I have had an incredible response to the short story excerpt I posted the other day, well over 100 people have signed up for my free ebook which is released on 24th August so as a thank you I have decided to post the full story. You can still sign up for the book at the end. It took me a long time before I had the courage to post my writings publicly and I wouldn’t have kept it up if it wasn’t for the words of encouragement and praise I’ve received so thank you all so much and I hope you enjoy the full book when it’s released!
The bangs, the flashes, screams, people running and shouting. I am stuck, I can’t move, the group of men move closer and closer to where me and my sister are hiding. We’re covered by some baskets, I’m trying not to breathe, my sister is shaking, I am sure the baskets are moving as she shakes. One of them reaches out and grabs the basket, tossing it aside and looking down at us. His eyes are dead, there’s no emotion. He grabs my sister and pulls her up then throws her on to the dusty floor, she looks back towards me as she falls, I look up at him, he hits me and then it’s blackness.
The fireworks keep banging but I’m not back home, I’m here in this place, lonely and trying to make friends. I am not even sure what all the fireworks are about, what the celebration is for. There are kids burning dolls and pieces of wood, their parents looking on at them laughing while they drink from beer cans. A small boy runs up to me and smiles and hands me a sparkler, he lights it, gives another cheeky smile and runs away to where his friends are trying to set something on fire. I swirl it around, watching the orange glow, I want to throw it but the boy keeps looking back and smiling.
When it is finished I put it on the floor, give the boy a wave and go back to my new home. I don’t know how to mix with these people. They aren’t bad people, but their culture, their language, it’s all so different to me. I never wanted to leave home but I had no choice. They help me here, they’ve given me everything I need, I am grateful, but I don’t want to be here. I want to be in the fields where I grew up, looking after the goats, watching my sister play in the fields, hearing my mother call us to come and eat dinner.
There isn’t much in the place they’ve given me. There’s a chair in the main room, a table that I eat on each evening and another table with a television doesn’t work on it. My room has a bed and a small cupboard that I keep my few things in. I’ve put a sheet over the window so people can’t see in and the sun doesn’t wake me up in the mornings. The bed is uncomfortable, it is too soft and I am not used to it. Each night I go to sleep I take the small picture I have of my sister from pocket and look it at, remembering the good times we had together.
I awake to banging at the door, constantly knocking. I am frightened to open the door but I can’t ask what they want, I understand few words and can speak even less. I open it enough so I can see out, there is a man standing there with a bright yellow jacket.
“asdjo aosjd eowr English?”
“safdjon awerojnr oajewr money sofdoa oasdf”
“Sorry, no I speak English.”
“osfoer wernjon weorjo weorj wejr wperj”
He walks away and I shut the door. I am shaking, I don’t think he meant any harm but it frightened me. I am feeling sorry for myself, I have been through worse, at least it is safe here. I am going to have to learn the language, try and make things work. That’s what they would have wanted when we separated. It’s a bright day, looking out the window I can see the leftovers of the party last night. It is a strange place, people all live so close to each other. There’s a skinny kid kicking a ball against a wall outside, why isn’t he in school? Do any of them go to school?
I should go out for the day, try and see somewhere new. I grew up seeing pictures of London in books, seeing it on the television. I dreamed of going and now I am here I haven’t left this place that I am living in. How do I buy a ticket for the train? I don’t know which direction I am supposed to go in. Big Ben, I know Big Ben, I know how to say it too, I can say it to the man at the station, he will know where I want to go. I hope I say it properly though, if I get lost I’ll have a problem, I won’t get lost though, I can try and ask a policeman.
I want to get up out of my chair but something is holding me back, it’s like this every time I go out, like I am stuck. It feels like my mind moves forward but my body stays in the chair. This is stupid, I am in a safe place now, I have to try and make something of my life. Going out to enjoy myself will be the first step. There’s still guilt, every time I want to do something fun I think of my mother, my sister, that they can’t do anything fun, would they be angry at me for enjoying myself? Go! You are only torturing yourself.
