Felicity

Felicity sat with her legs dangling, feet hovering right above the stream. There had only been mere millimetres between the tips of her toes, and the icy wetness of the water. She recalled a question her father had once posed to her: “Is water wet?”

This had been back when he had been around, for that brief period, at least. Felicity had been around ten years old. She would spend her evenings, that year, curled up under the mustard-coloured fleece blanket in the orangery, ruminating over possible answers to her father’s many random questions. But, more often than not, there were no concrete answers. Only one thought, giving way to another, giving way to a dozen more: words spilling like tree branches.

Then, there were those bursts of thoughts about what ‘big school’ might be like: that entire presently unbeknownst adventure. And there were the orchids and the orange trees, which, when the house had been empty (as it often had been) Felicity would speak to. They had been her truest friends. Sometimes, they would end up being her only companions for the evening: on some days, her father would come home, would make himself a mug of hot chocolate, would sink comfortably into his armchair. A half-stranger, in the only home Felicity had ever known.

On other days, however, he would not come home. Half here, her father had been. And mostly not. 

She found herself thinking about her father quite often, these days – about his health, about that enduring sadness of his – and about that tree in the garden (the one with only half its leaves there — and even the ones that remained were quickly becoming more and more yellow) that she found had quite resembled, in nature, her mother.

Did the presence of two half-parents come together and equate to one sort of ‘whole’? Half a mother, and half a father. But, also, elsewhere, the entirety of a world, contained within the glass panes of that orangery. A room, a tiny universe, which had been quite alive, quite quietly. Known to let the sunlight right through, and on those blessed cloudless evenings: entire constellations, too.

But, even despite the delightful company of her floral friends, Felicity did often feel quite alone in the world; this had been a persisting feeling. And even at school, where she had not been without friends; even when swarms of other people would come around: when her mother would finally emerge from her tower, would come downstairs with her sorrows masked in powder and lipstick, would almost look… whole again. Like the moon, periodically coming into fullness, even if for a mere moment: even then…

Felicity felt alone. But she knew that love was there, out there and everywhere. She would wear that little old fleece blanket as a cape most evenings, walk outside and sit on that large rock by the stream. And she would remind herself, beneath the silver glow of the moon: that her father, too, was still there, somewhere at least. That the truest of loves never really do ‘die’, do they? When it is true, it cannot be destroyed.

That, rather than peering out with binoculars onto the outside world; seeking to come to know all of it, and to find all that could ever possibly be found…  The world, in its largeness, could often be quite dizzying, Felicity found. And everywhere, there had been destruction. Millions and millions of all these other people, and other lives, other concerns, and…

Maybe the orangery had been enough of a world, for Felicity’s own good. Maybe she did not have to worry so much. It had been God that had placed her there, specifically, in that half-glass world of hers, in the first place.

And it is He who puts love between hearts. And it had been He who had placed watchful old moon right there, right there, thousands of miles above Felicity’s head.

And “he who is not grateful to the people is not grateful to God”. God gives us, in our lives, certain people. And certain orange trees and orchid plants. And it is through love, Felicity concluded, that God oft speaks — and in this knowledge she found a unique sort of peace. That word, that word in Arabic, what had it been, again?

“Alhamdulillah.”

Had it not been in the bittersweetness of her aloneness, that Felicity had found God? And, would any other person, any other fellow creature — be it her father, or a dear friend, or a boy — be able to give her something (love, perhaps, and warmth) which God had not ordained, decreed for her? Nay. For it is God, as Felicity had told her assembly of orange trees, with all due conviction, who places love in the hearts of mankind, between one man and another, between a sister and her brother, between son and mother.

We receive what we receive. And we nurture certain things. We pick and we choose. And some things do blossom, do come into fullness, while other things… fall. What to do next, Felicity wondered. What to do, what to do, though, about her fallen, autumnal – moon-like – mother?

Regardless of the heaviness of these crepuscular thoughts of hers, which had followed her all the way to sleep: as the first rays of dawn broke through the glass panes of the orangery that nascent morning, Felicity looked all around her. Something had surely changed; she wanted to pay attention to, study, all the little changes. Things felt rather more real, more alive, and Felicity felt a remarkable sort of satisfaction in this morning’s aloneness. Mother, asleep still, but birds, though: wide awake, and quite loudly so. Sky streaked with a line of pink.

Other people will be other people, Felicity concluded. Including mother and father. Friends will be friends. Orchids, and birds, and orange trees. But in all those hours and crevices in-between: there is only she, in truth, and there is always God.

