Chris Cleave lives in London with his wife and three children. Chris's debut novel It is titled The Other Hand in the UK, where it is a Sunday. The Other Hand by Chris Cleave. We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you. Review: The Other Hand by Chris CleaveLawrence Norfolk on a shocking encounter that reverberates from a Nigerian beach to middle.
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The Other Hand Author: Chris Cleave The Dyers Hand & Other Essays. Read more · The Hand Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. Read more · Van hand tot. (THE OTHER HAND is published in the USA and Canada as LITTLE BEE). other_hand_jacket Learn more about the real world of refugees, asylum seekers and. Me, I could pin a tiara on my short fuzzy hair, and I could hold up a sceptre in one hand, like this, and police officers would still walk up to me in their big shoes.
Very powerful and moving. I sobbed, raged and laughed and marvelled at the beauty of it. I never thought I would read the phrase "rang like a bell" with anything but a yawn. I breathed deeply in the fresh, clean air. She turned around to the second girl in the queue and she said, Listen darlin, what name is dis place, where we at right now? This is how you learn the craft.
A film adaptation is now in pre-production, and will be produced by and star Julia Roberts. Amazon Studios will be distributing the film. Cleave spent his early childhood in West Africa, which he credits for having partially inspired The Other Hand.
Further inspiration came from Cleaves's temporary employment while studying experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. During the summer, Cleave painted underpasses, gardened and picked up litter, and hoped to use this experience to write a book.
His final job was at Campsfield House in Oxfordshire , an immigration detention centre. Cleave spent three days serving food to residents from war zones including Somalia , Eritrea and the Balkans.
He explained: Why are you in prison? It's not illegal and yet we concentrate them in these places. It's a text-book definition of a concentration camp. The conditions are appalling. I was shocked enough for that to be the end of my light comedy book of my amusing summers working as a labourer. In , an incident inspired Cleave to write The Other Hand. Four years previously, in , an Angolan asylum-seeker named Manuel Bravo had arrived in England with his 9-year-old son.
After being detained in an immigration centre for four years, officials decided to forcibly deport Bravo and his son back to Angola the next morning. During the night, Bravo committed suicide, aware that his son, who was still a minor, could not be deported unaccompanied. I think the job is important because there's something you can do in fiction that you don't have the space to do in news media, which is to give back a measure of humanity to the subjects of an ongoing story.
When I started to imagine the life of one asylum seeker in particular, rather than asylum seekers in general, the scales fell from my eyes in regard to any ideological position I might have held on the issue. It's all about exploring the mystery and the wonder of an individual human life. Life is precious, whatever its country of origin. After spending two years detained in a British immigration detention centre , Little Bee is illegally released after a fellow refugee performs sexual favours for a detention officer.
She travels to the home of Sarah and her husband Andrew, whom she met two years previously on a beach in the Niger Delta. Sarah is initially unaware of Little Bee's presence, until Andrew, haunted by guilt of their shared past, commits suicide. Little Bee reveals herself to Sarah on the day of Andrew's funeral, and helps her to care for her four-year-old son Charlie. Through a mutual reflection on their past, it is revealed that Sarah and Andrew were on holiday at the time of their meeting with Little Bee.
The trip was an attempt to salvage their marriage after Andrew discovered Sarah had been unfaithful to him, embarking on an affair with Home Office employee Lawrence Osborn. While walking on the beach one morning, they were approached by a then year-old Little Bee, and her older sister Nkiruka.
The girls were being pursued by soldiers who had burned down their village and intended for there to be no witnesses left alive. The soldiers arrived and murdered a guard from the O'Rourkes' hotel, but offered to spare the lives of the girls if Andrew would amputate his own middle finger with a machete.
Afraid, and believing the soldiers would murder the girls anyway, Andrew refused, but Sarah complied in his place. The soldiers took both girls away, leaving the couple in doubt as to whether the soldiers would leave one girl alive in response, as they promised. Little Bee explains that although Nkiruka was gang raped, murdered, and cannibalised by the soldiers, she was allowed to escape, and stowed away in the cargo hold of a ship bound for England.
Sarah allows Little Bee to stay with her, intent on helping her become a legal British citizen. Lawrence, who is still involved with Sarah, disapproves of her actions and contemplates turning Little Bee in to the police. When he informs Little Bee that he is considering this, she responds that allowing her to stay would be what is best for Sarah, so if Lawrence turns her in, Little Bee will get revenge by telling his wife Linda about his affair.
