The van arrived at night, a dusty white transit with the exhaust held on by string and gaffer tape—announced its arrival with a bad tempered gasp of purple brown fumes and sat on the concrete slipway under the flag. The flag had caused quite a bit of a stir in the flats opposite, no one was sure whether it was a two headed eagle or speckled salamander – we couldn’t decide whether it was feathered or amphibian and which was better.
The tiny crown perched on the animal’s sloping forehead didn’t bode well with us refugees. We hunkered down by the railway line in the old residential blocks. What we didn’t want was another fly by night republic, a new principality with all its sabres and tosh and polished galoshes, opening up historic resentments that had been simmering to sleep in huge cauldrons of goulash. The communal cauldrons had bubbled for months, all of us chipping in with what we could scrounge or forage and now we all stank of goulash and our shirts were stained with paprika. But that flag was the start of something. I was uneasy and held on to my turmeric, refused the old lady who lived opposite who begged for an onion and that yellow powder to help with her husband’s inflamed heart. ‘Get out of it,’ I said, ‘you old devil with your forest magic and weird moles get out of it…’
I looked at the flag, the animal’s eyes darker than coffee grounds and the heat from the day rising to the top of the building made the roof tiles dance.
They began unpacking at midnight, a short bald man with hairy arms, slid back the side panels. Out came the hand stitched saddles, the carved cutlasses, the ceremonial shields and all the feathered pomp of a nation state priapic with victories. The goblets engraved with palm leaves, so much tired tat. A stuffed boar’s head with pince-nez was polished with a duster. Here was some new equestrian nation, importing their bowls and earthenware and mission statement in some clapped out old van and soon the men were unpacking reams of embossed writing paper and Imperial Hand Sanitizer and one was in a folkloric costume of sewn together paper doilies, lace and ribbons with a crocodile head that snapped at imaginary flies. I was out of there in a flash, pushed my turmeric through the old woman’s letter box, wrote some obscenity on the Embassy’s white wall and fled along the railway line.