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Frightened by the host: story

Sat in the Chapeltown library’s cafe, eating his lunch. Empty. Except for two women sitting behind him. African accents, ambient, but immersive, instant comfort, home. Without realising it, he’s slipped off to an intimate place that’s off the map. Only when the two young women come round the corner does he realise he was no longer in England. A startle that wakes him up. Blond and brown hair; ankle-length trousers, hyspterdom trademark; woolen knit jumper—lightly hipster; certainly hip, cool; the NHS badges around their necks; lunch-time chatter: Accent. With a jolt he’s back in England. But, for an instant, where is he, where is his body now? In that instant, he feels embarrassed, as if caught red-handed in an illicit act. It’s not really the ackee and saltfish and green banana and yam he’s having for lunch (with a Supligen) that’s illicit. It’s how he’d allowed himself to lie down in the accents of the women behind him, as in a feathery bed, and the corner—more than a physical corner—he’d created for himself, unbeknownst to him, away from the host country, despite the hipster cap he’s wearing and the stylish woolen coat he purchased in a charity shop in Lannion. Lucile had said he looked like a ‘vegan hunter’ and both of them, and the saleswoman, and the other couple in the store, had had a belly laugh. He feels caught out, though, ostensibly, the women haven’t even noticed him. It’s as if he’d cheated, in the moment that preceded the jolt, inhabiting an aura that’s at odds with his exterior (the one he’d cared into existence): he’d come out of character. But how? Where he was just now was home. Couldn’t feel more home. But no, actually, he thinks, it’s not the performance that’s the problem, but the habit of performing. It becomes engrained. So, more than anything else, it’s to be jolted out of his private world by the faces, the walk, the sound, the talk, that’s the theatrical moment to him, the moment that makes him think about being in character. Somehow it’s like when his five-year-old daughter begins to protest when she notices someone watching her as she role-plays to her imaginary friends in her other world. It’s awkward, but an awkward that prompts resentment. The effect was something similar, even if the women didn’t see him. Anyway, he asks himself, is it always this easy to drift into another country without even leaving this country? It seems this happens to him all the time. Do the others experience it, this possibility of another country invading you, while you’re sitting in the corner of a building having lunch or chilling in some random place in the city? This unconscious slipping into a home country only to be frightened back into the host country by the host country.


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