The two reach an uneasy truce. After spending several days together, Sarah, Lawrence, Little Bee and Charlie take a trip to the park. Charlie goes missing, and Little Bee calls the police while Sarah searches for him.
Although he is quickly found, the police become suspicious of Little Bee, and discover that she is in the country illegally. Little Bee is detained and quickly deported back to Nigeria, where she believes she will be killed. Lawrence uses his Home Office connections to track Little Bee's deportation details, and Sarah and Charlie are able to accompany her back home.
Sarah believes that Little Bee will be safe as long as she is present, and together they begin collecting stories for a book Andrew had begun, and which Sarah intends to finish on his behalf, about the atrocities committed in the Nigerian oil conflict. During a trip to the same beach where they first encountered one another, soldiers arrive to take Little Bee away.
Despite being captured, Little Bee is not dispirited, and instead is ultimately hopeful at the sight of Charlie playing happily with a group of Nigerian children. Critics have focused on the contrast between the two, with Caroline Elkins of The New York Times commenting that Sarah might initially appear "insipid" to readers, and that when juxtaposed with Little Bee, she seems "unsympathetic, even tiresome".
It's too often apparent that Little Bee is not real. This doesn't do justice to her story, and puts the burden back on the author to show that he's representing her, rather than exploiting her. The Guardian 's Lawrence Norfolk commented that Sarah is a "far from perfect heroine: Hi Gloria, thanks very much for reading the book. All the way across the water here in Minnesota.
Someone gave me your book — the other hand — and I went on until I finished it. Time out for toast and tea. Otherwise, it held me. Wonderful story and wonderful people. Little Bee is a star. Keep going. We need more stuff to keep the sun shining. It really does help me to keep working. All good wishes to you in Minnesota! Mr Cleave, thank you very much for sharing your gift with us. I do not want my child to grow up into a world that is callous and stupid, either.
Thanks for trying to show us what the other hand has been doing. Hi Ricky — thank you! This means so much to me. The most remarkably moving book I have ever read. I felt guilty to smile, let alone laugh out loud, at the humour delivered within the incredible horror delivered in your awesome prose. I wish i had your skill to truly describe the avalanche of sorrow that so often overcame as I read this must read.
It is not the type of book I usually read but I was enthralled from the start. I found it deeply disturbing in places but could not put it down and read it in a day. Half way through I realised that the author you! Was male. I was amazed as you have such insight in to female emotions, judgements and thinking. A amazing book. It was really touching. Thank you for a wonderful read from Greece with love! In Greece the title is Hold me tight… not so successful as the story….
Hi Filia — thank you for your kind words. Thanks in an uncountable way. I got a call from my classmate when the parcel arrived and I just knew its something from you.
I thought I had guessed wrongly on touching the parcel,more than one book. However I was wowed when I found out you sent the three. I see a lasting relationship between us. You will endorse my book when I am done.
You are limitless for making me feel wanted and loved. Hello Sir! Help me send it incase you forgot. Can you let me have your postal address again please? I could never imagine that there is still a book that could shatter me like this. I became a slightly different person after finishing to read this book. Thank You. I bought your book in February this year, compelling as it was, I found it continued to affect me afterwards.
Other people in my group have been touched by your novel. It is profound. While reading, at one page I was laughing and at another I was crying. Hi Chris, sorry this is rather longer than I antcipated! After I admit rather honestly.. I have been unable to put it down and that has not happened for a long time..
I only wish I read it sooner, although having said that.. I have never written to an author before but to echo some of the comments above.. I felt as if I needed to, having gone on the journey with Little Bee and Sarah and the way it made me feel so many emotions, then onto your website…seeing the passion for your art is wonderful…I cannot wait to read Gold! Not to mention my love for Kingston, having been a student close by during my Uni years at Roehampton where our campus was very close to Richmond Park and many memories were revisited from there, when reading..
The book also sparked other memories for me; I worked in Peckham and the sorrounding areas for 4 years, for a charity supporting disabled children and their families..
One of the reocurring themes was the fear of how their child would be treated if they returned home.. As well as the terrifying ordeal of coming to terms with the fact some of these children were products of rape. Being a young, white middle class woman in my first real job..
But amongst all the bad stuff, I enjoyed working in such a strong, vibrant community and met some incrediable people and learnt so much about myself. I have 2 great friends from Nigerian background who I am also going to reccomend your novel too! I have always had an interest in Africa and have volunteered in Ghana, teaching in a school and travelled around and want to see so much more of this incrediable continent and I will, with hopefully my new skills..
