Welcome to London by Tina Festus

As I dragged my suitcase past the ‘nothing to declare’ sign post, my scepticism overwhelmed me. A black man? A Nigerian? Omo Yoruba, an immigration officer in London? But he was. His accent was thick and omoish.

‘Your passport ppleasee,’ he said. His voice was more corroded than those of touts at Ijora Motor Park. I’m sure he noticed my shock. My countenance fell short of disguise. He peered at almost every page of my passport with the familiarity of someone who had once owned such document.

‘How long are you staying?’ He asked, his crossed eyes creating a monstrous demeanour.

‘Two weeks. Just two weeks,’ I said. He glanced at me as if he knew the real truth, but stamped my passport anyway.

Almost everybody at the airport looked too serious and seemed to be in such haste. Their footfalls made rhythmic piam piam piam sounds, as if they were calculated. They pushed their heavy trolleys with such ease; their faces masked with a high level of Thatcherism. My trolley posed as my first obstacle. It refused to move in a straight line. Obstinate beast. I was tempted to carry my suitcase on my head but faltered. I didn’t want to disgrace Uncle J; his warning was still fresh in my mind. As I passed the last exit sign, I saw Uncle J from a distance. Unmistakable, his skin-cut oblong head illuminated with great sheen; the gap between his upper incisors was as wide as the north and south poles, and it widened when he smiled. He had added more flesh since the he came home for mum’s funeral. He had wept bitterly as mum was lowered six feet. They were very close. For someone in London, I expected him to be dressed differently. He was shabbier than even me, fresh from Africa. Maybe his faded oversized winter coat covered the better things. He had brought a similar coat for me that smelt like a direct pick from a bail of okirika. I was already freezing. Never in my life had I imagined this kind of cold. As I stepped out of the plane into the transit bus, I felt like a corpse from the mortuary, my teeth clattering, my blood congealing gradually. But they said that winter was yet to come.

I walked into Uncle J’s welcoming arms. It was a strong, emotional hug that lasted for minutes. A dream had finally come true, after poverty and mum’s death threatened to abort it.

‘Uncle, I can’t express my gratitude, I don’t even know where to start.’

‘That’s alright, it’s my very pleasure, a promise to my sister fulfilled, so how is everyone? Your dad, your step mum, and your younger ones?’

‘They’re all happy, Uncle. They send their gratitude. It is a big relief for the entire family.’

Swallowed by the jacket Uncle J gave me, I walked behind him, struggling to keep up with his gallant strides and hoping that we would get into his car soon. We joined several confusing and scary escalators.

‘Is the car park still far, Uncle?’ I asked curiously.

‘Just follow me,’ he said harshly. ‘In London people move more on public transport. It’s cheaper and safer,’ he added as if to dilute the content of his first answer.

The train was very long and clean, all the seats occupied. People sat quietly, heads bent and hands busy on mobiles phones and other electronic gadgets as if it were rule that must be obeyed. My heart in my hand, it was my first time in a train. The movement was noisy and bumpy. With two hands, I clutched the rail with all the strength I could muster. A repetitive chorus made the passengers seem deaf: ‘Please stand clear of the door.’ My suitcase tumbled onto a man’s feet and he kicked it off as if it were toxic.

At London Bridge, we joined bus 343 and within minutes, we were at Balogun market, sorry, Peckham. The large crowd movement reminded me of the Israelites journey across the desert. Busy as a beehive: sellers, a mixture of many races, chatting and joking. I heard Yoruba spoken with ease and fluency.

‘Alaroro, baoni,’ a voice said behind me. It sounded un-African. When I turned, I saw a white man the colour of un-properly ripped banana. He was teasing Uncle J’s haggling power. The stalls were filled with every food I knew: rice, beans, egusi, yam, plantain, pepper, snail, even corn and local pear. They lacked the foods I wanted to see in a London food market. My appetite for English food began to wane: chicken in the basket, roasted salad, dissected pumpkin, vegetarian accolado. Uncle J carried my suitcase, which was lighter than the sacks I carried behind him. As I scanned the market, I longed to ask more questions. I wanted enough time to drain the fat from the flesh.

A siren blared pee-poo-pee-poo-pee-poo. Cars made emergency parking and heads turned in the direction of the siren. Suddenly, Uncle J sped off. My heart jumped as I flung the bag of shopping and ran after him.

‘Chinekee! What is happening?’ I screamed.

‘My God! What have you done?’ Uncle J asked as he turned back. Our bags were scattered on the road. Some cars had run over them.

‘The commotion! What’s happening? I’m scared,’ I said, gasping.

‘Scared, of what? The siren was an ambulance and I just ran to stop our bus.’

‘Ohoo! I didn’t know sir, everything happened in a flash, so quickly. I thought it was a bomb blast. I get easily startled these days. The Boko Haram experience is still haunting me. Very sorry, Uncle.’

‘Sorry for yourself,’ he said picking up and restocking the few undamaged items. ‘Look, this is London eh, you have to shine your eyes properly. No space and chance for mumu here. Imagine the waste,’ he said with a long sigh as we waited for our bus.

It was bus 12, en route to Dulwich library. It was the same size and colour as the bus before it, but the entrance was at the back. Molue in London, I thought. A black woman stood at the entrance, her heap of rainbow-coloured dreadlocks as high as the mountains. Her huge and intimidating frame was a plus for her kind of job: she manned the gate. As she handed me my ticket, I wondered how she managed with her household chores, her claws so long and curvy, painted in colours of all member countries of the United Nations.

Finally, we climbed to the top floor of a five-story building without a lift. My limbs were wobbly and too close to the ground. I was weak and hungry. My breath came sparingly. Supporting my frame on the handrail, Uncle J’s scolds of laziness and lousiness fell on deaf ears. I squeezed past him as soon as he opened the door and waited on the hallway to be introduced to my room, as he arranged some misplaced items in the passage. He opened another door. The kitchen was on the left and a closed door on the right with a sticker that said, ‘God’s Favourite.’ In the middle was a staircase leading down. It was like going into a hellhole. Never had I seen a downward stepping flat.

Then came the real shock: the room was nothing but a small bed, a small fridge, a twenty-one inch LCD television, a wardrobe, a small centre table, one plastic chair and a table fan. The two of us would share it. My lips fell apart but words ceased to come. Loads of questions pressured my mind. My disappointment spoke louder in the silence. Uncle J was anything but stupid. He read my mind with a magnifying glass; his feigned smile failed to smooth my dismay.

‘So, Eze, welcome to London, the heartbeat of United Kingdom,’ he began. ‘You’re now part of the system, a member of the secret society. London is a leveller; everyone is equal, as you will soon find out. Alabekee is a secret society. You have to come in to know the secret codes. If I had told you that I live in one room here, you wouldn’t have believed me. If I had told you that all we do here is work, work and work, you would have called me a liar. It’s not all bad news though. The sunny side of it: London is a land of opportunities, with menu of choices. There are two main routes: the right route orbits at a snail pace, may eventually take you to your destination over time with patience. The fast track is another route that can catapult you from the base to the apex in minutes; you must be ready for the consequences though. My happiness today is more on the fact that I’ve fulfilled my promise to your mum. From now on your siblings should be your responsibility. The big ball is now on your court.’

We moved to the kitchen, watched the rice and warmed the stew. As I analysed Uncle J’s London, my disappointment heightened and hardened even the more. This was not the London I expected, where everyone owned big luxurious houses, rode expensive cars, ate English food, went to clubs and parties, observed siesta as a matter of protocol, had drivers, cooks, and messengers, where everyone was rich, and ‘suffering’ and ‘poverty’ were not in their vocabularies. Could this be the true London?

The rice tasted nice, and I’d never had so much chicken and assorted meat before. As we ate, he sat on the bed and I sat on the plastic chair.

‘You’re a very lucky person. One of my very good friends has offered you two hours weekend cleaning job at an African restaurant in Camberwell. He said you can start this weekend,’ Uncle J said, smiling, fulfilled. My spoonful of rice suspended en route to my mouth.

‘Uncle, I have my second class upper degree certificate in petroleum engineering with me,’ I said, in case he had forgotten.

‘Let that continue to rest wherever it is for now. As I told you, London is a leveller, you’ll soon understand,’ he said.

Later, I tidied up the kitchen: a woman’s job. I wondered why he had refused to remarry since his divorce with Nkechi.

‘A woman is a necessity in every responsible man’s life.’ My dad had begun drumming this into my ears when I was ten. At twenty-three, I’d experienced enough to believe him. Women were neither saints nor evil. One woman’s sin is not enough to stain the rest.

There was a clattering noise on the door. A man came in with a bag of foodstuff.

‘Good evening sir,’ I greeted.

‘Ehee, enyia kedu?’

‘Odinma,’ I replied. He left his shopping bag next to the ‘God’s Favourite’ sticker and descended the stairs. He looked about the same age as Uncle J, though taller and darker. His tribal marks revealed him to be from the Bendel part of Nigeria. When I went into the room, a bottle of Gordon’s dry gin was bearing the brunt of their exhilaration. Uncle J was leading the discussion and spoke like someone that had made a significant achievement, which I believed he had. The total cost of trolleying me to London was enough to make him proud.

‘Nwokem, welcome to the system, I hope you won’t be his next enemy,’ the man said, gulping the last liquid from his glass. ‘The story is always the same. Nobody has brought someone from home and ended on a good note with him. Jerome may be your worst enemy tomorrow.’ He rubbed his paint-stained hand over his mouth. ‘If you choose to be different, that will be great,’ he said, standing and heading for the door.

The cleaning job was a gateway. For a couple of weeks, I earned my first pound sterling salary. Then, came the opportunity to be a security guard, a full-time job supervising the door of a large chain supermarket. I was lucky. Everything went like magic and nine months flew in a twinkle. I was fully settled. Sending money home became a monthly routine, and one that I did joyfully. Even our family status at home was elevated. Dad utilized every dime I sent. School fees were paid on time, they had meals on a daily basis, and even did minor renovations on the four-bedroom bungalow Dad built before his retirement as the village headmaster. I also sent some posed photographs of me snapped at strategic places exhibiting London’s goodness. I had learnt some slang: ‘inni,’ and ‘alright mate.’ I tried as much as possible to twist my tongue while speaking to friends back home. I was tormented getting calls from home loaded with requests from people I didn’t know. It felt great to belong to the overseas class, to be consulted about important decisions in the family, not only as the first-born son but also as a breadwinner of sorts. It was a merited right. Then suddenly, everything crumbled.