أولا وأخيرا ودائما

First, last, and always.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Short Story: Johnson

I have four guests coming around for dinner later today. One, two, three, four. Susan from work, Matilde from work, Hassan from work, Hassan’s wife, who isn’t from work, but whom I wanted to thank for all her Pakoras and what-have-yous with… whatever food we’re serving for them today.

The house needs to look perfect. Not IKEA-showroom ‘perfect’ – no, no, that won’t do – but it must seem quite so nonetheless.  I need to make it known that we – Karen and I – are not like those couples who obsessively clean and bleach things down. We do like to let our children play. They can get their crayons out sometimes; once, I even let them use watercolour paints in the living room. Yes, they should be very grateful indeed to have parents like me… I mean, us.

Two of Jake’s paintings have been lovingly displayed on the top compartment of our fridge. Three of Gemma’s miniature paintings have their place, in a straight line, of course, on the bottom compartment. Ooh, and I need to check the bathroom for any signs of messiness. It’s probably true what they say – about how judgemental people can be when it comes to others’ bathrooms.

We don’t really actually use all those ‘designer’ shower gels and body cremes that we keep being gifted with at those abysmal work New Year’s parties. Still, it won’t do to have the ones we normally use, out, for everyone to gawk at. So I pour out some of the product from the ‘designer’ bottles, and place them on the shelf. The blue-y ones on one side, and the more reddish ones on the other. And, of course, the kids’ toothbrush holder in the middle – the Disneyland one. Our guests just have to know that we’ve been to Disneyland. We’re good parents, we are.

Next, Gemma’s room. Bed made, check. Things in good order, yes. But the pots of kiddy slime that currently plaster her desk. No! We can’t have them thinking that my precious daughter is only like any other abhorrent little child. The thought of them thinking that my Gemma is fascinated by… goo. Preposterous, absurd. My Gemma is a little genius, and she has three certificates from school to prove it. “Karen, darling! Have you seen the Blu-tack anywhere?”

Jake: my firstborn. Heir to whatever titles I may claim to have, all-round apple of my eye. But why oh why, Jake, do you insist on keeping all those books of yours under your bed, away from view? How else are my guests going to know that you’re an avid reader? I’ve seen your books. You’ve been reading about (what’s it called again? Dinosaur facts and stuff? Paleo… Paleology? Oh, no, yes —) palaeontology – since you were barely six years old! Okay, now where’s your sports gear? Also under your bed? Wait, what’s this? Football certificates, framed, and on your wall? Atta-boy, son, atta-boy!

My mug collection, everything in its correct place. The one from Berlin, the one from Jerusalem, the one from Athens. We need to let people know that we are a well-travelled bunch. After all, what’s the point in having something – an experience, or a brilliant trait – if it cannot be shown, known?

Karen has informed me of the fact that she thinks I only do all of this stuff before dinner parties because I’m “given to exhibitions of tasteless showiness”. But I always think, shut up woman. I married you for your pretty face and for your hourglass figure, mainly. Don’t give me all that, all those big words. What could they possibly even add to your character – to your role as my wife?

My wife plays tennis. The evidence: framed pictures lining the hallway. Sometimes, my wife and I play tennis together. The evidence: more picture frames, in our living room, of course. She’s perfect for me, Karen is. We are both so in sync with one another, so undeniably compatible. We both like brown bread and we both work in the financial sector!

We’re serious people, too. See, I, for one, really like to follow the advice of renowned architects when it comes to interior decor. I do like reading those stylish urban magazines. Put the most recent edition on the coffee table, naturally – the one that talks about the value of rustic vases. Five minutes after reading that article, I purchased four of said ornaments online – the most expensive ones I could find, naturally. 

We’re also interesting people, don’t get me wrong. Our home is not black and white. We have coloured rugs. Our kettle is blue. And did I mention, we like to put our children’s artistic creations up on the fridge. My best friend’s half-Muslim; Hassan from work knows this. I think we’re quite liberal, as parents, and as people.

Karen, your hair. Your hair, Karen. Why does it look so messy? A French braid, Karen. Tie it into a French braid. How do I tell her to tie it into a French braid, without sending her off into another one of those strops of hers? I can’t have her embarrassing me, in front of them. Hassan’s wife, by contrast to this sorry woman, seems like she is quite a cheerful lady. I have never seen her frown, not once. Actually, maybe the Botox on her forehead has something to do with it. Oh, and her Pakoras – have I told you about her Pakoras? Heavenly!

