Lala The Poet

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin

Month: January, 2017

A Kitten’s Courage

Back home I have a kitten called Mo. She is the only thing I’ve ever loved, besides my family, and I still cry when I think of her. I miss other things too of course, like my bed tucked up safe against the wall, and the charcoal sketches I drew of my grandfather. Two days before we left, I did the best sketch I have ever done, and I bet it is gone now, I bet it is ash, along with everything else. No one ever told me what happened to our house but I do not think it is still standing there. If it is, then why did we need to leave? If it’s still there then I hate everything. If it is gone then at least this pain is for something.

I wanted to take Mo with me. I tried to hide her in my coat but Father saw and he struck me and she jumped out of my arms with the shock. “We don’t need another mouth to feed,” he said angrily. A second later he had taken my face in his hands and he was saying sorry. That scared me the most. I saw his eyes shine wet for the first time in my life. That was the moment I knew everything was going to be different. My Father apologising, crying, trying to scoop up Mo for me but she had always feared him and she ran off, the white tip of her tail disappearing behind the wall. I can see her now roaming the wreckage of my old house, mewing for me, wondering why I left her.

I feel guilty because all I think of is my stupid kitten. I’m seventeen you know, and I should be worrying about grown up things, like how we are going to stay clean, and how we are going to find the right food for my tiny brother Azzam. He is off milk now which makes things harder. He needs food, but not proper food yet. It’s sort of in between – mush. Where do you get mush from? Mama says Azzam is lucky because he is small. What does that mean? She keeps saying she wishes I had been born later, that I was eleven or twelve, she wishes that I was a proper child. Father says I am a child, but Mama seems very anxious about it, as if she knows a secret. She has got very thin since we arrived in this place. She does not look herself. “If anyone asks, tell them you are fourteen,” she keeps saying, “not thirteen, they will not believe you, but fourteen, they will believe that. Praise Allah you are not a tall girl!”

Everything is muddy here and I am always cold, but I am sort of excited. I am on an adventure. I am not even eighteen and yet I am travelling the world. They seem to like children here; there is food for Azzam and even special tents for him and Mama. She chooses to stay with us though in our shack that Father built with some of the other men from the camp. One of them kept looking at me. “I’m fourteen,” I said, even though he never asked. It made no difference to him anyway, he kept on staring. Father didn’t say anything though because he needed help with our shack and this man was quite a good builder actually.

There is dirt on my arm that will not wash off. It has made a little home in the soft warm skin of the crook of my elbow, a smudge. I wonder if it’ll be there from now on. I don’t try too hard to get it off because I think it is dirt from home.

Every other day or so, a group of strange people come here. Their faces look kind of raw: pink and smooth. And others are the opposite, grey or yellow, like they think the sun is bad and hide from it. They are nice people though, even if they look different to us. Father was suspicious of them until they gave us new shoes, and a fresh tarpaulin for our shack. It is very bright and blue. It reminded me of the sky at home and I started to cry again.

I feel sad that Mo thinks I abandoned her. I know she is only an animal but it makes me feel sick that she is out there alone. What if she catches fire, or gets crushed? What if she is stolen and made to hurt, just for fun? I tell Azzam fairy-tale stories about her; he might grow up thinking he had a sister once called Mo, and Father will beat me for telling lies. But they’re not lies, it’s just that his little brain doesn’t understand stories yet, he thinks they are real. They are not real. This camp is real. The dull freezing ache in my back is real. The dirt on my arm is real.

I had a nightmare last night. There were lots of men strapped up real tight in black clothes and they had clubs in their hands. They broke into our shack and were screaming at us. We were forced outside and it was total chaos, people running around everywhere. One of the strapped-up men pointed his club at me. Another grabbed my arm and pulled me into the centre; I felt pain in my dream, the feeling of his fingers gripping my arm. They started barking at me, a one-word question, “Age?” My throat sealed up and my tongue fell out of my mouth onto the floor. It crumbled into dust at my feet. “AGE AGE AGE?” they shouted.

