2010: President Bashar Al Assad succeeds his father as ruler. 2011: Peaceful protests and opposition groups are met with violent crackdowns by Syrian security forces. 2012: As the Syrian government commit war crimes, refugees overwhelm temporary camps at the Lebanon and Jordan border. 2013: Syrian refugees increase from 1 million to 2 million as President Assad is accused of chemical attacks.2014: A humanitarian crisis emerges as 3 million Syrian refugees seek sanctuary in neighbouring countries and 100,000 have reached Europe. 2015: Europe retracts from humanitarian duties as demand thickens, with Hungary closing its border and the World Food Programme cuts rations to refugees with a funding shortfall; one million refugees reach Greece.2016: Years of war takes its toll on Syria, the US and Russia negotiate a ceasefire to send aid to hard to reach populations; ten of thousands of refugees are trapped in a No Man’s Land as Jordan closes its border; civilians are caught in the crossfire as Syria retakes Aleppo from rebels.2017: Over 5 million have fled Syria and at the G20 conference a ceasefire for south-west Syria is brokered. 2018: Nevertheless, fighting continues and more than 2.9 million cannot regularly be sent aid due to their difficult position. 2019: Syrians undergo new hardships as a bad winter batters camps at Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey; and increased conflict in northwest Syria destroys healthcare facilities and displaces a further 100,000 people.
We’re all familiar with the story. But what we are most familiar with is the fear, the anger and the public stirrings of discontent. The word ‘migrant’ has been a powerful political spark in recent Populist movements. Therefore, Christy Lefteri’s 2019 ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ comes at a time when we should be reminded of the need for humanity; compassion.
Lefteri uses her experiences as a volunteer at a UNICEF-supported refugee camp at Athens to craft this heart-wrenching story of Nuri and Afra: a normal, easy-living couple who have their family torn apart. We see them battle to keep hope, and to love again as adversity is thrown at them from all angles. Nuri’s protagonist perspective celebrates all the reasons why we should care about Syrian refugees. It dispels all the negatives tossed at us over the past five years. This book strips back the headlines and shows everyone the truthful hardships migrants are almost silently battling against. We suffer with Nuri, and we are allowed to care about him.
I listened to this book on audible, taking in the beautiful voice of Art Malik, as I was sorting through and organising Roman animal bones. Looking back through time, it really reinforced how connected we once were to the East. And now how far away it is considered today.
So if you are looking to have a story stick with you, to learn some compassion, and to see the world through another lens: I’d advise you to pick up ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’.
Imagine a world flipped like a mirror. Women are men. The patriarchy as a matriarchy. That is exactly what Justin Audibert’s RSC Taming of the Shrew, currently on at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, offers. What today is an uncomfortable play about gender roles and materialism, has been twisted into a truly modern reflection. Where Shakespeare addresses political concerns by setting them safely in Italy, Denmark, or even Scotland, Audibert challenges today’s gender preconceptions by setting The Taming of the Shrew in the Elizabethan period. No only has he created a production with numerous dynamic female roles, but revitalised a play that teaches women to obey their ‘superior’ husbands; by teaching husbands to obey their wives as counter-argument. This comes with As You Like It‘s openness with sexuality, and contributes to modern representation. It was also pleasing to see both deaf and disabled actors have visible roles.
With Claire Price as a beautifully messy haired and quirky ‘Petruchia’, and a near silent but present Joseph Arkley as Katherine, the play provoked a real sense of internal questioning for me. What begins as a love story between ‘Bianco’ (James Cooney) and ‘Lucentia’ (Emily Johnstone), twists to protangonists (or perhaps antagonists), Petruchia and Katherine. Their battle of wits becomes an ideal to aspire towards in the play. This uncomfortable notion has a strong flavour of unspoken dramatic irony as the play has an almost silent male voice: Whilst Grumio is expertly played by Richard Clews, he is still an underlying character subdued by the flambouyant Petruchia.
