‘Well, Kiran, you really are just dirt,’ I thought aloud and walked on. I don’t know how long I walked, or which direction I went in. I didn’t stop at any road junctions, just crossed. Sometimes cars screeched to a halt, other times they beeped their horns. I just kept going. My ears burnt. My head ached. I felt so cold. My stomach was tight and my throat became dry. I sat down and my breakfast came out all over the pavement. I vomited a few more times and then stood up and walked again.
My mobile rang. It was mum. I ignored her. My dad rang. I ignored him. Mum texted me. I didn’t bother opening it and walked. I kept seeing monstrous faces going round and round in front of my eyes. Shamshad laughing, jeering. Holding her mobile phone in front of me.
‘Why, Shamshad?’ I called out to her. ‘What did I do to you?’
Shamshad didn’t answer. The monstrous mouths were open, but they were not saying anything. The mobile vibrated in my hand.
A car went swerving past. A red-faced driver, his mouth wide open, saying something to me. But there was only silence.
A cold wind came from somewhere. My head began to throb. It felt as if someone had put a metal clamp on it and was tightening it. Tighter and tighter! I walked on and on.
The clouds thickened above me, but there was no rain.
My hands were wet. My shirt was wet. I felt so hot. I sat down and vomited again.
There were only birds around. I was alone somewhere. And then, out of the silence, I heard mum’s voice. She was calling me. I tried to answer, but my voice was gone. Then I saw her running towards me.
‘What are you doing here, silly girl?’ She asked.
‘Look at the fool I am, mum,’ I hugged her and cried.
When I stopped crying, I realised I was in the graveyard, sitting under the weeping willow.
‘Thank goodness you’re alright,’ mum said, wiping my face.
‘Love you mum,’ I said.
She held my hand and we went home. Mum put me to bed.
The first time I woke up, there was a glass of water on the desk near my bed. I was in my nightclothes. The door was open. Mum and dad were talking downstairs. They were arguing.
Mum screamed, ‘It was because of you.’ It was a scream I had not heard for a long, long time. I was terrified. It would be back in our house.
‘It was an accident,’ dad said. ‘I wish I gave you a boy.’
‘I said I didn’t want to,’ mum said, ‘didn’t I?’
‘Let it go Sharon.’
‘I know you wanted a boy mum,’ I said lifting my head off the pillow. It was too heavy, it slumped back. ‘Please don’t fight over me. I’m sorry for being an accident. Don’t fight. Please.’
I forced myself to sit up in bed. I was going to go down stairs and beg them to stop fighting over me. The front door opened and slammed shut. My throat was dry. It hurt. I drank the water and slumped back on the bed. Behind my closed eyes, open mouths jeered at me. Big bulging eyes stared at me. The noises, they are the ones that really frightened me. They jeered and asked me so many questions: They wanted a boy, not you. What are you? Who are you? Where are you from? You thought you were White? White? Black? Coloured? Asian? Pakistani? Christian? Muslim? What are you? I kept waking up. I was telling mum about Shamshad. How she tormented me. How she hated me. Mum just stared back at me. Silently. Sadly.
I heard someone calling my name and woke. Mum was sitting beside my bed. She smiled a thankgoodnessyou’realright kind of smile. Dad was standing in the doorway, one of his lovely, hairy arms dangling by his side, the other behind his back. His loose, white vest rolled over his bulging stomach.
‘Nice to have you back,’ he smiled, ‘Karen, Kiran or Karey? Whoever you are today?’
I sat up in my bed. You’re really one for words, dad, I thought.
‘It’s Kiran dad,’ I said. ‘It’ll always be Kiran.’
Mum threw a daggerish look at dad. She kissed me on the forehead and left the room.
‘And you really are one,’ dad said, looking at a ray of sunlight coming through the window.
‘What?’ I leaned up and looked out of the window.
Twigs, leaves and broken branches littered the pavement. Some dustbins were on their sides. Mr and Mrs Mason from next door were surveying the damage from the storm. George was clearing rubbish from his garden, his dog watching him from a short distance.
Dad cleared his throat and said, nodding to the light, ‘Kiran. It means a ray of light,’ he said.
Suddenly I was filled with rage and snapped at him, ‘You’ve taught me nothing, dad, nothing! I want to be a proper Muslim,’ I cried, ‘Proper something!’
Dad kept quiet. He put one of his feet on top of the other. He was in deep thought.
‘Can you teach me, dad?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I’ll teach you…’
Mum came back with a glass of hot milk and gave it to me. I held the cup in both my hands and asked, ‘Dad, do you actually know anything, about being a Muslim?’
Mum coughed a pulltheotherone type of a cough.
