[Based on a true story]
by Ed Mayhew
He saw them waiting at the foot of the narrow stairwell and uncertainly sized up the gap they had left for him to pass through between themselves and the banister rail.
“You shouldn’t be wearing that.”
At first, Rashid didn’t register that they were talking to him. He had been exposed to racism around the block enough to have developed blinkers and mufflers towards these sorts of comments.
“Hey feller, you shouldn’t be wearing that.”
Rashid blinked out of his trance, fixed on the two men frowning up at him.
“No no, brother. Is good. I am Christian now,” Rashid said, indicating the poppy on his coat which they seemed to be deriding. “I want remember men and women that they died for this country I live in.”
“You know what I remember when I see a poppy?” one of the men cut in, “Every time, I remember all the people the British army killed in Ireland. Gunned down in the streets. You want to remind me o’ that do yer?”
The two men were clearly in earnest; one even ground his teeth. Rashid reached to his chest, and slowly took the paper flower out from his lapel. He cupped it delicately in his hand. “My friend, I did not mean to cause to you offense.”
“Ah don’t you fret, just educatin’ yer feller.”
Rashid made his move now they were smiling. They let him pass. He assured the two lads that he would tell other people what they had said; they told him he was a good man.
“I respect your people,” he explained as he moved on, “The poppy, I weared not for the people who kill. I weared for all the people they were killed.”
Down the remaining three flights of stairs, Rashid prayed silently. The Irish men on the stairs were the first people he had told face-to-face that he had converted. He was breathing heavily as he opened the door on the cold November morning, imagining that no flowers would be laid for him if his family ever found out what had happened.