Love / Amor

You met him in the deep of the winter. Beast of the East, they called it, when the snows piled up, the icy winds blew and the temperature fell down below zero. He’s not bad, you thought, at first, but even then you had to admit you found him attractive. Then you got to know him better. You bonded over music. Latin American music, the old and the new, popular or obscure, it didn’t matter, you both liked it all. It was the music of his lands.

And then, as the spring arrived and days got longer, it became harder and harder to stop thinking about him. Then you found out he felt the same.

It was a long, hot, passionate summer.

People couldn’t believe it; four months without a single raindrop? Continuous sunshine? What miracle! The two of you just laughed. It was no miracle. Of course it was that way, because it made sense. It was the summer made for you, hot like those faraway lands.

You danced, always. Salsa, merengue, or just swaying from side to side with no rules. You ate melons at midnight. Sunday afternoons you spent lying in bed playing old love songs. Te quiero. And Buena Vista Social Club.

It was a long summer.

When it started getting colder, it only meant you wrapped yourselves under a blanket. Autumn leaves crunched under your feet when you went for a walk in the park. Once you shared the same scarf. People laughed at that.

They had no idea.

You looked forward to the long winter nights. Te quiero…

But it turned out it wasn’t just the year that was running out. His visa too.

No big deal, he’d just get it renewed, you thought. But he couldn’t. Home Office rejected it.

That Halloween monster was real. You were going to lose him. He had to go back to his country.

It shouldn’t have surprised you, you’d heard all about the “hostile environment”. Never had it occurred to you to apply it to your own situation but here it was. There was nothing to be done.

On a rainy November day, you said your goodbyes. I’ll do what I can, he said. He was devastated. It wasn’t just you, he didn’t want to leave UK.

We’ll be alright, you assured him. What will be, will be. Que sera, sera.

Months have passed since then, winter came and went, nowhere near as cold as the one year before, followed by weak spring and rainy summer. Once again the old order was restored.

If you’re lucky, you don’t get all soaking wet.

Amazingly, you’re still in touch with him. You message each other regularly and video call as much as you can from one hemisphere to another. Attempts to obtain new visa were unsuccessful so far, but he’s not losing hope.

You don’t talk about him to anyone much. People get uncomfortable any time immigration is brought up. Some mumble something about hoping you two will be reunited soon and change the subject. Other try to lecture you on long distance. Like you asked… You secretly laugh at them. They have no fucking idea.

You play Buena Vista Social Club and dance around your flat. They have no idea how good it feels.

Out on the busy streets, you put your headphones on to block out the noise. Chan Chan. It’s your signature tune.

You look up at the sky in daytime and at moon at night, the same sky and the same moon he’s looking at. “Hey, we’re still on the same planet!”

He might try Spain, he says. He seems to be more optimistic about that.

You’re not worried. You know you’ll meet again.

And so another day comes by and you look at the sky again and he’s on your mind and you’re on his mind and you listen to the same songs at the same time.

“But don’t you feel lonely?” some boring person asks you. “No, why would I?” you answer. They gasp. You shrug and put your headphones back on.

They don’t get it and never will.

But you do.

Because you have known love.

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Quiet Please

It’s nearing midnight and you’re alone in your room. You alternate between lying in bed and pacing the room barefooted. Attempts to read a book under a pillow with a torch have failed. No way you can concentrate on reading. From time to time, you go to the window and stare out at the moon, clouds covering and uncovering it.

There is nothing of interest outside. Hard concrete grounds, with neat squares of grass, surrounded by other buildings belonging to the Educational Centre. The grounds are lit by street lamps but all the windows on all the buildings are dark. Except the watchtower, obviously. The guards on duty patrol the area at regular intervals.

Deathly silence rules over the Centre.

Your movements are stealthy, your body long ago accustomed to the laws of this regime. The nine o’clock curfew, the six o’clock waking up on weekdays, you’re used to it. You wear the approved clothing like a second skin, you speak the language of the Ruling Class like a mother tongue. You wouldn’t have made it to the position of the Prefect otherwise. One day you may be able to join your aunt and uncle in the Resistance. But not now. Not yet.

She’s still not back.