‘I know a lot more than you think I know,’ he said to mum, but avoided eye contact with her.
‘Like fasting?’ mum asked.
Dad curled his big, fat lips, held them up to his nose, and breathed out.
‘And praying?’ mum said.
Dad interrupted mum with a protesting sigh, and said to me, ‘I can teach you what you need to know, whenever you are ready.’
I blew into the milk and drank a big mouthful, and then said, ‘I’m ready now, dad.’
He smiled, and said as he was leaving, ‘OK, but get better first.’
I finished off the milk and handed mum the empty cup. She said, taking it from me, ‘Let’s talk about it if you want.’
I nodded. I wasn’t going to let her talk me out of it.
After mum left, I went back to sleep. It was a deep, deep sleep, without monsters. I woke up in the afternoon. I was feeling sticky but really good with myself. I was going to be a new me. Gone was Karey. Gone was Karen. The WTM were dead. Here’s to Kiran, I thought!
I was going to surprise them all. The first thing that Kiran did, which Karen would never have done and Karey wouldn’t have thought about, was to change the sheets and pillow cases on her bed. After putting the dirty ones in the wash, I had a shower and went downstairs.
As I was going down, I heard the hiss of a beer can opening. Well, it is Saturday, I thought.
I checked my mobile. There was a text from mum: If you want anything from the shops, ring me on my mobile.
I went to the kitchen at the back of our house, poured some orange juice into a large glass and walked towards the front room. The door was ajar. Dad was sitting close to the television. The sound was low. I sneaked into the room and peeped at him from behind a large shelf. He was watching an Islam channel. An Imam was giving a talk to some youngsters on the proper way of praying. Dad was puffing away on a cigarette.
Mum, who usually brought the shopping home from Asda on her way back from work, was taking a long time at the shops. I texted her: Where are you mum?
Mum replied almost instantly: Done in 15 mins. Are you OK?
Me: Fine. Dad glued 2 TV.
Mum: What’s new? Tell him to pick me up.
As I was about to send my reply to mum, dad shouted, ‘Kiran, I’m going to pick your mum up. Text her. Tell her I’ll be a bit late.’
He was out of the door before I had a chance to reply.
I sent my reply to mum, Ur taxi’ll b a bit late. Lol, and went into the living room.
The living room stank of cigarettes and beer. I opened the windows. A cold wind lapped up the staleness. I sat on the sofa and flicked on the television. The news was on. A helicopter was broadcasting pictures of a mansion surrounded by woods. Breaking News: Islamic Terror Attack Foiled. I turned the television off. All of a sudden, I felt exhausted and dozed off. I was in an empty, white room. Without doors. Without windows. ‘Karey?’ someone called. And then, ‘Karen?’ And then, ‘Kiran?’
I woke up, with saliva dribbling out of my mouth, when mum and dad came back. By the time I got off the sofa they had already taken the shopping into the kitchen and mum was putting it away.
I sleepily walked in, wiping my mouth with a tissue. Mum gave me a great, big, you’llbealright kind of a look, and dad shoved tins into a cupboard. He was in a hurry, and I guessed it was getting nearer to the match. A tin can rolled out and fell on his toe. He yelled.
‘Serves you right, Lucky,’ mum laughed, looking at dad who was holding his foot. ‘Put them in properly.’
Dad didn’t bother saying anything back and blew his nose on his handkerchief. His weekly lottery ticket fell out of his pocket. I bent down, picked it up and put it on the table, thinking, ‘There’s nothing lucky about my dad.’
Mum picked up the lottery ticket and said, ‘Lucky, stop wasting money.’
‘You won’t say that when I win the jackpot,’ dad said, making a face of exaggerated pain.
‘You’re the only person I know who has never even won a tenner,’ mum said.
Yep. ‘There’s nothing lucky about my dad,’ I thought, and asked, ‘shall I get you a cold compress, dad?’
‘He needs an ambulance,’ mum said, as dad put his foot back down and adjusted the tins inside the cupboard, ‘don’t you Lucky?’
I suddenly felt really angry with mum and said, ‘His name’s not Lucky, is it? It’s Liaqat.’
Mum gave me an icy stare. Dad took a deep breath, and said, ‘No, Kiran, it’s not.’
Mum wiped the kitchen table, went over to the sink, and washed the dishes, which had already been washed – every now and again looking at me in the reflection in the window.
When she had finished, she looked around the kitchen to make sure everything was where it should be.
‘Don’t hate me mum,’ I said. I was determined not to cry. ‘But I can’t go to church with you any more. Your Jesus is white. Your Holy Mother is white. And The Father has to be white as well. And look at me! Just look at me!’
Mum whispered, ‘It’s not like that.’
‘I know you hate me,’ I said, holding back my tears.
