Flash Fiction, Essays, Articles and Monologues.
Here are extracts of some of my shorter pieces of work.
THEY— A monologue written and performed for The Journey’s Festival (Portsmouth) 2018.
[Ahmad]:warm, moist and coarse was prison officer’s hand gripping the back of my neck — forcing my body to incline forward, making me shudder. Sickened by the red paint-peeled floor exposing masses of grey concrete speckles reeling in my peripheral vision like a kaleidoscope —head so low, I’m staring at my groin; this amuses him.
Wrenched upright, the vice-like grips of two new sets of hands tighten around my triceps. Wailing as it is swings open, the heavy steel door grinds against its hinges, in protest. Glancing to my right, down the seven-foot long entrance corridor from where I was seized and forced along like an animal led to slaughter, I see them. Theysaid last night over dinner — casually, like it was nothing but conversation to pass the time — we (meaning the three of us: father, mother and I) needed to take a short journey together. When I scoffed and reminded my father that I have school in the morning — my pupils, mostly children of oil workers and small holders rely on me, so They,too, like me can aspire to become whatever Theywish — he, a small-holding farmer, stared at me, a physical emptiness in his eyes. Spitting into in an empty bowl, he wiped his mouth and glared at my mother. Rubbing her hands together, she stands up, adjusting her garments and leaving the room. His deep furrowed brow adorned by heavy-set greying eyebrows — once jet black — is made more prominent by the flicker of firelight. Snatching a piece of bread from an oval terracotta platter between us, without looking up, he utters “if your loyalty lies with your family, then you will do what your father asks of you.
It was too late when I realised why They brought me here. Slamming, I’m certain a door that heavy makes some kind of imposing sound, but I don’t recall hearing it. Musk tinged with an aroma of meaty-wholeness is the first thing I notice. Everything happens so fast that I can’t process it. Hissing and the clinking of hollow items against steel becomes deafening. Faces pushed through bars holler and jeer at me. Reluctantly, I’m forced forward by the two broad men. Ten sets of yellow paint-peeling iron bars down, I’m brought to an abrupt stop. The clunking of a heavy lock and rattling of the metal door on its castors, sliding back, brings a momentary reprieve. Feeling the numbing sensation leaving my arms, Theyshove me hard, slamming the metal cell door behind me. I stumble over the threshold.
Theydon’t move —standing and staring at me, sardonic expressions permeating their faces. Mattresses stained and gaping open at the corners lay in every direction on the floor. In the far corner of the nine-feet-by-six cell is a small blue bucket — it’s exterior marred with indescribable tendril-like marks. Theydon’t take their eyes off me. Shuffling backward, my back presses into the bars — cold steel penetrating through my t-shirt. A guard prods me in the back. “Go on faggot, They’ll be gentle — to begin with at least,” Theylaugh, turning away — their boots thudding down the corridor.
Stepping into centre of the cell, I kick a small drain. It omits a putrid aroma of faeces. Taking another step forward, I’m forced to jump backward when a tall bearded man, muscled with a chest wider than the hood of my car, lunges at me — his face screwed up. “Don’t make yourself comfortable, queer. There is no home for people like you here,” he says. The other nine men, tall, short muscled, thin and some with rounded protruding bellies — all united in uniformity by white cotton vests marred by sweat, remnants of meals and blood and grey cotton trousers equally as dishevelled — laugh aloud.
Huddled into a corner, wrapping my arms around myself to keep me warm, nestled between a stained, damp exposed grey brick wall and the metal bars of the cell, I can’t sleep. They snore softy in front of me on mattresses spread out on the floor in every direction. My first night, handed over to the Syrian authorities and incarcerated with murderers, thieves and the like, and for what? For being gay — was frightening, but not as terrifying as the one-thousand-and-ninety-five to come. Nights spent fighting for dignity, for my right not to be just a vessel. “Come on,” They say laughing like it is sport, in the silent hours of the night when the guards drink and play cards in their office, “you know you want it, faggot boy!” Looking back, even now, I don’t understand how just because I’m gay it means I necessarily would give myself up to every man that has a load to blow. I’m a person, not an object. So, I learned to fight back — getting tougher and standing my ground. Eventually, I won the right to sleep on a mattress. My offer to share it with a new arrival declined, because Theyhad been warned about me. Theydon’t want to catch my sickness — homosexuality.
Midday sunlight stings my eyes. I’m shoved from the prison entrance I was dragged through by my father three-years-ago. Physically, I’m different now; more aware of my differences — less assuming that I am owed some form of entitlement to be who I want to be. I know I must live a cautious life, not just because of my sexuality, but because the country I once knew is no more. A peaceful uprising in 2011, soon became outright war — I know neither myself or my country anymore — everything has changed.
