November’s Showcases are introduced by Write On! regular, Diya Padiyar.
Last week’s showcase had me thinking about the strength of soldiers. The stories of their courage and sacrifice fills my heart with respect and makes me wonder how much courage it takes to prove your might on the frontiers.
These stories of sheer determination ignite lamps of courage and hope in young minds, moving us to do better in our own lives.
However, along with courage come little disappointments. Minor hiccups are a part of growing up and should be looked upon as stepping stones on the path to success.
This idea is creatively expressed through Alfie’s story, by Jenny Gibson. Little disappointments in our school years are normal, but sometimes, naive thoughts of peers can be disappointing. Bullying, targeting virtues associated with one’s birth, is shameful.
We live on top of each other in my house. It’s a two-up, two-down council house. Upstairs there’s one bedroom for the kids, with three bunk beds in it and the other room is Mum and Dad’s. Well, it’s just Mum’s now but best not go there. I used to sleep in with the kids but in the last few months, I’ve taken to sleeping on the sofa. There’s always someone chatting, messing about, getting up to go to the loo or having a bad dream so it’s just easier to sleep downstairs. I need my own space really, but I can’t afford to move out. I thought about going to Uni but in the end, I got a job at the corner shop instead. Money coming in is better than money going out but it’s not just that. I’m not sure studying is really for me, but I can’t say what it is. I had to spend every spare minute I had studying to pass my A-Levels; two B’s and a C not bad, Right? The library and café became my second home. It’s not like I could get much done at home. Here, It’s like Oxford Street in the build-up to Christmas on a good day in my house.
I’ve got a lot of brothers and sisters but Alfie is my favourite. I know I shouldn’t have a favourite but well if you could meet him you’d know why. He’s a little treasure. He’s the youngest and I’m the oldest but that doesn’t stop us being best mates. He’s not spoiled like you’d think the youngest would be. He is a bit quiet, but he does make me laugh. He does brilliant impressions and the way he has perfected Mum’s telling of face creases me up every time. But he’s not a big talker and he’s not great around people he doesn’t know well. I worry about him. He doesn’t say much about school and I think he’s only got one proper friend, Mark. In a lot of ways, he’s a typical nine-year-old boy, he likes cars, dinosaurs and he loves his Art. He’s obsessed with it and he’s well good at it too; it’s totally his thing. That’s why we have him to thank for the lovely bathroom wall. It’s covered in pictures, beautiful pictures sewn together with Sellotape like a paper quilt. It’s in the bathroom because there isn’t a free wall in the cramped bedroom. But I love it where it is, it cheers me up when I’m getting ready for work in the morning.
When Alfie came home from school yesterday he went up to his room without even saying hi, which I thought was strange.
‘Mum is Alfie okay?’ I asked.
‘Not sure. He was quiet on the way home, even for him.’
‘I’ll go check on him.’
‘Okay, thanks love.’
I went upstairs and found him lying face down on his bottom bunk. So I knelt down beside him.
His reply was muffled by the duvet cover.
‘I can’t hear you.’
‘Go away.’ He lifted his head to say and then smashed it back into the duvet.
‘Not until you tell me what’s going on, this isn’t like you.’
‘Maybe it is.’ He said and then jumped off the bed and I had to dive out of the way. Then he ran for the door.
‘Hey! That wasn’t nice. Come back here.’
He turned for a moment and said, ‘You’re not Mum you know.’ And then he bolted out the door, almost knocking over Charlie who was on his way in.
‘Mum Two strikes again.’ Charlie said.
Charlie is my second youngest brother. He’s ten and he started calling me, ‘Mum Two’ a couple of years ago. He’s a real wind up but I don’t normally mind him calling me that though. It’s true, especially for the younger ones. I’ve bathed them, fed them, put them to bed, looked after them when they were sick and my parents had to work and I even told them off sometimes. It’s my job. I’m their big sis and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Alfie woke me up in the middle of the night last night. He didn’t mean to, but he opened the fridge to get a drink and the light came on. Downstairs is open and the sofa is really near the kitchen so unless I was exhausted anyone doing something in the kitchen would wake me, so I sat up.
He shut the fridge and didn’t make a sound like I wouldn’t know he was there. I got up and went over.
‘What’s going on? Can’t you sleep?’
‘Why don’t you get a drink and sit beside me.’
Kayleigh, can I tell you something and will you promise not to tell anyone else?’
‘Of course, mate.’
He went quiet then and just sipped at his milk.
‘If someone’s being mean to you at school then we can-‘
‘It’s not that.’
‘It’s Miss Gregory.’
‘She…she won’t put up my picture. I spent ages on it and it’s much better than the rest.’
I was a bit relieved, to be honest, but his little face was so sad that I felt guilty for not thinking it was a big deal. It was to him.
‘I know it’s disappointing because you’re really great at art but she can’t always choose yours, the other kids have to have a turn.’
‘She’s never put any of my pictures up.’
‘Oh, that doesn’t seem fair.’
And with that, he took his milk and went off to bed, which I guess was just as well because I didn’t know what else to say.
