On the Night the T4 Visa Student Invites Me Back
by Eluned Gramich
Second Prize in the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2017
He opens the door to his room, clears the pile of clothes from his one chair.
Please sit, he says.
My friend has come a long way. He has crossed oceans, continents, unpronounceable counties. In his wallet, he keeps his residency card and his student card, which is also the electronic key to his room. The key to the room is also the key to this country and his future, because he would like, one day, to be a professor here. Once a week, he must scan the card at the offices to prove he hasn’t run away.
I look around at the beige walls, the fire exit sign, the window overlooking a sunless alley. This concrete palace is his home; the six books on the shelf, his company.
He says: my written English is good, my spoken English is bad.
I wonder how that is possible? When writing reveals all our flaws? Yet sitting between his unmade bed and bare desk, I don’t say anything that might dampen his pride. He tells me about his family (doctors, lawyers) and his grades (the highest in the region). He tells me he’s had girlfriends, but he grew weary of them. He searches for the right word – disenchanted? I nod, but privately believe he’s hiding heartbreak.
He shows me a picture of his many (far away) friends, but behind the frame I spot a painting of an old man, two fingers pointing upwards to heaven, his eyes rolled back.
What’s this? I ask.
My friend blushes. Oh, it’s nothing.
No, really. I press, because it’s the first time I’ve seen my friend like this, on the verge of conceding a weakness, a small truth.
He says, It was my sister’s. He was her favourite saint before she died.
Was she ill? I ask. (Because, you see, I know something of illness.)
No, she died in an accident.
Briefly, he covers his face with his hand, pushes his black hair to one side. I notice his eyes, which are dark, and his soft mouth. The teasing smile has vanished, his expression closed in thought.
I tell him I’m sorry. And he says, as if reading from a script, that it was a long time ago.
Outside, there’s the sound of other students running along the corridor, heels on stairs, the thump of pre-club music.
Undergraduates, my friend sighs, closing the curtains.
He looks at me and, again, I’m conscious of my status, my terrible burden. You see: I am the only person he knows in this city. Behind his confident talk of professorships and grades, my friend is afraid of me. He’s afraid I will leave, as new people often do. And so I lead him to the bed, and we lie there, my hand stroking his hair, my arm around his waist and, from the half-empty shelf, the old saint gives us his blessing.
On the Night the T4 Visa Student Invites Me Back won Second Prize in the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2017, as chosen by Naomi Booth. This flash fiction was first published in Bare Fiction Magazine Issue 11 – July 2018.