Pale Blue Eyes

“You might want to pad that box with tea towels or something, to soften the blows if it gets knocked about a lot in the van.”

            “I know that, do I look like I’m five? I was just about to get to it.”

            “Fuck, Emma, sorry, I was just trying to help. I know you can get a bit absentminded. And that’s the box with your grandparents’ wedding china, right?”

            “Yeah, I know, I know. Shit. Sorry. This is…”

            “Really weird.”

            “Yeah. Super weird.”

Continue reading Pale Blue Eyes

Look on Me a Little Child

I stood in the car port waiting for your hand on the handle. Through the blur of glass, I could see your chair-lift slowly descend knowing your legs couldn’t reciprocate their desire to run and see me. You greeted me with the warmest smile and a loud hello in your Irish accent making all the cold bones that structure me feel heat. I slowly pushed myself up the stairs ensuring you didn’t feel left behind whilst we exchange our recent news. Your home was warm, pleasantly cosy and comfortable. It wasn’t because your love of the heating being on for 12 months of the year but it was because you filled me with heat. Everywhere smelt faintly of your home-cooked meals and as you brushed past me your Lancôme perfume comforted me. As we walk into the living room, the green carpet was lit by your four gold art-deco lamps that were spotted around the room on the mahogany cabinet and desks. I then walked into the kitchen from the living room and made us tea while you ambled your way to your chair. To all the family it resembled a throne, it stood alone and didn’t match any of the rest of your aqua blue settee suite.

Continue reading Look on Me a Little Child

Memorandum of Sin – Part 2

 

Wasi wanted to meet Bela for one reason and one reason only, and that was to find out what had happened to Asim at Tahrir Square earlier that month. Bela was on duty on Talaat Harb Street the evening when Asim was killed and promised Wasi to tell him the exact details of the unrest that took place in downtown Cairo during that time. The only thing that mattered to Wasi was to know and understand what Asim had been fighting for. However what he didn’t know was how vulnerable and naïve Asim had really been, thinking that he could change Egyptian society to be more liberal and accepting at a time when he himself didn’t fully understand who he really was. All he knew was that he was a young homosexual man that wanted people to accept him for who he really is, but that wasn’t the society in which he lived in and he wanted to change that, but at a cost that had left his family heartbroken and torn apart.

 

After more than an hour’s drive through the cramped suburbs of Cairo, the two had finally reached the city centre where gun shots could be heard echoing through the streets along with the cries of women and children. Another police station had been burned down the day before and most traffic routes were restricted with military and police forces operating at checkpoints every hundred metres. By midday, the two had finally arrived at Bela’s apartment not too far from Tahrir Square where hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating against the government. The situation was complex and Wasi didn’t know what all this fighting would lead to. He just wanted everything to stop, and to bring back his brother, but that was never going to happen.

 

The moment they arrived in the apartment, Bela asked Wasi to drop his belongings in the sitting room and accompany him to Talaat Harb Street where as promised, he would provide him with the answers that he longed for. Without much hesitation Wasi agreed, dropped his bag in the sitting room of the apartment and left immediately with Bela. The moment they went out of the apartment block, a black van was waiting outside for them. Wasi was first to get in, and as soon as he stepped in, a strong blow from the side made him fall unconscious…

 

Wasi had woken up in a large and beautifully constructed marble hall that he had never been in or ever seen. After a few brief seconds he adjusted his eyes and realised that he was in a mosque. He heard or saw no one but himself. What he did notice was that he was wearing a large vest and that he was tied up to one of the main pillars. He couldn’t move and his legs felt paralysed. Immediately he began examining the environment around him in order to escape and noticed a small brown sheet of paper lying beside his left knee which had something written on it. As Wasi knelt down to see what it was, he began reading the words out loud. It said: ‘ As the last beams of sunlight fall upon this mosque, you shall meet your own fate. Yours, Bela.’ Grasped by what he had just read, Wasi immediately entered a state of panic, but before he could do anything about it, the bomb was set off. The main columns and pillars of the hall began to cripple and soon the entire building had collapsed; transforming from a work of art into a heap of rubble within minutes. What had happened was horrific and there was virtually no chance of Wasi surviving….

