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.

Thoughts on the eve of my twentieth

This is my last blog entry as a teenager. Tomorrow I will have lived for two decades. It’s weighing heavily on me for some reason. Perhaps because the last year has been so eventful. I’ve experienced new things, created new friendships, felt new emotions. The end of my teenage era spells my entry into an unfamiliar realm of responsibility, which I don’t think I’m ready for – but then, who is?

I had my first driving lesson this morning. I dipped my toe into the pool of adulthood, and surprisingly, it wasn’t so bad. Maybe I can do this. For the past two years I’ve felt parts of my old character falling away. I’m growing a fresh skin and I hope it’s a good one. Here’s to my twenties – may God help me not to mess up too badly.

The Night Theatre

I watched my sister every night

Before the mirror she sat,

Dressed all in skimpy clothes,

Topped with a red silk hat.

 

She stayed out all night

But returned every morning

With food aplenty for the table

And sacks of coal for burning.

 

She told me she was an actress

At a theatre that hates the day

‘The best shows come on at night,’ she said

‘When the wolves come out to play.’

 

Later she found me all dressed up

With rouge upon my lips

Shadowed eyes, shimmered cheeks,

And painted finger tips.

 

‘I’m coming with you!’ I chirped,

‘I’ve tickets for the show,’

‘A man came here earlier,’

‘Said I’d have a place in the front row.’

 

Ready to leave, I went to the door,

But my sister got there first

With teary eyes she turned the lock

As I cried and screamed and cursed.

 

Witching hour: the door fell open,

And my sister stumbled through,

Her clothes were ripped and torn,

And her skin was black and blue.

 

Before her soul departed she whispered,

‘My love, I had no choice.’

‘Let me tell you just one thing, dear sister,’

‘Stay away from boys.’

Second Generation

The tongue’s the place of hybrid culture

Spitting languages like fire from the East

But the other comes more naturally

Saarey jahaan se achaa and God save the Queen.

Am I thinking like a coloniser?

A child of the colonised

A heart split with betrayal

Because in my mother tongue I struggle to

communicate. No, I’m a picture of the East

born into the West. My culture’s neither here nor there

– it’s all mixed up. Us children of immigrants

we’re something else entirely. We take the best of each

and create our own. No fixed place, we’re nomads,

through cultures we roam.

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.

The Book Thief: A Review

“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

bookthief

I’ve changed my blog name from ‘ecrivante’ to ‘wreaderwriter’, because first of all, I wasn’t keen on the original name anyway, and second of all, I want to start doing book reviews on this blog! I think it’ll help me to think more about the things I read.

Rating: 5/5 stars

I picked up The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in a charity shop over a year ago, and have finally gotten round to reading it. The story takes place in Nazi Germany and follows the tale of Liesel, a young girl sent to live with foster parents in the town of Molching. One of the many interesting things about this novel is that it is narrated by Death. Not the most common omniscient being to tell a story, but it made for a morbid reminder just how prevalent death was at the time. Death is a great narrator, witty and poignant in all the right places, but for large parts of the novel you forget that he’s there. We see Liesel growing up in the midst of a war, with her awareness of her situation growing alongside herself.

Spoilers from here on

If I told you that the first chapter has a death and the last chapter has a death, you might guess from the cyclical storytelling that the book is about death, death, and more death. And you’d be right. But although it is about death, death, and more death, this story is far from depressing. In fact it leaves you with a sense of hope for those facing adversity. The reason for this is because Liesel finds strength in words.

When Liesel arrives on Himmel Street, to the home of her new foster parents, she is illiterate.  Her foster father, Hans Hubermann teaches her to read and write. It is a long and arduous process, and at the age of nine, being unable to read is embarrassing. Despite this, Liesel is unfazed by the difficulty of learning to read, and tries her hardest because she had lived without words and knew how powerless she was without them. She eventually grows to love books and reading. She learns the importance of words, how they can be used for good and evil. She learns how bad words can be used to mean something good from her foster mother Rosa, who constantly throws around ‘saukerl’ and ‘saumensch’ (translation: pig, for male and female respectively) often enough that Liesel starts to call her friend Rudy a ‘saukerl’ affectionately.

