“Foreign Cities” written by Jerath Head.
The cold makes it hard to tell where the smoke I exhale ends, and condensed breath begins. A homeless man approaches me, asking for a cigarette. I tell him that I’m out, conscious of how I cut short certain vowels that he lingers over. Oddly enough, he replies with ‘God bless you.’ It’s the little differences that make you feel like the proverbial foreigner.
The streetlights here seem to glow a warmer yellow, as if to take some of the chill out of the night air. I notice that the footpaths are slightly too narrow for the bustling number of people, who spill onto the cobbles with me. It’s the little differences you notice most when in an unfamiliar place.
Groups of strangers drift into the alley from the back doors of brightly painted bars. I look around absently, hoping someone will notice and stop to talk. They continue to swirl on around me, oblivious in their conversations. I start to wonder if this is just what being a foreigner is like, and if my time here will be what I had expected. It’s the difference between expectation and reality that makes you feel displaced.
The sound of a band starts to filter out from one of the bars. Almost unconsciously, people seem to gravitate towards it. I hesitate for a moment, on the verge of leaving, before following the crowd through the nearest doorway; glad to see that some things are the same. Inside, the bar is packed, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with the strangers from the alley. Strangers, although close up, as they sing and shout over the music, they don’t seem quite so strange. A girl bumps into to me as she dances through the crowd. She meets my bewildered gaze for a moment, and with an inviting smile disappears into the press of bodies. Perhaps I feel more foreign than I actually am. Someone throws an arm around my shoulder.
“How good is this band!” he exclaims with accentuated vowels. I nod in agreement, and tell him I am glad to have found the place on my first night in the city. With a laugh, he steers us towards the bar. It’s the things you have in common that make you appreciate the little differences.
Jerath publicly read this short story at the beginning of ‘Side B’ at the Foreign Cities launch screening. Jerath is a freelance writer originally from Brisbane, Australia now based in Dublin.