Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A short story: Maria

A short story I wrote inspired by the plight of young displaced people. Part of the critically acclaimed book and production Black Day To Freedom now posted on the BBC

Thanks to Rob Chiu for giving me the opportunity. You can learn more about the piece below +

Maria can't see tomorrow. She's not blind. She just can't think past the present. Life has become a surreal kaleidoscope of muted blurred dull colours moving in slow motion.

In front of her lies a long road going somewhere. . . to her left and right ragged vegetation and behind her memories she has been forced reluctantly to leave behind. Embers and smouldering heat from a once vibrant village just about find her nose, touching also her unblemished skin.

Soon she will be out of range, but that is cold comfort. What will she eat? Where can she sleep? How will she find her brother?

Suddenly she is stopped in her tracks. Something catches her eyes in the dirt. Risking her life to stop she stoops to ponder the simple object: a page from a magazine, barely depicting a smiling face, mouth agape, ready to eat.

If the page were complete and she could read, she would see a young boy devouring a cake with the words. 'Sumptuously delicious."

Her moment of thought is broken, a flurry of shots, mortar rounds, a loud bang, brilliant colours and then a deafening silence.

When Marie comes around, she notices new clothes. It is dark. Time has aged. She stirs to look sideways and then the other, and then begins to simper. A lone voice, velvety, meets her cries mid-air.

It is an angel all in white, smiling. Maria's troubles are over. She is in that place, heaven. "So what's your name then? You're lucky to be alive."

Jane Goodman is one of the remaining aid agency workers in a region wracked by civil war and the little girl she has helped bring into camp is one of many casualties.

Maria has never seen a white person, except most recently as a picture in copper coloured soil. Her religious teacher once told her what angels looked like, but they were supposed to have wings, otherwise this woman has near enough the same features as her: two eyes... a nose... mouth... two arms... and two....

Maria can't see her legs.

The woman notices her changed looks and beckons a colleague.

Over the course of the evening as moths flicker against the lamp, Maria explains to the two strangers, one of whom speaks her language, how she fled her home, how militia gunned down anyone they saw, how her mother on the verge of her last breadth made her daughter feign death, and how her last words were: "When the soldiers turn their back run.. run with your brother to the hills.. run for your dear young lives".

Few eyes remained dry as Maria Stephens slumped back into her chair and lifted her prosthetic legs into a more demur position.

The darkness has lifted, but the wounds of guilt and blame are there, as today she leads a new life in Berkshire, the UK, attending a new school.

She was lucky. She lived.

She was given a new life in England and a new mother. 

Jane Goodman has since swapped the care of the destitute for that of young minds needing to acquire knowledge. She's a school teacher.

Maria's simple yet powerful soliloquy stemmed from the simple, yet powerful words inscribed on the blackboard: Refugees.

She has since learned she was one. That in England, her new home, people get very animated by the subject, ranging from outrage to despair.

She has learned of the different classes of refugees; migrant, economic, political, transcendental, even psychological.
They all share something in common. An attempt, often futile, to escape circumstances they have no control over.

As she wheels herself back to her desk, a classmate asks: How did you cope with all the pain and suffering all that while.

Maria pulls a dirty piece of paper from her satchel and mutters something in a language no one understands.

If they did, they would hear her say: "He reminds me of how lucky I am. above all he looks like my brother. He never leaves my side and I also know he is really with the angels.


I wrote this for a publication called "Black Day To Freedom". The curator/ instigator Rob Chiu would later ask if I could feature inside an animated piece he was creating.

Black Day to Freedom, a critically acclaimed production and one of the best pieces of animation around the plight of refugees is now posted here on the BBC and where I debut as the reporter's voice within the piece.

There are a number of thing you can do towards this issue, particularly bringing to the attention of politicians and news makers what's going on in Dafur.

A video report on the release of Black Day featuring Rob can be found here here Rob releases Things Fall Apart this month.

No comments: