When I was twelve years old I decided that I would try my hand at writing fiction to make money. Since then (it’s been eight years) I have been an unsuccessful writer. And yet, I keep on going on. I have yet to finish a book. I have a few ideas I’d like to see through. My first ever work was titled Shooting Options. What I’m posting here is an exercise I wrote years after I abandoned that story in a bid to try and salvage it. Recently I’ve decided to put Shooting Options down forever. The title of this blog post, of course, is simply testimony to the fact that OH MY GAWD I SUCK AT TITLES.
There’s a notion out there that the most successful among us are those with bad childhoods. While this may provide children with a haunted past the fuel they need to keep on hoping, the others might be disgruntled.
Why did my parents not deprive me of this and that? Why did I have most of the things I could ever want (yes, spoilt children have bad childhoods – if mostly because they can’t see past their ingratitude and so even if it is just in saying).
So when I reflect I can’t think of a bad childhood per se. Mum and Dad were always there for me and apart from the usual ragamuffin arguments they had with me (and with each other) everything was pretty good.
They scream at each other, murderous intent glistening in their eyes. It was incredible, how they transformed from humans into monsters.
It all started when Dad lost his job as a designer for Successive Graphics. My parents had me young – too young – I was the surprise that forced Dad to pop the question and for the trapping ring circled around Mum’s ring finger like a handcuff. They got married within the week, and announced the pregnancy to the rest of the world (immediate family members knew of course). Dad came from a family of more conservative English people, while Mum’s Latina upbringing didn’t allow for unannounced pregnancies.
With Dad pressured to find some way to pay off all the debts and costs their new unwanted house and new unwanted life brought to them he flung himself into a job that shackled him to the desk forcibly. Gone were his dreams to travel the world. Similarly, Mum – who wanted nothing more than to become a writer and “make love to the arts” as she so brazenly exclaimed had to settle with abandoning her Fitzgerald for baby-caring manuals and struggle with nothing but a life of potential nappies, broken sleep and a disgruntled husband who she isn’t even sure she likes let alone loves.
A part of me – the bitter part – mocked my thoughts: oh, I should be so grateful to them for not aborting me before I turned into an even more costly creature.
Dad, in his breaks, would read up articles on how to be a good father…and also articles on how much it costed to have one kid. He would do sums in his head (a maths major…well he was supposed to be one at the time but couldn’t finish school) about food and water and all sorts of bills right up until I would turn eighteen and could finally, thankfully, move out of their home.
Up until I turned fourteen my parents were happy, and if somewhat dissatisfied by the life they had been forced to live in order to take care of me, they didn’t let it on apart from a sigh or two and a few stifled conversations once Dad came home for dinner. Both of my parents made my childhood a good one – a happy one – we would travel to all sorts of places in the holidays. Every weekend Mum would take me out and we would traipse around the city aimlessly.
All it took was a year to turn my world around. After Dad lost his job he seemed to have been at the end of his rope. For a few days after Mum’s pushing him he started scouting for more jobs, but he couldn’t find any that would pay well enough to support us. Mum was in the middle of an English Literature major, but she had to drop that. Dropping university courses seemed to have become a trend in my family. During this year when my peers would post of the new phones/clothes/trips to exotic places I lived the life of the dirt poor sucker who had pulled her parents into a life they never subscribed to. Well, I’m not sorry for existing, I think. Such thoughts are useless. Soon enough Mum started working as a teaching assistant for the local primary school. Dad found a job as a taxi driver, yes, even my uneventful town was big enough and populated with enough people in order to demand taxis.
I remember Dad once waiting to pick me up from a trip that lasted into the evening. The girls went over to their Dads, and Dad heard the conversations of one of the “rich kids” who complained about the glitches on her iPod, and Dad’s facial expression of nonchalance sort of cracked. Merely a second went by and his memory came back, leaving me to think that I had imagined it. Maybe those “how to be a good father” books weren’t packed with good advice. If I had to write those articles my first point would be that if your child loves you, you’re a success.
How ironic. I’m quite sure I’m bordering on hating my father these days. What changed? The first few weeks of scouting for new jobs left Dad disappointed. Before he lost his job Dad didn’t really let on how much this life was affecting him. When relatives, more successful, far richer than us, came over for dinner last Christmas Dad had a permanent grim line etched into his face. Their talks were the stuff of dreams. Always wanting to be away from the in-crowd, but never in the undignified way he had been forced to (“what’s Successive Graphics?” to “hah! You draw cartoons for a living?”) really dealt a lot of damage to Dad’s ego, his sense of self-preservation keeping him from spewing all sorts of vile stuff he would spew at us instead once all the guests had left. He was a mad drunk.
