an old drawing of a blue fish with red fins. the fish is almost circular from the side and has big eyes and a slightly open mouth

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Ruins

1.

 

A mural with a soldier and a worker at its centre. Broken tiles on the floor. A red star, peeling. Angles from the ground, from up high. Angles that require crouching and climbing, dirt under fingernails.

 

 

2.

 

He loves nothing more than a derelict GDR factory, an abandoned asylum. An amusement park left to the elements.

 

The weekend comes around and he sets off with his bag of provisions. Snacks, a pre-rolled zoot. His DSLR with a wide-angle lens, a macro for close-ups.

 

 

3.

 

I called it ruin porn.

 

That was a mistake.

 

We were sat in a café in Schillerkiez when I said it. 

 

First time we’d met. 

 

I was flicking through his photos of something abandoned. Military hospital? Cement factory?

 

He grabbed the camera from my hands.

 

Told me, Don’t call it that. 

 

I said, What should I call it then?

 

It’s the thing I love most about this place, about Berlin, he said, eyes fixed on the camera’s LCD screen. 

 

The waiter came by, and we watched in silence as he set down our order. Two Americanos and a thick slice of mohnkuchen. We exchanged dankes and bittes, waited for him to retreat.

 

Aren’t you scared? I asked.

 

Scared of what?

 

Glass, debris… needles. The polizei picking you up?

 

You go running in Görlitzer park, no? 

 

He paused. Looked down at his camera, then back at me, asked: Come with me some time?

 

 

4.

 

We got chatting on the app.

 

A late summer evening, Hasenheide park.

 

A sarong for a picnic blanket, a portable speaker on top. There was a spliff going round, a bottle of Sekt warmed by the sun.

 

I thought I’d meet him in the bushes once I was tipsy enough. But he wanted to chat, exchange pics – not nudes. Not just yet.

 

He said he was from Holon, Israel. And from the pics that he sent I could tell he was of Yemeni descent.

 

How’d you guess?

 

Those cheekbones, I typed in response. My dad is from Aden. Jewish.

 

He’s from Yemen?

 

From Aden. 

 

Haha. I thought that was a stereotype. 

 

What is?

 

That the Adenim think that they’re separate. 

 

Aden was a country.

 

Was, he replied, with the eye-roll emoji.

 

 

5.

 

Rollies. Negronis. Weserstrasse.

 

We met at the bar with fruit in its name. Papaya? Mango?

 

First proper date.

 

He had on a plain black t-shirt, three-day-old stubble. I wore a buttoned-up shirt, felt out of place. Conversation got off to a shaky start, but then the negronis kicked in.

 

I thought we’d tread a familiar path. Talk club nights and parties. Maybe hate on the start-ups. The rents going up.

 

I’d quote that Guardian article about gentrification always starting with the gays. Self-reflection. It usually adds a bit of colour and depth.

 

But he went straight in with the ruins again.

 

 

6.

 

 

I didn’t know so much joy could be found in an abandoned SS bakery.

 

 

7.

 

Three negronis in, and I’m genuinely interested in the history of TB sanatoriums in the Brandenburg area.

 

I point to his pouch of tobacco. May I?

 

 

8.

 

He walks me back to mine, holding his bike to the left. Arms brushing together.

 

At the front of my block, I lean in for a kiss. Vermouth. Citrus notes. 

 

I make a joke about it, invite him up.

 

He smiles, says, I’d love to but I’m on a morning shift. 

 

He leans in for another kiss.

 

 

9.

 

I give my duvet a quick shake. I’m horny and drunk and a little pissed-off that he didn’t come up. I have a free, both housemates away. 

 

I scroll through the apps. An ambitious endeavour. Can’t focus my eyes. My mouth tastes of ashtray.

 

 

10.

 

Dad only smoked Marlboro Lights. White tip. Swiss. 

 

He had a silent agreement with Menahem rasgabes and Yihyah the baker. If they went abroad, they’d always bring him a brick, and vice-versa.

