Race, Rice And Free Wifi

Before I met Agarwal, I’d already heard of him. My Zambian pal told me about an Indian TV presenter who was in danger of dropping out of MBA class because he couldn’t juggle it with his full time job. It was an odd problem to have, most non EU students we know could hardly find a consistent part time gig in the zero contract hours economy.

Agarwal , a vegetarian, was working  illegally in a Pakistani butchery. He was loading and offloading  the carcass of pigs and cattle, usually doing a daily twelve hour night shift. I hardly seen him before, he was often too tired to make lectures.  Legally, a foreign graduate student should not work for more than twenty hours a week in the UK.

The day Lackson brought him to me, I was in front of the Student Union building, drinking cheap  fair trade coffee, having a cigarette break. It was early summer , we were preparing for exams and the coming holidays.

Lackson had told me Agarwal needed a place to squat urgently. The butchery was up for a health and safety inspection, workers sleeping in the premises was not acceptable.


I had a huge loft room in an apartment I shared with two other guys, an Italian and a Pakistani. Agarwal needed a place for the rest of the term. Just for two weeks, may be three. Just long enough so he can finish paying his tuition fees before the University logs him off the school intranet by semester end.

Lackson was knew  Agarwal well.Lackson  said that he would have taken him  in but  for the fact that he was living with African relatives.  They were both around the same age, that means I was like five years older than both of them.


They had met during the matriculation orientation period and had become close, often studying together.  Agarwal  was great at Calculus and Lackson had up to date class notes. I used to borrow Lackson’s notes too and although we were not doing the same specialization. He was very sociable and would often drop by at my crib as he was passing by.

I had told Lackson I’ll think about the request he made on Agarwal’s behalf, which is my way of saying no. I didn’t really like the idea of him giving out favours with my resources.  Then Lackson came up with this idea that we all hang out together, no strings attached. I would like Agarwal, he said.  

As I waited in the early summer sun, I wondered why Agarwal was depending on the charity of strangers and whether, if tables were turned, he would take in an African. I wondered what was in it for me.

They came into view and walked up to me. Lackson shook my hand and hugged me rather too affectionately. Agarwal didn’t wait to be introduced.
He didn’t try to shake hands. He just smiled and said, ” Hi, have you eaten ?  I brought some rice curry. Have you tried that? It is spicy, like Jollof. ”  I shook my head and smiled in response to what were obviously rhetorical questions for then he turned and walked ahead of us into the Student Union building.

I stubbed out my cigarette and followed him, and Lackson came in the rear. It had started to drizzle anyway , it was getting cold outside and there was free WiFi inside the building.

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