Mum-mi

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The woman who birthed me
wears around her neck
security, adornment, heirloom

Her freshly-baked softness
is gilded in three places:
earlobes, collar, wrist

In my mind they are part of her
not unlike the raven tresses
which grow from her in waves
gold blooms from her flesh

I have framed the second-hand
memory of my mother
holding her mother in her arms

Together like this they
circled God’s House
aching with a strength
only found in golden women

– zainab d.

Washing Dishes

Water poured forth from the tap

Dirty dishes turned to gleaming artefacts

I’d sit at the table watching mum with eyes glazed

No sense of her pride of place, by the sink she would stand

Where bubbles rose and fell, a metal kingdom so grand

I’d have danced amongst the bubbles, swam in rivers of lemon-scented soap, I’d have-

‘You’d make too much mess and waste too much soap.’

Mum’s voice came down like a guillotine

Crushing my watery dream

 

When I was younger, I always wanted to wash the dishes but my mum never let me. So this is dedicated to my mum, you should have let me do the chores back when I actually wanted to.

Aunt Ahti

Aunt Ahti was an imposing woman who had long ago crowned herself queen of our family. She dressed in mismatched patterns of several flowing layers, a belt of gold discs, hoop earrings big enough to fit a hand through, necklaces of every length, stacks of bangles on each arm, a ring on each finger, and topped with a colourful turban. It was difficult to look at her without drawing back. With as many trinkets as she had on, it was hard for her to move around easily, and she did so with great effort but that did not stop her dressing the same every day. Perhaps she took too seriously the fact that her name meant ‘sun’. You always knew when Aunt Ahti was coming because you could hear her jewellery announcing her arrival, as well as her heavy feet crashing on the ground with every step. She was a large woman too, but only in width – she was actually quite short but you never noticed, because she seemed to stand over people, especially when she was scolding them.

Aunt Ahti scolded people often. She scolded my parents, my siblings, my cousins, my friends, her friends, and even her own parents (my grandparents). When I was younger, I asked my grandfather,

‘Papi, why does Aunt Ahti scold everyone?’

Papi laughed and said ‘My dear, your aunt was born with a talent for scolding. When she was born, she did not cry to take air into her lungs, but to scold your grandmother for putting her through such an ordeal.’

It was clear when someone was about to get a scolding from Aunt Ahti. She would look at them from the side of her eye, purse her lips, and lift her hand in preparation for a few minutes of finger wagging. She would scold people for any number of reasons, perhaps they said something she didn’t like, or said it in a way she didn’t like. Or maybe when she asked them to do something, they didn’t do it fast enough, or didn’t do it to her specific preference. Sometimes she would bounce a scolding from one person to another. Take for example, when I was five, and she asked me what I’d like to be when I grew up. I told her with such joy, hope and confidence that, ‘I’d like to be a cat, Auntie.’

I saw those huge eyes look at me sideways, and those brown lips press together. Next thing I knew I had a finger waggling around in front of my face, and Aunt Ahti was saying,

‘A cat? I never heard anything more ridiculous in my life, and living with this family I’ve heard a lot of things. You know from the moment I first saw you I knew that you were going to be a troublemaker, and I was right! What kind of child disrespects their dear old auntie by giving a silly answer to my questions? The problem is, your parents don’t scold you enough.’

Then she turned to my parents, ‘Do I have to teach you everything? Look at this girl saying she wants to be a cat. Are you not worried? The poor child will have to go to a special school and it will be all your fault for not teaching her enough. Look now, she’s sitting there with her mouth open. Close your mouth girl, you look like a fish.’

Apparently this final statement broke five year-old me completely because I then burst into tears. As quickly as she had turned to tell me off, she gathered me into her bosom and rocked me, saying in the most soothing voice she could manage,

‘There now child, I won’t let you go to a special school, don’t worry. You must understand I have to scold you from time to time so that you turn out well. I do care for all my nieces and nephews, and I want to be sure you don’t embarrass yourself by saying things like that in public. People outside, they’ll just laugh at you, but I will scold you because I love you.’

A quick character sketch for writing practice.

Transport for London

Everyone talks about how living in London is like living in a bubble separate from the rest of the UK. It’s true; the city is a melange of different cultures, the sights to see are never-ending and most importantly, our transport system is unmatched.