“Fourteen!” I screamed, but no sound came out, I had no tongue! They all laughed at me and closed in around me… then I woke up, Praise Allah, I woke up but I was shaking and crying. I woke up Azzam with the noise and then everyone was crying. Mama pulled me into her arms and stroked my hair. “Yes,” she whispered, her mouth pressed to the top of my head, “fourteen, yes my sweet girl, fourteen.”

I wonder if Mo feels pain when I cry, I wonder if we are connected in some way and she can sense my thoughts from thousands of miles away. Why do I think these things? I am seventeen you know, I should be thinking of grown up things, like what I am going to say when that builder man comes looking for me; I need to practice some sharp words that will embarrass him and put him off me. I wish I had Mo with me, curled up in my coat; her little warm body would give me courage. But I have no one. My family are shells, their souls bled out long ago, whipped right out of them, lost on some foreign wind. But I refuse to be emptied. I shall think of Mo and be strong.

Hello, I am Aida and I’m fourteen years old.



The Prince and the Bear

There is a person I met more than a month ago but until now I have resisted taking pen and scratching out my memory of him, even in my private journals.  I’ve been uncharacteristically hesitant because I have the depressing feeling I may never see him again, and that if I did, he would be cold – or worse, he would not know me.

I found him in the middle of the city in a crowded bar, the sodden air thick and trembling with body heat. It took so long for me to receive service that I wandered off just as a member of staff lifted their chin at me “who’s next?” and the space I had been occupying was swallowed by three other parched persons. I sighed, turned, and bumped into something firm and warm; it was a gentleman of impressive height, lean, and fair in a luminous way. He offered a polite half-smile, not particularly inviting. His eyes were a cold hard grey-blue, the kind you read about in books but seldom see.

“You’re like Prince Harry,” I said, “crossed with Michael Fassbender, you know, the actor.” He laughed and his whole face changed. His pallor was dashed in gold, and he seemed more natural, less ethereal.

“You really are very handsome,” I went on, quite matter-of-fact. The Prince looked at me properly for the first time, sufficiently surprised. His profile was serene, but dead on his face was disarming, much too good-looking.  “Why thank you very much,” he said. “But you can’t say that.” I frowned why. “I’m taken,” he replied, “and I do love my girlfriend quite a lot.” He sighed as if it were a terrible shame…

Alas! Reader, I have misled you. Despite my extravagant descriptions of this man, he is not the one I first mentioned, the one I really wish to tell you about it. He is a different creature entirely, an individual package of masculinity. While the willowy Prince was sharply handsome and mischievous in his charm, this other man was solid and earthy, with a sedate confidence that made me feel like I was being absorbed.

I spotted him across the floor, a bear amongst wolves. And he was bear-like – broad, and unhurried. His arms were uncovered and I observed his bronze skin pulled comfortably over his large frame, his light brown hair scorched blonde at the fringe (by the Moroccan sun, I was later told). His face was kind, and studded in metal – nose, lip, brow. His dance was seamless and unselfconscious, and it drew me to him. I proceeded subtly in his direction and wondered, not without irritation, why The Prince followed. He addressed the Bear before I did; they made an amusing contrast, pearl on rock, and I concluded that men value generosity of humour over class.

The Bear tried to engage me but I held up my hand. “Don’t,” I said, “I can’t hear you. Don’t waste it.” The music chewed on my nerves like the obnoxious shrieks of unruly children.

“Do you want to sit down?” I shouted. The Bear agreed in a heartbeat. I abandoned the Prince to the floor of gawking women, and lead the way to a sticky little table. I sat down and dragged a second chair as close to me as I could. The Bear took it but still he did not turn to me properly. He spoke, a lot, but his gaze was far away, out before him, never at me.

