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Monday, 6 June 2016

An Enchanting Spirit.

The overhanging sycamore canopy at the entrance to Claremont encapsulates you. Like boneless, endless arms wanting to pull you up into the clouds above. A thin furrow of grass illuminates like lime neon in the centre of the narrow avenue. The headlights of my rental throw shafts of pale straw light through the tiny gaps.

Exiting the oppressive entrance, I see an eighteenth century white paneled, manor estate house. Louvered sash purple windows contrast the crispness of the pebble-dashed walls. Manicured lawns, lush green and maroon shrubbery adorn the exterior.

Loose gravel crunches under my feet. A faint autumn breeze tickles my cheek as the sun fast is losing its heat. I pull my baggage from the trunk as a young lady with long dark hair greets me at the front door.

“Mr. Stevens, I assume?”

“Yes, but please call me Gerry.”

“Well it’s nice to meet you Gerry. I’m Irene, the owner. Can I give you a hand with those?”

“There’s no need. They’re not even heavy. Nice night out, isn’t it?”

“The calm before the storm. The wind is supposed to pick up tonight. Heavy rain expected too.

We walked through mahogany front doors where a wide sweeping staircase filtered to the first floor on both sides. A royal blue carpet lined the imposing entrance all the way up the stairs. The small reception desk lay on the left, with the kitchen behind it, under the stairs. Irene informed me that was where breakfast would be served.

Irene checked me into a room on the first floor. It had a beautiful view of the bay beyond the house, she assured me. I caught her glancing my way as I signed in. She was trying to figure out how she knew me. Irene also said that only one other room was occupied, at the opposite end of the hall.

I asked if there was a room in which I could write my speech and to enjoy a stiff drink. She pointed me toward the Great Room, which was located to the right of the main entrance. She said that the fire was starting to dwindle but that she’d keep it going for me.

The view from my room was spectacular. The red and orange tones of the sinking sun contrasted the blue underwater lights illuminating the waters’ edge. A rowing boat lilted to and fro along a slim jetty. Birch and oak trees lined the wide expanse leading down to the lake. The wind was starting to pick up.

Washing away the tedium of meetings, I felt reinvigorated. Putting on tracksuit bottoms and a loose fitting t-shirt, I went downstairs. The Great Room was ostentatious in its grandeur. I took a few moments to inhale its splendor. I could smell dust rising amongst leather bound volumes and dropping from the crystal chandelier.

Along the inside wall was a floor to ceiling library, replete with all manners of old and new books. A sliding ash ladder lay attached on old-fashioned rollers. I ran my fingers among them, wishing I had more than one night here. There were enough chairs, couches and tables to seat at least forty. I could imagine those being moved back for dancing.

Opposite the books the large open hearth was starting to dwindle. A large wicker basket held loose chopped logs. At the end of the room a solitary art deco droplight shone in the corner. Rain was beginning to tickle the big bay windows.

On the bureau beside the entrance, a note sat under a small lamp. A glass decanter of brandy trapped it.

“Hi Gerry! Please help yourself to a glass of brandy. Feel free to throw logs on the fire too if you’re getting chilly. This room quickly loses its heat. See you in the morning – Irene.”

I poured a large glass. Throwing two logs on the fire, I sat down in a velvet red armchair with a high back facing the fire. I swirled the brandy around in my hand, warming it. The shrill whistle of the wind down the chimney cleared my head. I closed my eyes, inhaling the odour of the room, spirit, wood and fire.

I had the outline of the speech formed in my head. I was asked to speak about my good friend Dean, who had just been given Professorship tenure at his University. It was well known that Dean and I had shared a dorm room in college, and as I was a recognizable face from television, they asked me to speak on his behalf.
Formulating it in my head wasn’t working, so I started scribbling. That only revealed that my speech was even shorter than I previously imagined. I tried to pad it out with humour, which was a complete disaster. Then I tried it aloud. A gust of wind down the chimney blew sparks onto the tiles. Even the wintry elements thought it poor. After six sermons and two large brandies, I felt it was getting better. Pouring a third, I paced, walking toward the windows.

I froze when I saw a woman’s bare toes sticking out from a chaise longue.


“Your speech is truly terrible,” came the reply.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize there was anyone else in here.”