 

Shortly afterwards the medical, police and fire brigades units had arrived. After six hours they finally saw Wasi’s body hidden under the rubble and immediately put all their efforts into trying to get him out, even though they suspected him to be the ‘terrorist’ behind such a horrible event. After half an hour they were able to rescue him and he was immediately sent to the nearest hospital in the district. When he arrived, he was rushed to the surgical unit where his parents were already waiting for him. The police had informed them of what had happened when they were able to identify Wasi’s body under the rubble and they rushed to the hospital themselves by bus. The moment Wasi’s mother saw his injured body, she began to cry and screamed, while his father held her firmly. No one knew whether Wasi was going to survive or not. He had lost both of his legs and was in a serious coma. The blanket with which he was covered was already soaked with blood, and yet the doctors hoped to save his life. It was almost four o’clock in the morning at that stage, and his parents were waiting patiently in one of the empty hospital waiting rooms. They were unable to stop crying and a letter in the mother’s hand was already soaked from tears. It was from Bela, who explained everything and why he did what he did. He left the letter in their apartment shortly after the estimated time of explosion. The contents of it were so dark, that it was painful to read it more than once, but Wasi’s mother had the courage to read it a second time. His fine penmanship screamed violently into her eyes: ‘It is and has been my duty to protect the people of Egypt ever since I was recruited, and today, just like Asim’s death, was no exception. I did what I did to save our people from acts of treason against my belief of conservatism. By witnessing the bombing of one of our most scared buildings mankind will come to terms with the need of complete obedience in our country to avoid the countless, yet worthless deaths on our streets. Yours, Bela.’ As Wasi’s mother read it for a second time, she was no longer able to hold in her emotions and she cried, and screamed stronger than ever. Bela was her godson and she had never believed the rumours that had circulated around Bela, but they seemed to have been all true. His charismatic personality and cunning mind-set had persuaded a large group of individuals within the police department to spark national unrests in an effort to remove the president of Egypt. They dreamed of establishing a more conservative society free of individuals like Asim, whom Bela had always regarded as a threat because of his homosexuality. Wasi’s mother could not believe that it was Bela who was responsible for Asim’s death and that he then used Wasi to further his own interests. It was an act of cruelty and hatred that she never wanted to bear the feeling of ever again.

 

At seven am that morning, the doctors had finally come out of the operating theatre. They didn’t need to say anything about Wasi’s state to the parents; they only said that they could finally come in to see him. It was clear by their blank faces that there was no longer anything that they could do. As they walked in, the horrible silence could once again be felt, just like the previous morning. As they approached Wasi’s body they could see that he was still alive, but not for long. His bruised and bloodied face was trying as hard as it could to recreate a sort of smile when he saw his parents. Never in his entire life did he feel happier to see them and for the first time in several months his green emerald eyes had a spark of optimism in them. His mother knelt beside his bed and cried into his arm. After several minutes she got the courage to speak to him. She asked him, ‘Why did everything happen this way, just why?’. He turned to look into her amber eyes slowly and replied, ‘I don’t know. There were some things in life beyond my control, but I wanted to learn what my brother wanted to achieve by protesting and why he did so, even if it meant being vulnerable. I am proud of Asim and his perseverance to fight for what he believed in and so should you. People who can’t throw something important away, can never hope to change anything and to love you, father, society and the world around us meant being vulnerable. He fought for a better life, for a more equal and liberal society free of individuals like Bela, and I fought alongside him, even if I wasn’t aware that I would always be by his side.’ She grasped him by his arm even harder and began to cry more violently than ever before. She looked him in his eyes one more time but it was too late. Wasi had passed away…

 

By Vladyslav Medvensky

Memorandum of Sin – Part 1

 

It was in the very early hours of Monday morning when Wasi, a young 19 year-old Egyptian boy, was lying impatiently in his bed waiting for everyone else to get up. He did not manage to sleep well that night and spent most of the time staring blankly at the ceiling of his small and musty room in his family’s crammed apartment on the outskirts of Cairo. By now, the first beams of sunlight were already penetrating his bedroom window, omitting a sense of warmth that expelled the darkness that had been there the hours beforehand. He felt this light to be so welcoming that for a few brief moments he was able to forget about the cruel and unjust society in which he lived in, and focus on the brighter side of life. However that sense of hope and joy left his heart as quickly and silently as it had come, and he was once again flooded with feelings of remorse, anger and frustration. His life felt like an abyss of horrible and unbearable pain that was no longer worth living. So grave was his distress that on two previous occasions he was ready to end his own life, but on the same two occasions something in his heart had shouted for him to stop.

