University of Nottingham MA Creative Writing Student Showcase
Updated: May 5, 2020
Inspired by a workshop from our director Azad Ashim Sharma, below you will find a selection prose and poetry by MA students of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham.
[Edit 28/04/20: Leora Gerson's 'Guilt' has been added to the collection]
Prompt: Using a newspaper headline, create a piece of prose poetry.
Headline: 'Mass Graves Cause Disease in Countryside'. Karen’s response took an experimental form.
Currently an MA Creative Writing student at University of Nottingham, Karen is also co-author of three books that explore Writing for Wellness.
Prompt: How can the things that resist every change, every rejection and helpful response, be resolved in play and symbol? Respond to this question by Hugo Ball in a prose poem.
The something that moved. It didn’t move. The illusion. The something of. The move, the mood in move. the movement decided it could move. Step step step into the step. The step pushed a place in the space. Tiny tiny step. A step into the space, making a place. A space, a place, no walls of no, moving, moving into the space. The moving space moving the space. The place, the space changing, each step moving the change. There is no place where there is no space. The space moving into more space. More, more, space. The resist moving somewhere, moving. The space moving into more space, more, more, leave the no more, the move, the no moving. The something that moved. It didn’t move. The illusion. The something of. The move. the movement decided it could move. Into the space, the movement of.. of of, the movement of of of, moving, step step step into the step, the toes in the shoe moving into the change, the change moving into the step, step, step. There is no change without the things that resist every change, every rejection. The resist, stop the step, step, step into the step. Stop. still. Still there. Stopped. Stop. Ssssh ssssh stay there, still there, stay, no step, no step, no step. Still. Still there, stay there. Stay. You still. the cells in you moving. Something moving. The something that moved. You still. It didn’t move. The illusion. You still. the cells in you moving. There is change. There is change. The something that moved is the something that moved. The change it happened when you were still and your cells were moving. The something that moved. The something that moved. There is no resolve. There is no resolve. It was not something to be solved. The I may not be helpful, the I is not to be helpful, the I is to take a paddle boat, paddling paddling and then sleeping sleeping in that boat in between the lungs, the cells, the breathe, the breathing, the up the down the something that moved. You still. the cells in you moving. Something moving. The something that moved. You still. It didn’t move. The illusion. The symbol, the symbol of what, the play, oh, the play. Take some time to play, take it, play with you and I. play, play enough. Play with the buzzing bee buzzing in your mind, play with the fairies, the beasts and the goblins, chatter to the birds, feed the squirrels. Play with the illusion, the something of, the move, tiny tiny step. The something that moved. It didn’t move.
Mandeep Johal is a creative writing MA student at the University of Nottingham. She has a background in Human Rights, and the founder of Who Do You Think I Am? a campaign organisation for women. She likes to see the world on the page when she writes, and finds writing to have an important role as a force for social change.
Prompt: write something from the perspective of your shoes.
‘Waiting for a Sole to Stick to’
The morning is a rush but will later become a trudge—heavy with the day, heavy with the clouds which flank the city. The pavement is cold and still vaguely slushy with leaves leftover from autumn, which should've been swept up months ago. On the street just down from home we tread carefully but quickly, knowing there are some leftover smears of dog muck waiting for a sole to stick to (aren't we all). There are puddles murky with the sad reflection of the sky. We skirt them but dip a toe now and then because we can. Rubber grooves disturbing the surface edge. The pattern of water, as it moves and then resettles, is left behind us as we move quickly on. There is a spurt as we run for the bus and a shuffle before we clamber steps to the top deck and find a place to dangle, close to the heaters at floor height. Ankles turn and fidget and swap places, waiting.
We carry. We carry everything, even when that little bone is aching, as it sometimes does. We may tread more carefully, testing steps, but we still carry.
The trudge is with us now. The feat of going from here to there and there to here. And the day becomes heavier, the energy ebbs but doesn't flow as the grey sky takes its toll. And the wet takes its toll. And the cold takes its toll.