Soon enough Dad kept more and more of his time and evenings at the pub, wasting away what little money Mum tried to save up from her small job. It wasn’t enough of course. By some miracle Dad was finally offered a job as a media designer…this time he was designing websites and fixing web glitches that fourteen year olds had complained enough about to their rich fathers that people, like my Dad, were paid to “do something about it”. As if he could not have hit another low.
The worst part, I guess, is Dad’s sense of dignity and honour. I had a Pakistani mate when I was thirteen (she moved to the Islamic school down the road in the same year Dad moved to “Fix Webs”) who would speak about the dignity and honour her family was obsessed about when it came to the girls in her family. She would vehemently point out that they didn’t bat an eyelid when the boys came back at ungodly hours with the excuse of a study session at a “mate’s”. She would talk about her Mum’s most commonly uttered phrase – her catchphrase so to speak – that went along the lines of “what would the people say?” Dad had been, for as long as I could remember, way too affected by what people would say.
I don’t know. I really don’t. I could analyse every single thing I know about my parents, I could pin the blame on my existence, I still do despite it being absolute nonsense. But somehow, for some reason, or maybe for many reasons all smushed together, my parents decided that on the seventeenth of February they had had enough of fooling each other that the life they were living was something they could live by. Dad started bringing these stupid ideas from the pub about this guy who would talk to him about God, about how all humans were united under God and that everything would be well if everyone just obeyed a certain number of rules. Every job would have dignity and every person respected.
It’s sickening, speaking of his transformation from an okay father who cared lots and lots to this abusive, drunk maniac always angry and full to the brim with crazy ideas that would never come to fruition, but he didn’t believe that.
For a full month after his new job, the unspoken words between all of us crept together and chanted a magic spell that turned my Dad into an old, miserable monster. He was unhappy but both Mum and I got hugely irritated with his jabs and insults towards at. First time I handed him my school report and he just scoffed at it, “Charlie has a nephew that’s around your age. He does much better than this. Such a disappoint, now go to your room and do some homework.” I, like most teens, screamed in frustration and didn’t speak to him for a day. The anger helped hide how much it hurt, coming from the one person who always motivated me to do my best and whenever I was disappointed a hug and ice cream would do wonders.
Mum’s Latino side came out soon enough. She would get all flustered, cheeks and ears red with her fury, as she flapped her arms about while Dad stared ahead, the complete picture of “I don’t give a shit”. Soon enough Mum came home after school one day in order to tell me about this new class she had discovered which taught women about empowerment. Dad could escape her wrath no longer for Mum had decided that she had sacrificed enough for the man who continued to disrespect her and her child. There was no way her Latino blood could tolerate this any further.
They screamed at each other. Dad, an abusive drunk, started hitting her and slapping her. Mum was heartbroken the next day but those empowerment sessions soon got her back on her feet. The next time Dad hit her he got a bloody nose. The other time I called up an ambulance after she smashed a wine bottle on his head.
It was too much, too fast and this was something I could escape from, thankfully And so I did, on the very evening I had planned to leave to Abby’s, they had another argument. Mum punched Dad, his nose bled, he recovered and wrapped his arm around Mum’s neck. She kneed him. They were both angry, blazing, tears dripping down their faces whether from pain or hurt who knows. The blood thrummed through my body, deafening their cries. I left without a word. I did not look back.
Somehow and in some way I would come back for sure, with a solution in my mind on how to fix my life.
To carry on, attempts at starting anew are always sullied by the stench of the past. How do people stay in places of discomfort – in a state of discomfort – without crumbling? I’ve learnt that they do not. Mum and Dad had played Mummy and Daddy, husband and wife for too long. They wanted their lives back. One complication: I was still alive.
What a pity they couldn’t murder me and be done with it.
To carry on, this is novel one, back to the beginning, back to the twelve year old who started this all. We come full circle to the lady who wants to use this gift for pocket money because she thinks she’s poor and being mainstream is the only dignity she can pave for herself. Not true. I like original people. Original people like me.
To carry on, new beginnings are likely not new at all. This has all been done before. Yet, you are not the same person. I used to read heartbreak magazine articles although they were focused on romantic relationships, there were semblances of truth to be applied to the disintegration of my family until no love existed at all – we were strangers.
I know I digress. I know I’m repetitive. I’m fifteen years old. Age is nothing against experience. There are multiple overlapping layers that I am made of. Even then, that I have left them, it doesn’t seem like a beginning – new or old – at all.
To carry on, the story had been set in motion years ago.
