Short story – The Refugee

I first posted this story on 21st January this year, under the title “Where is Europe?” I think this may have misled people into thinking it was a political post about Brexit, and it had very few readers. So, here it is, retitled but otherwise unchanged!

Short story – The Refugee

Latifah struggled up from the nightmare, sobbing, the taste of fear like blood in her mouth. As she opened her eyes she saw her mother.

“Quickly, Latifah, quickly!”

She heard revving engines, screeching tyres and gunshots. For a few seconds she lay petrified, too frightened to move. They had come!

Her mother pulled her to her feet, thrust her abaya over her head, tied her niqab in place.

“Come quickly,” she implored.

“Allah, do not let me fall into the hands of these men; let me die first,” Latifah prayed.

Men were pounding at the front door, battering it. She could hear her father shouting. There was a burst of automatic fire, and agonized shrieks. Her mother gasped, pushed her out of the back door, and they stumbled away.

Behind them were screams, and the flickering light of burning buildings; in front was darkness. Latifah’s mother fell to her knees.

“I’m wounded. You must run, Latifah, run!” She fell forwards, face in the dirt and lay still. Latifah let out a howl of despair, and then ran.

She ran until breathing hurt, until her legs wobbled, until she could no longer hear the dreadful sounds and the flames were hidden behind a hill. And then she wept for her mother and her father and her brothers, for her friends and for her home. There was no way back.

She walked on through night, and the desert, and the sunrise, until she reached a small town. The gunmen weren’t there; this was still a place of friends. Latifah had a little money, and she bought some bread and drank from a water fountain. “Which is the way to the sea?” she asked everyone.

It was a long walk. Sometimes she was lucky and found a day’s work, which would buy her a little food to last a week. Sometimes she had to beg. She slept in the open, fitfully.

And she reached the sea. Her eyes grew large and round in her gaunt face. The sea was so large! It was like a desert of water! “Where is Europe,” she asked everyone.

Some shrugged; some laughed; “It’s like heaven,” said a woman. “You only get there after you’re dead.”

One good-looking young man said, “I can fix it for you to travel there. Show me your face.”

“No, that would be sinful!” she exclaimed.

He grabbed her niqab and pulled it off roughly, tossing the rag into the bushes at the side of the road. She fought him, but he was strong and she was starving,

“Allah protect me!”

She fell and felt him press hard on top of her. He smelled sweet, rotten. The stones under her were gouging into her back, and they lacerated her as she struggled. He was laughing as he forced her legs apart. And then, suddenly, he slumped. His head fell against Latifah’s, stunning her.

It was the face of a very young man that she saw first as she recovered consciousness. She gasped and shrank back.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “See, I’ve found your niqab. You can put it on and be modest again.” She looked at him as a cat approaches a stranger, warily, ready to flee.

“It’s alright. Here it is.”

He held it up. Latifah snatched it, tied it in place.

“Are you alright to walk? We’d better go. I think I killed him when I hit him with the rock. He…he hasn’t moved.”

Latifah dragged herself upright, and sobbed. She hurt all over, and her limbs shook. She looked at the young man. Why, he was a boy really, hardly older than she was!

“Thank you,” she said. “Do you know where Europe is?”

“It’s over there somewhere.” He gestured towards the sea. “Is that where you want to go?”

Latifah nodded.

“My family is going tonight. Do you want to come with us?”

“Could I?” she said, hardly daring to believe it.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I shall have to ask.”

That night, Latifah and Asif, with the strong arms of Asif’s mother around them, crossed the sea and reached safety.

 

In the moment – the small stuff

I don’t know about you, but I am sometimes guilty of exaggerating the scale of an irritation. Something quite trivial can annoy me disproportionately.

For example, consider a married couple with different views about using the dishwasher…

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Jeremiah, a curmudgeonly so-and-so, would argue that it’s a labour-saving device. If it’s mostly full and you don’t run it, and you then have to hand-wash dishes for the next meal, then that’s a bit silly. And irritating. Grrrr!