“It’s okay. I didn’t want to disturb or frighten you.”

“Well you sure startled me! Good job I’m drinking something stiff! Would you, like one?”

“No thank you.”
“Please call me Gerry. And your name is?”


“Well if you think it’s terrible, would you like to help me out, Valentina?”

She rose ever so gracefully, folding her book closed with a hint of impatience. Her long black and red rose dress draped behind her as she strode elegantly toward the fire. She took a seat across from my armchair. Her thick black hair flowed over her shoulders with a tinge of grey framing her temples.

Her accent held a hint of Spanish aristocracy. A pale blue pendant on a silver chain hung around her neck. Her sallow skin revealed a demure and calm exterior. Her dark eyes spoke with a confident inner smile.

“Who is your friend that you talk about?” asked Valentina.

“He’s an old school friend. He just got tenure at his university.”

“And do you like him or not?”

“Yeah, of course I like him. We shared a dorm for four years.”

“Then why do you talk about him like he is an object? Like you barely know him?”

“Have I? I thought what I was preparing was decent, if I’m honest.”

“Your speech is okay, but it isn’t personal in any way.”

“Really? Do you think a stuffy old lecture hall is the place to reveal embarrassing things about a former college friend?”

“Maybe you don’t tell them everything, but reveal something that makes him well, human. You tell of how he helped you out of a sticky situation.”

“Okay. I’m liking that idea.”

“Take what I’m reading here – Romeo and Juliet. It’s a tale of miscommunication and the perils of not saying what you mean.”

“Okay, I see what you’re saying Valentina.”

“Do you? Pretend I am your audience tomorrow.”

Valentina motioned me up from my armchair with her right hand. I took her invitation.

I told how Dean impressed two young ladies at a frat party with a yo-yo. He was trying to impress the importance of physics in everyday life. I hadn’t a clue what he was doing. But he did – he knew exactly whom he was trying to amaze. He knew his audience and how to stand out. One of those two ladies was now his wife.

“Excellent Gerry! That’s a lovely personal touch as his wife will no doubt be in the audience tomorrow. You intertwined physics with something that everyone can relate to,” clapped Valentina.

“Thank you. Your suggestions have improved it immensely. I might even see if I can pick up a yo-yo for symbolism as a prop tomorrow. Are you sure you don’t want a drink?”

“No thank you Gerry. It goes right through me.”

We chatted into the early hours. Valentina laid her chin in her right hand, with her elbow resting on the arm of the chair. Her eyes were deep set, flickering with life from the fire, hazel brown. The wind blowing down the chimney lifted the lower part of her dress with a brief gust.

As I rose to place another log on the fire I caught sight of the time. It was 2.05 in the morning. My head felt woozy, without a morsel in my stomach since lunchtime. Despite the entertaining and engaging conversation, I had to excuse myself. I had to be up and out of the guesthouse at 8am.

I thanked Valentina for her time and advice. Her face looked disappointed. To be honest, I didn’t want to leave. I kissed her hand as we parted for the night.

I fell asleep very quickly, as exhaustion took hold. The following morning, my first thought turned to Valentina, with her slight Spanish accent and the way she smiled with her eyes.

Descending the stairs, Irene was cooking on the four ring hot stove. The alluring smell of breakfast beckoned me in. Her supple stance and long dark hair was familiar. My tongue was dry and my head fuzzy.

We exchanged morning pleasantries as my mouth watered at the prospect of home cooked food. I gorged on boiled eggs, salted baby potatoes and bacon. Irene talked about the impact the passing night weather had on the young saplings down by the waterfront. I could tell she knew who I was now.

“Did you hear the wind last night?” asked Irene.

“Not really. I probably polished off more of that brandy than I should have. It knocked me out cold. Which you’re adding to my bill, may I add.”

“That would explain why you didn’t hear the trees breaking. The local news said it reached gale force at about 1am. I will have to replant more.”

“I was up at that time.”

“Then how did you not hear the weather? The windows in the Great Room aren’t exactly modern or double glazed.”

“Sure I was distracted. I was talking to one of your guests for hours. Really nice lady.”

“What lady?”

“The Spanish lady. Valentina?”

