Part of Sami, Part of Malik
Photograph by Morteza Nikoubazl, Story by Amanda Huggins
The man - who always wore a well-pressed blue shirt - played the fiddle, and the boy played the accordion. They busked in the subway almost every afternoon. They weren’t the best musicians, and a few keys on the boy’s instrument were liable to stick occasionally, but their music was joyous and infectious, full of rousing passion. The chemistry between them was uplifting; the way the boy never took his eyes off the man, taking his cue from the nod of his head, the roll of his eyes, the tap of a toe. Their obvious affection for each other brought a smile to the face of every passer-by.
Most people assumed Malik and Sami were father and son, yet they weren’t related, hadn’t even known each other back home. But when their boat went down close to the Turkish coast, it took the boy’s father with it - he couldn’t swim, and there were no life vests - and it was Malik who dragged Sami to the shore. They had lain side by side on the beach, exhausted, beyond cold, their throats and ribs aching with the effort of breathing, still spluttering up mouthfuls of saltwater, listening to the wails and cries of women searching for their children.
And when Malik finally staggered to his feet, Sami followed, like a duckling latching to the first moving animal it sees. The boy trailed after him wherever he went, crouched with him by the campfire in the evenings. Yet he hardly said a word to anyone, and he sat so still that Malik often forgot he was there.
One of the other men, Zak, had been acquainted with Sami’s father, and he told Malik the boy was still six months shy of his tenth birthday, that no one knew if his mother was alive. She’d left the country three months earlier, with her brother’s family and the boy’s baby sister, yet there’d been no word since as to whether they’d made it. Malik knew that Sami had no one right now, and so he found it impossible to ignore him. Besides, the boy reminded him of his younger brother, and he knew that if anything happened to his own parents then he’d be grateful for the kindness of strangers.
To Malik’s way of thinking this was the way the world should work, yet some of the other men didn’t want a boy that age with them on the road, they thought he’d be a liability and slow them down. Malik told them Sami was his nephew, his sister’s boy, and although Zak raised an eyebrow, he kept his counsel, and the rest of them shrugged and said ok, whether they believed him or not.
When they found a suitable truck bound for Europe, Malik’s remaining money fell short of the asking price, and it was Sami who paid the men, with a fold of notes he kept fastened to his belt, wrapped tightly inside a plastic bag. Malik told the boy he’d repay him somehow as soon as he found work, yet Sami shook his head and said there was no need.
‘You will always look out for me now,’ he said.
When they arrived in their new country, Malik told everyone at the boarding house that Sami was his son, and so he was left alone. The boy still had nightmares, sometimes sleep-walked, stumbling over mattresses and waking the other men, calling out a name that Malik never heard him say when he was awake. Yet in the morning Sami denied any memory of what had happened in the night.
The boy never mentioned his parents or his sister. At first Malik tried to draw him out, hoping it might help him if he talked about his father, his mother, his grief. But Sami ignored the questions, muttering one word answers as he stared at the floor.
Malik had owned a restaurant back home, but here, in this new life, he worked as a kitchen porter. He busked between shifts for extra cash, borrowing a fiddle from Ali, their roommate, who played in a restaurant in the evenings after working at the chemical plant during the day.
Sami was a gentle looking boy, even though he rarely smiled, and Malik always took him down to the subway, knowing he’d be good for business. As soon as Malik played, the boy’s brown eyes lit up, shining with the joy and pull of the music. It was as though a key had turned inside him and opened a door to something bright. Malik had given Sami an old tambourine to shake, but when he found out the boy could play the accordion, they had scoured the markets and pawn shops until they found one for him, a little worse for wear, but still working.
They practised every night. The boy wasn’t a virtuoso, but he picked up the songs quickly, and the two of them played as though their minds were joined. The music became something greater than itself; it was no longer a separate thing, it was part of Sami, part of Malik; it was the blood that bound them. Although it was unspoken, they could both feel the weight of its anchor, and on warm summer evenings they sat outside on the steps, playing, singing, stamping their feet, until the neighbours banged their windows shut.
One afternoon in the subway, Malik looked up and saw Ali. There was a woman stood beside him who Malik didn’t recognise. Yet when their eyes met, he knew. Knew before she spoke, before her eyes filled with tears, before she said the boy’s name.
After Sami stood up, his face filled with disbelief, and after he’d hugged her, cried, hugged her again, he turned back to Malik.
‘Mama, this is my new father.’
And as the woman stepped forward, touched his arm, started to say something about how grateful she was, Malik began to drown in the ocean of blood pounding in his ears.
Amanda Huggins is the author of two short story collections - Separated From the Sea and Brightly Coloured Horses. She is also a published poet and award winning travel writer. Her fiction has been placed and shortlisted in numerous competitions, including the Bridport, Fish, Bath, and InkTears flash fiction prizes, the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award and the Walter Swan Poetry Prize. Amanda is originally from the Yorkshire coast. She moved to London in the 1990s and now lives in West Yorkshire and works in engineering. @troutiemcfish
Morteza Nikoubazl is an Iranian photographer. He started work as a freelance photographer for Iranian daily and weekly newspapers. He worked for Reuters as a freelance photographer between 1999 and 2013 and has since worked with the New York Times International magazine, Sipa Press and National Geographic Magazine Farsi. @daybydaymyworld