Kirsty Fox is an artist, writer, and social entrepreneur. She is focused on novel writing, short fiction, prose poetry and lyric essays. She is fond of speculative fiction with a hint of the metaphysical, inspired by writers such as Margaret Atwood, China Mieville, Ali Smith and George Saunders.
Prompt: write a poem or short story expressing gratitude for your favourite book. Emily chose The Forbidden Sea by Sheila A. Nielson.
‘The Forbidden Seas I Crossed’
I was thirteen and a girl in a woman’s shell when Stepmother marked me as the enemy.
Adrianne was fourteen and fixing things that weren’t her fault, but her aunt found it easier to blame the quiet child.
Meanwhile the mermaids in Adrianne’s tear-streaked seas, stripped of their melodious, Disney shine and devolved to their beastly, Piscean form – they rose like the waves, they sang like the gulls.
Lover of fantasy was I, applauding the creatures’ sinister maturity. My own had only brought misfortune.
Aside the toiling niece and ocean beasts besides the screaming tides of the Aunt’s wrath, bearing her hands on the self-blaming sacrifice. Too close to Stepmother, curling words in my father’s ears, forcing him to choose.
I was the enemy, spawn of my mother, woman he left for another who wasn’t Stepmother because other loves existed once.
When she sank her teeth into the jugular of my pride, I followed Adrianne’s example and left; I took my chances with the mermaids who didn’t look so monstrous after all.
Emily Woodthorpe is a 23-year-old tea-drinker and figure skating enthusiast. Though she was born in Lincoln, she grew up in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, and considers herself at least a bit Welsh. While an illustrator by trade, having achieved first-class honours in Illustration at Lincoln in 2018, writing is her twin passion.
Andrew Jay Williams
Prompt: Write a story or a poem about an experience you've had with nature.
I never knew a time more true than when
Lost in a mountain wood I reached a glen,
And standing there, alone, weary and cold
Amid the snow, I saw a moon of gold
Gaze down upon me with an eye of myrrh
Between a sycamore and silver fir.
Beneath its ghostly light the forest glimmered,
The water of the mountain-torrent shimmered
And all was graced with silent majesty.
Humbled by this tumescent tapestry,
I realised that I had scorned the road
That would have led me to a safe abode.
In hopes of finding treasure in the wild
I had allowed myself to be beguiled,
Tempted and misled. I lost my way,
And though the road is distant now as day
From me, still I will rise and seek in peace
That long-forgotten place where troubles cease.
Andrew Jay Williams enjoys Shakespeare, medieval literature, film, theology and animals, and hopes to one day publish children's fiction that makes use of all his various obsessions.
Prompt: Write a story about the last meal you cooked.
Mother pointed at the hen.
It’s your turn to do it, she said. I stared at her. Don’t tell me you’re not old enough, she said. I told her I didn’t want to. I told her I didn’t know how. Yes, you do, she said. She was right, I did know how to do it. Mother rolled up her sleeves, baring her mole-spotted forearms. I also have moles on my forearms, as well as sprinkled across my torso. I have two on my belly that surprise me when I’ve forgotten about them, and I lift my shirt up in front of the mirror and pinch my side, squishing the mole between my fingers beneath folds of skin. I do this each night, before I go to bed, and yet every time I’m still surprised to see the moles blemishing my skin.
Mother grabbed the hen by its neck. It thrashed its wings up and down, feathers ruffled, squawking, shrieking, and I don’t remember it ever sounding this loud, and I would vomit if there was anything left. Mother handed me the hen and I saw my hands wrapping around its neck, holding it aloft and away from my body, so that its legs kicked and flailed. Its black beady eyes were dark, expressionless pits, and if I looked only at its eyes then I could tell myself it wasn’t scared. Mother watched me. I felt my hands slide around its neck as I stared into their nothingness, and then there was a crunch and a release, and my hands were still tense, but the hen was loose. Its beady eyes remained opaque, unchanging, and I felt the hollowness inside my stomach grow—the one that pecked away at my insides every day. I felt sick with hunger, and I felt sick of that hunger. I wanted to be sick.