You see, we travel on dragons. There are eleven types, each one a distinct colour. The light blue ones, Victoria dragons, are the fastest; they zoom along their route quicker than all the others. The gold ones, Circle dragons, are certainly the prettiest but they aren’t the sharpest dragons in the sky so they only fly in circles since that’s the only route they can remember.

The transport system began one hundred and fifty years ago when builders unearthed a cache of dragon eggs. These were given to a team of experts who found that the dragons were highly skilled in navigation. They then bred them to create dragons of different colours, making them more easily recognisable. The transport ministers of the time originally planned to use London as a testing ground for this new system, and if it proved successful they would extend it to the rest of the UK and perhaps even the rest of the world. The dragon system quickly became popular however, so it was decided that it would be restricted to London to bring in tourism as a novelty experience.

Around one billion people use the dragon system annually, but the funny thing is, small numbers of people have been disappearing from stations on a regular basis. No one talks about this much, though I’m sure more people know about it than are willing to admit. I probably shouldn’t be saying this, I could get into a lot of trouble, but I feel like someone should investigate this and find out what’s happening to these people. I’m probably not the man for the job; after all I’m only a student working here part time. I’m just trying to earn a little money to help me get by and really shouldn’t be concerning myself with this. The only reason I know about it is because I work for dragon transport security. I watch those screens all day and every so often I see a person in the crowd who turns a corner on one screen, without reappearing on another. At first I shook it off telling myself I just wasn’t looking properly. But now it’s happened too many times for me not to sit up and take notice.

I work on the cameras at Seven Sisters station mostly, but sometimes they’ll send me to other stations. Two people have disappeared here when walking from the platform to the escalators. From the platform there’s a turn into a passage about 3 metres long before you turn again to the escalators. This passage is too short for me to be mistaken when people don’t reappear. Tonight I was determined to explore.

The room in which I worked was an absolute tip. The security room was like the dumping ground for all the junk from dragon transport information. I made an effort to clean up when I first started working there, but my colleague Dave only added to it so eventually I gave up. I’d be working a five-hour shift tonight, so I’d have plenty of time to investigate.

‘Hi Dave.’ I say as I open the door.

‘Alright Pete?’ Dave drawls in reply without turning round. He has his feet up on a cluttered desk, tapping at his phone with one hand and a holding half eaten banana in the other.

I sink into the chair at my desk and keep an eye on the screens. I plan to wait two hours before going off to explore, so as not to arouse any suspicion from Dave, if it turns out he has the capacity for curiosity. My eagerness drags out the two hours but eventually the time comes. I slowly reach over and flip the power switch for screen five – the one facing the short passage I was going to investigate. I then place a leaflet casually over the switchboard, so Dave can’t see it’s off. The screen goes static. I turn and say in the most casual voice I can muster:

‘Screen five’s playing up, I’ll just go and check out the camera there. Back in a bit.’

Dave grunts in reply.

I have to stop myself from running out of the room, and nod at the other workers as I make my way to the passage.

When I get there, it’s completely unremarkable, as expected. I run my hands along the grey tiles absentmindedly, looking around at the ceiling and walls for anything out of the ordinary. I reach the other end of the passage and turn back the way I came, running my hand across the opposite wall. Halfway along, I feel a change in the rhythm of the tiles against my fingertips. Pausing, I run my fingers against the same bit of wall. Sure enough, there’s a line between two of the tiles. I look more closely at it and find that the line goes up from the floor to a little above my head then turns horizontal for half a metre then goes down to the floor again. A door! I trace the line to the top right corner of the door. I feel that the tile there is a little loose. I press on it and it makes a sound like a button on a keyboard. The door begins to open out and my mouth hangs open in awe. Before it’s done opening I stick my head into the dark inside. There’s a staircase leading down to a large dimly-lit room.

I whip back round and slam the door closed, breathing heavily, my eyes wide with shock. I realise nobody asks the most obvious question: What do the dragons eat?

I think I know the answer.

This is another piece I wrote for a creative writing assignment. It was really fun to write because I love dragons (they will probably feature quite a bit on this blog.)

How To Write A Poem

Start off

With a vague sentence

That wanders into your mind

Devoid of context

But has that meaningful sound to it.

Scribble it down

Abandon it for a few days

(Or weeks)

Then come back

And wonder why on earth

You ever thought this sounded good.

Cross it out

Maybe rip up the page for good measure

Erase any trace of it having existed

Curse yourself for not being deep enough

To have anything interesting to write about.

Search online

For how to write a poem

Scoff at the results

‘Get creative’

‘Choose the right words’

As if it’s that easy.

