every day this week and needs a surgery soon for his smoked heart. But not before he is more stable. In a split second he’s on his feet and heaving three large bags of empty bottles. It takes 3 seconds before he needs to sit down again. A little background information here- in Germany most bottles are sold with a tiny deposit each, so when returned to a store you get the deposit back. Many street dwellers live off this money and the result is less litter and trash. Win-Win. Smoky Jack here had collected 8 large bags overflowing with bottles and I knew in an instant how well to do he must be. My heart broke and I offered to help him and his bottles get to his car. He willingly accepted and said his son wasn’t around today to help him. With a pang of guilt I was teleported to Goa, home to my parents and my heart, hoping my deed here might somehow be forwarded.
A bit later came funny. Riding on a bicycle, sporting a neon jacket, dreads in his hair and a beer at his lips. His eyes of course told a different and happier story. Wide, bright and full of a heady light! We were buying groceries at the same store and he lit up when he saw me enter. He turned on his African charm and greeted me with a big “Hello lady!” I left with my carton of milk and lazily strolled down the path when I realized the reggae man and his wheels were doing a slow trot behind me. He tipped his hilarious top hat and said “You are a beautiful lady, I hope your husband tells you so.” Before I replied “Thank you! Every day”, I briefly wondered how he knew. Most people see my ring on the left and think I’m single. The Germans wear it on the right. For some reason I had unconsciously used the other left today. Looks like the African man knows his game. He said “Let’s cheer!” and we clinked a beer and a milk carton together. Had someone frozen this moment in time, it would have made for one hell of a criss-cross tableau. Black man in flashy clothes on a waist high cycle raising a bottle of beer to a brown Indian girl walking down the street and reciprocating with a carton of milk!!! The number of stereotypes this picture holds in my head is infinite. He tried once more- “Maybe you wanna think of me when you not happy? When the husband forgets to say you beautiful?” “Nein danke. Tschüss!” (No thank you, bye bye) “Ah, Schade!” (What a shame!) I’m happily married and obviuosly refused his offer. It did though, leave a rather silly smile on my face. Oh the wonders of basking in the light of a compliment!
The angry one comes last because it truly tore through my soul. Now I felt a little lost in translation as I heard this man’s plight through Farsi and German until my overworked brain translated it to English. He opted for the refugee route from Afghanistan to Germany 2 years ago. All for the promise of a better life for his beloved wife and young son. The horrors of the journey messed with his already overburdened mind and he had to receive Psychiatric treatment in an in-patient facility in Germany. He claims the treatment has only worsened his state. He is now dependent on the tablets and can’t control himself from angry outbursts when off the meds. His doctor doesn’t understand him and only prescribes more or less medication with a slip for the next visit. He wants to work and earn his daily bread but is not allowed until he has longer staying permission. Hence he must collect a monthly allowance from the Job Centre and this makes him feel robbed of his manhood. I thought I was getting lost in translation until I paused for a moment and wondered how lost this soul must be between countries, languages, bureaucracy and sheer desperation. This morning an acquaintance of his was summoned by the Police and sent back to Hungary, which is where he first entered the EU. Conditions there are far less than desirable. So bad, that terror grips this Afghani as he contemplates further loss of freedom and the overpowering urge to see his family again. His papers are being processed at the moment and he awaits the return of his passport. He wants out. He wants to soak in his country, his love and his life once more. Suddenly, midway through the conversation, he loses it. In a voice barely restraining his emotions he says he wants nothing from anyone anymore. He storms out in rage, his child-like voice shouting, “I just want to go home!”
Don’t we all?
Where or what is home to you?
A country, a people, a talent, a religion, a season, an identity?
If only we could respect each human being’s right and desire to be home, no matter how different that is from our own definitions, the world would be a happier place.