‘It’s not like that,’ mum repeated, walking up to me.
‘You can be what you like, Kiran,’ dad stood up and put his hand on my head.
Mum and dad exchanged looks that sent shivers down my spine.
I sat down on a chair, put my head in my hands and wept. Mum got me a glass of water. I drank it.
Mum leaned over to an unpacked bag, picked it up and put it on the table. Pushing it towards me, she said, ‘Here I bought these for you.’
Dad picked something out from under a pile of empty bags and hid it behind his back. A big grin ran across his face.
The bag mum gave me had a green hijab and a long-sleeved, white kurta along with some books and a DVD in it. There were small books called Qaidas and there was the Holy Quran. There was a book on the prophet, a book on Islamic history, and a book about fasting. The DVD was called The Messenger. I felt so ashamed of myself that I stood up, kissed mum on the cheeks and hugged her.
‘What’ve you got for her, Lucky?’ mum asked, in a knowing kind of a tone.
Dad walked out of the kitchen backwards, hiding something behind his back.
‘Come on, dad, what you got for me, eh?’
‘I’ll give it to you tomorrow,’ he said, trying to get away.
‘Let’s see it, dad.’
‘Show her, Lucky,’ mum said.
‘He’ll always be Lucky to me,’ mum replied.
Dad brought his hand round to the front slowly. He was holding a book as well: Islam for Dummies.
We had a really good laugh, and then I said, ‘Dad, you can teach me how to pray, can’t you?’
‘Course I can.’
‘Can you teach me to read the Quran, dad?’
‘Yep. I read it all, twice, in Pakistan when I was a boy,’ dad said, ‘but don’t expect me to start believing in all that stuff.’
Mum went silent. Her eyes drifted off for a moment into one those worlds that no one could get into, but then she came back all of a sudden, and said, ‘Lucky, go into the living room with Kiran and start teaching her what you know. Let me get the dinner on.’
‘I can teach her, you know,’ dad said.
‘Go on then,’ mum said.
Dad rubbed his hand on his stomach and then on his head, and said, ‘I will.’ Turning to me, he said, ‘Come on Kiran, let’s start right now. We’ll start with the Qaida, and you can learn it just like I did. And then I’ll teach you to how to pray.’
Mum sniggered again. I went to the front living room with dad carrying the books. Dad cleared the coffee table and sat down on the sofa. I sat down next to him.
‘Do you mind if I just check on the score before we start?’ dad asked, holding the TV remote.
I smiled and shook my head. He flicked through a few screens and then turned the television off. He opened the first page of the Qaida, pointed to the first letter, and said, ‘Alif.’
‘Alif,’ I repeated.
‘Bey,’ he said, pointing to the next letter.
I repeated as he went along. I was so happy to be sitting with my dad learning Arabic letters that I must have been the happiest girl in the world. I couldn’t remember any other time we had sat together for so long, me and my dad. As we were going over the letters for a second or third time, mum came into the room and moaned, ‘Lucky! Don’t smoke a cigarette next to Kiran, and not while you’re trying to teach her to read the Quran!’
Dad quickly stubbed out the one he was smoking, blowing the smoke away from me.
‘I think you’ve done enough for today on the reading,’ dad said.
‘You’re going to teach me how to pray?’
‘Course I am,’ he said, walking out of the room. Mum smiled at me a sort of I’dliketosee kind of a look and followed dad out. I put the Qaida away and went to the kitchen to help mum. I heard dad stomping down the stairs calling me back into the living room. Mum followed me.
Dad was looking all around the room a bit puzzled. He said, ‘I just can’t remember which way the Kabah is.’
‘Mum nodded towards the television corner. Dad looked up at the ceiling for a moment, and said, ‘Yes. You’re absolutely right.’
‘I bet you’d have said that whatever mum said,’ I thought.
‘You haven’t got a prayer mat,’ mum said.
‘I have,’ he said, spreading a big, red towel in the space in front of the television. It was a Manchester United towel, with a picture of Alex Ferguson on it.
‘I’m not praying on that…’
Dad picked the towel up, turned it over and spread it out on the floor. It had a picture of Rooney on the other side.
He stepped onto the towel, raised his hands to his ears, and said, ‘First you do this, and you say ‘Allah O Akbar,’ bending down towards his knees, he said, ‘and then you do this and,’ he stood upright, and said, ‘then you do this…’
Mum interrupted, ‘For god’s sake Lucky, you’re drinking beer and teaching Kiran how to pray!’
Handing a half-drunk can of beer he was holding in his hand to mum, he said, ‘You’re right about that.’
‘You’d better take this girl to the mosque or something, Lucky,’ mum said, ‘She wants to learn it properly.’