Like a Kid Again

My first holiday since I don’t know when, I’ve been waiting so long for this. Time to myself, get away from work and all that stress. Finally get to go somewhere I’ve always wanted to go to as well. I feel a bit like a kid, not felt like that for a long time. I feel a bit silly for feeling like this, it’s good though. It’s a bit like when you were at school and you going on a trip to some place that you’d spent all term learning about and now you’re actually going to get to see it. Ha ha, butterflies and excitement! I’m 30 not 10!

I’ve got my backpack on, no suit and tie and trousers, feeling relaxed. The underground train is full of people. Lots of tourists too, I’m a tourist at the moment! When I’m back home I always look at the tourists and the metro and laugh at them looking clueless, holding maps, running their fingers along them trying to find out where they want to go. I know where I want to go, I’ve already looked over the map a hundred times. I know exactly where to get off and exactly which entrance it is that I want to get off at.

I used to look at the pictures when I was kid, then I’d look at the map of London and find a place to start. I’d trace my fingers along each street and then along the underground lines until I got to my destination. Then I’d look at the pictures and pretend I was there, taking it all in. 20 years on and I’m here for real. At least I don’t look like a tourist though, well apart from the backpack, I probably look foreign too, you can always tell when some isn’t local!

The doors open on the carriage, I try to relax, not walk too fast, I don’t want to look like I am too eager. People will think I look silly if I do that. The big, round, red circle with Westminster written in the middle of it. My stomach flutters. How can someone get so excited about going to see a big clock? Ha ha, who cares? For once I’m going to allow myself to be a kid. I might even buy myself one of them souvenirs, the little model ones.

Up the stairs quickly, I can see the exit now, out on to the street. I’m smiling to myself, I don’t care if anyone sees me. I push past another couple of tourists in front of me, one of them is a kid, I want to get there in front of them! I look back at him and stick my tongue out, the kid looks at me like I’m crazy, his mother pulls him closer to her. Some people are just no fun! Another person next to me laughs and says something I don’t understand, I smile at them and they smile back.

Finally, out into the open. I can see the tower there in front of me. Hundreds of people below it taking pictures, taking selfies, smiling. It’s not just me that’s so happy to be here. I cross the road and stand on the green that is in front of Big Ben, looking up at it. Another two minutes and the bells will ring. I walk in front of someone taking a picture, I wave at them in apology, they smile. She points at me and makes the action of taking a picture. I give her my camera and she takes a picture for me.

You wait your whole life to see something, sometimes when you see it for real it is not the same as you thought it would be, you get disappointed but it’s not like that. It’s everything I thought it would be, not just the clock, the people the feeling, the excitement. I need to do things like this more often, stop working so hard, learn to enjoy my life a bit more, be more like I was when I was a kid, not take life so seriously.

I cross back over the road and walk up towards the bridge and the river. I’m going to walk all the way back to my hotel later, along the river, maybe stop in a few pubs and have a few drinks. I push through the crowds to get to the centre of bridge so I can take a good picture. My wife will love it, she rolled her eyes when I said I was going to London to see Big Ben but I know secretly she was pleased for me.

People are shouting and screaming, what is happening? I feel something hit against me, I think I’m on the floor but I can’t see anything. I can’t hear anything either. Have I been dreaming all of this? No, I can see the outline of the clock, loud noises but they all seem so far away. What’s happened? Now it’s all black, I want to sleep and never wake up, I’m so tired. At least I managed to see the clock, I can come back again another day.

Innocent people die because people are intolerant of other’s beliefs. Thoughts are with all those who were injured or died in London yesterday.

Dublin to Galway Walk

On 12th December I am going to be walking from Dublin to Gort, which is 208km across the whole of Ireland, arriving at the final destination which is my own home on . The walk is for charity and all donations will be going to The Simon Community which is a charity in Ireland that helps homeless people and those with housing problems. I will be documenting the walk on here and putting an update for each day of the walk. I’ll try and put some pictures up too but being December in Ireland the weather might not be great, just have to keep my fingers crossed for that!

Thank you to everyone that has supported me, friends, family and strangers, I really appreciate it!

If anyone wants to donate you can do here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Se-n-Hogan1

 

Walking All Night

That kid has walked past me twice, both times I know he was looking at me. I don’t want to look at him back, what’s the point in provoking him? Should I move? What if he wants to give me something? He’s turned around and is coming back again, I’m looking down at the floor; I can feel his eyes on me. Please just keep walking, please don’t bother me. I feel the kick into my side, I look up at him, his eyes filled with hatred. Hatred for what? He doesn’t know me, I don’t know him. He spits at me and then walks away.

He’s gone, I sit myself back up again, there are people watching me from the bus stop across the road. Concerned? Maybe. They can’t be that concerned though, not like they’re rushing over to help me. Fuck them. They might miss their bus home. I wish missing the bus home was an inconvenience I could experience. Why am I getting angry at them though? It’s not their fault. 20 years ago I would have done the same thing. How have I ended up so bitter? Ha! That’s a stupid question.

The Styrofoam cup with the coffee in has gone cold, I’ve nothing else to keep my hands warm but to pull them up into my jacket. I take a last sip of the coffee, it’s even more bitter when it’s cold. The bus pulls up across the road and the people get on. A man is looking at me through the window on the top deck. The bus pulls away, the people on board on their way back to their homes. I allow myself a smile. I wonder what they think when they see me sitting here on my sleeping bag?

People have this image of people living on the streets as hopeless alcoholics or drug addicts. I don’t drink, I’ve never done drugs. Even if I did, what does it matter? Does it mean I’m less deserving of being able to sleep somewhere warm, somewhere safe. I know why people do drink, I know why they take drugs. Somehow I’ve managed to hold onto some hope that it’ll get better one day. That’s not an easy thing to do. Not being able to hold onto slim hopes doesn’t make you weak. Other people’s hopes are different.

Some people hope that the postman is going to bring them something they ordered yesterday, or they hope that they won’t miss the bus because they left work late. Hope that their dinner didn’t burn because they left in the oven for a little bit longer than they should have done. Is that really hope? Hope to me, hope to other people that live out here is seeing the day through being able to eat, keep warm, maybe even just have a conversation with someone. I don’t blame anyone for losing that hope.

I should move, it’s cold tonight. I pick up my sleeping bag and the plastic bag with all my belongings: a facecloth and a toothbrush. The shopkeeper nods his head at me as I walk past. I force a smile back. He gives me a coffee each evening. I should be grateful, I am grateful, or am I? Why do I have to force a smile to acknowledge one of the few people that help me. Envy? Probably. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not him, it’s just what he represents. Why didn’t he come out when that kid kicked me? Did he even know? Fuck!

I walk by the river, it’s not sheltered, I’d have been warmer where I was but I just want to walk. If that kid turns up with his mates things could get a lot worse. I look down at the floor as I walk. It’s late and there are few people about but I don’t want to make eye contact with anyone, I just want to ghost through the streets without being noticed. I’m not going back there tonight. Where can I go? Just walk all night? It wouldn’t be the first time.

I am going to be doing a charity walk to raise awareness and money for homelessness in Ireland. The walk will take place starting from December 12th and I will be walking from Dublin to Co Galway which is about 200km. You can donate below. Thank you!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Se-n-Hogan1

 

 

This Time Or Is It?

