Hassan Abdulrazzak


The Game



Abdulla, the underground attendant, was feeling pain in his stomach. He sat in the corner of the Knightsbridge underground station security office looking through a copy of HELLO! magazine he had found discarded on the far end of platform 1. It was a game night and he was on evening duty. Man United vs. Barcelona.


They got on the train at Piccadilly Circus, four Asian lads, football fans, rooting for their favourite English team which had just lost to a bunch of Paella-munching Spaniards. Still, to be fair, to be fair, the Spaniards dominated the game right from the start.
            One of the Asians, the wavy haired lanky one, was rocking back and forth. His eyes closed, lips parted ever so slightly as if he was about to whisper a secret. One of his friends, a lightly bearded bloke, was trying to steady him whilst his other two semi-drunken friends busied themselves with giggling.
            Lips, parting and pursing, parting and pursing.
            It was fascinating to watch for the English girl pressed against the glass panel beside the door. She was dressed in an elegant grey business suit, her hair tied back in a casual bun with few strands left loose, free to signal I still like the occasional bit of fun. Her feet were adorned by a chic pair of Christian Louboutin shoes that she was very fond of.  Surrounding her were a group of cheerful Italian men who darted scandalous glances towards her black top, cut to show a sufficient amount of cleavage, but not too much, not to the point of outright vulgarity. The English girl, though secretly enjoying the Italian attention showed no outward signs of this enjoyment and at any rate she was too distracted by the Asian boys to reciprocate the casual flirting. She shifted her gaze from the about-to-be-sick Asian boy to scan the rest of his mates. They all had the same tone of skin which she found surprising. In a group of Asians you were usually bound to get a mixed variety of skin colours: some dark approaching black, others plain brown, others approaching white and so on. These boys were of one colour. A familiar off-brown colour. A colour she had been studying lately. Why?  She thought about the weekend gone by. She was doing something with her boyfriend. Wait, it’s best to start at the beginning: Saturday morning; woke up around eleven with a mild hangover. Danny, the boyfriend, gave her the nudge, the familiar Saturday morning nudge. They fucked. It was lovely. Well not too bad anyway. She came thinking about Michael. Then they had breakfast. Then they got in the car. Then they went to their local DIY store. That’s it! That’s it! The boys had the exact colour of the splash-back tiles she bought for her new kitchen! What a relief. It’s so annoying when you have a bit of memory just beyond reach. It’s like a piece of gristle stuck to your back teeth. She remembered now how she had searched for half an hour in the store for those tiles. Danny was useless as always. No help at all. Michael would have been much better. Michael was half Guianese.
            Although the English girl liked the colour of the Asians, she was growing worried that the drunken wavy haired boy was getting out of control. He was now leaning against the plastic panel over the disabled and elderly chairs and emitting burping sounds, not loudly, no, but with the helplessness of a man with an uncontrollable sickness. The English girl wasn’t the only one concerned about him in the underground train cabin. Even the cheerful Italians were beginning to look over their shoulders and move away from the four Asian lads.
            The wavy haired boy now pressed his palm firmly on the plastic panel and his head dangled between his arms in the position of a man about to give birth to a pile of vomit. ‘No, no, no’ his friends pleaded. The bearded one clasped a tuft of the drunken boy’s wavy hair and pulled his head up. As if reading the bearded boy’s thoughts, an American tourist in her late 40s, standing opposite the English girl, instructed ‘breathe, breathe’.
            There was a buzz in the cabin now.  Some were secretly hoping the Asian youth would vomit but they were the ones sitting away at a distance. Commuters nearer the boy worried that some of the vomit would splash onto their clothes.
            The English girl feared for her shoes. They cost her a small fortune and she had only purchased them the week before. The youth turned around; his eyeballs had rolled back somewhat in their sockets; his lips were now dangerously moist. Even his friends, who were previously giggling and half mocking him, looked seriously apprehensive.
            Only the American kept her cool. ‘Breathe! Breathe!’