I am currently studying a Diploma in Child Counselling using Intergrative Arts and once a little established here after gaining my accreditation my hope is to return to Africa and work with children and families who have been through trauma and use the Arts with them as a form of therapy….
I am sure I will be learning from them! This is why reading your book now has been such good timing… What has been amazing and I thankyou for this is the realisation that story telling and writing is such a special art and creates such imagery to the individual reader. I also wanted to ask you, as it seems a hot topic at the moment to send your novel to David Cameron! Seriously though, as much as I agree with you and feel like more needs to be done to rid the stigma attatched to asylum seekers in the UK, we are facing a huge immigration problem and we are only an island..
Thankyou for introducing me to Little Bee and Sarah and bringing their worlds together, highlighting the differences and yet similarities we as humans all have. Thankyou for moving me and inspiring me further in my ambition. You have a gift-Thankyou for sharing it. Chris, I am 14 years old an i live in Holland. So my english is not so gold as that of an english wormen, so i Will Mayby make Somers mistackes.
What cane i say? I loved your book, i loved it really really much. Its been a few weeks now sinds i read your book and i still have to think about the stort every dat, i read THE other hand about 5 times now and every time i read it i still have to cry and laugh out loud. I was sad, happy and emotionally moves all the time while rading.
Thank you! I read it and was overwhelmed with emotions several times. I read it in hurry because I was afraid if I put it down I would lose its pulse. I wonder if I should read it again only to savor the beautiful words. Hi Chris, I was wondering if I had your permission to use the image of this book for my website as I am writing a review for it?
I would be very grateful as I am a huge fan of the novel. Kind Regards, Sarah. Hi Sarah, thanks for reviewing the book — much appreciated. First of all, I am very interested in the way and the style you present such a new theme which, as far as I know, has never been discussed by any other modern writer. In other words, the story appears to be a way of saying how do other think about UK and what it looks like when it comes to reality, in particular young people who always dream of immigrating and settling there.
This is clear at the beginning when the four girls, including Little Bee, were released from the detention centre. Each one of them was thinking of UK as she always dreamt of or told about. Another thing is that I do not like the way the male characters behave especially Andrew. Females on the other hand are restless dealing with men as differently.
Take in comparison Sarah and Little Bee. Sarah thinks that everything she has done so far in her life is not her choice including her marriage from Andrew and her job as well as being a mother. She likes the idea that having the affair with Lawrence as the only good choice in her life, however at sometime she appears to be uncertain about her relationship with him as he is selfish as any other male.
Little Bee does not want to be in contact with males and smile at them as they do in her village. She had bad experience of them. This can be the reason to make her escape from the idea of being in touch with them. Thank you for this wonderful story looking forward to reading many other ones of such high quality.
Finally, here is a little bit about myself. I am Sudanese. I am here in UK to do an MA in teaching and linguistics. Best Regards. Each one of them was thinking of UK as she always dreamt or told about it. Thank you for this wonderful story looking forward to reading many other ones of such high quality as one. I am here in UK to do an MA in teaching or linguistics. We discussed about what you might wanted to say with your book and many said that you were critisizing the European governments.
I am writing some books in English, too, but nobody wants to read them here, because only a few are very god in English to understand it. When I read your book, I noticed that I have many mistakes in my book. I hope I will be a successful author like you one day.
If I can find your other books in germany I will read them, too. Thank you……I will surely enjoy it as the first page of chapter one gripped me….. I know your book will give me a kick…for me to begin my writing adventure on a million causes of tears in Nigeris. I just finish the book. I mean, a minute ago. I am a latin american 30yo guy living in Taiwan, and maybe I just jumped all the culture in between.
I read The Other Hand several years ago and have reread it several times since. Every second spent with this book is a revelation and a road to self discovery and I cherish it deeply. I am hopeful for the future of a world where people like you exist and share their gift with their readers in such a profoundly intimate, sincere and unforgettable way. Hi Martina — thank you — I really appreciate your comments.
Emmanuel anglican church,umuchiaku Lowa,p. Hi Thankgod, thank you for the address — I will put the book in the post today. All good wishes — Chris. I have just finished your absolutely fantastic book!
It has made me laugh and cry. A true masterpiece! Your book will always has a place in my bookshelf. I beleive everything happens for a reason, and I found this book by accident, it was amongst a donation to my bookshop, I read it in two days.
I sobbed, raged and laughed and marvelled at the beauty of it. It gives me hope that we can change the world with how we feel. Thank you Chris for a truly mind blowing book, there are people out there that care after all x. HI, I have just finished your book through a bucket of tears.