I’m going to do it this time, I know I’ve said it so many times before but this time’s going to be the last. I’ve been preparing myself all week. I’m scared, but I want to do it. If I can get past the first two days I can do it. I usually fail after about six hours. This is going to be my last trip to the off license, the last awkward walk back with a bag filled with cans and bottles. The woman behind the counter won’t ever see me again, the way she looks at me with pity makes me feel ashamed, it has to be the last time. If I don’t go through with it, I’m not going to have long left.

It’s one of them crisp, cold December evenings. I can’t feel the cold though, I’ve only got a light jumper on, no t-shirt underneath it. The sweat pours down my forehead, it’s a sticky sweat, thick and sweet smelling, all the booze coming out of me. I’ve tried to cut down to make tomorrow easier but I’m going to have one last bender tonight. It ain’t really a bender, not what other people would call a bender, sitting at home on your own drinking yourself to the point that you black out and will never know what you did.

I’ve still got that Ready Brek glow, where everything feels good with the world. I’ve got the confidence to look people in the eye, I’m not drunk, I just feel right, almost normal. It’s a window you have, it’s small and rarely lasts long but it’s your connection to reality, you feel hunger, sometimes emotion, you act normally, your mind still not consumed by the madness of whatever it is you are drinking. It’s a limbo, the only way out is the terror of withdrawal or the insanity of blackouts. If I could always feel like this I don’t think I’d stop, wrapped in cotton wool for the rest of my life.

The grey blocks of the estate don’t look as grey as they usually do, I wonder how many other people behind them windows live like I do? How many of them are contemplating the same things I am? Will they go through with it or will they fail. How many of them will make it until next year? A red light in one of the windows reminds me of being a kid and having a red lamp in my room, I don’t know why I chose red, perhaps it made me feel warm as I read late into the night. Innocence, you don’t know what’s out there waiting for you when you’re a child, everything is always going to be okay.

The woman in the shop doesn’t pay any attention to me as the bell on the door rings as I open it. I need to choose wisely, it’s going to be the last time. I automatically walk towards the ciders with the cheap labels on the bottles, I can smell it even though it’s not open, I gag, vile stuff, but it’s kept me going the last few years. I won’t miss it, maybe just a small one for old time’s sake, it’s only a couple of quid. I hesitate as I move my hand towards the bottle to pick it up. Fuck it, I can’t spend my last night drinking this shite.

I walk up to the counter with three twenty pound notes in my hand, wanting the woman to look at them, to think he’s got money for once. She still ignores me, why would she care that I have £60 in my hand? I look at all the bottles behind the counter. Why do I really enjoy drinking? Is there actually anything about it that I get any pleasure from?

“A bottle of Courvoisier and a bottle of Smirnoff, please. Oh and 40 Bensons, actually make it 60.”

She takes the bottles from the shelves barely acknowledging me. I give her the money and she hands back my change.

“This is the last time, you’ll never see me again.”

No answer, just a look of confusion. It seems she means more to me than I do to her. I’m insignificant, just another customer, someone whose face she vaguely recognises. Was I always just imagining those looks of pity? The woman who works in the off license has been a person who has been a constant in my life for years, I don’t know her name, I have no idea where she lives, I can barely make any conversation with her, yet here I am feeling disappointed, illusions that there might have been some kind of connection between us shattered. Loneliness, eh?

Walking back from the shop towards my block I try to catch people’s eyes, I want to tell everyone that this is the last time, that they’ll never see me walking back from the shops again with bottles in a bag. They’ll never see me late at night crawling up the stairs, they’ll never see me shivering and shaking waiting outside a shop waiting for it to open. They won’t ever see me talking to myself because I’ve drank so much all sanity has left me. They’ll see me looking healthy, going to get a newspaper in the morning and a can of coke. They don’t give a shit though.

Sitting on a bench on the green that separates two of the building blocks is an acquaintance. He’ll listen to me. There’s a can in his hand, holding it tightly with both hands as if it’s the most precious thing in the world. He nods as I veer from my path home and head towards the bench. He shifts up the bench slightly giving me space to sit down. I can see his eyes on my bag, I know how he feels, that can is his last and he probably has no money, thinks he’s won the lottery, me sitting next to him loaded up with vodka and brandy.

“Not seen you around for a bit? Where you been?”

“I went off the booze, went into some rehab for a few weeks, I couldn’t take it so I walked out.”

“Not managed to stay off it then?”

“What’s the fucking point of giving it up? Life’s shit anyway, all they did when I was in that place was talk about my childhood and all that bollocks. How’s that supposed to stop me from having a drink? Fuck it anyway, I know my fate.”

“I’m going off it tomorrow.”

“Are you fuck. You’ll last a few hours and you’ll be down the off license by the afternoon.”

“I’ve been cutting down, I’ll do it this time. I’ve had enough of it, it’s shit. What the fuck are we doing with our lives?”

“Wait until you start feeling things, you’ll know how I felt then. You going to share that booze then?”

He necks his beer in one go and throws the can onto the grass, looking at my bag eagerly.

“Not today mate, it’s my last little party for myself. Take this, go and get yourself something with it. Have a drink to my success too. See you around, look after yourself.”

I leave him with a £10 note. He can do what he wants with it, he ain’t coming to my last little party though, it’s only going to be me. I wonder if, when I walk past him in the future, will I look at him with pity? Will I even acknowledge him? Maybe I’ll turn into one of them people who see it as some kind of crusade to turn everyone sober. Nah, fuck that, it’s about me, I don’t care what anyone else gets up to. They need to solve their own problems. Time to go home and get ready for my last night of madness.

The block I live in is 10 floors high. I live on the fifth, it’s a long walk up when the lift doesn’t work but I run up the stairs faster than I have done in years. I haven’t had a drink in a few hours now, I feel sweaty but not too bad, the bag is in my hand, it’s a comfort, I know that I’ll be able to have what I want whenever I want it. At the top of the stairs I stop and look out the window, looking at nothing in particular, just surveying the land. I feel a tear in my eye, is it the start of the grieving process? I wipe it away and open the door. Last time I’ll be coming in here with a bag of booze.

I put the two bottles on the coffee table then sit down on the sofa. The glow is starting to fade away, I look back at the bottles, I don’t really want to open them, I’ve never had that feeling before. It rules my life, every single thing I do is controlled by that liquid inside those bottles. I can’t get up without it, I can’t go anywhere unless I have enough of it to see me through the time that I’m outside. I go into the kitchen and take a glass and return to put it down next to the bottles, I’ll wait, I want to show it that it has no control, that it really is the last time.

My living room is sparse, there’s only my coffee table, the sofa and an old television that I bought a couple of months ago. Before that I would just sit here and drink, no television, just me, my sofa, the coffee table and a bottle. The sun is setting, the red glow in the winter sky makes me feel warm, when the next few weeks are over I’ll be able to go out for walks, enjoy the sunset, enjoy all the things that I have forgotten that I enjoyed. I might even make some friends, it’s not that I don’t know anyone, I do, they just don’t want anything to do with me.

I close my eyes for a few minutes, it’s a small escape from the room, when I open them again the bottle seems to be pulling me towards it. I unscrew the lid of the vodka bottle, the cracking sound as the seal breaks, the smell of the alcohol drifting up towards my nose making me shudder. I put the lid on the table and sit back again. It’s like a game, trying to convince myself that I’m stronger than I am, really I am just delaying the inevitable. I sit back up and pour the clear liquid into the glass, I pick the glass up and knock it all back in one go, it’s begun, for the last time it’s begun.