The male suitors all had long, silky hair – with many camp hair flicks appreciated by the audience – whilst the females had their curls pinned into crowns. A strong sense of identity came with clothing: men having typically floral attire, women using their colours to reiterate their identity and presence: Petruchia’s menacing green; Lucentia’s bold reds; Bapista’s powerful black. But the vivid presences added to the comedic nature of the play, Sophie Stanton’s ‘Gremia’ expertly gliding across the stage, dalek-like.
Once again, I find myself recommending this RSC production to you, which runs at Stratford-upon-Avon until August 31st 2019, until it tours in various places. It was a thoroughly illuminating experience and something I was and still am contemplating over: but where better to consider Shakespeare’s works than surrounded by his birthplace? Stratford never fails to be a vibrant day out!
So I landed a six-week Roman Society placement at the Corinium Museum. Three weeks in, and I have learnt an awful lot about the runnings of a small but successful museum, battling the modern day struggles ‘loss-making’ public buildings face. In my time so far, I have helped with Roman and prehistory workshops (from Roman board games and mosaic making, to stone age painting); handled collections data; made all important space in the resource centre; but perhaps most excitingly, made my own display.
The Corinium is currently undergoing massive HLF funded construction work for a new gallery: ‘Stone Age to Corinium’. In order to preset this, I created a preceding temporary display about the ‘Pre-Roman Corinium’. It was once thought that Cirencester existed before the Romans invaded Britain, but little did they know…
Bagendon is today a village 3 miles north of modern day Cirencester, however in the Late Iron Age it was an oppidum inhabited by a tribe called the Dobunni. Essentially, when the Romans settled at their Leaholme Fort set in new, straight roads (the basis of Cirencester), the Dobunni and the Romans hit it off. This was unusual, but there is no archaeological evidence of conflict. Therefore, the precise nature of their relationship is speculation: mainly around whether the tribe conducted trade with the Romans. Regardless, it is clear that Corinium was a via media between both the tribe’s and the Roman’s idea of a good town. Buildings such as houses, the amphitheatre, bathhouses and the Forum, arose around the Fort, so that when the Romans left, a town remained in its place.
After a good deal of research, I selected objects that reflected this story. I chose coin moulds that prove Bagendon was an administrative tribal capital. Gold, silver and bronze Dobunnic coins were found at the site, so I selected a silver coin with a three-tailed horse on one side, a symbol of Belgic tradition (following the Germanic invasion of Britain) . Additionally, pottery sherds were significant finds at both Bagendon and the Leaholme Fort. Samian ware was particularly interesting, as this is a distinctly Roman: The red, glazed decorative pieces would be used to show off at dinner parties. However, samian ware was also found at Bagendon; an insight into the kind of relationship the tribe and Romans shared. Moreover, small finds, such as nails, a tiny iron knife, and an intricate bronze pendant, physically show key objects the Dobunni would have handled day-to-day.
With a terrain map and a carefully selected text I put together, my display is now complete and (hopefully), being looked at by the public. The idea that my insight to the Pre-Roman Corinium is being taken in by interested people is highly exciting, and has reaffirmed why I chose to study history at university.
You never realise what you have until it’s gone. The synthetic-blue pool reverberates around and around my head as I inhale the thick chlorinated air. It drugs my lungs and I feel drunk in a fairy-tale land. Everything is just out of reach. Chaos from the night before buzzes like a migraine; the world an impossible echo of something that used to be true. The tears I slept in are an iron mask stopping me screaming for help: Too late now.
Oblivious in the stands, my parents, grandparents, siblings all wave their flags and cheer ecstatically. Vaguely I wave back but it is like greeting the moon: they feel a million miles away. Just how much I need them in this moment hits me as I hear how hard they shout my name.
“Emi-ly! Emi-ly! Emi-ly!”
I swallow and concentrate on breathing. Inhaling for six counts, I move to the edge of the pool. I hold my breath for eight: The mass of clothed onlookers stare at my waxed body, squashed into the tightest suit. Him too. Exhaling for seven, I throw my towel onto the ground. An electric thrill of fear is conducted through my skin under the audience’s gaze. I have to repress my revulsion. I take a last swig from the water bottle and my insides are drowned with coldness. My shaky fingers snap the goggles over my plastic bald head. Clambering onto the starting block, my legs become numb jelly. A race like this would have empowered me before. But he’s broken that.