I let him talk. His words poured out between little jabs of his tongue as he licked a cigarette paper. “I’m guessing you don’t smoke,” he said, without asking. He looked over towards the door.

I shook my head, “But I can come out with you?” He grinned and we made our way outside. The evening fog had fallen in a thick gauze that veiled the city; I looked up at the furry balls of the streetlights with their stems hidden in the mist. It found my lashes and I blinked it away happily.

I perched on the outer sill, and the Bear found a gigantic flower pot to rest against. We talked. Our discussion was deep, with no forced direction. He had ideas that set my heart aflutter, and he cared about things that resonated with me.

The strangest thing of all though, is that our discourse out there in the fog was the thing that made me decide the Bear was different to the others, but Reader, I cannot recall what he said. I remember staring at him, wanting him never to stop. His tone was that of a half-thought, as if he were talking to himself as much as to me, and it gave him a very real air of sincerity. I don’t believe he was trying to impress me, and that impressed me.

He wanted to know what I thought; he wanted to share with me. I told him about my faith and values. He was respectfully curious. “I have this thing in here,” he said, thumping his chest, “that says to me ‘this is right, this is wrong’. Is that God? I mean… I just don’t know.” He shrugged and started rolling another cigarette.

“Are you ok?” I asked quietly. I didn’t want to shatter anything.

“I’m just going to sit here,” he said, leaning back against the flowers, “and look at your lovely legs.” He drew a long toke and took stock of my figure. I watched him intently, letting his gaze hold me a moment. He never touched me, not once. There was no flirting (a first on my part) and no coercion.

He looked up into my face. Finally! “Fancy me finding someone like you here,” he said. “It’s not often I’m in the company of such calibre.” I remember laughing then, my unattractive guffaw, forgetting to be lady-like. Maybe the silver velvet of my skirt emitted a superior vibe, maybe my garbled vocabulary produced the illusion of intelligence. He smiled at me and I didn’t look away.

Suddenly the street was full. It was 2am and the venues were purging the partiers. I spotted the Prince making his way to me, a Frodo-esque accomplice in tow. “Food?”

I invited the Bear to join us and we set off in search of something fried. We stumbled down the steep narrow streets, the Prince and Frodo up ahead, and I wondered with a savage hope if the Bear and I looked a couple. He overtook me by a few steps and I saw him hold his hand out behind him – was it for me to take? Courage escaped me and I ignored his inviting palm. I’m not sure why… I thought, he couldn’t mean that, surely! Maybe he was just flexing a stiff hand, it could not have been for me… He let it drop and said nothing. He would have thought I had not seen…

Later, when we were left waiting for the others, the Bear and I huddled up against a cold metal railing. It began to rain through the fog and I caught a shiver. Suddenly brave, I shuffled across and leant right into his giant warm frame. He pulled me in with a huge arm – and rubbed my back in great gentle circles, round and round, slowly heating me up. A squeal of delight escaped from between my clamped teeth; I felt like a kitten, something pretty, something small. I am a big person, with strong opinions and long legs, but he made me feel delicate and valuable. I still think of that even now, when I am cold, when I tower over my friends, when I feel too long.

I returned home and for days after, I could not eat. I was too full of the Bear, too anxious with my thoughts and memory of him. It was not right. I tried to fill in the gaps of a man I did not know. He didn’t think of me, of that much I was sure. A woman knows these things. My wants were selfish; he inspired me and I wanted him for myself. He challenged me and encouraged me.

“My dad’s a vicar,” he said, “but I… I’m not sure what I think. Would you like another apple juice?” I looked into his eyes, brown like mine. His pupils were enormous. My delight splintered as his intoxication dawned on me. He told me drugs were an aid, a kind of tool. He was too open, too colourful. Did he value my sobriety, my infatuation with the Higher? He chewed on his lip piercing, gazing, not blinking. The moth-wings of unease trembled against my skin for just a shadow of a second.

“Yes,” I replied, “thank you, an apple juice would be lovely.”