Hi. I’m Juneha Chowdhury, your Showcase editor for September. We’ve had some great submissions this month to fit our ‘Worlds Apart’ theme. But first, I’d like to reflect on the sad news we had last Thursday of Her Majesty’s passing. It is appropriate, I think, that the pieces I’ve chosen this week are linked by their focus on co-existence and human interaction. Her Majesty’s life of service was focussed on positively supporting both.
So, how do we reconcile our differences with those who see the world differently, and whose values are not the same as ours? How is it possible to navigate through the obstacles of life when we come from parallel worlds, so to speak? How possible is it to live harmoniously in a world full of internal and external conflict without it costing us, or others? This is the focus of my first piece.
Poet and Write On! regular, Danny Baxter, has written something which probably raises more questions than it answers, but that’s the beauty of a lot of writing. It makes us think, and opens up the debate, initiating those all-important conversations.
The Co-Existence Equation
If our values are worlds apart, can we still co-exist?
If you unite us with our opponents will be become weaker?
If you throw us into the same space will we fight?
Can we water down our truth to share a platform?
Can we respect a party that holds us in contempt for our beliefs?
Can we silence ourselves to keep the peace?
Can we defect from our cause to voice solidarity with our neighbour?
Can we cross our red lines to facilitate a partnership?
Can we compromise the pillars of our faith to prioritise the collective?
Can we fly the flags of our rivals for the sake of optics?
Can we deprive our own people for the profit of our detractors?
Can we celebrate those as innocent that we mistakenly accused as guilty?
Will we weaponise other’s words and actions against them to gain an unfair advantage?
Will we fight over territory primarily to prevent others from acquiring it?
Will we fashion our identity around inverse of our opponent’s identity?
Will we build up our culture upon the foundation of conflicts that came before us?
Will we set our limitations based upon what others have put out of our reach?
Can we count ourselves as wretched to appease our critics?
Can we accommodate our antithesis for the sake of progression?
Can we expose a lie that protects us for the benefit of those who stand against us?
Will we prostrate ourselves to appease sensibilities that are borne out of doctrines of self -hatred?
The coexistence equation is a complex multifaceted problem that has no easy solution.
It expresses its complication through many manifestations and at its most misunderstood, it is the fuel of deepest of division.
We know that compromise is the answer, but the question of what configuration such compromise should take is the catalyst for much conflict and hostility in and of itself…
© Danny Baxter, Xian Force Productions, 2022
Connect with Danny on Instagram: @dan_lbbd
I love this next piece by Amanda Wynne. It really resonated with me. I’ve been on many nightmare bus and train journeys, not necessarily on the top deck of the Number 5, but the frustration is so real. When you get someone noisy, smelly or generally irritating sitting next to you, like the character in this passage, or there’s some noise in the background that just won’t go away, and you realise you have another 30 minutes (or however long the journey is) to go, it can feel like hell, and drastic times call for drastic measures! I’m so glad Sara manages to reclaim her space and peace in the end; albeit it in a bit of a smokey way.
Top Deck On The Number 5
The bright Number 5 bus finally emerged from the purple-tinged evening. Sara, a young woman in a blue tunic with hennaed hair, joined the silent shuffle to climb on board. Downstairs was standing room only, so she reluctantly coaxed her tired legs up the stairs.
Happily, the seats by the bulging front window were free. Sara dropped gratefully into the seats on the right and rested her cloth bag in her lap. Someone behind her kicked a bottle as they made their way to the back of the bus. The glass rattled over the floor, coming to a stop against a metal pole.
The bus whirred to life, and they were off, winding through the town centre as the night drew in. The bottle rattled across the floor with each turn, occasionally kicked by a passenger to help it on its way.
Sara slid her hand into the cloth bag and touched the small string-bound circle, made of metal tacks and a willow twig, at the bottom. The circle charm was supposed to shield her from such daily annoyances as glass bottle footsie. It was only a mild charm, but it should have been enough for a situation like this.
The bus had only made it as far as Barking Station, and she already had a headache from the relentlessly rattling glass. The bus shook as people filed on.
Sara stared blankly ahead, fingers still touching the charm in her bag, willing the seat beside her to stay vacant. A man came and sat in the seats on the front left, but no one came to take the empty seat beside Sara on the right-hand side.
Small mercies, she thought. Maybe she wouldn’t need to completely re-do the charm when she got home. Always hard to get the potency right, she mused, when you didn’t want to use magic to cheat too much.
The man on the left was shifting in his seat as the bus drove on. He pulled his phone from his back pocket.
“Hey there, how are you?”
Sara jumped. She looked over to see the man holding his phone at arm’s length. He was grinning at the screen. A connectivity-slurred voice greeted him loudly in return.