That Thursday began like every other day. The sky frowned as if in alliance with the impending doom. We all signed in at 8 am, cracked a few jokes, checked the duty board and retired to our respective duties. We’d barely worked for thirty minutes when a white Mercedes sprinter minibus drove onto the premises. Twelve fierce-looking men and women walked into the manager’s office. A call from the Manager’s office was not unusual, but the call that morning was charged with anxiety and tension. It was the sort of call I’ve heard about from those lucky enough to escape the immigration net. From that moment, I knew it was my time to tell a story: whether it was good or bad. My whole system got the signal, and I became a river of sweat. My feet felt too weak to carry my weight. I wished I could fly, or evaporate into thin air. Instead, I did what we were asked to do: lumber into the general office, where we all stood like statues in the presence of mean-looking men and women from UK Border Agency. They ransacked every corner of the office and bombarded the store manager, Mr. Lian with questions. He mixed and changed his statements. Then we were asked to identify ourselves. The man that spoke to me seemed like wickedness personified.

‘Your name, please,’ he said to me.

‘Emeka Okolo,’ I replied.

‘Date of birth?’

‘23rd April, 1988.’

‘Address?’

‘56 Devonshire Road, London, SE6 2JR.’

As he confirmed my details in the system, I fought the flood of tears that surged to wet my face. I saw my plans crumble like a house of cards; I saw perforations on my mission and my vision. I thought about my dad, my younger siblings and all the people whose lives I had impacted in my little way these past few months. I thought of my kind hearted Uncle J.

‘God, if you are still on the throne and doing miracles, let me tell this story,’ I prayed.

After what seemed like eternity, they asked some workers to go back to their stations. But for six of us, as we took our seats in the minibus, our hands lost their freedom. UK border agents must be heartless to do their job. My case was hydra-headed. The man I impersonated was a wanted terrorist. I made my true confession.

As I climbed the stairs of the aircraft that was to take me back to Nigeria, I took a last look at London, my London. As I sat in my seat with a security guard behind me, I still believed that a miracle was possible. But then the plane taxied on the runway, and I knew it would be only a couple of hours before I would fit back into my old shoes. You can only see the bad side of darkness after you’ve tasted light.

 

 

About the author:Tina Festus

Tina Festus was born and grew up in Nigeria. She graduated from University of Port Harcourt with a B.Sc in Economics. She has a great passion for writing and has written many short stories and poems. Currently she lives in London with her family. She is doing her second degree in English Language and creative writing at the University of Westminster, as well as working on her first novel.

 

Photograph © Aero Icarus

Mona and Reg by M.E. Rolle

The story of Mona and Reg is a tale of epic romance. You might not be able to see that if you don’t know them very well, but it’s true. You could learn a lot about how to create a successful relationship just by watching them.

They’ve been married a long time – like maybe 18 years – and if you ask them, they’ll tell you that the secret to a long and healthy marriage is open and honest communication. Like just this morning, Reg was telling Mona that she was the biggest twat who’d ever lived, and she was telling him that it was funny they’d found each other then, what with him being the biggest dick who’d ever lived.

But I’m not going to tell you that story. The story I’m going to tell is the one about Mona and Reg’s 2009 barbeque. Their barbeques are famous in Brixton, but in 2009 that shit was monumental. It all started with Reg bragging up a storm about how he  knows his way around a grill. He was all like, ‘Come and get it. You won’t want to miss out on this. I might have outdone myself this time. I might just be king of the grill the way I move a slab of meat around the fire.’

So Mona was all, ‘Yeah Reg everyone’s impressed by your mad skills with a bottle of kerosene and a lit match, but babe when will the food actually be done?’ And it became like this boys on one side, girls on the other sort of gang up, where all the ladies were like, ‘Yeah we all know your cocks are huge, but we’re hungry.’ And the men were all like, ‘Yeah and we’d like to hear a bit more about how our cocks are so huge.’ And it ultimately came close to blows, except everyone was starving so they finally moved on to the part where the food was served.

Then Reg was moaning into the meat he’d cooked like it was the best orgasm he’d ever had, before he’d even brought it to his lips. ‘The aroma is a dead giveaway,’ he said, ‘this pig is going to be delicious.’ Then he just went at it like he was going down on the hottest chick he’d ever seen – really getting his face in there and rubbing it around. Incisors piercing skin, tearing flesh away from flesh, snapping tendons that tied muscle to bone. And the meat was blooming like a fucking flower in his hand.

There was a machination to his mastication – you can’t move through a body that quickly without a plan. Saliva was dripping from his lips, wetting his mouth and tongue, wetting the meat so it could move, sending a message to his throat that it was ready to swallow, even though his throat looked to be telling him that it wasn’t ready at all, his mouth so full of meat like that.

He kept yelling that he was a big cat like, ‘I’m a lion, baby! Look at me taking down this beast and bringing it home to you. You should be licking me down in gratitude, baby. I’m a goddamn Siberian tiger!’ The boys were having a laugh, but Mona was looking like she was about to kick off. And then Reg made a little cough and stopped with all the big talk – stopped with everything really, because his face was starting to turn blue. That’s when Mona started to laugh.

Everyone went crazy, girls screaming like, ‘What should we do?’ ‘Someone call 999!’ ‘Oh my God!’ Except Mona stopped laughing and just shook her head and smiled. She walked over to where Reg was now flat on his back and knelt beside him. Then she started cooing in his ear. She was like, ‘Reg, why do you have to do this? You’re not a tiger, love…. you’re not a big cat….you’re like a little jungle ape, baby….a tiny pink jungle ape with bollocks like marshmallows.’ And then she reared up with her fists in the air and dropped her elbow down hard against his diaphragm. Almost instantaneously, the bit of pig that had been lodged in his throat came sailing out, flew across the patio, and sank into the kiddie pool their dogs used for a bathtub.

Reg coughed a bit and sat up. We could all hear the sirens approaching. Then he looked at Mona like she was the only girl in the world. ‘I love you baby,’ she said. Reg said, ‘I love you too, you daft cow.’ And then they kissed like they couldn’t even see all of us standing there.

 

 

About the author:11081047_10205291567701520_3084136575215819956_n

M.E. Rolle studied English and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She holds a J.D. in Law from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an LL.M. in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School. After a twelve year career as an attorney for U.S. federal government, M.E. decided to pursue her passion for writing in London. She is currently taking part in the University of Westminster’s program,
MA Creative Writing: Writing the City.

 

Photograph © Caleb Drost

The London Scene by Tyler Walter

‘Have you seen this?’ Crystal asked, showing me her phone. In the dim alleyway, it was the only light other than our fag ends, and it illuminated my face. She had been able to pull up a news website and – for a moment – I was happy to see she had the money for the phone bill this week.

Teenage Trans Woman Stabbed. It was a large portrait of a young girl with a prominent jaw line and harsh cheekbones. I didn’t need to read past the title of the article before knowing what it was. The event had happened a few days ago, and I had heard of it the day previous. One of my clients had brought it up after we finished.

‘I’ve seen it,’ I said, taking a long drag from my cigarette.

‘It’s just awful!’ Macey interrupted, looking at me. I knew what she was hoping for. Instead, I rolled my eyes.

‘Why would anyone do that?’ she continued, giving a sugary smile.

Seeing that I wasn’t going to respond, Macey silenced herself and lit another fag.

Crystal had taken her phone back and was scrolling through the article. After a few minutes, she stopped. ‘What’s it like? To be trans I mean. We work together every night and I’ve never asked.’

I stared at Crystal. These girls weren’t my friends, but if they were curious I would answer them. I was never one for not wanting to talk about transgender issues. I cleared my throat, a deep cough promptly replaced with the higher voice I learnt at speech therapy. Noticing my fag had gone out, I relit it and shoved my lighter back into the small pocket on my miniskirt.

‘It’s like… being invisible yet hunted. It feels like every single person in London is out to get you. Any one of them can hurt you and get away with it because you are a lesser being than they are. Being trans means being fearful. You’re suspicious of everyone.’

I stopped for a moment. I didn’t mean hurt just emotionally. In my head I heard the lecture I wanted to give, but was too afraid. People are welcome to call me whatever names they like; ‘tranny’, ‘shemale’, ‘himher’, I’ve heard them all and they don’t hurt me. Trans women are more likely to be raped, and more likely to be murdered than anyone else, including trans men. A third of trans people in the UK go through transphobic abuse every year, and eighty percent of the abuse isn’t even recorded. Instead I simply said, ‘Transgender people have an average lifespan of thirty years.’ I heard them gasp.

‘I am invisible because I’m trans. But I am also the stand out because of it. No one wants to look at me. Everyone wants to talk about me. That’s how it is in London,’ I sighed.

Crystal started: ‘Wow. I never knew’-

‘Excuse me, ladies.’ We turned to see the man who had ventured down our alley and Crystal smiled; Macey leant against the damp wall, and jutted her hips out towards him. I stayed in the shadow of the wall.

‘Hey, what brings you here?’ Crystal purred, running a hand through her hair. From where I was I could see the man’s young face turning crimson and he wrung his hands. He was wearing a suit, very nice, very expensive, and he looked familiar even in the darkness.

‘Ladies, I’m looking for Dahlia. Is she here?’

Instantly I felt uplifted when I heard his voice: Mr Brown was my best client and he adored me. We would meet every month or so when he could get away from his wife. Of course, it wasn’t his real name – but Dahlia wasn’t mine either. The mutual understanding ran deep.

‘I haven’t seen you in a while, Mr Brown,’ I said, pushing my long black hair behind my ear.

He nodded, ‘Very sorry, the wife knows.’

I stared at him. ‘She knows?’