Once again I am reminded of how lucky I am to live in this country even though our government are behaving like a bunch of monkeys at the moment! I will recommend your book to anyone who will listen and will be going back to the bookstore to buy your other book.
Thank you for a wonderful story. Cheers Christine from Australia. I only skimmed through the chapter one and a few others. I have searched all bookshops around my locality as a child searches for a missing toy,yet to find this gripping book of yours. I want to read it. What else? I am dumbfounded as I only starved my taste buds. I am an aspiring writer…. Hi Thank-God — thank you for your excellent comment, which has made my day. I have spare copies of the book so I can send you one if you like.
I could mail it to your local bookstore for you to collect if you can post the address. Hope you will enjoy it! All good wishes, Chris. Living in Africa but being British I was able to see so many wonderful elements being brought together in this truly stunning novel.
I will write a review for my blog though. Anyway, just wanted you to know I was blown away. Thank you for your art. I will certainly keep reading! Best wishes, Mel. Hi Melissa — thanks for your very kind words, and all good wishes for your own writing. It took me about ten years of slow improvement before my style started to come together, and I still find the writing process frightening and difficult. I just tend to write stuff to please myself, and if other people like it then so much the better.
I reckon that if we as writers are true to our own vision of things, then people and hopefully a lot of people! Reading this book was one of the best just not reading experiences but life experiences. I hope you write more books soon. Thank you for this beautiful gift to us. God bless you. Henrienne — wow: It means a great deal to me — thank you.
Dear Chris, I have read many books but have never felt the need to write to the author. I have three children aged 5, 3 and 4months but i still found the time to read this book faster than i have read any book before.
I cried when it ended, for two reasons i think, one because of what i think happened next and two because the book was finished. Dear Chris, A beautiful, beautiful book. The only book that has ever brought me to tears. Thank-you for this and thank-you for drawing attention to these issues, I only hope one day I will be able to do something too. It was possible to read it in a shorter time period because of its easy reading, but I wanted to give me an extra time to live the book by myself also.
In Turkey, a new book has been published recently by a well-known famous writer-singer-film director-newspaper corner writer all in one. While reading it, I felt that I was reading a Chris Reave book. Please take a notice for this situation. What a story! I am very surprised to discover that you are a man. After finishing the Other Hand, and wiping away my tears, I jumped on your website to find out more about you and bam!
There you were — quite obviously not the woman I had assumed you were, from your fantastic narration by not one, but two, very remarkable and believable female characters. That is the second thing I wanted to say to you. Your book — the characters, the horror and the tenderness, and the beautiful, captivating narration — caught me off-guard, like your photo, and from the very first paragraph I lost myself wholeheartedly into its pages, I drank it in with big thirsty gulps.
It not so much reminded me of what I love about fiction — plenty of other books have done that — but it reminded me of what I love about real life and real people. It is stirring, realistic and rare. Thank you so much. I have read and love your short story Fresh Water too. Where can I get a copy of Sea Stories? I found the writing fantastic, easy, free flowing.
But I am left highly frustrated by the portrayal of those from developing countries, which suggests under-education. Under-eduction in whose society you might ask? It is disappointing that the editors of the book did not pick up such poor inconsistencies.
I thought the first chapter was excellent. In many respects this book gives misinformation on some of the key issues the author is trying to address. To the western reviewers, who are unlikely to know much about the issues the author addresses, this is a great book. To anyone who knows the issues first hand, the book is a step backward. It could have been so much more, but as I said, this book is just fiction, so not sure what I was expecting really, perhaps the truth?
Very disappointed. Dear Cameron, Thank you for reading the book and for taking the time to leave a comment. In fact the novel is extensively researched and I hope I would be able to defend it against any specific criticism you cared to make. If you can provide examples of passages that offend, I will be happy to look at them and respond to you in the light of your comments.
Kind regards, Chris. Yet, the strength and determination you created in Little Bee and Sarah has certainly inspired me. Thank you for a wonderful read. I hope you read this and thank you once again for bringing two wonderful stories to my half term! I was touched by your flow of words and the simplicity with which you tell the story from 2 peoples persepctives. I was hooked from the first few pages.
It is a very powerful and moving story….. I have huge respect for you for this masterpiece, and I already recommended your book to my friends and planning to buy one for my girlfriend!
I appreciate you for that! Much love and respect! You have mastered the art of the storyteller from the donkey work of research to the difficulty of finding a conclusion. Credible and moving. I will be recommending your book to everyone. Not surprisingly I returned to Waterstones today to buy Incendiary. An amazing, touching, beautifully written book.