The worrying only increases and decreases, it never goes away. You don’t remember what it was like not worrying about your sister. It’s part of your life like breathing. She is the reason for all of this; why you comply, why you became a top student and a Prefect. You promised your parents you would look after her. In some ways, it’s been worth it—better rooms on higher floors, greater choice of meals, bigger allowance and even an occasional trip to town. And you get to share a room with your sister. You know what you have to do for that. Having to be on alert twenty-four-seven. Being the poster girl for the Regime. Reporting schoolmates who break the rules.

You do what you have to do.

But tonight, you allowed your sister to go out on a date with a boy.

She knows about all the secret exits and passages of the Centre. If she didn’t know about them from you, she would find out from other girls. Of course, girls sneak out like this all the time, mostly on Friday nights. No regime, however tight, is, after a while, immune from some bad behaviour.

You vetted the boy, of course. He’s from the boys’ half of the same Educational Centre, you wouldn’t allow her to go out with an outsider. He’s older than your sister and younger than you, also a top student, though not a Prefect. As long as she doesn’t get caught, it will be okay. She’s not had any fun in months. And a clandestine meeting with a boy is just what she needs to bond with her classmates…

As long as she’s back before midnight and doesn’t get caught on the way, it will be okay.

23:55

The handle on the door finally turns and she slides into the room on stockinged feet, shoes in her hand. Oh thank god, thank god

“Phew, just in time,” she whispers.

And while closing the door, the handle slips out of her hand and instead of a barely-there click, the door shuts with a bang.

Shit!

You both freeze.

Maybe it wasn’t even that loud. Certainly in the rush of the daylight, it wouldn’t be, but now…

You can already hear the guard on duty entering your floor.

You recover your senses. “Get to bed now,” you order your sister towards that very place, shoes and all, “cover yourself and pretend to sleep.”

She does so, loosening her long dark hair at the same time. The next second she is covered with a blanket up to her nose, eyes closed.

The guard’s steps echo in the empty corridor.

You muss your hair so that it looks like you just got out of bed. You grip the handle of the door tightly until your palm hurts. This is all your fault. You shouldn’t have let her go out.

But you don’t have time for any guilt now.

You open the door and put your head out. The guard is now almost at your door. The light of his torch is blinding you, making you squint. This only helps your act.

“Guard,” you say, faking tiredness in your voice, “what’s with the bloody noise at this time of night?”

Cauliflower on the Fence

The Cauliflower

The cauliflower was on the fence. It sat there, wrapped in plastic packaging, nestled between two wrought iron pickets. The day was bright but cold. Mid-morning sun threw the shadow of the fence and the cauliflower on the pavement, creating a scarecrow-like image. This was Ramney Road.

Neighbourhood cats were the first to examine the strange object. Although the fence was not one on which the cats easily trod, they cautiously approached it, sniffed from all sides and declared it harmless. Penny the calico, in whose territory the fence was, promptly became the cauliflower’s guard.

Two elderly ladies saw the cauliflower on their usual walk. “Well would you look at that, Doris!” exclaimed the first lady. “A cauliflower! On a fence!”

“Such notions people have these days,” the second lady shook her head. “I wonder if it’s one of those interrenet things.”

Another passer-by, a thin man in his thirties with a roll-up between his lips, paused in front of the cauliflower. He took out the joint, put it back in his mouth and took it out again. Dread came over him. “The witches have come at last!”

He then hurried away, lest the witches should get him.

A bunch of builders in safety vests and hard hats passed the cauliflower on the way to their building site. “Look, Wojtek,” the one that was pushing a wheelbarrow pointed at it, “there’s your dinner!”

“Yeah, you’ll be eating liquid asphalt tonight,” retorted the unbothered Wojtek.

Kristian, teenage boy who lived next door, off school with the flu, watched the goings-on with amusement from his bedroom window.

“Did you put the cauliflower on the fence?” asked his aunt Gia who came to check up on him while his dads were at work.

“Me? No. I looked out the window like ten minutes before you came and it was there already.”

At first she wondered what he found so entertaining about a cauliflower on the fence that he sat at the window watching it, but soon she joined him there. She made him soup, a cup of coffee for herself, wrapped the boy in a big scarf and together they watched the street as if it was the latest hot release on Netflix.

