Thursday, 6 October 2016

A Response to Violence

Today is National Poetry Day, and I did try to write a poem (honest!) but wrote this instead. It’s flash fiction, I guess, with lyrical elements. It's about losing my nephew and the kindness of friends. My nephew died aged 26 as a volunteer doctor for the civilian population in Idlib, Syria. He was killed by the army of the dictator President Bashar al-Assad, who is still in power.

For some reason I had to write it in Third Person, take a bit of artistic licence and fictionalise my own name. Distance, I suppose.

Writing about grief does feel like an indulgence, and yet writing is how I deal with most things so it would be very odd not to write about it. I have also wanted to write a kind of ‘testament to friendship’ for some time, because without my friends I’m not sure where I would be.
President Basshir Assad’s forces have been responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Syria, according to the statistics of the Syrian Human Rights Committee. Daesh is also killing civilians, as are the Russian airstrikes on Daesh.

                                             *           *          *

Layla Rahman does two rounds of the apple orchard and waves at the chickens. There is no marked improvement in her mental health so she catches a bus to the coast where she buys sorbet and walks barefoot by the water. The sand is cold and compact. A walking meditation.
She queues to wash her feet under a rusty tap, then sits in the window of the Charles Dickens pub, sipping at a Virgin Mary. Hours slide by and when the evening clientele roll in for real drinks, she leaves.

On the bus she’s half-asleep and there’s sand in her hair and a patch of it on each knee and her bag’s open, but who cares.

‘Are you alright, Love?’ asks a lady with a labradoodle.
‘Yeah,’ she says.

The lights on the bus flicker and there’s pressure at the back of her eyes. Perhaps her face is rejecting her eyes, she thinks, or her mind.

At home she sits on the sofa with her coat on, shaking. She rings a friend.
He says, ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself, these things take time.’

‘Ok,’ she says, and hangs up. She tries to breathe the way she’s taught herself to, the way the Buddhists and the sane people do. Because she doesn’t want to be mad to the grave and mad through the afterlife. This is her fear: that the rage cannot be contained by a mere nine decades and will instead run on and on.

‘They shoot pregnant women,' her nephew said, before he was killed with the others. ‘They make a day of it. The next day it’s the old. The day after, children, then it starts all over again. It’s their game... to drain us medics of resources and spread the terror.’
She stares at her phone, would like to ring her friend back. She wants to say: Time isn’t kind to me. What do I do? I’m awake for too long. At 4am half-dreams make shadows on the walls and this is when I see bombs.

But the words don’t make it to her mouth.
When she rings back for real, she says Sorry. Sorry I keep ringing. Sorry I keep saying sorry but this isn’t normal… he died before me and I’m older than him. I’m sorry about this, for doing this again. I’m…

Stop it, says her friend. Of course it’s not right. Take your time. Take it. We are here.