Along with hundreds of others I recently submitted a short story to @twenty4stories the project which aims to raise money for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) - related needs (see here for more detail http://www.ptsduk.org/what-is-ptsd/understanding-ptsd-flashbacks-and-triggers/ ) for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire through the production and sale of an anthology of creative writing. There were 24 floors/stories of flats in Grenfell and with reference to this the anthology will include 12 creative pieces by established writers and 12 by others who are less well-known. Yesterday I heard that my piece will not be part of the publication. Of course I am a little dissapointed BUT for me, and I know many others, it really was about the taking part. twenty4stories will be crowdfunding with Unbound Press soon, please consider getting involved (@twenty4stories).
Responding to the themes of community, unity and hope here is my story:
Leaving home just after 7 AM, having hurriedly eaten a bowl of cereal, Sheena walks briskly in the direction of the train station. Her route takes her past the town hall where there is already activity. As she passes by a woman and a man are each at the top of their respective pairs of step-ladders, whilst another man, safe on terra firma, offers ‘helpful’ directions as to how high to hang the banner advertising the Samaritan’s Fundraising Special. An early meeting on her mind Sheena almost misses the man in the doorway a few buildings further on. She always exchanges a few words with Brett in the mornings if he has chosen this particular venue in which to spend the night. Impressed and humbled by her acquaintance’s resilience and by his strict adherence to a daily routine their conversations generally take place as he is packing up his bedding. After sharing their views on a recent news story (the man’s most treasured possession being a small battery operated radio) Brett waves Sheena off adding the change she has given him to the small number of coins he received the previous evening.
He has enough for a cuppa and a small fry-up plus toast in the cheapest café in the area and having stopped for a wash and a shave in the nearest public toilets he makes his way there. Nearing Ali’s Cozy Café in the high street he spots a rough sleeper he’s not seen before sitting close to the entrance of the chemists. Young, no more than 15, surely. Scaling down his breakfast plans to a bacon roll Brett approaches the boy inviting him to share his first, and possibly only, meal of the day.
After eating his first full plateful of food in days David leaves the café alone. He wonders why his benefactor didn’t want anything to eat for since he has been living on the streets he is always hungry. Brett’s knowledge was as welcome as the food and he is now aware of safer places to sleep. The local parish church and the mosque offer in-door shelter on cold nights apparently. Arriving at the park David meets up with a gang of lads that he hangs around with every now and then. Most are older but they tolerate him and share their tobacco and sometimes buy him a pie or a burger. As they amble in a group back through town they pass a shop that, although in darkness with a ‘CLOSED’ sign in the window, has a key in the keyhole. Checking the door is locked David removes the key and shouts after the guy walking a hundred yards ahead who he rightly assumes is the owner. Turning at the call, Saabir nervously watches the eight youths walking quickly towards him. Before he can decide whether to run or to stand his ground and attempt to talk his way out of whatever trouble they have planned for him the youngest smiles, saying ‘These yours mate? Here you go’, and hands Saabir his keys.
Finishing his twice weekly stint helping out at the local mosque’s open lunch session Saabir packs up some of the left-overs for a young mother who, with her small family, has recently moved into a flat in a housing block a few streets away. After stacking the boxes of leeks, potatoes, carrots and courgettes, the latest donation from Mick, whose vegetables are both abundant and delicious Saabir collects his jacket. Feeling his shop-keys in the inside pocket he shakes his head in remorse at his suspicion and fear earlier in the day. Being himself the victim of stereotyping on more occasions than he cares to remember he is still annoyed with himself for so easily jumping to the ‘obvious’ conclusion of the gang’s intentions.
Jacquie, the children’s supper in her bag, walks the long way home via the allotments. Finding work in the town is proving hard and the support she receives at the mosque is invaluable. It’s not just the food, which is always delicious (the kids love the mix of beautifully cooked vegetables and pungent spices) but the company too. Jacquie helps with preparation and washing up and is making friends and allies as well as learning some new recipes. Today she chatted with someone who told her of possible work in a nearby café. She rang the owner of Ali’s and has an interview tomorrow morning. Success would mean an early start some mornings but Jacquie feels sure her warm hearted neighbour would lend a hand with childcare. Crossing the road she waves to Mick who tends his small council patch this afternoon, as he has every afternoon for the last twelve years since the death of Lou, his wife. Sometimes Jacquie shares a cuppa with him and listens to stories of a less lonely past. Today though she is later than usual so refuses a drink but still lingers a while to talk and, more importantly, to listen. She leaves with a bag of cooking apples to add to the day’s bounty promising that she will be back tomorrow with a large wedge of one of the fruit pies she will make.
Back home, whilst waiting for the girls, collected today by another mother, one of her new friends from the mosque, Jacquie peels and chops the apples. Assembling the rest of the ingredients and the necessary dishes and bowls she hears her daughters’ chatter as they come through the front door. She is looking forward to the next hour which the three of them will spend talking about their respective days whilst baking together. Jacquie’s next door neighbour Mrs Brown, who doesn’t know yet that she will herself be a grateful recipient of a delicious apple and cinnamon pie, leaves the house just as Kate and Becky arrive home from their after-school dancing group. She loves having such a friendly and energetic young family living on the other side of the party wall and having no children or grandchildren herself happily looks after the girls now and then. In fact she would love to be able to do more for them. Mrs Brown, given name Dorothy, enjoys a late afternoon walk when the weather permits, in to town or through the park, wherever her fancy takes her. After exchanging a few words with Saabir, the kindly and sociable man who manages the hardware shop, as he locks up for the day she walks over the railway bridge. A woman just leaving the station is busy looking down at her phone and doesn’t notice as her pretty blue scarf falls from her shoulders. Dorothy bends stiffly to pick it up and leans forward to touch the younger woman’s arm. They walk along together for a while and Dorothy is moved at the tears in the scarf holder’s eyes as she speaks of the sentimental value of the clearly well-worn accessory.
Leaving her companion at the park gates Sheena continues home. Turning to wave she smiles to see a group of young men a little further away also waving and calling greetings to her new friend. One of the things she misses most since her mother’s death is their talks and she very much enjoyed her chat with someone with many of the same mannerisms of her mum and near in age too. She touches her scarf; an old favourite of mum’s. Thank goodness she didn’t lose it. Glad to be nearing home a little earlier than usual she is planning to curl up on the sofa to read a chapter or two of the novel she is enjoying at the moment. It’s one that Brett recommended having heard it serialised on the radio. Seeing that the town hall is still open she pops in to buys a homemade cookie to have with her coffee, thanking the woman who holds the door open for her.