Half the bottle is gone and I am starting to have a fight with myself. I’m trying to convince myself that it isn’t necessary to give it up tomorrow, that I can have one more little party tomorrow night. How is one more night going to hurt? It won’t, surely? Anyway, when I do give it up, what am I going to do? Sit in here on my own all the time, no friends, watching shite television, going for walks on my own, what’s the point in all of that? I won’t enjoy it. I’ll just end up lonely and bitter and with nothing to take those feelings away.

The worst thing about it all is that I’ll never be able to feel like this ever again. I won’t be able to feel confident, I won’t be able to feel like anything is possible. Sitting here with the vodka inside me I feel like I could travel the world or find any woman I want. I can make a great life for myself, I just haven’t made the effort yet, I can if I want to. I can keep it under control as well, I know I’m an alcoholic but I could just become one of them functioning alcoholics. That’s got to be better than giving it all up completely.

I remember them times when I used to go down the pub and spend hours in there drinking with friends, talking about football, laughing and joking, and then we’d go off to some club somewhere or go for an Indian. We’d go back to someone’s flat and carry on drinking into the morning. If I stop, give it all up them things ain’t ever going to happen again. How will I be able to enjoy life? I don’t think it’s possible. It might be a bit fucked up sometimes but it ain’t as bad as I think it is. I can see how I feel tomorrow, if I feel too rough I’ll just have a drink and try again the next day, it ain’t that important at the moment.

It is important though isn’t it? I mean, I’m remembering all the good shit that has happened, I’m forgetting about all the bad times. All them good times were in the past, they ain’t things that have happened recently. When was the last time I went down the pub? It was fucking years ago. The reason I don’t go down there is because nobody talks to me, they all think I am a waste of space, a liability that they can’t take anywhere. What’s the chances of them changing their minds? None, they’ve heard it all before.

Travel the world? Find any woman I want? The only place I am going to be able to do that is here, in this room and it’s all in my head. Some mornings I can barely make it to the shop, dizzy, sweating, sick, retching. Half my teeth are missing, I can’t hold a conversation for long because I forget what I said at the beginning of the sentence. My brain is addled. It’s all just wild fantasies that I’m using to convince myself that stopping is a bad idea. It’s the same every time. I know it’s all bollocks, yet I believe it because I am scared, petrified of the unknown.

More than anything I would love to go for a walk, my head held high, not paranoid because I ain’t sure what I did the last time I went out. Not having to worry that people might be staring at me. I just want to go for a walk on my own to just enjoy it, the simplest of fucking things, I’ll be able to stop and sit on a bench, not having to worry about how I’m going to get enough money together to get another drink, how I’m going to get through the rest of the day. Care free, that’s all I want. I just want it to go away, leave me alone.

The bottle of vodka is gone, the other bottle is still sitting there. I feel unusually tired, normally I’d have the second bottle open and ready to go but my eyes are opening and closing, I’m slipping in and out of consciousness. I know that if I really am going to do it I should throw the bottle down the sink but I can’t find the energy. I want to move my body forward so I can stand up but it’s not responding, I’m half dreaming now. I’ll throw the bottle away in the morning, it’ll be a test of my resolve, a test of whether I really want to do this.

I sit up straight on the sofa, eyes still blurry, the bottle of vodka and the upturned glass is at my feet. My mouth is dry, I reach down to the glass but stop as the smell reaches my nose, I put it back down on the table. I pick up the empty bottle and walk out to the kitchen and put it in the rubbish bin. I take my only other glass and pour some water from the tap and drink it one go and then another. Back in the living room I light a cigarette and notice the other unopened bottle sitting on the table. I’ll throw it away in a bit.

It’s still dark outside, I turn on the television, it’s six. I’ve slept for longer than I thought I would, usually I can only sleep for a few hours before I wake, needing to drink something. The first hour is the easy part. There’s still all that booze in my body from the night before. After that first hour is when it’ll all begin. The woman on the television is talking about eating healthy foods, I turn the television off again, the clock in the corner of the screen makes me feel as though time is passing too slowly, the numbers never seeming to change.

Maybe I should go for a walk? It’ll pass the time quicker, it’d be good to get some fresh air before it all starts. Nah, I’m not going to go for a walk, I didn’t drink that much last night, I’m starting to feel a bit sick already, if I go out and start getting really sick I’ll only have one option. I feel a shiver go through my body, I hold out my hands, they are shaking slightly. The bottle on the table is starting to call me, I knew I should have thrown it away last night. Did I do it on purpose? Do I really want to go through with all this?

Two hours have gone, I’ve checked the television every ten minutes, I’m willing time to pass but it’s going slower and slower. My hands are really shaking now, I don’t want to stand up, if I stand up I feel like I’ll just fall over. No one would find me, nobody would know. Everything in the room has started to take on strange shapes. The coffee table seems larger, overbearing, like it’s going to smother me. When I turn on the television it feels like the people are talking to me, watching me, every word coming out of their mouths sounds loud, echoing through my head.

Fuck this, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do it. It was a good idea, it was the right idea but I don’t think I have the strength. Am I even worth all this? Am I actually worth having a life worth living? I curl up into a ball on the sofa, my knees against my chest, my arms squeezing my legs tightly. My hair is drenched with sweat, I can smell the alcohol seeping out of my body. I don’t have the energy to have a shower, I’d fall over anyway. The bottle is on the table looking at me, willing me to open it. I can still throw it away, but I don’t want to, it’s my safety blanket.

I hear footsteps outside. Someone is coming to get me. What did I do last night? I wasn’t that drunk, maybe I did something another night and now they’re coming. The steps fade away and I breathe again. A loud bang, the next door neighbour doing something. My heart just stopped. I wait and listen out for more sounds on the landing outside but it’s silent. I roll off the sofa and crawl into the corner of the room. Huddled up, protecting myself. I want to turn off the light, it’s burning my eyes but I can’t stand up.

The coffee table has started to change shape. It’s getting bigger and bigger, taking over the whole room. I push myself back further against the wall. There’s nowhere to run. More footsteps, the coffee table goes back to its normal shape. I’m covered in sweat, I relax against the wall and hold my hands out again, they are shaking uncontrollably. This is foolish, there must be another way to do this. I crawl back to the sofa and turn on the television, only a few hours have passed. I turn it off again, the colours are too much.

Just a small drop, just enough to make this a little bit easier. Surely that’s the best way? Doing it like this is just torturing myself. I can just have a few glasses throughout the day and by tomorrow I’ll be able to stop completely, there’ll be nothing left then anyway. I lift the bottle from the table undo the seal and pull the stopper. The smell of brandy makes me shiver, it’s the most beautiful thing I have every smelled. I pour it into the glass, the golden brown colour looks like liquid honey. I put the stopper back on and put the bottle back down. I hold the glass, staring at it.

I’ve made it a few hours. If I can make it that far I can make it another few. You’re not going to make it, just drink it, you’re killing yourself for no reason, it’s there in front of you, you can end it all in a few minutes. And then what? Then nothing, you won’t feel sick, you won’t be paranoid, you can get another few hours sleep. Then I’ll wake up again and go through the same thing from the beginning? No, it’ll be easier. You don’t have to do it this way. I can do it, I can make it. You can’t, you’re weak, you gave up last time, you’ll give up this time. Fuck you!

