The stories and poems in the collection ‘Visible’ are the fruits of a Creative Writing Mentoring scheme set up by Jacqueline Crooks at Westminster Befriend a Family. Some of the families are refugees or asylum seekers or just newly arrived in the UK and needing the charity’s help. They bring with them stories of great courage and survival but for the most part these stories go unheard. Here are just two stories from newcomers in our midst, if we let them speak and if we choose to listen.
Advice to a friend by Lena Cornibert
I am aware of the cars,
the knives and daggers.
The gunshots. I have lost friends.
So now I never go out late.
I can’t trust even the daylight,
It is not a pleasant place.
The dogs are highly trained. They guard me
when I am alone
with only the voice of the preacher
I can’t trust.
There is no choice.
I approach with caution.
The Cushion Corner by Hadia Amin
I found Klaudia in the Cushion Corner on the first day of secondary school. She was sitting on a large pink cushion, looking sad and lost.
The Cushion Corner was filled with cosy cushions and rugs. Each cushion was different, some had golden threaded braids and fringes, some were very old and worn. It reminded me of my home in Afghanistan. All the class’s paintings were hung on the wall in the Cushion Corner.
I sat next to Klaudia. ‘I don’t know anyone,’ I told her. ‘Maybe we could be friends.’
Klaudia smiled and nodded her head. She had brown, curly hair that always grew up instead of down, and she was quite short for her age. Klaudia came from Poland.
We went out at break into a playground that was a whirlwind of children and teachers wearing brightly coloured scarves. Klaudia and I went back inside to the Cushion Corner. It seemed to be the softest, quietest, calmest place in the world.
We leaned back against the cushions and stretched out our legs. ‘My English isn’t very good,’ I confided. ‘Maybe that’s why I like painting so much, because I don’t have to use words.’
‘It gets easier, you know,’ Klaudia said. ‘I’ve been here nine years now. Tell me what you paint.’
I told her that I painted things from Afghanistan – like Kabul, my living room, and my garden where the mangoes, apples and oranges grew.
Klaudia said she didn’t really remember much from Poland but her father talked about it all the time.
We loved the Cushion Corner because we could share our secrets there. The softness of the cushions helped our friendship to grow. Our lips softened and we smiled and shared our secrets, and talked about games we played in our countries back home. Over two years our friendship grew and grew, just as I imagined the delicate embroidery of the cushions had taken shape.
In year 8 a new girl came. Christina was seriously cool. She had blond, short hair and small blue eyes. She was also tall and skinny, which suited her.
One day she came to me and said, ‘I like your long hair, I’m trying to grow mine but it’s taking ages.’
She linked her arm with mine. ‘Do you want to be my friend?’
My heart started thumping under my cotton shirt, I was worried about Klaudia. I didn’t know what to say. Christina pulled me closer.
‘Yes, of course,’ I replied. But I was already wondering what Klaudia would say. I knew that she didn’t think much of Christina because she came from England and didn’t want to know anything about Afghanistan.
Over the next few weeks I started wandering off with Christina to the playground. I forgot all about Klaudia. Then one day, just before the summer holidays, Christina moved away.
I found Klaudia in the Cushion Corner. She was sitting all alone, painting a picture of her home in Poland. She had drawn mostly white paint all over because it was cold there, and there were people with blond hair and pale skin. You couldn’t see what colour their skin was in her painting, but she told you, so you knew.
‘It’s a beautiful picture,’ I said.
Klaudia did not answer.
I sat down next to her, but my body was tense.
‘Sorry for leaving you,’ I said. ‘Please forgive me. Be my friend again.’
Klaudia put down her paintbrush. She looked at the painting and leaned her head to one side.
‘Poland was sometimes cold,’ she said. ‘But then summers always came. I forgive you because you were always so nice to me. But if you leave me again, that will be it!’
I picked up the paintbrush, dipped it into some yellow paint and I touched it onto the blue mountains.