I curl the toes of my right foot tightly around the edge and crouch in the starting position, as if about to make a prayer. As if he hadn’t crushed all my faith in just a few minutes. Although I can’t see him, I sense his eyes prickling into my back. My icy insides boil over with hatred. I trusted him; my whole family did. He took us all in with his façade of giving a shit about me. My fingernails dig into my clenched fists. It all felt surreal, like some terrible story you would hear from someone else, anywhere away from your own routine regularity. And yet, here I am. I peer across the three lanes next to my own. The other girls shift on their starting blocks, smoothing down their bald heads and fixing fierce goggles over their eyes. We look like flies, so replaceable. Unable to take much else in, I gaze down at the gently rippling surface below. Neat square lines of the tiles wriggle about as if trying to escape their two-dimensional prison. I clamp my hands onto the edge. I can’t let him see his effect on me.
“I will not let him win,” I whisper.
The whistle splits my head like a bullet.
Instinct launches me into the air, stretching my body out into the optimum streamlined position, just as he ingrained into me. My hands pierce the water first, entering another world. Soaring through the water in a gentle upward gradient to the surface, my legs make frantic butterfly kicks. Tucked under my arrow-shaped arms, my head spins in this blue tinged refuge. I am poised in motion, veils of water resistance gliding across my smooth skin. But it’s tainted now. The back of my throat is on fire from vomiting last night up. If only I could expel everything he did from my body. Still I am under his control, doing just as he wills; a performing seal out on parade, jumping through his hoops for some sick amusement. I push forward into the rippling light above and leave the eerie shelter of the under-water. My hydrophobic cap snaps open the surface. Instantly, the hubbub of disembodied shouting and cheering clicks back into earshot.
The surface plunges at my ears as I pull myself along using alternate strokes. I drag my face through the water, no matter how much I need to breathe. My hands scoop through the pool with my fingers expertly slightly separated. I kick my legs as a hard as I can. But I did not kicked hard enough when it mattered. How do you fight off the man who taught you how to be strong? Desperate to breathe, I start to gulp water; head aching, muscles alight. My limbs cut silkily through the water. I think that was what provoked him. He insisted on lingering in my hotel room when they waxed me.
“Leave my star swimmer alone with you hairdresser airheads? Anything could happen!” he shouted in his poolside voice, probably an attempt at humour. Everyone in the room grimaced awkwardly. He embarrassed me. But I believed he genuinely cared. Until they had finished, packed away their things and clicked the door shut on just the two of us. Uncomfortably, I reflect, it was a game of power and control. Clearly, being applauded for training top tier swimmers does not make you a good person. Before yesterday, I thought that only villains did awful things. I would dream up far away criminals plotting malevolent schemes, but it transpires that it’s those closest you have to fear.
Three arm-strokes in, I can finally breathe. I turn my head slightly to the side. My mouth levels with the dip my speed makes against the waterline. I wrench at the air, gulping in as much as I can before submerging my face again. It reignites my lungs. Another three strokes and I turn my head the other way, then the other, and this way and that way and soon I am spinning in my own vortex. The nausea kicks in again. I taste the faintest hint of metallic saltiness trickling onto my tongue. I close my eyes. The taste triggers the memory of his assault on my mouth. I reopen them almost immediately, not affording the smallest mistake.
Aware of the bubble streams from the other competitors encroaching into my peripheral vision, I decide I must win this race. Every fibre of my being is a swimmer, my family pumping all their support into my career. My birthday presents were club memberships, new suits, fins to replace the ones my feet had out-grown. There was no joy on earth greater than the look of pride on my parents’ faces when I brought home more medals; my little sister pointing excitedly at how shiny they look aligned on the wall. But last night, I saw the truth behind the person who had spurred all this on. I can’t bear to imagine going home with a part of him tinting the people I love’s view of who I am: I don’t want a shiny wall flashing with his true colours. I will do anything to scratch off my coach’s glossy reputation, even if it means cutting short my own swimming career.
