The Three Liars 3

‘You think we go?’ I looked to Ahmed and he looked away. Next to me, the young girl was trembling. ‘It will be OK,’ I told her. ‘OK.’ I put up two thumbs. Tears fell down her face. I repeated, ‘OK’ and gave the thumbs up again.

Of course she was not OK. How could I get her to understand that right now we had to work together and then everything will be OK. That’s what I meant. I knew from the past that it really will be OK, in the years to come, after so much time had passed, years spent in therapy with sympathetic but impotent doctors.

‘Nadia?’ I said to her. ‘I am here with you.’ I signalled for Ahmed to translate, but when he spoke to Nadia, he spoke harshly again. She was still shaking. I asked her, ‘Can I put my arm around you?’  I lifted my arm towards her.

‘No!’

I sat back.

‘You speak in English.’

Nadia stared at me. The old woman began speaking rapidly at me and Ahmed. She geatured past me at Nadia. She was demanding that Nadia answer her. The old woman grabbed at my arm and shouted at me. I looked to Ahmed for a translation, but he kept his gaze away from me, his hands in his pockets, looking to the distance of bombed out houses.

‘Ahmed, translate!’

Yet he did not. Instead, he turned to Nadia and barked a command at her. Nadia swallowed in air and then wailed. Instinctively, I went to hug her, but she pushed me away. She went to run to Ahmed, but he pointed for her to sit back down and he shouted, furious. It was then that I realised that Nadia’s masculine, big shoes belonged to Ahmed.

Ahmed lost it. He ran at Nadia and roughly unzipped her red puffer coat. We didn’t have to look to know that she was wearing a suicide bomber’s belt. I pushed myself between Ahmed and Nadia. Ahmed pushed me back.

‘She will go now,’ he said. ‘You make this happen. Maybe she go alive before, but now you make her die.’

‘No. No.’

I looked at Nadia. ‘No.’

Ahmed took his hand from his jeans pocket so we could all now see the detonator. My stomach lurched.

And then I lurched.

Ahmed fell underneath me. The old lady screamed and Nadia wailed again, louder and louder. Ahmed threw me off him, off the top of the first storey’s floor and onto the ground below.

It saved my life.

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The Three Liars 2

The young man stared at me. Like me, he knew that something was amiss. A young girl who no one knows who is wearing someone else’s shoes. The translator spoke to the girl, pointing to her shoes.

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I saw the girl’s body freeze for a moment before she answered. The translator said, ‘She not know who shoes. She find shoes.’

‘Her clothes clean, she is stranger, she find shoes…?’ I didn’t know what I was getting at. The girl was perhaps seven or eight years old, she was clearly terrified and alone. I put a hand on her arm and she flinched.

‘Sorry.’ I put my hands up to show her I meant no harm. ‘Sorry.’ I looked to the translator. ‘Where are her parents or friends? Where is she from?’

The translator spoke to the girl again, a little harshly I thought. I wanted him to ask her her name. Without asking her, he said, ‘Nadia.’ He saw my confusion and explained, ‘I asked her before.’

‘Ok,’ I nodded. The bombing only started half an hour ago, but everyone was already suspicious of everyone else. Usually the suspicion kicked on later, after people had got to safety. But that was before Bosnia, before warfare changed. Before Bosnia; before traffiking and slavery. I should trust my fellow escapees.

Everything was quiet. Among us and beyond us.

‘Safe?’ I didn’t know why I looked to the translator. He didn’t answer, so I thought I would offer my name to cross a bridge towards him. ‘I am Mathilde. Who are you?’

He barely looked at me when he said, ‘Ahmed.’

Of course. That was not his name, and Mathilde was not mine.

 

This is the second part of this story. The third and final part will be posted tomorrow.

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The Three Liars

My back was still hot as I slouched against the remaining wall of a first storey bedroom. Dust covered my coat. I’d had to sit down. The adrenaline now leaked out of my veins and I wheezed in chalky air. On my right, wedged between me and a young woman was a girl in a red puffer jacket, and to my left was an older woman – perhaps in her sixties or seventies – whose black hijab had been pulled out of place by falling debris. She now pulled it back into place. She looked to the young man who stood in front of us. He was translating the old woman’s words into English for me.

And I tried to speak to him in English so that he could tell her what I wanted to say, but the panic in my mind got in the way.

‘J’étais comme elle, au passé,’ I said. ‘Long time. In past. My home bombé.’

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I made the signs with my hands of things falling from tbe sky. I noticee that the girl next to me wasn’t talking. She was looking straight ahead, flicking a loose red thread with her fingers over and over.

‘Is she OK?’ I looked to the girl. ‘Are you OK?’

The only response from the girl was to flick the thread faster.

‘Her parents?’