Irene stared at me. Her expression went rigid. Turned to ice in a split second.  

“What did you just say?”

“I was talking to a lady called, Valentina last night.”

“Follow me please,” instructed Irene.

I dropped my fork on the plate with a clatter. I had clearly insulted Irene. Leaping from the wooden breakfast barstool, I trotted after her like a bold school child.

She led me out of the kitchen, turning toward the main entrance. I walked up to a lady with arms folded. Her facial expression was one of anger and fear.

She stood, pursing her lips. It was that moment, that I realized the connection.

The fire and passion in her deep brown eyes.

Irene stood set, pointing up at a large painting. A gold framed picture that hung behind the front door, on the right hand side. Had I spotted it?

“Did the lady who ‘distracted’ you during a gale force storm, look like this?”

Valentina stared back at me in her black and red rose dress. She sat in a fireside armchair with a book in her hand. I sputtered something, but it was gibberish.

“Valentina de Rosa Sanchez was my great grandmother. She was the original owner of this house.”

The book she held was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She obviously loved Shakespeare.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

My Father’s Handkerchief.

A heavy mist blankets my morning. I tread cautiously on the mossy pavement. I dare not step on the cracks. My denim jacket is tight on my arms. It was once my fathers’ jacket. He died nine years ago.

I hear bright song from the blackbirds. They chirp crisp melody that contradicts the dull daybreak. I check each side of the road eight times before crossing. I like the number eight. You can divide it all kinds of ways.

My name is Francis Rivers Junior and I am 37 years old. Today is the first day of my adult life.

I was falsely accused of killing three people before I entered my teenage years.

My exoneration is a quiet affair, as no body wishes me well or waves goodbye. The swish of the automatic doors makes a sterile sound as I exit out onto the street.

I have lived in only three places. My first home was the family house on Bellevue Road. My best memories lie there.

Then I got arrested and I was placed in Westland Centre for six years. I didn’t like it there. The place smelled of cat pee and swimming pool. I was sedated and treated like an imbecile.

My home for the past nineteen years was the Swanson House facility. I don’t want to leave, but I must. People here treat me like an adult, but are suspicious of me.

They advised me yesterday that I didn’t need any legal representation. They gave me $500 cash and I signed a piece of paper with a scrawl. I was to contact a lady in Social Services called Carol for accommodation.

The funeral of an eighty-one year old man changed my life when I was twelve.

His name never registered with me. It was just another service for a bereaved family. I was an altar boy serving penance for robbing a local supermarket.

My statement was rubbished from the moment it left my lips. The police sergeant looked at me with utter disgust. His own brother had died at the scene and I was suspect number one. It was probably something to do with that.

My Mum and sister Kathy, had died two years prior in a car accident. My Dad became a crumpled heap from the inside out. Alcohol ruined him.

I was only ten years old when we lost them. My lack of structure threw me out of sorts. I started to repeat phrases as comfort. Teachers and classmates alienated me. Our headmaster mocked me in public.

I wanted my old life, going home to the noise of my little sister singing nursery rhymes out of tune and to the beautiful aromas from my Mum’s kitchen.

My father wasn’t used to restocking fridges after the loss of half our family. I robbed slices of ham to use in bread long past date. I got caught.

Police Sergeant John “JB” Williams attended. The supermarket did not want to press charges, but he wanted me to do right. He knew about our family. He sentenced me to six months service as an altar boy in his brothers’ church. I accepted his penance, reluctantly.

It was my eighth funeral as an altar boy.

I arrived late to church on my bike. I had flu the week previously. Father Williams barked me inside. He told me to quickly mix the incense prior to mass. I had only seen it mixed once before.

I opened the incense box to find three capsules pre-prepared. They were large and a bit off colour. Sometimes the mix could take ten minutes. Whoever had mixed the capsules was saving my bacon.

I flicked the censer open and grabbed the metal shovel beside the fire. The charcoals were glowing red. I loaded four lumps of burning ember into the crucible at the bottom.

I placed the capsule of incense on top and sealed it shut, pulling the chains down. The thurible was ready, yet I wasn’t.

Father Williams, being ever impatient, proceeded out into church with the other altar boy, Fred Hawkins. Fred was new to the church. He took a long pull on his asthma inhaler.

