Document Title - Global Community

Intercultural Ambassadors
Global Perspectives
A collection of cultural short stories
by students at the University of Leeds
The Global Perspectives Project
The Global Perspectives Project has been launched this year, as part of the
LeedsforLife ‗Intercultural Ambassadors Programme‘. Global Perspectives
aims to promote intercultural inclusion across the University through creative
writing. This year during the LUU International Cultural Festival the project
held the Global Perspectives Creative Writing Workshop and a Poetry Slam.
These events helped to galvanise interest in cultural writing and creativity.
Finally, the Short Story Competition aimed to capture this enthusiasm and
leave a tangible legacy of this year‘s diversity and creativity for our students
to enjoy and celebrate into the future. We hope that everybody can enjoy
the fascinating writing that has emerged as a result, and that it will generate
more interest in writing and a stronger appreciation of, and desire for,
intercultural communities.
The Global Perspectives Short Story Competition celebrates both our
university‘s multi-cultural community and their creative writing talent. A
reader can pick a short story from the diverse set of finalists, sit down in one
session and be transported into another culture...from English football, to
World War Two America, from Malaysian families to Chinese miracles, and
Ancient and Modern Greece, to global moments like the celebrations at
Mubarak‘s departure poignantly contrasted with the congested streets of
The project and events will continue next year, and we hope will continue to
develop across the University. It demonstrates the great potential that
writing has to bring people together. Furthermore, the involvement and
interest this year both from writers and ‗non-writers‘ alike has shown how
different perspectives can spark and enlarge our creativity, and open our
minds to new opportunities and skills.
We are extremely grateful to ‗Santander Universities‘ who have sponsored
the project, and ‗Blackwell‘s Bookshops‘ who provided prizes for the winners
of the competition and the venue for our prize giving.
We would also like to express our gratitude to all those involved in helping
run the International Cultural Festival, and to this year‘s Competition judges:
Leeds ‗Scribe‘ Editors; Rebecca Stirrup, professional writer and University
lecturer in creative writing; and Ian Harker, Chair of Leeds Writers‘ Circle,
Editor of ‗The Cadaverine‘ and Founder of ‗Leeds Independent Press Poetry
Harry Roberts and Sharul Dube, Global Perspectives Project
The Global Perspectives Short Story Competition
―Celebrating our creativity and diversity‖
1st: Swati Raghan‘s ‘The Quicksand of Ignorance’, is a gripping story
which captures the poverty and abuse in Indian villages with an emotional
awareness that is both heartbreaking and illuminating at the same time.
2nd: Sarah Ward‘s evocative journey through London entitled ‘Kings Cross
to Covent Garden’, was described by the judges as ―beautifully written‖, ―full
of truisms, with a strong sense of a capturing a local and global cultural
3rd: Stanley Lee Wai Jin in ‘Reunion’ tells a story of generational
differences in Malaysia, which as one judge put it, was full of specific cultural
references, yet the central theme of the story translates universally.
Imogen Featherstone‘s extremely skilful account ‘Tillingham Street’ of a
middle aged teacher‘s journey to Birmingham blends humour with touching
moments of emotion without slipping into sentimentalism, and ends with a
powerful revelation.
Megan Marvel‘s ‘Finding Hope’ is the poignant story of a young girl‘s
journey from England to America during the Second World War.
Ruairi Garvey enchants the reader with his engaging and compassionate
description of a Chinese miracle in ‘The Heart Still Beats’
Sophie Bane gives a powerful description of British football culture in ‘A Life
in Ninety Minutes’
Grigorios Galiatsato‘s ancient and modern Greek story ‘The Sacred Word’,
is described by the Editor of ―Leeds Scribe‖ as a ―funny exploration of
Classical intellectual battles in an innovative comic book style‖
Karl Martin Duke intrigues with his poetical and highly visual story ‘The
Tentacles in the Sky’.
Leila Ainslie-Malik‘s story ‘Broken Skin’ describes a young girl‘s touching
relationship with the ghost of her grandfather.
The Quicksand of Ignorance
Swati Raghan
King’s Cross to Covent Garden
Stanley Lee Wai Jin
Tillingham Street
Imogen Featherstone
Finding Hope
Megan Marvel
The Heart Still Beats
Ruairi Garvey
A Life in Ninety Minutes
Sophie Bane
The Sacred Word
Grigorios Galiatsato
Tentacles in the sky
Karl Martin Duke
Broken Skin
Leila Ainslie-Malik
The Quicksand of Ignorance
by Swati Raghan
―Oh when will that stupid white woman leave us alone?‖ Shanti looked
furious! She almost wanted to open the door and snap at Amanda, the girl
from England who had been staying in Rui for almost three years now. She
was working with an NGO, spreading awareness about birth control and
family planning among illiterate people living in remote Indian villages. She
was a strong woman and I admired her but the villagers found her
troublesome and nosey. The men warned her to stay away from their wives
and the women were too scared to be seen anywhere close to her. Yet, she
was too adamant to give up.
It was that time of the evening when chirping birds fill the crisp cool air and
the sun sets, turning the colour of the sky a bright orange with a tinge of red.
I could see men going back home after a long day of endless toil in the
fields, their brows moist with perspiration.
It was a very small and remote village in central India, almost too remote but
it had this aura that wouldn‘t let me go anywhere far from it. There was
something magical in the air. It made me feel so tranquil at all times. The
sound of bubbling streams, chirrups of artistically coloured birds, the aroma
of the fields and the magnificent silence made it possible for me to write.
I belong to the big bustling city of New Delhi (the horribly noisy Indian capital
that never seems to rest). The incessant honking, the polluted atmosphere
along with blaring loudspeakers with BJP supporters giving meaningless
lectures on why voting for that party is a great idea for all Hindus drove me
completely insane for the first quarter of my life. The moment I decided to
start writing, I thought it would be most suitable for me to move to the Pacific
countryside for a while. So, there I was, in the village of Rui, located
approximately 200 miles from the city of Bhopal.
―Uh... I‘m sorry to disturb you dear. Is Shanti home?‖ I looked at those deep
blue eyes. They certainly belonged to someone who had lived through the
most difficult times that had forced the innocence out of them. I said, ―No
sweetheart. She was here a while ago but I guess she‘s gone to get her
stove burner back from Kamla.‖ She looked at me suspiciously, almost as if
she knew I was lying to her. She suddenly turned around and walked off. I
fastened the loose chain on the door and called out for Shanti and when she
came out, she looked relieved! ―Thank you so much didi. If my husband
catches me talking to her, he‘ll kill me. Last time he saw her outside my door,
he hit me with his belt!‖ Somehow, I wasn‘t shocked. After living in Rui for
fifteen months, I understood the life women had to lead in rural areas. I gave
her a hug and a reassuring pat on the back. It was time for me to go as her
husband, Ram babu, could be back any moment.
As I was heading out of Shanti‘s thatched roof hut, my eyes fell on a picture
resting on a wooden plank that held the hut erect. It was an old grey picture
of Shanti as a kid, holding her younger brother, Chintu in her arms. That
picture seemed to portray the kind of sorrowful life the two had lived.
Ramesh and Koshi, Shanti‘s parents, had been married for a year when she
was born. They treated her like a little princess. She got everything she
wanted. They loved her whole heartedly and she lived her childhood like no
other girl in the village. Despite all the love they gave to Shanti, Ramesh and
Koshi, like any other villager, wanted a son in their family. It is said that
unless your own son lights fire to your funeral pyre, you cannot escape the
cycle of rebirth. Therefore, a boy child is considered to be the biggest boon.
So, as Shanti turned three, she was blessed with a baby brother. Both the
parents were ecstatic. They lit up their house and invited the entire village for
a feast. It was a happy night. None could have guessed that this joyful
couple was just a few days away from their demise.
After the tragic loss, Shanti and Chintu were taken away from their village by
their maternal uncle, who was the Sarpanch of Rui. He and his wife took
care of both the children and got Shanti married at the age of 14. Chintu, on
the other hand, started farming and proved to be of enormous worth to his
uncle. He was very efficient in his work and equally dedicated to his uncle.
His uncle only regretted the fact that he could not afford to educate his
After marriage, as is the usual trend among villagers, Shanti became in
charge of all the domestic chores, right from cooking food to cleaning dirty
clothes and utensils. She was supposed to wake up at sunrise, walk 3 miles
to the ghat, and fill water in buckets before she walked back home and
prepared breakfast for her husband. Once he had taken a bath and eaten
his food, he left for work. That is when it was time for her to clean up the
utensils, walk back to the ghat in order to bathe and wash all the soiled
clothes. Then she walked back home with two more buckets of water to cook
and drink. At sunset, when her husband would be back, she had to serve
dinner and then satisfy his bodily needs before they went to bed. He never
spoke to her apart from screaming at her once in a while or beating her up
with a belt or anything that he could find. She always had scars on her face
and back. Maybe that was the reason why she always looked so frail.
Another reason for her awful appearance could also be her regular
pregnancies. She had given birth to six malnourished daughters within a
span of seven years. Every time she delivered a daughter, she would get
beaten up and then threatened. He would ruthlessly rape her, regardless of
her health or her imploring eyes. He just wanted a son. This time he had
stormed out of the house shouting ―I‘m giving you one last chance. If you fail
to bear me a son, I will have to get one from some other woman. Do you
hear me, you doomed whore?‖ And all she did was sob.
Meanwhile, Chintu worked hard on the field every single day. One fine
morning, as he was busy sowing rice on the field, two gentlemen came
along. One wore a crisp white shirt paired with dark formal trousers and a
matching tie. The other was dressed similarly and he carried a briefcase. By
their appearance, they looked like educated men coming from the city. The
man with the briefcase introduced himself as Deepak Roy. ―Hello Sir! We are
from the Government Agricultural Department and we are here to help you.
This year, we have been informed that on account of unfavourable climatic
conditions, there has been a large scale destruction of crops being grown in
this area. The amount of compensation you get is determined by the
property (in terms of fertile land) that you own. Every acre of land gets you
5000 (£ 70). All we require is the set of documents that show us how much
land you own and once we have those documents along with your finger
print on our forms, it takes less than three weeks for you to receive the total
compensation in cash.‖ The offer seemed attractive to Chintu. He thought of
all the problems they had been facing because of unpredictable weather and
the infectious insects that had ruined the crops that year. He felt he could
surely use some fertilizers and the amount offered would easily comfort them
for a while.
The men stood ready with the forms outside Chintu‘s cottage as he went
inside to discuss the idea with his uncle and took a long time to make sure
they had each and every document so as to take full advantage of the offer.
After a long wait, the men saw Chintu walking towards the door with an
elderly man holding documents in his hand. They smiled at each other and
winked. The moment Chintu and Uncle Puneet reached the door; those men
took the property documents and made Uncle Puneet put his finger prints on
the forms. Since neither Chintu, nor Uncle Puneet were educated enough to
understand what those forms said, they believed the men and did not
hesitate at all. The way they spoke and the identity cards hanging from their
necks made them come across as reliable government employees. Thus the
work was done and the two gentlemen left after giving a long talk using such
flamboyant words that no villager could have comprehended.
After a span of sixteen days, Chintu, while sitting outside his cottage, lost in
thought, caught sight of the same gentlemen who had offered him the
compensation. He jumped up in excitement and ran towards them. They had
a bunch of currency notes wrapped in newspaper that they offered to him
and on receiving the promised amount, i.e., 40,000 (£570), he was told to
give his finger print on the receipt. He ran home with that money and gave it
all to his uncle who handed the entire amount back to him and told him to
use it the way he thought best. Chintu immediately got the best fertilizers,
pesticides and other farming products. The next one month was smoother
than ever before until that unfortunate day arrived.
It was an ordinary day except that the postman knocked on Chintu‘s door
and asked for Uncle Puneet. Such a thing had never happened before.
Neither Chintu, nor his uncle had anyone in the world other than Shanti, who
was residing in the same village. Therefore, receiving a letter was an
unnatural phenomenon for them. Uncle Puneet emerged from his room and
accepted the letter. On tearing open the envelope, he saw a machine typed
letter and reached for his reading glasses. The letter said that their first
instalment for the repayment of loan was due in a week‘s time. Uncle Puneet
read the letter for the fifth time but the content remained unaltered. He
checked the name and address thrice. It looked like a mistake that the bank
may have made in typing out the address. At least he hoped so. Before he
could decide what step to take, the week flew by and soon enough there
were men from the bank banging on his door. Within a span of two months,
Uncle Puneet was forced to sell off his entire property in order to repay the
―loan‖ they had never taken.
Chintu felt miserable. He felt responsible for all the loss and this tortured him
every moment, though his uncle never mentioned it before him. Chintu found
it difficult to face his uncle after that day. He hardly ever went in front of him.
He would lock himself up in his room and keep thinking about the immense
loss and how one stupid decision had brought about this doom. He felt so
guilty. There was no food in the house and no money to get anything from
the market. The situation kept getting worse and Chintu had reached his
saturation point where he could take it no more. That entire day, he had not
stepped out of his room even once. His uncle had knocked on his door
several times but there was no response. Next morning, Chintu did not even
go to the ghat to bathe. This scared Uncle Puneet and after about six or
seven futile attempts to unfasten Chintu‘s door, he finally decided to break
the door down. The sight behind that broken wooden door was ghastly.
Chintu‘s body was on the floor, his arm covered in blood oozing out of his
wrist, still wet.
After a long day of continuous sprinting from one place to another, my bed
felt like the biggest blessing in my life. As I got into the cosy single bed in my
room, I stared blankly at the ceiling for a while, listing all the things that I had
planned to complete by the following week. There was always so much work
but I enjoyed every bit of it.
Next morning, I woke up and set off to work. On my way, I crossed Shanti‘s
hut and wondered whether she was alone at home or was that tyrannical
husband with her. Anyhow, I went in to pay her a visit. What I saw was
appalling. She was on her bed with her eyes shut, surrounded by weird
looking people who dressed as if they were ―Pirates of the Caribbean‖! They
had dirty dusters in their hands and they were hitting Shanti‘s head with
those dusters every now and then, chanting some mantras I had never
heard before. Truthfully, it was quite an intimidating spectacle. I thought it
would be best to ask Kamla about what was happening there.
What I learnt from Kamla was even more flabbergasting than the sight itself.
―Didi, you don‘t know what happened last night‖, she said. ―Shanti was
possessed. Yes, a ghost has taken over her body. She screamed and
screamed. She came out of her house and did extremely bizarre things. Her
body trembled and her eyes were bloodshot. She laughed and she cried at
the same time. It was so scary baba. I did not even go out. I only looked from
the window.‖ As she spoke, Kamla‘s eyes grew wider. She spoke so
confidently. ―Ram babu called the tantrics. They are the most powerful
people. And when they saw Shanti, they said that the spirit was too strong to
take over. They said that they would have to make her unconscious first so
they made her drink a weird liquid and she immediately calmed down. Her
eyes became smaller and she suddenly collapsed. The tantrics left her that
way and said that they would be back in the morning. Ram babu left her
outside the house and he fastened the door from inside. Obviously, he did
not want to take any risk. The good thing is, she did not gain consciousness
all night and the tantrics arrived at dawn. Now they are just trying to get rid of
the bad spirit that has got into her. Hey Bhagwan! I hope she gets better.‖
I went straight to Shanti‘s house and despite all the warnings those weird
looking tramps gave; I touched her forehead and checked her pulse. I agree
I have no medical background or any technical knowledge about such
things, yet something called ‗common sense‘ told me that she may have died
after staying out in the cold all night. Unfortunately enough, after trying for
about five minutes, I failed to get her pulse. She wasn‘t breathing. Her body
was cold as ice. Her husband was nowhere to be seen.