 

I never understood why he was so particular about fags.

 

 

11.

 

Dina keeps nagging, texting me weekly with: Call dad.

 

Sometimes, she’ll be aggressive, write things like: You’re bloody selfish or Give the fags a rest for a day.

 

But she’ll always sign off with an x.

 

 

12.

 

Dina once told me that becoming a mum taught her the importance of kisses and love yous at the end of messages, phone calls.

 

I’d like to ask her where the kisses were when we were growing up?

 

Sissy with two kisses would’ve been better than none.

 

 

13.

 

There’s a person in my building who plays techno at all hours. I can never tell if it’s coming from somewhere above or somewhere below.

 

 

14.

 

Under the duvet. The room spinning three-sixty. Head full of regrets.

 

Was my mouth too loose? Should I have gone easier with the drink? When will you call Dad?

 

In the background, the techno softly pulsates like my room has a heartbeat.

 

 

15.

 

I’ve ticked all the tasks on the checklist. Squeezed a litre of pomegranate juice, two litres of orange. Half a litre of lemon. Put fresh mint in the bar, UHT in the fridge.

 

Genna comes in, taps two fingers on her lips: Fag?

 

I tell her to wait outside. Just grabbing my jacket. I take off my apron, check my phone in the hallway.

 

He’s texted. The ruins guy. Shimi:

 

That was fun, let’s do it again, smiley emoji.

 

 

16.

 

I didn’t like the smiley emoji. Why use an emoji at all?

 

 

17.

 

Gen says: Always give someone a second date. I’m not sold on the concept.

 

What if the guy’s a nutter?

 

With limits, she says. Besides an emoji isn’t a valid excuse to leave a person on read. I thought you were interested. You invited him up?

 

I was. I am.

 

But?

 

I don’t know. He’s into abandoned places. Ruins.

 

She’s stubbing out her cigarette, nodding her head in the direction of the restaurant window. Elise is stood with her arms folded, giving us evils.

 

 

18.

 

What is a valid excuse to leave someone on read?

 

 

19.

 

Dina responds to my text with:

 

Buy credit on Skype then. Stinge.

 

 

20. 

 

Moments later, a second text:

 

Xx

 

 

21.

 

At the refrigerated shelves in Lidl. Mentally calculating costs. Sliced Gouda or Edam or cream cheese this week? What can I afford?

 

 

22.

 

Following Friday. Same time. Different place. 

 

A bar closer to mine with a number for a name. 

 

We’re on beer, vom fass.

 

He tells me that he edits video clips for a Polish news channel. 

 

It was that or chopping salad at an Israeli restaurant, Shimi says. What’s the dream? 

 

The dream?

 

The goal. Where would you like to be in five-year’s time?

 

Not serving croquettes? 

 

He laughs.

 

I tell him that I’ve always liked the idea of a job with a purpose like working for an NGO… human rights, development, that sorta thing.

 

Human Rights?

 

I nod. 

 

Like handing out aid in Gaza?

 

I take a sip of my beer.

 

 

23.

 

We talk backpacking, trekking. He raises his eyebrows when I tell him I’d love to travel the region.

 

Damascus, Baghdad, Yemen… I’d love to sit looking out to the Gulf of Aden. I’d find Dad’s childhood home, take a picture outside. See all those places from his stories like Steamer Point and Crater and the Victoria Hotel. Wouldn’t you?

 

What for? he asks.

 

What for… to see where our families came from, understand their quirks. You’re not interested in seeing Yemen one day?

 

What’s a quirk?

 

Like a habit.

 

There’s nothing to see. It’s not Prague. You can’t do a heritage tour of the Jewish quarter. 

 

 

24.

 

He looks thoughtful whenever I say something. As if he’s mulling it over. But he also does a face when he disagrees with what I’ve said. His mouth turned in a grimace. Eyes squinted together.

 

He gave me that look when I said I was really impressed with the whole Eringung? Eringing? The German culture of remembrance thing.

