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

Writing The Unwashed

This week I finally published a book! It was a long and tiring process but I finally managed to get it out. It’s a book of short stories about people living on a fictional council estate in London, it sets the background for my first novel Liar which will be out in the middle of September. I had been living in China for nearly six years before I came back to Ireland and lived like a hermit for the last nine months getting the books down on paper and eventually published.

The Unwashed is a book of nine short stories, each one is based on a different character but they all live in the same place. Council estates are often used to define the people that live on them, lumping them all together and people forget that they are places full of individuals who all have their own stories and have been through different things in their lives. They are also communities, something that is often disregarded, not just crime ridden dens of iniquity as they are often portrayed in the media.

When I write, I try to allow the reader to create their own image of the characters and the places that they are living in. I don’t often read fiction anymore because I find that it is far too descriptive and doesn’t allow you to use your own imagination.

Writing The Unwashed was difficult, it was emotionally draining, a lot of the characters are based on people that I have known throughout my life and a couple of the stories are based on my own life experiences. When I write I live the character whose story I am telling. A few times I just couldn’t write, not because I didn’t want to but because I knew what would happen in the story and I knew how the person in was feeling.

I was asked a couple of days back which was my favourite of the nine stories and I couldn’t give an answer. ‘This Time’ the story of an alcoholic who is battling with himself while trying to give up drink cold turkey was written from my own experiences and was probably the story that had most meaning to me personally but I enjoyed writing all of them. ‘Jules and Giles’ the story of two upper class Englishmen opening a juice bar on a council estate was the most fun to write but it also has a deeper meaning as gentrification in London is something that I don’t agree with.

Although the stories are based in London and there is quite liberal use of London slang and grammar, the stories are relevant to people anywhere. I based it on London because it’s where I grew up, it’s my home and it has a massive place in my heart. I travel often and there’s nothing that cheers me up more than hearing a London accent. I also know that London isn’t just Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, there’s so much more to it that people never see and I wanted The Unwashed to show that.

It was released on Tuesday and the reaction to it has been incredible, far beyond what I expected. So many people have said that they lived the characters and that is what I wanted to achieve, allow the reader to make their own judgments and not be led by me. I’m really looking forward to the release of Liar, it was hard to write too and it has a lot of emotion in it but I am sure that people will enjoy it.

Finally I want to say thank you to all that have read it, you’ve been amazing. I know I keep saying it but I am genuinely grateful when people take time to comment and let me know what they thought of the book. I would also like to say thank you to all of my WordPress followers, I’ve neglected my blog lately but it was on here that I first started writing publicly and it gave me the confidence to carry on and publish the The Unwashed. There’s a link below to the Amazon Kindle version of the book, it is going to be released in paperback very soon too and will also be available on iTunes in the next few hours and I’ll update with the link. If you have read it I hope you enjoyed it and if you are going to read it enjoy!

Seán

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unwashed-Sean-Hogan-ebook/dp/B01KVOPLFI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472234378&sr=8-1&keywords=the+unwashed

 

 

Go Home! (Full Short Story)

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?”

“No 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.

“Big Ben”

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.

“Sank you”

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. 

 

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

 

Go Home!

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’m 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 away 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 that 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 at it, remembering the good times we had together.

I awake to banging at the door, constant 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?”

“No 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 my family would have wanted. 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 to London 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!”

This has been taken from my book of short stories called ‘The Unwashed’ which is 9 short stories based on a fictitious housing estate in London. 

It is available on Amazon Kindle here

Paperback from Amazon here

iTunes for your iPhone or iPad here

If you don’t have an Amazon account you can also buy a paperback from me for £5/6 euro +Postage and packaging by entering your email address below and I will get back to you with how to pay.

 

 

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