There are innumerable problems in Indian villages that have been getting
transmitted from generation to generation. Female infanticide, female
foeticide, sexual objectification of women, incessant pregnancies,
malnourishment, fraud, superstitious beliefs, etc. all stem from one cause,
i.e., illiteracy. It is heart rending to see the colossal gulf between the rich and
the poor. It‘s almost as if the country encompasses two absolutely different
―More than 17,500 farmers a year killed themselves between 2002 and
2006, according to experts who have analyzed government statistics.‖
Wikipedia ('_suicides_in_India)
―According to UNICEF, Indian girls are taken to health centres less often and
receive less food and clothing than boys (Surendar, 2000). The National
Family Health Survey indicates that the risk of dying between the ages of
one and five is 43% higher for girls (Surendar, 2000).‖
Webster University
King’s Cross to Covent Garden
by Sarah Ward
Victoria Station on a Friday night is an uncomfortable place, rammed with
angry suits and bullying briefcases that jar against your legs, and voices that
you can‘t understand and wobbling high heels that barely stand straight, and
you are a part of it all, you pushing against them as they all push against
you, as each individual pushes against the crowd of individuals just like
themselves. The strip lights make everybody ugly: everybody that is, except
for the beautiful people concavely lining the billboards that funnel you further
down into the station, advertising plastic surgery; teeth whitening; historical
novels or maybe a new pop star, nubile and barely legal. In London you are
a consumer before you are a person with your own angst, pain, yearning or
lust— yet these things also feed upon you: no calm of spirit, whilst the
billboards coerce you into wondering about things you never ever needed,
wanted, nor had any curiosity about. It‘s not the commuters that are the
problem; it‘s not the tube trains; the bus drivers; the street cleaners who
seem intent on blocking the road as you race down towards the coach
station praying and sweating that you are not missing that coach and cursing
everything and everyone inanimate or human that crosses your path: this is
what London does to you, if you‘re a Londoner. A weird city urgency; a
disregard that sometimes blinds you, like road rage. The feeling is
animalistic, nihilistic and exclusive. If you‘re not, maybe you can bite your
tongue, remember your manners; maybe the tube maps confuse you and the
announcements over the loud speakers sound like a foreign language, a
secret code of odd names rattling out too quickly. That is a feeling that I
cherish: that I understand the code, can explain to somebody on the wrong
tube how to get to where they want to go; how to stave off the panic that, if
this were not home, I know I would feel.
The British Library is a haven of cool, of marble and smooth sculpture; the
right amount of technology and the right amount of beauty, juxtaposed, and
wonderful people whom you would want to be there, if they weren‘t; a self
fulfilling prophecy: the bearded, shabby intellectual; the black-block art
student, graceful like a dancer in leggings. Everybody here is here for a
purpose, and that purpose is knowledge - the calm, slow movements of the
staff, the people sat on benches reading newspapers, the quiet salvation
from Kings Cross‘s smutty congested road outside, is almost a miracle. The
two are so removed from one another as to be polar extremes. My proof of
address is out of date and I am denied a reading card. I sit in the gloomy
alcove by the stairs reading about Gandhian celibacy, the kind of information
that places like this were designed for: the kind that you could take on board,
if you wished, or you could cast off, regard as something from another age, a
past era, if you didn‘t. It is not difficult to concentrate: more collected and
peaceful than any university library, the Reading Rooms have an almost
religious air of reverence about them. But I am impatient: impatient to get to
Covent Garden.
Leaving the library I stop briefly and look at a bus timetable, sure that there
will be one heading in the right direction. The traffic is manic although it is a
Saturday and who would drive through Central London on a weekend?
There is a freedom to walking at your own pace, defiant of transport; the
isolation of a car seems absurd. On the pavement I pass a man selling
peacock feathers, ancient omens of bad luck, and my spirit lifts, inexplicably.
I would like to buy feathers from him but I have no change: a cardboard sign
reads ‗2 for £3, 3 for £5‘. The man selling them wears the garbs of poverty,
the juxtaposition between nature‘s beauty and the exhaustion of metropolis
is striking and desperately saddening and uplifting at once. He has armfuls
of the things and they glare out of their iridescent Cyclops eye: long plumes
that bloom out from the stem. I would like to buy one to speak to him. Where
does somebody get that quantity of such beautiful things in Central London?
Standing alone, he is a figure of mystery- how he has strangely touched me
through the suddenness of us both being on this street at the same time and
the thrilling capacity to be anonymous, shedding your identity. A feeling that
this is the capital, London of ‗London New York Paris‘ on the packaging of
products intended to look sophisticated and cosmopolitan, to make you feel
that sophisticated and cosmopolitan- that there is no need to wish for Paris
or New York when you are here breathing fumes in the sunshine. Crossing
the road at the pelican crossing I am intrigued by a discount bookshop: lifting
the heavy pages of hardback books of Ancient Greek art; of Art Deco
furniture and the houses of dictators- the images are fleeting but satisfying,
reaching into something larger than the immediacy of a girl looking through
picture books in a heavily air conditioned shop. The books keep me amused:
no urge to buy but just to look and absorb and be entertained until it is time
to move on.
The 56 will go towards Tottenham Court Road and from there I will walk. I
pay the fee and settle onto the bus, idling time away halfway between
reading a novel and gazing out the window, following road signs and a
creeping feeling that the bus is going in the opposite direction. Yet this
feeling is almost a relief, a lonely feeling of adventure with no way of keeping
track of time and nothing to worry about getting home for. Outside Holborn
Station it is clear that this is the wrong direction- yet it is somewhere that I
rarely venture and it is pleasant to watch the scenery pass and reassuring to
know that it will end up at Trafalgar Square, London‘s novel and almost
solely decorative landmark like the sugar bride and groom atop a wedding
Mubarak has left Egypt; the bus driver points me in the direction of Covent
Garden, and I salute him. Across the way the yellow fist of a SWP flag
catches my attention, a flash of red caught in a gust of wind, and the
sensation that something is happening. The steps outside of the National
Gallery are lined with Egyptian flags, red white and black, and children run
around wrapped in their celebration, adults too wear them as capes and
there are no cops, no unpleasantness but a young and free feeling as
though the air- maybe it is the cold, it is February- as though the air is easier
to breathe, clearer and purer despite the ring road. It lights people from
within, this excitement and it is contagious: the tourists knocking around with
cameras are taking pictures; taking pictures of the fountains and the lions
and Nelson pompous atop his column, but also of a spontaneous gathering,
a celebration of something that one day our children will study in textbooks
and write about in exams, something that until then is happening now, and is
touching people.
Outside the gallery buskers play and an interpretive dance troupe perform in
spangled outfits, surrounded by a crowd. I remember all the times I have
been here, eating supermarket sushi on inset days spent at the galleries; at
musical events denouncing racism and war, a ‗Not In My Name‘ placard that
gathered dust in my bedroom before eventually being thrown away. I
remember my first copy of the Socialist Worker, bought to read an interview
with Pete Doherty proclaiming that we must uproot capitalism and start
again. I remember being thirteen and fifteen and seventeen and all those
ages between, and now I‘m twenty, wallowing in sun and excitement. The
thrill of watching a revolution happen on 24hour news on the television and
being here, live and tranquil, watching people experiencing liberation.
Trafalgar Square is a beautiful collision of culture and politics: the galleries
that my mother visited on weekends as a young girl, that I visited on
weekends as a young girl, where a painting or sculpture speaks to you, if
you want it to, and your mind becomes fluid enough to engage with
somebody who died hundred of years before you, were born. Somebody
who lived by a set of rules separate from yours, but who lived still, as you
live now, and in one moment captured something that you feel, in your
fifteen year old body, frighteningly susceptible to the loves and hates of other
people, awaiting your own love and wishing it would happen soon. In those
instances you may live through art, or books or music, and imagine what
those things may be, feeling your body young and healthy enough to have
the capacity to fall heavily be it in love or detriment, your ego proud and
brave enough to splatter on the pavement in a bloody mess of guts and
brains or vanish entirely when you meet somebody‘s eye.
In Trafalgar Square I have no ego, none but the feeling of providence, of
privilege to be there in that mood of freedom and there‘s really nowhere else
that that I can think of that does justice to the grandeur of that feeling,
nowhere with a crazy great glass ship-in-a-bottle on the fourth plinth,
nowhere with capering street performers and fountains spurting and a fauxParthenon looming behind. Routemasters circle the square, like magnified
toys from the souvenir stalls that clutter the roads surrounding, in waves of
Union Jacks and postcards, snow globes and bits of tat to remember it by.
These things have a certain kitsch appeal, a reminder of the good fortune to
call this place home, a place worth remembering through iconography. What
good fortune to feel safe and not scared by the boulevards filled with
second-hand photography stores, music shops and greasy pizza-by-the-slice
cafes, the old Astoria now a building site to make way for some crackpot
train scheme put in place by a politician no longer in office, all the place
rising and falling like a great heaving chest, like the waxwork of Sleeping
Beauty in Madam Tussauds, who sleeps and lives forever.
I walk up that busy street, past the book stores, windows lined with
antiquities and first editions; past Soho, illuminated in neon, that compulsive
sleaze that it‘s backstreets exude; past Chinatown, it‘s strings of lanterns
wobbling in the breeze (it must be Chinese New Year); and all the places I
have passed so many times but never truly encountered- the great concretefronted cinema that shows films that you always intend to see but never do.
Past the theatre district illuminated with bulbous lights, crass advertisements
for productions that line the escalator tunnels of tube stations, corporate
theatre, and a pantomime of theatre. Heavy boots drag at my feet- it is
always surprising how quickly you can get from one place to another on foot,
as though all the stations are linked in a non-linear chain, more like a
cobweb, with a centre and spindly parts that stick out at odd angles and
confuse you, briefly flawed by how deeply interconnected it all is.
I wander Covent Garden, afraid of the crowds that furnish the pavements
and jostle with shopping bags and cigarettes and hostility. The Underground
station is rammed like an ugly mouth that swallows and dehumanises you in
a frantic bid to get onto that Piccadilly Line train and to Earl‘s Court. Instead I
walk to Tottenham Court Road, a brisk five minutes away, the street air less
stale and the street lights less harsh. I would have got the 14 to Putney but
at Centre Point scaffolding blocks off the old bus stop where the night bus
would take us back to Katie‘s house, when being dolled up had worn thin
and it was time to go home, disappointed with the night which ate up my
babysitting cash in booze and cigs and entrance fee where a DJ plays
records from the recent past and it seems that the men look at you in that
strange predatory way and the life you look for is really not to be found there.
by Stanley Lee Wai Jin
The lip-moistened ceramic cup lay dormant in the midst of a cacophony of
chatter and banter that surrounds it. Small whiffs of steam from the warm
coffee within the cup permeate the humid air. A metallic teaspoon leans
against the inner curvature of the cup. The white viscous layer of sweet
condensed milk sits comfortably at the bottom of the warm liquid. A minute
passes by before a wrinkly hand reaches out to stir the concoction of white
and dark brown layers into a heavenly delight. The contents of the cup swirl
into a circular torrential motion as the metallic spoon clinks against the
ceramic walls. The stirring stops after it is deemed satisfactory and the
teaspoon is lifted away from the pool. The wrinkly hand musters some
strength to lift the cup and pull it towards the awaiting lips of an old man. He
takes a sip of the drink and gulps down a small mouthful of the dark fluid.
Old Man Wong has always enjoyed sitting at the Carnation Kopitiam during
his free time. This grand Hainanese establishment has withstood the test of
time since the 1930s and the same family has been running the business for
decades. He knew the pioneer owner of the Kopitiam and he was the best of
friends with his son. Though the sands of time have shifted as shown by the
changing variety of food offered by the hawker stalls that rent its premises,
the coffee remains faithfully the same. As Old Man Wong adjusts his thick
spectacles, delicious-smelling wafts from the fiery preparation of the Char
Kway Teow fill his nostrils.
A youthful finger reaches to tap the shoulder of Old Man Wong. It startles
him. He looks back and realises for a moment that it is his grandson.
―Ah Gong , it is time to go back home now. Everyone is waiting for you to
start our reunion dinner,‖ says the young man.
―I still have not finished my cup of coffee yet. Can you sit a while I finish it?
It‘s not good to waste. Money is not easy to be earned,‖ Old Man Wong
explains as he takes another sip from the cup.
―No Ah Gong, I‘ll buy you another cup tomorrow. It is not that expensive. We
have to go – NOW,‖ asserts the impatient young man as he gives his
grandfather a stern glance. ―I‘ll even buy you 10 cups to last you for an
A traditional coffee shop with hawker stalls found commonly in Southeast Asia
Fried flour noodles with cockles and prawns – a delicacy common in Malaysia and Singapore
Grandfather in the Mandarin Chinese language
eternity,‖ was the subsequent unspoken passing remark that went through
the thoughts of the young man.
The chair gives off a soft creak as the old man rises to his feet. The cold
smooth marble table acts as a support as he steadies himself into balance.
He then slowly tails the young man as they head off to a blue car parked
outside the Kopitiam. Old Man Wong stops abruptly after walking some
distance and turns back towards the way he was walking from. The young
man realises the sudden change of direction and questions his grandfather
for the reason of his decision. ―I left my umbrella at my seat,‖ replies Old
Man Wong in a jiff as he quickens his pace of walking. The young man lets
off a breath of frustration before joining his grandfather back to the Kopitiam
in a huff. However, there is no umbrella to be seen around the table when
they are back there. Old Man Wong frantically searches for it in the
surrounding tables. He approaches some of the people seated near his table
with the hope that someone may have seen it. The young man on the other
hand sees no reason to embarrass himself by joining his panicky grandfather
in his quest to harass innocent patrons who are merely enjoying their peace
with a bowl of noodles. He turns instead to the lady boss who is sitting at the
cash counter. The plump woman raises her eyebrows in surprise,
―Umbrella? Your Ah Gong came into the shop without carrying anything!‖ In
the next instance, Old Man Wong is pulled to the side by his grandson who
relays the lady boss‘ revelation to him. He scratches his head in
confusion,‖Oh? I must have left the umbrella in the house then.‖ The young
man grits his teeth in exasperation. For one second, he is in a dilemma
whether to admonish his absent-minded grandfather or to sympathise with
his predicament.
The minor fiasco at the Kopitiam was an unnecessary detour and the young
man was relieved to get his grandfather seated in the car finally with the
safety belt buckled up. The young man pushes his key into the ignition barrel
and twists it to his right. The engine roars to life and the car starts to reverse
onto the main road.
―I‘m hungry. Can we stop by at one of the Malay currypuff stalls beside
Jalan Aman ?‖ asks Old Man Wong as the car begins its journey.
―This is the reason why we are going back for dinner, Ah Gong! There is no
need to waste any time to stop by anywhere else!‖ snaps the young man
back at his grandfather in irritation.
Jalan means road in the Malay language. The names of the roads in Malaysia are in Malay. In this
context, it is Aman Road.
He just could not comprehend why his grandfather would table such a
redundant request. Old man Wong leans back against his seat in silence
and looks out of the car window. The trees, buildings and people zoom away
in a trickle. The air-conditioner in the car hums gently.
―I‘m thirsty. I need something to drink,‖ sounded Old Man Wong again after
a while. The young man stays muted as he grabs a bottle of water which
was conveniently placed beside the driver‘s door and passes it to his
passenger seated on the left.
