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

 

 

 

 

 

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.