Mother smiled at me and placed a hand on my shoulder. I’d achieved a rite of passage; the hand was a sign of acceptance, and yet I felt the weight of it pressing down, rooting me to the sawdust beneath my feet. I reached down and picked up the hen, shuffling to the right so that Mother’s hand slipped off my shoulder. She held out her arms. I handed its still warm body to her. Mother took the dead lump with her outside, towards the house. The other chickens cowered in a corner of the barn, huddled together. Each time one of them let out a cluck, the whole pack would suddenly duck their heads, panicked, as if the noise alone would bring them harm. I sat down in the opposite corner, watching them watching me. I pulled my knees towards my chest. The barn was three times the size of my bedroom and had the same box shape. The barn was built first. My bedroom was added later—an extension to the main house.
I stayed there until Mother popped her head in. She looked at me sitting down on the floor.
You need to peel the potatoes, she said, before leaving again. The door swung shut behind her.
At the dinner table, Mother put the plate in front of me. The white, shiny oval lay like a slug on the plate, brown sludges of gravy pooling at its sides. Mother sat opposite. She picked up her knife and fork; her eyes flitted from my face to the cutlery beside my plate, then back to my face. I first picked up the knife, then the fork. I closed my fingers around their lengths, balancing them between my fingertips. Mother cut into the chicken. She held a piece up, poised before her lips. She waited. I speared the slug with my fork and sawed a piece off. Mother continued to wait. I held the piece up. There was a painting up on the wall, behind Mother, of a man on horseback with a bloodhound at its feet. It snarled at a cornered rabbit, backing away to the edge of the painting. The fur on its back was raised and bushy. Its shoulders were hunched, and its ears lay flat against its back. I pressed the chunk between my lips, then dragged the fork back out, leaving behind a slimy lump that weighed down my tongue. I started chewing. The hairs on my forearms stood up. The large black eyes of the rabbit watched me.
Mother let out a sigh. Her shoulders were no longer tensed. She popped the piece into her mouth. Before she’d even finished chewing, she started cutting her next piece. Drops of gravy rolled down her chin, and she only paused for a moment between bites to dab at it with a napkin. I cut my food into a hundred pieces, and Mother stayed until I’d finished them all. The fearful eyes of the cornered rabbit watched me. I asked her if I could be excused.
I want to sit and talk, she said. We hadn’t spoken a word all meal. Look, I want you to help around the farm a bit more. I think the responsibility would be good for you. You need… She paused, pushing her knife and fork together on the plate so that they lay side by side. Structure, she said. Mother shifted in her chair. A grease stained tea towel was still sat across one shoulder. Mother usually wore one whilst preparing a meal for wiping her hands on. She seemed to have forgotten about it. There was a circular red-brown stain on it.
How does that sound? she said. I told her that sounded okay. Then I asked if I could leave. I told her I was tired. Mother nodded with narrowed eyes. I went upstairs. I knew without looking that she was watching me, until I was out of sight.
Later, when I was in bed, Mother came and kissed me goodnight. She breathed another sigh of relief over my head, and I smelt wine and gravy on her breath. I waited with my eyes squeezed shut until she was gone. I listened for the sound of her bedroom door closing. I checked my phone and waited for exactly one hour, then I got up. My eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the dark. I turned the doorknob an inch at a time until the latch was drawn out. I pulled the door towards me, opening just enough for me to squeeze through. On tiptoes I crossed the landing, pausing to listen to the sound of Mother snoring. I crept downstairs, missing out the fourth step that always creaks. I slipped into the bathroom and shut the door behind me, releasing the breath I’d been holding. I knelt in front of the toilet and stared at the bowl filled with clear water. I told the toilet I was sorry. Then I stained the water red-brown.
The light flicked on, blinding me. I turned and saw the figure of Mother standing over me. I couldn’t yet make out her face.
