Saturday, 28 August 2021 06:47

Afghan Ali

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in Poetry
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Afghan Ali

Afghan Ali – courier call sign CH Four-Three-Eight

by Martin Hayes

he lays flatbreads over a bare gas flame in a shared kitchen above a Spar in Walthamstow
filling them with dreams that their mother used to fill them with better
before she lost her head to the Aegean Sea
his son makes weird noises in his sleep which he puts down to being lost
but if you ask the son he’ll tell you that it’s because he stays awake in his sleep
tying torches to trees
so that he can better help guide the American drones away
from his street

she goes to school in a flock of hijabs
to learn about mathematics and physics
how if you split an atom apart it can release so much energy it can melt skin
no matter what colour it is
or how strong the bones are underneath

in home economics she learns about waste
how it needs to be recycled
rather than put in landfill or tipped into the sea
like her mother was

before he logs on to courier for us at 8 he cleans toilets between 4 and 6 am
for a company whose owner puts £600,000 a year into the pockets of a network that spends our tax money developing systems that can let a bomb drop from two thousand feet
right on top of his grandmother’s head
just so he can get a tax break

she carves cat flaps out of her arm
because she’s been told so often how ugly the colour of her needy blood is
that she’s started believing it
and wants to let all of that animal out of her

there were only three of them left
when once there were four
and scores of others they could name

before there were even trees
their mother used to call out to from the kitchen window
but all of their leaves are gone now too
I don’t know
but I can imagine only the bare arms of those trees are left
for them to hold onto

Ali used to drive for Uber but when the pandemic hit the need for drivers dropped through the floor. A mate of his who was doing work picking up test-kits from care homes gave him my number. He called me one day back in June or July of last year and asked for a job. We got him signed up and we both hit it off – soon after that we started speaking on a daily basis – he speaks to me about his shit and I tell him about my shit – he is always worried about his children – I am always worried about my job – we both want them to be safe but realise that they are, ultimately, outside of our control.

We have worked together now on this covid shit for over a year – he used to call me Mr Boss but as we have got to know each other over the year he has plugged in to my winceing and cringing about things like that – he now calls me Mr White Man Boss – and now I call him, rather than Ali, Afghan Ali – we take the piss out of each other – he tells me he thinks that I have a small dick because anyone so wrapped up in their work doing so many hours as I do can’t be doing it in the bedroom ‘for the lady’ – I offer to show it him – he says I’m gay – that back where he comes from men like me get decapitated in sports arenas – I tell him back that where I come from men like him get shit put through their letterbox and slogans spray-painted on their doors – he says back – fuck, you think I don't know that Mr White Man Boss – I live in Walthamstow, above a Spar!

He doesn’t have a wife because she drowned in the Dardanelles Straits when they were trying to get away from Afghanistan and had got that far that they were ‘this far’ from leaping away from Turkey into Greece and then it’d be easier then to get through into Europe – ‘but then that happened’ he says, ‘I held the two kids’ heads up above the water but didn’t have any left over for hers…’ It's almost impossible sometimes, to deliver a poem about a life lived like Ali's - so what do you do? Do you write the poem or do nothing about it...do you do nothing and let none of it be said? Or do you attempt this...

Read 339 times Last modified on Friday, 03 September 2021 09:45
Martin Hayes

Martin Hayes has worked in the courier industry for 30 years. His latest collection is The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, published by Culture Matters.