The use of her words ranges from petty to powerful. Her peaceful fight against the hate in Nazi Germany begins when Max Vandenburg, a Jew, comes to live in her basement. She and her foster parents keep him hidden, in return for Max’s father saving Hans’ life during World War One. Max is Liesel’s first real introduction to the dark end of the Nazi regime. It seems silly to say that now, when we know that the entire regime was dark and terrible, but most Germans were unaware of the realities of it until the war was over. Max turns up on Himmel Street holding a copy of Mein Kampf. As Max and Liesel’s friendship grows, he paints over the pages of Mein Kampf, and writes stories for Liesel. In the first story he makes, he details his own ‘kampf’, and in the last, titled The Word Shaker, he writes how words have affected his life, from the hateful words of Hitler, to Liesel’s words of love and friendship.

I loved the symbolism of this, how words of hate are simply painted over to create peace. But this wouldn’t be a great book if it had a happy ending, so of course one day Max is forced to leave for fear of the house being searched by Nazi officers. They hear nothing from him until one day, when a parade of Jews are being marched down Himmel Street towards a concentration camp, Liesel spots him amongst the crowd. Transformed from a man who dreamed of fighting Hitler in the basement, to a bedraggled, malnourished thing, Liesel’s reunion with him brought a tear to my eye.

The bombs fall in and around Molching, never hitting Himmel Street until…they do. And that heartbreaking moment begins the end of this book. Liesel, sat in the basement reading through the story she has just finished writing, survives the bombing, but her mother and father, her best friend Rudy, and all her neighbours do not. Here is where the beauty of Zusak’s writing truly shows itself. When Liesel is rescued from beneath the rubble, Death’s narration is slow and dreamlike, much like Liesel’s initial thought process before she realises what has happened. It is utterly realistic, and in reading it you can’t help but throw yourself entirely into the story. You walk down Himmel Street  alongside Liesel, you cry with her as she sees the dead, tangled bodies of her foster parents, and you grieve with her for the life she had gained and lost.

April 2011

The clocks in my granddad’s house stopped working after he died. I was lying on the sofa trying to make sense of what had happened when I noticed it was a few hours behind. Someone might have noticed it sooner on a normal day but today everyone was in various states of shock. I blinked at the frozen clock face for a moment and almost burst out laughing at the literary significance of it. It was like a real life symbol of how our lives had been paused. The clocks felt it too.

The night before, my grandma, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren piled in the room where granddad lay unconscious on the bed. His breathing was laboured and heavy. It looked like each breath took all his strength. It was hard to see him looking so fragile and powerless, the man who was the centre of our little solar system. We recited prayers under our breath, watching and waiting. The nurse came every so often to check on him and when asked she would tell us he didn’t have long left. Despite all this I didn’t actually think he was going to die. I feel bad saying it but we all thought grandma would go first; after all, she was more ill and had been for a long time. For ages afterwards I kept expecting him to walk through the door and for us to carry on as normal.

After the funeral, around fifty of us piled into granddad’s house and dispersed into different rooms. We were quiet. Sleep-deprived and grieving, no one had much to say. As I lay on the sofa before noticing the clock, I began to sort through my jumbled thoughts. I realised I wasn’t as sad as everyone else because reality hadn’t hit me yet. I kept expecting it to slam into me at some point but much later found that realisation comes piece by piece, until you realise you’re living life with acceptance. At first I went through the motions. I cried when he stopped breathing, I cried at the funeral, I cried when everyone else did. But during those first days I didn’t really feel anything. I kept asking myself: ‘is this what shock feels like?’ But it couldn’t have been because I didn’t even feel shocked. At least that would be something.

In hindsight, lying staring at the clock face was the perfect snapshot of what my granddad’s death did to me. I was living, but without going anywhere. If life is a road we all run down then I was stuck in a ditch on the side of it. Those first few days after his death I was going round in circles, keeping myself busy as the hours went by. Noticing the clock was a few hours behind interrupted what would have been a long train of thought. Of course in that moment I didn’t think that the clock was a symbol for how our lives had been paused. I thought that we’d have to get it fixed, then went into the kitchen to make tea.

This is a personal piece that I wrote for a non-fiction assignment. I was holding off posting it for a while because I wasn’t sure how I felt about people reading something so close to my heart, but today is the fourth anniversary of my granddad’s death and I feel it’s appropriate. So here’s a hazy memory of that period.

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.