I hang in the middle of a sheltered bazaar. Women catch their breath to admire me, while their men ask the price, allured and ready to commit. All notice; want the secrets I promise. My seller shakes his head at even the largest sums of gold. For me, only an emperor's fortune will suffice.
He is the son of the one whose final masterpiece I am. Never before and never since did candle after candle burn through the Kurdish nights, as those fingers grew raw and breath halting, until the son and daughters pleaded:
"Mother, please drink, you must rest."
Only then would Mother come away from me, but by morning those hands would tremble through me again, weaving life and power and beauty across my spine.
Then one day, the hands paused, caressed me one last time and finished. When she left the land of living a few days later, her son said her soul had passed through her hands into me.
A salesman, he told his story to every interested party, but none bought the merchant's tale. In fact, irritated by his arrogance, others spread rumours that he was a liar. Then the son could not sell anything at all.
He sold me to a brothel— the Christians who ran and frequented it had no care for reputation.
Mother's hands are a distant memory. Life passes above. I gather dust beneath the golden feet of women who give their hands and other parts to men—who're falling apart.
Why I slapped Exigency in the Face.
Outlining the two figures frets soft spoken expectations. Not that Exigence tolerates tomorrow's final freedom.
The pasta's growing cold in the saucepan, chili flakes congealing in the oil. But he made it for her. Wants her to have it, wants her to walk through the door and stretch her legs out as she falls across the sofa. She'll sigh and start talking, commenting as she eats that the pasta he has made really is the best so far. He'll find her lips, they'll sting slightly from the oil and the fact she will add hot sauce, because she always does. But he won't mind because in every kiss he will be reading something into, will be searching for love as he skims his tongue across her teeth.
She isn't coming home, so he checks his phone again, considers ringing her. He thinks better of it, she might be working late. He makes himself some toast, but forgets it so that when he spreads the butter he's just a second too late and the butter doesn't melt the way he wanted it to.
He picks up his phone again. Checks her social media, then puts his phone back inside his pocket. He hears the click of the front door and relief washes over him.
'Sandra?' he says.
She hums in response. She comes through, her expression empty, avoiding his eye.
'I made pasta,' he says. Then he leaves, for a second, pretending that he is happy and unworried, that he just needs the loo.
When he comes back she is sitting on the sofa. He kisses her lips and she doesn't taste of anything, and he realises she hasn't touched the pasta.
'We need to talk,' she says gently.
A guide for those who Hate Running
Running is cheap and a fantastic way to maintain some base level of fitness. What's more, knee injuries tend to occur equally among those who run, and those who don't.
If you're only running a couple of times a week, the risk of you suffering from any kind of running injury is very low, and the likelihood of your overall quality of life being high will increase.
Still, you might know all this, and you might even run from time to time, but that doesn't mean you're enjoying it. Every session is a struggle, and you're not sure the endorphins are worth it.
If you're here for a little extra motivation, you've come to the right place.
For runners who find running boring, please go to 1.
For runners who find running embarrassing, please go to 2.
For runners who find running painful, please go to 3.
For runners who find running exhausting, please go to 4.
For runners who find running unnecessary, please go to 5.
For runners who need a sense of achievement, go to 6.
I here ya buddy.
Now, you're probably going to need some headphones for this part. Of course running with a friend might be ideal, but we can't always conjure up the perfect running buddy at exactly the right time.
The trick is not to make the 'run' the whole point. Kid yourself you're just utilising time efficiently. You can listen to the news (Global News Podcast, anyone?), a podcast (99% invisible?).
You can listen to sad songs, the kind you'd sing along to. You can listen to empowering songs, old rock songs that remind you of being sixteen. I highly recommend getting into an album by someone you like.
Songs about sex are also fantastic for when your running. There's nothing like gently fantasising about a steamy session to reach a new PB.
You might also enjoy the silence, or instrumental music, which will leave you more mental space to plan and think out your next steps—for your novel, your work, your life, your wife. When you're feeling down, there's nothing like a run to give yourself a little fake therapy sessions—and the hot bath afterwards will be the epitome of tender loving care.
Honestly, this is probably the main reason I wouldn't run if I hadn't started young. It was the reason at fourteen, when I was being dragged out on runs by my dad, I turned to him and said:
'Our neighbours talk about us running. I heard them mocking us.'
And my dad rolled his eyes, laughed and said: 'Who cares?'
I shrugged. I did.
'If you stop doing things because you're worried what others will think, you'll never do anything,' he said.
And this is the only thing which has proven to be true.
I usually meet no one at all on my runs. For the most part, running is 90% not embarrassing—and definitely worth it. The embarrassment is mostly inside your own head.
However, embarrassing encounters while running can and do happen. Usually the other person is not embarrassed at all and really doesn't care that you're out puffing. They might congratulate you or say:
'Oh, you run!' but chances are they'll soon forget.
