Bit of my new novel – Syria

Chapter 1

Pakistan 2014

Hello.
My name is Molly. Molly Ryan. That’s me. Well that was me. I need to tell you my story. I need to write it all down, to get it off my chest. I think it will do me good. I can’t believe this has been my life. How strange it seems. How little I imagined what would happen to me back then. So here it is. I hope you understand. Who would have dreamed I would end up living here in Pakistan? I am writing this, sitting in the garden, with a breath taking view of the mountains spread out before me like a quilt. My twin boys are playing an impromptu rackety game of cricket on the lawn. I am sipping English tea and writing with an old fountain pen in my new notebook. I am in love with the thickness of the pages and the purple embossed design on the front. I am twirling the pink page marker ribbon between my fingers. So many memories are flooding in my mind, jostling to be heard. Where to begin? Well the beginning might be a good idea stupid.
Begin at the beginning.
Deep breath.
Here I go.

Please don’t judge me too harshly.

Manchester 2012

Rain.
Cold rain.
It had rained all day.
The kind of rain that soaks you to the bones, that gets right into you and chills you, the kind that makes you shiver. It was the kind of rain that made me want to up sticks and go and live somewhere sunny: anywhere. One day, one day I would manage this. Leave Manchester behind. Become an export.
So what else was new in Manchester? It seemed to be always raining that year. Being me I had come out unprepared. I had no waterproof coat, no umbrella, no hat. The rain had saturated my dark red hair, flattening it to my head and was dribbling down my neck. I raised the collar of my battered black leather jacket ineffectually against the deluge.
‘I bet I look a right mess,’ I thought.
I couldn’t face the library feeling like this. It was going to be horrible, sitting there, steaming away in my soaked clothes. I needed to go home. No, I needed to drink something warm first. Grasping this thought I headed for the university coffee bar which was in the basement of a tower block on the University of Manchester campus. I was studying computer science. It was boring but I had high hopes my degree, if I ever got it, would stand me in good stead for a job, a ticket out of here. The coffee shop was not exactly pleasant but cheap and full of my own kind. It was safe and there wasn’t much chance of being chatted up by passing chancers trying their luck with me. I might bump into one of my fellow students to talk to, one of my so-called friends. Company would be good today. I made the lift before the doors shut. There were two young male students in there and an old steel haired lecturer who avoided my gaze. The boys eyed me up in that leering way some males of the species have about them. Cocky. I stared straight ahead and was relieved when the doors opened at basement level. Being in enclosed spaces with the opposite sex made me feel uncomfortable for no real reason. Nothing really bad had happened to me but I was wary. I had learned to look out for myself, to avoid gazes, to appear more confident than I felt. I had had to. I had grown up in this city, right in the centre, in Hulme, which until recently had been widely regarded as a no go area by most people. Now it was gentrifying, full of gay men in spick and span apartments who wanted to be close to the centre and the gay village they adored. It was changing. Everything was changing. Manchester was changing. I was changing.
At the counter I ordered a hot chocolate from the server and looked around for someone I knew. Thankfully, I spied Abigail sitting on her own staring into her mobile phone. Abigail, Abbie, was the closest I had to a real friend at university: Bessie mates.
Her face lightened when she saw me.
‘Molly, Oh my God you are here. You look SO wet. You have saved me from terminal boredom.’
I smiled back and pulled one of the orange plastic chairs from another table to sit on. I wiped away someone else’s muffin crumbs and collapsed onto it. I took a swig of the hot chocolate and felt grateful for the warm richness sliding down into me. It was just what I needed. I inhaled the pleasant smells around me: fresh coffee and baked goods.
‘So what’s new in Abbie world?’ I said.
‘Oh Molly, I’ve been so stupid AGAIN. You know how I really like Jack. Well I went to Rockworld, you know to see if he was there and like of course he wasn’t. So I just thought what the fuck let’s just get drunk so I did. So Jason was there. I mean, my God, I don’t even like Jason but I was like so drunk so of course I go back to his flat and all his mates are there in the living room drinking Jack Daniels and pretending they are Nirvana, Well, they are all losers so of course we go in the bedroom and I am SO drunk. So I’m lying there and he says to me he wants me to walk down his back with red heels on. He actually got these scarlet stilettos out of the wardrobe. I mean, really. So I actually did it. Can you believe? How much of an idiot am I? I mean that was the foreplay, we won’t talk about the main act because it really was NOT that memorable.’
She paused for breath and stroked her hair down waiting for my opinion, her hands fluttering around betraying her nervousness underneath the veneer of brash confidence.
I laughed but with affection. This was typical of Abbie. She was in deep love with Jack who already had a girlfriend but used her occasionally when the mood took him. He was a grade A user but I didn’t tell Abbie this. The way I saw it it was up to her what she did. I tried not to judge. Abbie was loud, sweet and full of fun but she had a neediness in her which men took advantage of. She was tall and thin with long frizzy hair that was almost blonde. She was always trying to straighten the frizziness out of it but the damp weather meant it always managed to outwit her and make a comeback.