I threw on my robe and carried the thurible out. Steam was starting to eke through the small holes at the base. I placed it on the stand to the left of Fr. Williams. My robe felt roomier than normal.

Coughing the remnants of flu into my father’s handkerchief, I incurred the evil eye of Fr. Williams six feet from me. He delivered his liturgy in between glances of disdain. On my handkerchief, I had droplets of a cure to inhale through my nose.

The remedy saved my life, but doomed my youth.

I fainted split seconds after everyone. Through blurred vision and lapses of consciousness, I witnessed glimpses of the murder.

The culprit stepped out from the front pew. He had some sort of a mask on. I blinked and he walked toward me. It was as if every time I closed my eyes, it took an eternity for them to reopen.

My robe was pulled over my head. I had no energy. I saw my Father’s handkerchief fall slowly out of my hand and float down to the ground as my body dropped at a ferocious rate. I felt the wind rush out of the side of my chest.

As I regained focus and tried hard to breathe, I saw him raising his right hand more than once. I blinked and the next image I saw was red fluid flying through the air toward me. My eyes followed their fall to the tiled floor in front of the wooden front pew. 

I blinked once again and suddenly he was back in front of my face. He licked his lips, smiling at my apparent face of bewilderment. He replaced the altar robe back over my head. My body was limp and lifeless, yet my eyes flickered. He sat beside me on the red-carpeted altar step.

I closed my eyes once more to see him open a little bottle of red liquid. He dribbled some over my fingers and hands. I could swear I heard him laugh. I felt like I was swimming underwater. He then flicked some liquid over my face.

I was powerless. He picked up my father’s handkerchief and wiped sweat from his brow. It was then placed back into my left hand. I fought hard not to blink.

My head drooped and my eyes closed. I rolled off the step onto the tiles in front of the altar. I heard the clap of someone closing the seat of the organ chair.

I drifted off into unconsciousness.

I woke up with the bloodied knife in my left hand. I was slurring my words and drool oozed from my mouth. Fingers of blame looked in only one direction.

I was placed in tight metal handcuffs that chafed my wrists. Sergeant JB stared at me. My red and white silk robe stuck to me. I was sweating heavily and feeling faint.

I rocked back and forth. He accused me of killing three people. Blood was spattered everywhere. I tried to speak, but I was shushed with impunity. I was already convicted.

I had means, motive and opportunity. The man being buried was the same man who killed my mother and sister through drink driving. He had gotten away with it, having enough money to influence powerful people.

I had also stabbed his aging wife in the front row, the temporarily wealthy, Mrs. Eve Jacobs as retribution.

Father Williams had a heart attack, but they automatically assumed I was complicit in his death. The chloroform mix in the incense capsule sent his heart into an arrhythmia that could not be halted. His proximity to the thurible predestined his fate.

Fred choked without his inhaler. He went purple. The chloroform simply closed his esophagus. He died aged nine years old.

I had poisoned the entire congregation through the incense decanter and holy water. They had unknowingly blessed themselves as they entered, using their thumb to mark the impression of a cross on their foreheads.

My fingerprints were also upon candles of soaked chloroform, throughout the church. The build up of inhalation and skin absorption sent the throng into a deep sleep.

The final act of lighting the thurible sealed the fate of the congregation. It lasted long enough for me to commit the act.

They saw a troubled kid that ticked all the boxes. The Police Sergeant echoed the sentiments of the son-in-law of the now deceased, Mrs. Jacobs. 

Kevin James Moore was his name. He was a big shot.

The psychologists all said that I was guilty. Even my own doctor had his story picked clean by the state’s District Attorney. Circumstantial evidence in my favour was soon ridiculed and discounted.

In the past week prior to my release, former Sergeant JB Williams passed away from cancer. He had been dying for some time and dignitaries and former colleagues called to his home, to get their chance to say goodbye.

He had one visitor that arrived with much fanfare, Kevin James Moore. 

He mentioned how it had always surprised him how they had never looked at the handkerchief. A DNA swab had never been performed on it.

After he left, JB told his daughter to get police friends of his to look into it. He described the evidence bag that contained my Father’s handkerchief and how it was now relevant.