‘And she doesn’t care,’ Mr Brown smiled.

‘Wow… I guess she can’t really have an opinion after what she did to you.’

He took my hand and led me from the alleyway. There was a dark car parked next to the curb and he told me to get in. I asked where we would be going, and why we needed a car to get there.

‘You’ll see. It won’t take long to get there. I just prefer somewhere… more comfortable.’

I didn’t believe him, hell, the car would have been sufficient. Giving him a look that showed how suspicious I was, I stepped into the car anyway – I was low on cash and Mr Brown always paid well. Sitting alert in the passenger seat, I took note of the turns we took and where we were.

After a few minutes, he said: “You know, I’ve never asked, Dahlia. Are they real?” The hand he had on the gearstick gestured to my torso.

‘They’re real. Hormones can do amazing things,’ I said.

He stayed silent as we continued to drive through London, passing block after block of flats and shops. It occurred to me at some point that I had lost track of where we were and the route we had taken. Even with the streetlights, London at night looked so different. No longer was there the sea of people moving as one down every pavement; the lights in the buildings had all gone out.

‘Where are we going?’ I asked, trying to mask the waver in my voice.

‘Nearly there.’

When he stopped the car, we were outside an empty shop. It had dark newspaper in the windows, taped down but slowly peeling away at the corners of each one. I attempted to peek through the corners, but the glass was too dusty and too murky to see anything through.

‘What is this place? You want to do it in there?’ I was a little disgusted, then I remembered having to do it in the back of the vet’s surgery in front of the animals. Suddenly this place didn’t seem too bad.

As I’d spoken, he had pulled some keys from his pocket and was unlocking the front door. It swung open with a creak and we stepped inside. I wondered whether he could turn some lights on, and he obliged.

Looking around the room, it was exactly what I had expected: a thick layer of grey dust covered the surfaces of the only objects in the room, a table and a sofa. I had my back turned to Mr Brown. I should have turned around sooner.

When I finally turned back to him, the brick in his hand didn’t register to me, nor did the gleam in his eyes.

 

 

About the author:tyler

Tyler is an A Level student studying Creative writing and English literature. Tyler’s plans are to study Creative Writing at University and to keep writing.

 

 

Photograph © Stròlic Furlàn – Davide Gabino

 

 

 

 

 

London Hipster Life by Liv Monaghan

A charming gent clad in a shorts suit who I’d stopped to street-style snap, very jovially asked me if I was doing a report on the biggest dick-heads in Dalston.  I was rather surprised that such a package in its orange geo-print backed with bright white and sock-less-ness contained such humour. It was a pleasant surprise. Anything goes, style-wise in London, and that’s a big gulp of free fresh air, having travelled on the Eurostar from an odd existence in the land of stiff, silent, monochrome elegance.

However, I digress, there is indeed a lot of sock-less-ness in London.

This city is fast and it is furious. There’s not so much sympathy shown to people with dreams but there’s a lot of ‘hats-off’ to hard work and tangible results. There’s a cocktail of style here, and there’s real confidence, an assertive, competent ‘I’m going somewhere’ attitude, and all that confidence can wear whatever the hell it wants – and so it does, and is often (I realized having scoured the vintage stores in Angel) dressed in overpriced pieces of synthetic fibres from the seventies.

And there are a lot of tattoos. There are hats, drapes, clashing colours pulled in with classic tailoring, and there is another world too – a sea of well-cut navy suits and slim ties racing around the subterranean public transport hell. They, those people racing around in their well-cut navy suits, continue to wear the same slim-cuts on their time-off too. The first Sunday, I stood taking in a man no more than thirty, a neighbour, with whom I had paced the same path along the early morning trot to the tube, and to my dismay he was wearing the same shape and textures of the weekday garb in sunnier, slightly more plastic shades for the weekend. I imagined all the uniformed suits running around on their weekends off in the same uniform of brighter shades like an subconscious lego-man chorus in a Greek drama – the subconscious subterre theatre of London life for under thirty-fives working in big brutalist buildings dedicated to commerce.

There is an overriding casual sense to dress; The I-couldn’t-care-less with trainers under patterned trousers and big ugly clumpy shoes at the end of bare legs, which stomp their way with the confidence discussed above and the decorated assertiveness gained from those years of the early twenties spent working sixty-hour weeks.

Hipsters. There are a lot of hipsters in London. So much so that I no longer can believe that he or she, the hipster, was born in Brooklyn, and if he or she was, he or she has made Shoreditch his or her happy home. A place where there is an unsettling mix of social groups, whereby homelessness and extreme poverty can exist in parallel with the expensive cafés and bars packed to the brim with sock-less feet parked beneath the broken-down school desks rescued from the horror stories of classrooms from the fifties, and upon which the hipsters’ mac laptops rest.

I quite possibly should have taken out my own Mac laptop at any one of these points of nauseating observation and donned a German trilby sourced in Brick Lane to make myself feel better and join the orchestra of the tippity tap tap tippity tip tap tap soundscape. But reaching a low level of self-loathing brought on by feeling like a complete social failure who had never worked sixty-hour weeks, it was a miracle that I managed to continue my drinking the fruity black coffee against the sock-less backdrop.

If you ever find yourself in a position where you are drinking too much fruity black coffee, solo, against a backdrop of sock-less-ness and scrolling numbingly through various jobs pages to the point where your head feels far too heavy for your neck, then my advice is to step outside for a few minutes and offer any one of the many homeless people sitting outside these establishments a plastic mug of fruity black of choice.

On the first expedition, there was a lanky, poetic-looking chap with an Eastern European accent.

‘Can I buy you a coffee?’

‘I’d actually prefer a hot chocolate.’

He smiled a dark beauty that reached his big sunken eyes.

One girl, standing, not sitting, and who had complimented me on my multi-coloured cross weaved bag, was less than twenty, but a previous heroin habit had helped mangle her face to look forty.  She was so incredibly clean that I couldn’t but rudely remark on it by referring, inquisitively, to the shine of her hair.

‘Primark. No excuse to be filthy when you can buy a pair of knickers and a pack of socks for under two quid. You can take a wash in a MacDonalds. There are showers in the shelters. I just don’t like sleeping in the mixed ones.’

Full of the kind of electricity that has its multi coloured wires dangerously exposed, our exchange was very brief and she headed, quickly, in a southern direction until I could make out neither she nor her velour Primark tracksuit bottoms anymore.

In those neighbourhoods, rammed with that wonderful organised madness that is ok to wear on your sleeve here in London, you quite often want to chase after someone who looks cool – and often they’re ok with this. They take it in their stride, pacing on before you’ve had a chance to tell them where on the great internet jungle their shot will live forever more. Another time, they’re quite pissed off and they tell you to get lost.

I have a lot of images of people contending for the title of ‘Biggest Dickhead in Dalston’. I have none of the ravaged young women who are not at all partial to sock-less-ness.

 
IMG_4002About the author:

Liv Monaghan is a singer, designer and writer, based in Paris. Part cat, part bird. More musings can be found at www.livmonaghanmusic.com and www.livmonaghan.com

 

Photograph © Lisa Picard

Lost Boy by Fathima Ali

Dear The Side of Your Face,

I was a lost boy from Never-Help Land. I was a boy. Then a few strangers’ quarrels escalated to a full, blown-out war and my childhood skipped adolescence straight to adulthood.

I don’t know why this is happening and I don’t think we’ll ever get the real facts. I don’t know whom it is we can trust. Here we are, Syria, a nation sandwiched in between the Aliens and the Predators like someone’s sick, twisted sci-fi movie except the budget never runs out and the credit list of names of the dead keep on rolling.

If you can’t tell by now, I am a refugee and this is a snippet of my reality.

I won’t tell you my name. If I do, you probably won’t remember and even if you did you’d just butcher the pronunciation. I’m sorry but it’s true.

Let’s just call me John Smith so it won’t terrify any of the older readers.

I had a home like yours. Well, maybe not exactly. But I had neighbours, and both my parents, relatives I could barely stand to be near at annual family functions. I had a room. I had four walls that weren’t getting shot at, a door that wouldn’t break through so easily and a roof that could withstand whatever downpour God decided to add to the madness we found ourselves in.

I don’t think of them anymore – not because I’m as heartless as I’m making myself sound right now, but because I can’t. I have no time to wallow, to grieve, to even think. Instead, I march on. I walk from city to city for miles, being turned away at every corner by every shiny suit donning official and assault rifle-bearing soldier, eating scraps for food that we have to queue and fight for like dogs. A nation of scientists, teachers, academics and pious scholars all reduced to the barbarians the media portray us to be. The dirt has become us. And we have become the dirt everyone thinks we are. We are covered in it. My own stench is unfamiliar to me. Everything around me suffocates me. I’m drowning in a sea of helpless people whose difficulties reflect mine. I get off boats in far away lands and hide in the back of strangers’ crammed vans.

Foreign journalists come from time to time with their peculiar expressions, clean faces, and cameras gripped firmly in hand, watching us from the side-lines, the way you’d observe mammals in their natural habitat. I prefer those journalists to the other ‘pro-active’ foot-jutting ones anyway.

We are constantly engulfed in the hubbub surrounding us. Everything is loud and boisterous and hot and everyone is just feeding off each other’s negativity and desperation. The constant chatter, the crying of children, and the wailing of elderly women and sighs of disgruntled men. It never ends. I prefer it that way – I may be the only one. It’s when it’s eerily quiet when you know something truly awful has just happened.

I’m angry – they say that’s to be expected at my age. I’m hungry and cold too, which is to be expected from the condition we’re in…or so they say. The statistics say a lot, more than our dead ever would.

So now we run, with the shirts on our backs and the covers on our mothers’ heads that society secretly hopes will slip off, our siblings on their hunched backs, and in turn the fear that they carry on their tiny, trembling shoulders.