Suddenly at 2am

Write a page of poetry

Marvel at the words spilling

Out of your pen

Until they come to a slow,

Disappointing,

Stop.

Convince yourself

That you’ll finish it one day

That it’ll come to you.

Go on to write other things

As that sad little half-a-poem

Gathers dust.

This is my first ever attempt at poetry and I’m pretty pleased with it! I had to write a poem for one of my creative writing assignments and was racking my brain for a subject when this came out. I was a bit wary of it at first but my teacher loved it and I got a first on the assignment which made me a lot more confident about my writing.

Brides and Beasts

She woke to larks chirping on her balcony, sunlight filtering softly through the drapes. Today was the day. The ceremony would take place after midday, when the heat was bearable and the great hall would be at its brightest. Her gown was layers of ivory silk and lace, banded with turquoise satin and embroidered in intricate patterns. She was mainly eager to have her first dance with her prince, under the sunset with guests from all over the kingdom looking on. She had been practicing for weeks, though her instuctor told her it was hardly necessary – dancing was her forte and her passion; she had been dancing for as long as she could remember.

After her breakfast of figs and lemon water (said to bring brides luck), her handmaidens began to prepare her for the ceremony. They scrubbed her with a paste that made her skin soft and supple, and when she was dry they began to cover her face in powders and liquids to accentuate her features. Soon enough, she was ready. She lifted her gaze to the looking-glass. Her dark hair was curled and pinned up, but a few curls were left loose to frame her face.The lids of her light brown eyes were covered in a pale blue powder and her tawny skin was made to glow with a golden powder. She was amazed at how different she looked.

She was taken to the great hall in an ornate palanquin, and when she peered through the curtains she saw servants rushing about everywhere – everything had to be perfect for the princess’ wedding day.The butterflies in her stomach began fluttering as they reached the doors of the hall, got more insistent as her two bridesmaid cousins helped her leave the palanquin, and rose into her chest as she took the few small steps towards the doors. But when the doors opened the butterflies burst into a pulsing heat that filled her body to her very fingertips as she saw her prince across the room, a look of awe on the face she loved so well. One bridesmaid handed her a bouquet of tulips, hydrangeas and garden roses and she started to take the slow steps towards the altar. Sunlight filled the room from the northwestern windows, and glittered on the polished marble floor. She was halfway down the aisle when they felt the tremor that shook the entire hall…

…and suddenly a giant scaled whip the width of two elephants crashed through the eastern windows, launching tiny shards of glass and chunks of rubble into every crevice of the room. Her eyes automatically clenched shut to protect her eyes from the glass and dust. She could only hear the screams of the guests faintly under the ringing in her ears, standing frozen in fear as she watched the whip curl around her prince and lift him screaming almost to the roof of the hall, before dragging out of the hall. She unfroze after what seemed a lifetime, and lifted her head to see that the whip was in fact the tail of a gargantuan dragon, scales the colour of blood and deep black spikes along the length of its back. Flying into the horizon, its beating wings blew dust in her eyes, and when she opened them again, her prince and the beast were gone.

***

She sat on the seat next to her parents’ thrones, staring down at the throne room floor. The High Advisor was speaking. ‘…absolutely devastated for Your Grace, not least for the pain your royal daughter must be feeling. Dragons are mischievous creatures who enjoy nothing more than causing havoc. We must rally our finest troops to hunt down the dragon and rescue the prince, but even at our fastest we will not be able to gather enough men in anything less than a week.’

Her eyes shot up and glared at the advisor. ‘A week?’ she thought, ‘How can he consider leaving my prince at risk of death for a week?’ She looked over at her parents, and was disgusted to find them nodding along with the advisor’s words.

‘…costs of the wedding has depleted our stores, I fear. We have not enough coin to supply our men with the right weapons for  facing a dragon.’

She had heard enough. She swept out of the hall, fuming.

As the moon rose over the castle, she went over her plan one last time with her most trustworthy handmaid, Alia.

‘Now remember, I can only get out if you play your part convincingly. You must have two voices tonight, mine as well as your own. Then I’ll slip out in your cloak, under the pretence of fetching water from the well for my bath. The cloak should hide my face well enough, but the guardsman outside my chamber must be under the impression that I am still inside. That relies on you.’

Alia nodded fearfully. Wide-eyed, she asked ‘My princess, are you sure this is the right thing to do? It is so dangerous, and I fear for your life.’