JB recounted that it was a white handkerchief with the initials ‘FR’. He had always assumed it belonged to his brother, the priest. He never thought it was my initials. The handkerchief was bagged by a crime scene tech, but never brought to the attention of the media or court conviction.

Kevin James Moore sat next to the elderly widow in the church. No one had ever suspected him – he was too well respected and connected.

JB revealed in his morphine haze, that in his latter years in the Police force, he never liked Kevin Moore. He saw Kevin become somewhat deviant and hungry for power as he climbed the ranks.

I now battle my way through the fog. The birds do not chirp any longer. The road is quiet. My footsteps make a loud clacking against the pavement. I have a meeting.

This journalist, Alex Melbourne, wants me to meet her in a café. I am looking for Albion Street, but am currently on Brixton. One of the nurses in Swanson told me that the streets are listed alphabetically.

I must be close. I see three blacked out cars all parked next to each other.

Alex said that we should discuss Kevin James Moore. He is running in an election that could put him in an office that is oval.

Is that a red dot on my denim jacket?


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

One of the things that annoys me most, is the way Lenore eats. She masticates her food with an open mouth, revealing chunks of food. On this occasion, it is fries slathered in tomato ketchup. The red sauce is everywhere, including two big blobs on her beige blouse. She was taught how to eat her food properly, not like a savage. Sitting here at the table, I wonder what I have in common with my sister, apart from sharing the same mother and father.
Her general demeanour is rude, abusive and slovenly. Yet she was an intelligent and witty individual back when we were kids. More often than not, she is lazy, takes little care in her appearance and wears oversized pyjamas whilst watching daytime TV. Her former husbands’ military pension keeps her going. But her online shopping habits are becoming an issue.
I know Lenore is expecting a big chunk of change from the reading of the will today. Especially with her being the eldest. I think she expects it to yield her a windfall.
Leon came next. He isn’t here today, but his bitch of a wife, Sophia, is. My brother is in the middle of a six year prison sentence for online banking fraud. My brother is a good guy and is the sibling I get on with best. He is easily led astray though. Most notably by his wife who has an hourglass figure and a serpentine mouth.
They have two beautiful twin sons, Arturo and Mateo, who are the absolute spit of their father. Our Scandinavian genes have proven to be far dominant than her Latin ones, giving the boys our fair skin and blond hair.
My brother asked for special dispensation release for our mother’s funeral, but he was denied. In our mother’s eye, Leon was the white haired boy. He was the softest, most intelligent and kind hearted of us all. Which is why he was serving the jail sentence.
He couldn’t say no to a good looking woman. instead of giving up Sophia’s brother, who had talked him into risking everything for a quick score. My brother, being ever loyal, took the blame for everything, including the idea.
Sophia now smells blood. She could see herself picking up a sizeable amount of money for a four year marriage. My gut tells me that whatever proceeds go Leon’s way, Sophia is going to disappear with the lot. I honestly hope that she puts some away for the boys and their future education. Something tells me that it will go on a swimming pool and botox.
Third in line came the go-getter of our family, Leanne. She was always the overly talkative, nosy busybody who typifies the modern soccer Mom. She and Tom have a brood of six children, all of whom are fine kids. Leanne was the sibling who knew best, especially for everyone. She has a part time job as a real estate broker, earning money for something she was particularly good at – talking people into submission. Her smiling cheesy grin is emblazoned in bus shelters and sidewalk seats everywhere.
She has an opinion on everything, even if she knows nothing about the subject. Our late father, Len, mentioned once that Leanne “Would talk her way into heaven. St. Peter would meet her at the gate and after ten minutes of listening to her, he’d admit her just to get her out of his hair.”
She has that effect on everyone. Not that their kids seem anyway affected. They are all bright, sensitive and upstanding young men and women. Their father, Steven, spends much time overseas with the Navy. He seems to instil respect and manners into all of them whenever he is home.
Now as Lenore chomps down fries in the lawyers office, Leanne is already trying to talk her sister into investing her share into property she has an interest in. Some things never change.
And last out of our mothers’ womb came me – Lennon. I have decided to attend this reading on my own. My wife Trudy, does not see eye to eye with many of my actual family. Especially the ladies.
Case in point was this office – if my wife were here, Sophia would have made some smartass remark about Trudy’s fashion sense or something similar. Leanne would have interjected asking for calm, yet would not have disagreed with Sophia. Lenore would have snorted something under her breath, adding to the confusion and you would have four women shouting like flapping hens in a chicken coop.
I was seen as the Golden Boy. I came along five years after Leanne. They were like steps of stairs before I interrupted the pattern. I was the quiet, methodical one. I never asked for anything from our wealthy parents. I worked hard for everything I earned. My actions spoke loudly.
I have my own small electrical business. I run a small and effective team of four engineers and two apprentices. Money hasn’t been as tight as years gone by, but I have earned enough to ensure that our only son, Andrew, and my wife live comfortably. I am here out of respect to our mother’s wishes, for her will be read aloud.
At 3pm, we are all summoned into an old oak panelled room. A long mahogany conference table fills the centre, flanked by four comfortable back leather chairs on either side. We take a seat each, all on the same side. Sophia is clearly uncomfortable sitting beside any of us. She takes the safe option of sitting beside me.
Two minutes later, our mother’s attorney, Jeff, comes swishing into the conference room. He is all action and little fuss.
“I appreciate your attendance at today’s reading. This shouldn’t take too much of your time Ladies and Gentlemen. I now read to you the last will and testament of Lily Ahlberg. It is her wish that her entire proceeds, monies and estate to go to the Jackson County Animal Shelter in Wilmington. And in her words, the rest of you all can go to hell.”
Cue stunned silence, coughing, throwing of an ashtray and banging of the table. Quickly followed by utter consternation, screaming and argument amongst the women.
I laugh heartily. Well done Mum.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Voyage of Discovery.