Shooting Options – bratty child whose problems seem to instead of dwarfing her or consuming her, give her self-importance. Her father has succumbed to the siren of Islamism and it has torn apart their family. How? It was the trigger that offset the dominoes that had stacked up to the picture of disaster through the years. There were strings of arguments, with no happy moments for the warmongers to lick their wounds, or for the innocent to get a sense of the situation. Natalie Johnson was the innocent in this war. The blood, both real and figurative, splattered on her cheeks. Her eyes saw her sweet, loving parents transform into demons – righteous demons the most evil and the most common. At the age of fifteen, Nat had not yet met anyone who would shed blood, maybe even their own, for a cause they did not believe in. She had yet to set eyes on the horrid anguish on the wielder of a shaky heart but a confident sword.
Um, so, driven almost to the point of insanity, she finds herself at a crossroads. She could stay and not do anything, but she did not believe in her family anymore. She did not believe in herself anymore. The pillar that ran through her and supported her was made out of love and stability – it had crumbled into powder. She did not even know where to begin to bring her core back, she had lost the emotional backbone that would have allowed her to keep her head high.
This, my friends, is the story of the day and night she ran away from her problems, armed with a rucksack packed with non-perishables, two tins, one swiss pocket knife (from her father’s toolbox) her phone (plus charger) and the clothes on her back.
This is the story of her nightmares, of the loneliness of the human condition and the courage in every situation.
That morning was like all other mornings. God, the memories of what occurred that day are so squished together that I can barely describe how I felt that day. Except that the clouds were grey, pregnant with rain and, of course, bad news. I did the usual morning stuff, muffling out my parent’s incessant shouting (they woke up earlier than me, coffee and ice packs all around). The kitchen was a mess I refused to clean up on the principle that if I ignored the problem it wasn’t there in the first place. As coping mechanisms go, it’s not the most original, however there’s something about disaster that makes me…lazy almost if not disheartened, lifeless.
As far as life-altering decisions go, this one wasn’t accompanied with fanfare, rather it played to the tune of the humdrum. I started with cleaning my room to dance music, with stars such as “marshmallow” and “OMFG” sculpturing the structured folding and putting away of clothes, of dusting, of making the bed, of wiping surfaces. It was the big inhale I needed to fake the optimism of “yosh, here we go, to another day!”.
When the dust once again settled I climbed back onto the bed, black coffee in one hand, my journal in the other. I stroked the pages softly.
Okay, other scenes. There’s a new map. Sort of like a short story, if a short story could map 70K words. I’m guessing it can. Nat runs away for two days. A day then a night she crashes somewhere and then another half of a day, until, starving, she follows her father into a mosque in order to talk to him. During the night is the pivot – she crashes in the park but can’t sleep because she had accidentally come across some drug dealers and was scared for her life.
However that is not what I want to focus on. Even if it is only two days’ worthy of events I want to show the world how it feels to be so out of control, like waves in a tide. How calming that illusion of regularity must be and also how weird. Natalie Johnson is a white kid. I don’t want to write about white kids. I don’t understand them, they aren’t me, we aren’t going through the same struggle. I want to describe rooms so that they bring out the grittiness, the grunge, the dirty black pallor of the world. Also, I want to talk about the brightness of life, how creamy it can be – that sort of luxury that isn’t fresh and zingy and ORANGE!, rather factory-made perfection. Most of all I want to focus on the loneliness of the human condition – what does that even mean? Will I ever find out? Also, I want to write in third person, in different viewpoints. I want people to understand what it’s like being so lonely, but people already know that. People react to their own innate loneliness in a variety of different ways, gosh, I want to be profound. I want this to stink of literature.
After and before. What should be written? They lived in a studio apartment, the three of them. Or did they? She ran away, broke her parents’ hearts in want of freedom she never thought to talk to them about – a yearning for something bigger that had she pushed enough they would have allowed her. Instead she ran away, and when she came back she thought everything would change. Does that happen? Do things change – isn’t it way more subtle than that? Her absence brought them together again. Here we have many stories, like shooting stars falling in succession. We have an after and before, we have the parents, the friends and the acquaintances. We have a whole life of loving literature ahead of us.
We have people who would fight for us. Who would believe in us, from all the corners of the world, speaking of the glorious celebration humanity has to offer if it would just believe in itself the way we do. There is someone out there who believes in the greatness, then, in that case, isn’t being a shitty version of yourself simply because of how lazy you are an injustice especially to the efforts of those who would lay their lives down so that your right to live would not be taken from you – in that case isn’t it love that gives a person superiority over another? No, in that case isn’t it love that allows a person to let themselves become inferior to another person’s needs? What the hell is the human mind? Why…this feeling of being trapped comes in bubbles, y’know. Actual freakin’ bubbles, physics: from the tiny bits to the very large ones – that’s how many bubbles, in how many sizes and in so many situations. How on earth will the protagonist plot her way out of that? Out of the pages, almost.
