Hand Luggage, flash fiction by Ian Watson
Neither tea nor coffee. In England, the former simply wasn’t and the latter only just. He smiled his No thank you apologetically to the stewardess and thought of what he would drink this evening at Auntie Miri’s. Only ever First Flush. He could still nearly taste it after fifteen years. Would she be getting old by now, shrinking like her older sister? Or would England have taken a load off her and allowed her to walk taller than his mother? Damn it, he must remember not to call it England. Uncle Jim was so proud of his Burns Night and his tartan scarf and his football. At ten, Ravi had been able to name all the members of the Glasgow Rangers team even though he had never seen a professional football match and couldn’t imagine exactly where Scotland was. Uncle Jim and he had been the founding – and only – members of the Lucknow Rangers Club, collecting cigarette cards from the Great Scottish Footballers series that his uncle’s kid brother Rob had sent from Glasgow. Now Rob was dead, killed ten years ago by a Belfast sniper. And Uncle Jim had become bitter and withdrawn, seeing criminals and terrorists under every bed. Auntie Miri’s letters had got shorter, sadder and less frequent; but when Ravi had written to say he was coming to Britain on business she had scribbled an ecstatic little card, listing all the small things he must bring, things she had to travel down to Bradford in England to buy. He was all anticipation of the meeting and gave no thought to the business of the next day; Scottish stainless steel ball-bearings for bikes built in India meant nothing compared to Auntie Miri’s cooking and Uncle Jim’s firm handshake.
It began as a kind of low-level hiss, like a kettle starting to boil. Then Ravi realised it was the tall young woman in the aisle seat beside him; she was kissing her teeth and – yes – muttering. Bastard; he clearly heard the word Bastard. Her right hand was twisted tense and tight round the handle of the plastic knife and her snack was untouched; her knuckles were white. It was then that Ravi realised that she too had refused both tea and coffee.
Ian Watson was born in Belfast but has now spent most of his life in Bremen, Northern Germany, where he worked as a senior lecturer in British and Irish Literature and Creative Writing. He has published poems, articles and literary translations widely and also worked for radio and television in Germany. From 1994 to 2012 he edited newleafmagazine and ran newleaf press. His recent publications include two books of poetry and short prose Kurzpassspiel (German) and Riverbank City | A Bremen Canvas, and his collection Granny’s Interpreter was published in March 2016 by Salmon Poetry in Ireland.
© Ian Watson