Forty minutes later, the blue car swerves into a housing estate and makes a
stop at House 37. This is the humble abode of old man Wong, who had
spent more than half of his life living in that house. His sons had always
wanted to buy him a bigger house in another district but he had constantly
resisted the change of environment vehemently. Old man Wong insists
strongly in remaining where he is, driven by the sense of nostalgia and
familiarity that he himself is unwilling to abandon.
A group of children playing outside the gate of House 37 notice the
occupants of the car exiting their vehicle. One of them lets out an excited
shout into the house,‖ Yi Yi , Ah Gong is back already!‖ Like an emperor
entering the Forbidden Palace, Old Man Wong calmly walks towards his
familiar sanctuary with his grandson as his escort. His grandson however
does not share the same sense of grandeur regarding his grandfather‘s
dwelling place. It is no more than a shack to him which requires a dire need
of maintenance and attention. The young man is very sure that the only
period of time when House 37 gets an extreme clean-up session is when the
daughter-in-laws of the old man gather together a few days before Chinese
New Year to perk the place up. He had seen the original state of that place
with piles of old newspapers, empty glass bottles and plastic bags strewn
around. When Old Man Wong is questioned by his children on why he had
accumulated so much of unnecessary rubbish in the house, he replied that
he wanted to recycle and reuse the items. The reality is that Old Man Wong
would tend to forget about the things that he had retained and even if he
does remember, he does not have the physical strength to deal with his
mess. House 37 certainly looks better on every Chinese New Year after the
spring cleaning, with the floors scrubbed clean and the red decorations
placed all over the house. Old Man Wong would not be able to do it alone
without the help of his family.
Aunt in the Mandarin Chinese language
Upon hearing the commotion outside, a woman in her late 40s came out of
the kitchen to meet the entourage at the door. ―Darren, why are you taking
so long to come back?‖ queries the woman in haste. Darren gave a sigh,
―You know how Ah Gong is when he is outside. It will take an army to bring
him back from the wilderness.‖ Old Man Wong slips away quietly amidst the
conversation to one of his cupboards in his living room. He starts rummaging
through some of the boxes that are placed neatly in a row. His search of the
cupboard contents soon attracts the attention of Darren‘s mother after a
minute. She calls out to her father-in-law in curiosity,‖Pa, what are you
looking for? Tell me and I‘ll look for it for you instead‖. He whispers in return,
‖Ang Pow for my grandchildren which I had prepared yesterday.‖ Despite
the low key and almost inaudible voice of Old Man Wong, the golden words
of Ang Pow is picked up by Darren‘s younger brother who is fixated playing
with his GameBoy on the sofa. He pauses his game in an instance, and lets
out a shrill of excitement as he beckons the rest of his cousins to come back
into the house. Like a pack of hungry predators sensing the blood of a prey,
the children stampede towards the front door with repetitive delighted
screams of Ang Pow!
A queue forms in front of Old Man Wong as some of the children held out
their tiny hands eagerly. At the back of the queue are the older teenagers
who are unfazed by this yearly customary tradition. The younger
grandchildren would give Old Man Wong a hug after he hands out a red
packet while the older teenagers would decline to show what they perceive
as a childish form of affection. A word of thanks seems to be the accepted
appropriate response that the older teenagers are willing to give in
conjunction with their age. Darren is the last person of the queue and when it
is his turn to receive his share, he mumbles a brief word of thank you to his
grandfather before heading up the stairs to stash his newly acquired Ang
Pow with the rest that he had received from his uncles and aunts. As he is
walking up the stairs, Darren cannot resist the urge to check the amount of
money in the Ang Pow. He pushes his thumb underneath the flap of the red
packet and rips it apart. To his dismay, it is only a five ringgit note. He
mutters nonchalantly to himself,‖Same old story every year. What a miserly
old man.‖
When all the dishes are prepared on the table, the Wong family gather to sit
around two long rectangular tables that are joined together as one banquet
table. The children are wide-eyed as they gaze upon the scrumptious feast
It literally means Red Packet in the Hokkien dialect. It is customary for the married to give red packets
filled with money to young people or the unmarried during Chinese New Year
that is laid before them on the table. The dishes for the night are Siew Yuk ,
roasted duck, drunken white chicken , stir fried vegetables, Sichuan soup,
claypot tofu, fried beehoon and sambal kangkung . Right in the middle of
all these dishes is the Yusheng, which is the traditional Chinese raw fish
salad. Darren‘s father got up from his seat and begins to pour the various
sauces onto the Yusheng. Everyone at the table prepares their chopsticks
and at the signal of Darren‘s father, they dig their chopsticks into the salad
and begin tossing the pieces of sliced carrots, white radish, turnips, red
pepper, jellyfish, raw salmon and mini shrimp crackers into a jumble. ―May
Papa have a long, healthy and prosperous life!‖ declares Darren‘s second
uncle as the family continues tossing away. Darren‘s youngest aunt followed
on, ―Most importantly, may the businesses of the Wong family continue to
bring fame and fortune to every one of us!‖ Old Man Wong smiles as the
entire family settle down at their respective seats to enjoy their dinner.
The reunion dinner for the Wong family is a special time for them to catch up
with each other and to see what new developments there are in each other‘s
family. It can also descend to a time of subtle politics as each of the four
sons of Old Man Wong would compare the achievements of their children to
one another. Darren hates it especially when his aunts comment on his
current academic achievements or boast about how their children had done
a better job in the examinations compared to him when he was at their
stage. For the past few years since the death of his wife, Old Man Wong has
excluded himself from the banters that occur frequently among his children
and grandchildren. He would make an occasional remark on the taste of the
food and no more than that afterwards. He is particularly engrossed in selfreflection for this year‘s reunion dinner as he glances at each of his family
Life has been good. Although he had started off his youth in a rough way, it
had gradually improved with each coming year. He had seen through all the
historical pages of this country. There was a time when this country was still
called Malaya and was under the administration of the British. He had
encountered the horrors and pain of the Japanese Occupation in World War
2. He counted himself to be a fortunate man to have escaped the Sook
Ching Massacre. The end of World War 2 did not signal the end of troubles
for Malaya as the country was plunged into a bitter conflict of The
Emergency for almost 10 years with the Malayan Communist Party
Chinese Roasted Pork with a crispy outer skin
A traditional Chinese dish consisting of steamed chicken doused with rice wine
Rice vermicelli in the Mandarin Chinese language
A famous Southeast Asian dish consisting of fried Malay vegetables with chilli
guerrillas. It was a period of suspicion and curfews but he remembered that
he got married to his beloved sweetheart during that perilous period. He was
there sitting beside his pregnant young wife watching the live broadcast of
the events in Kuala Lumpur, when the nation’s first Prime Minister, Tunku
Abdul Rahman declared ‘Merdeka’ 7 times in the stadium. He read about the
creation Malaysia in 1963 in the newspapers and experienced the tensions
after the racial riots in 1969. Through all of these events, he was proud that
he had protected his family and provided a chance for his four sons to be
successful men through his hard labour. He wanted to believe that he had
created a dynasty of sustainability which will last through the generations.
A nagging feeling of worry envelops him whenever he looks at each of his
grandchildren. He finds the whole lot of them to be a fortunate bunch, to be
given life‘s necessities on a silver platter which he and their fathers need to
save and scrimp for in the past. He wonders whether they have learnt the
same habit of thriftiness and gratefulness that had brought where the Wong
family is today.
Unbeknownst to Old Man Wong, Darren has been observing him from afar in
silence too. He wonders why life has cast lots for Old Man Wong to be his
grandfather. He is senile, demented and often looks as if he living a lucid
dream. It is bad enough to have to tolerate him and now he is handed the
responsibility of babysitting the old man just because he is the oldest of the
grandchildren. As far as he had heard from his friends, their grandfathers do
not pose such problems or behave in such an eccentric manner.
Dinner is completed within two hours and some of the family members head
to the kitchen to wash up the dirty plates. Old Man Wong retreats to his
cushioned rocking chair where he fell asleep within minutes after having a
satisfying meal. His snores could be heard all the way to the kitchen. Darren
does the washing with both of his parents while the rest of the family are
distributed around the house. When he is rinsing the soap off the plates with
water, Darren asks his parents, ―Dad and mom, how do you tolerate Ah
Gong‘s antics? I keep losing patience with him all the time.‖ His father looks
at him and begins explaining, ―I am forever indebted to your Ah Gong for the
role he has played in bringing me up. In the past, he was a fierce tiger and
he would beat the life out of us with the cane whenever we misbehaved or
were disrespectful. However, he has always been fair with his punishments
and his rewards. He would fight till the end for his wife and children and it
was his diligence and perseverance that saw me and your uncles through
school. There was never once where we felt distanced from our father
because he always made sure that he spent time with us. Now is the time to
show how much of gratitude this family owes to your Ah Gong.‖ Darren is
surprised at his father‘s description of Old Man Wong. He looks out again to
the living room and sees his sleeping frail grandfather snoring aloud with
deep breaths in between, a clear shadow of the mighty stallion that he once
may have been.
Another year passes by and the Wong family gathers at House 37 once
more. There are no red decorations around this time. The most notable
difference is the absence of the master of the house. Darren‘ father stands
up and begins to speak in a sombre tone, ―Today, is the last day that we will
spend in this house of our beloved father. Let us raise a toast to this great
man of the Wong family.‖ Darren stares at the empty space that Old Man
Wong once sat. A single drop of tear rolls down his left cheek. The warm
ceramic cup of coffee lay dormant alongside a bowl of steamed rice in the
midst of the silence as the Wong family members eat their final meal in
House 37.
Tillingham Street
by Imogen Featherstone
Jean stood at the bus stop, waiting for the number fifty to Tillingham Street.
She thought, ‗Get home, get the kettle on, warm up that stew. Come on, bus.
Have to light a fag in a minute. Miriam'll be back before me at this rate.
Could do Paradise slice tonight, her favourite. Have I got any of them
cherries? What are they again? Summat to do with windows ent they? Can't
think.‘ She thought of Miriam, hanging up her anorak, rushing through to the
kitchen, reaching with her greedy fingers. Jean would smack them away,
―Not til after tea,‖ and ask her how her day had been and Miriam would start
yattering about something she'd learnt, usually science. Jean hadn't got a
clue what she was on about half the time. She was a clever one and no
―Jean, don‘t stand in the middle of the corridor. Charlene will need to get
past with the tea trolley in a minute.‖
―I‘m waiting for...‖ She looked down and saw purple, swirling carpet beneath
her slippered feet.
―I was on my way home.‖
―Don't worry, Jean. I'll take you back to your room.‖ The woman smiled and
offered her arm to Jean.
―I dunno.‖
―Come on, we'll get you sat down and I'll fetch you a nice cup of tea. How
does that sound?‖
Jean stared at her. ‗God knows who she is‘ she thought ‗Seems to know me
though. A cup of tea would be nice.‘ She let the woman link arms with her
and they set off down the corridor.
Miriam checked her reservation card as she charged down the platform, her
suitcase rumbling behind her. ‗Coach C, this is it‘ she thought. A crowd
surrounded the closed train door. She stood on tiptoe to look between their
bobbing heads at the seating diagram, displayed on the side of the carriage.
‗55A, other end‘ she thought. She marched on to the next door. Passengers
began to spill off the train. The crowd parted just enough for them to jostle
their way through, then surged forward onto the train. Miriam pushed her
way on and heaved her suitcase into the carriage. It was too wide for her to
wheel it along the aisle so she snapped down the handle and manhandled it
sideways. A fat man in front of her was wrestling his case into the overhead
rack, blocking the aisle. A Brummie accent came over the tannoy,
―Welcome on board the 10.17 to Birmingham New Street. Calling at
Wakefield Westgate, Sheffield, Chesterfield, Derby and Tamworth. Due to
arrive into New Street at 11.52.‖
She found his bunged up tones comforting, like coming home.
―We apologoise that, due to a technical fault, there are no seat reservations
on this service. That's no seat reservations anywhere on this service.‖
‗Oh, for god's sake‘ she thought. All the seats near her were full. She could
see a scattering of empty seats in the centre of the carriage. The fat man
had succeeded in forcing his case into the rack and was taking off his coat at
a leisurely pace. He began to fold it.
―Excuse me, could I just...‖
Miriam could see the passengers who had got on at the other end of the
carriage heading towards the empty seats.
―Just a moment,‖ the man said as she pushed past him, clobbering his
ankles with her suitcase as she did so.
Too late. All the seats were gone. She stood stranded in the aisle.
‗Should've driven‘ she thought.
She stared out of the window at the Pennines flashing by.
‗Ridiculous‘ she thought, ‗This bloody journey every month. And it‘s not
enough. Should I have made her move to Leeds?‘
Sheffield. A flood of people left the train and Miriam grabbed a seat with a
table. A balding man sat opposite reading the Times. She shoved her coat
up on the rack and sat for a moment with the suitcase in the aisle beside her.
‗I'd better I suppose‘ she thought.
She lifted her suitcase onto the table. The man stared over his paper at her.
―Sorry, I'll just, I'll put it up in a sec.‖
He flicked his paper straight and carried on reading. She opened the
suitcase to reveal a lunchbox, a floral toiletry bag, a pair of knickers and
thirty exercise books. She took out the books and put the suitcase up in the
‗Here we go,‘ she thought.
She picked up the first exercise book. It was covered in wrapping paper with
hearts on it. She turned to the right page. ‗Water travels through the
membrane by osmosis‘ she read. ‗Good.She probably didn't understand it
but at least she's copied it neatly‘ she thought. She ticked her way through
the pages. ‗Well done, Leanne. Good work‘ she wrote and flicked open the
next book.
The third book that she came to on the pile was Craig‘s. Covered in pictures
of cannabis leaves and penises. She thought back to yesterday's class.
Craig and his mates slouching over their desks, chatting and texting while
she wrote on the board.
―Quiet please and put those phones away,‖ she said and carried on writing
on the board.
Craig said, ―Miss, did you know the back of your skirt's tucked into your
Automatically she turned to check, then flushed red as the class burst into
―Very funny, Craig‖ she managed to spit, ―Now get on with your work.‖
She turned back to the board. The tinny sound of R&B drifted across the
classroom accompanied by sniggering and laughter. She turned to face him.
―I've told you once. I'm going to have to confiscate that phone til the end of
the lesson.‖
She walked towards him and put her hand out for the phone. Nothing
―Give it to me, please.‖ Her voice sounded smaller than she'd hoped.
He stood up. He towered above her.
―Or what?‖
Her body went wobbly. Was he going to hit her?
―I can't be arsed with this,‖ he said and he pushed his desk out of the way
and slammed out of the classroom.
She couldn't be arsed with it either. She lay her pen down on the table. ‗Nice
cup of tea, that‘s what I need‘ she thought. She lurched off down the train to
the buffet car. When she got back to her seat, she sat with her hands
wrapped around the warm paper cup and sipped her milky tea. Flat
countryside whizzed by: fields, a horse grazing, more fields. The train
entered a cutting, the banks of grass and trees flashing close to the train
window. She closed her eyes.
Her mobile phone began to ring. ‗Where is it?‘ she thought. She looked
around, stood, reached into the luggage rack and fished it out of her coat
pocket. It stopped ringing. As she pressed call back, she noticed the man
opposite was glaring at her again. ‗What‘s his problem?‘ she wondered.
―Hi Jake. You okay?‖
―Ish. Where's my rugby shirt, mum?‖
―Oh, damn.‖
―Where is it?‖
―It'll be in the washing basket. I meant to put a wash on last night before I
―Sorry, love. Where's your other one?‖
The man opposite was actually tutting now.
