We all have come across heart-rending stories of refugees. I for one, can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel to leave most of what you loved and built behind and find yourself begging for a chance – a chance to live, a chance to be happy again – from a bunch of foreigners in an unknown land. Loose Change is a story about one such refugee, and about us – the passersby.
I am not in the habit of making friends of strangers. I’m a Londoner. Not even little grey-haired old ladies passing comment on the weather can shame a response from me. I’m a Londoner – aloof sweats from my pores. But I was in a bit of a predicament; my period was two days early and I was caught unprepared.
With those lines we are introduced to the narrator of Loose Change, a single mother of a nine-year old, although she could be anyone of us. To makes things worse for the narrator, she is without loose change to buy tampons. That is when her chance encounter with Layor takes place, at a small lavatory, where the other ‘Londoners’ rush to the door as soon as the narrator asks for coins in a loud voice.
Nothing gives Layor away at first. Sure, she has an accent. And her English is not polished, just good enough to get by. But that doesn’t stop Layor from being kind. She doesn’t mind lending three twenty-pence pieces to the narrator. She doesn’t even seem to be in a hurry to take the money back when the narrator returns with it.
So the narrator decides to shake off her usual ‘Londoner’ traits and invites Layor for a cup of tea. During tea, Layor tells her that she’s from Uzbekistan. There are odd moments, but the narrator realizes the circumstances only when Layor’s little brother turns up to ask Layor of their sleeping arrangements and she casually responds they will sleep at the same square they slept before.
It was then I began to notice things I had not seen before… dirt under each of her clipped fingernails, the collar of her blouse crumpled and unironed, a tiny cut on her cheek, a fringe that looked to have been cut with blunt nail clippers. I found a tissue and used it to wipe my sweating palms.
From this point onward the story focuses on the debacle the narrator has with herself. Right thing to do would be to invite Layor and her brother to her place, the narrator knows it. But when faced with it, doing the right thing seems so difficult, enough to make her feel lost with many complications that could jeopardize the comforts of simple day to day life.
Andrea Levy ends this thought provoking story with a twist, and with just two more stories left in the book, I found myself wishing this was longer!