Questioning

Part I

I sat awkwardly between two people on the train home. My shoulders tucked and my hands were resting on my knees. I longed to stretch my legs but before me were a herd of school children of whom I was afraid to look at, let alone to almost touch.

On my right was my fiancé of 9 months and one week. The wedding planning had recently become stagnant after we had disputed over every other detail. I imagined a small intimate wedding of perhaps 10 guests from each side in a converted barn with wooden tables, wholesome food and only to be lit by candlelight. He wanted 2 weddings – Hindu and Christian to represent both of our backgrounds, a party with an open bar and a stag do in Vegas of course.

It’s not that we can’t afford it. He’s a respected chef and I’m one of the chief editor at a major newspaper in London – the youngest editor, in fact, according to Reuters. His ideas of marriage were just different to mine. I already knew this, of course, as this was one of the topics which came up in conversation on our first date – or was it second? I can’t remember. Anyway, he had done some catering for some extravagant weddings during his teen years, which, I believe started his lifelong fantasy of seven-tiered multi-flavoured cakes, fireworks and the brides arrival in a helicopter (yes, he really suggested this).

We met at university, about 8 years ago now. He studied Law, presumably by ‘suggestion’ from his mother. I had only met her once, since she died just 3 weeks after her son graduated, but I presume she said something along the lines of:

‘Why don’t you get a degree and you can focus on your cooking after that’

A doctor herself, I always wondered what she must have thought after being told that her only son wanted to pursue a career as a restauranteur. I don’t know if she would have be proud, even today. I digress. 

My fiancé had put up a notice about wanting volunteers to taste test his new recipes. Of course, he was a complete stranger to me back then – much like everyone on campus, since I only left my dormitory to attend lectures. However, something sparked when I saw his notice and I found myself walking over to his dorm that afternoon. 

He lived in the building directly opposite to mine. It had a pool and a screening room. I remember, he smiled as he introduced himself to me as he met me on the ground floor. He was tall, had neatly trimmed hair, a prominent jawline and a growing stubble perhaps after three days on not shaving. He was wearing a white t-shirt which was carefully matched with the black jeans I saw underneath the apron that was wrapped around his waist.

‘Why did you go so early?’ I thought to myself. ‘He’s not even finished cooking yet’.

I don’t remember much from the conversation we had that evening, nor much of the meal but it was something along the lines of fried quail and sage butter. There was a glimpse in his eyes which oozed a certain charm that I cannot describe. I found myself returning to his kitchen every weekend before it became every day. He was my first ‘I love you’ and the first person I had ever truly embraced.

After graduating, we took our first holiday abroad to Vienna. We were on the famous ferris wheel when he asked me to move in with him – romantic, I know. You see, I was forced to move back in to my old bedroom in my parents’ home, since I had not yet gathered enough savings for a place of my own. My fiancé’s father, however, was the owner of a music label (the name of which I cannot disclose), and had gifted his son a car and a three bedroom apartment in London. 

I decided to move in 5 months after the funeral – it was best to give him some space at least. 

Over the years, we both established good portfolios in our chosen industries and eventually saved up enough to buy a house together in Hampstead Heath. Like traditions go, we went on a vacation just before the big move, and to my surprise he popped the big question:

“Tara, please make me the happiest man and do me the honour of becoming my wi- ”

‘Excuse me Madam, you’re sitting on my coat’ 

An angelic voice bought me out of my daydream. It was a woman on my left. 

Back to my homeland part II

Read Part I here

I got out of the car and approached the worn blue gate, remembering the day my father had put it up. He told us it was for the animals in case they were to escape, but we all knew the real reason. Nevertheless, it had stood long and proud for so many years. Father had always locked the gates after sunset, opening them again at the glimpse of dawn. One day it was to be locked for three decades only to be opened by me.

I turned back to our ride. The children were fully awake now, but reluctant to open the door and face the humid air. Everything around me had changed; the roads, the bushes, the neighbours. My neighbours. I didn’t want to think about what may have happened. Father had told everyone to come with us, but they couldn’t leave. Years of farming, building a home and a family had given them a certain comfort to which they were too scared to leave behind. They waved us off in the middle of the night and wished us well on our journey, each one of them kissing my forehead as I sat confused, clutching onto a bronze coin at the back of a horse cart.

We all promised to write to each other and so we did for a few months. Father would let me write words from the new language I was learning. They would write back infrequently, and only in a code father understood. One day the letters stopped coming. Father told me they may have moved. I told him they could write to us from anywhere. When I said that, he twitched; tears filled up in his eyes. I wondered for many years for what may have happened until one evening when I sat to watch the daily news with father. As the screen flickered, I saw quantities of men and women walking thousands of kilometres to find a new home. Some lying on the side of the roads to rest, their children standing over their rested bodies. I realised then that this may have been the fate of my neighbours but remained hopeful. That was twenty five years ago. 

