Great stories, beautifully told
Parcels of Love
by Sue Whytock
She looked at her mother and then nodded at something the voice on the phone said. She was a good girl. She had said it all perfectly, just as her mother had told her. After the call, they all went out, shut the door to their flat where her father was, and waited in the lobby for the police to come. They were dressed in their smartest clothes, the suitcase standing beside them.
* * * *
The sirens brought people out onto the street in Pollokshields. The Asian women stood just inside or around the entrances to their tenement blocks. The white folk were more bold, and advanced as far as they could towards the building – being kept back by uniformed police and forensics who were taping the space, marking a crime scene. When the neighbours saw that it was the quiet Pakistani woman and her three children being taken away, the crowd gathered force. One of the shocked faces in that crowd would be a talking head on the local and national news programmes that night. She would say, ‘She was awfy shy. She was nae bother. She wouldnae stop and chat, like, but she was nae bother. Kids were beautiful; awfy nice manners.’
In the flat the father was slumped forward in his chair. He was wearing a vest and pants. The pants were soiled. His head hung heavy and was caved in. The iron was on the floor next to him.
The WPO had held the youngest, a boy, in her arms. The social worker had the two girls; they held hands with each other. The mother was led out to the police car and had kept her head bowed under her hijab. Her name was Nargis.
Asha, the eldest daughter had made the call, Nargis had carefully explained what she needed to tell them. She wanted her daughter to call because she feared she might get it wrong. ‘My English is having problems,’ she would say.
Asha was used to speaking for her Amma, her mother. She heard her father shout at her and criticise her English. She would try to help her mother by coaching her; she told her to copy the way the rest of the family sounded, so she would speak with a Glaswegian accent like they all did and not sound so different. But her accent remained.
Her father was always angry and he would test her mum and punish her. He would make her say things and then jiggle his head and mimic her voice. He would have her rehearse what she was going to say in a shop or at the council offices and for every mistake he would burn her arms with the cigarettes she went out and bought for him.
Nargis was from Karachi; her husband was from Glasgow. He was called Raj and would tell them that his name meant ‘ruler’ and they all had to obey him in everything.
He would rage against his wife and shout that he hadn’t asked to marry ‘a stinking Paki from Paki-fucking-Stan’, that he didn’t want her then and that he still didn’t. That he had a girlfriend, that he loved her and still did, and wished that this ‘whimpering, useless piece of shit’ would go back to her family and take her kids with her. And he would sob and smash the place up. Then he would leave for days at a time; Asha supposed it would be to see this other woman.
She would hear all this and she saw when he lifted her mum’s sari and placed the hot iron flat to the small of her back, and Nargis would only whimper.
Asha had gone to get bandages and cream that last time, as she had many times before, and Nargis had tended to it herself.
Asha and her sister Rani and her little brother Faisal would get the shopping in and try to keep the flat tidy. They would begin to relax a little, without Raj. But he would always come back, sometimes days, sometimes weeks later. He would return, sullen and dark, and say nothing about it.
* * * *
The children were tired. They had been taken to a woman called Mary’s house, a small pebble-dashed semi on an estate. Her house was full of ornaments and photos of all her foster children. She was a bosomy, smiling woman in her sixties. She showed the children the room where they would be sleeping. There were bunk beds for Rani and Faisal and a single bed with a butterfly quilt for Asha. Mary didn’t live in Pollokshields; she lived in a place called Govan.
‘You can see Ibrox oot the bedroom windae so I hope you’re no Celtic fans!’ She had laughed and tousled Faisal’s hair. She had taken Asha’s siblings by the hand, saying, ‘you two wains come away wi me and we’ll leave your sister to settle in. Let’s see if we can find a biscuit, eh no?’
To Asha, she said, ‘You take your time, hen.’ She had led the others away and closed the door softly behind them.
* * * *
Alone, Asha opened the suitcase and the smell of Amma rose up. There, on top of the neatly folded clothes, the brand-new toiletry bag, the copy of the Quran, were individual little parcels, wrapped in brown paper. Greasy blotches seeped through some of them. There were homemade rotis, chapatis and samosas. There were sweeties: laddus, fresh barfi, soan papdi and Asha’s favourite: sugar-coated fennel candy. Amma would have gone to Albert Drive, specially, to get these. She unwrapped each in turn and then neatly rewrapped them. She popped one of her favourite sweeties in her mouth, checked her reflection in the dressing table mirror, swiped at her eyes and, before joining the others, closed the suitcase and pushed it under the bed.
Copyright © 2019 Sue Whytock