by Louie Fooks
Milan, May 2016
The air is hot and heavy as milk.
Football fans have come in for the big match, but they are at the stadium or watching in bars; the streets are quiet, and business is slow. No-one ‘needs’ the cheap tat Juma sells – phone cases and selfie sticks. And the rest. He’s tired and bored and hungry to his bones. Breakfast in the hostel was meagre, and a long time ago.
Looking up at the cathedral, he remembers the helicopters that dropped fire from the sky in his homeland. The bitter trek to the coast. Crossing the Med in a dingy not fit-for-purpose. Jumping trains to make it this far. He’d like to reach Germany one day. For now, he knows how to get by in this city.
He checks his mobile. Pigeons grub for scraps. A tourist admires the gargoyles. Juma moves the phone cases to the front of his display and adds plastic sunglasses from his tote bag. The mobile pings – a message from a brother in another country.
A collective howl of triumph and desolation and people spill out of the bars, intent on celebration or obliteration… just as the clouds crack and the rain falls – fast as bullets and heavy as lead.
Juma grabs everything and runs to the covered canopy of the Galleria, switching stock and setting up again. Umbrellas! Flimsy as hell; one use only. But right now that’s what’s needed, and people will pay. He’ll have half an hour before the police reach him.
Today, he thinks, is a good day as he serves the crowd clamouring – for once – for what he’s selling. Today, he’ll have a good meal and drink some beer with Isaac and Saul. And he’ll sleep with a full belly and credit on his phone.