It was noon now and the sun’s rays had now taken full advantage of my now tender forehead. The silence of the village was interrupted by the loud start of an engine, I presumed the children wanted the AC back on and probably wondered how they could spend an entire month here. I wondered that too.

I remembered the days when the older children would take me to the lake where we’d swing off weeping willow branches that were toys to thousands of children before us. We spent entire afternoons in the lake, cooling down in its waters and taking shade under the old willow. The older children would take turns to lift me up the trees as my small legs couldn’t reach, comforting me each time as I was afraid of falling. 

‘Keep climbing!’ they’d shout, ‘We’ve got you’

They taught me to fish and build fires. I was always allocated to find the twigs, they said I had a good eye for finding the best ones. When it was raining, we’d take shelter under banana leaves and watch the grass turn green and the flowers bloom until there were specks of white, red and yellow across the fields. When the rain stopped, we’d run to pick them, being weary of snakes that were hidden away underneath the tall grass prairie. I always gave my bunch to father who placed them in a tumbler next to the photo of mum.  

They went away one day, the older children. They told to that it was to protect me and everyone in the village. One of them placed a coin in the palm of my hand and closed it very tightly. He said something after that but I was too distraught to listen. I don’t remember their name or even their faces, but when they left that day I remembered a feeling of emptiness. I can’t bear to imagine what he felt when he came back to find my father and I gone. If he came back at all. That same day I went back to the lake and tried to climb the old willow. I clambered up with my small bare feet, a few branches up or so, forgetting they were not waiting to catch me fall. He had always told me to put my foot into the small ledge to push me up to the top. But that day the ledge was filled will twigs and wet leaves; the scaffolding to a birds nest. I misplaced my foot and slipped downwards, scraping my hands against the ever so sharp twigs and landing forcefully onto the soft, damp ground. I cried and screamed in frustration and pain, lying on the ground, sobbing as my bleeding hands were covered in thorns and dirt. I fell asleep in the tall grass, not minding the snakes or the tigers. 

I can’t remember who found me, but they cleaned and dressed my wounds. I was bathed, fed and  well rested until father arrived home from work. That night he hugged me tightly and promised that he’d keep me safe. We left a few months later, taking nothing but a bag full of clothes, the photo of my mother and a key. 

The key I was now holding as the sun continued burn against my scalp. I reached for the padlock that had been unbothered for so many years, now coated in rust. Placing the key into the lock and hearing the ‘click’ of it as it opened. I greeted my children who were now staring at me wide-eyed from the car, welcome to my home.

Back to my homeland.

Part 1

We were delayed in the queue for the visas as it snaked around the arrivals lounge. Why did they work so slowly? Before us stood 4 counters each with a glum looking officer sat behind it, glancing cautiously at the passports of keen tourists, then at them and back at the passport again before handing them back with an even more suspicious look. The queue grew faster but the pace of the officers did not. I looked over my shoulders to three tired children for this was the longest plane journey they had embarked and the furthest they had been from the comfort of their home.

Finally we were let free. 

We caught the eyes of dozens of men asking if we were in need of a taxi. We were warned about them. Ten of them in shirts and ties surrounded us and came up so close as if we were animals at a petting zoo. There were about ten of them and they came up so close as if we were animals at a petting zoo. Our only instinct being to bow our heads and to walk straight ahead without taking notice of them. As I lugged my suitcase out through the air-conditioned airport, I was soon greeted by the sticky, humid air of the capital; its pressure compressing at my throat leaving me gasping for fresh air. It was 4am. ‘Great’, I thought, it could only get worse during the day. 

We waited for what seemed like hours for our ride to arrive. We stood under a perspex shelter; a single sheet of plastic protecting us from the hundreds of mosquitos which were dotted across the early morning sky. It was hard to think through the constant interruptions of screeching tyres and the beeping of horns by frustrated taxi drivers. I couldn’t believe I was finally here after all these years. There were police officers, or traffic wardens – I couldn’t quite tell. They were wearing mud brown uniforms, exactly like you saw in the movies. They blew their whistles at regular intervals, one by one, as if it was the tune to a song. An awful song it was. 

The sun was beginning to rise and the airport grew busier. There was a sudden flurry of locals and tourists wandering in and out of the airport in unison – a sight that was once just merely a dream. We stood still in the middle of it all, mesmerised for this was the place I left all those years ago and had never expected to come back.

We were picked up just before 5 and settled down for our long ride back to my old village. We were driven through the city which was once a place for the rich, now a way of living for everyone. Skyscrapers loomed over us, absorbing in the rays of the rising sun, preparing to start the new day. Just across the road were the waves of the Laccadive sea, crashing against the boulders of the seashore. Stall vendors were situated right along the sea front, preparing their goods for the busy day to come. 

