Last Christmas Eve

We went for curry and then to the pub with friends. It was all good.

I think Nasty got a cigar in the gift exchange and we all stepped outside for a few puffs. Standing just in front of the doorway, I said it tastes like cigarettes.

Two guys, who’s obviously had a few drinks, walked behind me towards the pub. Just before they went in, one of them spun around at the entrance and asked me something. He was mumbling and I couldn’t understand him. I thought maybe he was asking for directions? I smiled.

… … …

In the first few months I was in London, I spent a month or so in Leyton. I paid £100 a week for a tiny room in a houseful of people that didn’t speak to each other. The walls were thin and the sofa sticky. It was a shit neighbourhood. I was lonely. I hung my wet laundry on a plastic line that criss-crossed the tiny room above my bed. I sat in bed huddled by the heater working the spotty internet connection trying to get a job. It was dire straits.

About 15 mins’ walk away, across from the train station was an Asda. (Think Wal-Mart. Actually, it’s owned by Wal-Mart.) To get to Asda, you have to leave the main road and walk a through a street wide alley channelled in on one side by a TK Maxx (discount clothing store) and some community centre on the other.

In this corridor, and in the Asda parking lot, you’d be confronted by innumerable Chinese selling pirated DVD movies. They’d have a plastic-bag-full hanging off one elbow and they’d approach you asking if you wanted any.

I hated them.

I hated them because of what they represented. I hated them because I was afraid that other people would see me as one of them – an illegal Chinese immigrant selling fake shit and sponging off the social services system.

I was am not one of them. I was legit. I paid my bills. I spent my own money that I’d worked hard to save up. I had my head down looking for work, which I eventually found. I am well educated. I speak fluent English. I have a family and warm home to go back to anytime if I so fancy. For one reason or the other, I made it a personal mission to ensure that people didn’t see me as another one of them.

… … …

At the pub, the guy kept repeating his mumble. It must’ve been funny because he was smiling, his friend was giggling and all our friends around us were laughing. I couldn’t understand him, so I just smiled and eventually, his friend said, “Just ignore him!” and pulled him inside. I watched them stumble backwards into the pub.

I turned around and ask, “What did he say?!” Someone replied, still laughing, “He was asking if you’ve got any DVDs.”

I stopped smiling. I said that it’s not funny. They said that it’s quite funny. Maybe someone said that it’s quite clever. Again, I said that it’s NOT funny. I dumped my box of biscults I’d gotten as a gift into someone’s hands. He shoved them back at me. I slapped it onto the ground. They were still laughing. I looked around, my eyes desperately searching for support.  I wanted someone to tell me that, yes that guy is a fucking jerk and how dare he say such shit.

Nasty said, “Oh come on, get off it. It’s just a joke.” I walked off.

I was humiliated. First by that guy, and then by a whole bunch of people I treated as friends. And then to have the person I depended on the most to tell me to just “get off it”?!

Nasty came after me, tugging at my arm. His voice was one of annoyance and he said I was over-reacting. I had nothing to say to him. I was too upset to think. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t understand. I didn’t want to ruin everyone’s evening.

To make a long night short, I spent the walk home crying. Nasty eventually realised what’s happened and spent the night apologising profusely. We never really talked about it again and I’ve hardly ever mentioned it to anyone else since.

… … …

Sometimes, I think about it from time to time and I wonder why it had affected me so much. Why had I minded so much?

I have my pride. I felt like I have something to prove.

Perhaps, in a strange land with strange people who might not understand you and where you’ve come from and what you’re doing there, you feel like you have to work extra hard to prove yourself. To prove that you’re worthy of their friendship. To prove that you’re worthy of being there. To prove that you’re worthy of their beautiful country. I worked hard to be there. I had a proper job. I wasn’t them in the shadows with the DVDs.

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