A must read. Anxiously awaiting another Cleave masterpiece…. Reading your novel was such an inspiration,and believe me,I never felt this way before reading a book. Thank you for your sensibility about this drama so brightly exposed.
In a good way, i buy a lot of my books from charity shops, but often smile when i see yours there because they have been read then sent on for others to enjoy. I cant wait to see what unique subject you will pick for your next novel, i dont know of any other person that writes like you do.
We have a book swap at work and it was here that i picked up incendiary, i couldnt put it down and even my other half read it. Many thanks mandy. Must say it is a very beautiful book. It is really touching, and the way the story unfolds is nothing short of magic. I am half way through it now. That is something…!
I think everyone in the UK should read this book. We suffer in the UK from our liberal democracy, it leaves us with no concept of what else life can be like, and for some of us, shamefully, it destroys empathy and compssion.
You could also add the Refugee Council to your links http: I liked the story, because it could have really happened. I liked the way you tell this story, even though it was responsible for a sleepless night could not stop reading! I loved each character, especially little Batman. But did. How much does the world know about the murder and desecration that goes on inorder for their acquisitive goals to be achieved??
The Oil companies have a lot to answer for. I am Elke from little Belgium. When do you end up next book? I am sixteen years old and my dream is to be a writer. It will stand out forever as one of those books that made me want to write. Thanks a million! Hi Chris! I love your books. They are so sensitive. What an incredibly sad, and yet uplifting novel. An absolute triumph! I work as a bookseller and will be recommending your novel as much as possible.
I finished your book today, it really is amazing. I am from an english, I do not know.
A fantastically memorable book. Heartbreaking and funny and significant. I was amazed and surprised at the end of it when I looked you up on a sight to find out that you were a man speaking through two woman.
An amazing feat. I thought you might be a Brittish man of ethnic parents from another land. I am eigthy and with the years have come to the conclusion myself that neither skin colour nor place of birth, nor relegion can seperate us from our hunanity which is given to us by God in my belief and we are all brothers and sisters.
Joan Hickey. Dear Mr Cleave, a few months ago I read your book. Thank you very much in advance. Keep on and let us live different stories: I was carried away by your lecture at Seattle Central Library at 7pm today.
Your book is inspirational. Thank you for taking the time to sign it. I enjoyed it too! I just finished reading Little Bee — at Thank you for one of the best and most stunning and heartbreaking books that I have ever read.
I love it from the first to the last page. Thank you very, very much. Dear Mr. I was looking for a book written in English and I found yours in a book shop in a shopping mall of the city center of Madrid. Just wanted to let you know, so you can see how far your words can travel. Hi Mr Cleave its been 1o months that I work in a book store called Apeejay oxford book store here in Bhubaneswar, India I have sold alomost 40 copies of your work The other hand and believe me every one liked it,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,beautiful peice of work.
Everything about the book is interesting, heartbreaking and outstanding. Best wishes from İstanbul!! Dear Chris. First of all I wanted to thank you for your marvelous book! And what is more!
It provokes the emotions! What is really interested, being a linguist, I have used your book to write about usage of different dialects in British and American English just as example for English usage.
Thank you very much, as there are the references in my work to your magnificent book! I really thank you to write such a book and thanks God,the world has such talented writers!!
I loved that your book put a face and a soul to the issue. I loved that your book tackled this issue without coming off as preachy. It seems to imply that without the white person to actively rescue the brown person, the brown victim would passively die, and thus appears to perpetuate the myth of the white saviour and the helpless brown savage.
I recognise that having grown up in Cameroon and having worked in a immigration centre, and the research you have undertaken obviously you have had perhaps more insight than others may have and you obviously deeply respect Little Bee and what she stands for.
I look forward to hearing from you. I too would love a sequel to Little Bee and I am going to go and borrow your first book from the library. Also, I wonder any hints about the subject of your third book? Respectfully, Angela. Simply wonderful.
When friends and family have asked me what it is about, I am simply at a loss to explain it. How can one do that with this? Well done. Thank you for Little Bee, I loved the special characters. Incendiary was a work of magic.
I read it in 6 hours and blew off work. Very powerful and moving. I have just read The Other Hand and was enthralled from start to finish. A great book with an amazing story, very well told. I have also just finished Incendiary which had me hooked from page one. I look forward to reading more of your work Chris. I absolutely loved Little Bee and just now finished reading Incendiary- absolutely amazing. I couldnt put it down and ended up finishing the whole thing while at work HAHA I cant wait to see whats next!