I put the glass back on the table. I want to get sick, it’s coming in waves and each wave is bigger and stronger, more frightening. If you don’t have a drink you are going to die, you do realise that don’t you? You can’t make it another hour. Just leave me alone! Death might be better than this. It’s okay, all you have to do is pick up the glass and drink and it’ll all be over. I don’t want to though, I don’t want to, I just want it all to go away. It will go away, what is wrong with you? Just pick up the fucking glass and drink!

I pick up the glass and bottle and walk with purpose into the kitchen, I throw the glass of brandy down the sink. I pull the stopper and the smell hits me again. Don’t be stupid, this is your lifeline, anyway if you throw it away you’ll only go to the shop later. It feels as though something is holding me, my arm won’t turn. You will regret doing it, if you think the first few hours were bad, wait until the next few, you’ll end up throwing yourself out the window. I use all my energy to turn my arm, the liquid glugs out and down the sinkhole, I wait until it’s empty and then turn on the tap. I slump down onto the floor next to the sink.

I’m not sure how many hours pass, I keep turning my body, running my hands through my hair, my muscles tensing, painful. I’m convinced I am going to die, at the moment, death would be a better option. I can’t focus on anything, I can’t think properly, all my thoughts are jumbled together into one big mess of nonsense. The only thing that isn’t a mess is the picture of a bottle in my mind, it’s always there. I close my eyes, feel as though I might sleep but jolt myself awake again, if I fall asleep I might never wake up.

I open my eyes, my forehead is still covered in sweat but I can focus. I lift myself up and sit against the kitchen cabinet. It’s bright outside, I reach for the sink and pull myself up. The bottle isn’t there anymore. I struggle into the living room, dizzy and shaky, there’s glass all over the floor. I fall onto the sofa and stare out the window, the blue sky looks warm but I feel cold. I turn on the television. Fuck, a day has passed, I’m still alive. I must have broken the bottle, my hands aren’t cut, maybe I was hallucinating again.

One day. I’ve made it one day. I still feel like shit, but not as bad as I did yesterday. My body is sore, I haven’t felt pain in a long, long time but it feels good, it feels like I am existing, that I am alive. I sit up and then stand up and walk towards the window, I’m unsteady on my feet and still feel as though I will collapse at any moment. I hold the window ledge and look down to the green. That fella is sitting there holding something in his hands. I made it longer than you said I would. I fall back onto the sofa, one day, one day, one day, I’ve got to make it to two. Maybe when I reach seven I can go for a walk. Only six to go.

This short story has been taken from my book of short stories The Unwashed which is available in paperback and on Kindle here. My first novel is also available here.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/or/

My Cow is Black and I Want to be a Pilot

The sun rises up over the mountains as I sit outside watching the cow eat.  I live in a small village in the mountains of Northern India.  From my porch I can see the six other houses that cling to the mountainside.  In the distance, over the river, you can see the flat land that rolls off towards distance places that I have never seen.  Down the to the tropical south.  One day I will go.

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My village is high in the mountains.  There are no cities nearby.  Only sometimes do we go to the large town.  It is an adventure that I love.  I love the noise and all the people.  Here there are few people.  It is a simple life.  A life that I love, but I long to go far away.  To see more of my country, see more of the world.

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I walk to school with my friends.  Our school is a small building.  Every class fits in to the one stone block.  Our teacher is a good man.  He teaches us everything.  English, Maths, Geography, Hindi, he knows everything.  Our school has no money but he still tries to teach us.  There are a few desks and a blackboard, a poster on the wall with English letters, A is for Apple, B is for Ball…

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My favourite lesson is English.  Most of my classmates can’t speak any English but everyday after I go home I spend all my time looking at my English book.  Learning words, everyday I try to learn 10 words.  If I can’t speak English then what will I do?  When I grow up I want to be a pilot, I want to go beyond the river, down across the plains to the big cities.

At lunch time we eat our packed lunches and then we play cricket.  I love cricket.  We use any ball we can find.  If I can’t be a pilot I want to be a cricket player.  In the evening I can’t play cricket, I can only watch the big kids play.  At school I can play all lunch time.  Our school is on the side of a mountain and sometimes the ball falls over the side.  Sometimes we nearly fall down too.

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Back in class we learn Hindi.  I hate Hindi classes.  They are boring.  I can already speak Hindi so I don’t understand why I have to learn.  My grandmother can not speak Hindi though, maybe she can take my place.  Perhaps she is too old.  I wish I could find someone I can speak English with.  My English is nearly as good as teacher’s, I hope one day I can find an English person to speak English with.  Then I can get better.

School is over and I walk back home with my friends.  My village is small, but I love it.  When I arrive back home I do my homework and then sit outside and look out across the mountains and the plains to where my dreams lie.  The cow is still eating.  My cow is black and I want to be a pilot.

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About seven years ago I spent some time teaching in a village in the Himalayan foothills.  The schools were basic and lacked funds.  The people however seemed to appreciate their lives and made the most out of what they had.  This short story above is of a small boy that I taught who wanted to be a pilot.  Given his circumstances he spoke excellent English and studied hard.  Most of the kids understandably didn’t have very good English, however they could all repeat one phrase they were taught which was “My cow is black…”.  I often wonder what became of him and if he will ever realise his dream.  All the pictures are mine.

My book of short stories is available here and my first novel is available here.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/sincere/

Liar (Original Short Story)

It was a couple of weeks ago.  I was down the pub with my mates, not the pub that I usually go to, one that I don’t go to too often.  That’s when he walked in, Ian McKellen.  You know the geezer?  Gandalf?  Yeah anyway, he walked in and bought a round for everyone and then walked back out again.  I didn’t know what to say.  Just turned to my mate and said “Gandalf just bought us all a pint.”  Amazing, I don’t know how these things happen to me all the time.  I must be one of them lucky people.

Not sure why people complain about life, really.  It could be a lot worse.  I’ve picked up my giro this morning.  Got a load of dough in my pocket.  A mate of mine is going to sort me out a job next week, somewhere in Spain, being an extra in some film he’s making.  I can’t wait to get a bit of sun.  Get out of this gaff for a little while.  I do love it here, it’s just the people here, they don’t have any ambition.  Not like me.  The rich and famous buy me drinks in the pub and I go off to Spain to shoot films.  Unique round here I am.  That’s the problem, none of them are like me.

The missus will be pleased too.  I’ll be able to bring a bit more dough, maybe take her on a holiday.  Somewhere nice.  She reckons it’s a bit boring going to the caravan down the seaside every summer.  I like it though.  I don’t go there because I am skint.  I go because I like it.  You don’t need all that foreign food, they don’t even speak English in these places either.  I can speak a bit of Spanish though, dos cervezas por favor.  All you need to know in one sentence.  Yeah, anyway, I go to the caravan because I like it down there.  I’ll take her away somewhere nice this year though.  Some exotic gaff, she’ll stop moaning then.

