Beyond the window different shades of black ran past one another, followed by the inevitable flood of lights as the train arrived at the stations every few minutes. It was like riding a carousel except that it was not very much fun at all and as the night wore on, the passengers became more and more nervous and twitchy in the knowledge that it was the worst possible time to be out alone.
But for Saleem it hardly mattered, as some of the passengers noticed when they caught sight of him.
His faint reflection in the window showed his young face adorned with cuts, scratches and a puffy red eye. His lip had swollen and there was blood on his top, and his breath came out in slow, painful wheezes due to his rib injuries.
"Monsieur?" said a harassed looking middle-aged woman with extremely short hair.
Saleem looked up, his face like a road map of wounds, giving the woman directions to just leave him alone.
"Are you okay?" she asked, turning pale, upon seeing the congealed blood on his t-shirt.
He just stared back at her and turned his attention back to the window, moving his head slowly.
The others in the carriage averted their gaze immediately, hoping their stops would come quickly or that this mess of a boy would get out of their sight first. The woman blinked several times and moved away from where Saleem was sat and stood by the doors but kept her eyes on him.
Several hours earlier Saleem had been sat in a park in central Paris. It was spring and the days were still fairly short and tourists were thin on the ground compared to earlier in the day or indeed in the summer months when it resembled an ant colony from above.
He was of average height, had even features, tanned Algerian skin and a troubled death mask of a face. He could have been handsome if only he smiled, but that was like wishing for rain during a drought.
There was really nothing in his life but oppression. The beautiful backdrop of the city of Paris formed a paradoxical surrounding to his bubble of a world steeped in Fascismo, religion and honour. As far as his family was aware, they were still living in L'Afrique du Nord and had never even set foot on European land.
The park was almost empty except for a couple of people passing through in groups.
Fucking tourists, never bother to learn French and think you'll answer them if they speak to you in English. Fucking Germans. Fucking Americans. Fucking Japanese. Fucking British. Fucking Spaniards. Fucking Koreans. Fucking Dutch. Fucking Portuguese. Fucking Swedes. Fuck them all, they come to a place which is obviously French-speaking and then from out of their mouth comes that ugly and distasteful language of just two islands of Europe.
Perhaps this bothered him so much was because his own family was like that – years of living in France and they still spoke in Arabic as if they had not picked up anything in the space of twenty years in the French Republic.
The sky darkened as evening approached and the air became noticeably chilly, which Saleem felt strongly because he was just wearing a thin t shirt and jeans.
A shadow skulked to the right of his vision but he did not look up, despite his fear. A man moved slowly into view and headed straight in Saleem's direction.
The man stood right in front of Saleem and spat next to him.
"Fucking Arab," he said, "What the fuck are you doing at this time in a park? Looking to rob innocent white people?"
Saleem got up and walked away slowly but the man followed behind him.
"Look," he continued in a drunken slur, "why don't you just go back to your piss-stained desert of a motherland and go fuck some camels like God intended?"
Saleem carried on walking, trying to ignore the man but show no fear at the same time by keeping his pace normal. He realised he was not actually looking where he was going and was heading towards the longer route out which passed through a succession of trees.
"Hey I'm talking to you Arab!" the man shouted and pushed Saleem forward, "have some respect, I'm white – I'm better than you!"
The man then shoved Saleem again but much harder, throwing him off-balance and causing him to fall forwards right onto the paved path. Before he could try to get up, the man rolled him over and held him down, producing a knife which he held by his throat.
"You make one noise," he breathed through waves of alcohol-infused exhalations, "and I'll slice you faster than your people cut döners."
Shit, Saleem thought, I'm going to fucking die right here by some pathetic drunken middle-aged Nazi and become yet another hate-crime.
A fist flew towards Saleem's face and hit him squarely on the jaw, then again and again and again. He began sobbing as he choked on his own blood. But the man was not done with him just yet and pulled Saleem's jeans off roughly and positioned himself while he fumbled with his own trousers.
Fuck shit fuck fuck fuck crap thought Saleem, as the man began, making him cry out in pain as he thrust himself roughly in.
When he was done the drunk got up and proceeded to kick Saleem full in the face, then all over all the while spitting on him and screaming curses. He finished by pissing all over him, and then giving Saleem a kiss on the lips.
Then all he saw was black.
Someone sat opposite him.
It was now almost 12.30am and the Paris Métro would soon shut.
Saleem's ribs ached so badly now he could scarcely move and all the blood he had lost was causing him to feel quite dizzy, as if he might just faint again.
The carriage was now empty except for him and the person in front of Saleem.
He looked up and saw a man in his thirties wearing a suit who had short dark blond hair and startling eyes of azure piercing right through the window from which he was looking out of.
The last station on the line was coming up and Saleem decided to get off and see if he could find somewhere safe to stay the night because going home was totally out of the question. His father would butcher him alive not least because he was coming home half-dead but also because he had stayed out so late.
He got up slowly, while the train was still in a tunnel and moved towards the doors. Without a sound the man in front of him had gotten up too and was stood right behind Saleem, moving in close. Without so much as a warning he kissed Saleem softly on his right cheek and moved away just as suddenly as he had come.
That was how he met Henrik.