 

As Wasi began recollecting the events that had taken place over the last number of months, tears started running down his face and he was simply unable to control himself. He placed his bed cover over his face and squeezed tightly against the wall. He sat in the corner of his bed, thinking of his older brother Asim that had been killed in street protests earlier that month, until he heard voices and flickering footsteps outside his bedroom that signalled that it was finally time for him to get up. As he did so, he wiped his face against a plain shirt and looked at a small, broken piece of glass on one of his shelves to see if his face had become more horrid since the previous day. Certainly his green eyes had become colder since he last looked at them and to some extent emptier than they had ever been. As he approached the bedroom door, the sound of footsteps and chattering had faded into the distance and silence gained triumph in an already sombre environment. He walked down the old, dusty corridor of the apartment, only to see his parents quietly sitting in the kitchen waiting for his arrival. He went inside and saw their empty eyes and blank faces looking at his young and exhausted visage. They didn’t know what he had been going through; all they knew was that Asim was no longer with them and that a family had been torn apart and left heartbroken due to civil unrest. Wasi took out one of the chairs under the table and sat beside his mother and father who both began to cry. None of them said a word, and after a couple of minutes Wasi went back to his bedroom, took one small bag of personal belongings and went out of the apartment slamming the door behind him. As he went down the stairs of his broken-down apartment block, he saw young children going to school and their innocence and sincere smiles simply struck him. He too, wanted to be that innocent and happy child once again, but that dream was far beyond his reach…

 

Bela, a friend since childhood, had been waiting for Wasi outside for some time now and was starting to become very impatient; switching on the engine of his precarious moped to let Wasi know that he was waiting for him . Tall, dark haired with an unusually striking angular face, he was revered for his beauty and intellect, but not for his patience. He hoped that Wasi wouldn’t bring anything more than a small bag with him, as his small moped wouldn’t have been able to handle any more weight, and luckily enough, Wasi came out of the apartment block with his small bag just as planned.

 

-‘What took you so long?!,’ he shouted. ‘I just needed to get some issues out of the way, that’s all,’ replied Wasi, clambering onto the green moped that Bela had always been so proud of. As soon as Wasi had adjusted himself comfortably behind Bela’s seat, with a roar of the engine, they headed to Bela’s apartment near Tahrir Square.

 

It had been quite some time since the two were in contact with one another and both seemed to live quite different and separate lives since they graduated. Wasi was unaware of what Bela had been up to since they last met and all that he knew was that he had been recruited into the police department not that long ago and had already achieved more success than most of his colleagues could ever dream of. How Bela achieved such results was beyond Wasi’s comprehension, but Wasi’s reason of meeting him was not to admire his impressive career progression nor to talk about himself; it was for a different reason …

 

by Vladyslav Medvensky

 

Hipster: A Coming Out Story

 

As I walk down Byres Road, I ask myself the same questions that Bilbo asked himself when dwarfs overtook his home. Where did they come from? What do they want? And for how long do they plan to stay? Ten years ago nobody had heard of a “hipster”, much less seen them or knew what they were. One day, they began to appear and, suddenly, they were everywhere. There was never a first hipster, a father of hipsters nor the Adam and Eve of hipsters. Nonetheless, similar to an alpine avalanche, hipsters have become unstoppable and they are multiplying exponentially for each passing day.

 

I don’t think anyone has ever met a self-professed hipster (if you have, please leave a comment, I would surely love to meet them). No one has ever introduced him or herself to me and openly declared “Hi! My name is _____ and I am a hipster”.

 

It seems we cannot be sure hipsters exist at all. Even though, everyone knows what signs to look for: retro clothing, broad-rimmed glasses, tote bags and an unread copy of Kafka or Camus under their arm. There is no way to prove that someone identifies as a hipster unless they say so themselves.