Later she went to the kitchen to prepare some sandwiches. When she returned with a tray, he had a big grin on his face.

“You won’t believe who’s here.”

The subject of his remark was Andrew Jones, upcoming star of politics, local councillor and a candidate for Parliament in the next general election. Despite being on the side of politics which she favoured, meaning the left, Gia didn’t trust him. And it wasn’t just the usual not trusting politicians feeling. “I get bad vibes off him,” she’s say. She knew he lived in this neighbourhood but had never met him before.

Now he was accompanied by that horrible busybody of a woman that lived at number ten.

“Be right back,” said Gia and left the bedroom.

“Where you going?” Kristian called, but got no answer. He saw his aunt come out of the house.

Gia stopped at the front yard, acting inconspicuously, her smartphone in her hand. Penny the calico cat jumped through the pickets from the front yard next door towards her. “Oh hello kitty-kitty-kitty,” Gia bent down and scratched the cat behind her ear. Meanwhile, the politician and the busybody woman stopped in front of the cauliflower.

Gia, hidden behind a dustbin, got the camera on her smartphone ready. She aimed at the two and selected the video button.

“What’s this?” Jones asked.

Gia tapped record.

“Immigrants live in this house, you know,” said the busybody. “God knows what ritual this is. Nightmare—you hardly ever hear English on this street anymore.”

The cat was rubbing herself against Gia’s legs.

“Yes I noticed,” said the politician.

“Back in the day, everyone on this street used to know each other. Now it’s all foreigners. These salam-alaykums are the worst.”

“I assure you, once I get voted in, I mean to deal with this issue. Return Britain to the British, is my motto.”

They resumed their walk. Gia stopped the recording and gave the cat the final pat. “And this, my feline friend, is what you call a scoop.”

After three o’clock, when Gia popped to the corner shop to get snacks and cookies, several of Kristian’s schoolmates gathered near the cauliflower on their way from school, taking selfies with it.

“Tyrone put it there,” said one boy.

“No way,” Tyrone said.

A girl with long neat braids snorted. “As if Tyrone knew what a cauliflower looked like.”

“Hey, Kristian!” shouted the first boy pointing at Kristian’s window. “You skiving!”

“No, he’s really ill,” Gia said. “You want some cookies, kids? Plenty enough for everyone.” She opened the box and offered them. Each kid took one cookie with very polite thanks. They were good kids.

“Who put the cauliflower there?” asked the girl with the braids.

“Who knows? It’s been there since morning.”

“Hashtag friends with vegetables,” said another girl tapping at her smartphone.

How about hashtag racist politician gets caught out, Gia thought. She went back inside.

The street got busy with parents picking up their children from nearby primary school.

“Mummy, why is there a cauliflower on the fence?” asked one little boy.

“It means you have to eat your veggies,” answered the mother inattentively, her mind focused on the tasks that awaited her at home.

The Consequences

By the end of the day, the video of Andrew Jones was shared on all social media platforms all over the country. Gia could only gloat as it was confirmed he was expelled from the party. “This is what it’s like being proven right and I like it,” she said to Penny the calico cat.

The video also generated numerous memes about being caught out by vegetables.

Shy Tyrone finally plucked up the courage to ask the girl with the braids out on a date after taking a picture of her next to the cauliflower. Although they remained friends, it was a big moment for him as it was the first time he asked a girl out.  

The stressed out mother’s little son resolved to eat his vegetables. He didn’t want them to end up on the fence.

The stoner guy decided to cut down on weed. Getting high was one thing, hallucinations were something else.

The wheelbarrow-pushing builder realised he didn’t know his co-workers well and so the next day after work treated everyone for a round at the pub. They had a truly great time.

Doris asked her grandson to teach her how to work with that interrenet thing. With time she learnt how to use online banking and kept in touch with the granddaughter that now lived in New Zealand.

The Commencing

A farmer pulled up his van in front of a house in the street to the right angle of Ramney Road. Mrs Higgins, his regular customer, was after some cauliflowers this morning. The farmer handed her two of his best specimens.

“There you go, Mrs Higgins. Oops!”

Mrs Higgins dropped one of the cauliflowers.

“Oh dear, am I clumsy today,” she sighed.

