Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Moss Side Stories


York, Summer 2006

The kids stood on the roadside; Italians to depart, French to say goodbye. After 10 minutes of this, they progressed to the hugging and last minute exchange of emails. A mere ten minutes later they were told for the final time that this final time was really the final final time and if they didn't get on the coach they would have to walk back to Rome.

They wailed, they gnashed teeth, they got on the bus. As a final symbolic act, the most uncool Italian kid, the geeky twelve year-old with the bottlebottom specs, the one voted 'Most Likely to Be Bullied Forever', the only kid in the entire school uncool enough to actually want to learn English, wept bitter tears into the arms of the genetically cool 17-year old French heartbreakers, and their hugs were not sarcastic or forced, they were, to my astonishment, genuine and full of affection.

I stared ahead with my eyelids half closed. "Time for class," I said.


North Manchester, January 2007

"Andrew, it's Emma's leaving party this Friday. We'll go have some drinks, maybe some food. Are you coming?"
I stared ahead with my eyelids half open. "I'll go," I said.



The worst lesson I ever taught. The remainder of the group were French, all with tears in their eyes, wounds fresh and raw. The Italians had gone. Their friends had gone. Their reasons for living had gone. Nothing could console them. I stared out the window.
One French boy, a good kid in a group of good kids, his eyes red and his lips awobble, asked me if I wanted him to do any work. I showed him my journal, full of seemingly random words and dates and little pictures. A bed, a car, a matchstick Zidane. I gently explained how each picture reminded me of something that had happened. I began telling the stories behind each picture, and slowly more of the class listened to me, until they all together heard the story of the Big Hangover, the mystery of Junction 45, and why the word 'ashtray' reminds me of the World Cup final. I encouraged them to make their own diary, with cute little pictures, if they wanted. And if they wanted to cry instead, I wouldn't shout at them.

Then I stared out the window again.
"Teacher," said a boy. I turned to look at him. It was Éugénéménté, an intelligent, wilful, sensitive lad, who probably carried a note from his mother exempting him from playing rugby, but who probably played anyway and was quite good at it. "Teacher," he said, his eyes big with tears, "Don't you feel sad?"
His words overwhelmed me. He was saying, 'Andrew, you're not sad, you DICK. Why not? I know you should be sad. You've lost people you were close to, too. They were your friends who left. Is that what life does to you? Does it make you so sad you can never feel sad again?' And in that moment I felt as wretched as any time in my entire life, and tears filled the backs of my eyes. I realised if I cried then I would never stop.
"Éugénéménté," I said, "I have been to many countries and left many countries and met many people and left many people."

He looked at me and nodded, and he understood, and that was the only thing I ever taught him.


Manchester City Centre, January 2007

I looked at my mobile. Nearly midnight, and I had to go to Trafford. "I have to leave now," I told one of the ladies.
"Stay a bit," she said.
"No because there are no lights in my house and I have to go to my auntie's house in Trafford."
"What's wrong with the lights in your house?"
"They exploded."
"So? You can find your bed."
I motioned my hand forward, up, and backward, miming the route from my front door to the bed. "It's far," I moaned. I turned and looked at Emma for the final time. A vicious voice in my head said, 'You're a writer; write something to say to her.' Emma looked at me. "I have to go now, Emma." And having said that, I left.


Town Centre

There were no buses to Trafford, so I took the 42 toward my house in Moss Side. The bus was half-full of people who had left parties early. I looked out the window.



I felt my way into the bedroom and found a bag of fireplace candles. I lit one to
see the way, then blew it out in case it burned my house down during the night. My face was expressionless. I can't prove it, because I was alone and my lights had exploded. But if
there had been any lights, and if there had been someone watching my face for whatever reason, they wouldn't have seen an expression.

I got into bed and stared ahead with my eyelids half closed. 'Andrew', said a voice, 'aren't you sad?'


  1. Anonymous6:17 PM

    haha,that s funny

  2. I love this post. Just reading it again made my eyes water. I had to take a deep breath to avoid crying.

    If you wrote a book full of that kind of things, it'd be a best-seller and turned into a movie. You could bring your mum to the Oscars then.


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