“I will let myself win,” I promise the water.
I imagine my applause, picture a smooth ascent out of the water and tossing my towel hard at my coach as I walk past him. His mouth hanging open in surprise, hand outreached as if to touch me: to shake mine, to clap me on the back, to hug me? Nausea courses through me at the thought. The strings of his control over my every breath, his eyes scouring my form for any minute slip up, scrutinising my very being. I decide it is over. The assumption that he would ever assume his skin could touch mine again repulses me.
Pushing, kicking, fighting with every atom of my being, my mash of fingers slam against the edge of the pool, my head crashing after them. Touch down. It all goes black for a moment. My life as a swimmer melts away; schedules, diets, restrictions dissipate. I am reborn.
If you have been affected by any of these issues, please contact SupportLine.This story is based on fiction and only intends to raise awareness in a sensitive way.
We all know how it is: Waking up at the crack of dawn, the commute at rush hour, long working days, busy afternoons, evening spent recuperating and repeat. An all too familar story. By the number of days since my last post, you may be able to guess that this has happened to me too. Indeed, I have been cramming in placements, work experiences and paid work into my summer; turning my holiday much more hectic than term time. But I have stuck to ‘keeping healthy’, whatever that may mean.
With the rise of Instagram idealism of perfect bodies, holidays, workout routines and diets, there is a pressure to keep healthy more than ever. Taking pictures of our food has become all too present in Millennial culture. We have to be at our best ready for any click of a camera. However this is not reality. And that isn’t a bad thing either. As Oscar Wilde said, “only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”. Keeping healthy isn’t always instagramable, neither does it necessarily fit into the idealisation of oat breakfast bowls or beautiful lycra clad people. The real kind of keeping healthy can be messy. And that’s okay.
The secret of keeping healthy when you’re busy, tired and exhausted is to keep to a routine as best as you can, and to grab any opportunity to do something for yourself when you cannot. It is okay to miss a gym session because you’re too tired; or to demolish that chocolate sitting in the cupboard. Listening to yourself is the most important thing you can do when you’re stretched at all angles. For example, when I had to work out of town, and away from my gym, I took to walking arounf the local area. However, I usually go to the gym late in the evening after a few hours recharging (as an introvert) after finishing my work experience for the day. Some days I have to miss out because I have evening shifts, but that’s okay. Missing sessions at first seemed like a mortal sin, but slowly I have found that it only makes me more determined to go the next day: or to find another way to get those endorphins flowing.
Ultimately, everyone’s ability to keep healthy is dependent on their individual schedules. Yet whether they are after a changed diet or more active lifestyle, there are small, personal changes that can be made whether or not that conform to social media standards. We should remember that keeping healthy is allowed to include sweat, messy hair and often taking time for yourself.
Whilst I am approaching my final year of my degree, the sudden reality that all too soon I will be working in a ‘real’ job contributing to a ‘real’ career is striking me. Therefore, I organised a few days experience at a school in order to grapple with what it would mean to be teacher. I observed a variety of ages and abilities facing internal end of year exams and looking towards the next new year of school. It was a fantastic experience and gave me hope that this might be the route for me. However, it stirred something in me. Something underlying in the teaching profession that never seems to be fully acknowledged: strap your seat belts in, I feel a rant brewing…
“Don’t go into teaching for the money”. “Think of the holidays”. “It’s the only route for humanity degrees”. These are all preconceptions that have been blasted at me everytime I mention going into teaching. So when I found myself in an English staffroom listening to a lunchtime discussion on how it would take 15 years to save up for a house deposit on teachers wages, the reality of this beautiful, nurturing and under-appreciated profession hit me. ‘Skilled’ jobs are defined as paying over £30,000 per annum. The starting salary of a teacher is £23,000: which would only just cover the cost of the tuition fees and maintenance loan required for a degree over a year. Teachers (on the traditional PGCE route) spend a minimum of four years at university. And for what? An ‘unskilled’ job?