This room smells like our neighbour’s dog, Sadi. When he’s wet and rolling around in the dust, trying to dry himself. The muck sticks to him and he gets even dirtier. He’s a funny dog.
The heavy rain in Syria comes down hard. The warm sun dries everything quickly. It rains all the time here.
When I move the springs squeak and the mattress squelches under me. The blue blanket is itchy on my skin and has two holes. It doesn’t cover me as my toes stick out at the end when I tug it up.
I see black spots up high in the corner of the room. My new bunny sits on the bed waiting for a hug.
They took my shoes! They lock the door but I don’t know why. They play games with plates because I hear them crash.
The sun comes out, but not for long. The branches on the trees here are wider than the gum trees outside our house. The cars look like tanks.
The window gets cloudy and is cold to touch. Green slime gathers along the windowsill. Mum says never touch anything you don’t fully understand.
A slight breeze tickles my hand along the edges. The window is nailed shut. People walk by in heavy coats on the street. I wave, but they don’t wave back. I shouted out, but I did that only once.
The Woman tried to shush me as she unlocked the door. I screamed loud. The bruise on the back of my arm is now yellow. I ducked The Man’s fist but got caught on the shoulder. I fell, as The Man is strong.
Dad says only cowards pick on someone who is smaller than them. I can’t wait to hear The Man explain himself. Dad will look at him with serious eyes. His excuse better be good.
The Woman feeds me food, but it’s not like Mum’s cooking. Mum cooks great dinners, Dad says. We thank Allah for filling our bellies.
I hear a dog barking. He barks late in the evening. I wish I could play with him. Sadi always barks at me with his tail wagging. I think that’s his way of saying “Hi Alyas!” No one speaks Arabic here.
They picked me out of the camp and told me Dad was waiting. They put me in a truck and pushed me. We were gathered tightly together and told to be quiet. The drive in the big truck took ages. It was warm and I felt sleepy.
Bottles of water were thrown at us. We shared them. Then we got out and I was put in the back seat of a red car with four doors. The Man nudged me into the car.
A toy rabbit sat beside me in the back seat. I tucked it underneath my coat. I was told Dad had my satchel with Teddy and the book in it.
I get up from my bed and walk around the room. My footsteps are quiet. I can feel my toes starting to poke through the two pairs of socks on each foot.
The radiator has bits of green paint coming off. It doesn’t make the same noise as ours in the living room. Our radiator rattles like a tractor starting up in winter.
Crayon marks peep out from under the peeling wallpaper. I wish I had crayons.
I lift the paper and it pulls away. I see a red and blue robot, nearly as tall as me. He holds a square hammer. Big bulging eyes and two eyelids. He must be from another planet.
Bunny is my new favourite toy. My favourite toy at home is Teddy. We left Idlib with it, but I don’t have it now. I hug bunny like I normally hug Mum. She gives the best cuddles.
I open my jacket and pull out our last chocolate bar. Any time we felt cold, hungry or scared Dad would pull out a square of chocolate and feed us. Then we both felt much better. I haven’t seen Dad in a long time. Where is he?
Dad held me tightly as the water hit us in the face. I wore a yellow thing that kept hitting me on the chin. It dug into my sides. My satchel hung around Dad. He said his jacket was just as good.
I fell asleep and woke up with a light shining in my eyes. The lady spoke to me in a fast language. She used her hands a lot. Her long dark hair and kind eyes made her look a bit like Mum.
