Irish boy cries; Turkish man orders buttermilk

At 5 o’clock this morning, I found myself in a queue to get through security at Dublin airport. It was moving sluggishly, like a lazy snake. Every time it took a bend, I caught sight of a young man a few meters in front. He was nineteen or twenty and slightly lanky. He had a gentle face and blonde hair, which flopped a little to the side. He was crying.

At every bend his face grew sadder and when I saw him take out a crumpled tissue from the pocket of his jeans, I discovered tears in my eyes too. I wanted to reach over the barrier, touch his wrist and say “Skype is great, you know” but I couldn’t because the night before, when LSB had left me at my garden gate, I ran away up the stairs and to my toilet so nobody would see me crying.

I lost him after he went through security but he had a face and expression which personified every single Irish short story about grief and emigration I have read.

There were quite a few empty seats on my flight. I was on the aisle, with a space between me and a neat-looking man at the window programming things on his ipad. When the cabin lights were dimmed for take-off, I tried to turn my overhead reading light on but it was defective. The man stretched across and turned on the middle reading light for me. I thanked him and he smiled.

I’ve only been here a few hours but moving from the east of Berlin to the west is like ageing thirty-five years in a day. Gone are the punk bars and graffiti. Gone are the anarchist posters stuck to trees. It’s quieter, more leafy.

I was thinking this anyway, on my way from the S Bahn stop, on the lookout for a snack. I found a kebab joint and ordered a falafel sandwich. I sat down on a steel table outside, with my luggage wrapped around my feet.

The two men at the next table stared at me.

“Where were you on holiday?” the older one with a moustache asked.

I explained that I hadn’t been on holiday but was coming for work.

“There’s no work here,” he said.

“What are you drinking?”

“Nothing, thanks.”


“No thanks.”

He ordered me Turkish butter milk. It came in a yoghurt container and was full of salt and bubbles.

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“Ever had this?”


“Where are you from?”


“How much is a kebab in Ireland?”

“More expensive.”

“How much?”


“Is it.”


“We’re not German either. I’m Turkish and he’s Greek. We’ve been here thirty years. It’s not easy coming here new.”

They told me I would need a work visa if I didn’t want to work “Schwarz.” (The German language rather offensively refers to “schwarz” or “black” as the colour of transgression.)

I told them Ireland was in the EU.

“How much rent you paying?”

I told them.

“I could get you a flat to yourself for less.”

I gratefully declined.

“You living around here? That street there?”

I was arrested by his guess and didn’t deny it.

When he guessed the number I became frightened.

I told him I didn’t know yet.

“That street’s full of alcoholics. You could have a place to yourself for less. Who you staying with?”

I texted LSB and asked him to call me.

We spoke in Irish. I waited and waited. The Turkish man eventually got bored and left. The Greek stayed behind. I paid €2.50 for my falafel sandwich. The Turkish butter milk was on the house.