I got off work early today because I wanted to speak to Miss Gregory. Luckily, it’s my day to pick up the kids from school.
‘You guys wait here, I just want a quick chat with A Teacher.’
‘Whatever.’ Jessica says. She’s twelve and thinks she’s way too old to need picking up anyway. To be fair, she’s probably right but I like the company for collecting the younger kids. Charlie and Alfie are way too busy with their football to pay me any attention.
I go into the classroom.
‘Miss Gregory is it alright if we have a chat?’
‘Um…a quick one, I’ve got a lot to get done here.’
There is a ton of paperwork on her desk. But this is important.
‘It’s about Alfie’s artwork.’
‘What about it?’
‘He says you didn’t put it up on the wall.’
‘No, well I couldn’t put up everyone’s work. The display board isn’t that big and the kids need to learn to take it in turns.’
‘Yes, I understand that I do but Alfie told me you haven’t put any of his artwork up this year.’
‘I have. I put one up at the start of the year.’
‘But it’s April now, so why couldn’t you put his new piece up?’
‘I don’t mean to be rude, but have you actually seen his work?’
‘Then you’ll know what I’m getting at when I say, I didn’t think it was appropriate.’
‘It’s a soldier and it’s for remembrance isn’t it, so no, I’m confused. How is that not appropriate?’
‘It’s a badly wounded soldier.’
‘Yes, that’s what happens in war, unfortunately. People get hurt.’
‘But did it really have to be so…’
‘Okay, so realism is the problem?’
‘I’m sorry Miss Wright but I’ve made my decision.’
‘But he’s right. Look at these, none of them are a patch on his. Graphic or not.’
‘Every child deserves the chance to put their work on the wall, wouldn’t you say?’
‘I would, yes.’
‘And these kids mightn’t be the best artists but it’s important to encourage them anyway. Take your Alfie, he’s not the best at Mathematics but I put his work up last month. You don’t have to be the best, but you do have to try your best, that’s what I want my class to know. And besides, it’s also important to get used to life’s little disappointments. Don’t you think?’
She smiles a brief smile and goes back to her paperwork; my allotted time must be up. I was with her until that last part. I know life can have many disappointments, more than we’d like. But do I want Alfie to get used to that? No. I want him to be the best and brightest. I don’t want him to give up.
It’s the weekend and I’ve just been down the High Street to pick something up. The kids are all out and Mum’s having a coffee with Lauran, so I have the house to myself. I’m going to do a little job and then chill out.
It’s half past four and the boys have just come in caked in mud.
‘It hit the post.’
‘It so didn’t.’
The boys get a couple of drinks and sit on the sofa next to me. I’ve been waiting for this.
‘Whoa, what’s that doing up there?’
‘I thought it deserved pride of place.’
‘But Mum had that picture of a field up there.’
‘I don’t think she’ll mind. Besides, it’s important to remember the sacrifices that soldiers make, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah, that’s why I drew that.’
‘I know. You’re very clever, Alfie.’
‘You’re very clever, Alfie.’
‘Thanks, Charlie, you’re smart too. A bit too smart sometimes.’
Alfie is beaming and that’s what I want for him, to be happy. That’s why I put some of his pictures up on my social media platforms. And so far the response has been great, a couple of negative comments but you have to expect that. And I will let him read them all because not everyone will like what he does but that shouldn’t stop him. The Wright’s are going to be amazing, all of us. I believe we can all do it, even the girl who still doesn’t know what she wants to be.
© Jenny Gibson, 2019
Next, I’m sharing an extract from the book, The Gathering Storm, by Alan Jones, a Scottish author with three gritty crime stories to his name. He has now switched genres and has launched the first two books of his WW2 trilogy. Essentially a Holocaust story, it is set in ‘Northern Storm’.
Although the war ended decades back, many people still nurture hatred for certain communities. This is a sad state and I wonder how many more years it will take to end it. Only if we value humanity over past differences, can a change be commemorated and good writing is a way of reminding us of this.
Extract From The Gathering Storm
Ruth’s hand shot up.
The teacher looked at her and smiled.
‘Albert Einstein, miss.’
‘Very good, Ruth. That was an excellent answer.’
Ruth beamed at the teacher.
‘Now, does anyone else know a famous German scientist?’
Miss Brinckmann looked around the class. Another hand was raised.
The boy was called Peter Hauer. He wasn’t the smallest boy in the class but had suffered sporadic bullying because of an unfortunate stammer. Ruth, Antje, and a few of the other girls had tried their best to curtail the taunts and pranks that he was forced to endure, and to a certain degree, they’d succeeded.
It all changed for Peter when he was one of the first in the school to join the Hitlerjugend. His Gebietsführer, the head of Hitlerjugend in Kiel, had seen something of himself in the boy and, over his first year, had steadily advanced him up the ranks until he was a section leader, despite his age.
The first time Rottenführer Hauer wore his uniform into school, the teacher made him change out of it. All the boy had with him was his sports gear, and he was made to sit through the whole day in shorts and a singlet.