In the very unlikely event anyone did think about it more than once, or cared at all, they would swiftly be shut down by anyone around them. What psychopath cares about someone else running to the extent of gossiping about it?
You cannot make sure you will always be wearing your best running outfit, that your skin will be glowing and your armpits deodorised. Sometimes, the sunscreen will melt into your eyes and sting them red, and you'll stink. But trust me. No one except you cares. There is nothing about running which should make you embarrassed. You can and should be really proud of what you are achieving.
3. Running is painful.
You should not be running if it is painful. You should not be doing anything which could cause you harm. This article is not for you, there is no point running if it is not safe for you.
There have been rare instances where I did not want to run and was slightly hypochondriac that I imagined pain in my knees and shins when there actually was none. I know this because a minute of running would be painful, but thirty, forty minutes in, I'd be feeling free and flying high.
But I am going to assume you need to take care of yourself and should not be running—or reading this article.
4. Running is exhausting.
Listen to your body. If it wants more sleep, if it wants to eat more, let it. Give it what it asks you. For some people, a little coffee before a run does wonders.
There are also times of day which are better for different people's bodies. Late morning, early afternoon, all of these might *your* time. I find running early in the day can zap some of my energy for the rest of it—especially if the run is long. Others find that it energises them.
Nutrition really will change the game. If I am not eating enough protein—which happens regularly since I am terrible at feeding myself, then I will be tired and my muscle will tighten and ache for longer. Similar thing with sleep.
I shouldn't need to say this, but do space out your runs. Don't overrun—either by running every day when your body doesn't want it, or for too long. Give yourself some structure, in terms of breaks and time out running. A short run from time to time is much better for muscle building.
My sibling's muscles weren't growing, and they were pushing themselves harder and harder. They thought they weren't pushing themselves hard enough. But they had a special muscle/athletic lactate test and the results actually showed that they needed more easy work outs and more rest in order to grow more.
If you're someone who thrives from the gains and that sense of achievement, either join a running club, where you will be trained to maximise your potential, or even just follow a running training plan. You will be astonished by the progress you see.
Running—especially running fast—is a fantastic lower body impact sport for building muscle.
Running faster and having better overall aerobic fitness is also a very exciting process. Setting milestones and goals makes running more fun and will improve your self esteem.
You're right. Running is not necessary to your life. It can mildly improve your life—a short run from time to time will boost your mood and make you feel stronger. But don't do it because it's necessary. It isn't and shouldn't be considered as such. Do it because you enjoy it—an eight minutes of walk-run-dance to start your day.
Sonya Renee Taylor once said: “Health is not a state that we owe the world. We are not less valuable, worthy, or loveable because we are not healthy. Lastly there is no standard of health that is achievable for all bodies. Our belief that there should be anchors the systemic oppression of ableism and reinforces the notion that people with illnesses and disabilities have defective bodies rather than different bodies.”
Running is a way to love your body, and an easy way to feel better and take care of yourself. It is not worth it if it does not bring you joy—joy being the best way to take care of yourself.
Go do something you enjoy.
The forest as I’ll pick your own adventure
This is a game, and in this game no one lies. Close your eyes, ignore the sounds of your neighbour through the wall, of the cosmopolitan passer-by sailing past your street. You are alone now. All you have is my voice guiding you. Let it.
There are trees around you, rising tall, ferns at your feet. The trees are evergreen, you cannot see where they end and the sky begins. You hear the whisper of the wind through pine needles and the crunch of your boots on the path. Even your breath is quiet. Do not make another sound, lest you feel that split-second terror as you realise the forest might be an anechoic chamber.
You feel the ground sloping upwards, and you pass what looks like the entry to an old minefield. A door surrounded by bluish slate, which moss has begun to prowl through. The incline grows steeper, and the path becomes nothing more than roots and nettles.
It is path made by the broken bramble bushes pushed back by hordes of deer. Be careful not to step too close, they will catch and tear your clothes.
Don't be afraid of that, though. There are wild boars in this forest. The only thing to do should you come face to face with one is take a gentle step back. If you run, the boar could catch you, if you threaten, the boar will kill you. It has happened before, to others who did not follow my voice well enough.
You notice bushes of gooseberries in the distance, still gleaming with morning dew. The land is deep green, rich and wet. Life can thrive here. On your left is freshly dug earth, where boars have scavenged mushrooms and grass.
At the top of the path that was not a path, you meet a mother boar. She has her young by her side and she looks at you with fear and fury. What do you do?
Back down through the bramble bushes, and you hear her trotters pounding the earth behind you—or is that just the sound of your own weak heart? Keep running. There is a stone and you are not running carefully enough not to catch your ankle on it. This is a game, and in this game, everyone dies.
