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Short Fiction|Oscar Windsor-Smith Charity Begins


he old man is squatting at the trackside, one brown arthritic hand waving flies from his face. Something draws you to him. Odd. At home you’d avoid interacting with strangers, even those bright people in the street with clipboards, a friendly smile and an easy ‘Hello’, knowing they might coax from you commitment you’ll later regret.    But this is voluntary service and you’re here to help - yes?    No. Be honest with yourself. You came in order to enjoy your Western lifestyle with a clearer conscience. Anyway, how did you end up here? Ah, yes, it was one of those clipboard people – a blonde with great legs – in Euston Road. ‘Would you like to know more?’ she said. Of course you wanted more. You always do.    He coughs as you approach – a deep guttural hawk – and spits into the dust. Beside him lies a bundle wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. You set down your nylon backpack and rummage through your clean clothes for change.    ‘I don’t want your money,’ he says in cultured English, ‘but a mouthful of your water would oblige.’    You hand him one of your six plastic bottles. He drinks and attempts to hand the bottle back. You, of course, decline.    He nods. ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be,’ he quotes, reaching for his bundle and tugging at the string. It proves to contain books. He tells you they belonged to his wife. You have questions that you cannot ask.    The old man removes a well-bound volume and kisses it. He reties the bundle and passes you the book. You demur but he insists and you are holding an English translation by Sarfaraz K Niazi of Mizra Ghalib’s ghazals. The title is Love Sonnets of Ghalib.    ‘Thank you,’ he says, his eyes possessing yours. ‘Please. I have no further use for this.’    He slowly stands, hoists the bundle to his back and shuffles on his way.


LIJLA Vol.1, No.2 August 2013

LIJLA Vol. 1 No. 2 August 2013  

A journal that features creative work by internationally acclaimed and emerging writers/artists like Peter Daniels, Vanessa Gebbie, John Mac...

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