Karen only knows how to make sandwiches. Sandwiches made with brown bread. I loved this about her for a short while. But, boy, do I crave some homemade stew sometimes. Some Pakoras. Our solution, a happy compromise: we buy homemade food from a local bistro. Arrange it on plates to look like Karen made it. And everyone’s a winner! Well, except me, of course. I’m married to her!

The kids are sitting on the stairs. They are holding their instructional flash cards. Good; they are doing exactly as they should. My wife, on the other hand, she simply objects to using these cards that I make for her. If she messes up today, without them, it will be entirely her own fault. If she messes up, I will simply not speak to her for two days and half of another one. Then, we will go and play some tennis, take some pictures for Facebook…and maybe we will have some brown bread sandwiches.

Can you keep a secret? I don’t actually like brown bread — not even by a crumb. I only told her I loved it pre-marriage, you see, when I had been trying to impress her, at work. I’m not even sure if she likes brown bread all that much, either. I’m not sure if she thinks anything of anything, most of the time. In fact, I am convinced that the only thing she talks about with her therapist each week is her most recent weight loss venture.

DING DONG. Okay, they have arrived. Everybody in their places. Do not get me wrong. This household belongs to me, and I am its director. Bueno. Now, Door, smiles, 

Action!

 

Moving

There is something that is rather special about this generation of ours. I am saying this, now, amid the period of the notorious coronavirus, and of the race-related uprisings. I am saying this having finished watching ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ – a series that looks at prominent social issues in what might be seen as a rather ‘raw’ way – and while partaking in a Zoom seminar organised by a friend of mine, on the topic of ‘Racial Disparities in Mental Healthcare’. 

I may be generalising massively here, but just look at us. We are young, and, yes, we feel a little damaged. There is a fire within us, though, and oh, how it burns. We are trying so hard to be more real, and to be better. A heightened sense of empathy, and a willingness to learn and to self-educate are what characterise us. We yearn for justice, and for healing; we care about dismantling all those frameworks that fail to serve us.

We are the children of immigrants; of religious Facebook users; of helplessly devoted ‘what-will-people-think?’-ers. Of people who are ostensibly quite afraid of their own selves, and of truly facing themselves; who have shaped our worlds to seem as though what might matter most may be… how publicly consumable it all is, or may appear to be… that the ‘undesirable’ things simply go away if you put them away somewhere; if you just paint pretty pictures on top of the rot, perhaps.

Some of them had been jealous; fiercely competitive; often quite emotionally unintelligent. What a mess, with all due respect, we find that they had made. Now, we are here, and we are trying to pick up all the pieces, in the best ways we find we can.

My beloved generation: we speak, often, of matters of race, and of gender. Of anxiety and depression. Some may say we talk about these things far too much, but I mean… why wouldn’t we? We know, from firsthand experience, how ineffective, how damaging, the whole stiff-upper-lip pretend-it’s-not-happening-and-it-will-simply-go-away thing. We are saying, we are fed up of it; of all of it.

Yes, as children, we often ‘played pretend’. Now, though, we are members of the real world – decidedly in it, decidedly of it.

People are suffering quite deeply in this world, and all around it. And maybe it is true that we do not want to pretend anymore; these grand lies, we find that they are irredeemable. The preceding generations – maybe (it could be that) many of their actions had stemmed from some really good intentions, but… they had surely lied to us about certain things.

Did you know, for instance, that the average [American] high school student of today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient from the 1950s? [Leahy]

What had all these dreams really been, that they had been selling us all this time, and why are we finding so many faults upon seemingly arriving at all of it? Why is darker skin still being frowned upon; why do we see some individuals as being superior to others on the basis of mere lineage; why do they say that women who demonstrate femininity in certain ‘other’ ways are somehow ‘doing it irrevocably wrong’?

Why do they tell us that we are intrinsically ‘not enough’, and why do they convince us that mere ‘hard work’ might allow us to ‘make up for it’, somehow?

We are angry,

and rightfully so, methinks. And how can we learn to be angry, but in ways that are with grace, and not without it?

I want my generation to know that we are absolutely ‘enough’ already. I say, we must try not to take much advice nor criticism from those whom we undoubtedly do not want to become like. We start from here, and from ourselves. Self-regulation and self-improvement are wonderful things to commit to, but we must start from ourselves, rather than from expectations that may be utterly alien to who we are, whom we cannot otherwise be — at least, not without the presences of myriad internal conflicts and detrimental frictions.