―At school.‖
―Well, you'll just have to wear the dirty one.‖
―God, mum.‖
―Sorry, sweetheart. Love you.‖
―Yeah, bye.‖ He put the phone down.
The balding man cleared his throat noisily, snapped his paper again and and
disappeared behind it.
She looked out of the window. She noticed a sticker in the corner: a picture
of a pair of headphones and a mobile phone beneath a red cross.
Underneath it said, ―Quiet Coach.‖ She turned off her phone and laid it on
the table.
When she reached Birmingham New Street she piled the exercise books
back into her case and trundled through the station to the taxi rank.
‗Straight there or hotel first?‘ she wondered, ‗Weird, coming to Brum and
staying in a hotel. On the other hand, a nice neat bed, mini-kettle, little
sachets of tea… Should go straight to mum's though.‘
She got into the taxi.
―Where to, love.‖
― um, Ambleside Grange, on the Edgbaston Road,‖ she said.
‗Tillingham Street‘ she thought, ‗Over fifty years, mum was there. But she
had to admit it was too much in the end, after her hip went. If only she‘d
moved up to us then. But she was adamant she was staying in Birmingham
and now it‘s too late to ask her what she wants.‘
The taxi drew up on the drive of Ambleside Grange.
―That'll be four fifty please.‖
Miriam pulled her suitcase through the gravel. She pushed open the door
and was greeted by a smiling receptionist behind a circular pine desk.
―Afternoon, Mrs Braithwaite. Nice to see you again.‖
She walked up the corridor towards mum's room. The walls were freshly
painted in lilac. The purple carpet was clean. She was still suspicious. What
lay behind the polished furniture and pressed uniforms? The carers, young
girls, always smiled at her as they hurried past, wearing aprons and gloves,
carrying yellow polythene bags or wheeling huge hoists down the corridors.
Sometimes she heard muffled yells from behind closed doors.
‗Is mum really okay? Are they looking after her properly? Could I do any
better?‘ she wondered.
She reached mum's room and pushed open the door. She was sitting in front
of the TV. Hollyoaks was on.
―Hello mum‖ said Miriam.
Jean looked at her uncertainly.
A carer bustled into the room. ―Hello, Mrs Braithwaite. I was just bringing
your mum a cup of tea. Would you like one?‖
―Oh, yes please. If it‘s not too much trouble.‖
―Not at all.‖
Miriam opened her suitcase and took out the lunchbox. She got two plates
from the sideboard and cut a slice of cake for them both.
―Would you like some Paradise slice?‖ she asked her mum, passing it to her.
―My favourite,‖ said Jean, smiling up at her.
―Mine too‖ said Miriam and they sat and ate their cake and drank their tea.
Finding Hope
by Megan Marvel
She had always been a quiet, shy girl as long as anyone could remember.
She only spoke when spoken to, and even then she might not say a word.
Allegra was her name, though it did not seem to fit as Allegra meant lively,
merry, happy. One could tell that she was happy, in her own way. She liked
to play by herself on the lakeshore of the river Thames outside her house.
She knew better than to go too far out of view from the house. She would sit
for hours in the sandy knolls near an old willow tree that grew near the
water‘s edge, playing with the doll that her mother hand-stitched for her.
Betty was the doll‘s name. Blue frills adorned her off-white (almost brown)
dress; her hair was made from horse‘s hair; her eyes were mere blue
buttons from one of Allegra‘s torn coats. Allegra treasured this doll more
than anything, taking it with her wherever she went, even to church. Besides
her parents, it was her only friend.
Mr. and Mrs. Parish, Allegra‘s parents, were middle class mercantile shop
owners living in London. The twentieth century was becoming quite rough
for them financially, especially with talk of a war soon to come. The family
did their best to stay positive, but when listening to the radio, reading the
newspaper, or talking to friends they encountered in their shop or on the
street, talk always turned to the approaching war.
After the war began in 1939, the Parish family struggled to act like life was
as it were before. They still went to church regularly, kept up the store, and
spent Sunday evenings entertaining each other with songs and instruments.
But when Allegra was only eight, in mid 1940, Mr. and Mrs. Parish became
fearful of their daughter‘s safety. Word was that London would not be safe
for much longer, that air raids would soon sweep over the city, bombs flatten
buildings in mere minutes. Mr. and Mrs. Parish did not know how long it
would last nor how dangerous it would be. Would London really be bombed
or was that just gossip? Mrs. Parish had a sister who had settled in
Wisconsin in America, so that was determined to be the place they would
send Allegra. With hugs, kisses, and tears, they promised to collect her after
the war, or when they knew for sure it would be safe for her to return.
Allegra left by ship from Liverpool to dock at New York Port. The journey
was quite rough for all the children on board, for there were at least 30
children sent away because of the war. Seven nuns cared for all the
children. They had kindly volunteered for the past year to be guardians of
children in this situation. Allegra did not talk to a single person while on the
ship whose journey lasted three weeks. She clutched tightly onto Betty day
and night, singing to her, pretend-feeding her, and sharing her fears and
worries about mum, dad, and their lovely house that she missed so much.
After the ship landed at the New York Port, the children, crew, and the rest
of the guests disembarked to find hundreds of people lining the dock. They
were families, friends, strangers wanting to see the sight. Allegra, hand in
hand with one of the nuns, walked slowly down the dock.
―Do you have someone pickin‘ you up now, luv?‖ asked the nun.
Allegra said nothing, but the frightened look in her eyes was enough to
inform the nun that the child did not know. They walked further down the
dock passing people and shops, dogs and seagulls, until Allegra paused
upon hearing her name in the crowd.
―Allegra! Child is it you?!‖ A woman looking to be around the age of thirty
wearing a dark blue dress and matching bonnet was swiftly walking towards
them. Though younger and with an American accent, she was the spitting
image of Allegra‘s mother.
―Ah, an‘ who are you?‖ inquired the nun kindly.
The woman, with a broad smile on her face replied, ―I am Miss Goodman,
Hope Goodman.‖
The two women exchanged a few more words, then Hope took Allegra‘s
bag from the nun and the two walked on.
―We‘ve got quite a ways back to Wisconsin.‖ Hope took Allegra‘s hand,
caressing it softly in her own. ―But tonight, we‘ll let you rest a while. I‘m sure
your journey was a long one. Did you eat enough?‖
When Allegra did not respond, Hope stopped, put the luggage down, and
gave Allegra a warm hug. Seeing her mother in her aunt‘s reflect was
overwhelming; the journey had been a very lonely one. Allegra missed her
parents so much that she gave in and burst out crying upon her aunt‘s
shoulder. She had never cried in front of anyone besides her parents
Hope and Allegra spent the night at an Inn and set out for Wisconsin the
next afternoon. The trip by carriage took exactly twenty-one days. It was
less comfortable than the ship (for the rocking sway of the ship eventually
became a soothing comfort to Allegra), but the company of her aunt was
exceedingly better. Even though Hope realized Allegra did not want to
speak, she continued carrying on a one-way conversation for she could tell
that calmed the nerves of her small niece. She stroked Allegra‘s long, dark
brown hair, told her jokes and stories of the ‗Freeman troublemakers‘ and
how Hope and Annie (Allegra‘s mother) used to play in Old Mr. Pitchner‘s
garden back in England when they lived in the Manchester countryside.
They would play games with the rabbits who came to nibble on the carrots
and lettuce heads, but Old Mr. Pitchner would think that they were the ones
causing all the damage to his crops. Allegra smiled, still clutching tightly to
When they finally arrived in Wisconsin those twenty-one days later, it was
July 28 . Allegra‘s mum had warned her that Wisconsin was quite cold and
that she should make sure to bundle up tight. However, when the two girls
arrived in Madison, the capital of the state, Allegra found it to be warm! It
was so warm, in fact, that she unwrapped her scarf, pulled off her coat, and
rolled down her stockings. Being a girl of only eight, she did all this without
thinking anything of it; she was still too young to fully understand propriety.
Her aunt smiled as she watched Allegra‘s cheerful face. The girl was
entranced by the city. It was big, noisy, and there were people everywhere.
It did not compare to London or what little she saw of New York in terms of
size, but rather the architecture of the place. Everything seemed new,
colorful, and welcoming. Shops and stalls lined the lanes and children
chased each other up and down alleys while dogs happily followed, their
tongues flapping in the wind. Model T‘s and horse drawn carriages slowly
made their way down the lane, pausing constantly to let people pass.
―Welcome to ‗America‘s Dairyland‘! That is the nickname of this state!‖
Hope said enthusiastically. ―This is a college town. That means that
students from all over the country come here to learn. And look!‖ She
pointed to a wooden stadium approaching about three quarters of a mile
away. As she spoke, the stadium seemed to grow out of the earth. ―That is
Camp Randall Stadium. It has gone through quite a few changed lately. In
1915, while the football game was going on, the stands collapsed and
people fell to the ground.‖ At this, Allegra gasped. ―No worries darling! No
one was hurt. Then, in 1922, the stadium caught fire and everything burned
to the ground. Again, no one was hurt! But that goes to show them that
wood is not the best thing to use. A friend of mine on the inside, that is to
say, who works for the stadium, says that if anything else happens to it or
they need to expand, they‘ll use concrete! Just think, a giant concrete
stadium. How pristine!‖
Allegra listened silently but intensely to everything her aunt said. Hope
seemed to know everything. Allegra pointed out a very tall building in the
distance. It was a white, domed building with a golden statue on top.
―Oh that, that is the state capitol building, where all the politicians go to
debate and make laws. I stay informed on issues, but dear, I dislike politics
in general. Everyone gets so agitated! We are not far now from Beecroft
House. My house was built in 1911 and that is the name it was given.‖
As the weeks went on in Madison, Allegra grew accustomed to the
American habits she thought were strange at first. Children back home in
London liked to play hopscotch and Snap, while American children played
baseball and leapfrog. Allegra also found that the figures of speech adults
used and the styles of clothing were all different. She would smile to herself
when she heard women standing in front of store windows gaping at dresses
saying audibly, ―It‘s in London fashion! Just think, London! Dear you must
buy this for me!‖ Allegra wondered if they would be able to tell that her
dresses were of ‗London fashion‘ seeing as that is where her mum made
Every night she came home before six, for that was when Hope had dinner
ready. Hope‘s house was not half the size of her old house in London, but it
was quaint and fit the two of them perfectly. They each had their own room
and still there was a large guest room to spare. Beyond those, there was a
washroom, kitchen, and parlor. The outside of the white house was adorned
with navy blue shutters and green flowerbeds hanging from the windows.
The house was about a mile from the capitol, yet, since the capitol was the
tallest building in the whole city, Allegra could still see it towering over the
tops of nearby houses and trees. Their closest neighbor was only about one
hundred yards away, leaving plenty of space around the house to be
cultivated. Hope had the area closest to the house planted with flowerbeds
and shrubs. A section of the backyard was quartered to be an orchard,
where apple and cherry trees grew. She also had planted a vegetable
garden, a small strawberry patch, and had an even smaller section of
raspberry bushes and grape vines. There was also a small section of land
fenced off beyond the gardens where Hope‘s three cows lived and provided
her with fresh milk. Allegra discovered that Hope would sell a portion of her
fruits and vegetables to local grocers and that is how she made her money.
The first night at Beecroft House Allegra and Hope ate dinner together. It
was quiet around the dinner table and Allegra was in no spirit to break her
silence. Hope attempted a few conversations but all failed in the end as
Allegra became teary-eyed with any mention of anything relating to England
or her parents.
―How is your chicken pot pie dear? Do you like it?‖ Silence. Allegra had
not said a word at all those twenty-one days of travelling and it appeared she
was not about to break her resolution now. ―How would you like your
English muffin, with homemade butter or homemade jam? Or both?‖
―English muffin‖ was enough to set her off. Allegra began to cry into her pie.
―Allegra, it‘s alright. I know you‘re far from home, but your parents will be
alright. They‘re staying in Cambridge while the war continues and when it‘s
over, I promise, they‘ll send for you.‖
But those were only words. Futuristic and hopeful. Right now all Allegra
had was the present circumstance and the future was nothing more than a
word, an idea that might not come true. She could not bare to cry in front of
her aunt a second time, so she slammed her napkin down on the table, got
up, and ran into her room, slamming the door on the way. Hope hesitated,
not knowing how to deal with the situation being without children of her own.
After a minute she decided it was best to check in on the young girl.
Hope knocked gently on the door, waited a few seconds, then entered,
anticipating no response. ―I don‘t know what to say,‖ she admitted
Allegra lay on her bed, head on her pillow, facing the wall. Betty was buried
tight under her arm. The sound of sniffling filled the room. It was silent
between the two of them for another minute.
―Look at me for a moment, please.‖ Obliging, Allegra slowly turned around,
still sniffling. ―I am not trying to replace your mum. I am only a temporary
substitute. I love your mum and dad as much as you do and I want them to
be here as well, but they can‘t be. I need protection as much as you do, so I
have an idea. Let‘s make a pact. I will protect and comfort you if you protect
and comfort me. Do we have a deal? Can we single women, both far from
home, take care of each other until the war is over?‖ Again there was
silence as Allegra stared straight into Hope‘s eyes, contemplating. Finally,
Allegra nodded her head and the two girls embraced. Allegra rarely cried
after that. She knew she had to be brave to protect and comfort her aunt
As the weeks carried on, Allegra became increasingly interested in Hope‘s
gardens and began to help her with the planting, watering, and weeding. On
certain days she was even sent out to the garden to patrol it against any
unwanted pests, such as rabbits, squirrels, and crows.
One day while on patrol, Hope stepped out onto the back porch where
Allegra sat with Betty, fanning herself from the hot August sun. ―I‘ve got an
idea,‖ she said, a mischievous smile growing on her face. Allegra looked
eager to hear what the idea was. ―How would you like make a scarecrow?
We can go into town today and shop for clothes, wood, and paint. I already
have straw to stuff it with. What do you think?‖
Allegra was so happy she jumped up and gave her aunt a hug. It was only
a little after noon, so they had plenty of time to find all the needed materials
before sunset. Hand in hand, they took a shortcut through the cornfield
surrounding Hope‘s gardens and made their way into the shopping area of
the city, a street called State Street.
State Street, Allegra came to understand, was the street they first rode
down on their way into Madison. State was littered with produce stalls, meat
stalls, clothing shops, watch repair shops, and everything else a person may
want or need. State Street was extremely long, stretching about 8 blocks
from the capitol all the way down to a very beautifully ornate building called
the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, where university students went to
do research and study. Allegra had been in there once with Hope to use the
library facility. It had high ceilings, even more ornate than the outside of the
building, for the mulit-domed ceiling was painted in gold and table after table
in the reading room contained beautiful emerald colored reading lamps.
Columns within and outside of the building had been hand crafted to show
the state‘s pride in their wonderful building.
Hope and Allegra found a retail shop that sold cheap, gently used clothing.
They also bought two used brooms and a men‘s fishing hat. Down the street
a short ways, they came across an arts and crafts shop where they
purchased their paint, then headed home.
Though the task of making a scarecrow was a chore, this thought never
occurred to Allegra. To her, it was a fun, hands-on craft; it was something
she would be able to see everyday in the yard and be proud of. Together,
she and Hope gathered all the materials, including straw from the horses‘
stall, and began putting the scarecrow together. It took them two days of
stuffing, sewing, and painting to create their scary stick man. It was Allegra‘s
duty to paint the face.