Eve, a committed environmentalist, would argue that the dishwasher consumes electricity and water. If you run it and it’s not full then that’s wasteful. And irritating. Grrrr!

Obviously, there are merits to both points of view.

I suppose it would be possible to do a rigorous calculation of waste, and devise some way of assessing lost convenience. I wonder if that would make any difference to either of them, though…

The much more interesting matter is why we find a small thing like this so aggravating.

Perhaps it comes down to habits of thought, and the rules that we make for ourselves.

Jeremiah looks at why they bought the dishwasher, and his expectation is that this nice machine is going to save him time and effort. Not running it because it’s not full goes against his expectations; it breaks his rules.

Eve looks at the impact on the environment and on their budget, and her expectation is that they must use the voracious machine as efficiently as possible. Running it when it’s not full goes against her expectations; it breaks her rules.

Interestingly, the fact that it’s a small issue doesn’t matter; in fact, it may even make things worse. There are so many things in life that we can’t control, aren’t there? Wouldn’t it be nice to feel that we can at least control the small things?

Of course, Jeremiah and Eve work out that they can solve their difficulty by being considerate of the other’s point of view. (Phew! Marriage saved!). Over the years, they resolve many similar differences. (Congratulations on a long and happy marriage!).

Mindfulness helps with issues like these. Living ‘in the moment’, you practise being aware of your emotions as they happen. You feel, and recognise, the prickle of anger as one of your rules is broken. Because you recognise it, you can deal with it. Jeremiah might find himself thinking “Aha! I’m feeling anger from Eve breaking one of my rules. Hey, you know what? Do I have any right to make rules for her? She’s entitled to her opinion, isn’t she?”

And, even better – it’s not a million miles from there to the position where Jeremiah welcomes Eve’s idiosyncrasies, as being a valuable part of the woman he loves.

‘Amor vincit omnia’ (love conquers all) – when you let it!

I protest #InternationalChildrensDay

On Thursday, we in the UK have a chance to vote for a more compassionate society. Do please read the pledges of the various parties with a view to greater compassion and justice, both in this country and abroad. And then vote for the party that you think most likely to try to bring about change.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

I protest.

I protest against the poverty and hunger in which so many children are forced to live by failing societies where greed is an economic norm. In the UK, alone, one in four children officially live in poverty… yet it is relative poverty. In many countries, poverty is the norm and means utter deprivation of even the most basic necessities. Every ten seconds, a child dies from hunger and its consequences. Almost nine hundred children die every day because they have no access to clean water.

I protest against the denial of medical care to any child. Every year, over 13 million children less than 5 years die from illnesses which could have been avoided or treated.

I protest against eager minds denied education in a world where so many have access to so much. Over a hundred million children, the adults of our own future, are growing…

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At first sight – part 2

While I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo I have no time to write fresh material for my blog, so I’m reposting a serial from 2017. In the first instalment Jon, a student in London, met Vikki and they fell in love. Unfortunately, Vikki has had to fly back to Australia leaving Jon in London. Will their love survive separation? Read on and find out!

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Despite the long flight from England to Australia, Vikki was up early on the morning after her return. She drank her coffee sitting in the kitchen so she could see the post arrive.

“You’re up early, Pet. Difficulty sleeping?”

Vikki gave her mum a hug.

“Body clock’s all wrong. I expect I’ll go back to bed after the post.”

Margaret Marsden gave her daughter a quizzical look.

“Post takes days from the UK,” she observed. “Would you like a croissant? I’ve been down to the bakery.”

“Mm, please.”

Vikki enjoyed having her mum all to herself over breakfast, but there was no letter in the post.

Daniel came to call on the third morning. His embrace wrapped Vikki in warmth and physical strength. His scent, the pleasant smell of a fit male body, almost overwhelmed her. “Am I allowed a kiss?” he asked.

