Best and Worst Writing Spaces
Space 1 – Silence. The faint sound of the clock ticking on the mantlepiece. I am upright in my wooden chair, legs crossed. I am alone with my thoughts and ideas. No interruptions, no judgments, no distractions. The TV is off. I am wearing my glasses and my warm home clothes – Sweats, cardigan, fluffy slippers. I am comfortable. I can concentrate. I write whatever flows through my mind, and I find things don’t always come as I thought they would. My mind and my fingers are working together to create something new, even to me.
Space 2 – Noise. Shouting, screaming, MAMA, MAMA! I am up and down from my chair, legs all over the place. I am searching for my thoughts and ideas every few minutes. Constant interruptions, constant distractions. The TV is on. I am wearing my glasses and warm home clothes, but I am too hot, and the glasses are feeling tight. I am not comfortable. I can’t concentrate. I write nothing. My mind and my fingers are cross with me for trying to attempt this with my sons in the house.
The Old Woman in Sainsburys
An elderly woman sat on a bench inside my local Sainsbury’s. She was large, wearing a black coat and a grimace. A young girl had just run past her, shouting to her sibling. The old lady mumbled something about kids being at home and not in school (It was half term), and she even called the little girl a ‘bitch’. She made me feel nervous. She stared at me and my son. I almost expected her to say something to me, or about me. Or about my mixed-race son (for which I’m always prepared with a witty retort). Her eyes were wide, big and angry. Her hair was short and grey, recently washed. Her mouth was taut and tense, like she was about to shout something. She had a dark grey shopper with wheels and seemed to be sitting due to fatigue. I felt sad when I looked at her. Why did she say those things about the girl who ran past her? Why was she so angry?
Further details She shuffled and breathed heavily. Her skin was pale, and she had wide eyes. Her eyes had a sadness in them, slightly moistened with tears, as if she was scared of the world around her. She had a wheeled shopper next to her, which she held on to tightly with her left hand. I could see a wedding band, gold and plain. It was tight on her finger, her skin was folding over it slightly. She had a large bust, and she hunched over as if they were weighing her down.
Suzie was at school. It was coming towards the end of the day. She had detention after school today because she was rude to her Maths teacher on Tuesday. He had told her to stop texting on her phone, and she replied with a few expletives. The headmistress was beginning to get irritated with her lurking outside her office door almost on a daily basis. She was close to calling her parents, but Suzie would always manage to get herself out of this. She had been given detentions for wearing make-up, nail polish, short skirts and the wrong colour blazer. She was almost given a referral for fighting with one of her friends in the playground, which turned out to be because of something her friend had said about her mum which ‘wasn’t true’. Suzie’s naughtiness made her very popular at school, and all of her friends wanted to be like her. She was a rebel, she was really cool.
In detention, Suzie had to write one hundred lines which read ‘I must not say rude words in class. It is disrespectful to my teachers and fellow students’. Suzie finished her one hundred lines and picked up her backpack. Her phone buzzed in her coat pocket. She looked at the message and the time on her phone, then dashed home as fast as she could, not even saying goodbye to her teacher on the way out.
She hopped on the 219 bus and sent a text: ‘Am on the bus. U OK?’
The recipient replied, ‘I need my meds in 15 mins. Can you get back in time?’
‘I know. I will B there’
Suzie opened her front door, and went into her house, dropped her bag and coat on the floor and rushed up to her mother’s bedroom. She opened the cabinet next to her bed and pulled out a pill box. Today was Thursday. Her mum needed three different tablets this time, one of which would send her back to sleep. Suzie patted her mother on the forehead and gave her a kiss. She adjusted her nightdress and duvet cover and made her mother’s head more comfortable on the pillow. Then, she went downstairs and started to cook herself some dinner. Mashed potato and sausages with baked beans. She fed their two cats, Fluffball and Mingus, and she sat down in front of the TV to eat her dinner.
Once dinner was over, it was time to do the laundry. She had to wait for the laundry cycle to finish before putting the wet clothes into the tumble dryer. Once that was done, she went up to her own bedroom and started her homework. She had to write an essay about something that made her feel different from her peers. She had to come up with something that perhaps nobody knew about her. This was her moment to tell the truth about her home life, about her mother’s illness and how she had been her mother’s full-time carer for the past three years since her father left them. And, that the text that she sent in her Maths class was to her mother’s doctor to confirm a home visit the next evening. She had become tired of being the rebel. She needed help, and maybe this was the outlet she had been waiting for.
Derek is lost. Desperate. In a lonely place. Far from home and trying to make a better life for him and his sons. At the age of 41, Derek didn’t think he would be here, in a chemist in Tooting, trying to steal two tubs of Palmer’s cocoa butter. He had been a good man all his life, even at school back in Kingston, Jamaica, he had done well with his grades, and his teachers loved him. His parents were proud of him. He moved to the UK with a view to start a business as an immigration lawyer. But then drugs got in the way. He couldn’t get away from it and was drawn to the areas of South West London where the drugs were abundant. He was weak, and fell in to the wrong lifestyle. But it was easy, fun, and he had friends. He liked having friends. He loved to laugh and share stories. He found other people who had grown up in Jamaica and he suddenly felt at home. Sometimes, he would get agitated and argumentative if anyone questioned his ideals and his beliefs. He was a firm believer that everyone in the world is equal and should be able to travel the world with ease and acceptance, no matter the colour of their skin or the place of their birth.