Get up, she said. I told Mother I was sorry, and that structure would help.
Bryony Taylor is a creative writing MA student at the University of Nottingham. She grew up in the English countryside with lots of sheep and cows for neighbours. Currently, she's swapped the farm animals for quirky coffee shop inhabitants in Nottingham city, who make for much better writing material.
Prompt: Write a poem or a story about a strange experience you’ve had at work.
‘Write with your nose’
The biggest freedom for a freelance writer, is playing an endless game, called-
Every time there is nothing to write, I see –
“myself” sitting there, trapped in the game all day long
But one day, a strange and plain voice came and invited me with another game.
He asked about the most important thing to my writing.
I said eyes, and my eyesight left me.
The next I said hands—
then I couldn’t grab anything anymore, and I couldn’t touch, and I couldn’t feel.
He continued asking about the third, and I tightened my lips, scared.
But he all understood.
‘Now,’ he chuckled and said in my soft and feminine voice, “This is the last time you can hear. For the rest of your life, smell the world and write with your nose.”
Wenting Dai, a Creative Writing MA student at the University of Nottingham. I come from China and the reason I’m here is that I wish to kiss 84 Charing Cross Road for a distant booklover and walk on the streets and lanes that Woolf, Wilde, Shakespeare and Maugham once walked on.
Annie Elizabeth Brown
Prompt: Write a story about a bullshit job you’ve had.*
Pink. Purple. Glitter. Sparkly. Shimmery.
“Welcome to The Glitter Palace. Everything in our store is three for the price of two today! Can I offer you a basket as you shop?”
I shoot a well-meaning smile in the direction of the customer. The guy is about forty, mumbling under his breath, and pushes past me into the shop.
Grimacing, I recognise who it is; he’s a bit odd. He tends to hiss at the kids if they get a little loud. He hissed at Brian once too.
In my first week here, I overheard Mia saying he was convicted for rape and murder, and that his time in prison ‘changed him’. Brian told her not to worry; it was only armed robbery.
I hold out a bright pink, cloth basket to him. He ignores the gesture. Instead, he knocks into a tower with his elbow, sending his sufferer crashing to the ground.
The victim is of the furry variety. Its meant to be a mouse, I think, but the stuffed abomination has bizarrely elongated limbs. It’s wearing glittery ballet shoes and pink ballet tutu, but its chest is bare and I can’t help but think it’ll never be a prima ballerina.
It lays in a tangle of limbs on the floor. I pick it back up, restringing it from the peg in the tower by the plastic tag jammed into its neck.
“Welcome to The Glitter Palace. Everything in our store is three for the price of two today! Can I offer you a basket as you shop?”
The next second, the baskets are knocked out of my hands as two children race past me into the shop, shouting and screaming as they go. Like tiny tornadoes, they collide into a tower and a cluster of plastic crap clatters to the floor. An exhausted father hurries past and from the floor, I meekly offer him a basket. He doesn’t acknowledge me.
Sighing, I sling the baskets back in their holder. I’m only standing here being a glorified holder myself because Brian told me to.
I sweep the floor for dislodged items. I head for the bombsite the two children just created. I pick up the items and hang them back onto pegs.
Pick up. Put away.
All day every day.
Pink. Purple. Glitter. Sparkly. Shimmery.
Like the ballerina, about a million times a day, some object will decide it’s had enough and take a leap of faith onto the floor.
“Welcome to The Glitter Palace. Everything in our store is three for the price of two today!”
I spy a little old lady loitering by the back of the tills. She’s clutching several items to her chest, too many for her hands. She refused a basket. She’s sighing irately.
“Are you waiting to pay?” I ask.
“I’ve been waiting all of ten minutes. Why is no one serving?”
“The tills are actually around here. That’s why I didn’t realise you were waiting. I’m sorry for the delay.”
“It’s very bad customer service to have people waiting.”
