Javed Qureshi, a soft spoken man with bloodshot eyes, lived in a box-room above the Boarhead Balti take-away, where he worked twelve hours per night, seven nights a week. The owner didn’t pay him any wages, but instead sent the money directly to his mother in Pakistan.
He had one quilt, one pillow and an alarm clock in his room. A framed photograph of two teenage girls, sat on top of a dressing table which had a large cracked mirror, leaning against a wall with peeling wall-paper. I used to visit him every now and then in his room, before the start of his shift. During one of these visits, I saw him, much in the same posture as always, sitting on the edge of the bed staring into his open suitcase, looking at the things he would take to Pakistan with him. He nodded to me and said pointing to the photograph,“Girls grow up so fast.”
“Why don’t you just go see them?” I asked.
Closing the lid of his suitcase he replied, “How can I, their only brother, go back from Valait, England, for the wedding of his sister, with a half empty suitcase!”
I often ate at Boarhead Balti. The last time I went he wasn’t there. The owner, a thin sharp-eyed man said avoiding eye contact, “He didn’t turn up for work yesterday.”
Before I had a chance to ask him another question the owner disappeared into the back of the take-away. I rushed out to the rear of the take-away, and ran up some rusty steps to check on Javed. There was a boot print on the front door. It was ajar. I went into his room. The quilt was on the floor. The clock was still ticking. The suitcase was open and in its usual place, with its usual contents. The photograph was missing.
Illustration Sarbjit Johal — Read Last story