 

As I continue my walk down the road, I watch them closely. They roll their skinny cigarettes or carefully apply wax to their moustaches. I feel the urge to grab them and shake them and shout: “Who are you? Why are you doing this? Take me to your leader!”. But that would be crazy. They do not have an ideology. They are not a movement or a subculture as such. There is no charismatic leader and they do not geographically belong. There seems to be no point to their conceptual existence at all.

 

I begin to wonder where my hipsterphobia (my innate fear of hipsters) comes from. It’s a burning question for any reader who made it this far. I am a young vegetarian woman with a straight fringe, who studies English Literature, loves to go on angry feminist rants and only buys clothes from charity shops. I seem to check all the right boxes. Yet, I have never identified as a hipster, and I know I have not always been this way. I wasn’t born riding an old stripped-down bike with the urge to go to Berlin and visit underground nightclubs.

 

So, how did it happen? Perhaps, I woke up one day and felt the inexplicable urge to play vinyl records and wear Doc Martens boots. Or maybe, it happened by slow degrees through careful societal manipulation and social pressure to be different from the mainstream. I must have bought into the trend for some reason. But I still don’t want people to call me that word. Hipster. It fills me with dread.

 

I tear my hair because I can’t figure out why the word feels so shameful. The concept contains an inherent contradiction. As everyone attempts to be different, mainstream becomes difference and the essence of difference continually slips away and stays slightly out of reach. It becomes a competition and a race: who has the artsiest tote bag, who went to the most underground party and who read the most obscure book…

 

I’ve made a decision. It is time to let go of the shame and step out of the closet. This is who I am. I accept. I cannot hide it anymore. My desire for woolly sweaters and delicious cups of tea is too great to be contained. So I step forward and in a loud voice I declare: I am hipster, hear me roar!

 

By Sofia Linden

A London Memory

Deep down I didn’t know what on earth I had decided to do. My mind was in such painstaking agony, that logical thinking seemed as if it was a luxury for the educated and rich, neither to which had I belonged to. Deprived of valuable sleep, I was half awake and half subdued to my realms of personal dreaming; before a sudden halt made my head hit hard against the railing I was falling asleep on. ‘The next station is Leicester Square’, resonated across my frontal cerebral lobe a million times before I fully understood why I had decided to travel to London that very evening. Opening my eyes fully to resemble a functional human being I was both surprised and worried – it was one o’clock in the morning and I was the only remaining passenger on board; compared to what half an hour ago seemed to be the most diverse conglomeration of die-hard party animals falling over one another. But before I could properly get up from the cold and mouldy seat to which I had been plastered to since arriving at the infamous airport of Heathrow, where my luggage was not only delayed, but also stolen… I had already been pushed off the train where ‘MIND THE GAP’ screamed violently into my blood-shot eyes. You might be reading and thinking to yourselves that I was pissed drunk, but abash that very thought because I wasn’t; or at least I didn’t think I was, until I walked out of the station to see M&M World with three ‘m’s’…

 

The following morning was a painful start to begin with. Lying on the cold cobbled Swiss Court with the quintessentially London fog flogging my eyes, it wasn’t long before I could differentiate the true London commuters from the astounded tourists that had come to see what ‘across the pond’ had to offer. The Londoners, which is to say if they even are from London, move quite fast; shoving and pushing everyone and everything through as if they are the demigods of unbearable achievement. Looking at my pettish Sekonda watch, I knew it would be long before I could possibly consider upgrading to a Mont Blanc a reality. But deep under the wet and moist strap of my second-hand watch lay a neat and old photograph cuddled away nicely from strangers’ view. I realised that I hadn’t forgotten the photo. Only twenty-four hours had passed since I had awoken a long and forgotten memory in me, in the comfort of my own warm bed surrounded by my three hungry cats. That morning I had dreamed of a beautiful young girl by the name of Anastasia. Blond and beautiful, she symbolised the Slavic heritage that I had decided to forego long ago for something more exotic in another part of the world. Feeling light and glittering warmth in my heart, I sensed the presence of someone whose existence simply changed my awareness of individuality, society and what it truly meant to live. Her deep, crystal-blue eyes suspended above her gentle quivering lips created an unrivalled pompadour that had been entangling my heart and mind ever since my eyes first gazed upon her divine face long ago…

