Saturday 9 May 2009
HOME - by Essie Gilbey
TKnC welcomes yet another debutant...
Home was always an awkward word for him. When his parents used it, they meant Pakistan, but he'd never been there. Was home here, then - in London, where drunks called out insults in the street and people stared at him fearfully on the tube? He hadn't learned the true meaning of the word home, until the night he’d lost it.
The night he'd lost his home, he'd sat in this spot and watched the flames reflected in the window of the Tesco Express. His mum remembered when it hadn't been a Tesco's, it'd been a local corner store.
"It was much better then," she said. "None of this packaged rubbish."
That was five months ago.
His mum had died in the fire and his brother Robbie and his dad too. He was supposed to die too, but he hadn't. He'd woken up, smelling smoke and he'd tried to get out of his room, but it was too hot and he called out to the others, but he couldn't hear them. He'd ended up jumping out of his window into the small garden outside. Right onto his dad's prize roses. Broke his leg in three places, but that didn't stop him limping along screaming;
and someone came out and then there were other screams and the scream of the fire engines blended in with it all. But he never heard his family scream. Were they already dead, when he woke? Had it already been too late?
The police said they didn't know who started the fire, but he knew. It was one of those white kids who hung around the tube and yelled;
"All right, Paki?"
whenever he went by. Or maybe it was one of the drunks who always wanted to know why he didn't go back home and he always felt like answering,
"If I knew where it was, I bloody would!"
Or maybe it was one of the people on the tube; those respectable people with their frightened eyes. He didn't think the police would ever find out who it was. He didn't think they would even try.
He'd stayed in too many places, since the fire. He was a difficult case, the social worker said. The wrong colour, she didn't say. His current place was with an older couple; no kids, very neat and quiet. They'd wanted a girl, but you can't pick and choose, they said. They would make do. The social worker smiled and said at least they were the same race as him.
"They're Indian," he'd said angrily.
"Yes. Well. We're all British, really, aren't we?" the social worker had pleaded.
He tiptoed through the Indian couple's house, stifled by how much it wasn't home. So tonight, when he woke as he so often did, smelling smoke and yelling;
and no one came to check up on him (they were used to his nightmares and knew he would settle down on his own) he snuck out of the house, his leg healed by now, and he walked the three miles to where his home had once been. The house was still there, blinded by the fire; the walls still standing, but the windows boarded up. He could still smell the smoke, see the black stains on the bricks. The other houses stood on either side, seemingly unscathed, a light on in one window.
He wondered about the unfairness of it, that they escaped and his home didn't. That he escaped and they didn't.
He sat on the kerb - in the gutter and wouldn't his mum have scolded him for that, if she'd caught him? - and he stared at his home, reflected in Tesco's window. Only in the reflection the house wasn't blinded, it was whole, and his family were standing outside, right by his dad's blooming rose bush, itself unscathed, and they were waving at him and he ran across to meet them and
there were screams,
when the car collided, but none of them were his. He was already back home.
BIO: Essie Gilbey is an ex-pat Brit living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She still hasn't got used to the cold of the winters here. She loves reading short stories; this is her first one to be published.