With the recent revelation that headteachers have to reduce the number of teachers in a school to breaking point in order to pay for basic equipment, such as tables and chairs, it is evident that schools are in a crisis. This comes after schools have been flogged off to businesses and other companies to become academies. Giving hope for improvement and survival of OFSTED inspections. This may seem a dramatic view; an exaggerated reality, however I, myself, saw the reality of this firsthand as a student. My secondary school was a failing institution placed in special measures for a number of years, spot inspections happening every few months. But nothing ever changed. Even with a proactive new headteacher who pushed the school to the national list of top ten most improved schools, the school remained in special measures. Only when it was converted to an academy that any real change happened. Through a series of harsh but necessary changes to secure a sustainable future for the school, it made a ‘good’ OFSTED rating.
So what does this say about the state of state schools? Is it condemned by its limited financial resources, like the NHS? Maybe. Undeniably, schools reaching out to former pupils with lists of what donations of well over £1,000 could buy for the school, such as interactive whiteboards and library computers, sounds too much like charity fundraising for crisises in other countries. But the issue is very much present in our local communities.
So where does this place teaching? From what I learnt at my invaluable few days placed in the heart of a growing academy trust that aims to expand into a cluster of local schools over the area, teaching is a necessary and potent career that will enrich your life by inspiring others. The teachers I had growing up caught my respect because of how hard they worked to make a difference to our lives. The tireless nights, the lesson plans, the unseen ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that goes into each lesson; the years of study prior to even setting foot into the classroom. It all contributes towards something significant and under-appreciated in not only pay but the overall system of things.
Perhaps it is true that teaching is more than a pay check, but why should the two be so dramatically separated? Certainly, impacting on young people’s lives in a classroom every day beats sitting at a desk in an office; so why can’t that be celebrated in the way it should be? It would change the negative perception that for humanity students particula rly, teaching is an inevitability. Something drastically needs to change for schools. As a prospective teacher facing a world where academies are breaking finanical constraints, I want to ride the wave to creating something better.
Today is the first day of my Summer. Ahead lies long stretch of four months until my final year at university – not at all daunting…! In lieu of a month of constant revision (and regaining mobility of my right arm from writing so much!), I would like to catch up on my somewhat neglected blog with a beautiful brownie recipe: an optimistic beginning to hopefully a good summer ahead. This a foolproof recipe that is guaranteed to yield amazing results!
275g caster sugar
185g unsalted butter
85g plain flour
3 large eggs
(and the exciting bit:)
185g good dark chocolate
50g white chocolate
50g milk chocolate
40g cocoa powder
Cut the butter into small cubes and break up the dark chocolate into small pieces. Tip both into a medium sized bowl. Fill a saucepan with water so it does not touch the bottom of the bowl when they are stack on top of each other. Heat the water on a low simmering heat. Stir the butter and chocolate occasionally as they melt into one another. Remove bowl from the pan and leave the mixture to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, prepare your owven by turning it to gas mark 4/180C/160C, and line a shallow 20cm tin with greaseproof paper (I used my round loose-bottomed cake tins but normal people who can take things out of tins competently probably use square tins!).
Next, sieve out the flour and cocoa powder together into a fresh bowl.
Then chop the white and milk chocolate into chunks – ready for a later stage.
With a third bowl, whisk the three eggs and caster sugar together with an electric mixer on the highest setting. Stop when they look like a thick, creamy milkshake. This will take no longer than 8 minutes but may be faster and took no more than 3 minutes depending how pwerful the whisk. The mixture will be double its original size, pale and creamy. Be careful not to overdo it as you will risk knocking the air out.
Pour in the cooled chocolate and butter mixture and gently fold in with a figure-of-8 motion, taking great care not to knock air out. Make sure to reach the sides of the bowl. The resulting mixture will be a dappled brown colour. Do not rush this stage: be slow and gentle.