I went to see a man about a dog yesterday.  A geezer I met in the pub last week reckoned he had a load of nicked clothes that he needs to sell.  I told him I’d get rid of them no problem.  I’ll sell them to a geezer I know down the market.  It’ll give me a few quid spending money for Spain.   So I walks into his flat and there’s clothes all of the place.  The problem is, they are all pink.  Scarves, t shirts, trousers, even jeans.  What’s he reckon, I own a pub in Soho?  I told him I could get rid of them.  Just might take me a bit longer, he’ll have to give me a bit more too.  He didn’t seem too happy but what else can he do.  I’m in the driving seat here.

Like I said before no one around here has any ambition.  Most people would have turned all them clothes down, said no, I can’t do that.  Not me.  Last year I, just before I met the missus, I did a bank job with my mate Dave.  Dave don’t live around here no more otherwise you could ask him about it.  Anyway, this bank we robbed has the best security system in the world.  I did a computer course at school which is why Dave asked me.  It was a piece of piss, we were in and out in twenty minutes.  Well over a million quid in cash.  The problem is, I can’t spend any of that money.  It’s all marked, have to leave it as my retirement fund when no one will remember.

I probably won’t even need all that money though.  Not when my acting career takes off.  I reckon he chose me to go out there because he sees my potential.  He knows I am going to become a big star.  I’ll be able to buy a gaff in Monaco or one of them places.  I’ll be able to mix with the starts properly then, not in one of these muggy little pubs that you get around here.  McKellen must have heard my name about, bought us all a pint because he didn’t want to leave anyone out, didn’t want it to go to my head either.  My feet are properly on the ground.

I knock the people that live around but there’s some good ones too.  There’s the old geezer that rides his little scooter to the shop every morning.  He used to be in the SAS.  Riding the scooter is all part of his act, doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s hard.  He told me one day when we were having a chat in the pub.  Obviously knows who he can trust.  He could kill a person with one hand, some kids tried to rob him once and he pulled out a shotgun.  Right hard bastard.  You don’t want to mess with him.  I always buy him a pint now, you know just to show that I respect him and that.  Nice fella really.  Feel a bit sorry for him.

The best one though is that geezer that lives on his own.  You won’t believe this story, it’s too good to be true, but it is true, I know him well.  Anyway, when he was a kid his mum left him, apparently she was on the game and smoking crack.  The poor kid was always outside the door kicking a ball against the wall waiting for whatever geezer was in there to leave.  When the geezer was walking out the door he used to kick the ball at them.  His little way of taking out his aggression on them.  He’d go back inside until the next fella came along or his mum sent him to buy something from the shop.

Everyone on the estate knew what was going on.  You could see it when they walked past the kid, looks of pity in their eyes and all that.  Sometimes they’d try and talk to him, ask him if he was okay, if he wanted anything.  He always said he was okay, though.  He didn’t really want anyone interfering, if his mum found out he’d been talking to people she knock him about.  They all felt sorry for him.  The thing is round here, you kind of keep yourself out certain people’s business.  Even if they wanted to help, what could they have done?  The mother would have got someone to go round and smash their windows in.

Some nights when the mother as at home and there was no one else around he used to tell her stories.  He just used to make them up off the top of his head.  She’d sit there listening to them, a little smile on her face.  Sometimes she would even laugh and ruffle his hair.  This was the only time that he was happy.  The rest of the time he was angry, alone and frightened but when she listened to his stories, that was his time with her.  At least he made her happy, not like all them fellas that used to come in the house.  Sometimes they’d hit her.

One day she had come home from where ever it was that she went and told him to wait outside.  There was an important man coming to see her and she didn’t want him around.  She said he had to go and wait in the park opposite their flat.  He couldn’t wait outside the door tonight, the man couldn’t see him.  He’d never seen his mum so excited.  Even when he told his stories and she ruffled his hair she’d never had this look on her face.

He stood over in the park, kicking some broken glass about.  Pretending to be some football player, half his mind on scoring a goal in the cup final and half his mind on watching the house.  He knew he wouldn’t be able to do anything if they hurt her, but he would still try.  He watched as a big, expensive car pulled up outside.  A man with a suit got out and went into the house.  He looked like he had loads of money.  The kid was thinking about whether or not he should turn the rich geezer’s car over or not.  He’d better not, his mum would kill him.

When the fella left, his mum actually went to the door with him.  She never usually did that with the other geezers.  She was smiling, he heard her say “See you tomorrow”.  When the car had gone he went back into the flat.  His mum sitting on the sofa.  She called him over to sit by him and tell her a story, he usually had to start telling them before she listened.  Not her asking to be told.  As her told her his latest tale, she seemed to listen more intensely.  Even showing emotion, a tear falling down her face as she ruffled his hair.

The next morning, he woke up and went to the kitchen to make something to eat.  There was £100 on the table and a small note.  On the note was written “sorry, but I have to leave”.  He was a clever kid, but he didn’t really understand the meaning behind the note.  He just thought she’d gone out for the day.  He didn’t know what the money was for though.  She only ever gave him money when he had to go to the shop and buy something for her.  At least he had the house to himself for the day.  His imagination could run wild, no need to worry about his mum.  It was easier not to worry when she wasn’t here.

After three days she still hadn’t come back.  He still had most of the money.  Going to the chip shop in the evenings to buy something to eat.  Hoping that she’d be there when he got back to the flat.  All this time on his own and he’d come up with loads of new stories.  She’d love the one about the old fella that had a scooter.  Or even the one about being an actor.  But she didn’t come back.  Night after night he waited.  Until one morning a lady knocked on the door and asked him if he knew where his mother was.  He said he didn’t, the lady said she was going to take him to a nice place for a few days, just until they found his mum.

It wasn’t a few days though, he was in the home for four years.  They never found his mother.  Those four years he would wonder where she had gone, where she had gone, why she had gone.  Maybe his stories weren’t good enough anymore.  He didn’t understand why she didn’t want him, he had tried his hardest to make her happy when she was sad.  The place he lived in was full of kids whose mums or dads had ran away.  All of them angry and hurt, all of them doing what they could to survive on their own.

When he was 16 he left, the council found him a place of his own.  Back on the estate that his mum had abandoned him on.  He still told his stories to anyone that would listen.  It was the only time that people would listen to him.  When he used to go to the pub, he would have all his stories ready in his head, ready to tell anyone that would listen.  He knew they weren’t real, well sometimes.  The line between reality and fantasy was becoming thinner.  He got what he craved though, and that was people’s attention, even if they did laugh at him.

It’s weird ain’t it?  Poor kid.  The story seems quite believable, but that kid was me.  I’ve never been in a pub when Ian McKellen has walked in to buy everyone a pint.  I’ve not got a mate who is making a movie in Spain.  I’ve never robbed a bank, but I bet you believed that one though?  I haven’t even got a wife.  I still live on my own.  Opposite the flat that I lived in with my mother.  Every day I’m reminded of her walking out of my life.  What else can I do but tell stories?  Do you want a pink shirt by the way, I think it’d suit you.

This short story is where the idea for my upcoming novel ‘Liar’ originated from . You can pre order it for Amazon Kindle here. My First book of short stories ‘The Unwashed’ is also available on Kindle and paperback here

Dreamer

It’s cold but I like it, more than the heat of the day. I’ve finished everything I needed to do, the evening time is my time, sitting looking out at the horizon. There’s nothing there, sand and rocks, sometimes an animal runs across the open. Peaceful now the crickets have stopped as the sun lowers in the sky. The orange colour of the sky looks beautiful, if I could paint I would try and paint it, I can’t though so I savour these moments. My father says you should always appreciate everything you are given and you have been given this sunset each day.