At the bottom of the stairs there are three boys standing by a wall. The stairwells are dark, the light broken. They all stare at me as I walk past, I keep my head down, my eyes on the floor, shaking again. As I get past them they laugh. I hear the sound of something hitting the floor, a small copper coin. I want to look back, shout at them, tell them that really they don’t scare me, that I have seen things they will never see. But I am frightened. I keep walking, I can feel their stares on my back, laughing to themselves.
“adasjn don’t want aknewpq akdsn wer go home!”
I pass the little boy who I saw from the window. He looks at me, waves and smiles, I smile back, a small gesture that makes me feel safer, strange how a small boy can make me feel safe. He carries on kicking the ball against the wall, I look back, the boys that were in the stairwell are walking away, looking for someone else to bother. All of these concrete buildings so close together make me feel like I am trapped, like there’s nowhere to hide. When I walk out on to the street I have escaped, a different world.
The man says nothing, he just gives me the ticket. No smile, no words just a ticket. I was so proud at getting those two words out. I had been practicing it in my head all the way to the train station. A smile would have been nice. I look at the map for the train line, trying to pretend I know what I am doing. I look at the ticket and then back at the map, trying to find what I think is the place name on the ticket and matching it with a place on the map. A man stands beside me, looking anxious, as though he has somewhere important to be. I point at the ticket and then the map, he looks at me and shakes his head, hurrying off down the stairs. I’m not important enough.
I follow him, an important man must be going towards the centre of the city. On the stairs there is a man holding out a cup, his clothes worn, a big beard and bushy hair, next to him an old dog sleeping. I take a coin from my pocket and put it into the cup, he smiles and nods his head. I show him the ticket and he stands up and walks towards a map on the wall. He points at the station I am supposed to go to, gesturing with his hands and talking but I don’t know what he is saying.
There are no seats on the train so I stand, looking at all the different people. People from everywhere, different colours, different languages being spoken. If only she was here with me, she loved to listen to different languages on the television, trying to guess which ones they were. She would look at pictures in magazines and point to the models, guessing which country they came from, what it would be like to live in their country. “She’s Russian, it’s cold there. He’s American, they’re all fat, that man I think is English so he must be a gentleman.” I still haven’t seen a gentleman.
At each station I look at the ticket and then at the name to make sure it is not mine. A big group of tourists get on the train, I must be near. They all have large cameras, laughing and joking. Am I a tourist? Will I ever be able to go home again? Or is this my new home? I envy them, they have come to enjoy themselves and then they’ll go back to doing what they did before. Certainty, direction, I have none of this.
Stop! You need to start being more positive, enjoy your day, enjoy your freedom, for one day you can be like them.
It’s the right station. The words are the same. I climb the stairs and as I come out from the entrance, there it is in front of me. Big Ben. The place that was in our textbooks, the place everyone wanted to go to but never thought they’d have the chance and now I am here with it right in front of me. I know I am grinning, even a small tear in my eye. There are so many people, looking up at this big clock, taking pictures, bumping into each other. I see there is a green across from it, I can go there and sit for a little while.
I find a patch where there are fewer people. I look up at the clock and then look around to see if there is anyone looking at me, nobody, there are far more interesting things here than me. I take the picture out of my pocket, turn it so that her face is pointing to the tower, hold it for a few seconds, kiss the photo and then put it back in my pocket. At least now you have seen it, it’s the best I can do. I look behind me, there’s a group of people eating, one of them looks away as I catch his eye, he must have been watching, I don’t care though.
I am stuck again. I want to get up but I don’t know where to go, I am scared that I’ll get lost. This place is so big. I look around trying to find a road to walk along but I don’t know where any of them go to. I see lots of people walking towards the bridge, I force myself up, cross the road and follow the crowds. I can still see the station so I can’t get too lost. I stop in the middle, I wish I had a camera, people taking pictures with their families while I just stand and watch. I think it’s time to go, my adventure for the day over.