“Never mind, Mrs Higgins, I’ll give you another one. Here takes this.”

Cauliflowers and money exchanged, Mrs Higgins and the farmer each went their way.

The dropped cauliflower rolled away from Mrs Higgins’ house.

A short time later, Stanley, the local drunkard, was walking down this street. He stumbled over something.

He looked down. “Now, what ees this?”

He bent down and picked the cauliflower. “Look at yer there on da ground by yersself.”

He walked on with the cauliflower in his hand. “Now whaddya say to all this plastic? Do they not say it’s harm-harmful to the environ… environment? That chap David Atterbo… Attenteboro… Tennebro…” his tongue stumbled over the great naturalist’s name, “the one on the telly that talks to animals… he says so… polluting the oceans, it do… plastic… bloody plastic.”

He rounded the corner to Ramney Road. “Tellya what…” he stopped in front of one house.

The problem was, he forgot what. He stood there scratching his chin, trying to remember. “Tellya what…” he repeated. He stuck the cauliflower between two pickets. “Yer wait here.”

And he wobbled off.

Poke

You’re walking down the street with your nieces and they’re all excited because you’re on your way to the funfair. Out the corner of your eye you see a figure walking in towards you in the opposite direction but take no special notice. The girls are chatting cheerfully about their school and friends. The figure is getting closer. It’s a tall man in a long black coat. Then, just as he’s passing you, he takes out a stick and pokes you in the eye with it.

You wake up to your cat touching your eye with her paw, demanding her bloody breakfast.

Unrequited Love Poem

I wake up every morning with you on my mind

I go through my day thinking of you

I picture us walking in the park hand-in-hand in the afternoon

And make dinner later

I go to sleep whispering your name

All day, every day, everything is you

And you

You look at me but you don’t see me

I see you laughing with your friends

And dating other girls

You say hi sometimes but nothing more

Nothing more

Nothing

Nothing

…Is me

Six months later, during some major decluttering, she finds the poem tucked among other papers.

She looks it with confusion, thinking: bloody hell, I was really hung up on this guy, huh? I barely remember his face, what even is his name again??

The poem sparks no joy.

Eye Contact

A figure approaches her. She feels the presence of someone drawing closer, she registers subconsciously a dark grey jacket and a pair of jeans. Her hands are working mechanically on the task in front of her; her mind is elsewhere, drifting away to landscapes and oceans beyond.

The door of a dryer next to her opens, almost hitting her.

“Oh, sorry,” the dark grey jacket says. She turns.

She sees his eyes before she sees him.

His eyes.

She falls into his eyes. She’s swimming in his eyes, immersed in the shades of brown and green, caressed in their depth. His eyes... She’s floating in his eyes, to the worlds unknown, to oceans and landscapes, to realms of golden and amber and caramel and—

He smiles apologetically. “I hope I didn’t hit you.”

“No, it’s okay,” she says.

She folds the last of her clothes, puts them in her bag, zips the bag and hangs it over her shoulder. He’s still smiling.

“See you some other time,” she says to him.

And with this, she walks out of the launderette.

Lunch Break

You usually bring your lunch to work but today you have to go out to get something to eat. Consequence of you being too lazy to go shopping last night and thus having no food at home to prepare for lunch. So come lunch break, you go to the supermarket down the road from your workplace, because you know they do meal deals. You get there, pick your sandwich and drink and snack and as you walk towards the checkouts, you hear shouts. Turns out an angry customer is having a go at the security guard.

Well, that’s something new, you think. You pay at the self-checkout, while two shop assistants watch the angry customer with fascination. The man is red-faced and repeats the same phrases. “Give me your boss’s number! I want to speak to your boss!” He looks like he’s quite serious about it.

The security guard remains calm. You have seen him here before, you always shop here when you don’t bring your own lunch, the name on the security guard’s badge says Femi, the two shops assistants are Mark and Amir, but anyway, you don’t have time to ponder, the precious lunch break time is running out. You complete your purchase.

The angry man is still demanding the phone number of the security guard’s boss. The guard says, okay then, follow me here. He moves towards the store’s entrance.

As you walk out of the shop and pass the security guard, you lean to him and say: “Tell him your boss is Nick Fury.”