The other day, I had some time to kill before an appointment and so decided to grab a takeaway coffee and linger for a while to read my book on a park bench.
All the benches round here have small brass plaques on them in memory of someone who loved the park.
The spirit sitting beside me this time was Ernest McKay, whose plaque said that he’d loved “this dear green place.” I wondered what he would want to chat about were he here today.
Suddenly, another presence arrived to shatter the peace in the form of mortal man.
And speaking rather loudly on his mobile phone at that.
He sat down beside me.
This was quite annoying in itself as there were plenty of other benches to choose from, but (on the plus side) the nosy parker in me couldn’t help but listen in to his animated conversation.
It was hard to tell what was going on, but I could tell from his body language that this guy was really really angry.
Anyway, his phone call ended and I kept my head down, pretending to be engrossed in my book.
He sat for a few seconds with his head in his hands.
Sighing, he turned to me and spat,
“You know. Fuck your lot sometimes!”
Suddenly the world closed in on the bench, I knew I needed to leave.
“Look, I’m so sorry”
He spoke now in softer Scottish tones.
“I’m just at the end of my tether, it’s been a terrible week.”
Gathering up my stuff to make my escape, I muttered,
“don’t worry, we all have them.”
A spot of empathy was probably the best reaction, I reckoned.
“Look, sorry, sorry.”
I paused to glance at him.
“Miss, look, please don’t leave because of me. I just needed a seat after that call. Here’s you just sitting reading your book in peace too, sorry. I’m not helping my cause by swearing am I?”
“You see, I’ve just been told AGAIN that I’m a suspicious guy by passport control. They’ve confiscated a load of stuff, family stuff and I don’t know when or if I’m going to get it back.
I want my kids to know something about their heritage. To have something when I’m gone.”
I muttered something about that not sounding good.
I was becoming increasingly nervous about this guy and also aware that there weren’t many folk about should I need help.
He carried on speaking, seemingly unaware of my nervousness.
“You see I first came to Glasgow from Iran when I was 19. I came alone, leaving my family behind. I had the travel bug, you know. It was a huge risk in those days. A long way from Tehran.
No problems at the airport like today back then mind, a few stares but I had a little bit of money in my pocket and so they waved me in, and I was lucky enough to get a job delivering fruit and vegetables quite quickly.
Well coz I was cheap probably.
But anyway, my English needed to be better and so I signed up to college as soon as I could. This gave me the confidence I needed to start really chasing my dreams, y’know. I wanted to be an engineer. So very long story short, it was back to college for a few years and then I got an award for a project I did that got me a sponsor and a place at university.
My father was so proud, god bless. I loved inventing, knowing the inner working of things. Not many folk these days say that they know their calling from a young age, I was lucky. I found mine early on. So I got the degree. But my tutors saw my passion and I was persuaded to carry on, do a masters degree, because that’s up there y’know. Expensive to go an extra year of full time study. Speculate to accumulate and all that.
That’s when I met Shaz, we married. Children came, more children came!
I have four: 17, 15, 12 and 9. Gorgeous kids, god bless.
And you know what? After all that. No bugger would give me a job. Best cv on the table my tutor said. Not one frigging interview. I looked all over Glasgow. For years. Shaz and the kids love it here so it has to be in this city y’know. So, I’ve never worked as an engineer. After all that. Precious time, money, energy, wasted.
And then they have the gaul. These guys on the UK border, to take my things, keep me in a room like a caged animal for hours. Question my motivations in choosing a fruit and veg stall earning £13,000 a year over being a highly paid engineer.
I’ve had it, I tell you.
I don’t know what to do.
I have worked fucking hard, all my life. And it all comes down to this?
Stopped as suspicious because I’m the fruit and veg guy from Iran?
I said to the guy: rub some more salt in my wounds, please do!
Look I’m sorry. Sorry if I have scared you. Maybe this is my problem. Maybe why my face still doesn’t fit after 30 years in Glasgow.”
His phone rang.
“Look pal, sorry again – bad day.”
he gestured farewell at me with a warm smile and was off again waving his arms in the air in despair as he walked off into the distance.
I wanted to find the words. To say sorry. Or something.
But nothing seemed right.
Every story has two sides, who knows exactly why he couldn’t get his foot in the door as an engineer. Irrespective of this, my heart feels a little bit broken every time I think of my brief encounter on Ernest McKay’s bench with this lovely, charming, intelligent, Iranian, Scot who has grafted so hard, yet whose dreams, for whatever reason, have remained out of reach.