Run, Ahmed, run! You’re late for your German course. Six goddamn minutes until the next train? What will I tell this new teacher? I need to convince her I am the best student. She could now make an impression that I am just another lazy ‘migrant’. How do you say excuse my being late in German? Ouf! The class is closed. There is no course today. Fuck me, how could I forget? Am I turning into a piece of the German machine?
What do I do next? Use my Berlin Pass to go to a museum for free? Lie down in a park and read this heartbreaking cross-generational Neapolitan novel? I rest on a bench across the school and think.
A woman is coming towards me. She drags her luggage behind her. Is she looking at me? Yes she is. She’s even talking to me. She yells maybe you can help me. This hardly ever happened to me since I moved here from Cairo. People don’t often approach strangers here. She casually sits next to me, I need to find a cheap hostel, she says, less than 20 euros.
I work my smart phone without much questioning. I am curious of course. Here’s this hot blonde in really short shorts, just next to Kurfürstenstraße, the sex workers street, with a bag and nowhere to stay. I don’t ask where she’s from. I don’t ask about her job. Why the hell am I wondering if she’s a sex worker? Hold your assumptions. I try to bury them.
Oh wow, another stranger is talking to us. He comes and sits next to us on the bench with a glass of wine in one hand and a joint in the other. He waves the joint, and asks if we would like to share it, since we’re sitting on the bench where he likes to chill. Without much hesitation, I say thank you that would be great. She declines when I pass it on. He starts expounding accommodation advice and suggestions from his experience as a native Berliner.
He gets a call. It’s my therapist, he says. He is calling to change their appointment. He leaves the bench temporarily to talk to him. When he is finished he comes back to explain that the therapist certifies his ‘mental illness’. He can hand the papers to the Jobcenter so that he gets state support for the unemployed. It’s not much, he says, but enough to keep him alive and happy.
Is he homeless? I don’t know. Stop it with your silly assumptions. It’s his rebellion against the horrible society that forces people to work and not live their lives fully, he says. He says he has friends on the streets, he goes to this and that bar, he takes coke or hash, heroin is a no-no for him, and he’s a fan of mushrooms, comparing the European varieties to the Mexican ones. Sharing is wealth, he says. If you don’t have someone to share with, you’re a poor man.
He pulls the ‘where are you from?’ question. The bubble breaks. The girl is Polish. I am Egyptian. He says, a beautiful woman like you won’t have trouble finding a place to stay. She says she’s been to Sharm el Sheikh! Who is this girl? And why is she getting closer to me on the bench? Is she coming on to me? And why do I find this guy suddenly attractive? When he mentions his wife and lovers, I ask him how many are they.
written in Berlin, June 2016
by Ahmed Awadalla
Illustrations by Daria Zakharova