I am standing at the back of a church. The floor is a smooth expanse of red carpet, and there is a hallowed, protective feel within—the rest of the world might be destined for damnation, but within these walls, we are safe.
Gilded and gothic, its high ceilings and stained glass windows betray its affectation for tradition, but the church looks down on Pentecostal and charismatic practices. We live by faith—and extensive bible studies.
It is a Thursday, bible study day. I have been sick most of the afternoon, a phenomenon I am still unsure as to the nature of, but in a few years' time, a therapist will tell me it is 'an acute anxiety response' and I will think: yes, that is what it feels like.
I joined the church whilst on a year abroad, when I thought my grandmother might be dying and the ache in my chest matched mostly what my idea of desolate isolation must feel like. The pastor talked about belonging and I broke down and cried—but they were happy tears. I was sold a few months later when I sat in a room and a woman came in an hour late and Mona—one of the church volunteers— said only:
'Are you okay? Can I get you some coffee?'
I was looking for a sense of belonging, I was sold on the love, and, later, on the idea that God might heal me.
A trait my friends have laughed at me for is that I throw myself head first into everything I do. I am glass overfilled from the start. At the time, I had no awareness of this, and my initial bursts of energy soon had me roped into activities I didn't want to do.
I didn't want to always have to give food out to the upper middle class who visited on Sunday evenings, didn't want to give up my Friday mornings to church rearrangement, the occasional weekend to cook in a Welsh basement kitchen for a church gathering. I didn't want to be an unpaid nursery manager every Thursday and Sunday morning. I didn't want to be noticed as absent whenever i didn't show up on Thursdays, didn't want to be unforgiven for being busy with work and socialising and having a life.
There were not enough hours in a day for me to cohabit every world I belonged to, and church, I felt, judged me the most harshly for the hours I couldn't give. The enoughs I gave were never enough, and thank yous ran dry very quickly.
'Are you back for good now?' someone asked me drily. I said nothing.
'You've been away a while,' joked someone else.
'Sit down and tell me what happened to you.' a woman intervened—to save my soul, a kindness, I realised.
I felt guilty, scrutinised, like someone in a bad relationship. Guilty—always, perpetually, for everything. Guilty for being stupid enough to be a Christian—idiot, my siblings sneered— guilty for not being strong enough to always defend my beliefs and always be the weird Christian girl who didn't swear—God will help you get there, and accept it, my dearest friends said.
It has to be said, that Christians, the majority, are good people. Great people. I love them dearly. Even the ones who broke up with boyfriends because said boyfriends weren't against gay marriage. Even the ones who looked patient and pained when I said I wasn't straight. And I think I might have stayed, were it not for the Resurrection.
There was something very gross to me about the idea that I should sing hymns and be saved, while the people I loved the most in the world would burn up in flames—and for what? Could God really demand this? It seemed strange, to be absolved of all sin but one.
I believe there is a distinction between what God, or Grace, or the Universe, or Pre-determinism, might want, and what people who believe in God tell you to do. What is written in texts thousands of years old. Because people want power, and money, and more power. People cannot write the sacred down without corrupting it.
And I realised: it is wrong, for me, to stand within these walls, and be saved by a God who would choose me but not the many, many worthier souls I have had the privilege of meeting, some of whom were gay, some of whom made mistakes, but all of whom did not deserve the punishment the Bible promised. And so I walked away, from that gilded, Gothic church.
She packs up her bags and makes her way towards the building exit, her eyes on the dark grey carpet of her office. Hafsa is: a youngest child, a loving daughter and a welfare officer for an NGO, in that order.
Tonight she has to rush to North Manchester Hospital, where she will be allotted her weekly hours to see her mother. Her mother has been in ICU for ten days, breathing through tubes, looking bruised and smaller than Hafsa has ever seen her mother look. She sits there and notices a change from last week: this time, her mother cries as she speaks.
Ten days ago, Hafsa had taken her first leave of work in two years. She had booked tickets to Spain, and waved goodbye to her mother, who looked well and told her to enjoy herself.
She had been in Spain for two hours when she got a call from her older sister.
'Hafsa, you need to come home. Mum is in ICU.'
Hafsa thought, for a split second, that her sister was joking. That it was some prank, and waited for her sister to tell her so and to enjoy her holiday. She was preparing her reproach when the silence on the other end of the line told her this was no joke. Hafsa got back on a plane.
Over the week that followed, a sleepless week, Hafsa guiltily came to realise how much her mother had always done for her, babied her. She still hung up her daughter's clothes, so that all Hafsa ever had to do with regards to clean clothes was put them on in the morning. They had eaten every meal together, and Hafsa had never kept a secret from her. Now, there was just Hafsa at the dinner table, staring blankly at forgotten cutlery, occasionally visited by her sister and nephews.
Her mother had always told her that she felt it in her heart whenever Hafsa cried. So Hafsa cried and asked 'Mum, can you hear me?'