Every road we turned into we were met with an abundance of tuktuks*, motorcycles and school buses, each honking at one another at different tones, competing for their place on the road. The van swayed in and between the lanes, beeping its way passed a motorcycle on which they had managed to fit 4 people. You would think things would have changed since the war, clearly they had not.

There were still no big roads connecting the city to the villages meaning we had to drive almost three hours through towns and villages to reach our destination. It was an extensive and laborious journey. The children were now fast asleep beside me, wrapped in the arms of each other for protection in this unfamiliar environment.

My eyes strained from the sunshine which had now fully emerged and was beaming at full strength across the country. The air conditioning was blasting throughout the car but this still wasn’t enough to replace the humid air. Outside, the villagers were going about their day; elderly men in their lungis** huddled around the tea shops listening intently to the designated reader who was dictating aloud the morning paper. Women hurried around the stalls negotiating the best prices for vegetables and freshly caught fish whilst the stray dogs rummaged around searching for any piece of scrap food they could find, before being shooed off by market owners. I caught myself smiling with an overwhelming sadness. I was now a foreigner in a land where once my future was destined, nothing will change that now.

It was almost midday when we drove passed a familiar pillar. I immediately perked up from my seat, we were almost here. The same old dried Palmyra leaves were being used as fences to separate one house from the next. I opened my window and took a deep breath as the same ocean wind blew across my face, we were by the coast. Cows on the side of the road sat alongside with the stray dogs, taking shade under the looming palm trees. The driver began to pull up by a large blue gate. I was back. I was back after all these years. Back to my homeland. 

*Tuktuk – A three wheeled auto rickshaw that is a motorised development of the traditional pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw.

**Lungi -The lungi is a type of sarong, that originated in the Indian subcontinent, worn around the waist as an alternative to trousers.

Rush Hour Crush

I got caught in the midst of rush hour on Thursday. The worst time of the day when you’re in London; crowded trains filled with business people or tourists. Everyone receives a fair amount of pushes, shoves and the occasional elbow to the rib. All in all, we just want to get home.

Somehow I got onto the tube in one piece. Holding a large shopping bag, wearing my backpack over my thick winter jacket and headphones in, a must, whilst listening to heavy metal to drown out the noises of crying babies and enthusiastic tourists. There I was, looking like a right sort. I was tapping my fingers on the pole to the beat of the music when I saw him. I must have been loud because he saw me tapping and smiled. He was standing about an arm’s length in front. But of course, having been rush hour meant that there were at least 3 people inbetween us – like the wall of Verona separating Romeo and Juliet.

He wore a charcoal grey suit jacket and an unbuttoned baby pink shirt. No tie – which I don’t blame because of the humidity. I couldn’t see his shoes but I presumed they were somewhat smart. He had an olive skin tone but it was his hair that had struck me the most. Locks of brown glossy hair, curly and remained at the scalp yet dead straight on the edges.

He got a seat after a herd of people got off at the train at Turnpike Lane, leaving me still standing. I thought it’d be a good idea to bluetooth him a picture of what I was listening to since he had cared enough to smile. He didn’t appear on the Airdrop list. To my unfortune, nothing came up with his image and instead I accidently sent the image to ‘Danielle’s iphone’ – boy I bet she was confused. A few stops went by and the seat next to him became available. A message from the heavens. This was my chance. I sat beside him and took off my headphones and adjusted my hair using the help of my reflection in the window opposite. He smelled strongly of a freshly applied JPG – a smell which was fairly familiar to me.

The remainder of the journey was a quiet one. We both left the train at the same stop via a different set of double doors. He smiled again when I turned to look around for him. Is he just polite or playing with my feelings?

The train jolted to a stop. I ran out through the doors and up the escalators to catch my next bus in time. This was it. Time for the love of my life to run up behind me and ask for my number so we could stay up all night and talk on the phone. Tonight was the premiered night of many that we’d spend together and live to have a life of four children and live in a country home and own the biggest farm. Tonight –

“Excuse me?”

I stop. Eyes wide open in shock. Heart pounding against my chest. Legs turn to jelly. My prayers just keep on getting answered today. The angels are by my side.

That’s when my farce o’clock struck. I turned around to find it wasn’t him. It wasn’t him at all. I knew who this person was though. He sat diagonal to me on the train I had just been on. Gym bag, jogging bottoms, baggy t-shirt, expensive trainers and wearing AirPods. He was probably one of those exercise people – oh no – a personal trainer. He’s not going to ask if I needed any help did he?

“Yes?”

“Would you mind if I had your phone number?”

I politely declined and walked away, still searching for my twilight tube man. He was gone and so was my bus ride home.