Resieve the cocoa and flour over this mixture so it covers the whole thing evenly. Do the same gentle folding as before, making sure to eradicate pockets of the dry ingredients. At first, the mixture will look disheartening and dusty (but you’re on the right track!). In the end, it will be fudgy mixture. Again, do not overdo this and stop before you think you should.
Gently stir in the white and milk chunks of chocolate.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, gently easing it into all areas of the tin and leveling it to a smooth level. Put into the oven for 25 minutes. At the end of this time, check the middle does not wobble. If so, bake anouther 5 minutes. There should be a parpery crust and the sides will have moved away from the tin’s edges.
Leave to cool and cut into squares, triangles or even dodecahedrons should you desire.
Running from the 23rd May to 2nd June 2019, the picturesque market town Hay-On-Wye is hosting the Hay Festival for the 32rd time. This year notable appearances include Stephen Fry reading from his Mythos book; Maxine Peake reading The Mask of Anarchy; Lucy Worsley on her new book, Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow; and Ian McEwan considering his new novel, Machines Like Me. However, my visit entailed two unlikely events that centred on unusual subjects that enlightened me in ways unexpected.
The first event was from the man, the myth, the legend: Simon Schama. In a warm Ballie Gifford Stage, Schama looking into Rembrandt’s Eyes. He guided us through the 17th century Dutch painter’s landmark on art history in a lively and illuminating talk. Taking us through the peak and eventual trough of his life, we saw his generosity in art grow in the forms of a multitude of subjects: from his wife Saskia until her death, dissections and the nature of mortality, and the tortures of the female body.
However, one particularly captivating piece has stuck with me. The first work Schama introduced his talk with was Rembrandt’s Winter Landscape. Admist the heat of the tent, the audience was transported to a chilly Dutch farmyard blanketd in snow. Working from sketches inside his studio, the movements of ink and a stick presents Rembrandt aptly; his simplicity in places, in the face of unconvinced critics.
Whilst I went into the Ballie Gifford Stage largely ignorant of Rembrandt, I left informed, inspired and a little in awe of Schama.
The second event I attended was hosted by cartoonist Chris Riddell and former laureates Julia Donaldson (known for Zog and the Gruffalo), and the one and only Michael Rosen. Having taken a Children’s Literature module last semester and coming out all the wiser for it, I listened to their spell-binding approaches to engage young children to literature. Riddell drew highly entertaining picture to illustrate his talking, Donaldson and her husband drew the audience together with musical sign language and Rosen’s familar voice ensnared the room with his entertaining stories.
Whilst this event concerned children’s literature, naturally there were many issues raises for adult consideration: the political hold over education. All three enthused their frustration over sharing ideas with numerous Secretaries for Education, albeit it falling on deaf ears. They believe exam questions are set up wrongly, especially from SAT level. They ask why an author writes about their character in such a way, when at A level or degree level, the author is detached from the work and it is only the persona that must be considered. Riddell being a political cartoonist made light of this, and the other recent events of late…
In all, the Hay Festival once again succeeded in opening my mind to the importance of things I had been closed off to. I left the maze of tents and flags feeling inspired and invigorated by the voices of passionate people raising important points. I cannot recommend this literary festival enough: an unusual and eye-opening array of events. It has to date been attended by two American presidents over its three decades of running, it’s iconic white tents now host to over 250,000 visitors over its ten days.
Almost three years ago I made the switch. I cut out bacon, sausages, Sunday roasts. But it’s all been worth it. Before, I would go piscetarian over the lent period. It makes you think about your food differently, question what’s in it, where it came from, who might have handled it. I came to realise that generally, I did not consume an awful amount of meat anyway. But that didn’t stop the cravings for pork scratchings during the early stages!
It was a particularly inspiring philosophy lecture that prompted me to go veggie: on Peter Singer’s personhood. He carries the pioneering view that animals have personhood, even going as far to say that they have more personhood than newborn babies and people in comas. This goes against Aristotle, Plato and Descartes who deny that animals have spirits. He’s actually convinced Richard Dawkins too! As funny cat videos and animal rescue centres take social media by storm, I don’t think we have ever cared more about animals more.