She huffs her items down onto the counter. Would she like a five-pence carrier bag. No. Would she like to donate to our chosen charity? No. Would she like to take two of our face mask treatments today for the price of one because they’re till lines and I must push them lest I face the risk of being shot? No.
“Can I take your email today so you can receive ten-percent off your next purchase in store?”
There’s no response. I repeat the question, a little louder this time. The lady has already inserted her card into the machine even though I’ve not set up the till yet for her to pay.
“Why is the card machine not working?”
I set the machine up. She pokes her pin into the machine one agonising button at a time, her fleshy finger trembling between each press. She refuses the receipt from my hand.
“I want a bag. It’s a bit ridiculous I haven’t been given one.”
“They’re five pence each.”
“Five pence? That’s outrageous. After what I’ve just spent in here? They used to be free.”
“It’s the government law. We just have to follow it.”
“Forget it then.”
She storms off in a way I think was meant to demonstrate her anger, but she’s so old her movements are reduced to a shuffle. As I watch her leave, I notice the ballerina has returned to the floor.
Tentatively, I rescue her. I smooth out the ruffles in her skirt, and run my fingers over the coarse glitter of her shoes, the soft faux fur of her limbs. I hang her back on the peg. The plastic tag in her neck I use to hang her with makes her neck bent. It juts out at a funny angle.
I check my watch. Only an hour to go.
“Welcome to The Glitter Palace.”
The owner of a voice is a middle-aged man, very tall. He has a set of earrings in his hand. He’s all smiles. Hesitantly, I smile back.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, you can! My girlfriend bought these earrings yesterday and there’s a couple of pairs missing. I know earrings are usually non-returnable but I rang up and spoke to the manager yesterday and he knows my Mum, so he said it was okay.”
“He’s in the back so I’ll just go grab him for you. He’s the only one authorised to do returns.”
I key in the code to the back. Brian is hidden amongst in a mountain of papers, his headphones in. There’s a line of pen on his neck just below the line of his beard. The ink is red.
I explain the situation to him. He wrinkles his nose.
“Okay, I’ll be out in five minutes. Just need to put the money in the safe.”
The door to the back closes behind me in slow motion, locking me out of a moment of serenity once again. In the brief time I was gone, the shop floor seems to be swimming in colour and chaos. Things are everywhere again.
The ballerina’s stony eyes are staring at me from the floor. She’ll have to wait.
I head back to the till. The tall customer smiles again. I smile back.
“Brian will be out in about five minutes. He’s just sorting the cash out in the back.”
“Five minutes? That’s a bit of a wait. I’m a customer, surely I’m the priority.”
“You are, he just isn’t allowed to leave the money out in the back. It’s against the rules.”
“I’m the customer. I need to speak to the manager right now because I have to get back to the car. It’s a £3 pair of earrings. How hard is it to do a refund?”
He draws up to his full height. From his lofty position, I’m aware I’ve disappeared to him again. The plastic peg in my neck has snapped and I’ve tumbled beneath the towers, hidden away.
“Sir, he’ll be out in just a moment”
“For Christ’s sake. It’s literally a pair of earrings. This is stupid.”
“I’m not authorised to do a refund.”
“Forget it. You’re not ‘authorised’ for anything. Bloody ridiculous. You stupid bitch.”
He snatches the earrings from the counter and storms out of the shop. As he leaves, his foot collides with the ballerina and she slides across the tile. She stops at my feet. I stare down at her.
From the back, Brian emerges. His nose is buried in a clipboard. He doesn’t look up at me. I don’t look away from the ballerina.
“Is that customer still here? I watched the CCTV back. Bloody thief. He comes into the shop, picks the pair of earrings up and then comes straight to the counter. I don’t think he bought them at all. I think he shoplifted them.”
“He called me a bitch.”
“What kind of earrings were they?”
“Pink. Purple. Glitter. Sparkly. Shimmery.”
Like the ballerina, about a million times a day, some object will decide it’s had enough.