In the station I take one of the small maps, take it to the ticket man and point at the place I want to go back to. He smiles and gives me my ticket. I watch the people on the platforms each time the train pulls into a stop. Worried faces, stressed faces, aggressive as they get on to the train, no thought towards the people they are barging out of the way. Am I wrong for think that they don’t know what stress and worry is? Is it all just relative? I wish I could be like them, coming home from a job where they earn money, going home to a family.
I miss the open spaces of home, being able to look to the horizon and there being no buildings in site. The summer evenings when it’s cool, walking down to the lake with my sister, watching her play in the water, the sounds of birds and animals. Here everything is cramped together, people everywhere, buildings everywhere, so cramped, I feel suffocated. I wish this train would go faster, I just want this journey to end, I’m breathing faster and I’m sweating. The lady standing next to me taps me on the arm and hands me a bottle of water, I swig from it, she says something I don’t understand, I smile and make a thumbs up sign, I can feel her watching me concerned.
I can barely see out through all the people, I catch a glimpse of the station name, it’s mine. I push through them, none giving way. Fresh air. I sit down on the bench, my breathing slows. Why am I scared of everything? Why does everything affect me so much? I can’t even go out for a day without turning into a shaking mess, and now I have to go back to that apartment, sitting by myself remembering the past, trying to forget. I hope there are no fireworks tonight. I must eat too, I keep forgetting to eat.
The small boy is still there, still kicking his ball against the wall. Does he not have anywhere to go? He smiles as he sees me, kicking the ball softly towards me, I try to kick it back but miss, he laughs, I laugh with him. Laughter, something so simple can give you so much relief. He chases after the ball, picks it up and then runs towards me. He holds out his hand, I shake it and smile, he giggles as we shake hands.
“What’s your name?” I understand!
“My name Aisha. What is you name?”
“Michael. I live there.” He says pointing at one of the buildings.
“Oh, I live there. Sorry, English, no good.”
He just smiles, waves and goes back to kicking the ball. He doesn’t care if I can’t speak his language. The three boys I saw this morning come out of the building the boy lives in. They take no notice of me as they pass me by, they carry on towards the boy, one of them picking up his ball and kicking it on to the roof of a garage. The boy just stands there, helpless. Another one slaps him. What can I do? I walk to the boy, taking his hand, guiding him to his building. They look at me and laugh, the boy is trying not to cry but tears are starting to fall.
“What are you doing?”
“You go, no hit him.”
“Go home, asdjop aosjdas oasjd asdaosdk sdljf you!”
“Go! No hit boy!”
I carry on taking the boy to his building, he is he looks up at me for reassurance, he’s scared, I’m scared too but I rub his hair with my other hand. I feel a pain in my back, I can only see the floor, I look up and see the boy running away, I look back and the three of them are standing there laughing. I try to push myself up but it hurts, I manage to sit on the floor, my hand is cut and my back is sore. I look up at them, they turn away still laughing, one of them pretending to fall over, all of them laughing loudly. The small boy has gone.
I pick myself up, an old man walking past looks at me but says nothing. Why did I go out today at all? Walking up the stairs is painful, my hand stinging. The man in the yellow jacket is outside another apartment arguing with someone. I just want to get inside, hide away underneath the covers of my bed. I lock the door, checking it three times to make sure it can’t be opened. I fall onto the bed and wrap myself in the covers, my head covered, not wanting to ever leave. Why did I ever come to this place?
I cry, I can taste the salt in my mouth, the sheets are wet. I am back there again. I’m in that place that lead me to being here. That morning when we had gone out to fetch some things from the town for my mother, my sister skipping along in front of me, the two red ribbons in her hair floating about as she skipped, singing a song she had learned in school, looking back to make sure I was still behind her, smiling and laughing.