―I cannot draw for the life of me,‖ Hope said, ―so the task of painting his face
on falls to you! Lucky you! Make sure he looks scary.‖
Allegra smiled at the thought. It was up to her to ensure that this stick man
would keep away the birds and rabbits. First she drew on eyebrows, both
frowning. Then she drew on eyes that appeared to be squinting. The nose
followed. She had seen other scarecrows in their neighbour‘s fields and
liked the triangular noses they had, so she tried that on hers. The nose was
followed by a smiling mouth with pointy teeth. Allegra had focused on each
characteristic by itself and not as a whole, so when she stepped back to view
her masterpiece she began to cry. The combination, she thought, was
dreadful. In her eyes, it did not look scary at all, but rather, it looked almost
―What‘s the matter,‖ Hope said rushing onto the porch where Allegra stood
staring at the scarecrow. ―What happened?‖
Noticing what Allegra was looking at, Hope turned her head in the same
direction and saw the scarecrow. ―It‘s perfect!‖ she said with a shout. ―I love
it. It will surely scare the birds and bunnies away!‖ With that thought, she
gave Allegra a big, squeezing hug. ―You did a wonderful job. Did you not
think so?‖
Allegra shook her head, tears still in her eyes, though they were obviously
going away after receiving Hope‘s praise of her artwork.
―I don‘t know why anyone wouldn‘t love it. You‘ll be a famous artist one day.
You‘ll see!‖
With a pat on the head, Hope headed back into the house where she was
preparing dinner.
Allegra ran in after her and hugged her around the waist. ―Thank you,‖ she
said in a tiny, but satisfied voice.
This was the first time that Allegra had spoken a word to Hope. With tears
swelling in her eyes, Hope bent down so she was the same height as Allegra
and grasped her hand lightly.
―Of course, dear.‖
From that day forward, Allegra spoke to Hope freely. Little by little she
began to lose her fear and shyness. When she joined an elementary school
in Madison, she quickly made friends with the other children. They adored
her English accent and she enjoyed learning the games they taught her.
Everyday she became more confident and learned to love change.
Wisconsin was a new world, safe, comforting. Everyday she saw the
scarecrow in the yard that she had made and it made her proud.
Allegra still missed her parents greatly, but being with her aunt Hope was
almost as good as being back with them.
Allegra found herself less and less needing Betty. She had found her own
friends at school and in the neighbourhood. One day, about a month after
school started, Allegra found Betty lying under her bed. She stooped down,
grabbing Betty‘s hand, and sat on the bed with her.
―I haven‘t seen you in ages!‖ Allegra exclaimed, holding up Betty. ―I want
you to know that I still love you, but you are not my only friend anymore.‖
Betty‘s blue button eyes seemed to stare back sadly. ―Oh dear, don‘t be
sad; be happy! I have made new friends and aunt Hope is exceedingly
nice.‖ She smoothed out the doll‘s hair, which was becoming tangled.
―Thank you for being my friend, Betty.‖
With this, Allegra walked over to her bookshelf, which was no taller than she
was, and placed the doll on top of it gently. With a smile of gratitude, she
turned towards the door and walked out.
The Heart Still Beats
By Ruairi Garvey
At times nature blesses us with miraculous beauty, but our greed and
selfishness can rob them of their splendour. We must remember though, that
nothing is broken beyond repair and all it takes is just a tiny bit of love and
compassion, small enough to fit in our top pocket, and the beauty we lost
can reappear, just as breathtaking as before.
Long ago, when the Middle Kingdom was still young, there lived a farmer
named Wang Po with his wife Ling Ling in a small village found in a valley
where three great rivers meet. Their village saw no sun throughout the winter
months, and felt not even the slightest breeze during summer. Spring
brought great rains, drowning the dreams of even the strongest swimmers
and autumn experienced such clouds that one could have been forgiven for
believing that the sky was not blue, but in fact a shade of murky grey, a great
charcoal smudge reaching to the horizon. Drenched in spring, stifled in
summer, depressed in autumn and frozen in winter, life was far from easy for
Wang Po and his wife. When Ling Ling discovered that she was to have a
baby, it was hard to know how to view the news; whether a blessing from the
heavens, or just another mouth to feed in the valley of hardship they called
After just four months with child, Ling Ling suddenly felt her baby coming, so
suddenly in fact that she had time neither to leave the field where she was
sowing seeds nor to call to her husband who was working a few fields away.
By the time her screams pulled him to her and he saw her lying in agony
amongst the crops, there was nothing he could do but hold her hand and
mutely spectate as his son arrived so prematurely into the world. Fear
enveloped the poor farmer and he prayed furiously to Gods that he didn‘t
believe in, to look after his wife and see her through the ordeal. So
premature was the birth that there could surely be no hope for the child, but
he knew he could not survive the loss of Ling Ling as well. Without her by his
side the winters chill would never leave his soul and the spring rains would
be no match for his tears.
The shrill first cry of his newborn son rose above even that of Ling and his
heart leapt. His wife and child were alive. He decided then that he must be
named Xiao Ji meaning little miracle.
As the years passed, the family lived very happily. Xiao Ji grew quickly and
was so very large for his age that by the time he was six he already stood
head and shoulders above both his parents. By his teenage years he could
no longer fit comfortably in the house and so had to live in the barn with the
chickens and water buffalo. Wang Po and his wife could not explain his
monumental size, but were very thankful for it all the same as Xiao Ji was
soon stronger than any other man in the village and could out-pull all his
fathers‘ oxen combined. Although unable to read or write, he was no
simpleton and had such a profound connection with nature that he found
himself talking to the animals almost as soon as he learnt to speak Chinese.
He could converse with the field mice as fluently as to his own chickens and
buffalo and at times even seemed to chat with the mountain flowers. He
could predict with startling accuracy weather patterns, changes in climate
and wind direction almost as if he were engaged in secret negotiations with
the seasons themselves. He expected very little of life. He never questioned
his place, his lack of an education or even the existence of anything outside
their valley where three great rivers meet. Wang Po and his wife felt truly
blessed to have a son who was such a good worker, but also of a disposition
so gentle and so filially pious. For the first time their farm was lucrative and
they became the wealthiest farm in the entire province, the envy of their
neighbours, all thanks to Xiao Ji; their little miracle.
One autumn morning, on a day when the cockerels forgot to crow and the
birds refused to sing, Xiao Ji was at work in the fields wondering why the
butterflies were given such beautiful markings but no talent for music, whilst
the birds had such beautiful singing voices but such drab, brown feathers
and other animals such as the oxen seemed to be given very little in the way
of gifts. He pitied the oxen, poor burdened beasts, only good for pulling or
carrying, not loved for their beauty or song, but only used for their physical
strength, never thanked, barely appreciated. He was dragged forcefully from
his ponderings, however by screams of surprise and terror. A stranger to the
valley had wandered by accident into his field and startled by the sight of this
man who by then measured a full fifteen feet in height, the scream escaped
from her throat before she could suppress it. Xiao Ji, worried that the woman
was in some kind of pain or distress advanced towards her in case he could
help her. Feeling the very ground beneath her shake at each of his
thundering steps the woman took flight, running as one flees from the devil
in a nightmare, not daring to slow down or even look back. Xiao Ji found this
all very odd, but perhaps the woman had forgotten something very important
she had to do back at home, and she obviously wasn‘t injured, so he got
back to his work and continued his mournful musings about the misfortunes
of cattle.
A few days passed as most days passed in the valley; nothing out of the
ordinary, no great events either fortunate or unfortunate. On the fourth day
however a great commotion could be heard from around the time Xiao Ji
was about to stop for lunch, faint at first but steadily growing in volume. On
the horizon could just be observed a hazy cloud, resembling to a degree a
swarm of wasps or locusts, heading towards their village. By the time the
faces of the crowd could be seen, their cries had also become audible, ―This
way to the giant man‖ and ―Not long till we‘ll see the ogre!‖ Xiao Po and his
wife, disturbed by the cacophony, ventured out to see just who these
invaders to their quiet little home were. ―Please,‖ Wang Po started when an
eerie hush fell over the crowd, ―tell me what have you all come to our village
for? There is no market today, and we‘ve nothing valuable to be bought.‖
―We‘ve come to see the giant man!‖ cried a man from the crowd. He had not
a hair on his head, but a long wispy beard which he thought made him look
distinguished. ―My wife found him in a field near here when she lost her way,
and we‘ve come to see him with our own eyes.‖ Ling Ling stepped forward,
―You must be talking about Xiao Ji, our son. He is neither a giant, nor an
ogre; just tall of stature and broad shouldered.‖ The crowd would not be
convinced however and they marched into the fields to find the giant
themselves. As soon as they neared Xiao Ji there were shouts of
amazement and awe. The children roared with laughter, the women
squealed with shock and the men made all manner of noises to voice their
disbelief. When Xiao Ji picked up in one hand an elderly buffalo which had
gone lame in the field, it proved simply too much for the rabble. Shouts of
―he has the strength of ten men!‖ and ―go on ogre! Show us what else you
can do!‖ flooded over Xiao Ji and he grew desperately afraid. He sat down
where he was, laying the buffalo gently by his side and hid his face in his
hands. He couldn‘t face the sea of tiny faces firing darts of commands his
way. It was several hours before the crowds got bored and dispersed and
dusk was falling over the farm. There was not even a trace of moonlight that
night, and the stars made no appearance. Xiao Ji would remember it as the
darkest he had ever experienced.
Word about the great ogre who lived in the valley where three great rivers
meet, spread like a malady throughout the region. People flocked in their
hundreds to see for themselves if the stories were true and to witness first
hand Xiao Ji‘s feats of superhuman strength. Wang Po, ever eager to
increase his income began to charge admission for those who wanted to see
Xiao Ji for themselves, and people gladly paid, after all this creature was
unique in the world. The peace and solitude in which Xiao Ji had been raised
were destroyed; no more could he sit in the evening and talk with the
animals of the valley, no more could he work undisturbed on the farm and
his own thoughts were not nearly loud enough to be heard above the din of
crowds eager to see him. He began to spend more and more time in the
forest, far from hungry eyes, far from the yells and screams, far from the
place he had once called home. Wang Po and his wife however, were
making more money than they had ever dreamed possible, and they were
not prepared to let Xiao Ji‘s selfish partiality for quiet destroy their newly
found wealth. One night when Xiao Ji returned to the fields to sleep under
the stars, Wang Po secured a thick iron chain around Xiao Ji‘s ankle and
attached the other end to a gigantic oak tree, which had stood by the house
for as long as the rivers had flowed through the valley. When Xiao Ji awoke
he found himself trapped. Strong as he was he was still unable to uproot
such an enormous tree, whose branches towered over even him.
For many decades he stayed in his field, chained to the oak tree for the
many thousands of people who came to see him. His parents grew very rich
and made sure that he was fed and cleaned and always looking his best for
the crowds. The name of Xiao Ji was quickly forgotten and he just became
known as Da Ju; the Giant. Surviving in such a state, starved of love,
neglected of affection beyond recognition, Xiao Ji sat down one day with his
great arms reaching up to heaven and declared to powers greater than
himself that he not only did not fear death, but welcomed it. He begged for
the compassion which had never been shown him, and enough pity to be
released from his world of incarceration. The next morning when Wang Po
arose and went to wash and feed his son, he found that Xiao Ji was no
longer there. In his place he found a large stone statue of a man, over fifteen
feet in height, kneeling down with his arms thrown up to heaven.
Many centuries passed, as time has a habit of doing, and the giant of the
valley where three great rivers meet became nothing more than a vague
myth, just a half-remembered legend on the breath of the wind. Many
hundreds of miles away in a desert land of caravans and palms, a circus
performer named Gao Yibing gave birth to a baby girl after nearly 11 months
of pregnancy. It was feared for a time that she actually had some evil
growing inside her, reluctant to show its face, but her baby girl was
eventually delivered on a warm night in autumn. The infant was so tiny that
she could fit comfortably in her father‘s outstretched hand, and even at the
age of five was carried around town in her mother‘s top pocket. She was
named Gao Rexin.
Due to her height of only 8 inches, her mother planned for her to be part of
her circus act and as a toddler Gao Rexin learned to sing and dance, and
balance on the end of mother‘s nose. Her grandmother, unwilling for her tiny
grandchild to suffer the same pitiful existence from which she herself and her
daughter were unable to escape, stole Gao Rexin away one night shortly
after her sixteenth birthday and wrapped her securely in a silk scarf. She told
her granddaughter to go to some faraway place where nobody knew her and
to start a new life. She kissed her, tied her to the back of a heron with a
parcel of food and a small jig of water and bade her farewell, muttering a
silent prayer to the heavens.
Far and fast the heron flew, heading south over the mountains and plateaus,
past forest and lakes, rivers and swamps for six days and six nights. On the
seventh night however the weather turned and the bird got stuck in a storm.
Wind lashed the poor heron‘s wings and Gao Rexin fell loose off its back,
falling fast and landed hard on a large flat rock. Huddled in her scarf serving
as a blanket she closed her eyes as best she could to the storm and waited
for daylight. When the sun arose and the mist cleared she found herself lying
not on a flat rock as she had thought, but on the outstretched palm of a giant
stone statue measuring over fifteen feet in height. He was covered in a great
cloak of moss and weeds decorated his features. Looking down at the face
of the statue she was overcome by an unspeakable sadness which she
could not explain. He seemed so very forlorn and unloved, forgotten and
neglected by the world and it moved Gao Rexin so that she gave way to
tears. She wept from her very soul, large tears from tiny eyes cascading
down the giant‘s forearm and running to the ground. She let her love pour in
a torrent down over his huge figure, weeping for the giant‘s plight with such
ferocity that she became exhausted and had to lay down to sleep. Laying
herself down, her head pressed to the giant‘s palm she heard a low, dull
thud, like a drum beating in the back of her memory. As she listened it got
stronger and quicker, becoming a dull boom, shaking the palm. She felt the
stone soften and become smooth and the fingers wrapped themselves
around her with the gentleness of morning dew wrapping itself round a blade
of grass. Xiao Ji, human again, looked down at the tiny figure of Gao Rexin
whose compassion had saved him and his eyes, speaking more articulately
than his mouth possibly could have thanked her with all his reawakened
heart for her kindness and love.
A Life in Ninety Minutes
by Sophie Bane
Pete straightened his tie and swallowed. He steadied his hands, forcing
himself to look anywhere except the sixty pairs of eyes staring intently at
him. He inhaled and exhaled slowly, regulating his breathing, and began.
‗When I first read that Birmingham City Football Club were going to start
providing funerals, I knew this day would come. I knew that my father would
be first in line, if only to irritate those friends of his who would consider it
tasteless. I also knew that it would be left to me to explain his decision when
he‘d gone, so thanks for that, Dad,‘ Pete addressed the blue and white
covered coffin directly, to the subdued amusement of the mourners.
‗Actually, I think this might be one of those rare occasions when the phrase
―it‘s what he would have wanted‖ can be used sincerely. You‘ll notice, of
course, that this service is not taking place in a church, which I‘m sure is no
surprise to anyone who knew Eddie. I‘m not going to argue that football was
Dad‘s religion – that‘s quite a glib statement to make, and insulting, I‘m sure,
to people of faith. In some respects, though, it did provide some of the
functions of a religion. Not the comforting aspect, or the joy of prayers
answered of course - we‘re talking about entirely the wrong football club for
that. But I think that Birmingham City was, for my Dad, a constant, a
touchstone, something to go back to when he needed it. Whatever else was
happening in life, he knew that at 3pm on a Saturday, for those ninety
minutes, all that mattered was what happened on the pitch.