A story about the loneliness of the human condition, the complexity of life, of everyday psychopaths.
Is it so revolting to have so many sides to oneself that there’s no such thing as an innocent life. Even the noblest intentions become ordinary soon enough. Not everyone believes in humanity. Not everyone gets what that is about. The main character of this novel doesn’t, also. There are purchases that should be made before we get into the real meat of this story – such as etymology, that of names, so that the names of characters are well-suited for them. Like plucking out the juiciest grapes and offering them with a slightly dazed, distracted and peaceful face promising no harm just honest and pure delight.
There are adventures that I wish to write too, and this is another outlook. Isn’t life a big adventure, then why shouldn’t our main character go through an adventure, wading through the strongest of places in her own home town, I want her a Muslim. No father racked and brainwashed over Islamism. I want her a Muslim who feels the shackles of her self-made prison constrict her, a free bird caged as she is, she runs away to experience the best of her life. I want this to be a story about the unfair sexism placed in our culture and how she has to overcome that.
The story is supposed to flow out of the heart as though I am a caged bird singing. The golden notes would stream out, with it my tears, my pain, my humanity. The suffering that gives me ego, I have suffered immensely.
During the summer night, while the neighbours either side of her serenaded to Michael Jackson, smoked weed wrapped in cigarette paper, she’d lie in bed cradling a fluttering heart that ached for more. This, loves, is the only story she knew for a very long time.
It’s very unsettling the first time one figures out that they aren’t the only one with a multi-faceted personality and that others around them are similarly inclined to be so horribly and achingly human in the best way possible wherein they seemed they decide which mask to put on, which face should I reveal today? Ah, the horror. Like being doused with cold water it is, every single time it happens.
She was Mariam, each morning she woke up, put on her clothes for the day, and plunged into a world she knew all too well. Every single one of us, she thought as she ironed the next batch of laundry her mother handed to her, every one of us is waiting for something more than the life we have been given. But someone, surely, had paved the path to freedom somehow.
Everyday Mariam would wake up, a determined look in her eyes that stung in want for tears she refused to cry. Her position was not so bad: home, parents who love her, food, all the clothes she could ever want, all the books she needed, given one thing: she had to earn her right to be in the family.
Millions of us, she thought as she made her father another cup of tea, stirring the tea bag with all the zest of a possessed woman, millions of us go through the same thing everyday, trapped in the lives that were sculpted for us centuries ago. She brought the cup of tea to her father, smiling graciously at him. A small hum of warm love rose from somewhere within her depths as she listened to her parents laughing in their own conversation, twenty years and going strong their marriage was. But I’ll leave them, she thought to herself, I’ll leave them one day out of my own will – I’ll find a way to break through this cycle.
Mariam devoured books as one would devour great delicacies – hungrily. She scanned the pages, whenever she could, about ways to get out of this day-to-day humdrum. Her favourite books were, naturally, about protagonists who ran away from home.
There’s more to her than that though. This is a coming of age story for a protagonist who is suffocating under all the labels she has allowed to get to her. Mariam has a carefree, careless arrogance. She thinks she can suspect how people think of her. She’s yet to discover that people, also, are worried about how they will be perceived too – and there’s too much arrogance, too much of “you know me”when they predict what you do, how you think. Mariam – she is plagued by everything she is expected to be and every stereotype she fulfills. She has a strong sense of justice and is quite idealistic compared to those who act as though they know all the realities of the world they fit in effortlessly and our Mariam has become completely saddened by this.
No longer! It is on a sunny Sunday morning that Mariam, having decided that she wants freedom, a taste of more, decides to do the one thing her heart desires more than anything. She has decided to listen to the little whispers of her heart and finally run away from home. Why would she be compelled to do so? Her family wasn’t like others. Her parents’ marriage was going strong. This pen is shit. Absolutely! GAH! Okay, until this page and then we can go and get a new pen. Mariam will learn a lot in this story. On her travels she will meet a lot of people, she will put some on pedestals and then realise they are human once she learns of their grit. She will wonder about what grit means, really. Also, she will wonder about what could have been hadn’t she left and then chalk it up to fate, her accountability somewhat absolved – she was meant to do this. Nevertheless she will feel sad, and will more often than not yearn to be back. Towards the end she will follow her father into the mosque and she will cry when they kick her out, deshevelled as she is. She’ll learn not to regret her experiences because they were proof that she was brave enough to go out there and experience – while the rest of us write our hearts out, angry pennings that mean so much but are meaningless. What is a writer if they can’t push people, affect them so with their words, that, instead of just reading and writing about how they feel the reader would be compelled to go out there, plunge their hands into the dirt and monstrous darkness of people and do the things they’ve never even known they could do. However maybe she’ll realise that being a bookworm, containing all these words, were like whispers to the heart and that they moulded a person into more than what they believed to be. Perhaps the books were the guides, the parents of the ‘venturers.
