As soon as the vote came through, Jamie was on his laptop.
Such a tiny margin – 51.9% – but it was still a win. He felt that 1.9% like a steam burn on his fingers, making them ache and itch as he typed in ‘London to Warsaw + flights’. The people had spoken, it was the polls versus the Poles, and his brain couldn’t help lingering on a conversation he’d overheard that morning crossing the bridge near the AskItalian joint on George Street.
He’d heard shouting coming from the water below and stuck his head over the side. Down on the bank of the river, a couple of men stood just in his line of vision, shouting at each other and waving their arms. It had taken Jamie a second to realise that it wasn’t angry shouting. It was blokey enthusiasm shouting.
‘Fuckin’ Polish buggers takin’ our jobs!’ one of them had said, to general agreement.
An older bloke with messy red hair had spat into the river and narrowly missed a duck. ‘It’s a disgrace is what it is,’ he had muttered. Jamie could only just hear him over the sound of rain hitting stone and water. ‘Send ‘em home is what I say!’
‘Yer – send ‘em home!’
Jamie had pushed himself away from the railing and kept walking. It was a common theme in the news during the run-up to the Brexit vote: Polish immigrants stealing good English jobs. At least on Twitter he could scroll past the worst of it.
But now, with the jubilant font burning on his laptop screen – he had a half-screen split, one half for YouTube and the other half for Google flights – he couldn’t scroll past even if he wanted to. He figured he’d probably be allowed to finish his final semester. In fact, given how hard the Remain people had fought, he thought that they would probably come up with some kind of compromise. Some way to keep the international students like Jamie who populated half of Oxford and the rest of the country.
Jamie thought that he probably didn’t need to be looking for flights. But he wanted to. After all the hate over the last few weeks, both on the street and in the papers, Jamie wasn’t sure that it was worth it to stay in Britain anymore.
He found a flight, took out his credit card, and sent a Facebook message to his mama to let her know that he’d be coming home a little early. All before the YouTube video he was half-listening to had even finished.
- Author’s note: I was in England during Brexit. The above is a conversation I overheard while I was in Oxford and I remember feeling so damn sick because, even though I wasn’t Polish and was only a visitor to the country, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by so much hate. If you’re interested, I wrote another fictionalised portrayal of Brexit that was published in Meniscus. I had a lot of different examples of outright racism to use for inspiration.