‘The same way I fear for my prince’s life.’ She replied. ‘This is the only way I can be sure the dragon will not kill him. It is using him as a hostage for gold, that is all dragons desire. The gold we have is too little to save him, so we need to rescue him by force. If we wait for the army to be gathered, he might be dead. Dragons are impatient. Besides, the dragon will never be expecting a single person to come and save him. This way, I have the element of surprise on my side. I will be safe enough in my armour, my father had it made in case I ever come into any harm, so it is the finest quality gold can buy. The sound of it will be muffled under your clothes and cloak, so we need not worry about the guardsmen hearing it.’

That made Alia seem a little more confident, but the fear still showed on her face. They carried it out the plan quickly, and all went smoothly. Now she was outside the castle at the edge of the forest. She was wearing her armour and Alia’s cloak, her clothes she had bundled into a roll and hidden amongst a pile of rocks. Her horse was pawing at the ground, waiting to be mounted. Ranger was brown and white, not a big horse, but healthy and strong from all the rides she had taken him on regularly. She took one last look up at the sleeping castle then mounted, kicked her heels into Rangers sides and set off into the foest. She rode hard and fast for a long time, she needed to gain some distance quickly because when morning came and they found she was not there they would be after her. The moon had begun to lower before she slowed down to a quick trot. She headed east towards the Great Mountain, where the dragon had been seen heading towards by some townsfolk. She travelled fast for two days, sleeping only a little and sustaining herself with hardbread from her pack and water from the stream. Finally, she reached the rocky slope of the Great Mountain.

Sleeping on a high ridge she spied the dragon, its tail curled around it and its wings folded over its body like a blanket. There was a path cut into the mountain which people used to gather minerals from the rocks. She began the ascent of the mountain when it was still dark, and by the time she got close to the ridge where the dragon lay still sleeping, dawn had coloured the sky a soft purple, though the sun had not yet risen its head above the horizon. Stealthily, she made her way over to the dragon, the heavy rumbling of its breathing muffled her footsteps. As she got closer, she noticed a nest of sorts made of large rocks and tree trunks. Within, her prince lay sleeping. Her heart began to pound as she made her way closer and closer to the dragon. She would try and help her prince escape without waking the dragon, but she had her sword and dagger on her belt just in case. Passing round the beast, she approached the nest and saw that her prince’s clothes were tattered and dirty and his face was covered with cuts. She was filled with sadness to see him hurt, and in her distraction stepped on a twig which snapped under her foot. The rumbling stopped. She froze. The dragon unveiled a huge yellow eye, a long black pupil slashed through the middle. It unfolded its wings and turned to face her with a roar. Her prince jumped awake; his movement shook her into action. She unsheathed her sword and pointed it at the dragon while running sideways to the nest. As she grabbed her prince’s hand, the belly of the dragon began to glow orange. It drew back its head, then released a wall of flame, setting the nest ablaze just as she and her prince dashed away, sprinting along the side of the dragon as it followed them to the mountain path. As they ran towards the path, she realised that the dragon would follow them back to the castle and wreak havoc on the town. She would have to kill it.

Whirling round to face the beast, she shouted for her prince to take cover behind some rocks, while she charged at the dragon, determined. The dragon swung its great tail round towards her, but she jumped away just in time. The belly of the beast glowed again, but she was too close for it to get a direct hit. The dragon seemed to realise this too, because the glowing died down and it hit at her with its claws, but missed. She continued to dodge the dragon’s attacks, dancing about the beast, trying to find a spot to stab it. To confuse it, she shouted ‘I’m over here!’ then ran to the other side as it turned towards the sound. She continued to do this until she saw her chance: the dragon’s throat was exposed, its foot placed underneath. She ran onto its foot, jumped and slashed at its throat, feeling the blade of her sword tear through scales and flesh into the boiling blood underneath. She fell to the ground as the dragon let out a screech and with its last strength, whipped its tail round again. This time the knife-like ridges on the tail found its mark: it sliced through the gap in the armour of her left leg, from which blood began to spurt immediately. Her head was swimming. The sun had revealed itself now and had turned the sky above a pale pink, flecked with golden shafts of light. She saw the dragon fall to the ground through blurry eyes and heard her prince running towards her before the world turned black.

 

 

I wrote this for fun after my cousin’s daughter asked me to tell her a story about a princess. Try to ignore the numerous holes in the story, the original was much shorter but this sort of spiralled out of control!  Hope you like it.