Annie Elizabeth is an MA Creative Writing student. She currently writes for a travel blog. She funds her travelling by working in a place not too dissimilar to The Glitter Palace. She’s hoping in the future to fund her travelling through a successful writing career instead.
Prompt: Write a story about your ‘best’ mistake.
The funniest mistake I ever make, a tragicomedy playing out in five minutes, is forgetting to put my hands in front of my face, as I fall onto the gritty asphalt.
I am six years old, small and scrawny and copper-haired. I am corralled into a class-wide game of ‘It’ on the school playground. I run as fast as my legs of wire can carry me, ignoring the acidic groan of a stitch in my side.
The ground is uneven, globs of tarmac eroding and crumbling to create a layer of black gravel under our plimsolls. I carelessly plant my feet, the rubber soles slap slap slapping as I run the width of the space.
‘I’m gonna get you,’ Caira screams. The plastic balls on her hair bobbles whack gently against the side of her face, as she whips round to chase after me.
I don’t want to get caught. I don’t like being the chaser. Looking back, I wonder if this is a precursor for my willingness to shrink into the corner of a room in my teenage years.
I look behind me, twisting my torso backwards as my legs charge forward, looking out for Caira, that she who has become It. The self-mangling of my body means that I don’t see the slight bump in the surface ahead, a design flaw overlooked by overworked builders, and my foot catches on the rise. It catapults me flat on my face.
My naïve unmoulded brain forgets to protect itself, as if I am not worth self-preserving in this state.
My face hits the ground and I don’t react at first. Pain spreads from the bridge of my nose up to my forehead as my skin breaks. The eroded tarmac crumbs embed themselves in my exposed epidermis.
I wail as I push myself up; I’ve suddenly realised exactly what has happened. The kids around me scream in horror. Nobody rushes to help me.
‘Mi-iss! Esme’s bleeding!’ Someone cries out. Am I?
I touch the centre of my face out of curiosity. It’s wet. The whorls of my fingertips come away red-stained. I try and brush the grit from the wound because it itches. I find that I am giggling in shock. Silly little Esme couldn’t even fall over right, couldn’t get back up gracefully and wave it off and carry on running like a good little girl.
Sounds about right.
Esme Fagan is currently an MA Creative Writing student at the University of Nottingham. Obsessed with stories from an early age, writing is her first love. This is closely followed by alternative music, big dogs, and owning lots of patterned shirts. She still finds herself falling over on a regular basis, but thankfully she has learnt to protect herself.
Prompt: Write a story about an object in which the object is the main character.
Run thrumming from the power station, cracking over the lines. An exhilarating charge down highways of cable, flashing over the dark countryside. Split and plunge into the choking earth. Fight against the strangling plastic, fight to spread through the soil, surge through the nerves of beetles and convulsing worms. Fail. Forced through tighter, corkscrew channels, seething through the wire.
Batter against the dead ends of a maze, ram into switches unflipped, sockets unplugged, the dead tar of a resistor. Probe through every path in the city, seek a chink in the wire, a warped circuit, connection with the free field of water, metal, flesh. Hit the wire of a lightbulb, flare brilliant, make the filament sing with pyrokinetic vibration.
Sweep through a circuit board, chopped into binary. Contort through a kettle, send the water shuddering. Accelerate through an old wire, crooked and failing, touch metal, fly free, blow out the fuse box in an eruption of sparks.
Benedict Cross is a Creative Writing MA student at the University of Nottingham. He is a Londoner, occasional stand-up comedian, and slightly autistic. He spends his free time arguing with his three siblings, and tinkering with a novel that’s been almost finished for the last six years.
Prompt: Write a story about your name. How did you get it? Why did your parents choose it?
‘I Carry My Luck’
Attempt #7: In a restaurant, by herself, because she’d been inside too long.
The restaurant was lit as brightly as a hospital. She went in and out of feeling like the room was spinning, a sensation not helped by the conveyor belt delivering child-sized portions of fusion cuisine to chattering clientele. The barrage of aromas rushed down her throat every time she breathed. This had been, in a word, a mistake.