“Don’t go too far ahead, the snakes will catch you!”
“No they won’t! Not if you’re here, you can protect me!”
We reached the town but it was quiet. All of the shops were closed, nobody on the dusty streets apart from stray dogs. She seemed unnerved, clinging to my dress. When you live with war you become used to it, you try to carry on with your life, try to ignore what is going on around you but you know when something bad is going to happen, you have develop a sixth sense. We both knew that we should leave. It was too late, the cracking sounds began in the distance. The only place to hide was underneath those baskets.
“I’m frightened. Please don’t leave me.”
“I’m not going to leave you, it’ll be okay, just don’t make any noise.”
People began to shout and the bangs and cracking sounds got louder. A woman appeared in the middle of the street screaming, looking up at the sky then throwing herself on the floor. A crack. She crumpled to the floor and didn’t move again. I put my hand around my sister’s mouth to stop her from crying out, I could feel her tears running down my hand. Men with guns appeared in the street, searching for people, shooting at nothing in particular. He lifted the basket, threw her onto the floor, his fist hitting me on the nose. When I awoke she was gone.
The noise had stopped, the streets were empty still but there were no men. I walked back home to find it empty, the house had been trashed, belongings all over the floor, my mother and father gone, still no sign of my sister. How would I ever be able to find them? My heart told me they were all still alive, my head told me they were already dead, the only way to save myself was to flee. I took what little belongings I could, some money that was hidden, and of course the photo. I used all the money that was hidden for someone to fix me coming here.
I have no home, this place isn’t my home. I appreciate all the help, I appreciate all the kind people I have met here but it can’t replace my family. Then there are those that tell you to go home. How do they know? Is it the clothes that I wear? Because I can’t speak English? I don’t want to be here, if I could go home I would, but I have nowhere to go. My family are gone, all I have is one photo and my memory. The photo! I reach into my pocket, it is gone. I throw the bedcovers onto the floor, searching frantically. There is little to search, it isn’t here. I must have dropped it.
I can’t see anyone from the window, I must go down and look for it, maybe I dropped it when they hit me. I run down the stairs and out into the space between the building I live in and the one the boy lives in. It is windy, if I dropped it it would have been blown away. I still search, looking over every bit of the floor, picking up any piece of paper or wrapper just to make sure. I look on the grass, it has gone. I want to throw myself to the floor like the woman in the town but I won’t, I want to scream but I won’t, it was a small thing, but it was all I had.
I am sorry Alia, I am so sorry. I’ve never been able to say your name since that day. Now I have to say it, I’ve lost the last bit of you that I had. I promised to protect you but I didn’t, I don’t know where you are, I don’t know where mum and dad are, I can only hope that you are all alive. Every time I see a red ribbon I think of you, every time I see a child playing I think of you. I am sorry. At least you saw Big Ben. Hopefully one day you’ll find me here, or I will be able to go back home and find you. No matter how much I hate it here, it can’t be worse than where you are. Please forgive me…
A knock at the door. I look through the small hole in the door but I can’t see anyone, I go back to the living room and sit down, another knock. This time I open the door, the little boy I helped is there. He is smiling again, he notices my eyes are red and takes a tissue from his pocket and hands it to me. I smile back at him. I can see that he is holding something behind his back, I point, his smile grows even wider. He shows me what he has in his hand. It is my photo. He says something that I don’t understand. I kneel down and hug him and then kiss him on the cheek, his face turns bright red and he runs off down the stairs, I run after him and he stops. I point at the picture.
“This Alia. Sister, one day she come.”
This has been taken from my book of short stories called ‘The Unwashed’. All the stories are based on life on a London council estate and will be available from 25th August 2015. There will be another 10 short stories in the book. All digital copies of the book will be FREE and you can receive your free copy by entering your email address below. You will receive it on 24th August a day before it goes on Amazon.