I am bored though, this is my problem, I’m too young to leave but not young enough to not care. There is little for me to do. I look after the animals, I go to school and I dream. I want to appreciate what I have but it’s not enough, I want more, I want to see more of the world. I have only left our small village once. My father took me to the city because he wanted to buy something, I don’t know what because he never told me. He met a man and he gave him money and was happy. Why did he take me if he didn’t want me to know what he was buying?

It didn’t matter though, I saw the city. People everywhere, motorbikes everywhere, women dressed in clothes that no girl in our village would dare to wear. The smell of foods I had never smelled or seen before. Even the way they spoke was different, maybe more aggressive, the people walking the streets all looked like they had a purpose, somewhere to go, not like at home where people just go for a walk. I held my father’s hand tightly, at first I was scared but after an hour of walking through markets I was excited. It was where I wanted to be.

Sitting here now, I want to go further. I want to go to another country. Our school doesn’t have much, but our teacher, he is the best teacher anyone could have. He tells us to close our eyes and then he describes a place, somewhere far away, some places we have never heard of, some we know but only from pictures or because everyone knows them, like London or New York. He has seen these places for himself, telling us every little detail so we are there in our minds, walking the streets with him. For the other children it is a dream, for me I want to make it come true. How I do not know, but I will.

The baby crying wakes me from my fantasies of travel and adventure, I can hear my mother shushing her. My little sister, I am so proud of her, I tell all of my class mates about her even though most of them don’t care. She’ll come with me on my adventures one day, even now when she can’t speak and probably doesn’t know what she’s looking at, I show her pictures from magazines and newspapers, telling her where I am going to take her. My mother and father don’t realise I know they are exchanging glances and rolling their eyes.

I must sleep, tomorrow I have to be at school early. Before I sleep I always write in my diary, it is just pieces of paper that I have collected together but I still call it my diary. My mother is still holding my sister in her arms rocking her back and forth, she smiles as I come in. My father is sitting by the window looking out into the darkness, a cigarette in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. I rub my sister’s cheeks with the back of my hand and she giggles.

“Don’t annoy her, she’s only stopped crying!”

“I’m not annoying her! Look! She’s laughing.”

“Go to bed, you have to be up early, don’t spend too long writing either or you won’t be able to get up in the morning.”

“Goodnight.”

I don’t want to tell them that I want to leave because I know it will upset them but one day I will have to. I can’t stay here for the rest of my life. I love my home and I love my family but I want more, I want to go out and see the rest of the world. Other people are happy living here, keeping their simple lives but I know I will not be. I know that they will have plans for me, they will have an idea on how they want my life to go, that is the most difficult thing, to make my own dreams come true I will have to shatter theirs.

Maybe I am not being fair, just because their lives seem simple it doesn’t mean that they are not fulfilled. Is it me that is wrong for wanting to leave? I am not a good son, I don’t know how my father will feel. No, I do know, he will be disappointed in me, my mother too, and what about my sister? She is too young to understand, I want to take her with me but I know I can’t. One day she can come and find me where ever I may be. What if I go and don’t like it? I’ll come back with my head lowered and they will tell me ‘I told you so’.

Leaving my parents will kill me but leaving my sister would hurt the most. I want to watch her grow up, be a good brother, make sure she does well at school, that she is happy. If I go, I will miss all of that. It is not fair on her even if she doesn’t know yet, she will be missing a brother. I suppose I can come back but it won’t be the same. You have to make sacrifices when you really want something, but I feel this is the biggest sacrifice. Hopefully I will come back when she is older and I can explain to her, tell her that I needed adventure, she is my sister, I am sure she will understand.

What if they stop me from going? Then what will I do? Will I run or will I have to bow to their wishes and stay here, tending to animals, unhappy, always wondering what could have been. If they stop me and then I run I’ll never be able to come back, even if I am successful I will have brought too much shame upon them. I’m still young, I still have time to decide, I must thank you, my diary for listening to me, you are the only person I can tell, well I can tell Alia too but she doesn’t understand. Sleep, tomorrow is another day.

“Ali! Get up, you’re late, writing in that diary of yours again last night. Where do you put it when you’re not here because I can never find it?”

“I don’t want you to find it!”

“Quick, get ready for school, drink this milk and you can eat your breakfast on the way. Your father will meet you after school today and walk back with you.”

“Why?”

“He wants to talk to you.”

“What about?”

“I don’t know, quickly, go!”

Why does he want to talk to me? He never meets me after school, he is always too busy. What if he has found my diary!? Oh no, if he has found those pieces of paper I don’t know what I will do. How would he find them though? They are always with me when I am at school and at night he just sits by the window smoking and drinking tea. No point in worrying, if he had found them he would have taken them. It must still be something important though, no matter, I’ll just have to wait until the end of the school day.

It’s still cool but the sun is rising in the sky. An old jeep passes me on the road, a goat is tied up at the back of it. That will probably be me in a few year’s time, driving to the market a wife at home looking after the children. What excitement! I think I am the problem, I want too much and should be happy with what I do have. It is peaceful here, there are no big problems, we eat well, we are not rich but we are not poor. It’s your problem Ali! You have ideas that are far too big for yourself. Ha! Oh well, even if I have to stay here it won’t be too bad.

The teacher ignores me as I walk in the door. For some reason he never gets angry with me, he just tells me that he sees himself in me, someone who has a big heart, who wants to discover new places. The other kids laugh when he says this, sometimes I laugh too but inside I agree with him. I know he knows my father well, I once overheard my father telling my mother that the teacher said I had lots of potential and I needed to find my own path. My mother didn’t answer him, other paths means not staying here.

“Sir! You said you would tell us about London today, when will you tell us?”, one of the students ask.

“Finish what you’re doing and I will.”

“Sir, why did you come home? Aren’t all the people rich there?”

“I missed my family, and no they are not all rich.”

“What did you do there?”

“Same as I do here, I was a teacher there.”

“You’re crazy sir, you should have stayed.” Everyone laughs, the teacher smiles.

“You’re too young to understand. If any of you ever leave you’ll find out quickly that you always miss home, life here is not as bad as some of you think, it’s good to and see new places, meet new people but never forget where you come from. If I didn’t come back who would be your teacher? It might have been someone that beat you and never told you any stories. Then you wouldn’t be calling me crazy for not coming back.”

“We wouldn’t know you exist sir!”

“Very clever, quickly finish your work and I’ll tell you all about London.”

The classroom falls into silence, everyone doing their work quickly, the quicker they finish the quicker they can listen to him tell his tales. I open my small bag, I have forgotten to put my diary in it! Where did I leave those pieces of paper, they must be under the bed. I hope they don’t find them, or Alia doesn’t crawl under the bed and pull them out. Usually I am so careful! Stupid! There’s nothing I can do now, if they read it then so be it, I will have to tell them of my plans someday anyway. They’ll probably think I am just a kid with his head in the clouds.

Some of the other kids have finished off their work, sitting in silence looking at the front of the class in expectation. I pretend I have finished too, I don’t even know what we were supposed to have been doing. The teacher still has his head down, writing something on a piece of paper. It’s a performance, he knows we are all waiting excitedly, he pretends that he is busy but we all know he isn’t, he’s just pretending to write. He loves this as much as we do, he knows that he has us under his magic spell. He looks up and pretends to be surprised.

