The boy sits on the steps outside the front door and pretends that he is not waiting. He does not lift his head to stare out at the street, but keeps his eyes on the grey paving slabs at his feet. He knows that what you wait for only comes when you are not waiting. The surface of the pavement is the most boring thing in the world to look at. But if he manages to lose himself in the greyness, and forget that he is waiting, then his brother’s shoes will surely appear right in front of him.
He misses his brother. His brother of the easy smiles and warm but casual hugs. The one who let him ride on his shoulders and who carried his schoolbag when it got too heavy. He misses the hours spent in the park with his brother and his brother’s friends. Sometimes they pushed him in the swing or chased him around the green, but mostly they smoked and talked. They talked of girls or school or their families. Sometimes they talked of the Homeland, which only some of them had ever visited. They argued about the Homeland, and whether things would be better back there. And sometimes they got angry. They were angry at everybody. It might start with the principal at school but end with the prime minister. The boy never quite understood what it was all about.
The boy liked being in the park with his brother. But the best times were when it was just the two of them. His brother never talked to anybody else the way that he talked to him. He could be affectionate with their mother and sisters, but even they never saw who he really was. Only the boy knew the person hiding behind the cool and careless attitude. Perhaps his brother thought the boy would not remember these conversations but he never forgot them.
His brother was often sad. Do you understand that I will never become anybody? Nobody will ever want me. They look at me and see only the dark of my skin and my religion. What is the point of my life? His brother was often angry. If they think that I’m a useless criminal, then I might as well become one. What is the point of trying to show them who I am when they will only ever see what they expect to see? Sometimes his brother cried. She was scared. I could see it. I was only truing to help, but she thought I was going to hurt her. Why would I hurt her?
At the end of the conversation his brother would thank him for listening and suggest they go and get ice cream or waffles. He was lighter after talking and his laughter was brighter, without the angry edge. The boy liked that he could take his brothers words off him and carry their weight for him. Like his brother carried his schoolbag.
But then came Syria. The boy does not know much about Syria. But he knows that it is a bad place where an evil man is killing his people. He does not know why his people are in Syria, but his brother said that their people were being slaughtered in Syria, so that must be the truth. His brother used to be angry at the world, but after Syria his anger was always about what was happening there.
Don’t you realise what is happening? The West were happy to start a war in Iraq. But they don’t actually care about Muslims. They only wanted the oil. Otherwise they would help the Syrians. Assad is killing and killing and killing and nobody does anything. We can’t just sit by and let this happen!
Slowly his brother disappeared. His real brother disappeared inside this new angry brother who did not talk to him but locked himself in his room. The boy would stand outside his door, listening to the sound of his brother typing on the keyboard. He never had the courage to knock. And then one morning his brother was gone. Mother cried when she got a call from him and father turned around with a cold face and walked out of the room. A shadowy silence settled over the house, only broken by the sound of the TV, on at all hours for updates about Syria. In front of the TV his mothers tears would fall again as she shook her head and asked Why would he go there? Why? Why? Why?
And then one day a strange bearded man entered through their door. The boy would not have recognised him if it was not for his shoes. He was wearing the same trainers as when he left. White with green stripes. His lucky shoes. But this man looked old and tired. The sharpness of his anger had burned a hole through his soul and buried a glowing ember of hatred deep inside. That first night the boy woke up to the sound of his brother screaming. When he ran to his brother’s room he found him asleep, his body twisted in agony. He woke up sobbing. You have no idea. You have no idea. Then his face turned to stone and he told the boy to go back to bed.
His mask never broke after that. Not even when the police came crashing through the door. Mother screaming, father shouting in anger. His sisters pleading. They dragged him away. His face set in stone. As if he had seen it all and this was nothing new.
So the boy waits. Waits for his brother’s trainers to break the monotone grey of the pavement. For everything to return to how it was. He does not notice the curious but fearful stares of his neighbours. Not event the hateful ones. He never sees the spit arching through the air before it lands in the grey square at his feet. He does not look up. It was not a pair of shoes that landed.