It is not a shameful thing to struggle – as humans do [and nor is it a bad thing to just write, or paint, or sing badly, sometimes!]. Furthermore, it is the farthest thing from repulsive, to allow ourselves to be real — to begin from there.

“I am human; I consider nothing that is human to be alien to me.”

– Terence 

I think it’s really interesting, actually, how the best conversations of all are those ones that just feel like they are the most ‘real’: the ones, I suppose, that do not stem from premises of obsessions with particular image constructions and/or maintenances.

Human beings are really quite… awfully real things… and I kind of love that about us — don’t you?

And it is true that some of the stuff of these lives of ours can be quite humouring at times. What a wonderful thing laughter is: it is emblematic of a body failing to contain its own joy!

But – and – life is also necessarily grief, and this, too, must be known. Sorry to be morbid here, but life, in addition to those moments of simple glee… it is also the thought that, within this lifetime of yours, you may have to attend the funerals of one beloved person or two. Things begin; they end. But we must always have faith in the things that may come after them.

You know, it is rather cool indeed that no two moments in our lives will ever be – nor even look – the same. And we shall never again get this very time back – never again.

And this day, much like Life itself, it is going, going, (gone). I really hope that, in the meantime, the waiting days, and on these days of action and of adventure…

I hope love, even on the days that you feel intensely lonely — I hope it finds you in all those little moments between the confusion and the grief, interweaved between all of Life’s gifted damages, a satin ribbon.

I hope we always find it within ourselves to be brave, and to be honest, and, dare I say: this, in a beautiful way. You know, there is much beauty in you; nobody else does Beauty the way you do. So, from here, may we begin, and, no matter what, may we never lose ourselves;

and as ourselves, may we keep moving, and breathing, and being.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Hādil

Hādil: the sounds that pigeons tend to make. Cooing, as it is otherwise known. Hādil pours some more birdseed from her palm, into the tray of the feeder. Several birds, who had been hiding in the surrounding trees, flap their wings excitedly, and flock toward her. They encircle her, at first, as she gazes upwards in delight. Then, they – all five of them – direct their attention more towards the little feeder that dangles enticingly from the little apple tree. Today, it does so lazily, and yet with much purpose. Today, the painted flowers on its roof beam with a particular pinkness, under this uninhibited orange Spring sun.

The largest branches of the apple tree jut outwards, forming for Hādil the perfect place to go and sit, and to read, and to draw, and to marvel at the tiny forest that she is fortunate enough to call her own – it is, for the young queen, a humble throne, propped up against the backdrop of her miniature kingdom. She sits there, clasping her knees, humming, and awaiting the instructional hiss of the teapot on the stove. The clouds float by in utmost tranquility; politely tip their wispy hats to her, and then they continue on their ways, to some Glorious Nothing. Some feint whistling comes from inside: Danyal, taking a break from the novel he has been working on, rather industriously and at the kitchen table, has decided to bake for their dessert a cherry pie. Later, the two of them will devour a misshapen pie from the same plate – the baking tray itself – while their bodies are doused in its sweet aroma.

Hādil: when the humans in their midst are quiet, the pigeons are known to coo a little louder. They take their food in rounds: peck gently, ferociously, at the opening of the feeder, then fly around, darting from one garden wall to another. They perch atop branches and plant pots, and then waddle across the garden floors, upon which Hādil currently stands barefoot, her cotton white dress tickling the very tips of her toes. And then the tiger-like birds fly away, almost as quickly as they did arrive.

And Hādil often wonders where they go, these little pigeons. Everything they could ever possibly need is right here, surely, in her little garden? What adventures do these pigeons seek out by flying for miles and miles, elsewhere, towards something else – when the little wooden feeder, the fountain, the needle-like trees – are all right here? Does it even get any better than this? Hādil does not know; right now, with her book in her hand and the taste of spring upon her lips, she finds she is simply too content to ever want to know.

Nowhere and Everywhere

If you asked me where I come from, I would tell you:

I come from a place where mangoes are not a myth,

Where people walk without shoes,

Even when the sun is the only thing in the sky,

Caressed by a continuous cerulean blanket,

And even when the invading clouds become angry.

 

I come from a place where tea is drunk in copious amounts,

Where children spread the wings they do not have,

Where fingers are stained with henna and stories and secrets,

Where curry is the national dish,

And believe me, when I say that curry burns through my veins,

But don’t worry- I don’t mean the type that causes heart disease.