That was back then, when Derek first moved to the UK. Now, he was living in a shitty little bedsit with dirty sheets, one brown chair in the corner and a small dining table with one wooden chair. His bedsit had a sink and a hob, but no oven or microwave. He probably could have afforded a microwave if he stopped using the drugs. There was no TV, only a small radio which he used to catch up on the news. Whenever the radio was off, he would hear the sounds from the other flats in the building. People shouting at their young kids, people fucking loudly in the middle of the day, people falling down the stairs because they’re drunk at 9am. It was a far cry from the life he left behind, and the life he wished for himself here. And now he had his two sons to think about. These two amazing, precious, innocent boys who looked up to their father for support and guidance in this cruel world.
Derek was tall. So tall. Slim, and with an aged athleticism. He could be handsome if he looked after himself. He kept his hair short, even though he was not having it cut by a proper barber, so he had tufts of black coiled hair sticking out every which way. His dark skin was ashen, lacking in hydration, and he began to see cracks form on his hands. His eyes were tired, red and bulging under the pressure of keeping them open. The air seemed to sting them and make them water, like a constant reminder of the life Derek had made for himself, totally by accident. He walked around Tooting High Street wearing a white sports jacket, black tracksuit trousers and carrying a backpack which contained all of his most precious possessions. He daren’t leave it at his bedsit, as he knew that someone could easily break in and take them. There were photos of his boys, his parents in Jamaica, and one of his four brothers and himself standing outside the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston. His backpack was worn out. It had turned a dark brown, replacing the black colour it once was, much like his ashen skin. His backpack was almost a material version of himself – Full of memories, and containing all of his life baggage, looking worn out and pale. Despite being physically strong (much like the backpack), Derek was mentally and emotionally tired. He was only 41 years old, but anyone else would place his age a lot higher.
Derek’s two sons live with their mother and her new boyfriend in Balham. It’s not far from the Tooting bedsit that Derek lives in alone. There isn’t enough room for his boys to stay with him in his bedsit, so he has arranged with his ex-wife to see the boys at a mutually-arranged place of interest, half way between the two homes. This week, it was the park. There is a great playground for the boys to play, and there is always a friendly face for Derek to chat to while the boys run off their energy.
Derek always had to prepare for about a week in advance of his time with his boys. There must be no drugs in his system. He must be strong, mentally and physically. He must be alert, awake and responsible. Small changes in the arrangements would always send him into a tailspin. He would have a rigid regimen each day leading up to the time he saw his sons, so any changes would mean starting again or finding a good place to stop and rethink. He mainly did this as a ‘fuck you’ to his ex-wife and her new boyfriend. But, really, he wanted the boys to see the man he wanted them to see. It was the man he knew he could be if he could just get out of this life. But, where would he start? It was too much effort to undo all of those bad choices. Instead, he masked the reality of his life in front of his boys and their mother. The boyfriend could really just bugger off. He wasn’t good enough for Derek’s sons, and he wanted his ex-wife to know that.
His regimen included eating healthily, drinking more water, shutting himself away with no drugs in his home for the whole week, and only listening to music on his radio. He didn’t want to fill his head with depressing and negative news. He would wash and press his good jeans and shirt and would make sure to moisturise and freshen up with some deodorant. He would even have a shower and wash his hair. He liked who he became on this day and wished he could afford to be this man more often. Perhaps, then, he could find himself a job instead of trying to steal two tubs of Palmer’s cocoa butter from a Superdrug store.
As Derek walked into the store, he had a motive. He needed those tubs of cocoa butter and would stop at nothing to get them. He knew he had no funds of any kind, aside from selling a kidney or his right leg. He took a deep breath, headed to the skincare section and collected the two tubs. He looked around to see the security guard watching him closely. ‘Hey brother, what’s up?’, he said. The security guy nodded and turned away. Now that Derek knew that someone was on to him, he fell into plan B. He would now go to the counter with his tubs of cocoa butter and try to ‘pay’ on his card. A small queue formed behind him as he stepped up to the small Asian lady behind the counter. He was nervous but kept his cool. When she showed him the price, it said £4.97. He rifled through his pockets, completely aware that all he would find there were some sweet wrappers and perhaps a receipt or two. He then pulled out his wallet and took out his debit card. He knew there would be no money on it, but he knew that the cashier didn’t know that. He suddenly thought of an idea as the cashier said, ‘I’m sorry, that card has been declined. Do you have another way to pay?’.
‘No, I don’t. I’m sorry. I’ll put these back where I found them.’
‘No, could you give those to me, please? I’ll put them back on the shelf’
Shit. No go. Derek walked away from the counter and noticed a man with glasses staring at him from the queue.
‘What are you looking at, fam? Why are you looking at me? Stop looking, fam.’ Derek slowly left the shop without turning back. What was he going to do now? He only had a few hours before he was meeting the boys and he needed to moisturise.
Later on, a reluctant Derek left, unmoisturised, to visit his sons at the park. He hopped on the bus in his smart shirt, jeans and jacket, and sat on the top deck. He just had enough for the bus fare, as he knew he had to budget for that. He looked out of the window as the bus pulled away. Someone he knew was running for the bus, but the driver didn’t stop to let him on. In a way, Derek was relieved. It would mean he would be getting to the park that much sooner.