The school I once taught in is now a pile of rubble. Everything is unrecognisable. The few people who stayed in the small oil producing town, Theyknow about me. Theyhave heard my story. The tittle-tattle of their whispers is like an itch I can’t reach. I have to endure it driving me to madness. Theycame at dusk. The sun had barely set, dusting the horizon with a dullish salmon-pink. No words were exchanged. I had heard stories about these modern-day bogey men —who came at night and took men, boys and young girls away, never to be seen again — recognisable only by a black band on worn on their upper left arms.
Hands bound and blindfolded, I land onto sharp shards of rubble biting at me. Three dull jabs to my chest with a large boot are my introduction to my new surroundings, which as my blindfold is cut free with a sharp blade inches from my eye, I realise is a disused warehouse. Fresh blood in my mouth, searing white-hot pain in my shoulders makes my cry out. The clatter of chains binding my arms and legs suspend me from the ceiling. Rocks hurled by men to my left and right impact a relentless ache for almost three hours. “Who are the other infidels? Tell us how to root out deviants and we’ll spare you.” Theyshout, tugging on the chains harder, sending indescribable pain throughout my body. I make up names and addresses I know no longer exist — buildings crushed by war, their inhabitants long gone.
Shivering — night clings to me. Dumped by the side of the road, west of Damascus, I peel away my blindfold. On the horizon, lights twinkle. In the back of a produce truck, knees tucked under my chin behind hessian sacks full to the brim with grain, I hide from border authorities. Almost four hours, my journey ends abruptly. Men’s voices and the trundling of fork-lift trucks panics me. I push out the curtain-sides of the truck, slipping away unseen into the city.
Theywere the same as me — exiles — Teachers, Engineers, Doctors and an Accountant. All of us are outcasts because of our sexual attraction to men. In a small three-bedroom apartment in central Beirut, we nine men lived together, pretending to be heterosexual bachelors for fear of the Lebanon morality police. Rumours circulated amongst other men, like us, told stories of subjection to physical tests conducted by Lebanese police to ascertain if a man has had anal intercourse. Tests which, if I am not careful to avoid will land me back in prison, fighting straight men off, who see me as sexual commodity for their fulfilment. I can’t be myself. I have to guard against anybody suspecting. Theyhave ears everywhere — in the street, when buying groceries and having coffee my eyes are cast down, for fear of being accused of gazing at another man for longer than I should. Living in the shadows, hiding who I am — Theyhave control over me. Every night when I lay down to sleep, I ask myself ‘will I ever be free? Last night Theycame. I wasn’t here, but three of my friends were. The morality police took them away, threw them into jail. To make money, to help feed us illegal exiles, now and again They sold sex to businessmen who cruised the downtown waterfront — the double standard of those men who sleep with men for the sake of a brief orgasm behind a dumpster or on the back seat of a car, and those who want to be with another man for love.
Theycame again the next morning, hammering on the door. Being the only one at home, I slipped out of the living room widow, down a fire escape and onto the street. The seafront is a frightening uncertain place at night, full of people buying and selling all the pleasures and sensations that belong to the darkness. I know I can’t go back — I’m afraid of being sent to prison, again. I’m uncertain, this time, if I’d survive that experience. I thought I’d take my chances out there.
Wondering at the far end of the waterfront, on the edge of a development of high-rise buildings, searching for somewhere safe to sleep, I discover a community of Syrians — men, women and children. Sharing what little food Theyhave, scavenged from the locale, Theytell They’re waiting for transport. Many of them, professionals in our home country had fled, carrying only their life savings to pay the transport fee to a better life on the other side of the Mediterranean. Instantly, I knew I wanted to join them. I had read that life is freer, less restricted in Europe — I thought I could be who I wanted to be. Problem was, I didn’t have any money to pay for my passage. They, in a few days, would leave me behind — destined for a new life in Europe, where Theycould live abundantly like we did in our own country, before the war. But me? I could only watch when, in a few days, Theysailed away. I had no money. One of the men — Mohammed — a former policeman in Damascus, offered to introduce me to the transporters, suggesting that maybe I could work my passage. ‘A ship to transport this many people is bound to need crew,” he said. I agreed, gratefully thanking him.
Theyonly came at night, under absolute darkness, moving amongst us — seeking out new comers. They offered passage to new opportunities across the Mediterranean. Their faces were always covered “Great opportunities await you in Italy,” Theysay. “Houses and employment are abundant just across the ocean.” All that stood between me and a life of freedom is five-thousand-six-hundred-Euros, Theyinform me. But for a man who had to shamefully steal to feed himself that morning, three-thousand kilometres across the Mediterranean Sea might as well be the moon. I was stuck.
At just after 1am when the costal patrol with its blinding searchlight had passed through, looking for people like us — They, with glimmering optimism for the future and a promise of a life often dreamed of, were led away further down the shore for their voyage to Italy. I wondered how Theykept a large ship, needed to ferry that many people, hidden from the authorities? Surely, its lights and funnels would attract some attention?