Dad smells nice. Since I was very young, falling asleep in his arms after he finished work was the best thing ever. He uses a spray called Hole Spice.
Dad’s white teeth stand out against his dark skin. I see his teeth because he smiles a lot. People say my brown eyes are exactly like his, but my hair is like Mum’s.
My father and I love European chocolate. It’s very milky. We have chocolate on holidays and birthdays. Dad teases me about it for weeks. Then we say “mm mm” a lot. He says it before the chocolate touches his tongue.
My Dad tells great stories, telling me of his adventures as a boy. How he climbed trees so tall that the branches went into the clouds. How he stole apples from a rich kings’ orchard, just so he could eat.
Every night has a voyage of discovery, as he calls them. He wrote down all his adventures in a little book that I’ve never seen. He always looks at his imaginary book and closes it shut with a clap of his hands.
Big noises came late one night. I heard screams and pops like fireworks. It couldn’t have been a parade. Dad crept into my room, with his eyes wide.
He spoke quietly. The banging noises were very close. Dad asked if I wanted to start my own voyage of discovery!
I whispered, saying my reading was good but my writing wasn’t brilliant. Until I learned properly, Dad said that he’d write them down in the book for me. Tonight would be our first adventure.
I will be a writer of stories!
Dad told me to empty my school satchel and put Teddy in it. Then put on my heavy jumper and put the plastic bag of clothes that Mum had prepared for me into it.
Mum ran around, putting photographs into a big case. She threw the frames on the floor. She told me to stand by the door. Then she fell. I shouted to her but a truck beeping at the back door, distracted me.
Dad was behind the steering wheel. We don’t own a shiny black truck. He told me to get in.
He asked where Mum was, and I told him that she had just fallen in the living room. He raced inside. My satchel swung under my arm, waiting for Mum and Dad.
Dad went to pick Mum up. It must have been her legs were sore or something. He came back with red eyes. He opened up a secret compartment in the kitchen cupboards. There was lots of money and chocolate inside. All of it was thrown into the case.
Dad was quiet as we drove. I asked if Mum was coming, but he didn’t answer. The truck’s engine made a lot of noise.
Dad pulled over when we got into the desert. He took things out of the case. Tears ran down his cheeks as he held a picture of the three of us.
He unzipped the inside pocket of my coat. He put our passports, money and the photo inside.
Then he handed me his most treasured possession of stories. I thought it never existed. He smiled at me. I will write my stories in this.
“Are you ready son?”
“Ready for what?”
“The next part of our adventure. Tonight is your first voyage of discovery.”
We drove on toward Lattakia, but not the beach. Dad gave some man lots of money. We jumped onto a white boat.  Lots of babies cried. All the kids wore the big yellow things.
They’re shouting again, outside my room. I hear fireworks, just like Idlib. Then scratching along the wall.
My door opens!
I pretend to be asleep. I expect a tray of food soup to be dropped on the floor. But it isn’t. It’s very quiet, for ages.
The Woman lies on the floor, outside my door. I poke her twice but she doesn’t move. It’s a weird place to go for a napI see The Man on the top of the stairs. There’s stairs here! He must have been eating. He has a big red stain on his jumper. He’s napping too.
I’ve never been in a house with stairs. I wonder what’s downstairs?