 

Like with the Holocaust and how it’s remembered and how it’s intrinsic to German identity, I say.

 

Uhuh, he responds.

 

It’s more like a look of disgust. 

 

Reminds me of Dad.

 

 

25.

 

Dad’s look of disgust is reserved for a handful of things:

 

The prices in Kosher shops, 

 

Traffic wardens,

 

A woman wearing a kippah,

 

Vinegary condiments (Worcestershire, Salad cream, HP),

 

And that kiss with the two guys on Corrie. He didn’t like that.

 

 

26.

 

Face buried into a bowl of potatoes? Eggs? Mehashhash? Or something with tomatoes – khudra mudra? Tuna mahawag? – Dad only had three or four dishes on weekly rotation.

 

Don’t know why they show this rubbish, he said. Zarab zaribek. Two men playing boyfriend and girlfriend. What happened to the watershed? Give, give me the remote. Let’s see what’s on Channel 4.

 

 

27.

 

Rusty metal and cracked tarmac. Overgrown weeds and trees emerging from gaps.

 

Our elbows are touching, and I look for excuses to keep brushing his hand as we look at pictures on his phone. 

 

Why ruins? I ask.

 

Why?

 

Like what is it about abandoned places?

 

It’s a feeling, he says. 

 

Pauses, collects his thoughts. 

 

It’s like entering a different time, a different place. In-between. Not this and not that. You know?

 

Sorta…

 

It’s like between the dead and the living. It makes you think about the future, he says.

 

You have ruins at home. I’ve been to Jerusalem, the Kotel. Climbed Masada at 5am.

 

That’s different, he says. They’re ancient and holy and run by the religious. I like places left to nature. 

 

What about Lifta? I ask.

 

Huh?

 

The depopulated Palestinian village? On the outskirts of Jerusalem?

 

It takes him a few seconds to understand. 

 

That. Yeah, it’s a few Arab houses.

 

It’s an entire village and a spring.

 

Overrun by the religious. 

 

He looks at me carefully, then continues: Besides it’s different. You can’t compare. This is history, he says gently shaking his phone.

 

It’s a cement factory, but I don’t say that out loud.

 

 

28.

 

Do we have to align politically for me to bring him back to mine?

 

 

29.

 

On the walk back he says, You should come with me to an abandoned place sometime.

 

I’d like that, I say (but I have no real intention).

 

 

30.

 

Vanilla candles, fairy lights. Baduizm playing in the background. We’re sat cross-legged on my bed facing each other. Ashtray balanced on his thigh. 

 

We’re smoking his stuff. He said it was White Rhino.

 

And it feels like I was hit by one. Haven’t stopped coughing like I’m new to this. 

 

He’s calm and composed and he’s moved his right hand nearer to mine. 

 

Does your mum make Jahnun and Kubaneh, things like that, for Shabbat? he asks.

 

It takes me a few seconds to understand what he’s saying. I inch my hand closer, fingers resting on his.

 

Nope. Mum’s English… English English.

 

Jewish?

 

I shake my head, no. 

 

He takes a drag, ashes the joint. 

 

Unusual, he says, running a finger up and down the side of my hand.

 

What is?

 

A Temoni man marrying outside the religion. It’s like ending his lineage.

 

 

31.

 

Mum said that her reason for leaving for Leeds was that man.

 

That man being dad. 

 

He’ll be the end of me, she said.

 

I was only ten.

 

She didn’t mention the new boyfriend. 

 

 

32.

 

He looked like a Martin, but he wasn’t a Martin. Dina and I still refer to him as Martin. He was the one who phoned Dad when she died.

 

Heart attack at 45.

 

He got tongue tied. Words stuck together.

 

She’s in heaven, he said. The Jewish one. I don’t know what you call it.

 

 

33.

 

There was a butterfly in the kitchen in the days after she died. Dad said it was Mum’s soul returned.

 

She’s come to watch over you and scorn me, he said, tears in his eyes.

 

 

34.

