time she brings different ones. In my house there is only the Asian newspaper. Ali reads it. I use it to wrap up the vegetable peclings.
After I have said paper pencil book diary hairbrush cigarettes matches keyring, we do her shopping. She holds up a carrot. ‘Carrot‘ she says. She lays it beside the hairbrush and points to the hairbrush. ‘Carrot?’ she says. She wants me to say, ‘No, it’s not a carrot, it’s a hairbrush.‘ I say only, ‘No’. This is not important to me. The baby is important, and Ali. I have no room in my heart for carrots and hairbrushes. I will not make this house into a home because I know the English word for a vegetable I do not like very much.
Ali says I must learn to speak English so that he can go on longer trips to his brother‘s house in Leeds. There is not enough room for all of us to visit. Anyway, Ali is going on business. I do not know what business. Ali says I do not need to know. We do not agree about this and I worry in case he is maybe doing something dangerous. But money must be sent to our hometown somehow and in the restaurant he earns so little.
Baby wakes up. ‘Baby crying‘. says Jane. I too say ‘Baby crying‘ and Jane says ‘Good‘. But now she must sit, not teaching, while I feed Izmir. I do not have enough milk. I am a poor cow. When Izmir has emptied each breast he cries for more. I get the
tinned milk. They gave it to me at the clinic. Ishow it toJane. ‘()kay'."l say. ‘Sorry'. sastane. [point to the writing. I want her to teach me the right mixture but she doesn‘t understand. Why does she teach me the words for carrots and hairbrushes and not ‘Help me please‘? All Jane does is stare at Izmir’s tiny crumpled face and be afraid. Afraid that just by looking she will make the crying worse. Afraid that ifshe held him in her arms he would break.
The ferry is standing at the platform. And then the sudden disturbance at the bank. the ferryman running into the forest. the boat sliding away from the bank without its oars. the boat rocking. the monkeys screeching as the black plane returns. low this time. roaring. trailing a filthy ribbon of smoke. And then the rattle ofgunfire and the ferry passengers tossed like logs into the water. The river is streaked with red. This is my sleeping dream. It will not go away. It is the past and the past will not go away. My grandfather was dead by the time he was brought ashore. the river mud streaming over his body.
My waking dream is ofthe future. It also will not go away. Ali tells me I live too much in my imagination and that I will be happier here. will feel safer once I have learned more about this country. once I learn English. He says I must put everything from
home behind me. He says I must spend more time outside. looking around me. and not so much time inside myself. He says when Izmir is older. he can play in front ofthe house. There is a small concrete yard. I have planted some flowers out there. by the wall but I do not sit in the yard and Izmir will not play there when he is older. I will not let him. My waking dream will not let me leave him there. In my mind I see a car stopping. a grey car with dark windows. Two men get out. I cannot tell what they look like. only that they are dressed in suits and wear dark glasses. Everything happens in a flash.
When I tell Ali my dream. he asks me if these are Asian men or white men. I do not know but I know there is a reason and it is Izmir they want. not the fair-haired child next door. There is no accident. They pull Izmir offhis toy train. bundle him into the car and drive off. Ali says these things happen here only on the television.
The lesson begins again when Izmir has cried himself to sleep. Jane fetches the clock from the window-ledge and points to the time. ‘Half—past twelve‘. she says. She makes the hands move round the clock and tells me the time. ‘One o‘clock. What time is it'." and I must ‘Repeat please‘. At one o‘clock Jane will pack up her bag and go away. I want her to go becuase I am tired yet
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I do not like to be alone, in this house. which is not a home.
Jane sees me yawning before she has finished with the time. so she puts back the clock. She smiles and says ‘Sleepy‘." and I say ‘Sleepy‘, then "Tea‘." and she says ‘Thank you very much.‘ We go into the kitchen, leaving Izmir asleep in his pram. There is now a table and two chairs. While we are drinking our tea I hear a small noise at the door. ‘Postman?’ says Jane. ‘Postman‘. I say. ‘Letters,’ says Jane. I will fetch the letters when Jane goes away.
Jane wants to show me something special. She has a magazine with a shiny cover. she turns the pages. There are pictures ofwatches and cars and men in English suits and girls in short dresses. Also of perfume bottles and underwear and big country houses. Also of soldiers and operations and mountains. She stops at a photograph of a mountain covered with trees. These are the Scottish trees my grandfather was so fond of. I have been living in this country for three years now I have not seen any ofthese trees, except in December little ones which are taken indoors and dressed up.
‘Look‘. says Jane. She turns the pages and points. It is my own village. my own river. There is no ferryboat at the landing. There are no people laying out laundry on the bank or washing in the river but I know they are all there somewhere, out ofsight. watching the pictures being taken, standing maybe right behind the photographer, telling him what to put in his picture. Did my sister too run over and watch or was she still too frightened ofthat spot?
‘Your home.‘ says Jane. She is very happy to be showing me the river, but I cannot see that peaceful empty river. The noise is in my ears, the buzzing and the roars. the rattles and the screams. And the smell of burning fills my nostrils. I close my eyes to block out the bloody picture I see taking shape over the peaceful one and I am thinking. yes, Ali is right: I live too much in my imagination. and then Jane is jumping up from the table and shaking my arm and shouting ‘Look! Look!‘ and I see smoke creeping round the door and I know that the smell ofburning is not a phantom from the past but is the present. is here. now. in my house. Jane stands back as I run for Izmir.
The hall is black with smoke. At the door is a burning ball ofrags and the carpet and the wallpaper has caught fire and I know that it was not the postman who came today. I am filling up buckets ofwater at the sink and Jane is throwing the water at the fire in between shouting through the open window. ‘Fire. Fire‘ and ‘Help, Help' and I am repeating again and again everything she says as loudly and clearly as I can.
‘Repeat l’lease' is taken from Dilys Rose's new collection of short stories, Our Lady of the Pickpockets.
which is published on 25 September inf/2.95.
The List 15 — 28 September 1989 61