I think the emcee from the film Cabaret put it best, when he said: ―Leave
your troubles outside. So, life is disappointing? Forget it. In here, life is
beautiful.‖ Now, at St Andrews, life is rarely beautiful, and it‘s frequently
disappointing, but that is always fleeting. However bad the performance,
there is always the opportunity for redemption in the next game, or the next
season. Nothing is ever final down the Blues. It‘s what makes us go back,
week after week. Because there is no place more hopeful than a football
ground before kick-off, where truly anything is possible – you might win 7-0,
as we did memorably against Stoke in ‗98. Or you might lose 7-0, as we did
to Liverpool one night in 2006, when no Bluenose actually stayed to see the
seventh goal.
They say that possibility is the basis of gambling addictions. If you win every
single time and then hit a losing streak, you‘ll give up. But if the wins are
intermittent, the moments of joy and despair sporadic and unpredictable,
then you‘ll keep going back, because any one spin of the wheel or turn of the
card could be the Big One. I‘m sure that anyone who‘s felt the adrenalin of
the 93 minute winner, or the moment when you know you‘ve won
promotion, will know that it is the power of these fleeting moments that keep
an entire football league alive.
For me, it is difficult to even think about my Dad without thinking about
football. For a start, I wouldn‘t be standing here at all if it wasn‘t for the
Blues. My Mom was a barmaid in Dad‘s pre-match local during the ‗55-‗56
season. He flirted with her every week, and every week she played hard to
get. Eventually, he made a deal with her – if Blues won the FA Cup (they
had just got through the quarter-finals, so it wasn‘t as far-fetched as it
sounds) then he could take her for a drink. Nobody in Birmingham was more
dismayed than my father when Manchester City lifted the Cup at Wembley,
and Blues had to settle for the runner-up medals. Fortunately, however, he
looked so pathetic the next time he went in to the pub that my mother took
pity on him, accepted his invitation anyway, and married him eighteen
months later. Dad always used to say that the Blues‘ legendary inability to
win anything was actually the best thing to happen to him.
Of course, as children, my brother Rob and I were brainwashed, my father
taking us down to St Andrews before we were tall enough to see what was
going on. That was the way we spent every other Saturday afternoon, and
we loved every second of it. We were sworn to secrecy about Dad‘s bets
before each match. He always put money on the Blues to win, even when
our form was atrocious, because he taught us that you never, ever bet
against your team. We were also allowed one swig of his half-time pint, and
again told not to tell our mother, these minor conspiracies serving to forge
even stronger bonds between us. Later in life, when I realised that my father
and I were too similar in many respects, when our relationship began to
falter and he didn‘t agree with some of my choices, I was thankful to him for
those early experiences. They meant that, however many cross words were
exchanged, however many times one of us refused to back down even
though we knew the other was right, we could always start our next
conversation afresh, on neutral ground, talking about the fortunes of the
I think this form of emotional escapism was part of football‘s appeal for Dad.
He was a more sensitive man than he ever liked to admit, and so he would
never talk about his feelings. He would use his Saturday afternoons to
escape from what was happening in his life, difficulties that were too hard to
talk about. Two such occasions in particular stand out for me. The first was
back in the seventies, when his sign-writing business failed and he had to
lay off his staff. I know how much that hurt him. I saw how he hated having
to tell them all that day, and I saw how broken he was by the idea that he
had failed his family and his employees. I went with him to the game that
Saturday, as much to keep an eye on him as to watch the match. We
walked up the hill to St Andrew‘s in silence. Our walk to the ground was
usually taken up with talking about the last match, our chances today, who
should play, the same conversations as are had by thousands of fans on the
approaches to hundreds of grounds. But not that day. He was hunched, the
collar of his coat pulled up round his ears and his cap pulled down so that I
could barely see his eyes, like he was trying to be invisible, anonymous. I
tried to make conversation with him, and he wasn‘t interested.
But as we entered the ground, I saw a change in him. Nothing dramatic,
nothing magical, but a gradual unfurling of his frame so that he sat up
straight again. A smile as he managed to make out the abuse that the Blues
fans were singing at their opposite numbers. Joining in with the rendition of
‗Keep Right On‘ that started every home game. And then, as the game
progressed, getting more and more vocal towards the players, encouraging
them when they went on a run, cheering a shot on goal, gasping when they
hit the post, and berating their defensive mistakes. And, more than
anything, acting as if all of that really mattered. Here was a man broken by
the world outside, and yet he spent ninety minutes concentrating so hard on
urging his team to victory that he could forget himself.
It served the same purpose for him during my mother‘s illness. I know there
were some people who thought my father a cruel and heartless man for
continuing to go down the Blues while my mother was having chemotherapy.
But let me tell you, my mother never thought like that. She knew him, and
she knew what he needed. Those of you who were fortunate enough to
have known Margaret will be well aware that Eddie would not have dared to
do anything without her blessing, and she always gave it for the Blues. She
had shared him with the team for forty-five years, working our family life
around the oracle that was the Birmingham City fixture list taped to the wall
of our kitchen. She would go to social events alone, she would re-arrange
dinner dates if they clashed with cup games, she would ask her friends to
babysit if she wanted to go anywhere on a Saturday. My mother knew the
score about most things, and football was no exception – she knew that if he
wasn‘t at the match physically, he would be mentally anyway. On the few
occasions that she couldn‘t rearrange commitments, Dad was almost mute
until he could find a payphone and find out what the score was. If her
friends ever questioned why she put up with his ‗obsession‘, she used to
laugh and say that if it wasn‘t for his obsession, they would never have met
in the first place.
But I think she also knew what his team meant to him, and how cathartic he
found that escape. They both knew, towards the end, that he needed some
time when he didn‘t have to talk about prognoses, and where nobody was
going to give him a sympathetic smile and shoulder squeeze when they
asked him how he was. Bill Shankley, the late great Liverpool manager, is
often quoted as saying that ―Football is not a matter of life and death. It‘s
much more important than that.‖ For my Dad, the importance of football lay
in its distance from life and death – for ninety minutes, it was more important,
because that was the only way to stave off the consequences of both life
and death.
Because the other aspect that my father appreciated during those dark times
was the anonymity. He knew that the men he sat next to for years had very
little idea what his life was like outside of those Saturday afternoons, and
that was the way he liked it – nobody was going to ask him how she was,
and he would never be forced to vocalise how little time she had left. There
was a man with a thick Scottish accent who sat two rows in front of my father
for about fifteen years. Not only did my Dad not know what drove a
Scotsman to support Birmingham so religiously for so long, he also didn‘t
know the man‘s real name, and had been referring to him as ‗Jock‘ for over a
decade. It didn‘t matter; nobody knew anything about their fellow fans, and
nobody asked. They didn‘t need to know about the lives of others, discarded
at the turnstile to be collected at the final whistle.
The only thing that counted was how you related to the match. If you had an
insight into a particular player, he‘d listen to you more closely in future. If
you knew the staff at the training ground, you‘d become his most useful
source of gossip, oft-quoted in the pub. If you made a stupid comment, he
would imitate you at the dinner table later on for our amusement. You
surrender your status in a football ground, and a new societal pecking order
is established, where the middle-classes with their prawn sandwiches are
ridiculed rather than respected, and minimum wage earners can lead a cast
of thousands, provided they can get a chant going. Anyone can be a hero in
the stands, just as on the pitch. My father, a staunch trade union man who
had suffered, along with his family, for his principles, liked that the class and
status of the unjust social order were suspended for ninety minutes.
Dad revelled in the identity that he adopted as he went through the turnstile.
There was a shorthand there, things that he never had to explain; the sense
of dread whenever Blues were leading, right up until the final whistle,
because we were once 4-1 up against Swindon and lost 6-4. Or the
assumption that any team, in any cup, however many league places below
us, was a potential banana skin and we would be lucky to win. There were
some positives to that shared history as well – the way he became more
animated when we talked about the legendary Trevor Francis- Bob Latchford
partnership we witnessed in the early seventies, the tears in his eyes when
Darren Carter scored the penalty to send the Blues into the Premiership for
the first time. And, of course, the road to that 1956 Cup Final, which got him
the girl if not the trophy.
He loved the fact that our club song is not about glory, or success, but about
perseverance in the face of adversity – ―Keep right on to the end of the
road.‖ He always used to tell me that I could do worse than follow that
advice in my own life, and I think he was right. For what other option is there
but to keep right on, like he did? His politics changed over the years, as
different men in suits made him believe their lies. His taste in music
changed also, listening to the nineties Britpop his grandsons introduced him
to alongside his Rat Pack and his crooners. His love of comedy was an
always moving feast, from the surrealism of the Goons through Monty
Python, the Good Life, Blackadder, Father Ted, and then back to the surreal
Mighty Boosh, which nobody of his age should have appreciated and
nobody else in the nursing home understood. But amidst all the changes in
taste and fashion, the one thing that was unshakeable was his commitment
to his team. His support and his interest never wavered, not once. He knew
the most important rule of football: you can change your politics, you can
change your religion, you can change your wife – but you can never, ever
change your football team. And nor should you want to.
Ladies and gentleman, I‘d like to thank you all for coming today, I‘m sure my
Dad would be touched that you wanted to pay your respects. I hope that
those of you who didn‘t agree with his last wishes at least understand them.
Because my Dad, and the thousands of other men in this city like him, are
the heartbeat of Birmingham City Football Club, and it‘s only right that,
having given so much of their lives to their team, they are able to express
their commitment in death. I‘d like to ask you to have a drink on Eddie Mann
this afternoon, as loyal a Bluenose as you could find, and a great loss to the
St Andrew‘s faithful.‘
The Sacred Word
by Grigorios Galiatsato
Acropolis; The centre of Ancient Athens. Parthenon; One of the most
important remnants of ancient Greece. Monuments of an era long passed.
After 2500 years of past glory, two Greek friends have their frappe coffees at
a coffee shop placed on the site around acropolis.
―I was always wondering Mihali‖, Costas said breaking the silence. ―What is
the origin of the word malakal? When was it used for the first time in
―I don't know‖, Mihalis answered indifferently.
―Then you are malakas!‖, Costas said to Mihalis.
―And you are a big malakas", Mihalis shot back angrily.
―Perhaps I am... ‖, Costas nodded in agreement. ―..but you are an even
bigger malakas than I am! ‖
―Whatever you say malaka.. ‖, Mihalis said.
The two Greek friends continued drinking their coffee drinks, changing the
subject of conversation. After the word malakas was said 389 times, or after
22.5 minutes(meaning that on an average Greek conversation, the word
malakas is heard about 17 times per minute), the time came to leave. While
they were walking, something awkward and unexpected happened. Mihalis
stopped and yawned.
―What's wrong malaka?‖ Costas asked. Then he yawned too.
―That frappe made me sleepy... ‖, Mihalis replied.
They kneeled and fell on the ground, feeling unable to move from tiredness.
―That frappe was a BIG malakia‖, Costas said and Morpheus took them to
the kingdom of dreams.
Costas woke up first, his eyes opening slightly and then shutting tight again,
as they had made direct contact with the sun. It must have been afternoon.
Like a spring detached from its metal hook, he jumped on his feet and saw
Mihalis next to him. He also began to wake up.
―Where are we?‖, Mihalis asked, slowly returning to consciousness.
―I have no idea malaka‖, Costas replied turning his head left and right. ―It
seems that we are on top of a hill...‖
He made a 180 degree turn and the sight of what he saw shocked him.
―Malaka! Get up! You won't believe your eyes!‖
Mihalis stood up and looked at where Costas stared. His eyes opened wide
from surprise. The Parthenon was standing in front of them. But not ancient
anymore. Its slightly angular columns looked unweathered by time. A
wooden roof covered the temple, providing shelter from the cold and the
rain. It was like someone had renewed it. Or maybe they were dreaming…
―Mihali, this is The Parthenon as it would have been in ancient times! What is
going on here? ‖
Mihalis looked thoughtful and didn't answer immediately. After a few
seconds he shouted:
―Eureka2!!‖, and then he continued speaking, his voice becoming less loud:
―You know Costa, I am beginning to believe that we have travelled to the
―That is unbelievable!‖, Costas replied. ―What can we do now?"
―Well, we should try to adapt in our new environment! Come on! Let's head
for the city malaka!‖
They walked down the stairs, eager with anticipation to meet their
forefathers. None of the two noticed a mysterious human figure hiding
behind one of the front columns of the Parthenon and waiting for them to
Upon reaching the streets of Athens, Mihalis confirmed his earlier
assumption of travelling to the past; Ancient Atheneans were walking to the
streets of the city, wearing light clothes and sandals. They looked like
malakes with ancient clothing. They WERE malakes with ancient clothing.
Costas and Mihalis were meandering around the city market at the centre of
ancient Athens. Suddenly, a loud voice caught Costas' attention. In the
distance he saw an old man speaking in ancient Greek. People were sitting
in a circle around him, hearing his words. Costas and Mihalis moved towards
the man and entered the circle.
Although they could not understand exactly what the man was saying, they
felt relaxed and comfortable just by hearing him. When the ancient lecturer's
speech came to an end, Costas and Mihalis approached him.
―You don't look like you are from here. Are you outlanders? ‖, the old man
asked them in ancient Greek. He spoke slowly and surprising enough, the
two Greeks could understand him. Maybe there were not so many
differences between the two languages. Or maybe Costas and Mihalis
attended their ancient Greek modules on high school...
―We are Greeks from the future!‖, Mihalis replied.
―Greeks from the future?!?‖, the old man said surprised.
―Yes! Isn't it strange?!?‖ Mihalis said. The old man looked puzzled for a
while, then he said calmly:
―Now that I think about it, it is not strange. Everything is possible in life.‖
―And who are you?‖, Costas asked.
―I am Socrates.‖
―You mean THE Socrates?‖ Mihalis asked with eyes wide open.
―Yes, I am Socrates the philosopher. And I know one thing... ‖
―...that you know nothing?‖, Mihalis completed Socrates' well known quote.
Or at least that was what HE thought.
―No!!‖ Socrates argued angrily.
―How could I know one thing if I know nothing?? That just doesn't make any
sense! Who would think of something like that???‖
―As I was saying before, I know one thing, and that is that humanity is in
―What?!?‖, they both replied simultaneously.
―Yes, all of the civilized world is in peril!"
―But how??‖
―It is Plato..‖
Socrates explained the situation to Costas and Mihalis. They learned that
several years ago, Plato, the student of Socrates became mad. One day,
they had dinner with the fat king Leonidas of Sparta, who weighted 300 kilograms. Accidentally, king Leonidas dripped some wine on the floor, and
Plato, who was feeling hungry and wanted a second plate of food, slipped
over the wine and his plate fell on his head. The hit made him lose his sanity.
―Cursed Leonidas..‖ Socrates whispered. ―May he gain 100 kilograms more
and fart every day from dysentery!!‖
Socrates continued his explanation. He told them that Plato later created an
imaginary world, called the Shadow World. This world gave him magical
powers so potent, that he could destroy the real world! Any day now he
would strike, and the people were waiting for him to do so.
When Socrates finished his last sentence, it happened. Grey clouds covered
the sky and the lightning‘s cracking thundering reached everyone's ears. A
strange hot wind blew on their faces, and they all instinctively knew that the
wind's source was Acropolis itself!
―It is Plato!!‖ Socrates shouted in desperation. ―He has began his attack!‖
―Oh No!! What can we do?‖
―We must try to stop him! Follow me!‖
Faster than the god of speed Mercury himself, they made their way to
When they reached the temple, the sight was terrifying: Plato sat on the
stairs of the Parthenon and was surrounded by Athens' militia troops, who
ready to attack and kill him with their pointed long spears and sharp bladed
swords. The troops looked like malakes with helmets. Plato himself looked
like an evil malaka.
