Sunday, 16 February 2014

By Night, in a Pillar of Fire

Hello to everyone - it's been a long while since I posted here, but between my trip to the US, my accountancy exams and writing my novel, it has been really difficult to find spare hours to write my blog.

I have a few goals for the year to come, but central to all of them is to finish and self-publish my novel.  I've joined together with a number of my Nanowrimo colleagues to try and have a finished work by the end of June 2014.  You can find out a bit more about it here, but to assure you all that I am actually making some progress, here is an exclusive excerpt from the second section of three, entitled 'By Night, in a Pillar of Fire.'

(Please note that there is a trigger warning in the following excerpt for victims of domestic violence.)


Zuboja township

January 1980

Cicadas chittered away in the trees as a small pair of hands rested unseen on the outer sill. Blankets covered the windows, but the child could hear the shouting from inside all too clearly.

'So what are you saying? I have to feed all four of us?' His father's voice was low and sharp, like the crack of a whip.

'It's not my fault,' his mother protested. 'They wouldn't accept my dompa.'

'I suppose you didn't bother to argue. It's not as if you'd fight to do work.'

'I was lucky they didn't arrest me,' she said.

'You're always lucky,' he replied.

'You think I didn't try to argue?' Her reply was venomous. 'I shouldn't have to fight for the pleasure of cleaning up after lazy women who can't be bothered to look after their own children.'

'And who is looking after ours?'

'Fuck you,' his mother said. 'I told them that I work in that street, I even have the family's signature on the document to confirm it.'

'You should have told them to check,' his father said.

'They didn't care whether I was telling the truth or not.'

'You should have tried harder.' His father's voice became a wheeze and then descended into an ugly coughing fit. The child didn't need to pull the blanket aside to know his mother would be standing as far away from his father as possible, her arms cocooning her body.

When he had recovered somewhat, his father said, 'Every day I work in the mines. I sweat and bleed for you and our sons. Where is my gratitude? My thanks?'

Sithi could hear his mother's tears.

'You are no wife,' his father said. 'I expected so much more from you.'

Something smashed. The family owned few enough possessions before the argument had begun; now they owned one less. The child rested the side of his head against the crumbling wall and the argument within became a dull throb in his ear. He was dimly aware that in other places, children didn't live like this. They lived in houses built of red bricks and travelled around in shiny cars. Even so, he wasn't really jealous of those things. He did wonder if those children's parents fought as much as his did.

The grass that he knelt on was cool, a welcome respite from the heat of the dying day. The light was fading now, and his stomach rumbled. He wanted to sleep but he didn't dare set foot inside until the anger there had subsided. Instead, he moved away from the wall and voices became distinguishable once again.

The wind was worsening, causing the roof to rattle. Someone had been up on there earlier in the day and weighted the corrugated sheets down with rocks so that they didn't get blown away during the night. The child wished that the roof would lift off, so that everyone else could see what was happening inside those walls.

He sat cross legged in front of the house and reached out his hand to where a twig had fallen in the grass. He scratched at the surface of the wood with his thumbnail, and when he was satisfied with its strength, he began drawing stick figures in the dirt.

His mother, short, squat, but with a heart as big as the world. He drew the heart, separate from her, and then he drew her hands reaching out to it. At her feet, he drew squares, to represent the pieces of paper that she used to help teach him and his brother to read.

Behind her, he drew a smaller figure to represent himself. The only facial feature he added on his own figure was the one that everyone commented on – his flat nose. He imagined it big enough to fill half his face. Then there was his brother, and he made his brother taller than him but shorter than their mother. This wasn't how it was, his brother already as tall as a man, but the child felt it was how it should be. He frowned as he considered the physical implications of this.

Finally, he moved to the furthest corner of the dirt patch, a hand's width from the other figures, and drew one with a sad face and no hair. He was the tallest of all and his spine curved around to fill the available space. At his feet, the child drew his father's chair and the bottles that surrounded it. When all other elements of the figure were complete, he drew a single long arm that ended in a ball-shaped fist above his mother's head.

The child surveyed his finished drawing. In the house behind him, his mother's voice, suddenly shrill, was silenced abruptly by the sound of a slap. The child flinched.