I live in London now, illegally of course hence the anonymity. I don’t quite know if I like it here yet. I don’t quite know if I like it anywhere anymore, but I have to try. The weather here is cold and the stares from strangers on the street colder still, but I’d take the apathy and loneliness over a boot in my face or a bullet in my chest any day. I’d take the hard labour and little pay, I’d take the insults and the comments comparing me to the very monsters I’ve fought so hard to evade. I willingly take it all like Shakespeare’s Juliet to the blade – because the alternative is always so much worse.

I miss literature. I hated it at the time, of course. It seemed so trivial, such a waste of time. I miss the stories we used to tell each other as boys. I miss the stories of the flying boys who never had to grow up. I miss the finality of stories; I miss the certainty and relief that Captain Hook would meet his crocodile.

I think of my friends some more. I wonder how many of them will die as prey, how many will evolve and how many will turn in to something else entirely. I wonder if they’ll ever make it out of there. I wonder if I’ll ever see any of them again. I wonder if I’ll ever recognize them if I do. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to stop thinking about them. I wonder if I’ll ever stop questioning why it was that I lived whilst so many perished. I wonder a lot.

I am grateful. I am tortured. Mostly, I’m just tired. I work. I work hard. I work for my mother. I work for my baby sister whose trials in life have started much too early. I work for the family we left behind and the dead we couldn’t even bury.

I work because I can’t afford not to like everyone else around me.

Maybe I don’t deserve to live in London. Maybe if I had a different name, a different god and a different home, maybe then I’d be worthy.

Others believe I don’t even deserve to live. All I know is I couldn’t live in the only home I ever knew.

I don’t blame you for turning your face away. I don’t resent the fact that all I’ll ever see is the silhouette of your back or the side of your cheek. I understand.

Why should you help me?

Why should you care?

You don’t have to, but thank you to the few who did and to the few who still do.

I’d never have made it this far without you.

I just hope those other lost boys will too.

Yours patiently,

Lost Boy.

 

 

fathimaAbout the author:

Fatima Ali is a first year student at the University of Westminster studying English Literature and Creative Writing. She enjoys writing short stories and novels from unique perspectives, and hopes to be a published author soon.

 

Photograph © Chris JL

 

Like No Other, Like All Others by Kylie Rolle

I only know me through him. I watch myself as him. And he sees me like no other. His eyes burn. I feel them in me. He explodes from within, hoping that I will see him as he bubbles just under the surface. It’s for me. Every flicker and glance skips my skin. He seeks something just as deep within me. I give only to receive. I want his love.

I step on the train. All eyes find me. They travel on me. They travel over me, then on to my options. They don’t move their bags to their laps; they place their hand over them for protection. They’ve seen people like me before. They worry. I see myself as they see me. I am nothing.

His hands feel me like I am a mystery; he wants to know my every fold and curve. The curtains are drawn. The light is on. He goes slowly; time is in abundance. I am worth it. I am everything. I am the stars above us and there are stars in my vision as he tells me what he’s going to do next.

I squeeze in and out of rush hour. Everyone is so quick to push, so quick to move. They fit together like a poorly constructed puzzle. I weave my hand through the crowd to find purchase on the pole as the train jars forward. My hand holds on for life. I don’t want to touch anyone. Arms move away from mine. I know what they know. I do not fit in this puzzle. I cannot fit in this puzzle. I can never fit. It is my fault. The businessman behind me presses against my back. His hand is colder than the steel of the pole. I don’t fit. I don’t want to be here.

He knows me. I feel it in the path his mouth takes, he touches every spot that tingles. His hand slides under me to pull me up. He moves me like I am nothing, cradles me like I am everything. I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. I am wanted. I want.

They are designed to hate me. I see it in the movies and in television. I see it in magazines. I am not okay. I am to be seen. I am ignored. I am to be looked at. I am humiliated. You may touch. You must degrade. I am not here for mass consumption. I am no more than a fetish. I see myself nowhere. I see myself everywhere. I am never where I want because I am never wanted.

He defines me as he picks and chooses. His hands love my soft parts. His paints love the coils in my hair. His eyes love the green in mine. He picks for me. I cannot love what he does not. I want to love the rolls on my back, but they receive no tender thought-out touch. I dream to accept the hair on my face, but it is never mentioned, never recreated in his art. I am accepted in fractions. I wish to be whole. He gives me his love. He cannot give me my own.

This city can be constricting. This creative capital with its artists and models does not see me long enough to care. London does not tell me it loves me. My face does not splatter the tunnels and halls of the tube. I will never be in the repeating videos that children and businessmen alike stare at as they exit the underground. My likeness would garner no second glances. I want to see myself like they are seen.

I want to be his painting. Everything big where it should be, dark where he wants and light where it suits him. I want his blue eyes transfixed over it all, not just the intent but also the product. He can’t help but touch it all. He wants me. He wants me despite me. He wants me because of me. Everything about me means so much, and it means nothing.

I want to want me. I want to want me like I want no other. I want to want me like I want all others.

I want me.

 

 

About the author:Screen shot 2015-12-15 at 5.56.10 PM

Kylie Rollé is an MA student at University College London studying International Comparative Education. She spends most of her time working in one of the smallest Lush shops in London, reading dozens of PISA studies, and writing poems in the margins of OECD reports.

 

 

Photograph © Stròlic Furlàn – Davide Gabino

Modern Slavery in the UK by Jhilmil Breckenridge

When you think of the term slavery, you probably think of African slaves in the cotton plantations of North America, a hundred years ago. You think of young men and women in shackles, being sold to the highest bidder, or you think of Filipino women being sold into prostitution and abused for years.

You aren’t as likely to think of slavery in modern UK or London. Yet it exists. From nail bars to construction sites, from prostitution to domestic workers, slavery is the unseen bane that exists today, right under our noses. For instance, in 2013, three women were rescued from a house in Brixton after being held as slaves for over thirty years. What may have looked from the outside to be a normal family was actually a disturbing story of these women held in captivity, being made to do menial tasks, and having been completely brainwashed.

Or consider the flourishing nail bars that have sprouted up all over the city. Reports say that a fair number of their staff are actually bonded labour, and are being paid less than minimum wages. Furthermore, because immigration and their status here is often an issue, they just keep quiet, and work for hours in exchange for a place to stay and very little money.

It’s likely that you’ve heard of poor families being coerced with fraudulent loans in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, made to work for years and decades in brick kilns or quarries. But it is also happening right under our noses in the UK today. Consider the case of Albert[1], newly arrived from Albania, who met two men while searching for a job. They promised him work, took his passport, and paid him 3 to 5 pounds an hour, laying concrete slabs in construction sites, until he collapsed of exhaustion.

Slavery in the UK is not limited to foreign immigrants, though it does happen to them more often. In recent news was the report of a thirteen year old, lured by a family member into sex and prostitution, while being given drugs and alcohol in exchange, and being made to feel older and sexier. This continued for four years, until she finally had the courage to go to the police. She now feels angry about being robbed of four years of her childhood.

Slavery is closer than you think. This term that evokes memories of time gone by is rampant today, not just in countries you think about when the term is mentioned – like Saudi Arabia and Filipino maids, or bonded labour in India – but right under our noses here in the UK. In 2013, there were 1746 cases of slavery reported, an increase of 47% from the number of cases reported in 2012[2]. Although victims in the UK come from many countries, like: Nigeria, Romania, and Albania, 90 of the victims were UK nationals in the cases reported in 2013[3].

Modern slavery is a reality. And for all of us to be aware that slavery is not just something that happens far away, in other countries, but right here, we need to actively question the places we frequent, buy clothes from, get manicures from, and engage with, changing the reality for some people. From agriculture to cannabis farms, brothels and nail bars to construction sites, slavery still affects vulnerable people and is a gross violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 that states: ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.’ It has been many years since 1948. But we have a long way to go before slavery joins the pages of history.

[1] Name changed

[2] https://modernslavery.co.uk/index.html

[3] https://modernslavery.co.uk/who.html

 

 

About the author:644677_10152082376660655_708559998_n

Jhilmil Breckenridge was born in a sleepy town in India and travelled most of her childhood. She was always found with a book in her hands and still is! She is currently enrolled in the MA Creative Writing program at the University of Westminster. She is filled with self doubt now that she has actually embarked on the arduous journey of crafting her first novel.

 

 Photograph © Nina A.J.

Train on Tuesday by Roshni Vatnani

It is the beginning of October, but Christmas has arrived in London in little spurts. It’s a lit tree here, a shelf of ornaments there, a harried shopper with large bags. Everywhere I look, everything is slowly but surely turning red and green with a hint of autumnal gold. Soon, Halloween’s deep orange and black will be overshadowed and Christmas will finally bloom, breaking the winter grey with cheery red.

In the middle of an empty afternoon, I take the usual route into the city. The journey is broken down by the modes of transport and the bus gets me through the first leg. Routine announcements echo as I step in, punctuated by expertly braked stops and the beeping of the ticket machine, subtly announcing attendance of each new passenger. The doors close with creaking exhaustion and once again, the sun blankets everyone in warmth and contention. The teenagers at the back of the bus are sipping Orangina and listening to thumping music through shared earphones and shared interests in one hit wonders. A toddler yawns, wrapped lovingly in a soft pink blanket and his mother’s gaze. An old couple sits in the priority seat. Their hands are distractedly entangled, veins poking through wrinkly skin that has weathered many winters. Their shoulders rub slightly in the way that a seasoned pair can, bodies only slightly touching and their thoughts somewhere else entirely.

The route is familiar to the passengers of 487, as are the stops, turns and the passengers that rattle within. Outside, as the bus moves through the lanes, London is in transition. The vivid spring green that was omnipresent cloaking parks, trees and lawns through the warmer months is now retiring to burnt Siena. The trees mourn the loss especially, shedding one clover shaped leaf after another, their branches in a downward slump. The bus takes a swift turn and promptly blows dried leaves to the sidewalk and a greasy haired man steps on a few unfortunate ones, his step timed perfectly for crunching the leaves beneath him with a satisfactory sound.