When she spoke to the doctors, Hafsa was told that they weren't sure what was wrong with her mother. Though she was a thyroid patient, it wasn't her thyroid causing the problem, nor was it her liver or kidneys. They were investigating, they promised her.
'There is some improvement in her condition, which is positive,' they said.
Hafsa went to sit beside her mother.
'Mama, the doctors say you are getting better. I will be praying for you,' she said, and tears leaked from her mother's closed eyes.
Hafsa bit her lip, and waited till her hours were up before sobbing in the hospital corridor.
The next day, Hafsa' boss took her aside to warn her that she should begin to prepare for the inevitable. Hafsa's heart seized. She did not want to prepare for anything at all, and prayed all night that her mother would not escape her.
love: This is a prompt from my friend Shekina.
The other day a woman with an elegant soul and a slightly burnt nose said to me:
'My children are my world, I give everything to them.'
We are sitting in a large hall, leant to us by the local council, so that we can teach people, often post-asylum seeking, English. The lady in question is Kurdish, and her English is perfect, since she used to be a lawyer in Kurdistan. Her hair is coiled gold, her eyes as black as a sky full of stars.
'I think to be a good parent,' she continues, slowly, chewing the words around, 'to raise your children well and prepare them for the world, you have to be tired.'
She has that look about her which says she has always been a hard worker, in everything she does. A calm, made up from years of determination. Her country, politically, no longer exists. When she flies to the city she calls home, she flies into Irak, a dominator rich in oil and in corruption.
The conversation ends with my holding back tears—and her seeing. She leaves at half past two to go and pick up her children from school. Despite not being taught in their native tongue, they are among the top students of their school.
When I get home the next day, my flatmate cries out, swinging from one foot to the other:
'EH! Amiga!' with a joyous grin I have come to know well.
He is a Brazilian health economist, and I live with him and his wife, who is a marketing consultant currently studying an MBA. We, laxly, share duties around the house.
That weekend, his wife, who is the kind of woman who will do up my zips for me if I am running out the door and have forgotten to check, is upstairs, swaying between business calls and exhaustion.
She is his second wife, and third serious partner. Both are honest people, with Christian backgrounds and too much empathy to want to believe in the Resurrection. We also don't want our loved ones to burn all while we are saved just because we sang in a church once a week.
Perhaps due to an age gap and gender difference, the man and I tend to have brief debates rather than conversations. We have covered most topics we can, and keep each other well informed on current affairs. Interests range from economic studies, how they affect governmental policies, and fighting climate change. Never, I have noticed, do we gossip.
But that weekend, our conversations run long over the weekend, mainly because his wife is calling a business partner one evening and sleeping the next.
His tongue loosened with wine, he begins to tell me about his divorce. Homeless, he then lived in a hostel, lost his political capital and then his job, the woman he'd left his wife left him and then came back. It didn't take him very long to realise her bipolarity made her emotionally laborious to be around. But he loved her, until she was unkind to his children.
'She was demanding more energy than my children, and she barring me from my children and I realised, no, never. This I cannot do, and nothing, nothing can get between me and my children.'
There's a ferocity and an anger when he speaks, reliving the bitter taste of understanding what it means to lose everything. His smile doesn't come back for a while as he looks down at his hands, eyes wide.
'I'm really crazy with that.'
And I think, there is a love and an ache in his chest which screams out at him that there is nothing in the world which should interfere his intense need to protect his daughters.
They toy beneath the peach trees, without meaning a word in this language of sweet nothings. The scent of promise hangs like mist. Cheek to cheek, arm in arm, their half-a-brain-cell forming one. They toy so long, the silly fools, that summer comes and goes. And now they stop to look around and find the peaches are spoilt, the grass needs cutting and life has begun again, this time a golden, honest hue.
One of them sets sail upon the world, in a bid to find the moon. The other goes home, and from the heights of a bedroom window, builds up a life worth living. They bear, onwards and forever, the fruits of that thoughtless, endless summer.
shall we be quiet?
the storms are crashing even on the sunniest of days
and unsettlement hangs like mist, stuck to skin,
our clothes inside the wardrobe are covered in moths.
there were days, of course, when we lay on the grass,
days of a cool summer breeze. The heat didn’t bother us
as we ran our fingers across worlds and felt pleased
that this one was ours.
but as we touch the skies, now, thoughts of how
electricity isn’t sourced right, and the seas are filled with
waste, and one day fires and floods will make
every landscape barren, devastated and the poorest
will die, all because the richest now thrive,
thoughts that nothing good will happen
until it’s very much too late,
if we tried to touch the skies, now,
these thoughts overbear us and pleasure
is wound too tightly around pain.
this is what has changed then. without
certainty of the future, there is no trust, faith, relief
without it, contentedness is incomplete.