Reading and a short story

Blog, Short Story

Bismillah

Hello internet world. I haven’t written in ages. Sorry about that. But my excuse is that I’ve been reading. I saw a short interview with Werner Herzog a few weeks back and in it he gave one big advice to directors/filmmakers: Read!

So I went down to the local charity bookshop and bought some Hemingways and Fitzgeralds and I’ve been reading quite a lot since. Train rides have become much quicker all of a sudden.

Anyway, this post is going to be a short story, inspired by modern office life and I’m looking at it as a way to sharpen my imagination for the screenplay I’m working on.

It was a beautiful Friday night. An inherent beauty that hung in the air like perfume despite the smell of damp and urine. He walked home from the train station, past stylish young revellers, his ankles getting wet in the rain. The day had not been triumphant by any means. Fridays were supposed to be days of success he thought. And though the day contained within it some metaphysical power or dimension which set it apart from the rest of the week, he still felt defeated by the onslaught of corporate and corporeal punishments.

It was dark now, with the ground cool and after a shower the roads and pavements reflected lamp lights like spectres and ghosts of the sun. He noticed how sad and lonely each reflection looked even though they sat strewn across the wet streets in a constellation. The club and party goers ignored him as he floated through them. Each face looking hopeful for the promise of the night and he wanted to be with them but he knew deep down that most of them too would soon know the clarity of rejection.

Eventually he left the town centre far behind and came finally to the quiet safety of suburbia. A soggy man sat ashamedly under a low bridge with his dog.

‘Spare some change please mate?’

He instinctively searched his pockets and his fingers came in contact with the familiar papery touch of a £20 note. He didn’t take it out. In fact it made him wonder about how he would have to divide this paper representation of his sustenance over the next 5 days of the (non)working week.

Earlier that day he had been laid off. It had happened fast and it had made him quite dizzy. He was too young to have let it take the earth from beneath his feet but it had certainly winded him. After 3 years of writing, of overtime with no pay, of loving, and giving love, and giving himself, it had come to an abrupt and senseless end. Redundancy was a word far worse than it’s lowbred cousin ‘sacked’ or even the brute ‘fired’. The human resources staff had used it and it made him feel worthless. Like a bent paperclip. Or a fax machine. It was worse than death because it was life without purpose or value.

His mouldy melon-faced manager had contorted his face to show something that was supposed to resemble sympathy and the pitch and timbre of his voice warbled some misappropriated words of condolence. Like an awkward and insincere eulogy.

Maybe this symbolic death was also a chance to be reborn. Years of writing the same thing, of only tapping in to the same part of his brain had dulled the tools of his creative mind. Perhaps now he could start that novel that had been sitting on the dusty library shelves in the back of his brain. A clean slate. He pictured a guitar player re tuning his instrument. A baby crying in the delivery room. A young fresh woman coming out of a shower.The magic of Friday slowly returned to him, in his face as a warmth and in his fingers as a tingle. And as the pubs had been left far behind, the scent in the air was fresh. A breeze ran invisible fingers through his hair.

‘Mate?’

‘Here you go mate’. He gave over the note and as it left his hand any thought of how he would survive the following week had gone with it.

A study of being human from the Syrian border

Blog, Short Story, Video Production

Bismillah.

I recently had the privilege to travel to the Syrian border in Turkey for work. I was producing, as well as operating camera; regional FR manager Thabrez was the main face and rep of our NGO and my friend and sister Nur Hannah Wan played the crucial role of interviewing and photographing people. My objective, alongside my colleagues, was to document the construction of an orphanage. The film has been cut and broadcast and an online version will come soon. A disclaimer: I’m no expert on geo/theo/politics or international relations so this post will mostly be an account of my experiences, something I’ve needed to write for some time now, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to begin with a short story, or a sort of diorama, if you will. I’m no Hemingway, nor Ghazali. The following words are an image impressed upon me both in my dreams and waking state by the statements of horror I had to log in my process as a film maker interviewing Syrian children:

Disenchanted Playground

I walk towards a playground in the distance. It’s alive, a funfair. Lights and smells, of sweetness emanate. I’m drawn, like a moth. My steps are hurried and I don’t think about if my friends are still by my side. In almost a rush I don’t realise the increasingly cold, dry grass beneath my feet.

I push a big iron gate open and eagerly fall in expecting to see clowns and candy floss, and pop corn, and rides.

I feel a sickness in my stomach. Cold water runs through my veins and I feel faint. I look back and my friends are not here with me.

The sounds and the smells are still distant, though I stand right here in the midst of the circus. Echoes of children laughing. In a panic I pace to my right, past revellers who I dare not look at. In a panic I pace to my left, past the ghostly patrons of this lonely place. Around me they walk. Don’t look at them, don’t look at them! I can’t help it. I look at them.

Each and every one of them. She looks at me, steps closer, and as she passes by, keeps her empty eyes fixed on me. She’s asking me something but her lips don’t move. I turn my eyes away, too afraid and ashamed to speak. Too cold to engage. I feel pity and fear. I wonder if she is dead. Hundreds of her. The same. Wearing hijab, jilbab. Empty oval faces, pale and chalky. No eyes. No nose. No mouth. One draws far too close and reaches out, and in fear of the consequence of her touch I run, though my body feels heavy, I run as fast as I can.

I catch a glimpse of something, some sparkle, twinkling point of light. A young face. Again, like a moth, I’m drawn but I feel warmth as I reach her. Hiding behind the banana boats and bumper cars a beautiful girl gestures me to join her. I’m startled by her beauty, winded by it. Before I can speak she takes my hand, this girl of 9, or 10, and rushes me to the big iron gate from which I entered. I have no time to say thank you, or ask her name as she pushes me through and I fall on my back with my eyes closed.

I scramble to my feet and opening my eyes, see nothing. An empty field. But beneath my feet the grass feels warm, and moist.

 

Thanks for reading that, and I apologise if it’s left you as confused as I was after my trip to the Turkish/Syrian border.

The experience of flying out and meeting people who have suffered such atrocities is a hard one to describe. I could speak about the weather there, or the local etiquette and manners of the people. I could even talk about the production process, which I fear I will have to as even that was affected by the way we as a team were moved by the people; but I think the most profound feeling I am left with in the wake of this project is one of both immense love and sorrow for my new family whom I have left behind on the borders of Syria and Turkey. The most beautiful kids I’ve ever seen in my life, with so much hope, and energy. I refuse to accept this as naive cliche; but in the face of unspeakable evil, those children, and those people showed me courage and perseverance like I’ve never known.

I’ve a lot to learn, about being a human being, from those children. Perhaps only my colleagues will really know what I mean.

The films were shown on television and alhamdulillah we were able to raise above our target to help build the orphanage, which in itself is a great vindication for putting oneself through the gruelling experience of documenting tyranny and sadness.

I think in a follow up post I’ll explain how we made the films and also a link to the longer version. Here is a link to the trailer cut by Nur Hannah (@NurHannahWan): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIny7GQ8Nsw

And please, if you’re able to donate, donate! This is such an important and wonderful project, and an active solution to rebuilding a country that has been ravaged by war: http://www.muslimaid.org/donate

Picture: Mohammad Hannon, Associated Press