            The English girl’s fear began to turn into panic. Of all the train cabins, why did she have to be in this one? And the worst thing is that if he vomited on her, she couldn’t even so much as yell out ‘you fucking idiot!’ because everyone would suspect her of being a racist which is the easiest thing to do when it’s not your shoes that are being vomited on.
            The boy was now tottering towards her. His mates tried to control his movements but failed. He was inches away from her. Oh let him vomit already and get it over with, she thought.
            The doors opened.
            Two things happened almost instantaneously. First, the Asian lads got out. The American lady yelped with excitement ‘that’s it! You did it!’. The wavy haired boy leaned against the Knightsbridge platform wall. His mates stood around him like disciples waiting for instruction. He seemed to be wavering. The English girl watched in fascination the long drooling spittle that dangled from his pale lips.
            And that’s when the second thing happened.
            A blond man in a brown jacket, expensive jeans and ankle length brown leather boots walked into the cabin. He was reading the sports page of one of those free newspapers they hand out outside underground stations. The blond man pressed with all his weight on the foot of the English girl. She screamed but no one heard her because at the exact same moment her foot was being crushed, a group of ecstatic Spaniards had entered through the other door in the cabin, singing a football song at the top of their voice. The blond man lowered his paper slightly and noticed that one of the black shoes of the girl standing in front of him, the girl with the vulgar cleavage and angry look, was covered in brown dirt. He stared at the dirt for few more seconds then resumed reading the paper. He thought what a terrible shame it was that Man United had lost.



Abdulla’s stomach pain wasn’t getting any better. He shifted in his seat and flicked through the pages of HELLO! before stopping at a picture of Paris Hilton. Abdulla stared at her intently hoping that by using her as a meditative aid, he might succeed in alleviating the pain. But Paris was of no help on this occasion.
            Kevin and Chris, the two other staff present in the office, were watching the security screens with some excitement. Kevin was an obese man with a surprisingly small head. The crew-cut he sported exaggerated his head-to-body-ratio discrepancy even further. He’d been with the London Underground for ten years. And just like the Underground, his salary improved in small, almost imperceptible increments over that decade. As time went by, his office grew smaller and smaller as he gained in girth. Chris, who certainly could not be described as slim, had a somewhat tighter control over his excess fat. His body told the story of a man who was once a gym fanatic but had somehow lost his faith along the way. Abdulla, sitting in the corner, looked like a dark broom by comparison.
            ‘Fiver says he’ll spew.’ Kevin said without taking his eyes off the screen.
            Chris who was munching a handful of Doritos didn’t bite.
            ‘I think you’re right.’
            Kevin turned around to Abdulla and said: ‘What do you reckon, Ab?’
            Abdullah lifted his eyes off Paris Hilton and fixed them at the black and white monitor. He saw a sickly Indian-looking boy leaning on a wall. Three other similar looking youths were standing around him.
            Abdulla shrugged.
            Kevin grew irritated. ‘Come on. Someone please take the fucking challenge! Ok, let’s make it a quid. Come on Chris. A quid!’
            Chris replied by crunching another Doritos chip.
            At that moment, the wavy haired boy vomited.
            Something about all that liquid splashing on the ground reminded Abdulla of the day he saw a cow give birth back in Sudan. How old was he when that happened? The calf came out after so much awful grunting by its mother. There were soldiers there for some reason and they were watching the birth. One of them fired his rifle in celebration. He was always a little scared of soldiers but not on that day.
            Abdulla’s stomach pain grew worse.
            Both Kevin and Chris were now staring at him with a pitying look. He got up and took out the mop and bucket from the locker. He poured the last few drops of the cleaning fluid in the bucket and filled it with water from the ridiculously tiny sink.
            As he went down the escalator, he saw the Asian boys coming up. The wavy haired kid was laughing and mock punching his bearded friend. His lips looked like ripe cherries. An image of squashed cherries in an open-air market flashed in Abdulla’s mind. He hated dislocated memories because they lack significance.
            The stench of the vomit filled his nostrils. You never get used to it. He watched the water turn cloudy in the bucket as he dipped his sick-saturated mop into it.
            He then went back up the escalator. It was getting late. He was alone. Just as well. No one likes the smell of vomit. When he reached the office, Abdulla tipped out the dirty water into the sink. Kevin and Chris let out howls of disgust. Abdulla suppressed a smile.
            After his shift was over, he took the last train to Acton where he lived. Although Knightsbridge is separated from Acton town by six stations, the two Piccadilly line stops might as well be in different countries. Abdulla thought that his life would be perfect if his daily commute ran in reverse.
            Abdulla’s room was smaller than the security office but he was glad to have it. His first few years in England meant having to sleep on the floor of various dormitories; sharing his space with strangers. Often his sleep would be interrupted by the wet clicking sounds of some man in the dorm venting his sexual frustration into his own fist.
            He took out a Lions chocolate bar from his torn rucksack and ate it whilst staring at a new black spot that had appeared on the wall during his absence. His Teac TV with the missing remote control sat in one corner like a dog waiting to be patted on the head. Abdulla couldn’t be bothered to turn it on and spend the next half hour wrestling with the small antenna to get a decent signal. He took out his empty Tupperware box from the rucksack which had contained his white bean and rice lunch and he washed it in the cracked sink next to his two-hub gas cooker. He watched the few grains of rice stuck to the side of the Tupperware fall into the sink then he watched them as they swirled in a quiet water vortex before disappearing down the drain.  In his mind, he waved goodbye to them as they set off on their lonesome journey through the London sewage system.
            Abdulla lay down on his worn-out mattress and stared at the ceiling. He thought about Darfur. About the civil war there between the government and its ally militia on the one hand and the rebel forces on the other.   
            Abdulla wasn’t from Darfur.
            He was from Khartoum, the capital. He didn’t flee his country to get away from murdering soldiers. He left his country looking for work. He vaguely knew that there was some kind of trouble in Darfur when he lived in Sudan but nothing in great detail.
            He learnt about it from a documentary he saw on Channel 4. Though it filled him with sadness, he was pleased that he had finally learnt the full truth about his country. He was also slightly ashamed of the jealousy he felt towards one of the interviewees: a young Sudanese man from the Beri tribe, about Abdulla’s age, now living on benefits as a refuge in England. The camera just loved him. He was the star of the documentary. You could tell that the filmmakers were smitten by him. By the way he became thoughtful when he spoke about his village, about what happened to his family; by his infectious laughter when suddenly a sweet memory would crop up from amongst the horror.
            Abdulla fantasised for the next hour about a film crew interviewing him. But what would he tell them? I was poor, well not as poor as many in my country but poor nevertheless. I left. I struggled to come here. End of story. What documentary could you make out of such slim pickings?
            Abdulla then surrendered to another fantasy which often entertained him. He imagined himself growing a beard and going to the mosque regularly. He imagined having a group of followers and renting a house with them and buying fertiliser. From the countless documentaries about terrorism he watched since arriving in Britain, Abdulla learnt that the purchase of fertiliser was always a necessary first step towards jihad. How wonderful it must be to have friends with whom you could work towards a common purpose. It doesn’t have to be terrorism, Abdulla thought, it could be something like gardening. He would share a house with a group of like-minded friends - they didn’t even have to be his followers, just his friends -and they could spend their time growing vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes, maybe even some spring onions. He liked spring onions.
            There was tremendous fun to be had from replaying that fantasy with all its serene or horrific variations. He liked the control he could exert over the events. It was by far Abdulla’s favourite game.
            He was beginning to feel drowsy.
            .................................................................... beard
            ................................................................................or no beard?
            A quick, microsecond image of Paris Hilton flashed in his mind during that grey transition period between consciousness and its opposite. Abdulla let out a series of loud, odourless farts. They sounded like the rattle of a machine gun. The pain in his stomach subsided and he fell asleep.