Alerted by an automated faceless voice, I step off the bus to my usual stop for the sequel journey. The path is already paved with weary travellers eating the last of their day’s lunch. The aged trudge on the right, stepping in careful deliberation, unhurried and unusual for London but undisturbed. In the land of sharp elbows, the walkers on the right preach a silent lesson. I must stop and smell the roses. As I switch lanes to the left and join commuters with grim faces and quickened paces, I notice the station manager. He is weaved into my daily fabric of the commute as an unnoticeable thread, bearing the TFL logo on his jacket sleeve. Usually, he is blurred in memory in lieu of catching the 2.14 to Loughton. Today, I see his face, creased by alternating wrinkles and freckles, only to be broken by a wide smile that is well on its way to a laugh. His eyes hold the private joke within them, shining with contained delight. His back is turned to me as he begins to write on the board ‘Smile and let the whole world –’. I stop and watch, only slightly aware that I’m missing the next train.

  • ϖ

I take a long time to find the quote. Quotes are really important, methinks. I can see some passengers coming through the gates, traces of weariness on their faces. Sometimes they just pass through without glancing at the board. But that’s okay too. They all have places to be. The city has purpose. Everyone has purpose. It’s important to keep smiling.

The station is full of transits. People tap in, tap out. Beep, beep, beep. Ocassionally, they come to me and ask me questions. It means standing in the cold, too. But Margie keeps me prepared for that. She packs me lunch. A large sandwich with little bacon and steaming coffee in a flask. It comes in one of those where the cup detaches itself so I can hold the hot cup in my hands as I watch everyone come and go. I don’t know their names or where they go exactly but I know them. I hear bits of their conversation too. No, no. That’s not prying. It’s my daily soundtrack, full of gems.

‘Well, he sounds like a fucking pig, to be honest. I think I’ll just see him one more time to be sure – ’

Beep.

‘Marshmallows and potatoes are part of our cultural heritage practically! So I said to her, we are having potatoes!’

Beep.

‘No dad, I can’t come this weekend. No. No. No. Hello? I can’t hear you.’

Beep.

You see, if you listen to people you can learn so much. I don’t ask them anything, just answer. If you ask too much, sometimes they give you strange looks. So no names, but I know the girl with the beanie comes in on Fridays with noisy heels carting a little grey trolley. Then I see her on Sunday evenings, dragging the trolley back and talking of her weekend adventures to someone called Kate on the phone. She’s charming, really and sometimes smiles warmly on her way out. The mother comes in with her toddler in tow and infant in the pram. I open the larger exit for her as she comes in and she always shoots me a grateful look before darting behind the toddler who’s beginning to discover running. Good day miss, I always tell her, the boy is growing up fast, isn’t he? I do want her to have a good day. Being a new mother is wonderful, tireless job. Margie could never become a mother really so I don’t really know what it must feel like but I can imagine, you know. Margie and me are happy though. We have a good life. We’ve lived in the same apartment in Shepherd’s Bush since we married twenty-three years ago so everything is familiar and comfortable. I like my job. I like to see these people everyday without knowing too much about them. It’s what keeps them interesting. I didn’t want to do this though. No, no. I wanted to write a book, someday. Mum always told me that I could write a story. Maybe I will. Maybe, someday. For now, I find quotes to write on the board. Borrowed words, true words.

‘That’s a lovely quote, there.’

The girl with the books.

Today’s quote took me the longest to find. I’ve just begun to use Google. Computers are horrid things, plugged everywhere, beeping strangely but they are helpful. I don’t consult me books as much.

‘It’s true, isn’t it?’

‘It really is actually. People don’t stop as much, just keep moving.’

‘Don’t surprise me much. It’s the city air.’

‘Yes, the city air. Makes you free.’

‘Like the Hanseatic league? I haven’t heard that in a long time.’

‘I’m studying that now.’

When there’s a conversational lull, I usually ask of their destination, make small talk about the weather. No personal questions.

‘We seem to be having a beautiful autumn this year, eh?’

‘Yes, just beautiful.’

I can sense she wants to say more but I excuse myself and go to the control room and watch her leave. The problem with transits is that it leaves no room for anything permanent.

 

 

About the author:IMG_0327

Roshni Vatnani is a current MA student in Creative Writing at The University of Westminster and former pastry chef who enjoys reading, writing, eating and all other creative forms of procrastination.

Photograph © Jeff Fenton

Creak by Shokhan Izadin

Creak!

The fucking door again. He breathed in the stale air, huddled at the corner in the back of the truck; the truck that was his ticket to eternal freedom. The truck with the creaky door every time it met violently with a hump or dent in the road. His uncertainties were ludicrous because every single time the bloody door creaked, even though they were driving rather rapidly and he knew it was the earth below them that was the reason for the racket, he thought it would be an officer; an official, ready to tell him to retrace his steps; back to the Diaspora and further away from ‘the land of Angles.’ It had happened in Turkey, after all. They had been seven men at first; now only four remained, in the ice cold truck, the only form of heat being their own breaths and hands, rubbing desperately against each other.

He needed to take refuge; the Middle Eastern region was gradually but undoubtedly becoming the antagonist in this somewhat (not) cliché story. His family was in danger and England seemed to be the only probable solution to his complications in this radical plan of his.

A few hours later and he was stirring from the slumber he was in, to the sound of the engines turning off abruptly. In his drowsy state he couldn’t hear the muffled voices outside but they seemed assertive and authoritative. A wave of panic rushes over him as his eyes widen, looking at the men sat opposite him, with the same fear in their eyes. It was two police officers asking about the contents of the truck, as part of their procedure. His heart hammers against his chest unbearably, as he hears the rattle of the padlock on the door. He gestures for the men to rush over to his side, feeling the stab of a sharp object to his waist as they huddle together. The door on the right is flung open and he could almost taste the anxiety on his tongue, waiting as the knot in his stomach tightens for the officers to finish this dreadful, obligatory check.

‘Yepp, that’s fine.’

The door is closed again, the pain in his waist dismissed as he sighs a sigh of relief, his breath staggering.

Fucking hell. That was close.

 

APPROXIMATELY 2 YEARS LATER

‘Another one?’ He asks, finding hilarity in the way his wife held the mousetrap so far from her body, given the subject was already dead. The mouse-infested flat they resided in now was a dime compared to their previous home in Kurdistan. They had been fortunate enough in the sense a bomb hadn’t deteriorated them in the warzone they called home. A few mice weren’t an issue, especially since they were going to move in a month or so, into an actual house (words can’t begin to describe how ecstatic he was; trust me, I’ve tried).

He had early shifts; late shifts; Pizza Hut shifts; postman shifts; but it was all worth it. At first, it was hard, having had no prior knowledge of the English language, or the culture. He didn’t know beans on toast, with a side of eggs (that didn’t really seem cooked to him) and sausage was a breakfast. He didn’t know a sandwich + a drink + a snack would suffice for a lunch and he wasn’t aware of the lack of dinner. The first time his daughter had had a Prawn cocktail flavored Walkers crisp, she had compared it, in a very unladylike manner, to vomit. Sometimes, kitchen, chicken and key-chain all sounded the same but his tongue was hungry to learn more. Sometimes, rather than yes, he would shout ‘ahh,’ but he was still learning. Sometimes the weird looks he received were disheartening but another individual’s encouragement would make up for it.

———–

As a young man in Kurdistan you couldn’t have aspirations, it was either the military or taking the role of ‘father’ in your family because your own had died in the military. In London, it’s different. You see faces of diverse cultures everywhere you go but you still feel somewhat misplaced and homesick. You weren’t discriminated against here or told to go back; the Refugee Action didn’t treat you like any less of a human. Their help wasn’t dependent on your race or the religion you followed. The simple fact you were a human in need, was enough for them.

When he had first arrived in London, everything seemed so surreal. It had taken him almost a month to take in the roads, the tall buildings, the almost identical houses, so unlike Kurdistan. The weather was the one thing he couldn’t get used to. No matter how many layers he wore, he was always still cold but maybe that was one of the penalties of his journey. That journey was forever lingering, undesirably, in the back of his mind.

If nostalgia were a human however, she and I would be in a long-term relationship. Kurdistan will always be my home, in my heart. Kurds have a saying, ‘our only friends are the mountains.’ He had come to realize, in this concrete jungle, that he had more friends than just the mountains.

 

 

About the author:

FullSizeRender (1)Shokhan was born in the midst of war in a city in Kurdistan, Kirkuk. She enjoys writing fantasy though she’s recently opened her heart to creative non-fiction, thanks to Nick, her professor at Uni of Westminster. She was forced to leave her father back home in Kurdistan because of the threats from IS, so she is currently living with her uncle in London.

 

Photograph © Chris JL

When One Door Closes by Franca Duym

Miles arrived a bit early, just like he did every morning, so he had some time to enjoy his morning cup of coffee at the bar. He was never really one for generic coffee brands, and he enjoyed watching Jennifer sorting out the different types of beans before any of the guests came down for breakfast. She knew his order, so most of the times they didn’t even speak. He thought she preferred it that way. So Miles just came in, wearing his three-piece suit, and they looked at each other and nodded in recognition. If he was late, she would sometimes say good-morning, out of habit, because she was on repeat from breakfast-guests, and then she made his coffee, extra strong.

Being surrounded by the rich and famous was not all it was cracked up to be. They dressed in brands Miles only met in shop windows and photo series in fashion magazines, but they never had the pretty faces. Looks didn’t matter when money showed. Rich men never shouted at their wives, rich women never nagged at their husbands. The ladies whispered as the men negotiated, and laughed in unison at jokes at no one’s expense. Shirts never creased and lipstick never stained on the teeth of the rich at the Ritz. The doors of the hotel opened on their own. Miles was simply part of the furniture. Never a speck of dust on the shoulders of his suit, his top-hat never dented, his shoes immaculately shone. He was never spoken to and so he never spoke. Whatever glimpses of conversation he caught were forgotten on the spot. He was a ghost with only a pay-check as gratitude. The seasons didn’t change his attire, the weather didn’t wipe his smile. He was the alpha and the omega, he opened and he closed. But for him there were many other doormen, just as capable, just as quiet. Perhaps just as replaceable, waiting for the automatic door to take over, so Miles made sure he was as irreplaceable as he was invisible. He bleached his teeth every other month to counter the coffee that helped him smile for eight consecutive hours. After finishing his coffee in silence, he didn’t go into a staff room to chat with anyone or smile at Jennifer. He simply took his hat from the chair next to him and went to his post, to blend in with the surroundings for yet another day.