Different. By Tallulah Stone

Me: an imaginist, a vivid wanderer. You could say perhaps, a narcissist.

I’ve always found myself different from others. Of course we’re all different from each other; unique is the word. But the ones around me, as a collective, are all the same. Same as each other but different from me.

Take my family for example. A wonderful, wonderful group of people; kind, gentle, generous. The adjectives could go on.  But, they are all the same. Doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers, an architect even. Then there are my friends; future doctors, teachers, engineers. Academics they are. A collection of academics. A collection of academics. 

And me? Well I’m a literary aficionado. Academics are all important to run the world, needless to say. But who is there to change minds, to change the way we view each other and to stop the crises of modern day. 

Me. Because I was not destined to fall in with the same crowd of academics. I’m different. Gifted perhaps. Gifted not with the power of words but with a mind that thinks differently. Differently.

Don’t even get me started on success. They want it all. A large house with beautifully furnished interiors and an impressive garden. The fanciest cars, the most luxurious holidays. All this for what? A small click and the picture’s taken and uploaded to the internet. To show off to the world their materialistic success. That’s how they find comfort; through likes and comments from other avatars who are hidden away behind the screens as if they are hypnotised.

1 like = 1 follow.

How wasteful. 

Do they truly believe that sharing an article of extreme poverty will solve the problem? Will watching a documentary on plastics in the ocean suddenly remove all the waste on beaches. If only 1 view meant 1kg of waste removed. You may say that awareness is spread. I’m sure it does but what will one do with the knowledge. Take action or bury the guilt within the depths of their garden?

And me? My success would be when I’m fulfilled. Fulfilled when the world no longer hungry, no longer needs my help. When boys and girls can be noticed as equals. Why isn’t it already equal?

Why do those in foreign continents want to impersonate the west in both colour and lavish lifestyle but not realise that girls and boys belong together.  

The west must take blame for sure. The west that we live in. The west which believes that feminism should even be a word. Why isn’t there a word for male equality?

And to all those who say ‘the future is female.’ No, the future is not female. Yes, women may thrive like we have never before but future is all of us moving forward. The future is all.

And when this is fixed, even if it’s long after my time, I will be successful. That’s what makes me different. 

The things unknown

Inspired by Maya Angelou’s, ‘I know why the caged bird sings’, I decided a write a short story about the backbone of the poem. I was so moved after reading such emotional piece of writing, I decided to research the history and inspiration that went behind writing the piece. The poem itself is about two birds; one caged and the held captive, symbolising slavery during the slave trade in 17th century America. 

The things unknown:

Cautiously she draws the curtains apart and gazes through the cloudy window of her modest room. Out in the fields, the early cotton workers are busily gathering the harvest before the winter sets in and sends every living creature back into dwellings awaiting the return of spring. The squirrels have long packed their granaries and the sun is showing signs of ageing. All along, the busy summer provided the living with growth and the suffering with comfort. But now, it needs a rest and plans a long break.

On her window sill, a bird perched itself half asleep, soaking his wings in the last gasps of the summer rays. Its eyes dreamy and drunk as they contemplate the vastness of the sky that it owns. In the tainted glass, she glimpses her own reflection. A lonely figure, almost invisible, yet trapped and caged between the walls of a room caving in on her. She reminisces about her life as a child growing freely in the homeland of the sun where elephants trumpeted freely across the savannahs along the tall, elegant giraffes. Her peaceful walk to school across a lush nature reserve and the gathering of smiling faces bearing their white teeth at her as she steps through the playground gates. Why did this have to end so abruptly?

The violent journey on the boat across the rough seas ripped her from her roots and planted her in a sour land where hope and opportunity no longer recognised her. Years of serving the rich and powerful have made her veins swell under her skin like rambling ivies clenching onto her, trapping her inside herself. Years of slavery aged her quickly but with her wings clipped and her feet tied, she envies the little bird on her window sill which now has noticed her frozen shadow and fluttered away to join its companions chirping contentedly across the hills far and wide. She tries to open her mouth and call the winged creature back but soon remembers the wings of her voice have long withered and died and vanished with the thousand and one nights she cried herself to sleep.

Speechless and sad, she gazes through her wet eyes out across the empty fields. The workers have turned in for the night and the birds are now roosting in total tranquillity.

How she longs to sprout invisible wings to hoist her on the last, fading rays of the departing sun if only to carry her back to the land of her childhood – to the land of living dreams where once her voice echoed gleefully across the air with other children.

The night has fallen spreading its shadows across the land and painting her walls with a tinge of rich dark blue. The moon emerges from behind the clouds painting each with a silver lining. A feeling of hope wells up inside her, flooding her very heart, soul and mind with blissful exultation.