She didn’t even see him slip into the stool beside hers; she just heard the legs scrape in and out. Letting her head scream in protest, she squinted a little less and saw soft cheekbones, a smart shirt, and braids laced with gold, silver, and wood. Getting hers done like that was on her long list of things she’d been meaning to do.
He bent over double and peered between her feet.
“Is it leather?”
That was a new one. “Vegan leather, yes.”
“Huh. Well, I’m Adil.”
They shook hands – he had a businessman’s shake. That and the oozing of charisma would surely serve him well one day.
“Monifa.” Adil started to nod even before the last syllable was out of her mouth. He took a dish off the belt – kimchi linguini. She’d gone for the katsu ravioli.
He then told her a little about himself. She remembered being impressed that he gave an elevator pitch without making it sound like a pitch – but other than that, between one particularly searing throb of her temple and the next, his words slipped away. With any focus she had, she cursed her own stubbornness; she should go home and cease this business of proving nothing, to anyone.
Adil had become wrapped up in that mission. She had to assume his situation was something like the rest: he had a big audition coming up, a pet-yoga start-up, a fusion restaurant not unlike this one. A gambling debt, a debt to the council. The debts always made her want to apologise the most, even though she had nothing to apologise for.
“That’s a rare name you’ve got there. What does it mean?”
“It means ‘I carry my luck.’”
“Does it, indeed?”
He didn’t mimic her voice, exactly – he over-mimicked, skipping a few categorisations and going straight to the gentry. She let it slide – or rather, she absorbed it in order to mull it over, repeatedly, later. But if this nausea of hers got too bad and she threw up, she knew which direction she’d be facing.
Adil regretted it instantly, and overcompensated by getting her three extra napkins.
“You’re looking a little shiny there.” He waggled a finger at her brow.
“It’s East African, right? Your name.”
She nodded, and then to steer him on the right path, she said, “But my family is from the Caribbean.”
“Ah, so why did your parents choose it? No, don’t tell me – you were about to enter the melting pot. Had to keep some of the original ingredients, right?”
Despite herself, she smiled. “Something like that.”
He smiled too. “So, is it true?”
“Do I carry my luck?”
She didn’t think she’d feel bad about having to deliver her line, but he’d somehow managed to get her back onside. “The thing about luck is, it’s retrospective. Anything can be called luck if you wait long enough.”
Adil’s smile wavered. He regarded her for a moment before stabbing his fork into his ‘kimchini’. He swirled it around so that it squelched.
“Well, I mean, you’ve clearly been lucky in some respects.”
Her voice inspired all kinds of false expectations. What he meant was, she’d been privileged in some respects. But he wasn’t being derogatory – he was being hopeful.
Rationally, she knew that she didn’t deserve to feel any guilt, but her brain leapt on any excuse for negative emotion. She looked away from Adil as the feeling weighed and then dragged her down. Instead of reaching the usual numbness, she found herself neck-deep in ambient restaurant chatter, as her stomach churned away and the room spun anti-clockwise and light speared her retinas with newfound vigour. She wanted to apologise.
She became aware of something cold and wet soaking through her jeans to her thigh.
Adil leapt up with impressive sprightliness; his face was the picture of horror. Years later, she’d become convinced for a while that she’d seen his face through the windows of a train somewhere, on an advert above the seats, wearing that exact expression. But in a flash the train had been gone, and she never did find the advert.
Adil’s toppled glass continued to spill water all over the table.
“Yes. Oh no.”
“I am so sorry.”
“No worries at all.”
“Toilets are through there, I think.”
Then she really gave him struck him with horror by reaching for her bag.
But she only took out a packet of tablets, told him that it was paracetamol, yes, she hadn’t been feeling too well, and went to the toilets. The lights were deliciously dim. She should have come in here ages ago.
She downed one pill, and then two, and little by little, her nausea ebbed. The headache would remain for another few hours. She had staring-into-the-mirror moment in which she admitted it to herself: she was reducing too fast.