Adeline added a bit of blush to her cheeks in the mirror of the backseat of her car. The driver told her they were almost there now and her heart filled with excitement. She had never been to Europe, and Papa had arranged they would stay in one of London’s finest hotels. Europe! Finally! She had heard all the stories about it, about it’s glitter and glamour, and the way they seemed to appreciate the finer arts more than any other people in the world. Even though Papa had only taken her along because he didn’t think she should be at home alone, she vowed to herself this was the perfect opportunity to make a change. She was in Europe after all, and where better to meet a tall dark stranger, to fall in love, to go on an adventure! She longed to see her favourite Monet painting in the National Gallery, the one with the bridge crossing over a Japanese garden somewhere in Paris. She had heard it was amazing, and she had seen pictures of it, but there was just something about paintings in real life. She didn’t know whether it was the atmosphere of a museum, where everyone young and old came to appreciate the craftsmanship of artists from all ages, or whether there was just something magical about being so close to something so old, yet so vibrant, as if the artists’ pencil had meticulously applied each stroke just the day before. Oh, if only she’d met someone so un-American, she would surely be happy or at least she’d feel alive. She would rather die than go back to America empty-handed. As she looked outside to watch the city rush by, she found her sight blurred by little white flakes dancing past her window. Snow! They almost never had snow in the South. As they pulled up in front of the Ritz, the driver opened her window, whilst Adeline did not take her eyes off the white gold falling from the sky. She pulled her cloak a bit tighter together to protect her puppy from the sudden cold, and loitered a little before giving in to the warmth of the Ritz’ lobby.

Young girls at the Ritz always smiled as they tittered inside. They smiled at their lovers, their drivers, their fathers, but this girl was something different. She stepped out of her car, pulling her fur coat closer with eyes like saucers, her lips a little parted. Snowflakes caught between her eyelashes and in her golden curled hair, but she didn’t wipe them away. She laughed brightly as her breath created little clouds of fog, and held out her tongue like a child to catch the snow. Miles almost forgot to open the door for her parents, who urged her to come inside with them. Hurriedly he grabbed the handle and let her parents in, who turned around at the doorstep.

‘Adeline, come on!’

Adeline made a turn, letting her coat and her dress spin and then she almost ran inside. Before she stepped into the lobby she looked Miles straight in the eye. Then she smiled a smile that made his polished one real. She nodded at him, and then she was gone. All she left was the scent all beautiful young women seemed to leave behind. It smelled, like always, of a combination of cedar, vanilla and opportunity. No one ever looked him in the eye. He allowed himself a few seconds of daydreaming about what would happen if this girl would ever talk to him, but soon forced his racing heart to calm down. He put his polished smile back on his face and continued to stand outside in the cold, waiting for guests to arrive or to depart. Luckily, Piccadilly was always an interesting distraction. Buses, taxis and cars drove by, and there was an unofficial crossing near his door, where people always took their chances shooting over and crossing right in front of the traffic. He’d never seen an accident, but it was probably just a matter of time. Tourists paced slowly, gazing at the Christmas decorations, whilst locals elbowed them out of the way on their way to work or home or school. Every now and again he would hear the faint sound of Christmas carollers singing on some close-by corner. Every time a blonde set of hair bobbed by Miles’ heart leapt even though he knew she must still be inside.

Adeline had been stuck inside for hours with her parents talking about politics and economics. She was bored senseless and wished she could just go explore the city already, but of course she wasn’t allowed out alone. She tapped her finger against her cup of hot chocolate and plotted her escape. During a particularly heated discussion, she seized her chance and casually mentioned she was going to get some air. Her father brushed his bristled lip, the way he did when he really couldn’t be bothered with anything besides what he was doing right now, and gestured his hand in a way that she interpreted as approval. She jumped up, grabbed her coat and cocoa and ran towards the door. She pushed the door open, which caused the doorman to stare at her in bewilderment for a split second, door handle in hand, and then starting to profusely apologize whilst she insisted it was her fault entirely. Through all this, she spotted the doorman from before, the one who had looked at her like she was the most precious thing he’d ever seen. She couldn’t help but go over there.

‘Have you got a light?’

‘Why yes Miss, here you go.’ He held out a golden Zippo, inscribed with the Ritz logo.

‘Oh. I didn’t actually count on you having a light. I didn’t think you’d smoke.’

‘I don’t smoke Miss, it’s just part of our uniform, for situations like this.’ She felt the colour in her cheeks starting to rise and hoped he would think it was because of the cold.

‘I don’t smoke either. I just wanted to start a conversation.’ He didn’t seem to know what to do with this information.

For a while they looked at the road together in silence, he was fiddling with something like a paper bag, she was fiddling with the fur on her cloak and took a sip from her drink.

‘What have you got there Miss?’

‘It’s your hot chocolate, spiked with a little rum. Ssht!’ He gave her a smile she didn’t know how to interpret.

‘Do you mind if I eat something, Miss? I am on my lunch break.’

‘Oh! By all means!’ Perhaps she should stop bothering him and go back inside to her parents and their friends, he didn’t really seem to want her there.

He got out a bagel out of the paper bag he was holding, and walked over to a homeless man Adeline hadn’t even spotted before. The homeless man accepted the bagel with gratitude, and started eating, saying nothing. Then the doorman walked back to Adeline, and started eating his own. No one else seemed to notice this act of kindness, all the Londoners walking by, briskly pacing, staring straight ahead, letting neither weather nor people stand in their way of reaching their destination. He looked at her nervously, with kind brown eyes, but there was something else behind that nervousness. A desperation perhaps, the kind she had felt locked up in manners and etiquette. She imagined it was not very different for him, although she was born into it and he had voluntarily chosen to work in it.

Miles tried to find a way to eat his bagel as fast as humanly possible without looking like someone who hadn’t eaten a thing in the past five days, or choking. The truth was, he was starving, and even though he’d wanted nothing more than talk to this girl, he had another six hours to go before his next break and he didn’t want to famish halfway through. He really should start having some actual breakfast rather than just forcing one piece of buttered toast down before making his way to the hotel each morning. Finally he wiped the last bit of cream cheese of his hands with a napkin and tried to act professional again.

‘Enjoying London so far, Miss?’

‘Please, call me Adeline. And look at it! All those buildings, the snow, the decorations, what’s not to love?’ She looked at him expectantly.

‘It gets a bit nippy sometimes, but sure Miss Adeline.’

‘Oh! Are you cold now? You must be freezing!’ For a bit it seemed that she was going to take off her coat, and Miles looked at her, horrified.

‘No, no, not at all! Please don’t. These jackets are quite warm, you see.’ She smiled one of those perfect smiles again. How could he feel cold if he looked at those rosy cheeks? She seemed almost angelic, so innocent and yet so curiously daring. He still didn’t really understand why she’d chosen him to talk to, but decided it was better not to question some things.

‘I can’t wait to show my Henry all this. Oh, what am I saying, I’ve hardly been around myself! Is there anywhere I should absolutely go?’ My Henry. Of course there was a my Henry.

‘I would recommend the National Gallery, Miss. Some of the finest artists are displayed there.’ He tried to compose himself, but he kept feeling his knees wobbling every time she looked into his eyes. If only they weren’t such a darned bright blue.

‘Oh I absolutely can’t wait to go there! I absolutely adore Monet’s work, and I can’t wait to see Peter Paul Rubens’ Judgement of Paris! And what about at night?’ He was startled for a bit, he had never met anyone with such a similar taste in art as his.

‘The Ritz itself of course has a fully-stocked bar, but there are a couple of other nice places if you walk towards Piccadilly Circus.’ He would love to take her for a drink. He imagined she drank cocktails, only the best of the best, and he would make jokes after which her head would fall back in laughter, her curls dancing around her ivory skin. Afterwards he could take her dancing, and her head could rest against his chest as they slow danced until the band played their final tune.

‘Will you show me?’ She looked at him with a wicked grin, and suddenly, despite her beauty, her appeal faltered. He was an honourable man.

‘I think that would be inappropriate, Miss. Now if you excuse me, I have to get back to work.’

Adeline didn’t understand what she’d done wrong. She didn’t even get to know his name. Had she been too forward? She had heard about the stiffness of the Brits, perhaps she should’ve heeded in some more small talk first. She had just asked him for a drink, not invited him to bed. Maybe she had misinterpreted the way he looked at her, maybe he just wasn’t used to people smiling at him. After all, most of the people who went here had atrocious sympathy for lower classes. A large number of guests were part of the nouveau riche, and they simply didn’t understand that behaving nicely to everyone would get you a lot further than exhibiting your wealth and stepping over everyone in the way. Adeline had always been taught to be nice to everyone, regardless of their occupation. But she’d really thought there was something there, a spark, a connection maybe. He even pointed her towards the one place she really had wanted to go in London! Surely that couldn’t have been a coincidence. Or was she well and truly going mad now? Was she imagining things? Perhaps it was time she let go of her silly dreams and accept the fact that she would marry some rich American boy with a start-up or a decent inheritance. Adeline went back up to her hotel room. There lay her little puppy on his pouf, half asleep, but his ears went up as he heard her calling. He ran up to her as she squatted down to scratch him behind his ear.

‘Hi Henry! Hi my little smoochie, you must feel really royal here right? I felt like a princess too, but I guess I’m going to have to wait a little longer for my prince. Perhaps you could be my prince?’

Henry seemed all too happy to oblige, as he panted, tongue out of his mouth, and cuddled up at her feet while she petted him. After a while, she supposed it was time to get back to her parents for dinner, where she could continue to pretend to be interested in the stuffy stories her parents and their friends had to tell her. She sat through the entire dinner where no one actually spoke a word to her, beside her mother telling her to sit up straight.