Thank you. Cleave, my mother gave me your book for birthday, because I am going to spend a year in Africa. Thank you for writing this brilliant book. I am a teacher of age pupils and I was so inspired by your opening paragraph that we used it as a stimulus for a lesson in English. I just love your writing style, it moved me through a whole range of emotions. I have only just discovered your other title and will be going to buy it as soon as possible.
Congratulations on your fantastic little bee! You are trully a gifted writer. I have never laughed and cried so much in one novel though, i do wish it has a happier ending.. Anyway once again, congratulations! I look forward to your new book…. I got your book almost by coincidence when I was visiting my son the other day.
His girlfriend gave it to me, just when I was about to leave and I took it and promised to read it. Honestly more out of politeness than of real interest in this moment. For a couple of days it lay on my desk until I finally took it an started to read. Then something extraordinary happened. Almost immediately I was struck by a rare surprise. Absolutely unforeseen thoughts and fascinating images emerged in my mind. In a moment I became addicted to the tales of this 16 year old african girl.
Through her eyes I saw a world that ought to be familiar to me but looked as strange as any foreign environment could ever be. It was like drowning in someone elses traumata. For very long time I have not felt such an intense fascination for a book. All my thoughts circled around the story and I still have flashbacks when fragments of situations and incidents come back to my mind. When you have lived, as I have, the unimaginable, you often find yourself shocked that you have let others hear you laughing in the middle of the horror.
I think what was so friendly about Little Bee was that her humor came from a willingness to try to understand the next step in a world that is not built of next steps but of cosmic stuttering, miscopied strands of genes, and personal harmonies that are arranged inside our psyches the way that liver is plopped down in our guts.
Of course there are mines in the field. Of course people are walking through the field and not getting blown up. Of course someone has to be the next person. If you know this simple, logical truth, and you must walk through the field, then it is really a very nice thing to hear someone else laughing at the absurdity of it. This simple fact makes us laugh sometimes. It was uncanny. I can never explain to anyone why I look at all the details involved in crossing the road and how much they can be like unzipping body bags to find where a friend has gone off to.
It is hard to see the details, but it is hilarious to watch someone else e. Where are the Balenciagas that fell last year? I have no idea if you have had loved ones blown up or family members tortured and killed in your presence, like your characters have had.
But I do know that trying to make sense out of the day is impossible for you. It is wonderful how you write about that. And that sometimes, in between bouts of post traumatic blitzes, we get, deep down inside, that, not as a complement to or a completion of, not as anything meaning anything, there is also humor and that everything contradicts everything. She just stood there, and she was wearing a blue T-shirt and blue denim jeans and white Dunlop Green Flash trainers, and she just looked down at her own see-though bag, and her bag was full of letters and documents.
There was so much paper in that bag, all crumpled and creased, she had to hold one hand under the bag to stop it all bursting out. Now, this third girl, I knew her a little bit too. She was not pretty and she was not a good talker either, but there is one more thing that can save you from being sent home early. There were rubber stamps at the end of her story that said in red ink this is TRUE.
I remember she told me her story once and it went something like, the-men-came-and-they- burned-my-village- tied-my-girls- raped-my-girls- took-my-girls- whipped-my-husband- cut-my-breast- I-ran-away- through-the-bush- found-a-ship- crossed-the-sea- and-then-they-put-me-in-here. Or some such story like that. I got confused with all the stories in that detention centre. And all of the stories finished, and-then-they-put-me-in-here.
All the stories were sad, but you and I have made our agreement concerning sad words. With this girl — girl three in the queue — her story had made her so sad that she did not know the name of the place where she was at and she did not want to know.
The girl was not even curious. So the girl with the telephone receiver, she asked her again. Yu no talk neither? How come yu not know the name dis place we at? Then the third girl in the queue, she just pointed her eyes up at the ceiling, and so the girl with the telephone receiver pointed her own eyes up at the ceiling for a second time. I was thinking, Okay, now the detention officer has looked at the ceiling one time and girl three has looked at the ceiling one time and girl one has looked at the ceiling two times , so maybe there are some answers up on that ceiling after all.
Maybe there is something very cheerful up there. Maybe there are stories written on the ceiling that go something like the-men-came-and-they- brought-us-colourful-dresses- fetched-wood-for-the-fire- told-some-crazy-jokes- drank-beer-with-us- chased-us-till-we-giggled- stopped-the-mosquitoes-from-biting- told-us-the-trick-for-catching-the-British-one-pound-coin- turned-the-moon-into-cheese- Oh, and then they put me in here. I looked at the ceiling, but it was only white paint and fluorescent light tubes up there.
