“A long time ago, I could sleep. No problem. Then I have hard floor as bed, thin sheet to warm my back and five brother as my blanket. We sleep in one room. I have two sister too.” The man pokes the teenager sitting beside him and waves his index finger under the boy’s nose. “In one room. And parents too. They put sheet to separate them from us.”

“Um…so what about if the parents you know…wanna…” The boy gestures with his hands.

“Oh. They do very quietly.”

“That’s gross.”

“Gross?”

“I mean, it’s yuck. No one wants to see their parents do it.”

“We no see, sometimes we hear small noise. We sleep ten people in one room.” The man wiggles his ten fingers for added emphasis.

“That’s cool dude.”

“No, not cool. Not cool. We keep warm. The room small.”

The boy unleashes a shrill laugh. “No I meant it’s cool as in the story’s interesting.”

“Oh. This you phone ringing?”

“Oh shit. Yeah.” He rummages in his school bag. “Shit, man where is it! If I didn’t have so much crap for school I’d find it by now! Ah, yeah great it stopped.” He leans back on the bench and gnaws his thumb nail. “And I have no credit to call back too. This sucks!”

“No worry. They call you back.”

The boy grabs his bag again. He rescues his phone from the pages of his history book. “Ah, I stressed for nothing,” he says, leaning back with a satisfied grin. “Was only my brother.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, dude. He’s not important.”

“You do not like brother?”

“Yeah he’s alright, you know, but he can be a pain. You know what I mean?”

The old man’s brow creases in three neat folds and strands of white hair stick to the confused wrinkles. “You mean he cause you pain? Hit you?”

“Nah, well, sometimes, but I mean he’s annoying. Thinks he knows everything, you know.” He ruffles his brown mop of curls and unleashes a mini snow storm of dandruff that settles on his grey jacket. “So like didn’t it get kinda weird sleeping with so many people in the one room? What if you know, you needed to…you know…”

“I need do things?”

“Yeah like in private.”

The man throws his head back and laughs. His furry tongue quivers with each chuckle and saliva drips from his upper lip onto his chest. He wipes at his lined shirt. “Yes, it is no easy when I get older, to your age. I develop. I go outside if I need private time. My brothers too. We have two sister in room, we respect.”

“Umm…how’d you all fit?”

“Girls sleep one side of room. Me and brothers sleep another. Oh, it was not easy. To fit, three brothers sleep in row, and other three opposite. So we smell each other feet. I hated this. So many time I wake up hugging dirty feet. I get so angry. My youngest brother, he was maybe seven, have bad dream a lot and he kick in sleep. One time he dreaming, he kick me in stomach hard. Oh how I get angry! I need to work in morning, I polished shoes in city, and when he kick me like this and wake me up, I hold his big toe, squeeze it so hard, so hard…” He looks at the boy, eyes glistening with unshed tears. “I break it. I break his toe.”

“Shit.”

“Yes, shit. I never forget his screaming. Or how he look at me. I was stupid.”

“Did he forgive you?”

“Oh yes, but I never forgive myself.”

“But dude, it was an accident. And this happened yonks ago.”

“Yes, an accident, but on cold night, even when his toe get better, I hear him cry very quiet because it hurt—”

“Sorry dude,” says the boy as he gets up and puts his bag on his back. “That’s my train. I have to go. Nice talking to ya.”

“Yes, very nice. This you phone ringing?”

The boy grins. “Yeah, it’s the bro.” He waves at the old man and walks into the carriage, phone to his ear.

“Yes,” mumbles the old man. “A long time ago, I could sleep. Not now. When I am older in years, when my bed is softer, when I do not have dirty feet to hug in mornings.” He gets up and walks away from the platform, sweeping foreign dirt with his bare feet. “Yes, I could sleep, in my country, I could sleep.”

 

Published in Island Magazine issue 120

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