 

You may automatically be thinking what London had to do with such an absurd dream of mine, but it’s exactly in this city that our flaming passion for each other had to be put down. The dream instilled in me that not all was forgotten and lost – deep down, my intuition overpowered all principles of life that I had learned previously and for once, I wanted to follow my heart. After waking up, I searched for any remaining photos of us and to my content I found one – the only remaining one from a once full album. The matte effect of the old sepia photo had left little to the imagination but rather numerous smudges which beautifully assimilated into its background. I was young and so was she. My hands wrapped around her shoulders, overlooking the thousands nimble personas that passed our way; the daily problems of our life seemed a surreal fantasy that had no longer anticipated for us…without much consideration, my heart rushed to that city, and I couldn’t stop it…

 

Walking through the hustling high-end Bond and Oxford streets; pity and sadness grew at an unbearable rate, paralleled with the increasing tempo of my recurring memories. I no longer saw the beauty of London through its present state but rather through a nostalgic one, which I was unsuccessful at trying to recreate. Times change, and so does everything with it, including the greying faces that dominate our daily interactions. My heart was now entangled with a lost and confused conscious. What was the point in me leaving everything behind in search of an ideal environment that I once idealised, but in the end subdued so heavily that it could no longer bear to be suppressed? Just why? Every step I took towards Russell Square Gardens in scenic Bloomsbury where we last met was accompanied by heavy breathing and a tremendous amount of adrenaline rushing through my heart. But what were the chances of a possible reunion with the past? …

 

It was already past midday before my legs seemed to wander off through the sublime houses dominating Bedford Place. The street was packed with eager students rushing to their cramped lecture halls, and with ancients of the ‘Old Britannia’ regime that were slowly making their way to the British Museum on Montague Street. The cold winter breeze that the day had brought was gushing through my greasy hair at unbelievable speed that told me one of two things: I either needed a good hairspray or a more aerodynamic haircut, neither of which were on my itinerary. The cold, fresh air didn’t take long to force me to reach the end of the street to walk out onto Russell Square. The humble environ dazzled me with its sincerity that I had once known. Apart from a number of things, or maybe a lot, the Square didn’t change much compared to the last time I had seen it. The bare trees that dominated the perfectly maintained patch of land mimicked my inner state. I could feel the emptiness flooding all my nerves just as vividly as the atmospheric pressure harassed the young and bare saplings that struggled to keep straight. I slowly approached the moist and damp lawns to see if any presence had inhabited the inner junction of the Gardens and to my content I was relieved. There were some odd old souls walking here and there around in effort to sell and buy things which as the Financial Times might agree on, weren’t experiencing the best of times – books…

 

Having gone so far, I couldn’t possibly refuse to go and take a look. After all, I didn’t think that that would bring any harm to my already daft state of mind. I slowly made my way through the decaying leaf matter that welcomed me on either side, only to say goodbye as unenthusiastic immigrants began sweeping it all up. With unbearable coldness I had finally reached the chiasma that looked poorly to be only utilised by a single stall dealer whose consumer base had now fled far to more luxurious entities in Guilford Street. An old, bearded man wearing a shaggy cream trench coat slouched beside his table of old dwindling classics. His enthusiasm and warm smile, despite his age, unsuccessful trading and the bitter weather, welcomed me gaily as soon as our eyes paralleled one another. He approached me as soon as I had reached the small rotting wooden table, but didn’t say anything; just smiled and walked around with his hands behind his back before returning to sit back down on his small stool. He looked at me once more, this time leaving me to feel as if I had been mentally undressed by some paedophile. However a long silence was finally broken; not by me of course, but rather by the old gentleman; ‘have we met each other before?’ he asked in a hoarse Indian accent. I paused, and then immediately remembered the exact same man that Anastasia, or Nastya as I had called her, sold her book to. I looked down at the books that he had to offer and gently replied, ‘no, I don’t think so’, in an effort to avoid a long discussion at all costs. Another long period of silence followed; before it was once again interrupted by the old man. ‘I still have the book which you, along with your beloved one had sold to me’ …