 

I’m pretty sure it was a moth.

 

 

35.

 

I tell Gen that I whited.

 

Threw up on the floor by the side of my bed, I say.

 

She cackles. Cigarette between her lips, checking for Elise over my shoulder.

 

He made me eat a banana and get into bed, then he tucked me in, said good night and left.

 

 

36.

 

I draft a text to apologise but I can’t get the wording right. I want to convey cool and calm and that this usually doesn’t happen.

 

But he’s online and he can see typing

 

So, I copy-paste into Notes, carry on drafting on there.

 

 

37.

 

Elise wants to know why I’m only making one litre of pomegranate juice.

 

We need two, she says. Always two.

 

Jawohl, I mutter under my breath. 

 

 

38.

 

There’s a smell of new leather in the restaurant. 

 

A set of two chairs for the waiting area still covered in plastic.

 

Reminds me of Dad’s leather recliner. How he sits with the foot stool up. Coffee spiked with hawaij on the table, stained doily beneath it. Listening to Abdel Halim, Farid el-Atrash.

 

But usually, it’s Umm Kulthum.

 

Enta omriFakarouni… but el Atlal is his favourite.

 

I can hear the opening lines. Her Ya fuadi, Ya fuadi, trailing through the corridor of our South Tottenham maisonette.

 

Year after year the same image. The only thing changed was the medium. Had me convert his tapes into CDs, his CDs into MDs. MDs into Mp3s.

 

Thank God for YouTube.

 

Taught him how to type Umm Kulthum into the search bar on a second-hand Dell that I brought him.

 

And now he sits there for hours, eyes wide like a child in front of a fire.

 

Umm Kulthum swishing her handkerchief side to side. Orchestra behind her.

 

 

39.

 

Shimi texts: 

 

Don’t worry about it, winking emoji… Want to go see a ruin?Smiley emoji. 

 

 

40.

 

But what do you really have against these ruins? Gen asks, she’s been polishing the same glass for ten minutes. 

 

It’s a tactic we’ve learnt.

 

Polish well. Polish often. Polish everything. Wine glasses, cutlery. The little saucers we put the amaretti on. That’s how you hold a conversation during a shift and still look busy.

 

It’s just going to be awkward and weird, I say, How do you pretend to enjoy something like that?

 

By trying to enjoy it?

 

 

41.

 

I text him back:

 

Drink first. Ruin another time?

 

 

42.

 

He responds with a picture of him, bum facing camera. Stood in the middle of what looks like a hangar.

 

The caption below reads: What awaits you if you come with me…

 

 

43.

 

Flaking paint like pockmarks on ceilings and walls. Graffiti tags. Glass shards. Silhouettes of chimneys and fences. Tileless roofs set against sunsets. 

 

The walls of his room are covered in these photos.

 

These fucking ruins, I mumble to myself.

 

He comes up beside me, hands me a Turkish tea glass with whisky inside.

 

All I had, he says.

 

I should’ve been honest about not liking whisky. He turns his attention to the photo I was looking at.

 

It’s the roof of the old ice factory, he says. You could climb up there and watch the sunset with beers. It’s all security and fences now.

 

 

44.

 

First time we drove past Lifta was when we flew in for Uncle Benny’s son’s wedding. Uncle Benny picked us up from the airport. I sat belted up in the back, Dad in the front. Saw the ruins below us as we entered the city.

 

Most of the Yemenites and Kurds left by the seventies, said Uncle Benny. 

 

He had one hand on the steering wheel of his Skoda, the other holding a cigarette out the window. Aviators on. An old coffee in the cup holder. Cigarette butts floating inside. 

 

Government paid them to leave. Don’t know how they ever lived there to start with.

 

Why don’t they develop it? asked Dad.

 

Arab houses, said Uncle Benny, Everyone got involved. They made a mistake leaving the ruins.

 

 

45.

 

His hand caresses my bum, I move it away.

 

That’s okay, Shimi says. 

 

 

46.