The young man shrugged. With one hand in his pocket, he gestured with the other. He asked the old lady and translated her answer. ‘She say girl is not… She not live here. She not see her before.’

‘Vâchement?’ I frowned, and I turned again to the girl. Somehow, she had avoided all the dust. Her trendy canvas shoes seemed too big for someone of her age and height. The design on them was black and green. I leaned forward and pressed the end of her left shoe with my finger. The top of the shoe pressed down to the sole. Looking up at the young man, I said to him, ‘Can you ask her who shoes? They not girl shoes.’

The young man stared at me. Like me, he knew that something was amiss. A young girl who no one knows who is wearing someone else’s shoes.

This is the first part of a story based on q dream I had this week. The second part will be online tomorrow.

 

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A Sense of Place

Stretching your arms across the river

You held the weight of the steel workers

The foundaries are now dead and buried

Yet The Transporter Bridge does not shirk its responsibilities.

 

A star of film, myth and legend

A survivor of blitzkrieg bombs

Clawing back a little of our heritage

The Transporter Bridge brings life.

 

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Walking up the bare bones of disused docks

I stride under the Temenos structure

Bisecting shopping streets and the Dinosaur Park

The land beneath us fractures with new life.

 

A painting by a gold standard Olympian

A view from the university

Muslim, Christian, Chinese, British

Time, like the river, flows freely bridged by steel.

 

This is a rough draft of a poem for Frosham’s arts festival.

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Faithful

He was hiding, the coward. He was hiding in the well instead of going out to fight. But what could a ten year old do?

He would be found, he knew that. They would be thorough, making sure that each and every male was dead.

All that wasted time. All those stupid games played with friends. All those stupid English lessons whilst all the other boys had been outside playing games. He could have been out there, travelling the world, but instead he was indoors, in tightly controlled classrooms, learning the difference between “a” and “an”, and how to write “thought” and “through”.

Now that the Hutus were here, none of that seemed relevant. He was about to die, and that would be that.

Two hours later, he pulled himself up the rope. Clinging with his knees, toes and hands, he pulled himself up to the ground. The Hutus had gone. They had left a scene of brutal inhumanity.

Across the terracotta earth, brown, strong bodies had been left in the position they had died in. The boy approached a pair of legs – the left leg down, the right leg frozen where it had been pushed up, the patterned lilac skirt stained. The boy stumbled around the open land, his wide eyes taking in dead body after dead body, staring over his shoulder at each before he encountered the next. The raw pain in his hands numbing his heart until he went into one house – Jean-Pierre’s house.

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There was no smell. It was too soon. No flies either. It was not like in the films. The men were simply dead. Their bodies lay where each had been cut down with samurai swords. The fallen had just fallen, their blood now tacky and brown on the terracotta floor tiles. All the books, albums and wall hangings were still in place. There had been no pillaging, nor a James Bondesque villain flicking through a copy of Taming The Shrew. The murderers had done their job and left. This was not like the films. This was not like the films.

Maman and Papa!

Where are they?

This is part of a true story. I met Faithful when he was 18. 

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Andrew’s Bedsit 3

‘What people?’ Andrew shouted. ‘I’ve kept my head down. No one’s after me!’

‘I’m sorry Andrew,’ the officer said. He pointed to Sophie who was being put into the back of the police van. ‘She’s betrayed you.’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Andrew cried out. ‘She’s my girlfriend. We’ve been together non-stop for three weeks.’

‘She sold you.’

The officer’s words cut across the air like a sword.

Andrew’s voice was almost too quiet for him to hear himself say, ‘What?’

‘Sophie – or Kelly Sanderson as we know her – traffiks people for gangs to sell and buy. Particularly among the homeless. Modern day slavery.’

‘But she’s my girlfriend,’ Andrew said. ‘She was abused. She was abused by a gang -‘

‘Now she’s too old for what they want, she has to find them new victims or people to sell.’  The officer put a hand on Andrew’s shoulder. ‘They would have murdered her if she didn’t. Kelly arranged for the gang to pick you up outside of St Theresa’s church today. Has she tried to get you to go to St Theresa’s today?’

‘She said there was hotpot.’

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‘Hotpot’s tomorrow,’ the officer said. ‘You were going to be sold to a family who do off the books building work.’

‘I was a builder,’ Andrew said quietly.

‘Looks like we got to you just in time,’ the officer said. ‘We’ve got some of the gang in custody. We need you to come and make a statement and then we’ll put you into protective custody. You’ll get a bedsit. No one will hassle you. Not like in a hostel where the smackheads bang on your door day and night.’

‘A place of my own?’ Andrew asked with tears streaming down his face.

‘There are some days that make doing this job worthwhile,’ the officer said. ‘Not many days but some.’

