Stories of Home with the Scottish Refugee Council: 'Somewhere to Call Home'
For Book Week Scotland 2014, we've collaborated with the Scottish Refugee Council for a very special project. We invited three of our previous New Writers Awardees to work with women from Iraq, Syria and Palestine to create unique stories of home. The project will be celebrated at an event on Sunday 30 November, introduced by Jackie Kay. This week, we'll be sharing each of the pieces created on the blog. Today's piece is 'Somewhere to Call Home' by Rob Currie and Shaima.
Somewhere to Call Home
‘Mummy, let go!’
Yousif tries to tug his hand from mine, but I hold on tightly. It is cold, cold, cold as always, and in all honesty I’d happily stuff my hand into my warm pockets. The fine rain landing on our skin makes our fingers freeze in the wind, and I hate it. My boy pulls away again, ‘I can go myself!’ I have to laugh.
I have to laugh a little. Lina had been sick last night, and I’d decided to keep her home from school today. When I told Yousif this morning in his bedroom, blinds still shut against the dark winter mornings, he insisted he wasn’t going either. I insisted otherwise. He made such a fuss I thought I’d never get him through the door, and now that we’re almost at the school he can’t wait to get inside.
An icy gust needles at our backs. It blows across the road in front of us and into the school playground. Yousif looks up at me with his most determined face. He makes it when I tell him not to jump from the swings, or when I tell him he’s too young to stay up late. He’s so ambitious. He’s growing up fast.
There’s only a road between us and the school. From here, I could watch him walk through the doors.
Not today. We finish the journey together and he frowns when I finally release him, and runs into the mass of children. I wave goodbye, though he’s already playing with his friends and doesn’t pay attention. I make my way back home, pulling my coat tight around me.
It’s cold every day here, and wet. Even when the sun shines, it’s not the same as…
Even though it’s the same sun!
The atmosphere must be different in this part of the world, above this street. It shines through another filter. It isn’t just the weather that’s different, but it’s the one thing I cannot get used to. On the way home I buy food: lamb, chicken, eggs, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and more. I’m sure I have cloves in the kitchen cupboard, but I don’t want to come back here later if I don’t have to, and I can always use cloves.
Somehow the temperature in the stairwell is even lower than outside. I was told once that the thick stone walls store heat in the summer, and the opposite in winter. I avoid touching them, or even brushing against them with my coat on the way up to my flat. I hate being cold.
My hands are full with my shopping, and I have to put the bags down next to the door so that I can reach my key. Over-packed and off-balance, one of the bags tips over. The eggs that had been placed carefully on top so that they wouldn’t be crushed hit the floor. The box opens, and all six eggs spill out. Three roll gently to a stop. One slowly crawls to the stairs, and cracks when it topples over the top step. Two fly out of the box, and are launched down the close. I watch in amazement as both bounce on a step, then up and into the stone wall I just passed. The yolk slides down to the floor, and instead of feeling annoyed or frustrated at the bag, I worry that the neighbours will think I threw them. Or, more likely, that my children did it. I hurry inside.
My sister stands there in the dim light, beautiful even when she’s tired. She hasn’t opened the blinds. Like me, she can’t stand winter here. Her watching poor Lina while I walk Yousif to school is a kindness I’m grateful for. ‘I heard the key in the lock,’ she says, ‘but you didn’t come in. Are you alright?’
Before I can answer, she takes the shopping from me and carries it through to the kitchen. As she starts unpacking, I wet a cloth at the sink.
‘What are you doing now?’ This time she waits for my reply.
‘Cleaning,’ I tell her, and go back to the stairwell.
‘Just shut the door behind you! The heat is escaping!’
The yolk has already stopped sliding to the ground, frosted to the wall. I scrub and scrub until the mess is gone, all three of the broken eggs wiped away. I save the three that survived and take them inside.
My sister has left the empty box on the kitchen counter, and already has her coat on. ‘Lina is in the living room. I have to get home. See you this afternoon.’
She goes, and I look in on Lina. Cross-legged with a blanket wrapped around her, three feet from the television screen. ‘Not so close,’ I remind her, as I do every day, and though she pulls a face she scoots back another foot. It makes me happy to see Lina watching these shows. When I first came here, my husband – my ex-husband – wanted me to fit in. ‘Sit down on the sofa,’ he’d say, ‘watch TV.’ I didn’t like to though. I knew none of the celebrities names, none of their faces. I always felt like I was catching-up, and I’m sure this is why I make sure the children go, every day, to school. They will grow up with this media landscape, and remember affectionately these characters and tunes when they’re older. They will have a sense of familiarity that I lost. I’m regaining it. I still don’t like to sit on the sofa, but when I force myself to I love The Apprentice, and Location, Location, Location.
Yousif likes the house shows too. He dreams of living in a mansion, with tall, shining windows and big sloping roofs. A room for games, a room with a trampoline, a room ... a bedroom of his own, probably. We only have the two bedrooms here, enough for now, but not for long.
Our home in Baghdad was so big, so unlike our home now. Somehow when we left, all the furniture and all our belongings were crammed into just two of the upstairs rooms, leaving space enough for a new family to live in the rest of the house. Perhaps two rooms is all it takes.
I’d give so much to go through those boxes one day, just to open them up and take out everything that had been packed away. My mother’s home in Turkey is near enough that she still goes back to Baghdad sometimes, to look in. I ask her to take things from the boxes, to pass them on to me. Little ornaments to remind me of my childhood, or pictures that I remember seeing on the walls. She brings them to me when she visits us here in Scotland.
Last time she went to the old house, I felt bold. I didn’t want a trinket, or a decoration, I wanted something bigger. I asked her to bring me her wedding dress. ‘What could you possibly want with that?’ She asked. ‘You’re not going to wear it, surely!’ I had no good answer for her, other than nostalgia. I can picture perfectly that seventies gown, short and ivory with feathers and crystals sparkling in the light. I wonder if it shines the same, after years in that dusty and dark place. She hasn’t brought it to me yet.
I spend the morning cleaning, and Lina is content to be by herself. She goes between the TV and her dolls house, while I go between the rooms, picking up, washing, folding, dusting, wiping. After lunch I start to cook, and the smell brings Lina through. I sit her at the small table with crayons and paper, but she turns and watches me instead. The aroma of spices fills the house, and the walls around us protect us from the wet and wild outside. I realise I am my own mother, and Lina is me. We are recreating a scene from my childhood, thousands of miles from the original place.
When I pick Yousif up at the school gate, he automatically takes my hand. Tomorrow, I will let him cross the last road himself. At home we eat our spiced lamb with naan, and yoghurt. Tomorrow, I will ask Lina to help me weigh out rice. Before bed, we watch Grand Designs, and Yousif watches a crane install walls of glass with wide eyes. Tomorrow, I will open the blinds and embrace whatever arctic weather Glasgow might have for me.
Rob Currie is originally from the Scottish Borders, but now lives in Dundee. He was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in December 2012, and recently finished writing his first novel. Most recently his short fiction has been published online as additional content to Zoe Strachan's Cultural Commission anthology Out There. He now studies English and Creative Writing at Dundee University.
Shaima came to Scotland from Iraq ten years ago, from Baghdad. Although her sister lives in Scotland too, her family was largely broken up - her mother lives in Turkey, her brother in America, and her aunt is still in Baghdad. Shaima has two children, Yusef and Lena, who were both born here. She now lives in Anniesland, Glasgow.