―Attack!!!‖ said the captain of the militia.
Before any of the soldiers could move, Socrates shouted with a voice so
loud, that could be heard all through Athens.
―Stay this madness! Weapons can not defeat Plato! You are heading
towards your doom!‖ The troops held their ground and Socrates, to Plato's
surprise broke through the lines of the militia guards and approached him.
―I will not let you destroy the civilized world!‖ Socrates said to Plato angrily.
―And who is going to stop me?‖ Plato answered. A sinister smile formed on
his lips.
―Me!!‖ Socrates said and his eyes sparkled. ―I challenge you in a match of
Immortal Combat!!‖
The Athenean troops awed in astonishment. Nobody would expect that.
―But what is this ―Immortal Combat?‖ Mihalis asked the captain of the militia
who looked like a malaka.
―It is a form of intellectual fighting, known only by the great philosophers of
the world!‖, the Captain replied hastily. ―Plato and Socrates are masters in
this form of fighting!‖
―How is it fought?‖
―The people involved in the fighting tell each other quotes!
The one that says the most powerful quote, wins the fight and his quotations
are then immortalized through time!‖
Plato smiled showing his yellow unbrushed diabolical teeth. Well, they didn't
have Colgate then, sorry.
―Challenge accepted‖, he said confident.
The two figures stood against each other outside of the temple. Only silence
could be heard. Socrates looking calm and diligent, and Plato evil and
malakas. Plato attacked first. Waving his hands towards Socrates, he
unleashed a shear dark purple wave of mental energy.
Socrates pointed his hands towards Plato and in return, unleashed a white
wave of mental energy. Something like a mental toothpaste...
The forces collided and counter-reacted with each other, merging at the
centre of their in-between distance and balancing after a few minor
palindromic distortions. They were ready to begin their fight.
―The truth is one, and it is that which we all agree to!!!‖, Socrates said
attacking first.
A ray of light pierced the clouds and lightened up acropolis. Socrates' mental
energies grew and the shear force became so strong that made Plato kneel.
Socrates started walking towards Plato but then at the same time, the falling
sun made Socrates' shadow become elongated and it covered Plato. The
shadow gave Plato new powers and he stood up, ready to attack again!
―Yes!! Hide the sun from me!‖, he shouted.
―HEY! That's not your quote!!‖, Socrates said caught off-guard. A rule of this
game was not to use other's philosophers' quotes. But Plato cheated and
made Socrates look like a malaka. A huge amount of energy exploded from
Plato's hands and headed towards Socrates. The wave was so intense that
overpowered Socrates and threw him to the ground. He fell down almost
unconscious. Plato walked near him. He said: ―Honesty is for the most part
less profitable than dishonesty8. You should have known that, ex-master!‖
Plato opened his hand to finish Socrates. At that moment, Mihalis and
Costas decided to help. They charged at Plato shouting. Plato noticed them
coming and laughed, ignoring them.
―MALAKAAAAAA!!!‖ Costas said enraged.
Unbelievably or not, this had an unexpected effect on Plato. He froze on
place, unable to move.
―Malaka?? ‖,he said. ―What kind of a quote is that? I cannot understand it!!".
Plato seemed thoughtful, trying to figure out its meaning.
Mihalis and Costas stood between Socrates and Plato, giving time for
Socrates to recover. When he did, he told the two modern Greeks to stand
aside. He looked at Plato, ready for the killing blow:
―I know one thing! And that is...‖, Socrates screamed and a sphere of
powerful energy concentrated at the base of his palms.
―Nooo... ‖, Plato said in silent terror. He got lost trying to understand what
malaka meant and his defences at that point were down. He couldn't
concentrate fast enough to block the incoming attack. Socrates finished his
―..that you know nothing malaka!!!‖
A huge blast of energy exploded from Socrates' palms and struck Plato,
lifting him in the air. Plato screamed in agony but couldn't resist the
magnitude of the force. He fell to the ground unconscious. Initially, Mihalis
and Costas thought that Plato was dead. But that was not the case. Plato
slowly lifted his head. His eyes opened, but there wasn't left inside any of the
old malice. He was still malakas, but not evil.
―Master? ‖ he said to Socrates, ―I am cured!‖
―Yes, I know you are! ‖ Socrates said happily.
He turned to the two Greek heroes:
―How can I ever thank you?‖
―Just take us back to our timeline‖
―I will do it, but first let me ask you a question; what does the word malaka
―Everybody knows about it in modern Greece. It means ―asshole‖
―Really? I see that philosophy has reached a higher level in modern Greece.
And it has become more simple! No abstract thinking! Mundanity rules!‖
―Yes! ‖, Plato said and added ―We should try to think more like that. More...‖
―Like malakes?‖ Costas asked.
―Yes, but not exactly like that..maybe logically! More logically is the right
word! ‖
―I should speak to young Aristotle about this concept! He might go for
something big!!‖
―Yes! And the word malaka will be immortalized through history! We shall
look into it!‖ Socrates said.
Then he and Plato left. Before leaving, they told Costas and Mihalis to go
and sleep inside the Parthenon and they would travel to their timeline to the
future. And so they did.
―Malaka!‖ Costas said as he awoke from his deep sleep.
―Where are we now?‖ It was morning. They were at the Acropolis. The
Parthenon looked ancient again.
―I guess that now you know when the word malaka was used for the first
time in history and why it is used until today..‖ Mihalis said.
―Do you mean malaka that you and me used the word malaka for the first
time in history, and then it became immortalized through immortal
―From what it seems... that's the truth..‖
They started going home. Suddenly, Costas began laughing.
―What's wrong? ‖, Mihalis said not knowing what it was about. Realizing what
had happened, Costas said astonished:
―...maaaalaka... ‖
1 = ―Malakas‖ is the most commonly used word in modern Greek slang. It literally
means ..hemm... ―asshole‖. Not literally, but as one would say that to another person
(E.g. ―Hey! Watch your step, asshole!‖). Its range of use is immense. Its 2 most
common uses are between friends as a form of endearment and between strangers
as a way of demeaning.
2 = ―Eureka‖ is what Archimedes said when he discovered the famous law of
3 = Socrates' most famous quote, ―I know one thing, that I know nothing‖. Here
Socrates obviously hadn't thought about it yet;)
4 = Plato, Socrates' student and master of Aristotle. He is considered as one of the
greatest philosophers of all time. For satirical purposes, he is the villain of this short
5 = King Leonidas, the Spartan king who with his 300 Spartans held off Xerxes army
at the hot gates! In this story of course, his 300kg body could hold off the Persians
6 = One of Socrates' well known quotes. Socrates believed in a universal form of
truth, one that was widely acceptable by all living beings. His opponents, the Sofistes,
believed the opposite; that there was no universal truth, and that truth changed
depending on the angle from where one is looking a situation.
7 = ―Don't hide the sun from me‖, was what Diogenis the cynical philosopher told
Alexander the Great when he went to meet him for counselling. It is said that after
their conversation, Alexander told Diogenis that if he wasn't Alexander, he would like
to be Diogenis.
8 = One of Plato's quotes, true even on contemporary times.
9 = Aristotle, student of Plato and master of Alexander the Great, was the founder of
Tentacles in the sky
by Karl Martin Duke
The torch was lit and with a brilliant flash the camera caught the flame-yellow
face of Annika. Her eyes serenely searching the crowd as the moment
stretched out in the infinity of a photograph.
Placing the camera in my coat pocket, I took a few steps toward her. At the
same time more torches were lit all around us, sprinkling the snow-covered
ground with short-lived particles, falling through the air like shooting stars.
She gave me the torch without looking at me, saying: ―I can‘t see him. We
should try to find him.‖ Then suddenly she turned to me, smiling as if
remembering something important that she has been thinking about for
some time.
―Let me see the photograph.‖
I gave her the camera and as she was looking at the picture her eyebrows
twitched slightly, and the cloud of her breath seemed to linger for a longer
time than usual in front of her mouth. I could see how her breath formed
different contours and shapes, as thoughts and memories collided in her
mind: the unelasticity of worry, the softness of delight, the jaggedness of
pain. Her breath was a map to her mind and I had gradually learned how to
navigate its hills and valleys.
―Got you!‖
Preoccupied as I was by Annika‘s breath, I had not noticed that she had
pointed the camera at me and quickly taken a photograph of me.
―You keep photographing everyone, but no one ever photographs you. Don‘t
you like it? But now, for the first time ever, there‘s solid and irrefutable
evidence that you actually exist! The capture will read: A photograph of
Andreas, Walpurgis Night, Sundsvall. I will post it tomorrow. You have to see
the picture; it seems as if you are investigating something important.‖
She handed the camera back to me. Indeed she had captured me in the
midst of my examination of her breath.
―I can‘t see him anywhere. We should move around in the crowd to see if we
can find him.‖
The crowd had grown from around forty when we got there to well over two
hundred people. Almost everyone was carrying a torch. The crowd‘s
torrential murmur tore the fabric of the air and made it ripple and fluctuate.
Their voices were burls through which I slowly paved a way in order to follow
Annika, who easily found hidden short-cuts, unknown to most people.
Snow began falling gently as an indistinct song rose from discrete places
and formed revolving tentacles, which combined the singers into a single
entity. I saw how the snow flakes were shuffled around by the tentacles, and
sometimes merging with them, creating a song filled with the sound of the
prolonged winter. I directed my camera towards the spectacle in the night
sky and photographed it; however, before closing my left eye I caught a
glimpse of a man stuck inside the tornado that was the song‘s revolving
After taking the photograph I tried to see the man again, but the snowfall had
increased dramatically, making all observations of the tentacles in the sky
futile. Nonetheless, I remained on the spot, trying the best I could to detect
him once again. All around me people started moving in unison away from
the field where we had assembled. Somewhere in the distance I heard a
woman talking in a megaphone, but I could not separate her voice from
sound of the myriad of steps which trampled the new-fallen snow firm,
leaving their shoeprints as sole evidence of the gathering.
As each person took another step away from me, the song diminished in
strength; however, the ripples in the air followed the crowd, which now had
formed itself into a procession, and appeared as smoke from a locomotive‘s
smokestack. The concoction of singing, air and snow became a whirling and
glowing snake that dissolved when it left the airspace of the procession.
Suddenly I remembered Annika, who probably was somewhere in the crowd,
examining every face as she made her way to the front. Noticing that I was
the only one left on the field, I hurried to close the gap between me and the
procession; the torch lighting my way.
Running on the thin surface of untrampled snow that lay as a membrane
over the grass, I quickly reached the others. I was enveloped by the
undulating song and felt how my breast swelled in anticipation of the lyrics,
finding it hard to resist joining in. A hand grabbed my right arm, snapping me
out of my reveries.
―Where were you? I‘ve been looking all over. Did you see him?‖ Annika‘s
eyes glowed like two furnaces, diminishing the light from my torch. ―Have
you even looked for him, or did you just find something to photograph as
usual? You can‘t just think about yourself. This is important.‖ She let go of
my arm and returned into the crowd. I followed her as if on a leash.
The warmth inside the procession was a shower of hot air and tepid sound.
Once again the song filled me with an irresistible desire to assimilate my
voice with the ambulating choir, which made its way through the outskirts of
the city. For every breath my lungs were increasingly more saturated by the
voices and my vocal chord anticipated being used.
―Look, there, maybe that‘s him.‖
Annika dragged me with her as she hastened to catch up with a man walking
a few meters away from us. When we got closer she immediately saw that it
was not him. ―What should we do? We have to find him. It‘s getting late and I
want him to be here.‖
Picking up pace, the procession started moving faster as if they all formed of
a single mind which instantly could transfer its directives to each individual.
Annika and I remained largely unaffected by the lure of the hive as we
searched the faces of the men in our vicinity.
Every once in a while I looked up, hoping to see the man within the whirlwind
of song and air. I imagined him dancing to the song that created him, on a
stage of turbulent air, ever-shifting, ever-moving. He would be dressed in a
costume of melody and rhythm that changed its colors and shapes in
accordance with the multitude of singers. Their voices, cascading over him,
surging into him, would mix in him memory and desire, which he later would
interpret as movements, as dancing. Not seeing him I saw him in the
fluctuating trail above our heads.
I wanted to let Annika know that the man we ought to be looking for would
not be revealed by looking into people‘s faces, but instead by searching the
mixture of air and song which floated over us. However, her face did not
express the required serenity for processing that kind of information. Instead
her face shifted from an overwhelming calm to a tumultuous despair within a
fraction of a second every time we came close to someone who might be
him. I saw how her eyes became increasingly narrower as she moved
toward the potential and then expanded uncontrollably when she realized
that it was not him. The bewilderment of seeing someone else left jagged
pieces of disappointment in her eyes, which were like reflexes that showed
her escalating discouragement.
I managed to take two photographs of Annika – one where her serenity had
reached a zenith and one where her face was a mirror of deepest concern –
before she scolded me for not focusing on our task.
As we got closer to the front of the procession, it suddenly broke up and the
crowd scattered once again over a field. They tentatively formed a circle
around a large and unlit bonfire. They raised their voices as they sang the
chorus over and over. Above their heads the tentacles appeared. As the
song grew stronger and stronger, the tentacles drew closer and closer to
every singing person on the field. Eventually, a tentacle attached itself to the
mouth of every singer. When this happened the tentacles began swelling,
feeding the cloud from which they emanated, making it expand and
transform itself into different geometrical shapes.
Gradually I realized what was happening. Inside the transparent tentacles
thin and almost imperceptible smoke rose. When the smoke reached the
summit it formed shadows of the people who were linked to the tentacles.
These shadows began moving around in the cloud. Sometimes they walked
into each other, merging, creating grotesque figures. Regardless of what
was happening above, the singing never ceased; instead it seemed to
increase in volume and intensity. Everyone was still moving around as usual
on the field, acting as if everything was normal, except that they had
tentacles attached to their faces.
Then I saw him, standing there, looking at me. At first I could not believe my
eyes or that I had finally found him. We had been searching for him for so
long that I had begun losing hope. But he was standing there, looking at me
from behind the fluctuating wall of the cloud above our heads. He was not a
shadow, like the others, or grotesquely tied together with someone else;
instead he had retained his body and seemed in all aspects identical to the
man I and Annika were searching for. When he noticed that I had seen him,
he waved, as if beckoning me to join him.
Once again I had lost sight of Annika, who had scurried away somewhere
just when I had found the man she was looking for. Always keeping an eye
on the cloud to ensure that he was still there, I went around the crowd trying
to find Annika.
Everyone from the procession had now assembled around the unlit bonfire.
They were looking at the heap of inflammable garbage, consisting of planks,
old furniture, twigs, trees, which they had come to set fire to. The torches in
their hands desired to be tossed into the mountain of rubble, but it was not
their time yet.
I spotted Annika as she was walking around on the outside of the circle that
the crowd had formed. Her stride matched her persistent and determined
eyes which ceaselessly scanned every face she could see. Walking up to
her, I began humming the tune everyone was singing, and by and by the
humming changed into quiet singing, which little by little increased in
strength. When she recognized me and was standing beside me, I sang with
a voice never touched by timidity.
―So you‘re singing now. I thought you said that I would be spared hearing
you sing.‖ She looked at me sternly and then let her mouth open into a smile.
―You‘ve been stung by the singing bee!‖
As I basked in the brightness of her laugh and in the rejuvenating ability of
her joy, I took a step back and tilted my head backwards. Above me I saw
how a tentacle was on its way toward me. I motioned to Annika, trying to get
her to join me in my singing. She laughed, shrugging her head: ―You‘re on
your own. I‘m not one of the dupes who cave in easily to the pressures of
communal singing.‖ My hand gestures became increasingly vigorous when I
realized that she would not relent from her position.