More than protecting animals, we are being encouraged to cut down on meat in order to reduce carbon emissions: Whether that might mean only having meat dishes on weekends. You can cut down nearly a quarter of your carbon footprint by simply cutting down on red meats, such as beef and lamb. Being carbon conscious is increasingly trendy, with vegetarian menus cropping up (shout out to Wetherspoons who do a fantastic veggie breakfast!) and vegan cafés.
However this brings into question the farming industry. And a dilemma. Is it better to let these slaughterhous animals to die out so they no longer suffer but do not exist? It would affect biodiversity for one thing. We have breed cows so much that the Chillingham Wild Cattle in Northumberland are one of a few natural cattle left in the world. Check out Bong Joon-ho’s Okja on Netflix for a vivid dystopian view of meat farming.
Ultimately, I enjoy being veggie. It’s a challenge to minimise the suffering of animals I respect as possessing personhood; and it reduces my footprint. Although I am not entirely sure I could commit to being vegan (and I have full respect to anyone who does!), maybe one day I will take that extra step. For now though (without coming across as an angry radical vegetarian!), I would encourage anyone looking to contributing a small change for the wider good to look into flexitarianism!
Eleanor crouched in the library, hunched over. The gnawing ache of stooping above books all night caught up with her. Every muscle whined for a horizontal bed. She let out a long, strained sigh. As if breathing out all her deadline torments. She stretched away from her desk cubicle and rubbed her eyes. It was hours ago she had splashed off her light make up in the ladies’. Her phone screen lit up. Unknown caller. If you knew Eleanor, then you’d know that she never ever answered withheld caller IDs. Or oftentimes known callers. Who even spoke over the phone anymore nowadays; unless it was for work or sorting out forms? She hated it. There was just something about not being able to see the other person, having to listen in on their every word. Being so close to a stranger. She shuddered. It rang silently until the screen went dark and the caller was sent to voicemail.
Eleanor looked at her keys, longingly thinking of going home. She checked her watch. It was so late it was beyond early. Eleanor hit save on her laptop and scooped it into her bag; along with the smattering of pages her pen had scribbled illegible notes over. Stifling a yawn, Eleanor pulled her wool long-line coat on and shouldered her rucksack. Whilst heading down the stairs she negotiated the knotted earphones. Damn string theory. The screen lit up again. Under her breath, Eleanor swore with tired frustration.
All-nighters were becoming all too regular for Eleanor, deadlines fast approaching. So the dark walk back didn’t faze her anymore. The route home through the uniform streets was so imprinted on her mind, her feet did all the work now. Instead, she calmed her overworked mind with Florence and the Machine. A sorry compensation to its sleep-deprived abuse. Tonight, the streets were vaguely lit by the first thought of sun-rise. Looking up at the sky, smoky clouds were dusted faintly with a thin violet outline. Longingly, she thought of those missed evenings curled up on the sofa with Edwin watching some sitcom; sacrificed for these all-nighters. Eleanor was exhausted. She wondered whether to head for bed or the coffee maker when she got in. But her thoughts of a steaming hot cup and hitting back against clean white linen were intruded on.
The phone, sitting in her inside pocket, tickled against her chest, pausing Florence. Crossly, she tore it out of her coat, jabbed at the green button and held out in front of her mouth.
“Hello?” Eleanor asked gruffly. Her earphones fed her the long silence. Any remnants of her patience snapped. “Hello?! Do you know what time it is?” No answer. She took a deep breath.
The feeling her tired anger ebbed away, an unnerving prickly sensation taking over instead. She didn’t say anything else, her tongue felt knotted in some way. Her steps slowed down. To her horror, she heard the noise on the phone. As she slowed down, she was falling out of rhythm. Out of rhythm with the identical sound on the phoneline. Footsteps. Brisk, consistent paces. Trouser material rubbing against itself. And hard soles against pavement. The distinctive click of the sole of suit shoes. A horrible wave of nausea swept over Eleanor. The prickly feeling crawled up her back. She felt her muscles tense up, rooting her to the ground. The phoneline continued to walk. This couldn’t be Edwin, he just didn’t do things like this; none of her friends would for that matter. They knew she was hard pressed with her thesis right now so wouldn’t find a prank like this amusing. And this couldn’t be a butt dial. Who walks around at this time? And in expensive suit shoes? A butt dial wouldn’t have a withheld caller ID.
