Staffroom (A Short Story of Death and Suspicion)

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The poem is very fine: a variation on a theme I gave the group last week, contrasting the morning adhan from the mosque in her native Afghanistan with the morning alarm of her new life in England. In this country? Like, you met him? It is hot, it is summer — I had a feeling, run away, run away from this guy. We run. I ran, I screamed, I ran, everyone ran.

There was an explosion. I was hiding, behind a wall. He was in a bomb. He exploded. You heard it. A frame. They have learned my mantra. A frame, I say every week. Try this poem-shape, this form, this bit of rhetoric, this frame.

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Never: tell me about… Certainly not: unload your trauma. And still, they tell me these terrible things. Shakila folds her hands on her bag, waits. I search my mind for the right frame for a poem about recognising a terrorist in the market place and then running away.

Month: January 2018

You know, bombs. Miss, the worst thing is, they cut you. They cut off bits of you, Miss, like your feet, your leg! And when the bomb goes off, Miss, body parts, they land in the town around. I look at the sunlight coming in the slats of the blinds and I suggest that the interrogative mood might be good for poems like this, and short lines probably, and regular stanzas.

A ballad, perhaps, or a set of instructions. How to recognise a terrorist. Shakila says she will send me the poem, by email. And she leaves. I sit and stare, listen to the roar of the children finding their classrooms, the silence as the doors close and the register is taken.

This is an orderly school, I remind myself. A just one.

A safe one. Then I think I will go to the staffroom and find someone to tell. There will be someone there, someone to listen and to counter with some equally horrifying tale and we will rehearse all the interventions available, all the help school extends, which is good help, the best anyone can do. We will remind each other this is why we work here, why our school does so well.

Our multicultural intake, our refugee pupils, so motivated, so very often brilliant, so, in the modern parlance, vibrant. Here in my ears is the sound of a bomb, a homemade one, a glass and fertiliser one, in a small town in Afghanistan, and it sounds like the school bell. And here on the desk, disguised as a sheet of A4 paper, is a head cut off at the neck, its eyes shut, its bloodstains minimal, its skin greenish, like John the Baptist on a plate.

Does she feel the lighter of it, I wonder, now it is me who has to carry the head home? Or will it be equally heavy, however often it is passed, just as much a head? Well, we can find out.


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Here you are. Heya, a year-old Syrian girl arrives in school, part of a job lot of government-sponsored refugees from camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Calais. The last stanza is more conventional, a series of invocations to Allah, but these first lines are, as Shakila says, proper poetry.

They make the disaster real, so real that I suspect this is a real experience. We invite Heya to come to poetry group. We ask Heya to come to ghazal club. We have assembled Persian, Pashto, Urdu and Bengali speakers.

If Heya comes, we promise, she can add Arabic to the mix and listen; she can write her ghazal on flowers, or stars, or really anything pretty and cheerful at all. There will be no tears, I promise the form tutor.

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Like all the Syrian kids, she is very pretty: pale skinned and dark eyed, with a sensitive mouth and a tiny, high-pitched voice. She is very interested in the ghazal.

She knows it well. She has some on her phone, look.

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Yes, Heya certainly wants to write one. And before you know it, she has written another deeply moving and odd poem featuring dead children, and blood, and she is in tears and I am in trouble. Leave her alone. Poetry just opens wounds. If so, Heya is very intent on hurting herself; she passes me in the corridor and hands me a sheet of A4 covered in purple ink. I read it and find it to be another poem, written probably in Arabic and then passed through Google Translate.

The English is marvellously strange. But I am not allowed to show Heya. The form teacher will pass them on at an appropriate moment. Heya has been upset by poetry again. Did I know that she lost three sisters in Damascus? Yes, three, she has just told the form teacher.

The Egg - A Short Story

They died in front of her. A bomb fell on the house. I retreat. The form teacher is upset because she is being confronted by a level of distress she cannot accommodate. Maybe the trauma of seeing your sisters die is something you should raise only in a safe place: a hospital, perhaps.

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I try again. I go to Mahmoud Darwish , the great Palestinian poet who is also, thankfully, lyrical, accessible and widely available on the internet in two languages. It was said that the Potters used the Fidelius Charm , that was most likely cased by Dumbledore himself, to protect their home in Godric's Hollow.