 

I didn’t believe him at all and decided to walk away as quickly as possible. My pace increasing, I heard a mimicking noise being made behind me. The old man began desperately searching through a box under the table, and once he had found the book he ran after me. I had already passed more than half of Woburn Place until he had caught up to me panting. The only action I could take was to stop and listen to what he had to say. To be quite frank, I didn’t know why I did what I did. Wasn’t I eager to bring back the past? Didn’t I have the opportunity to sort everything out? The answer is ‘yes’ to both questions, but one underlying principle made me deny both chances. I was afraid of sorting anything out in the fear that the agony for a more pleasing past that had dominated my emotions for what seemed an eternity, would come to an abrupt end. The pain that I had suffered made me who I was, and extinguishing that same feeling would have also destroyed a part of me and I would have had to start all over again. But nevertheless something in my heart made me stop and listen to that old man. In his hands was an old copy of ‘Doctor Zhivago’ by Boris Pasternak, which had influenced Nastya so much during the final year of our relationship. She loved the book so much that she had to get rid of it or else it would have consumed her and dictated her personality to unimaginable lengths. The edition was quite beautiful and old, printed by samizdat, worth more than anyone could have ever imagined and naturally I suggested selling it to a street dealer who would have paid much to get it. And so we did, for seventy-five pounds over two decades ago to the same man at the same place that had been standing beside me. ‘Look inside’ he said and I did as he had asked. The rustling pages of the book contained an exact replica of the photo that I had carried with me to London and on the back of it, a message read:

 

“Just like Tonya, my trouble is that I love you and you do not love me. So farewell my loved one, we will never, ever see each other again dear Yuri Zhivago.”

 

I looked up and the muscles in my hands relaxed so much that the book fell out of my hands, splashing violently into the puddle of water beside me that grew slowly with my falling tears. ‘She came back a couple of days after she sold it me and asked if I could leave the photo in it as a token of pitiful reality for the next buyer of the book. I did as she had asked; but had never sold it to anyone because it was so beautiful and special. To sell it would have been a crime’ …

 

Both confusion and a multitude of questions ran through my inane and puzzled mind. Why was she so sudden and why didn’t she inform me that she was going back to St. Petersburg? She left me helplessly immobile in London not answering to any call or letter to which I had hoped she would respond. She left me feel as if it was completely my fault and that I had done something that damaged the fraternal aura surrounding us. I thought that she remained in London and just didn’t want to see me any longer, but she didn’t. She was gone and probably forever. Reality had hit me hard in the face once more and I cursed myself for ever dreaming that morning and acting so irrationally. Without picking up the book or even saying something to the old man I walked on to Euston Road and finally until I reached King’s Cross. Me being a miniscule fraction of the population of London and considering the nature of Londoners, I doubt that anyone had noticed my plain and almost ceased facial expression of sadness, loneliness and guilt. I no longer cared what I was doing, what I had done and what I was planning on doing. I simply walked on senselessly towards the train station, being pushed out of the way at least a dozen of times. The station dominated the near vicinity and even my blotched eyes could make out the entrance sign. I went in and bought two things: a one-way ticket towards the final destination and an overly-priced cappuccino that had left me with five quid remaining. Considering that my train was about to leave in only ten minutes, I didn’t have enough time to fully appreciate the effort that the barista had put in making me my coffee; but do we, as humans ever have enough time in our lives? I don’t know and looking back at the events of the past couple of hours, I boarded my newly refurbished train without trying to contemplate the past too much. I sat down on the warm seating that I would have been overly positive to say suffered considerable pressure from a victim of Heathrow injection and began looking out the window. ‘MIND THE GAP’ was no longer visible and from personal experience I would have rather changed that to ‘mind your life’, but before I could continue with my quirky remarks I hit my head against the railing once more which signalled the train’s departure. Suffering from self-pity syndrome, talking to someone was probably the last thing in the world which I had wanted to engage with; until a young, dark-haired woman ran crying into the carriage and for some unknown reason decided to sit beside me…
By Vladyslav Medvensky