Unbelievable! Sara sniffed and turned her attention back to the window, as the bus continued its slow stop-start journey through the streets.
She hadn’t realised how hunched her shoulders had become until the man ended the call. Silence, with the undercurrent of the electric bus engine, returned to the top deck.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sara saw the man turn his phone to the side and tap the screen.
Oh no. Oh no, no, no!
The sound of gunshots and shouting streamed out from the tiny speaker at the bottom of his phone.
Oh no. Sara sank into her seat.
The gunshots and shouting were replaced by high-paced frantic music.
Sara felt her pulse quickening. She said a silent prayer for someone to come and tell him to turn it off, but when she looked back she saw that it was only the two of them left.
Just them, and the glass beer bottle that had rolled to the front of the bus and rested in the aisle between them.
She looked at the bottle. Then looked at him.
No, come on now, she scolded herself. She shook her head to clear her thoughts, then cleared her throat.
“Excuse me,” she said, looking towards the man.
He didn’t seem to notice.
“Excuse me,” she repeated, leaning over and waving.
The man moved his weight from one buttock to the other, positioning his back to her as he continued to stare at tiny figures dancing on the phone screen.
Bottle it is then, thought Sara.
She closed her eyes; the world around her glowed a thick, fierce orange.
When she opened her eyes, the man’s seat was empty.
Sara rolled her shoulders and moved her head slowly from side to side, waiting for the orange smoke to dissipate.
She nudged the glass bottle with her shoe. Inside, just barely visible if you knew what you were looking for, was a tiny man flailing in the dregs of the beer.
Sara smiled and kicked the bottle to the back of the bus.
© Amanda Wynne, 2022
My next piece by our very own Deputy Editor, Claire Buss, is also on the theme of a nightmare journey on public transport. But it’s not a bus journey, rather a train journey. And, it’s not just any time of day, it’s rush hour – when people’s emotions and senses are usually heightened by the associated inconveniences of the commute to work. Having been both the stay-at-home mum with the buggy and the working mum sandwiched between some wholly undesirable elements desperate to get to work, I can relate to both perspectives. I love how the passage moves slowly from a scene that is every commuter’s nightmare to one that offers hope and restores our faith in humankind, and how, in the end, a simple gesture of kindness overrules all the negativity associated with an otherwise a hellish journey.
Rush hour. Bodies pressed together against their own will. The air thick with pheromones and perfume, aftershave mingling with sweat. Bad breath, minty fresh, the plastic stench of McDonald’s infiltrating nostrils, hedged by acrid coffee.
The tallest among the commuters unfold their papers, held at awkward angles, above a sea of multicoloured heads. The smallest burrow deep within thick and thin bodies, wedging themselves into hidden corners and hunch over Kindles or small paperbacks. Ears plugged, music seeping into their souls. Oblivious to the stops, the opening and closing of doors, they instinctively emerge at the correct station.
An anomalous feature breaks the crushing press of bodies. A buggy, unapologetic in its stance. Taking up more space than anyone else would dare to. Bags bunching out on either side, a small child within. Looking, saucer-eyed, at the mass of looming humanity. A small whimper becomes a shrill cry, uncertain at the unfeeling environment surrounding what is usually a safe cocoon.
A combined sigh of annoyance vibrates through the air as the harassed mother attempts to soothe her baby. Panic rising, breath shortening, her temperature skyrockets under duress, bringing heat to her face and making her fingers all thumbs. She fumbles and drops the soother. It bounces and tumbles through a forest of feet, quickly disappearing from view. Wails deepen in intent and volume and the muttering begins.
One person from the multitude reaches down and finds the prize. With gentle smile and gesture of solidarity, the working mum passes a lifeline to the stay-at-home mum who risked a trip to the big city.
© Claire Buss, 2022
Connect with Claire at her website: clairebuss.co.uk, on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok: @Grasshopper2407 and on Facebook: @busswriter.
My final piece is by writer, poet and Write On! regular, Eithne Cullen. I love how we are in the speaker’s head in this poem, and know everything she is seeing and thinking on her journey. It really is both amazing and bewildering when the scene around you has changed its face so drastically from how you remember it.
Sunshine from the dappled forest,
down to Station Road. Hot bitter coffee
then on to air-con train-
bothered by child standing on the seat/
enchanted by child searching the sky,
looking for The Shard –
hot and cold – hot and cold.
Don’t recognise the walk from the station,
these buildings were seeds
and scaffolding supports last time
I walked among the Silk Street shadows.
© Eithne Cullen, 2022
Connect with Eithne on Twitter: @eithne_cullen
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