MARGINS • by D. Z. Watt

More than the tales of old men on winter evenings. More than the light that creeps up on sleepless nights of regrets. Repeatedly, without understanding but not without insistence, call centres had rung Albert’s phone. Trying to sell him a something-or-other. Never quite hearing his attempted-gentle No thank yous. Until the day he’d had a bit more than quite enough and he shrilled, Call someone else, I don’t want your bloody crap!

At the other end of the line, Asheeko yanked out the earphone and dropped it on the desk, as if repulsed by its ear-waxy sheen that, after all, was his.

He tapped the keyboard for a toilet break, then wended his way through chattering workers to the stairwell. Where he could breathe. And stretch. And not feel pressed in.

Albert went over to the window and looked at the cityscape. He couldn’t move any further urban northward in the English-speaking world, he’d run as far as he could without going small town. The only other alternative to remain unbothered, yet live amidst the crowd, was to cut the technology connection: the phone, the broadband, the mobile, and their accoutrements, the email lists and networks.

But it’d be hard, there were voices from far away and far ago he still wanted to hear. Occasionally. At a distance. Even if it meant that some — some stranger in a strange land who was, after all, just trying to make a living, kept pestering him to buy! buy! buy!

Asheeko stood at the toilet window and lit a cigarette, looking down on the human crush snaking through the gridlock traffic in the lanes below. And he thought it was strange, alien. Even if he’d grown up in it. Nothing he watched on TV matched this image, he saw there broad avenues and shiny cars and people, yes, but not elbow to elbow. And those places never looked as hot or steamy as this.

But to leave meant leaving his family, his pals. Especially his little brothers, who needed his support.

Yet — Oh! How he’d love to live in Britain; his uncle’s stories from the time he’d worked there fascinated him. Not the dirty work he did, but the shops and the cars and the air “like ice cream on the face” he’d said.

To feel cold, truly cold. And to live in such a civilized place. Asheeko couldn’t imagine it but he’d like to give it a go.

On the other hand, Albert thought, he could move to some tropical country. Where he wouldn’t understand the jabber on the street. And then he smirked at the thought:  Maybe even where these call centres are. They wouldn’t be trying to sell him things there, they were after Bwana’s gold.

Asheeko flicked the cigarette in the toilet, dismissing the idea. He was in a trap. He better get back to work. Calling those white fools.

But if he moved somewhere else, Albert wouldn’t have the free sheltered housing, the other benefits. Just his state pension. And even in a poor country he couldn’t make it on that.

Turning from the window, he had no option but to stay. And with a deep sigh he decided that, just for a laugh the next time they called, he’d ask how the weather was outside their call centre.

D. Z. Watt lives in Scotland, where he emigrated years ago from the United States.

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