Miles took off his hat as his colleague took over. He went inside for a cup of coffee behind the bar, and asked Jim to spike it a little. Jim seemed surprised, but obliged. Miles had a bit of a walk ahead of him, as he wouldn’t be thinking of taking the Tube this time of day. No, he would much rather be cold than be squashed like a little sardine in the Tube’s rush hour. He downed his coffee like the heat had no effect on him and then walked outside without looking around. He didn’t want to take any chances of seeing Adeline again. He didn’t know why he felt so bad. He didn’t even know the girl. But the way she had spoken about the Judgement of Paris, wasn’t that a sign? Perhaps not. It was just his luck, really. He never really met any girls, and the girls that he did see were all equally as desirable as they were unattainable. Imagining the heat of the coffee and the liquor was all that surrounded him, he walked through the murky snow. Christmas lights were reflecting on the patches of white that hadn’t been affected by the mud yet, illuminating every street he walked past. The country was in high spirits, ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. Miles walked home alone. By now he had become unaffected to the kissing young couples, by the families with cheering kids who still believed in love and magic and Santa, and the old couples holding hands. He knew that was just not what was in store for him. Christmas always meant a store-bought turkey for one with cranberries and whatever Christmas movie or show was on TV. He preferred to let it pass in peace. The next morning he got on his usual attire and walked his usual route to work. As he arrived, he smiled at Jennifer at the bar and she nodded at him. He was halfway in a nod before he opened his mouth.

‘Actually…’ Jennifer stopped pouring coffee beans in the machine and looked at him in anticipation.

‘May I have a hot chocolate?’ Hopefully the sugar would give him the same rush as the caffeine usually did.

Jennifer looked at him in surprise for a split second, then made him his hot cocoa. Maybe after work today, he would go to the National Gallery to view his favourite paintings.

 

 

About the author:Francacropped

Franca Duym is currently studying Creative Writing at the University of Westminster. Born in the Netherlands, she loves discovering the city by cycling or walking, finding art in unexpected places and food in every way and form. She finds stories everywhere she goes and aims to share some as she moves along.

 

Photograph © Matt

Angel by Jennabeth Taliaferro

Sarah woke up alone with a surprisingly clear head. It was the first time in months she could remember waking without the pounding behind her eyes and a sore body. She’d gone to the pub earlier than usual the day before, and though she vaguely remembered falling a lot, she was fairly certain she got to bed early. She watched from her bed as the day dawned, a faint taste of vodka on her tongue. Her window slowly brightened and an April breeze rattled the pane. She felt like going for a walk, and wanted coffee instead of the usual morning glass of wine.

She dressed and walked to the nearest coffee shop. As she sat at a table by the window with her vanilla latte, she looked at the London tube map on her phone. Perhaps she would go somewhere in the city today she’d never been before. After only living in the city for six months, there were lots of places to choose from. She spotted the Angel tube station; she’d never noticed it before. Images of angels in renaissance paintings filled her head: Gabriel, Michael, and…those were the only ones she could remember from Catholic school.

Angel. She turned it over silently on her tongue. It sounded bright, regal even. Different from the London Sarah knew: grimy, split by a dirty river. London was the place she chose to escape from her parents in Richmond, and she had no problem letting that grime, transported by booze and sex, consume her. In fact, she encouraged it. She needed to be filled by them. They were the only things in her life that could tamp down memories of Neil, and she needed those to be smothered. No one should have to remember a dead brother, a best friend, especially one who died in a pointless, dumb war.

It took almost an hour to get there from her neighborhood in Denmark Hill. She got out of the tube at Angel and immediately saw the flower seller, who smiled at her as he handed a bouquet to a customer. She decided to buy some on her way back. She walked past a queue for the cash machine, businessmen and women taking out money for lunch at a pub, or a sandwich from Sainsbury’s. A crowded pub called The York had a few chairs and tables outside on its sunken patio, where she contemplated sitting. Inside, Sarah saw a man gesturing wildly, splashing his half empty beer on the wooden bar. The bartender and other listeners raised their eyebrows and backed away slowly, as if moving too suddenly would alert him to his own drunkenness. He must have let his one-drink-at-lunch rule slide, like Sarah often did. A few weeks ago, she’d spent a five-hour lunch at her local before being carried home by the bartender who’d just finished his shift. Sarah made the mistake of thinking he wanted to come inside, and she’d fallen trying to kiss him. Thinking of that day, she blushed and instinctively touched her right elbow, which had broken her fall on the concrete.

Continuing down a side street, she saw a man sitting on the cobblestones wearing the tattered clothing of a clown well past his entertaining days. He strummed a guitar, and a tambourine strapped to his foot jingled with every tap. It felt good to be walking around, the cool spring air grabbing Sarah’s scarf and pulling it above her head and into her face. She turned left and crossed the high street. Walking into a two-level shopping centre, Sarah saw the silver angel’s wings in the middle. People stepped around them as if they were avoiding an obstacle, but she couldn’t see anything else. She climbed the stairs to the upper level and sat on a wooden bench outside of a Thai restaurant. Sarah crossed her legs underneath her and looked at the centre below. A couple hugged as they walked, and a little girl waddled a few feet in front of them.

She didn’t want to be like this, unpredictable and unreliable, a bad daughter to the parents that only wanted her to be okay. But she was determined to keep Neil in her mind, which meant the pain would always be there. It only seemed fair, for her to have this heaviness. She’d felt it since he’d left a year ago, smiling and waving as he boarded a plane in his uniform. He said he’d be back soon and they’d make plans for next summer. Neil’s regiment would let him off for a few weeks, the perfect amount of time for Thailand.

Since they were children, it had been a refuge to think of Thailand. When their parents fought, Neil had kept Sarah distracted upstairs with tales of elephants and the beach. When their grandmother died, he’d printed a photo of Angkor Wat for her to keep in her pocket so she’d have something to do with her nervous hands. It was as real a place as their backyard or the supermarket. As they grew older, and their parents’ relationship still wavered, it was the one plan that Sarah could rely on completely.

Then her dad had called with the news. She’d cried for three days, and Thailand began to blur through the tears. The only plans Sarah made now were to find a pub as quickly as possible. She’d been able to keep up her job for a few months after—answering phones in a telecom call center didn’t require much concentration—but soon, her colleagues and boss could smell stale beer and cigarettes on her. She began to come in late and leave early, unable to sit past 4 pm without a drink. Her hours at work waned, and they let her go. Sarah didn’t put up much of a defense. She calculated she could go a few more months on her savings, then she would have to start looking for another desperate way to earn money.

Absorbed in the sight of the angel’s wings, her eyes moved over them as if their iron feathers might suddenly start moving. She repeated over and over in her head: ‘with Angels and Archangels and all the company of Heaven.’ It was the only phrase she knew about angels. Maybe one would talk to her. They always seemed understanding; the ultimate messenger, no judgments. No, they wouldn’t talk to someone whose most recent memories were alcohol-infused, dark, and prickly.

Her parents had moved on—or seemed to, anyway—and were eager to show it by hosting a huge Christmas party. Her mother had guilt-tripped her into coming. It was the one time since she’d lost her job that she wished she still had it, just as an excuse. But without it, Sarah found herself in Rochester on the 23rd of December, smoking on the back porch while her parents’ friends laughed garishly inside.

‘It’s been almost a year, Sarah,’ her dad had said when he tried to get her to join in.

‘Makes no difference,’ she said to the flowerpot next to her.

‘You don’t think we miss him?’ The lump in Sarah’s throat grew. ‘But Neil wouldn’t want you to live this way. And frankly,’ he rubbed the back of his head, ‘we’re worried about you.’

‘Don’t. I’m fine.’

‘Are you?’

She knew they were trying to help, but she couldn’t let them. They wanted her to get over it, to climb over the wall of grief that had been built in front of her. But Sarah knew that if she did that, she’d be separated from Neil’s memory forever. She wasn’t ready to loosen her grip on him.

‘Why don’t you stay here for a while after Christmas,’ Dad had said. ‘We could make your favourite foods, go ice-skating. All the things we love.’

She’d only shaken her head and lit another cigarette. Sarah couldn’t bear their kindness, their love, when Neil wasn’t there to share it. It wasn’t right, and she didn’t know why they didn’t see that. Early on Boxing Day, Sarah sprinted away from Richmond and spent the rest of the week in a bar. On New Years’ Day, she woke up in her flat with a 45-year-old man next to her that she didn’t remember meeting. That was the first time her flatmate, Marci, said something about her drinking. She said she wasn’t judging, but sleeping with men twenty years older was not the kind of thing she wanted in her home. And that she just wanted to remind Sarah that she let her stay there for almost nothing as a favour to her mom, who was Sarah’s mom’s best friend. Sarah focused on her cigarette while she endured this lecture, forcing herself to remember that she would have to move back home if Marci kicked her out.

As the last light faded from the shopping centre, Sarah watched a pair of pigeons fly up from the ground to the first level where she sat. They reminded her of Richmond Park, which was close to her parents’ home and where she and Neil would go when their parents needed some time to ‘talk,’ aka shout at one another. Sitting on the bench, her sober mind focused on a memory that she wished she didn’t remember. He was so clear in her thoughts it made her ache. It was a weekend two years ago when they’d both come home from uni. They were walking in the park, the azaleas and camellias in full bloom. They covered the landscape in different shades of pink, red and white. Sarah told Neil about the rumours that her boyfriend had slept with another girl.

‘Forget him, Sarah,’ he’d said.

‘But I think I love him.’ She touched the top blooms of an azalea bush.

‘You don’t love him,’ he said, bouncing over a small tree root. ‘I know that because love doesn’t make you feel bad.’

Sarah thought about that for a moment.

‘Listen,’ Neil said, ‘you know how in football matches, you think that they’re stretched out way in front of you, and you can’t imagine how you’re going to get to the end of it because it seems so far away?’

‘Have I ever played football?’ Sarah asked, raising an eyebrow.

‘Alright, no, but you know what I mean.’ His blond hair blew in the springtime breeze. ‘You’re scared to death to start playing, because you’re nervous, the other team looks good, and the stadium is filling up. But the clock starts and you don’t really have a choice, do you? Then time sort of speeds up, and before you know it, the game’s over before you can say Lionel Messi.’