―You‘re weird tonight. What‘s gotten into you?‖ Turning away from me, she
started scanning the crowd again.
I took a step back and looked up. The tentacle was a few meters above me.
It was opening its jaw, which seemed similar to a suction cap. Repulsion
tingled my spine, as if someone was drawing a piece of chalk down it. Part of
me wanted to stop singing and sever all possible connections to the tentacle;
another part of me felt an irresistible urge to join the shadows.
―Do you know what?‖
The force of the hit to my shoulder was so powerful that I almost lost my
footing. I saw the torch fall to the ground in slow-motion. I was dumbstruck
by Annika‘s sudden return and the grittiness in her voice. ―I don‘t think that
you really want to find him. You‘ve been walking around, taking
photographs, acting as if everything‘s fine, not caring about how he might
feel, where he might be. And now you‘re singing. I think that you are actually
happy that he is gone.‖
Picking the torch up, I was trying to evade her gaze which compelled me to
say something that I did not want to admit.
At the same time the crowd moved toward the bonfire and threw their
torches into it, causing small pyres to light up inside it. The crackling of wood
on fire was intermingled with the singing.
The blaze from the bonfire rose up to the sky and made the cloud catch on
fire. The shadows, still running around multiplying by deformity, burned like
the logs in the bonfire. The tentacles released their grip on all the singers
and crumbled, leaving traces on the ground. For a few seconds I saw him
engulfed in fire and then he disappeared.
―Yes, you are right.‖
A camera flash lit up her face, etching it in my mind.
Broken Skin
by Leila Ainslie-Malik
Nadia arched her back and pushed her head into the corner between her
seat and the car door. Lying at an angle across the back seats she slowly
pushed her toes closer to the dip between each padded section, under the
folds of her grandfather‘s salwar kameez. He turned from the window and
looking down at his granddaughter‘s outstretched legs, thought about the
feeling of the fabric. Nadia gazed dull-eyed upwards out of the window. The
soft ambience of her parent‘s music filled up the car like a cushion to the
hard pelt of the rain. Bringing one hand up Nadia placed her fingers against
the cold glass directly behind the translucent droplets that had gathered, as
if she was catching the water on her fingertips. She didn‘t notice the vague
reflection of her hand. As the raindrops slipped down the pane Nadia pushed
her fingers harder against the surface. Clouds of condensation blurred out in
circles from the warmth of her fingertips. Letting her fingers too slip down the
pane Nadia watched as the opaque circles disappeared and the rain
continued to fall. The rain-speckled window distorted the harsh glare of the
streetlights as they passed under them one by one. Like the light passing
through the slats of blinds, the cars constant motion made amber streaks of
light pass across Nadia‘s body and her grandfather as the car moved. The
fleeting illumination brought them briefly in and out of focus, making their
dark stillness seem like an illusion. Nadia could feel the vibrations from the
bump of the tires and the dull thud of bass across her skin. It made the fabric
of her clothes shift. It made her slip down closer into the corner of the car.
Shutting her eyes she thought of how little a space there was between her
body and the road beneath. It made her feel weightless, as if someone had
scooped away all the dead weight from her belly. Only an ache in her arms
and her legs made her feel grounded. The hard pressure of the car door
against the back of her head. Opening her eyes she looked out at the
buildings lining the roads they were speeding along. Glass rimmed office
blocks and older eloquent buildings; the rain stained them all. Rolling onto
her side she pushed her body further up, resting her arm against the groove
in the door, curling her fingers under the window she peered out. A thick mist
had settled into the city as if the rain had slowly dragged it down. It merged
into the grey of the night sky. There were no stars. Their light had become
Nadia‘s raindrops.
―We‘re almost there‖. Her father peered back at her from the driving seat in
front, noticing her unfocussed gaze out the window. ―You must be tired beti‖.
Nadia smeared away the condensation from her breathing with the edge of
her sleeve, her fingers still curled. As the car turned a corner her reflection
played across the window, her small round face caught in a brief glare of
streetlight, her vision framed by soft beads of light caught on the curve of her
eyelashes. Nadia peered through it, through the dark circles of her pupils.
She barely realised her father had spoken. Out in the night sky she noticed
the round circle of a clock in a clock tower pass by, the rest of the building
hazed to dim lines by the mist. As if the round clock face was simply floating
there. As if someone had etched roman numerals into the moon. As her
father drove them out towards the suburbs Nadia watched the heights of
buildings grow smaller, replacing flat urbanity with triangles and terraces. It
seemed darker. It seemed more familiar. Pushing herself back down onto
the seat and shutting her eyes, Nadia curled her legs to her chest and
wrapped her arms around her head.
As they pulled up into the driveway Catherine looked over her shoulder at
her daughters small out-stretched body and placed her hand on her
husbands where it rested on the gear stick as he brought the car to a
standstill. Two faint lines of light settled on top of their hands, bringing their
layered fingers out of the dark into separate shades of grey. ―I think she‘s
sleeping. Maybe we should open up first?‖
The sound of the rain swept louder into the car as Aashir open his door and
walked round to help his wife out. Nadia continued to look down at the dark
dark shadows under the driver‘s seat from where she was lying, the soft
curve of her cheek resting at the edge of the seats. The blunt sound of her
mothers door shutting sounded clean in comparison to the splattering sound
of the rain that it muffled.
Swinging her legs down to the middle of the car floor, Nadia left herself out.
Standing between the car and the wall of the drive she looked up into the
night sky, letting the falling rain cast itself in streaks across her vision. She
felt trickles of it running into the thick dark cascade of her hair. Opening her
eyes wide Nadia looked down at the henna her father had helped her draw
onto the palms of her hands 3 days ago. She could feel the water dripping
now from her fringe onto her cheeks. The cuffs of her duffel coat felt damp
against her wrists. She could smell it. Scuffling forwards she felt as if each
line of tan pattern she had painted across her skin was merging into the rain
and dripping away with every step she took. It filled the puddles she sloshed
through with the diluted pigment of her skin. Pale and weightless she
imagined it evaporating like the condensation on the windows glass. She
imagined it seeping in through her pores, staining her lungs and coursing
through her bloodstream, casting her entirety into the same pale beige of her
Shutting her eyes and flailing her arms out slightly Nadia ran around the side
of the car, water splashing up to her knees. Catching her index finger on a
branch from the hedge along the drive it cut like paper across the print of her
finger. She swung her head back, trying to see whether the blood that
swelled out of the scratch was the same pale beige she imagined. In one
simultaneous movement her grandfather wrapped one arm around her waist
to stop her fall and caught her wrist in the other, running his thumb over the
cut, applying pressure and wiping away the blood. Running down onto his
palm it stained his skin deep like marker pen.
Nadia ran though into the house along the hallway. Stumbling up the stairs
parallel to the corridor, her knees hit the step above her feet and she landed
with a thud, the base of her hands hitting against the step two stairs up.
Between the gaps in the banisters she could see her father carrying herself
on his hip into the house, her damp hair glued to his cheek where her head
was buried in his neck. He pulled off his daughters pink welly boots and
placed them by the door. He wrapped one hand around the heel of her foot.
Nadia pushed away and continued scrambling to the top of the stairs. At the
top there was a low fat bookshelf. Reaching up she pulled down a small
metal camel statue; its weight and coldness too familiar. She squeezed it
between the curl of her thumb and first finger and looked up at a photo of her
grandparents. Their faces warm and glowing they stood in a bell shaped
archway, a field stretching out behind them. Dry looking, low-growing plants
coiled their way across the yellowy soil. Nadia‘s eyes reflected perfectly onto
the small landscape photograph. Heavy lidded and dark her eyelashes
fanned out thick around the faces of her grandparents. Moving closer she
blinked down on the glass. Her thumb left no print on the frame.
Shuffling around the corner she pushed open the bathroom door. Her
mother had already put out a small plastic footstool for Nadia to stand on
when she washed her hands. She couldn‘t reach the light switch. Pulling
herself up to the sink her arms could barely reach the ridge along the bottom
of the mirror where the soap and hand towel were neatly placed. Lifting her
hands up in the middle of the bowl she brought her wrists together. A plaster
with pictures of cats on coiled itself around the cut on her finger, the two bits
of paper over the sticky edges falling away like petals. She looked up into
the large clinical mirror that rested on the wall directly behind the photo of
her grandparents. The Nadia in the mirrors hair was sleeker, her chest and
lips tinted dark red, much fuller. Her gaze was focussed on herself as she
slowly drew across her eyelid with kohl. The reflection in the mirror glowed
brighter than the dark room Nadia stood in, goose bumps littering the skin on
the back of her arms. The Nadia in the mirror seemed to have skin slightly
darker, the colours somehow more realistic. Nadia could see the same light
bluey-grey tiles that would be behind her, slightly lighter than the ugly blueygrey of the sink in front of her. She felt grey. Nadia in the mirror reached
across and dabbed rose water onto her neck and pulled amber bangles onto
her wrists. They contrasted beautifully with the turquoise blue of her sari top.
There was an inch line of exposed stomach and an inch line of the top of her
jeans. Nadia in the mirror shook her sleek hair forward, letting her side fringe
frame in a curve around her face and frowned at where her reflection should
be. Little Nadia leaned forwards grasping for the scattered amber bangles
that reflected onto her side of the sink. They clashed with the bright pink
flowers on her Daisy Duck dress. Slipping one over her right hand it slid
down to her elbow. Holding her arm forward, but too large, it fell down
towards her wrist again. In a quick movement to stop it falling off Nadia
thrust her arm towards the side of the sink and cracked it. Twisting her arm
up it caught the side of her wrist before falling with a glass clink. Nadia
watched a dark grey droplet of blood bead up. Flopping off the stool Nadia
let her grey limbs droop to the ground. She crawled halfway out of the
bathroom. Pushing herself back down onto the floor and shutting her eyes
Nadia curled her legs to her chest and wrapped her arms around her head.
She felt like there was a thick mud around her. She could hear the constant
beat of the rain being blown and scattered against the walls of the house.
Nadia of the mirror, unwatched, absentmindedly tugged at the hem of her
blue sari, running her thumb over the embroidery. Looking down at her
hands she turned the palm of her right hand over and gazed at the coiling
embellishment she had drawn in henna over her wrist up onto the soft seat
of her palm, with the same dull eyes from the car.
Looking down at his granddaughters outstretched legs over the backseat Raj
leant forward and gathered his granddaughter into his arms. Stirring slightly
Nadia wrapped her legs around his waist as naturally as opening her eyes.
Resting her on his left hip she nestled her head into his neck. He opened the
car door. Walking out towards the house he carried her, one arm under her
legs the other wrapped around her small back. Raj began to sing gently to
her, jerking his hips slightly as he walked like a beat.
―Dhin Na
Dhin Dhin Na
Tin Na
Dhin Dhin Na
Dhin -Dha TiTaKiTa
Dhin Dhin DhaGe
TiTaKiTa Tin -Ta
TiTaKiTa Dhin Dhin DhaGe
Over her grandfathers shoulder Nadia could see a vague imprint of herself in
the air by the side of the car. She was crouched down, hands hanging limp
by her pink welly boots, knees up to her chin. Somehow it seemed to Nadia
that this girl was caught between the sheets of rain. Even the pale grey lines
they streaked through the air seemed more in focus. She thought she saw
her father rush past.
The rain, to Nadia, seemed warmer in the arms of her grandfather. Resting
her nose on his shoulder she breathed in and sighed to herself. He smelt like
dry leaves. Musky, spicy and dry. Looking up into the night sky in the same
way Nadia had done Raj smiled to himself. He could feel the movements of
his granddaughter waking up. Moving his arm up he wrapped his fingers
around her hand. She was wearing tiny amber bangles around her wrists.
They gently wrested in the grooves where the slight pudginess of her skin
creased together at their bent angle. Walking into the house only her
mothers shoes were left by the door. Both Nadia and her grandfather were
barefoot. On the right hand wall hung two paintings and a medium sized
arch shaped mirror. Raj smiled at the colourful flash of their reflections as
they flitted past. There was a door on the same side at the end of the
hallway. As her grandfather carried her through into the sitting room, Nadia
turned her head and watched her father carrying herself on his hip into the
house, her damp hair glued to his cheek where her head was buried in his
neck. He pulled off his daughters pink welly boots and placed them by the
front door. Nadia felt as if she might be in three places at once. Her
grandfather tapped on the heel of her foot still quietly singing. She turned
back and looked up at him. From her place by his shoulder she could only
see the thick white wisps of his hair and the curve of his cheek. Nadia
yawned, pushing her head under his chin.
Raj turned the light on and placed Nadia down on the sofa. The room was
sparse, nothing but peeling paint and stains in the corners of the walls. The
wood in the windowsill at the front of the house was cracking. The curtains
were made of old, thick, deep green velvet. Raj imagined peeling a curl of
wood from the frame and holding it in the palm of his hand. Sitting down next
to his granddaughter he reached over and folded over the cuffs of her
turquoise-blue salwar kameez, letting her bangles slip out from where they
had caught within her sleeves. Nadia watched him with childish sincerity.
The paint on the walls was a pale green. The carpet didn‘t quite fit the
slightly rectangular shape of the room. It was red with darker mauve and
white patterns faded into it. The shape of her grandfather‘s feet resting
politely side by side on top of it made Nadia tense her legs that were barely
reaching a third of the way down from the sofa, trying to hide hers from view.
Her grandfather‘s feet looked worn. They were skinny, the nails slightly
yellowed and rough, the bone leading up to his big toe jutted out harshly.
They looked clean though. The skin that no longer fitted so tight looked soft.
She looked up into her grandfather‘s eyes and Raj smiled in reply, tucking
some loose strands of her hair behind her ear.
―Daddaji, tell me a story‖.
Raj, who had stopped singing after rolling up his granddaughter‘s sleeves,
thought to himself. Placing one wrinkled hand on her small shoulder he
leaned down towards her ear. Nadia felt a strange rising sensation in her
belly as her grandfather murmured to her. Shutting her eyes she felt a
rushing sensation like when an airplane takes off. Nadia had never been on
an airplane. Pressing her forehead against Raj‘s, she concentrated on the
solid feeling between their skulls. The skin around tingled with pins and
needles. She could hear the constant beat of the rain being blown and
scattered against the walls of the house. The strange feeling in her chest felt
warm and full but like somehow there was something missing. Nadia
imagined the unfamiliar Punjabi words of her grandfather‘s story taking form
in the air around her, drifting up like swirls of golden dust and settling into the
walls, along the top of the sofa and matching chair, sifting into the cracks in
the wood. Raj kissed his granddaughter on the cheek. He smelt like a
Opening her eyes Nadia lay across the sofa wresting in her mothers arms.
She had wrapped one arm around the soft swell of her mother‘s stomach.
There were plasters on each of her hands, one on her right finger the other
on the side of her left wrist. Her father sat opposite. As Nadia looked up at
her mother, Catherine tucked some loose strands of her daughter‘s hair
behind her ear and smiled down at her. Aashir placed his palm above the
top of his daughter‘s hand and spread their fingers out together on top of
Catherine‘s belly. ―We‘re going to name him after your grandfather‖ he
smiled inclining his head to the side.
With the same inclination of her head Nadia met her father‘s eyes, ―tussi
soch day ho te hey merai lagda hey?‖ Within the dark black rim around the
colour of his pupils Aashir caught a vague reflection from behind Nadia.
Almost in perfect symmetry of himself there was a faint outline of an old man
sitting behind his granddaughter one hand cupped around her elbow.