Two days later, his Gebietsführer visited the school and spoke with the headmaster. From then on, Peter Hauer, and the classmates who followed him into the ranks of the Hitlerjugend, were permitted to wear their uniforms if they so wished.
Miss Brinckmann never acknowledged the change in the rules, but from that day forward, the bullying stopped, and the boy’s stammer disappeared.
Now, when he spoke, there was a sneering arrogance in his voice.
‘Max Planck, miss, because he is a true German. Not like Einstein.’
‘Max Planck is a great answer, but although Albert Einstein now lives and works in Switzerland, he was born in Württemberg and was educated in Munich.’
‘Miss, Albert Einstein is not a German. He is a Jew.’
For the briefest second, the class fell silent. Then two of the boys snickered.
‘What did you say?’ Her voice was quiet, but it cut through the uneasy shuffling of the class.
‘He is a Jew. Not a true German, miss.’
Her question had been rhetorical. She hadn’t expected him to repeat his statement. A flush spread upwards across her face.
‘Peter, please stand outside and I will come and deal with you.’
She would give the class an exercise to do and decide how to deal with the boy’s outburst.
‘No, miss. It is the Jews who should leave,’ he said, his voice strong and clear, looking at the three girls sitting near the front of the class.
She moved towards him but, out of the corner of her eye, she detected an almost imperceptible movement in the boy sitting next to him, then the boy across from him. She stopped, suddenly nervous.
In front of her, Peter Hauer raised his right arm, and started to sing.
‘Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!’
Raise the flag! The ranks tightly closed!
Halfway through the first line, another boy joined in, then another, leaving their seats and standing beside their desks with their arms raised, mimicking his. Before long, over half the class were singing the Horst Wessel Song.
‘Stop,’ she shouted, but the sound was drowned out by the boys’ voices, loud and in unison, in a flawless rendition of the National Socialists’ anthem. She looked around. One or two of the girls had also got to their feet and joined with the boys.
‘SA marschiert mit ruhig festem Schritt.’
The SA marches with calm, firm pace.
She looked at the three Jewish girls, sitting together, staring towards the front, their bodies rigid with fear. She closed her eyes.
When the song was finished, the boys remained standing.
‘Now you’ve had your little moment,’ the teacher said, her voice cold, ‘sit back down in your seats and act as children should. You will all be reprimanded, you especially, Peter Hauer.’
‘No, we won’t, Miss Brinckmann. Today we are honouring the leader of our country, Adolf Hitler.’
The rest of the class looked towards her, gauging how she would react. She estimated that two-thirds of her pupils were behind Peter Bauer and she conceded defeat.
‘Ruth, please go to Herr Lehmann’s office and ask him to come immediately.’
She realised her mistake at once.
Peter Hauer nodded, and two boys moved to the door, blocking it.
She cursed herself for choosing one of the Jewish girls. She should have chosen Antje, or one of the boys who wasn’t involved.
She moved to the door and, keeping eye contact with the boys guarding it, she forced them to separate and let her pass.
As she left the room, she heard the strains of the Hitlerjugend anthem rise again behind her. She ran.
© Alan Jones, 2021
You can connect with Alan through his website: alanjonesbooks.co.uk/sturmtaucher_trilogy
and purchase The Gathering Storm, the first of the Sturmtaucher Trilogy on Amazon: amazon.co.uk/dp/B09BZWR7Z4
Now I’d like to share an illustration by Rhyv, a comic and manga artist from Goa, India. His beautiful depiction of a soldier at war reminds me of Alfie’s art from Jenny’s story.
©Rhyv Cota, 2021
Rhyv’s illustrations resonate courage in every stroke, so I’m sharing one more. He has a penchant for illustrating mythological characters and in his second illustration, he depicts Titan, Atlas, courageously carrying the world on his shoulders.
©Rhyv Cota, 2021
You can connect with Rhyv on Instagram: @rhyv_cota_art
Lastly, I’m sharing a poem by my pal Tricia, from Goa, India. Tricia’s poem illustrates the beam of hope that ignites courage in our minds, amidst the darkness of our insecurities and timidities.
In Rosy Hues
As I lay ‘neath the surface of the sea,
And a single beam of sunlight
Breaks open before my eyes, I see,
A million little pieces, shattered, in sight.
The blue abyss consumes them,
And the stars I see are no more.
The shattered fortune that told me carpe diem,
Is lost to the azure forevermore
Will they ever return, I wonder,
Will I ever see the tableau again?
While I ache and pine much longer,
Will my dreams and desires go in vain?
But before long, another beam
Strikes hard at the expanse above me;
And every wish I had, and every dream,
Floods back to fill the empty
©Tricia Da Costa, 2020
You can connect with Tricia on Instagram: @writinginreverie
Keeping the lamp of hope burning bright amidst the atrocities of life is an act of courage. Putting together this week’s Showcase taught me exactly that. It takes courage to hope and to dream and even more courage to give it the form of reality. Let’s keep nurturing that hope!
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! Showcase, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts, to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue of Write On! Issue 10 of Write On! is available now. You can see it here.