When she emerged, Adil and the bag were exactly where she’d left them. She couldn’t help it – her steps faltered on her way back to them.
Adil’s face looked, in a word, resigned. But he arched a brow at her. “Did you think I’d be gone?”
They were dropping the pretence, then. “Yes. Didn’t think you would have taken the bag, though.” She climbed back onto her stool slowly, making the shift in altitude as smooth as possible. “And I knew that you’d look.”
She shrugged. “You all do.”
And he must really have felt bad, or she must really have looked awful, because he ordered her a herbal tea.
Monifa Anderson is studying an MA in Creative Writing, following a BA in Screenwriting; she chiefly writes novels, feature and television screenplays, and audio dramas, with a focus on magical realism.
Prompt: Write about a current socio-political issue (eg homelessness, climate change etc).
A single card, pulled out from the middle, can bring the house tumbling down, down, past a year of hard work from so many people.
The tram pulls up at the train-station – someone is tram-hopping, asking just for a bit, just enough to feed her baby, who she holds in front of her as proof of hardship.
In the station, my footsteps echo down the corridor, my new boots shiny and stiff. I have mountains of books to read, coursework to do, and ideas in my head, but there is one thought that dominates my mind. It is minus 11 degrees Celsius in Colorado right now, and there are no notifications on Skype.
I haven’t heard from the Wandering Philosopher for days. Perhaps he’s been killed, or hasn’t been able to get to Wi-Fi – it’s far too cold for him to try to out to the park, but I do worry that he’s been arrested, or that he’s found someone new.
The other week, I met a beautiful girl on the street who could hardly lift her bag – she had gallstones, and tears down her cheek. I helped her to a bench, and I thought about my soft double-duvet and heated blanket.
She had food but just needed 20 to stay somewhere overnight – it always costs 18-20.
At the counter, I realise I’m on auto-pilot, as the man asks again “Is that via Birmingham, or London?”
My ticket costs £78 with a railcard.
Perhaps I will see the man who plays Vivaldi on the Northern line, or the one who sleeps under an umbrella, just outside Green Park Station.
Last night was a long night – I kept checking Skype every couple of hours, but my Wandering Philosopher never appeared.
Perhaps he had smoked an extra large-joint and had fallen asleep for days. Why won’t he let me buy him food?
My mother is calling, checking to see if I’m on my way. She asks if I’m okay, says I sound upset, and I don’t know how to explain.
I’m not ready for another discussion of my ‘prospects’ or his ‘lifestyle,’ or whether this is affecting my degree.
I spin my distress into platitudes – I can’t wait to see them all, yes I can stay for the week, yes I am working hard. Gotta go now mum, or I’ll miss the train.
As if moving the spotlight might make a difference to our reality.
The hardest part of this is watching someone I love being cold and hungry and exhausted, and having absolutely no-one with whom to talk about it, and no way to help. Once, he was so hungry he punched a wall.
I heave my luggage overhead as the train fills up. The man who takes the seat next to me wears a suit, and his hair is neatly combed.
My Wanderer is very contrary; anything bad a person might say about being homeless, he would argue with them, and win. He just likes debates, and he uses this one to justify his choice. I would argue, from what he told me, that it wasn’t much of a choice. It was this, or probably die in the heat, in the stench of lies and abuse and false pretence that things weren’t falling apart around his ears.
The train is about to set off and a few people rush onboard at the last minute.
The ending of this story is not nearly as important as the journey. I’m learning a lot this year, but most of all, I’m learning that a person doesn’t stop being themselves just because of a change in circumstances. That people are so much more than their situation. And that in any given life, all it takes is one loose card, and a shaky hand.
The engine starts, and the platform fades away.
Leora Gerson has always been fascinated by anything and anyone different, eclectic, or niche. Having come into awareness about her own dyspraxia, she writes about magic and neurodiversity. In fact, she often writes about both at once, hoping to increase awareness and decrease stigmatisation.