For six months I’ve come here, They thought Theywere paying for me —but Theyweren’t. I wasn’t certain if there was a me, anymore. I was merely a receptacle, existing to earn enough money to free myself from my misery. I had become accustomed to the repugnant smell of tobacco and sweat, learning to brace myself for the sharp pain of penetration — knowing that I won’t always have to endure this — it was a means to an end. They came and went — ceasing a piece of my dignity for a handful of notes. I’ve took to smoking hashish — it helped to calm the ceaseless trembling of my hands.
Theycame, like Theydid every night, moving among us in the darkness — seeking vulnerable newcomers. It was the night — fading, the costal patrol’s dazzling beam retreats into the black abyss, and I was cast free. Under the darkness of the pier, squelching through the wet sand, I searched for the bright lights of the ferry. A single flashlight in distance is all that I could see. I wanted to turn back, but I couldn’t. Torn between a half-life and the possibility of a new life, I had no choice but to take my chances. Clambering aboard a small blue inflatable vessel which rocked and groaned violently, stepping on toes and falling into the laps of others, clutching children and the few belongings Theyowned, I apologised repeatedly.
With their faces covered, They— the transporters towed the craft out into the harbour. I assumed it would be alright —Theywere going to lead us all the way to Italy. At least that’s what I thought, until the rope connected to the towing vessel was cut free — Theysped away — vanishing in a cloud of white-spray. Screaming and panic echoed all around me. A woman, shrouded in black, clutching two small photographs, grips my arm. It was several hours before the mass panic subsides. As the sun began to rise on the horizon, I was colder than I could imagine — every approaching wave breached the side of the slowly deflating vessel. Sea water didn’t refresh me — food lost in the calamity of panic, left floating in the Mediterranean. A further hour and the panic had returned — forgetting about thirst or hunger, every available receptacle was used to bail out the water filling the vessel. On the horizon was a blue-grey mass resembling land, but was pointless, the vessel continued to be compromised. We were sinking. How could I have been so gullible?
Thrashing in biting-cold-water, kicking off my boots, arms and legs of others striking me, pulling on my clothes, dragging me under. Gasping for breath, lungs burning, eyes tight-shut, I shove bodies away from me, panicking — having no idea who Theywere. Theykept screaming, begging to be saved. I felt powerless. I had no energy left. Tired and cold — I couldn’t keep it up, anymore.
Theykept asking me what my name is? People came and went from the small white room — bright lights dazzled overhead. I couldn’t get out of the metal framed bed. “You’re a lucky man,” said a tall man in a white coat, flashing a light into my eyes, “not many make it.” They— those others like me — their dreams were washed away by the sea.
Five-years since being rescued by the Italian coast guard, my existence is altered, but not radicalised like I dreamed it would be. The streets of Europe are not paved in gold. Indifference exists here, too. Referred to as queer—you’re mocked but not punished. You’re different, but still — although forced to exist on the on the outer periphery of society — you belong, somehow. Your existence is somehow needed to fill in the gaps in the social fabric. That is, unless you’re different in the way that I am. Immigrant, that has become my label. The identity Theyhave given me.
The Perfect Ending; something I can never have.
(A Flash Fiction extract).
In the hotel pool all I want to do is sit on the bottom until the convulsions give way to unconsciousness. But I can’t. Indoctrinated little fool I am! I’m not programmed to be selfish. No! I must consider how scared the families all around me will be, how their holidays will be ruined by my bloated lifeless body floating face down in the water.
How very selfish of me it would be to chose today of all days: the first, middle or last day of their holiday to end the miserable existence that I have the misfortune to call my life.
Nine fresh bored holes in my belt, one is sure to fit just right, cutting off my air supply and letting me slip into hazy unconsciousness; enough to feel the life slip from my pitiful body. One final tug and it’s over.
I can’t now though, the maid came to the door. She smiles sweetly, handing me tomorrow’s activity schedule. How can a man seriously contemplate suicide when greeted by a maid in black uttering Buenas Tardes, Señor! The activities schedule foretells how marvellous tomorrow will be? Water aerobics in the main pool at eleven, and bingo at two-thirty.
Why does suicide now seem so pathetic, when I could be Hotel Bingo King?
I’ve got so much to live for!
For Queen, For Country — For You (A poem written for veterans).
Running deep into the night, far from gun crackle
and orange destructive fire-light. Man-made
thunder snapping at my heels, earth beneath my feet
Down a dirt track and into the bush, darkness
my concealing hood. Beyond the peak, over a mossy hill,
procedure forgotten taught in drill.
Breaking brush slaughtering night-time hush.
Squawking and wailing, a symphony
to conceal taunting voices.
Fleeting breaths fading fast, praying every one isn’t my last.
Clattering overhead, angels of mercy delivering the wounded
into hands of care, and those for whom mass will be said;
memory long lasting, gone but never dead.
Twinkling horizon guides my feet, through the bush
and onto safety bittersweet. Every footstep, another
further away from you.
You’ll be going to bed now, afraid to switch off the light.
But don’t fret. For Queen, For Country —For You.
Everything is alright. Sleep tight.
I’m on duty tonight.