Yesterday’s sand is under my fingernails and a fine yellow trail of it vibrates in the lining of my rucksack. It’s been so long since I’ve even seen a beach that I imagine I’m back home for a moment, toes licked by the eerie shallows on my walk to the mosque. But they’re just granules that have fallen off Mohammed’s ‘Back Home’ collage.
There’s more sediment in my bag than there is sand left on his beach picture. PVA glue can’t hold anything weighty but the sea’s survived his pasting – foil waves that reflect back distorted versions of his brown face. He’s the newest child. They give me all the tricky ones. His tight expressions are as closed as he is. Mohammed’s small in stature for his twelve years but we’ve agreed that we’ll tell them he’s fifteen, no matter what his asylum outcome, the boy’s looking forward to turning sixteen. He’s not had a real birthday before.
Mohammed’s picture touches me because I lived there, too. It looks like the ‘before’ photographs of Port Gaza that you see on the telly, the touristy ones which promoted it as a haven for holiday-makers. Mostly pastel colours, soft on the eye. He draws well but glues badly – his motor skills aren’t too bad despite the damaged scar tissue.
His picture looks like my childhood with a few changes. Empty fishing boats now rock on blue-green triangular waves. There’s a ‘No Fishing’ sign but shoals of silver fish still swim below a ruler-straight water line. Red buoys and ribbons mark where public entry ends. Stick men smoke roll ups on the jetty, their unused bait boxes and rods piled up higgledy-piggledy behind them; livelihoods covered in grey bird muck. The Jandal is a beached whale and stripped down to carcass; a child’s climbing frame not a ship. A man wearing a red hat holds a girl under his twiggy arm at a food stall. She drinks milk from a bottle and a woman behind them holds a fat baby on her hip, a square heel of bread in her free hand. The food bank stands where I used to buy sugar spun candy floss. A few dropped bread crumbs are painted brilliant white, bright as fallen stars. He has drawn a hole in the road, deep as a dark pit and it’s full of children paddling. A den, Mohammed tells me, where a bomb crater got flooded.
Every play session is the same. Mohammed engages with only one game as though he is in a trance and cut off from reality until the sandpit is covered back up. To start, he picks one toy soldier from the resource cupboard at a time. The tiny green miniature ones with a flamethrower. Mohammed stands him in the sand and rotates him in a circle slowly so that he has a full 360 degree view. He goes back to the shelf, selects another soldier and moves that one in the same circular-like movement. The process continues until he has used all of the soldiers in the playroom. He digs a deep hole and puts three small dolls inside it. Using building blocks, he makes two-storey constructions. Then he places all the soldiers in a line formation in the middle of the tray and knocks one man down at a time by flicking his thumb and forefinger until there are none left standing. There are no sound effects. Each fall is silent. Mohammed swings his hand at the Brio blocks until the roofs fall down and bricks are lying on top of one another. He repeats the process until his time is up. At the end, he always picks the three dolls out of the hole one by one, brushes off the dots of sand from their tiny plastic features and lies them gently back on the toy shelf face up, his eyes large and wet.
When I ask him about back home, Mohammed tells me his father will buy him a car when he turns sixteen.
‘A Khodro Samand. A good, solid car.’
When I ask him about his play in the sand, Mohammed tells me that it’s just a little game he likes about Arabs and Israelis.
‘And what about the three dolls?’ I ask.
‘The dolls were my friends.’
About the Contributor
Rachael has a thing about words. Her short fiction and poetry has recently appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears, Prole and LITRO. Rachael co-edited My Baby Shot Me Down, a women’s anthology which features ten new writers work, including some of her own. She loves sharp pencils and is hopelessly addicted to writer’s website ABCTales.com
Beloved - Toni Morrison
Horror, beauty, lyrical prose and loss pinned down in a magnificent way I've never read before.
More from Issue Six:
- Give Sorrow Words by Anna Vaught
- Pull me in by Melissa Fu
- Variations on Girl with a Red Balloon by Tessa Torgeson
- Written in Advance by Nathan Fidler
- Mrs Fox by Marian Womack
- Tomorrow by Vivienne Burgess
- The Kulaks Of Chelsea by Tadhg Muller
- Some Kind Of Happiness by Heidi James
- Dust Covers and Margins by Jennie E. Owen
- Sitting, Standing, Mending by Alison Jean Lester
- Ghosts by Catherine Mitchell
- And I was filled with such delight by Catherine Edmunds