‘I’m not seeing the point.’

‘The point is, Sarah Bear,’ Neil punched her in the shoulder, ‘that life is too short to be worried about the game. You have to enjoy it while you’re in it. So quit wasting time being miserable and questioning yourself.’

A tear rolled down her cheek as the Angel’s wings blended in to the twilight. She wiped her face on her scarf and got up, remembering the flower stand. She approached the stand and the vendor smiled. Choosing a bouquet of white roses and hyacinth, she watched him wrap them in brown paper that crinkled with every turn of the bouquet. He circled lace around the middle of the paper and secured it with twine. Blonde fringe fell across his eyes while he worked, and when he gave them to her, his smile made her return one. She took them and handed him a tenner.

‘No, don’t worry,’ he said.

She frowned, still holding the money out to him. ‘What do you mean?’

‘This is on me, darling,’ he smiled as Sarah’s confusion grew. No one had ever bought her flowers before. ‘Everyone needs pretty flowers to look at. Sometimes they can bring us back to life.’

‘What are you talking about?’ She mumbled as she put her wallet back in her purse.

‘Neil,’ he said.

Sarah snapped her head up. ‘What did you say?’

‘I’m Neil.’

‘Oh,’ she shook her head. ‘Sarah.’

‘Now these need water straight away, so go home and take care of them.’

‘I will.’ She surveyed his stand again. ‘Your flowers are beautiful.’

‘Thank you,’ he said, smiling. ‘They’re temperamental, you know, flowers are. They need constant care and attention. If not, they begin to die.’

‘But all flowers die eventually.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but that doesn’t mean they don’t bring happiness to us while they’re living. I think it’s why they’re on this earth.’

Sarah looked again at the bouquet in her hand, and could picture them on her coffee table, the living room bathed in light. ‘Thank you.’

‘Alright, luv,’ he said. ‘Come see me again.’

‘Bye, Neil.’

‘Goodbye, Sarah.’

She descended the escalators and got on a train, resting the flowers in her lap. Sarah remembered she didn’t have a vase at home, so made a plan to stop at the Sainsbury’s near her flat. They wouldn’t last forever, but she would put them in water and savour them while they did. It’s what Neil would want.

 

 

About the author:jbt

Jennabeth Taliaferro is a homegrown Texan currently studying creative writing in London. She loves traveling, walks in Regent’s Park, Borough Market, and all the coffee shops in Whitechapel. Among many others, two of her favorite TV shows are Downton Abbey and The West Wing.

 

Photograph © Peter Jozwiak

The Fox down Hartland Road by Jessie Rosenberg

Lights flash by, fading into each other through rain droplets on the car window. The repetition of lamppost after lamppost along the road is an incandescent source of magic. Above, the dark sky, a renewed palette ready for the morning. All the while, cars glide by on individual expeditions.

Nearing the wonder that is London, the visual spectacular of a bustling presence grows and grows as the glowing atmospheric bubble penetrates the dark sky. Indeed, the light from cars and lampposts blend together and shoot up into the night’s darkness. People wander outside pubs, nightclubs and houses, projecting the human mating noise. However, through the mayhem, silence can be found.

Down a dark street where families kiss each other goodnight, the clouds appear to expand like popcorn from a seed masking the starry sky and setting the evening scene above London. There is a slow, low, chilling breeze that sweeps along the streets and rain threatens. People stay inside shutting their curtains, removing the fluorescent glow from the street, until all that is left is the light from the lamp post outside number thirty-four on Hartland road.

It is a tall house with a blue door and mosaic tiles at the front. Shutters in the bay windows are closed keeping the space of darkness in check. A ‘welcome’ doormat is smudged by the foot of the door. Inside, a family is fast asleep.

But, along the street – nothing.

Suddenly, from around the corner, the sound of four small footsteps can be heard but not seen. Pushing through the shrubbery, rustling leaves a wild fox springs on to the scene. It plods along quietly, penetrating the stillness of suburban night life.

It is a slight fox. The type of fox you assume comes from a wealthy heritage. Its defined limbs project from a slim physique and its well known, bushy tail extends in the air with all its might. The auburn colours are seen in each hair follicle and the white chest is illuminated under the street lamp. It is a marvellous sight.

It walks into the centre of the street and stands still for a moment. Interestingly, this moment is unseen by so many. The urban fox is a mythological creature on Hartland Road. Surely someone would see this creature?

But no one does. None of the cars on their individual expeditions; none of the people outside pubs, nightclubs and houses. All the curtains are shut.

The dark sky finally releases the first rain and the wild fox looks up to the sky. Its nostrils flare as the petrichor grows. The rich smell of rain wipes away the glowing polluted atmospheric bubble and so the sweetness finds a home on the ground. The fox, although enjoying the moment, moves on. Its fine auburn coat has become damp and clings to its flesh underneath. The glorious tail falls to the cold floor. Deep brown eyes catch the last glimpse of the lamppost outside number thirty-four on Hartland Road as the sun begins to rise through the rain.

 

 

Photograph © Jessica C

Lost in London by Georgie Hart

I am lost in a sea of formless faces.

The crowd mummers and mutters like a beast,

splashing against the concrete walls

of tenant buildings incessantly like the tide,

the constant swish of steps is its own language,

taps and slaps. Incomprehensible.

The city is a storm of life that bubbles and roils

and I have been cast adrift.

I hear screams of my name like gulls calls

as I race over London Bridge,

my little legs flying in my yellow wellingtons.

I vanish in a scattering of grey feathers

and muddy puddle water,

laughing as pigeons take to the sky.

 

 

About the author:

GeorgieGeorgie Hart is an English Literature and Creative Writing Student at Uplands Community College who hopes to go on to become a proper writer. Living in close proximity to quite a few libraries’, she spends most of her time reading just about anything she can get her hands on. She loves poetry and when she’s not working, she likes to visit London.

 

Photograph © Fabio Venni

A Hundred Tastes of Me by Jhilmil Breckenridge

I am the whisper of a leaf in the breeze

I am the flutter of a butterfly against the white honeysuckle so sweet

I am the gurgle of the flowing river

I am the wind in the willows

I am the waitress picking up coffee cups in the cafe

I am the old woman reading a newspaper against the window

I am the siren of the police car as it drives by

I am the laughter of an old man who twirls his moustache

I am the chatter of a young child

I am the taste of sugar on your tongue

I am the scent of a hundred roses in your nose

I am the sound of plaintive notes on a flute in a land far away

I am the smell of candles and incense in a wooden church

I am the flavour of Marmite on hot buttered toast

I am the feel of the cool granite table against my wrist

I am the refugee who hides in subway tunnels

I am the man who cheers for Arsenal

I am the woman buying anti ageing creams

I am the child kicking stones on the path

I am the smell of rain

I am the taste of freedom

I am the sun upon your skin

I am the honeyed kiss of your lover on the inside of your wrist

I am the taste of violence upon your lips

I am the woman in the red dress and the ebony skin dancing

I am the poet on Speaker’s Corner

I am the woman licking her fingers as she eats

I am the autumn leaves that rustle under your feet

I am the man checking his phone

I am you and you are me and we are a hundred other things

And we are all unseen, forgotten, experienced, reviled, overlooked, and replaceable

And the music plays, the clock ticks, and we look away

About the author:644677_10152082376660655_708559998_n
Jhilmil Breckenridge was born in a sleepy town in India and travelled most of her childhood. She was always found with a book in her hands and still is! She is filled with self doubt now that she has actually embarked on the arduous journey of crafting her first novel.

Photograph © Chris JL

Silly in Spitalfields by Amanda Fuller

I left Serious procrastinating by Liverpool Street station,

And skipped into Spitalfields looking for Ludicrous.

In this place, in the city but not of the city,

Lissome youths in skinny black jeans loiter by stalls,

Selling things that no-one needs.

Rockabilly chick, in my splurty out dress,

Petticoats flouncing,

I twirled and giggled through the Goblin Market into the Water Poet,

Curtseyed gracefully, accepting a liquid offering,

Prepared to hold court.

Later, we may find sustenance,

Or resume the dance on sticky floors.

It’s time to let go of plans, responsibility and care,

To run, to laugh, to pirouette, to dare.

Leave me here or join me,

But beware!

The labyrinth is tricksy

And the way back

Is by no means guaranteed.

 

 

About the author:Irregularchoicelips
Amanda Fuller is a mother of two and a Software Development Manager for a global engineering organisation based in the City of London. She has been writing poetry and prose fiction for many years, and is delighted to be studying for her MA in Creative Writing with the University of Westminster. Amanda’s writing explores topics such as gender and identity, sexuality, childhood, parenthood and city life.

 

Photograph © Jasn

Visible by M.E. Rolle

Nothing is unseen in London.

 

On Oxford Street, a woman adjusts a turned strap

briefly exposing flesh to the lenses above her.

It could border on erotic to the right pair of eyes.

 

In Green Park, a boy kicks at a pigeon that has no toes on one foot

‘Fucking garbage,’ he says, aping the voice of his father.

It flies away, its path monitored.

 

Around the corner in Soho, a first date.

Their first kiss seen.

 

In a large doorway in Camden, a small dog with matted hair curls

at the end of a filthy blanket,

under which sleeps the only person she’s ever trusted.

They can’t give each other much, but they stay warm together.

Their tender exchanges are the subject of films no one watches.

 

A discarded length of plastic bunting swirls in circles in the wind

around the base of a statue in Holland Park,

catching in it bits of garbage and curled brown leaves.

Even this dance of refuse is recorded.

 

In London, nothing is unseen.

Mechanical viewers observe it all,

placed strategically – everywhere – for your protection.

 

 

About the author:11081047_10205291567701520_3084136575215819956_n

M.E. Rolle studied English and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She holds a J.D. in Law from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an LL.M. in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School. After a twelve year career as an attorney for U.S. federal government, M.E. decided to pursue her passion for writing in London. She is currently taking part in the University of Westminster’s program, MA Creative Writing: Writing the City.

 

Photograph © Steve Rotman