In Shepherds Bush library, now an annex
of Westfield, a man in a corner seat
leans over two Dorling Kindersley books
—Eyewitness Travel—and with near-complete,
near-sighted reverence (the kind you’d give
to something rare or precious) turns and scans
each glossy page. I’m trying to believe
it’s for a trip he’s planning, but the stains
on his ripped jumper give me the thought
—the way I’ll google photos of Jakarta—
he must be working to unloose the knot
of home. Or, at least, to stoke some far-
off, sunlit dream. But I’m the one undone.
He leaves behind two travel guides to London.
Self-portrait in front of a small mirror
I pay close attention to the shape of my eyes, how my eyelids slope down towards the ridge of my nose—that fold of skin, which I will learn is the epicanthic fold, no more an indicator of race than my stubby little fingers or the mole at the centre of my chest. Just different. I am making a self-portrait in front of a small mirror propped up on my pencil case. How can I know that when I put aside the mirror, as I must, to encounter the world with and through those eyes, there will be questions: where are you from? are you Korean? Speak Chinese? At seventeen, at Borders, I will say my books are for an English degree and the man behind the counter will grin, call me a bright boy, and though it may be nothing—as he says it, I see myself reflected in the glossy wall display behind him—I will feel accused. When I open my mouth in shops, though my voice shrinks into a weird RP, I will accept the illusion of the colonial elite, other in blood and colour but English in taste. The illusion will remain intact long after I am presumed foreign, after a stranger tells me to fuck off back home, after a barman—standing in front of a row of spirits, endlessly mirrored—asks for my ID, refuses to accept my name as my own. Will Harris? My nasal bridge which, being lower-rooted, draws a fold of skin over the corners of my eyes, marks me out—as it does these words—for special treatment. But I must, and will, put aside the mirror.
(‘Eyewitness Travel’ is previously unpublished; ‘Self-portrait in front of a small mirror’ was published in The Rialto no 86)
Will Harris was born in London, of mixed heritage. He is an assistant editor at The Rialto and part of the editorial team behind Swimmers. His debut pamphlet, All this is implied, was published by HappenStance in June 2017.