Thoroughly confounded, Eleanor wanted to talk. If she could just get a response out of whoever this was. To hear their voice.
“Hello? Who is this? Where are you?” she asked, spinning around.
A clear sense of her own vulnerability dawned on her. Alone, on an empty street. The uniform houses all had their windows curtained. No one in sight. She wasn’t close to home, or near enough to turn back to the library. Fuck. All the while the footsteps marched on. Eleanor’s stomach clenched, the prickling sensation consuming her skin: down her legs, over her shoulders, across her arms.
Feeling watched, her primal instincts took a hold and she began running. Not caring that the phoneline picked up the sound of her flimsy mustard dolly shoes pounding pathetically against the street. Turning this way and that way along familiar streets leading her home: if she could just get there. All the while her earphones beat out the steady, unchanging footsteps.
Her thick coat became an iron sheet against the wind. The ache from hunching over all night bit into her shoulders. Her legs felt like they couldn’t move fast enough, like long wads of floppy jelly. As she turned a corner, her house came into view. The sight of the row of little redbrick terraces seemed to hug Eleanor. She panted harder, betraying her exhaustion to the unknown caller. But she couldn’t stop. Her muscles were alight, lungs stinging. As she came closer to the house, she saw a comforting amber light from the bathroom: a lighthouse calling out in a storm. Just like Edwin to be up this early, no doubt thinking about a fry up before the commute to work. That bubble of normality seemed strange to Eleanor, thrown into this sudden tangle of panic and confusion. If she could just get to the door. Away from whatever this phone call meant.
All the while, Eleanor hadn’t once dared to look behind her. She needed speed. She didn’t want to know anything but that she was almost home. The idea of being watched tingled hotly through her body. Her hands frantically fumbled in her pockets as she pounded the pavement, the sound of the stranger’s march still tattooing her eardrums. A jumble of fingers found the door key. She tore over the small garden gate and reached the front door, hitting the key in the lock. It wouldn’t go in. Shit. She pulled out another silver key and tried that one. Not now for God’s sake.
In some subconscious field, she saw a vague movement flickering under the streetlights at the corner of her eye. Her head turned. A figure. A black figure. Striding in time to the rhythm on the phone. Her stomach plummeted and the hand holding the keys froze over.
As if possessed, Eleanor slammed on the door with all the strength left in her shattered body.
“Ed! Open the door! Let me in! Let me in right now! Ed! EDWIN!” her voice screeched out, panic pulsating in her throat. The figure was getting closer. So close now that she could make out his clothes. He wore a smart black trench coat over a crisp white shirt. His legs were obscured by the front garden hedge she looked out over. Between the glare of the streetlights and the softening dark sky, she could make out the beady gleam of black sunglasses.
Fuck. What is this?
Eleanor rapped on the door again, whilst scrabbling to find a key she hadn’t tried yet. His footsteps hadn’t picked up pace, even though he was so near and undoubtedly saw Eleanor wrestling with the door. If he could see her behind the overgrown driveway and those sunglasses when it was this dark? As she held up her last key, Eleanor looked over her shoulder once more. She let out a shout. The man was right outside the house. He strode swiftly, turning into the front garden, the little gate screeching open. He was meters away, crunching across the drive towards her. Screaming, she stabbed the key into the door. It worked. He was an arm’s length away as she turned it, expecting at any second to feel his fingertips on her back.
She punched open the door and slammed it shut. And pulled across the security chain for good measure. For a split second she heard the last gravelled steps but then radio silence. The small semi-circle of wavy glass on the top of the front door showed a shadowed head. Eleanor breathed heavily. They could have stood like that, separated by a door, for hours.