Thursday 22 August 2019

Looking for the Colonel

by Robin Wrigley 

a large glass of Malbec

Stopping to unlatch my garden gate I was momentarily relieved to rest one of my shopping bags. As I pushed the gate open I dropped the bag this time in shock because my front door was wide open and I could make out the shape of a person standing in the hallway.
     It was the hat that caught my attention as I drew closer and I realised I had seen it before at the market on Tuesday. It was black, seen better days and the type I had seen Colonel Gaddafi wearing on the news. This wearer was a young man with a pale face dressed in rather grubby white clothing one associates with Arabs.
     As I approached the doorway I noticed he had a half empty bottle of milk in his hand and the traces of milk on his upper lip. My mind was competing with anger, shock, fear and confusion as to what to do in this extraordinary situation.
     ‘Excuse me young man what on earth do you think you are doing in my house?’
     ‘I didn’t break your door it was open, missus,’ he replied putting his left hand over his heart as a sign of apology I presumed.
     ‘You mean it was unlocked? I’m quite sure it was not open as I leave it unlocked for my son who will be here in a moment,’ I lied. That must be the second time recently that I walked off to the shops leaving the house unlocked.
     ‘Is that my bottle of milk you are drinking?’
     ‘I didn’t know it was yours.  It was standing on the path outside the door. I’m sorry if you think I am bad man but I was told at school that the colonel said that when we came in from the oasis we could live in any house if the door was open.’
     I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Who on earth ever heard of such an excuse or explanation?

That was three months ago and I’m still as undecided the long-term answer to this conundrum created by this young Libyan called Omar Abdul Hamid walking into my house and now my life.
     It transpired he was the son of a minor diplomat in the original Libyan embassy whose father mysteriously disappeared one day and left him effectively an orphan at the age of seventeen. It was at the time that Libya was in the throes of a devastating civil war and rumours were rife about the fate of all the members of the Libyan government and its followers, so Omar decided to make himself scarce.
     His main excuse he offered me that day I found him in my front hallway was that he was looking for the colonel, Gaddafi that is. What could I say in reply to that I ask you? Apparently when his father was first called from his home town of Sabha for service in Tripoli he and others like him were told by the colonel they could live anywhere they liked if the door of the house was open. It seemed my house fitted the bill for young Omar.
     I hadn’t the heart to tell him that Gaddafi’s government had fallen and that the whereabouts of his dear colonel was unknown. So then I faced a choice of throwing him out or offering him a place to stay. Looking at his forlorn face I chose the latter.

I covered the situation by telling everyone who noticed his presence that I had taken a lodger. It was all very simple. In the meantime I scoured the internet for useful information that invariably offered me no help unless I contacted the authorities and made his presence known. Charities were also no help other than being a source of cheap clothing to put him in which was essential if he was to avoid any awkward questions when outside the house.
     It was at this point having exhausted all the legal ways I could help this lad whom I had become attached to, I hatched a plan. You see I lost both my husband and twelve year old son nearly five years ago almost to the day that Omar came into my life. It was a sign that God had given me a new, replacement son.
     My plan was very complicated in many ways but the boys’ similarity in ages made it simple in others. The fact that both Henry my late husband and I were both only children with no close relatives also helped.
     First thing was to put the house on the market and start looking for a new home in Cornwall. Money was no object as the insurance money from Henry's and David’s accident was sitting in the bank, plus London property prices would go a long way in Cornwall.

Omar had everything he needed; a loving parent, a birth certificate and a National Health number all he needed now was to remember that his name was David and his father’s name was Henry.

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