Vikki proffered her cheek. Chastely, Daniel pecked it. He ran his hand through her honey-coloured hair. The look in his eyes spoke of everything other than chastity.

“We’re having a barbie out at Mothers’ Beach tonight. Do you fancy coming?”

Vikki moved away from him, and sat down on the other side of the sturdy wooden kitchen table.

“I’m a bit tired. Jet-lagged, I guess. I’ll give it a miss this time, if you don’t mind, Dan.” Dan shrugged.

“Jessica will be there.”

“Sorry, Dan, I’m going to have an early night. Maybe next time?”

She woke next morning feeling light-hearted and she was singing as she went downstairs.

“Postie was early this morning,” said her mum, gesturing at the envelope on the table.

The handwriting on the envelope was well formed and fluent. Vikki stared at it, turning it over and over, caressing it.

“Would you like a coffee to take to your room?”

“Gosh, thanks, Mum. That would be lovely.” She stroked her mum’s short, dark, curly hair. “You’re so good to me. It’s great to be back home.”

Dear Vikki

I hope your flight home went well and wasn’t too gruelling. And I hope you received the big family welcome you told me about, with lots of hugs and kisses from your sisters. (How jealous I am of your sisters…)”

Vikki frowned, then sighed. Maybe Jon was premature in writing a love letter, but she couldn’t pretend to herself that she didn’t feel the same powerful attraction. Those few kisses with him after the party had been different from any she’d ever experienced.

We had so little time together before you had to leave today, and yet I feel that in some way we know the essence of each other. I hope you don’t think I’m being too pushy, but – I love you. Is it ridiculous to feel that some people are made for each other? Reason tells me it is. And yet, how strongly I feel that we belong together.”

Vikki nodded, thoughtfully. She knew what it was to be roused by a man; Dan excited her intensely, for instance; but, yes, what she had felt with Jon was different.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to see my Professor, to ask if he can arrange some more paid work for me supervising undergraduates in practical classes. It shouldn’t be too long before I can afford to fly out for a few weeks and stay close to you in a B&B or somewhere. If you want me to, of course.”

Vikki’s face lit up. She read the short paragraph a second time, and a third. She could think of nothing she would like better than to have Jon visit.

Four days earlier, as he had written the lines, Jon had agonised over this last sentence. Still, now it was done; he must close.

And now I’d better seal the envelope and post the letter.

With all my love,

Jon”

He looked at the crumpled balls of paper on his desk, the discarded drafts. The letter had taken him the whole evening to write. Feeling foolish and infantile for doing so, he nevertheless touched his lips to the fair copy. He slipped it into the envelope, and tucked it into the inside pocket of his jacket. A great wave of exhilaration lifted him. He trotted down the stairs and out into the night.

Two strong arms seized him, one pinning his elbows against his ribs, the other pressing like an iron bar across his throat. There was a faint scent of expensive cologne.

“I think you know Vikki’s Australian address,” hissed Guy.

The next episode will be posted tomorrow, 21st Novemeber. Don’t miss it!

 

When You Call Me…

For my guest post this Thursday, I’ve chosen “When you call me…”, by Kasturimib2010. This is a beautiful poem about love. The poet describes her delight in hearing all sorts of diverse things from her beloved. The illustrations that she chooses demonstrate very clearly and vividly the depth of empathy and mutual comprehension between the two of them. I like the poem very much indeed.

V i a k a t

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I am not really the person whom you call up
just to ask “what else is going on,”
No.
I’m the person who loves it
when you call me because that book last night
made your chest ache and you couldn’t sleep.

You call to make me listen
to the sound of rain falling on your courtyard.
To tell me about your dreams of traveling to Antarctica,
or how some art moved you inside,
or maybe to describe
that rare streak of colour across a grey sky.

You can talk to me about the time
when a human made you lose all hope
and yet you found it back in an animal’s eyes.
Tell me about the time when you bunked work
to roam around the city aimlessly,
or the time when you wanted to give it all up
to seek a higher truth.

These are some of the things…

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