The girl on the telephone, she finally looked at me. The girl stared at me. Yu kiddin wid me , she said. What kine of a name is dat? So I pointed at the little metal plate that was screwed on the wall above the telephone. The girl looked at it and then she looked back to me and she said, Sorry darlin, I can not ridd it. So I read it out to her, and I pointed to the words one at a time. Thank you precious, the first girl said, and she lifted up the telephone receiver.
She said into the receiver: Then she said, No, please, wait. Then she looked sad and she put the telephone receiver back down on the telephone. I said, What is wrong? The first girl sighed and she said, Taxi man say he no pick up from dis place. Then he say, You people are scum.
You know dis word? I said to the first girl, You are a film of impurities or vegetation that can form on the surface of a liquid. She looked at me and I looked at her and we giggled because we did not understand what to do with the information. This was always my trouble when I was learning to speak your language.
Every word can defend itself. Just when you go to grab it, it can split into two separate meanings so the understanding closes on empty air.
I admire you people. You are like sorcerers and you have made your language as safe as your money. So me and the first girl in the telephone queue, we were giggling at each other, and I was holding my see-through bag and she was holding her see-through bag. There was one black eyebrow pencil and one pair of tweezers and three rings of dried pineapple in hers. The first girl saw me looking at her bag and she stopped giggling. What you starin at?
I said I did not know. She said, I know what you tinking. You tinking, Now the taxi no come for to pick me up, how far me going to get wid one eyebrow pencil an one tweezer an three pineapple slice? So I told her, Maybe you can use the eyebrow pencil to write a message that says HELP ME, and then you can give the pineapple slices to the first person who does. The girl looked at me like I was crazy in the head and she said to me: Okay darlin, one , I got no paper for to write no message on, two , I no know how to write, I only know how to draw on me eyebrows, an tree , me intend to eat that pineapple meself.
And she made her eyes wide and stared at me. While this was happening, the second girl in the queue, the girl with the lemon yellow sari and the see-through bag full of yellow, she had become the first girl in the queue, because now she held the telephone receiver in her own hand.
She was whispering into it in some language that sounded like butterflies drowning in honey. I tapped the girl on her shoulder, and pulled at her sari, and I said to her: Please, you must try to talk to them in English.
The sari girl looked at me, and she stopped talking in her butterfly language. Very slowly and carefully, like she was remembering the words from a dream, she said into the telephone receiver: You already is in England, get it?
And she pointed both her index fingers down at the linoleum floor. She said: Dis is England, darlin, ya nuh see it? Right here, yeh? Dis where we at all-reddy. The girl in the yellow sari went quiet. She just stared back with those green eyes like jelly moons. And she lifted the receiver to her mouth and she said Listen, wait, one minnit please. But then she went quiet and she passed the telephone receiver to me and I listened, and it was just the dial tone.
So I turned to the sari girl. You have to dial a number first, I said. You understand? Dial number first, then tell taxi man where you want to go. But the girl in the sari, she just narrowed her eyes at me, and pulled her see-through bag of lemon yellow a little closer to her, like maybe I was going to take that away from her the way the other girl had taken the telephone receiver.
The girl in the purple dress, she sighed and turned to me. De Lord gonna call his chillen home fore dis one calls for a taxi.
And she passed the telephone receiver to me. Here , she said. Yu betta try one time. I pointed to the third girl in the queue, the one with the bag of documents and the blue T-shirt and the Dunlop Green Flash trainers.
What about her? I said. This girl is before me in the queue. And she stared at the girl with the documents, but the girl with the documents just shrugged and looked down at her Dunlop Green Flash shoes. Yu got to talk us out a here, fore dey change dey mind an lock us all back up. I looked down at the telephone receiver and it was grey and dirty and I was afraid.
I looked back at the girl in the purple dress. Where do you want to go? And she said, Any ends. Excuse me? Anywhere, darlin. I dialled the taxi number that was written on the phone. He sounded tired. Cab service , he said. The way he said it, it was like he was doing me a big favour just by saying those words.
A taxi cab. For four passengers. In High Easter. It is near Chelmsford. I know you do not pick up refugees. We are not refugees. We are cleaners. We work in this place. I spoke into the telephone. The girl in the purple dress grabbed my arm and hissed at me. No darlin! Anywhere but Jamaica. Dey mens be killin me de minnit I ketch dere, kill me dead.
I did not understand why she was scared, but I know now. There is a Kingston in England but there is also a Kingston in Jamaica, where the climate is different. This is another great work you sorcerers have done — even your cities have two tails. We are cleaners from nearby. But they are sending us on a cleaning job in Surrey. We will pay when we get there. I listened for a minute and then I pressed my hand down on the cradle of the telephone receiver.
