I’m scared, but not of your dog

Are you scared? Would you readily admit you’re scared? Openly? Or hesitatingly, in a quiet voice, half-hoping no one heard? Would you confide in someone, eyes down and face turned away, your mouth forming the words – I’m scared?
    I don’t. I don’t say it. I don’t let the words take shape, because once they do they come alive. I muzzle them, I muffle them, I drown them out with other words like faith, because faith smoothes the edges of fear enough so it doesn’t take that shape that keeps me up at night. But I’m awake at night anyway, because I’m scared.
    The fear is Britain-shaped. It’s a fear-shaped Britain. It traces the borders of an island kingdom that was once my home. Borders that were, then, nothing but lines on a map, the broken lines of a gentle guide, with spaces in between so you could come and go; borders that are now lines drawn against me, telling me that my place is not within. Wherever my place is, elsewhere, it’s not within. The broken lines that now mean “cut here”.
    A cut, that’s what is feels like. Being cut away, cut off, cut loose.

My friends in London, on the inside, when they ask, they say When are you coming home? I’ve been away because the guidelines said I could, the gentle borders told me I could come and go. But now there’s hardness and what scares me is I don’t know what I will find when I return. What boundary lines, what barbed wires, what broken things. Like Odysseus returning to Ithaca: that island doesn’t know me. Like Odysseus washing up finally on the shores of home, without a trace of triumph, no fanfare, no confetti, no loving wife to make the shape of welcome with her open arms. Only a loyal dog to wag his tired tail in recognition. But what dog will greet me upon my return? If it’s the British bulldog, that’s a guard dog, not a pet. It’s not the bouncy puppy that you adopted as your own, the one you fed treats all these years and trusted not to bear its teeth, the one that grew to know you. It’s a snarling beast grown fat on hatred and fear, whipped into a frenzy and straining against the boundaries that it was reared to protect, and it’s been groomed to go for the heart. It will rip your throat out but first it will break your heart.
    Home is where the heart is, but where is the heart in all of this? Broken, like the lines we’ve crossed. The lines that once connected the dots; the lines that now divide. Cut here.

And me and you are all of us who are scared, we’re just dots. Cast adrift, unable to connect and make a shape. What shape would we make if we connected? Would it look like Britain, or would it form another picture entirely? How hard would its edges be, how flexible its boundaries? Would it be a shape that soothes or feeds the fear? Would it contain us? Would it define us? Would it set us free?

That island doesn’t know me, but I thought I knew. I thought I knew my place and that puppy that I trusted not to hurt me when I held my hand out for its paw. What good is faith when it turns against you, snarling, and rips your home to shreds? But no, fuck you: you might turn me out, but you won’t turn me faithless. I’m scared, but not of your dog. I won’t drift away, unconnected, to elsewhere, to anywhere but within, just because of the lines you’ve crossed. I know I can find my island again. I can find my way back. And I don’t need no fanfare, no confetti, no recognition, no brass band to welcome me home; I just need you not to break it while I’m away, and the space to come and go.

Draw your lines where they matter. Give that dog another bone to chew on. And fucking say it, that you’re scared, let your mouth form the words, let them come to life and dance – I’m scared – but don’t let the fear shape you. Don’t let that be the shape that defines us all. Connect the fucking dots.


Divided Kingdom: how Brexit made me an immigrant / free e-book

Four essays on the result of the UK referendum on EU membership and its implications for UK citizens and EU nationals alike, from the point of view of a UK resident turned immigrant overnight. The e-book is available to everyone for free; just send me an email and let me know whether you’d like a pdf or mobi version (for Kindle), or get in touch through my facebook page. Also available on Amazon.

Are you from Bradford?

are-you-from-bradford-common-people

This is an excerpt from my upcoming novel Common People. Set in London in the late 90s, it explores issues of immigration, culture shock, racism, diversity and adaptation through the eyes of Eleni, a recent Greek immigrant struggling to find her identity in the UK. I thought, in the current climate, it was appropriate: none of this is new.