“You are all finished so quickly?!”

I remember, I got off the plane in London and the smell was different. Every country you go to the smell is different but England was the first place I had ever visited. I had been to the city before but never one quite like this. Can you imagine? Me, at the time I was young, I’d lived here for most of my life and now I was on my own. They have trains that are underground but they are like a maze, I didn’t know where to go. I am standing there with a map, my suitcase beside me, not knowing where to go, people just passing me by, tutting because I am stopping them from going where they need to be!

I sat on the train, everyone was reading a newspaper or a book, none of them talking to each other or looking at each other. I smiled at the man opposite me, he looked away, his face looking as though he thought I was crazy. I never smiled at another person on the train the whole time I lived there! Also, so many people that dressed strangely, well strange for me at the time, eventually you become used to it. People with different colour hair and jeans with holes in them. If ever you were to see such a person here you would laugh but there nobody took any notice.

I stayed with a cousin, for years everyone told me that this cousin was rich and that he lived in a big house near Buckingham Palace. No! He lived in a small room, not many people there live in big houses. It was nowhere near the Palace. When I arrived, I saw a house but when he opened the door he took me upstairs to a room, I asked him where my room was, he laughed, this was for both of us. The house was not all his, many people lived there, coming and going through the night. I lay awake on my first night wondering if I should just use my money to go home.

The next day I got up early and decided I would explore for a day. If I hated it, I would just go home. I had saved all this money to go to school in England, borrowed some from friends but I didn’t care, I wasn’t sure I could live in this strange place, it was nothing like they had told me it would be like. I took the train once again, in the morning you couldn’t move inside them, people squashed against you, not wanting to touch anyone else but they had no choice. When the doors opened I almost fell out of the train, no one apologised when they pushed you.

Many times, I am sure, you have seen the pictures of Piccadilly, maybe you don’t know the name but you would know if you saw the picture. Red buses, big signs on the buildings. When I came up from the train this is what I saw! The pictures I had seen became real. I stood at the top of the stairs, staring like an idiot, people pushing past me, I didn’t care, they could push me back down the stairs and I would just run back up them again. I wasn’t going to go home. How could I ever leave a place like this so soon?

For the whole day I walked around in a daze. I cannot explain the feeling. The streets full of expensive shops that I was too scared to go into in case they threw me out, hundreds of big red buses on the roads passing you by. The parks too! So much green in the city! I sat in the park for hours watching people, in London it isn’t just English people, it’s people from everywhere! So many languages that people are speaking, I began to wonder if I should have learned to speak another language apart from English!

When I came home that night, my cousin was lying on his bed reading. I asked him why he wasn’t outside, enjoying this magical place. He looked at me as if I were crazy and carried on reading his book. He was the crazy one, he didn’t appreciate it, always sitting in his room reading when he wasn’t working. Can you imagine if I gave one of you the chance to go to England and you sat in your room reading? No, it would never happen! He said I was like a child, I was and I stayed like that child for the five years that I was there, always happy, always looking for something new.

Someone is ringing the hand bell, it is already time for lunch. I was there, I was living in London with the teacher and his cousin. This morning I had nearly changed my mind, decided that I was foolish to want to do such a thing as leave, not now, I have to go when I get the chance. We all eat lunch quietly, everyone is still there in London, trying to imagine red buses and the big signs, the shops and the parks. I wonder if any of us will ever go? Apart from me, I will definitely go, but will anyone else?

“Do you think any of us will do what he did and leave?”

“Probably not, it’s okay to dream and listen to him in class, in reality? I don’t think I would be able to survive in a place like that. I’ve heard it’s dangerous there too.”

“Yeah, it’s safe here, we have everything we need, why would we ever want to leave? We all know he’s crazy anyway, his cousin is right.”

“You all like listening to his stories, you beg him to tell them to you and then when he doesn’t you call him crazy?”

“Ali, he’s a dreamer like you. We like his stories but we know that we’ll never be able to do the same. You should stop dreaming too, you’ll be just the same as us in a few years.”

The rest of the day I can’t concentrate, only thinking about this far away city. Each time I look up at the teacher he is gazing out the window, there is a smile on his face but I think I can see a look of regret on his face. He looks at me and chuckles to himself. I wish the day would hurry up and be over, I want to get back to find my diary, I’ll get little sleep tonight with all that I want to write down, if they haven’t found it that is. No school tomorrow though, I can stay up as late as I like as long as I don’t make any noise.

As I walk out the small door of the classroom I see my father standing there. I forgot. This could end all the dreams I have. He raises his hand slightly in acknowledgement as I walk towards him. He is a man of few words so it must be important if he wants to talk to me. We walk out of the town still in silence, down the long road to our house. I want to say something but I don’t know what to say, he looks ahead still silent, not even looking at me. It has to be something bad, he has definitely found my diary.

“You like school?”

“Of course, you know I like school.”

“You can leave school next year you know?”

“I know.” He wants me to leave school.

“You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to.”

“What? I mean really?”

“You want to stay in school then you can stay. I won’t make you leave.”

“You came to meet me to tell me that?”

“No. I want to tell you that I want you to do what you want to do in your life. You see me now? I spend all day working in the heat, looking after animals, walking to the town and back to sell them. Do you think I am happy?”

“I don’t know.”

“Of course I am happy, I have your mother, she is a good woman, I have you and I have your sister. I enjoy what I do. That’s what I want you to do. I want you to do what you want to do.”

“If I left? When I am old enough?”

He lets out a deep sigh and looks at me. His eyes are watery.

“Do as you wish, Ali. Your mother doesn’t want you to leave but I have told her that you must do what you want to do. I only ask one thing of you though, that you wait until your sister is a little bit older. I have some money saved, if you wait until then I will give it to you and you can go where ever you like. Just promise that you will come back and see us.”

“Aren’t you worried what people will think?”

“I don’t care what people think. Tradition doesn’t make people happy, it just causes conflict. Anyway, I trust you, you’ll be successful wherever you go, just don’t forget us.”

“Of course I won’t forget you, and I’ll wait until Alia has grown up a bit before I leave. Did you read my diary?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“How did you know what I wanted to do then?”

“You spend most of your time sitting outside staring into the distance, you show your sister pictures from all over the world and you think I don’t know what is going through your mind? I used to dream too Ali.”

“Thank you.”

My book of short stories ‘The Unwashed’ is available on Amazon here.

 

Broken Dreams in Phnom Penh

The cars pass by in a blur of light.  Everything is fuzzy.  The warmth envelopes my body.  I see the foreigners walk past and they stare at me with pity.  A pity I cannot understand.  Why pity me?

I am still aware of him standing by me.  He is watching, watching them all walk past.  Waiting to catch their eye, waiting for the person he wants.  Or the person that wants him.

The dust of the street makes me cough.  I keep coughing recently, I don’t know what is wrong.  But what can I do?  Nothing.  Maybe it’ll kill me.  Maybe it won’t.  What does it matter?  Surely if I die it’ll better than here.

I think back to my village.  The village I grew up in.  The place I miss the most.  The people that I miss the most.  As a kid, every day we would walk back from school past the buffalo in the fields, the people working.  Stopping under the trees to hide from the sun.