I dialled another number. This was the telephone number from the business card I carried in my see-through plastic bag. The business card was damaged by water. I could not tell if the last number was an 8 or a 3. I tried an 8, because in my country odd numbers bring bad luck, and that is one thing I had already had enough of. Who are you?
I am in England now. Can I come to see you and Sarah? I do not have anywhere else to go. There was silence on the other end of the line.
Then the man coughed, and started to laugh. Who is this? My paper always prosecutes. That way you will believe it is me. I am sorry. I am just telling you, so that you can be ready. The man did not sound angry any more. He made a small sound, like a child when it is nervous about what will happen.
I hung up the phone and turned around to the other girls. My heart was pounding so fast, I thought I would vomit right there on the linoleum floor. The other girls were staring at me, nervous and expectant.
De taxi , darlin! What is happenin about de taxi? Oh yes, the taxi. The taxi man said a cab will pick us up in ten minutes. He said we are to wait outside. The girl in the purple dress, she smiled. From Jamaica, zeen. You useful , darlin. What dey call yu? Yevette laughed. It was a big laugh, like the way the chief baddy laughs in the pirate films. It made the telephone receiver rattle in its cradle. Then she turned round to the others, the girl in the sari and the girl with the documents.
Come wid us, gals, she said. Yevette was still laughing when the four of us girls walked out past the security desk, towards the door. The detention officer looked up from his newspaper when we went by. The topless girl was gone now — the officer had turned the page. I looked down at his newspaper. I looked back at the detention officer, but he would not look up at me. While I looked, he moved his arm over the page to cover the headline.
He made it look like he needed to scratch his elbow. Or maybe he really did need to scratch his elbow. I realised I knew nothing about men apart from the fear. A uniform that is too big for you, a desk that is too small for you, an eight-hour shift that is too long for you, and suddenly here comes a girl with three kilos of documents and no motivation, another one with jelly green eyes and a yellow sari who is so beautiful you cannot look at her for too long in case your eyeballs go ploof , a third girl from Nigeria who is named after a honeybee, and a noisy woman from Jamaica who laughs like the pirate Bluebeard.
I turned to look back at the detention officer just before we went out through the double doors. He was watching us leave. He looked very small and lonely there, with his thin little wrists, under the fluorescent lights. The light made his skin look green, the colour of a baby caterpillar just out of the egg. The early morning sunshine was shining in through the door glass.
The officer screwed up his eyes against the daylight. I suppose we were just silhouettes to him. He opened his mouth, like he was going to say something, but he stopped.
I realised he was going to tell us there had been a mistake. I wondered if we should run. I did not want to go back in detention. I wondered how far we would get if we ran. I wondered if they would come after us with dogs. The detention officer stood up. I heard his chair scrape on the linoleum floor. He stood there with his hands at his sides. I pushed open the double doors, and then I froze. It was the sunlight that stopped me.
I felt so fragile from the detention centre, I was afraid those bright rays of sunshine could snap me in half. I was blocking the door for everyone. Outside, the fresh air smelled of wet grass. It blew in my face. The smell made me panic. Nothing natural.
Nothing like this. I felt that if I took one step forward, the earth itself would rise up and reject me. There was nothing natural about me now. I stood there in my heavy boots with my breasts strapped down, neither a woman nor a girl, a creature who had forgotten her language and learned yours, whose past had crumbled to dust. Maybe me jus too dumb to be fraid. But me spend eighteen month locked up in dat place, an if yu tink me dumb enough to wait one second longer on account of your trembin an your quakin, yu better tink two times.
That is when Yevette gave me a great push in the chest and I flew backwards. And that is how it was, the first time I touched the soil of England as a free woman, it was not with the soles of my boots but with the seat of my trousers. When I got my breath back I started laughing too. I sat on the ground, with the warm sun shining on my back, and I realised that the earth had not rejected me and the sunlight had not snapped me in two.
I stood up and I smiled at Yevette.
We all took a few steps away from the detention centre buildings. As we walked, when the other girls were not looking, I reached under my Hawaiian shirt and I undid the band of cotton that held my breasts strapped down. I unwound it and threw it on the ground and ground it into the dirt with the heel of my boot. I breathed deeply in the fresh, clean air. When we came to the main gate, the four of us girls stopped for a moment. We looked out through the high razor wire fence and down the slopes of Black Hill.
The English countryside stretched away to the horizon.