‘Could I get a job?’ Andrew asked. ‘While I live in the police bedsit?’

‘Andrew, we know you’re no criminal or addict. That’s one of the reasons you’re getting this bedsit. We’ll give you a floating support worker to help you with your transition off the streets. Does that sound OK?’

‘It’s all going to be OK,’ Andrew said. ‘It’s all going to work out.’

It was then that Andrew realised that it was no longer raining. His trainers were still wet, but his feet were protected by the plastic bags tied at his ankles. Cars splashed water as their drivers headed for the shops, and hedges and trees flickered as birds came out from their shelters. Voices chattered over the police radio and a dog barked in the distance. Life was carrying on.

 

Homelessness in the UK has shot up. Traffiking and the modern slave trade are now a normal part of life in most English towns and cities. Sex traffiking of children happens in every town and city in the UK. Police numbers have fallen by around 21000 across the UK. Many police officers no longer have the time or the energy to be as humane as the officers in this story. I am harkening back to a time when police officers did their jobs and did their jobs with gentleness and compassion towards victims. We now have citizen groups patrolling areas to keep people safe. I’m not sure how far the elastic is going to stretch before it snaps.

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Andrew’s Bedsit 2

‘That time there, the landlord was selling up, so I had to move out,’ Andrew said. ‘So I was in this hostel, but you can’t work and stay there cos then you’d have to pay the staff’s wages and everything, so I found myself another bedsit, and I finished my training, and I got a job with an OK company, and I was stupid. I’d never had proper wages before or money, and I blew it all. I was going out, getting wasted all the time. I bought a load of video games, the big TV – everything.’ He put his head in his hands. ‘Then the 2008 crash happened. I was sacked two months later. No one was building houses anymore. I tried looking for another job, and I got bits and boba for a while, but it all dried up. There was just nothing.’

‘You lost everything.’

‘I don’t know why I haven’t topped meself,’ Andrew said. ‘I’m not looking for pit or owt. I just don’t see any future.’

‘Would you go back to being a builder?’ Sophie asked him.

‘Goes without saying,’ Andrew replied. ‘If there was a job for me, I’d start tomorrow.’

‘And have a roof over your head and be warm and dry.’

‘I don’t want to think about that just now,’ Andrew said. ‘It’s chucking it down and I’m freezing. I don’t want to think about it being warm and dry. I just want to get through the next few hours.’

‘We should go to St Theresa’s,’ Sophie said.

Andrew didn’t move. ‘What do you want to be?’

‘Me?’ Sophie seemed taken aback to have been asked this. ‘What do I want to be? I don’t… I don’t know. Maybe a hairdresser? That’d be good; chatting all day and doing hair. That’d be nice.’

‘I reckon we should wait another ten minutes, see if the rain stops and -‘ Andrew stopped. The sound of a car’s engine alerted him to danger. ‘Oh no.’ Andrew put his arms around Sophie. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll look after you.’

But Sophie could not be comforted by this. ‘You’re in no shape for a scrap.’

Andrew got up. He had to protect her. ‘Stay there. I’ll go and see -‘

Andrew didn’t have to look for who the car belonged to. A police officer came striding towards them. Andrew shouted to Sophie,

‘It’s ok. It’s The Busies.’

But Sophie ran. She threw aside the blanket and ran. The officer ran after her, calling Sophie “Little Bitch” and other similar names. Andrew ran after them. Sophie, the officer and Andrew ran through the clump of bushes behind the last warehouse and onto the smooth tarmac of the pavement alongside the new dual carriageway that led to the out of town shopping area. The police officer was panting heavily and fell back. Andrew overtook him and he ran towards his girlfriend.

Suddenly, a police van pulled up in front of Sophie, cutting her off, and the driver jumped out from the van and wrestled Sophie to the ground. Sophie was screaming and struggling.

‘Stop it!’ Andrew yelled at the officer as he ran up to them. ‘She’s been abused. Get off her.’ He went to rescue Sophie by grabbing hold of the officer’s stab-proof vest, but the panting officer behind him easily lifted Andrew off his colleague. Andrew tried to fight him but he had no strength left.

‘Andrew Harding?’ The officer addressed him.

‘I haven’t done anything!’ Andrew glanced over his shoulder to see his girlfriend being handcuffed. ‘And she hasn’t done anything either!’

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‘Andrew, I need to talk to you,’ the officer said. ‘You’re not in any trouble. I just need you to come with me for your own safety.’

‘I can take care of myself,’ Andrew replied.

‘Andrew,’ the officer said with an edge to his voice. ‘Come with me or I’ll have to arrest you to take you into protective custody. You choose, but we have to get you off the streets. People are looking for you.’

 

This is the second part of the story. The third part will be posted in two days’ time.

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