Nothing happens on Sundays. Except that the buses fill choc-a-bloc with black people adorned in decorative and spectacular royal clothing – church-goers as she knew them to be. They wouldn’t sit next to her if there was space but Mariam didn’t mind. In her new quest to thrive for the freedom of herself and her friends she could barely acknowledge their loud fanfare as she worked up method after method to overrun the patriarchy of her own Bengali community here. Cue history of British Bengalis here in London.
Right. So the first Bengalis came here as workers, immigrants of course. Back when there was something called the British Empire many Indians served Queen Victoria. There were quite a few Bengalis who, during her reign, became buddies with the woman…but many also returned home once their time in Britain had come to an end. There must be something about home that compels a person so much to abandon whatever riches and luxuries of this land. My home, although, is here. There’s no way I’d abandon my life here to spend it in Bangladesh, which, despite my parents’ wishes, can only hope to become my second home, my home away from home. I will always belong here.
Belong. Strange word that. More than the materialistic ties that pin me down, there’s the promise I had made to myself not so long ago. Quite a while back the dreary plasticity of my actions, my loved ones’ actions had gotten to me. I found myself yearning for the more that I could get, that I could bring to my friends – girls, who too are different to my other acquaintances, tied down as we were by our Bengali upbringing. In some ways I love my culture, built on the backs of fishermen, we were coastal people. Now we are better known as the armpit of India ransacked with poverty but we get by. Bengalis back home after all live luxurious lives, waited hand and foot, even a mere shopkeeper can own acres of land and legions of servants.
Nevertheless, I, like many visionaries who have come before me, belong to a cause. My cause – it consumes my thoughts from dawn until dusk – in my waking ours, in my sleeping hours, I think only of ways to be on level with my male counterparts, how to tweak the scale so it measures us as equal, both by lowering the power they have in the community and raising the power our voices have. My community needs this and I am bold enough to be a representative. But it makes me tired. My friends think I’m mad, I reply, the fury flames under my tongue, that yes I am mad – completely mad at how unfairly we are constantly treated. It makes me shake, how little we’ve progressed as a society. A big part of me wishes to join the common movement, where the general patriarch is finally paying attention, it would make it easier for me to fool myself into thinking that I am doing something when I am not.
However the general patriarch doesn’t understand no control the layer of society that I fall under. And for that society I’d do anything so that we change and we become so good that we’d break the glass ceiling and the general, white, common patriarch would learn of the victories we’ve made on our turf. I guess, then, in a way I am right-wing. Right-wing on the side of Bengalis though. Is that weird? Not really, it’s just not very out of the box. I don’t think many things are.
Same as how city people feel allegiance to their city while also supporting Great Britain, I support the common cause but my allegiance is to my British Bengali community here.
And despite my young age, or because of it, I finally know what to do. This scares me but fear has long since become my comrade and ally. It tells me I am right.
Being a visionary seems maddening. There are psychopaths all over the world and it puts me on par with them, doesn’t it? I already have the charisma needed to trick most people into believing that I am this wonderful, put-together and refined young lady. Mothers sigh with longing when I pass them to have me as their daughter-in-law. It’s only recently, perhaps from the beginning of this year, that they’ve become wary of the glint in my eyes. My relationships with my relatives have suffered as a consequence of my need to speak out against all the side remarks and assumptions. I rally the girls I know and love to be bigger than the life their parents have ordained to them and I see them as role models in their own rights – I love them to bits. Yet, as this story progresses and I slowly take on the cocky loudness that is Natalie Johnson’s voice, I’ll come to realise that I know next to nothing of the world where there is no such thing as finite knowledge. I will meet people who will push me to see truths I didn’t even know existed and learn about life’s unpredictable nature. Would that I could but I can’t, despite somehow thinking that I can, I can’t allude to the future. I don’t know where I will go or even why I will go there. There are millions of things that are out there waiting to happen to me that have already happened to me, and I need to take the lessons I’ve learnt from them and apply them to my life – however short it may be. The only person I will learn that I can hope to free and the only cage worth the effort in shattering is my own because if I pass inhibitions, my worries, my fears, the assumptions that I have made I will finally be able to believe that I can be whatever I want to be.