By Maggie Sawkins.

Gentian (with a g as in gate) is late. He was scraping dishes last night at Ken’s Kebabs. One day, he says, when he’s mastered this lingo, he’ll have a restaurant of his own. He takes his place beside me. I lay out the books, explain the aims: to improve pronunciation; to develop understanding.

I’ve brought the local rag. My eyes settle on a story: two days after his discharge from St James’ Hospital, a man has leapt from the A3M Bridge. The third this year, and it’s only July. The council has put up a sign advertising the Samaritans’ number.

I read one sentence and Gentian reads the next. We practice the sounds of the words: hospital, fatality, enquiry, disgrace. When we reach the last sentence I ask if this sort of thing happens in his country. He looks past me to the window, begins to laugh. My words hang like frozen rain. In my country, this, he says pointing at the paper, it’s nothing. People all the days are jumping. I begin to fold the newspaper into a sort of origami boat.

I know, I say, let’s think of a name for your restaurant. But he’s got it all worked out. He’s going to call it Gent’s. I try to explain why this is not such a good idea, especially in a city like ours, where his days may already be numbered.

(first published in Brittle Star)