 

I am the product of sugar and spice,

Of curry and samosas and rice,

Of colours and jewels that indicate infinity,

Of heavy accents and songs about silence.

Of being, but never quite belonging.

 

Look at me.

I am writing love letters to a country I have only visited twice.

A country that is oblivious to my existence,

A country I am infatuated with the idea of,

The idea of belonging somewhere in the correct way,

And having the right skin tone and features to show for it.

 

You see, I am the daughter of two worlds, and both are jungles.

One is replete with coconut trees and charming waterfalls,

Little secrets hidden behind rolling hills,

Uncorrupted by the filthy hands of man.

The other world is bustling and the economy is booming

And prosperity is a thing now.

Time flies and houses are tall,

And fishing isn’t the preferred pastime there: making money is.

 

If you asked me where I come from, I would tell you:

I come from somewhere that is imperfect,

Where some of the pieces are in the wrong places,

And some of them are nowhere to be seen.

But the grass is still green beneath our feet,

And love roams free, and I know that peace will reign triumphant.

I come from a place where there is beauty to be seen-

Beauty that succeeds in drowning out the bloodshed.

 

You see, if you asked me where I come from, I would tell you:

I am the daughter of kings and peasants,

Of prophets and criminals,

Of storytellers and poets.

My story is your story too.

We are relics of the past and promises of the future,

We are children of here and there,

and nowhere and

 

everywhere.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

I am an immigrant

I am two people. I am Bangladeshi and I am British. The first version of my identity stems from the fact that I am the daughter of two immigrants. I say this with a tremendous amount of pride. Especially in recent months, the word ‘immigrant’ has come to be a dirty word, synonymous with images of filthy, diseased, impoverished people who ‘drain the economy’ and refuse to integrate into society. As the product of two immigrants, I can safely say that this is far from the truth.

My mother came to this country at the age of eleven: she left her friends, her beloved grandmother, her livelihood behind, because her father (my grandfather) had made the brave decision to move to England to start anew. He worked at a coat factory, laboriously attaching buttons to coats to provide for his family.

My grandfather (may he rest in peace) first came to this country when he was a teenager. Alone and almost penniless, he travelled to a country that promised work and stability, in the aftermath of World War Two. He often told me stories of how, during the coldest winters here, he and his friends would attempt to identify their houses beneath the many inches of snow, by leaving bricks beside their homes. These simple but endearing stories reminded me of the fact that my ancestors suffered for me to have this life, and for that I am eternally grateful.

My nan’s story is perhaps the most heart-rending of them all. She was born to a poor family with six other children. My great grandmother often went for days without food in order to ensure that her children did not starve. She would tell them white lies, insisting that she had eaten, to fool them into thinking that there was enough food, but there was not. Miniscule rations of rice and lentils were shared sparsely, and eventually, my nan saw through her mother’s façade of strength. The women that I am fortunate enough to be a descendant of are the strongest, most admirable and brave people I have ever heard of, and I aspire to pass their legacies on to my own children.

When it comes to my own mother, I can see that it pains her to retell her story. Her eyes brim with tears when she recounts her euphoric childhood in Bangladesh- how she couldn’t even bear to spend a day away from her grandmother, until a plane brought her to an alien country with people who would look down upon her. My mother started school here when she was in Year Seven. She was forced to learn an entire language with little support, and even then, managed to excel at most of the subjects she took (save for History, which she abhorred). My mother worked ridiculously hard, refusing to let any adversities get in her way: indeed, she was the victim of many a racist incident. Despite this, she acquired a good job, and supported herself through college and extra training. She managed to do all this without much guidance; as supportive as my nan and grandfather were, they were very limited in their English-speaking abilities, and the family’s situation quickly became a case of my mother and her siblings teaching my nan and grandfather. My mother was her own mentor, her own teacher and her own student. She raised me to be inquisitive, resilient and determined. My mother is the definition of strength; she epitomizes the type of magnificence that only women of colour can claim to possess.

My father was also rather independent in his journey. After completing his secondary education in Bangladesh, my father worked a number of temporary jobs at mini cab offices and restaurants, in order to provide for our little family: my parents had me at a relatively young age, when my mother was 22 and my father was 23. They were still finding their way around things: around their identities, around work and around integrating into an unfamiliar society and its customs. Now, sixteen years after my birth, my father owns a successful technology business in East London. He is surrounded by loving friends in a comfortable environment, however I know that deep down, nothing will ever replace my father’s true home, amidst the luscious green fields of Bangladesh. Sometimes when he speaks of his childhood, his voice breaks and he becomes teary. I know that in those moments, my father recalls his mother, who passed away when he had just entered adulthood.