‘Well at least you have learned you don’t like Jason. Just forget it and if you see him again ignore him. Anyway, if you didn’t like such shit music you wouldn’t end up in these situations. I mean, come on, Rockworld, it’s so passé. They are all meatheads with no manners. You need a better class of guy.’
‘A better class of guy? Like round here. Where exactly am I going to meet one of those?’ Abbie said.
She rolled her eyes for effect.
‘We could try the student union. It’s supposed to be okay on a Friday.’ I said.
‘You are not serious. The fucking student union. Come on! Nerd central,’ Abbie said.
I laughed again.
‘Don’t be so harsh. At least they’ve got prospects. Nice boys who’ll treat you like a lady,’ I said.
‘I don’t want to be treated like a lady. I want to be a crazy cool rock chick you know like what is she called? Courtney Love. That kind of thing. I am not into all that cheesy rubbish you dream about. All that hearts and flowers bullshit. It doesn’t exist Molly. This is it. This is what’s real. You have to take your good times where you can find them. Anyway, I love a real man, a grungy guy, all down and dirty,’ Abbie said.
I was saved from arguing by Abbie’s mobile phone ringing. I could tell by her panicked face it was some guy. She went into full flow, talking at one hundred miles an hour at the top of her voice. Everyone in the coffee bar would know Abbie’s business in ten seconds. Not that Abbie cared for anyone’s opinion. A few people looked over curiously but turned away again when they saw my frown.
I took advantage of the break in conversation to look around the room. It was pretty full, lots of people sheltering from the downpour. Some were talking, huddled conspiratorially in groups, others poring over laptops or phones, permanently plugged into cyber space. It seemed to me there was too much of this. They would miss the love of their life walking past while they were staring at a screen. Poor souls. There was a large group of Asian students in the corner who had managed to commandeer the only comfy sofas. I observed them with interest. I loved to watch people, to try to work out what they were like, to guess from their appearance what made them tick. There were equal numbers of boys and girls, all well dressed in the latest fashions, designer labels probably unless they were fake. I wasn’t very good at telling. I couldn’t afford designer labels and to be honest they didn’t really interest me. I tended to shop in charity shops or looked for bargains in the supermarkets. I like to think I had my own style: a little quirky. I had a knack of putting odd things together quite well so I didn’t look the same as everyone else. There was one girl who was beautiful. She had long sleek hair, almost black, and lots of make-up, kohl emphasising her wide eyes. She had a patterned scarf tied round her neck and a black leather jacket twinned with black jeans and long boots. Her nails were long and painted bright blue. I assumed they had been done at a nail bar, artificial. She was glamour personified, the exact opposite of me. I could just make out her accent as she talked which went with everything else about her, the long vowels of received pronunciation suggesting an expensive, private education. I felt myself recoil somewhere inside like an instinct.
‘I mean honestly. At my school we were always engaged in political debates. Everybody knew about politics. There was a very vibrant debating society. It is so important to be aware, don’t you think? What is wrong with these people?’ she said.
Everything about her exuded confidence as she sat leaning back on the sofa with her legs crossed and her arms stretched wide, gesticulating as she talked. My attention was drawn to the man she was addressing. My eyes widened as I looked at him. I had to admit he was probably the most attractive man I had ever seen in real life, not in a magazine. What was he doing in the basement coffee bar of the University of Manchester? Why wasn’t he doing a photo shoot on a beach in St Tropez or something? Why wasn’t he walking down a catwalk in Milan enclosed in an over-priced suit? I felt something contract in me deep down inside and a deep sense of longing overwhelmed me. I was in lust at first sight. He was dark skinned, a walnut brown, and very tall and thin, over six feet. I couldn’t see his eyes because he was wearing big sunglasses, even though he was indoors. He also had on a black t-shirt and skinny jeans with red Converse boots. His mouth was shaped into an impish smile as he listened to the girl opposite him. His hair was longish, slightly curling around his shoulders and his seated position was relaxed, with his legs spread wide. Like the girl he exuded confidence. I wondered if they were boyfriend and girlfriend. His eyes wandered away from the girl and he saw me watching him. Our eyes locked for a fraction of a second and then I frowned deliberately and looked away. I didn’t want him to think I liked him.
My gaze returned to Abbie who was smiling at me delightedly.
‘Aha, I SAW you. Looking at him. MOLLY! You do not want to get involved with him,’ she said.
‘What are you talking about? I don’t want to get involved with him. I just glanced over for goodness sake. Anyway, even if I did why would you say that? What’s wrong with him?’ I said.

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