That day, I was accused of being from Bradford. I didn’t know it was an accusation until Luke interfered. He bounded up behind me, out of nowhere, and said: ‘Oi!’
     I was on the twelve to six shift, which was, as usual, a quiet one; on Sundays, people preferred other pubs, bigger ones that served food. I’d spent the hours between twelve and four perched on a stool at the end of the bar, smoking and looking through a copy of The Mirror that somebody had left behind. Luke was in the office, doing paperwork; he came up every now and again, to check on me. Pete and John were there, of the regulars, and two couples, who drank pitchers of Vodka and Red Bull, and laughed loudly. I was glad when the two men arrived. The one who spoke was short, pale, shaped like a beer barrel; he was young, despite his lack of hair. He’d asked his question in a knowing way, with a hint of mocking aggression.
     Judging from Luke’s reaction, I assumed Bradford must be something like Bristol, and I looked about my person for treacherous body parts, sticking out where they shouldn’t. Nothing seemed out of place.
     ‘He was just asking,’ I said in the man’s defence.
     ‘No,’ said Luke, in a voice of stainless steel: polished and purposeful. ‘He. Wasn’t. Just. Asking.’ He directed this not to me, but to the man.
     I turned around, and was baffled by what I saw: not the Luke I expected, but someone else; a man, tall, and solid; not simply angry, but indignant. His arms were crossed over his chest, and the expression on his face was anything but accidental; in fact, it gave the impression of something meticulously planned. Of someone who knew what he was doing and, more, knew he wouldn’t fail. He was a warning.
     The man, however, wasn’t paying enough attention; he persisted. ‘She hasn’t answered my question,’ he said.
     I was about to speak when Luke cut in again. ‘The lady,’ he said, ‘will not be answering any of your questions.’ He moved closer, so close I could feel the heat of his body on my back. And then I recognised it, this behaviour. It was chivalry. It was a man protecting a woman; it was Luke protecting me.
     The second man picked up on it, too, though I didn’t know this at the time; most of what he said sounded, to me, like another language. ‘’E’s pissed off,’ was his contribution, ‘cause you’ve dissed ‘is bird.’
     The first man seemed to agree, and added his own wisdom: ‘He’s pissed off cause his bird’s a Paki.’
     ‘That’s enough,’ said Luke. ‘I want you to leave.’ With another step, he was next to me; he unfolded his right arm across my body and held it there, like a barrier. A shield. The sudden movement surprised the two men, who took a step back each, realising, as they did it, that they had lost. Which, as I learned much later, is exactly the point where things might get dangerous. But not this time.
     The first man made a final attempt to pull his pride out of the situation intact.
     ‘Oh yeah?’ he said, with malice. ‘And whatcha gonna do about it?’
     Luke didn’t speak; he stood where he was, very still, one arm stretched out in front of me, the other balanced on his hip, and stared at both men, hard.
     The second one was first to look down. ‘Mate,’ he said, ‘leave it. ‘E’s not worth it.’
     ‘Yeah,’ said his friend, seizing the opportunity. ‘His big man act don’t convince me. He’s a wuss.’
     ‘E’s a wanker, that’s what ‘e is.’
     And with that they left, but not before they spat – big fat lumps of phlegm – on the floor.
     It was a while before Luke moved. Eventually, he let both arms drop, and sighed so deeply his whole body shook with it. He poured himself a coke and I noticed his hands were trembling. I had an urge to hug him and run my hands over his hair and press my face into his chest and say soothing, muffled words, and cry; I kept myself busy with dirty glasses until it had passed, and then I spoke.
     ‘I’ll get the mop,’ I said.

Bradford, Luke explained later, was known for having a large population of Asians: people from India, from Pakistan, from Bangladesh. It was synonymous, he said, with being from one of those places. I thought about it for a while.
     ‘OK,’ I said. ‘But what does it have to do with me?’
     ‘He probably thought you were from there too.’
     ‘Bradford?’
     ‘No: India. Or Pakistan. Or someplace.’
     ‘Why?’
     ‘Maybe because of your colouring,’ Luke said. ‘Your skin, your hair. Your eyes.’
     A memory floated to the surface. ‘At school,’ I said, ‘they used to call me a gypsy. Because I was dark. It was meant as an insult, but I don’t know why. I always thought gypsies were very pretty. I used to say thank you.’
     Luke laughed. ‘That must have confused the hell out of them.’
     ‘I suppose it must have; I was too young to notice.’ I paused. ‘Is that what that guy meant by Paki? From Pakistan?’
     He nodded.
     ‘I don’t understand. What’s wrong with being from Pakistan?’
     ‘Nothing,’ said Luke, shaking his head.
     ‘But he said it in such a horrible way. With spite.’
     Luke sighed; he spoke calmly, but his voice shook a little. ‘That’s got nothing to do with Pakistanis. Or Indians, or anybody else. It’s nothing to do with you. It’s just because he’s ignorant.’
     I liked that word: ignorant; I knew it, but I’d never used it before. I tried it now: ‘Ignorant.’
     ‘Just like those kids in your school. Those people, they don’t know any better. It’s racism of the lowest form: they’re just parroting. They don’t even know why.’
     I took a moment to be impressed by what he’d said. ‘Next time, I’ll say thank you,’ I declared.
     ‘Good,’ he said, smiling. ‘I’m sorry if I scared you before. Just didn’t think it was fair, you know… I won’t have anyone talking to my staff that way,’ he added, firmly.
     ‘I know. It’s OK.’
     A customer came in and nodded at me, yes please; I headed towards him.
     ‘Bubble,’ said Luke. I turned. ‘You’re right: gypsies are very pretty.’
     ‘Thank you.’


Common People will be released in paperback and on Kindle this summer. Register here to get it for a special pre-release price as soon as it’s ready! (No spam. Only good stuff.)


Sign up to receive notifications of new posts by email.

* This is will also add you to my readers’ list, and you will receive polite + sporadic updates on my work. You can unsubscribe at any time.