Inhabitants of the world

As I wandered the lanes of our village forty years ago with my little band of friends, I could never have known what would become of me. How could a timid boy like me end up an inhabitant of the world?

None of us remain in that childhood village. I lost all contact with my friends when we moved house just to the next village along when I was seven. Worried about my education, my parents had moved me to another school too. So that was that: our tribe was disbanded. Lawrence, always the brains of the operation, is now head of logistics for a leading British retailer. Christopher, who I last knew to be scared of water, went on to become a championship swimmer.

I have no link to my home town today. I know of a couple of old friends who remained there, but I have not been back in years. My wife and kids have no interest in going there; they consider it a tired backwater, just a relic of the past. A decade ago, I made contact with a few old friends from school, but I think they were just freaked out rediscovering me. PhD Peter now designs particle accelerators for a living. Tim visited one evening to reconnect, but left confused, seeing my wife wearing hijab, finding me even more of a weirdo than I was twenty years earlier.

All my friends from university are scattered around the world: Pakistan, the Gulf, East Africa, the United States. Friends I knew in the early years of my marriage are likewise scattered far and wide. Children have all grown up and flown the nest. Some have moved out from London to Birmingham. Some, like us, moved out to the commuter belt. Some straddle multiple states, living international lives, working abroad for months on end to send money home to pay for university, weddings and their growing estate.

My circle of friends today is small. If I spend time with anyone, it’s with a learned sage, my friend, mentor and teacher, a man who has spent a lifetime sitting at the feet of scholars. Most of my remaining companions are just virtual friends, who I have met through online forums over the past fifteen years. Some I have never met in person, many have never heard my aching voice. All of the English people I know are Muslims. I only know the neighbours either side of me and across the street; all the rest of them are unknown.

I am linked more to a tribe thousands of miles from here, themselves scattered far and wide, all over their nation and abroad. This is the way of the world today. We are all isolated, cut off from all we once were. My siblings are spread all around. My parents have moved far away. There are no grandparents for babysitting, for a night out of pleasure, for a little respite. We all have lives of our own, building lives wherever happenstance carried us.

Choices we all made long ago informed our ultimate destination. We grew up and went out into the world, and never returned. We’re just faces amongst the multitudes, soon forgotten. Just strangers. Strange inhabitants of the world.

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