These are the days that I miss the most.  The days of innocence.  The days when I would arrive home from school and my mother would feed us with rice.  Her big smile greeting us as we walked in to our small house.

She couldn’t read or write but she would tell us stories.  My mother had seen a lot.  She had survived the Khmer Rouge, but she didn’t tell us those stories.  She told us happy ones.  I would sit in her lap listening and watching her face.  I never wanted the stories to stop.

Each morning we would walk to the school.  There was only one teacher but she tried her best to teach us.  To look after us.  She taught me to read and to write.  As I learned I would dream.  Dream of leaving this village and being a doctor in the big city.  I would make money and bring it back home.  I would build my mother and father a big house.

As I got older people told me there was no need for school.  I had to go out and work in the fields.  We had to bring in food for the house.  My dream of being a doctor was over.  How could a poor girl from the village ever be a doctor?

Then one day he came.  He gave money to my mother.  He said he would take me to the city where I could make lots of money.  I could come back to see my family whenever I wanted.  He said I could bring back money so that my family could eat well.

I didn’t trust his dark eyes.  I didn’t trust his smile, but I had to go.  I had to help my mother and father.  Maybe in the city I could start school again.  Maybe one day I could really be a doctor.  So we left and took the bus to the city.

There were people everywhere.  Cars and tuk tuks.  There were men sitting on the side of the street.  Some had no legs, some had no arms.  They always and a small cup in front of them where people would place money.

I didn’t like the city.  I wanted to go back to the countryside.  I was scared.  I wanted to go back and sit on my mother’s lap as she told me stories.  I wanted to see her big smile as she made rice for us.  I wanted to sit under the trees escaping from the sun while dreaming of being a doctor.

He took me to a house where there were 4 other girls.  All of them ignored me.  Their eyes were dead.  They didn’t speak to each other.  Their souls had left them.  They did everything he asked.  They did not question.

I jump as he touches me on my shoulder and points me to the man next to him.  I am to go with him.  I take one last, long pull of the cracked glass pipe next to me.  The numbness hits me.  I will go with the man as I always do.  If I don’t I can’t be numb.  My dreams have been shattered.  My only dream now is that it all goes away.  It will be soon, we never last that long.

About 5 years ago I was in Phnom Penh.  As I was looking for something to eat one night I came across a girl who was probably in her late teens sitting under a lamppost smoking crystal meth.  There was a guy next to her.  As someone who had access to free treatment and support when recovering from addiction, the image of this girl has always stayed with me.  She was never going to have access to that support or any kind of treatment.  I wrote this short story as her.

My book of short stories ‘The Unwashed’ is available on Amazon Kindle and paperback here.

Interview With Me in Today’s Paper

I was interviewed by a local paper today

Writer uses his own addiction experience to pen book

The Unwashed

All the other kids are playing football outside on the green, I wish I could go down and play with them. Mum won’t let me out, she says it’s too dangerous out there, I might get taken away by a bad man. I don’t want to get taken away by a bad man but I do want to go outside and play football with the other kids. How come there aren’t any bad men that take them away? It isn’t fair, but she never listens to me! Dad just says you need to do what your mother tells you, he never sticks up for me. All I do is go to school and look out the window.

I watch all the people outside, I know them all but they don’t know me. The man that goes to the shop every evening and comes back with loads of bottles in a bag, the old man that walks his dog every night at five o’clock, the strange looking man that looks like he’s a bit crazy, his hair is all funny and he can’t walk properly. The kids laugh at him when he walks past but he doesn’t even look at them, maybe he’s scared, I’d be scared too, I’m glad that I don’t look crazy. I wonder if he has any friends? He might be like me but at least he can go out for a walk.

I can see into the window of the building across from our flat. There’s a woman cooking dinner, she keeps turning and shouting at someone, then she goes to the window and shouts down to one of the kids on the green. The kid looks up and then runs towards the door of the building. He looks like he’s pissed off, he shouldn’t be, he should know how lucky he is. The other kids carry on playing. I imagine myself down there playing with them but then I stop because it makes me feel sad because it isn’t real.

The crazy man walks back past the kids but they don’t look at him this time. He is wearing the same clothes he always wears: a red jumper and black tracksuit bottoms, he holds a hat in his hand but he never wears it. I don’t know where he goes, I don’t think he has anywhere important to go to. He stops and looks up at the window. I bend down so he can’t see me, why is he looking up at me? I’m too scared to have another look. I wait for five minutes and look again. He’s gone but the red cap is lying on the floor, one of the kids kicks it as they make their way home for dinner.

Should I go down and get it? Why should I go down and get it? I don’t even know who he is or where he lives. He’s crazy too, what if I go and get it and then he finds out and tries to find me? I can’t go and get it anyway, mum won’t let me out downstairs on my own. What if I sneaked out the door? Just for five minutes? She might hear me and then I would never ever be allowed out on my own. I want the red cap, I want to give it back to the man. There has to be a way I can get downstairs.

“John! I’m going out for 10 minutes, I need to get something from the shop, don’t answer the door to anyone.”

“Mum, my friend dropped a red hat downstairs on the way to school, can you pick it up for me so I can give it to him tomorrow?”

“What friend? What’s his name? Why can’t he go and pick it up himself? How do you know it’s his?”

“I saw him drop it.”

“He can pick it up himself, I’m not picking up things from the floor. I’ll be back in 10 minutes.”

The front door slams closed. 10 minutes. I can get downstairs and back again in 10 minutes. I open the door quietly to see if she has gone down in the lift. She’s not there. I don’t have a key though. Nobody will come in five minutes. I pull the door until it’s almost closed, I hope it doesn’t open again. I struggle down the stairs, going as quickly as I can, 10 flights, at the bottom I peer out the door to make sure she isn’t there. She’s gone. I can see the cap, I move towards it, stopping just in front. Looking up at my window it seems so far away, the building seems so big, I feel tiny.

I rush back to the door and up the stairs with the cap in my hand. If she’s back she’ll kill me. The door is still open, I move into my room and put the cap under my bed. Two minutes later I hear her come in the door. Please, please don’t let her have seen me! She goes to the kitchen, she can’t have seen me. The door bangs again, dad is home. Mum shouts at him, she says he is late and she had to go down to the shop on her own to buy some vegetables. Dad agrees with her and says sorry. Why is he so scared of her?

One more look out the window before dinner. I feel guilty, if the man comes back for his cap he won’t find it. Why do I even want it? What if he dropped it on purpose because he knew I saw him looking up at me? Why would he do that? I’m not even going to be able to give it to him. If I throw it out the window to him the other kids will see and then they’ll tell the kids at school that I’m friends with a crazy man. They tease me all the time anyway. I can’t go downstairs and give it to him because mum will kill me, he might kill me too.

I can’t believe I’ve lost it. How could I not even have noticed that it wasn’t in my hand? I must be really going crazy, all these years of people saying I was crazy and now I really am. It’s not on the floor, I’d have seen it, I don’t think anyone would have picked it up, why would they want my tatty old hat? Fuck! I promised her that I would always keep hold of that hat, I’ve let her down. I always used to let her down and now even when she’s gone I’ve let her down. I’m useless, completely useless, they’re all right.

This has been taken from my book The Unwashed which is available on Amazon Kindle below

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unwashed-Sean-Hogan-ebook/dp/B01KVOPLFI