My parents and grandparents have sacrificed and lost so much, in the hope of a better life for my family. The stories they tell are saturated with pain and loss and love and hope, and they have instilled in me values of gratitude, resilience and unbreakable strength. Though I was born here in London, I am the descendant of a family of immigrants. I listen to the tales of their childhoods, I enjoy the aromatic curries that remind them of their former lives, and I enjoy engaging in the hundreds of beautiful traditions that they have imparted on me. I am an immigrant, and I honestly could not be prouder of my identity.

Where Youth and Laughter Go

This poem is about the inherent folly of war.


From fighting for  my country, I have learnt

That bombs fall like raindrops,

But so do tears. So does vomit. So does blood.

And the human ego is so

Fragile, yet indestructible.

It finds itself woven subtly

Into uniforms, weapons and empty pledges of empty allegiance.

Looking up at the sooty, dust-filled sky,

I thought it was almost beautiful

How one person flying overhead,

Holds in his hands the limitless power to kill,

To destruct and destroy,

To take our lives and wipe our sins away

And compete against infinity.

Every bullet that slices through the air like a shooting star

Holds the power to slice through a heart,

To bring a man down to his knees and breathe

His very last breath.

To orphan a child, to widow a wife,

To extinguish a thousand hopes, dreams and fears,

To steal a life.

Because war makes us feel powerful- immortal- like gods.

But it reduces men to nothing- to ghosts, not gods, hiding in their own ribcages,

Unsure of what to do-

It’s almost beautiful how men cry too.

In a life where love is the only war we’ve yet to wage,

Where men sit in shallow trenches- shallow graves,

Praying- begging- to see their loved ones again.

They don’t have time to see the irony of it all:

They demolish cities and wreck livelihoods

While they yearn for the comfort of their own families.

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori,

Show me where it hurts, and listen carefully:

Listen to how gunshots sound like heartbeats in the distance,

See how the blood that flows whimsically through the veins of the Earth

Has no name, no nation, no personality;

They are fluids of cowardice and terror, of tenderness and humanity.

We are just children, pretending to be men, and I long

To be held again.

To lay roses over the eternal tombs of the fallen, but there are no roses left-

Only shrapnel and shells of men, hollow and bereft.

Slovenly, we shoot for the moon, for the stars, for love, for peace.

But we all end up in the hell

Where youth and laughter go.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Blind Fidelity

05/05/2016

His heart was pounding so rapidly, he feared that, in a moment or two, it would tear through his chest and fall onto the floor- not that he’d even notice anyway; the only things he could think about were the faces of his dead friends, his intense fear of dying and his acute desire to make it out alive- to be able to kiss his daughter on the forehead again, to tell her he loves her.

In the very back of his mind, he wondered what had put him in this position in the first place- running senselessly to his death. Was it blind fidelity? Fraudulent jingoism? Or was it his constant desire to prove himself as a man?

Either way, there he was, a flimsy tin hat sitting uncomfortably atop his head, a Bible concealed beneath the ragged khaki- the uniform of his doom- and a bayonet bouncing up and down repeatedly between his anxious hands. He was nothing more than a heroic coward. A scared soldier.

Then, he saw it: the scene of a group of men he once knew, lying dead, scattered like unwanted clothes outside a charity shop, with pained, distant expressions strewn permanently across their faces, their blood flowing copiously into the welcoming vessels of the ground. Rest in peace, comrades. Rest in pain. Rest in power.

The scene of his dead, mutilated friends was almost too much to bear. Tom broke down and cried tears of dread and desperation. It was absolutely terrifying, because, in that moment, he had caught a glimpse of his inevitable future.

Fire

The woman crouched down on the floor, her bespectacled eyes affixed on the myriad of books that lined the towering shelf that stood before her. She was tall, thin and atypically beautiful; she wore no makeup, but her skin glowed like the light of the harvest moon. Her eyes were large and brown, and she wore a resolute facial expression of intellect and mystery combined. She was walking perfection. After a minute or two of browsing, she extracted a book from the shelf, entitled ‘The Feminine Mystique’. Stroking her silver pendant, which sat perfectly atop her plain black shirt, she marched over to the librarian’s desk, leaving behind her a trail of fire.