 

He cuts us thin lines of ket with coke.

 

The trick with ket is baby lines, he says. Not too much.

 

I somehow still k-hole.

 

 

47.

 

I wake up on the sofa. Shoes off. Still dressed under a blanket.

 

Making a quirk of this, he says, hands me a mug of coffee spiked with hawaij.

 

Is this Adeni coffee?

 

No. Yemenite, he says with a smile.

 

 

48.

 

He slides in beside me. Rests his head on my chest. We smoke a joint. Talk lovers and exes. Relationships.

 

He says, A good relationship is the sofrito. The base to which you add the rest of the ingredients.

 

I disagree. It’s more of a hilbah. The dollop on top of a well-built soup.

 

 

49.

 

He won’t cum until after I do, and I think that’s sweet.

 

 

50.

 

The phantom techno player is wide awake.

 

 

51.

 

My sister the ghoul is still texting.

 

 

52.

 

Monday is my only day off.

 

I go for a long run. Stretch my legs. I run by the canal, past the GDR Watchtower. Cross the main roads to Treptower park. Phone vibrating in my pocket. A torrent of messages from Dina.

 

You’ve abandoned Dad. He’s lonely. You have no God. 

 

 

53.

 

The calls are always the same.

 

There’ll be two minutes of Can you hear me? I can hear you. What about now? while the horse racing blares in the background.

 

Then he’ll say one sec, fumble around for the remote. Cuss words in Adeni, in English. The sound of the sofa being pushed sideways.

 

And when he’s satisfied with the quality of sound, the conversation will return to the same points. 

 

Do you have money? Want me to send money? No. I’m not betting. I promise it’s Menahem’s horse.

 

And then, before we hang up, he’ll tell me that his Dell isn’t working, that he can’t hear his music. How do you fix it?

 

The questions he doesn’t dare ask linger in the background. 

 

The crackling noise in our bad connection.

 

 

54.

 

Weekly shop, Lidl. 

 

I pick up the Gouda. Put it back down. Pick up the Hirtenkäse. Put it back down. Reach for the krauter Frischkäse. At this point I’m just rearranging the shelves. The worker nearby glances at me, uncertain.

 

In the queue for the till, I tell myself there’s no point calling Dad in the next hour. He’ll be tuning into the Holy Trinity: Emmerdale, Corrie, EastEnders.

 

 

55.

 

Shimi calls.

 

He wants to know how I am, what I’ve been up to?

 

I wait a few minutes before I ask: Everything okay? Has something happened?

 

No, he says, I just called for a chat.

 

I’m not sure about this. This playing boyfriends.

 

 

56.

 

We exchange stories. First encounters. I laugh when he tells me how his dad caught him with a friend on the moshav, behind the synagogue sukkah. The shouts, the stern words. The smacks he got with a slipper. I tut when he tells me his dad once told him not to pose with his hands on hips like a homo during a family photo.

 

What about you? Tell me your traumas? he says.

 

 

57.

 

Eminem, I say. Not missing a beat.

 

Really? Eminem?

 

Yeah. Had a poster of his abs on my wall from Smash Hits magazine.

 

Wasn’t he –

 

What’s that cracking noise?

 

He makes a spitting sound.

 

Pfff… shunflower seeds.

 

 

58.

 

Sunflower husks form a towering pyramid. Two cups of coffee with hawaij. Steam rising from inside. The telly on low out of respect for Shabbat.

 

Dad and Menahem rasgabes. Cracking seeds with their teeth, eyes fixed on the screen. An unopened brick of Marlboro Lights, white tip, Swiss, on the table between them.

 

Another one, said Menahem.

 

Who?

 

Shu ismo, the presenter on telly… I forget his name. He’s also like that.

 

Really. Him also? 

 

Was in the paper.

 

Doesn’t look it.

 

Akhhh, you can’t tell anymore. It’s trendy now.

 

Trendy. Which trend… all the illnesses, all the diseases, Dad replied.

 

Dalia came home from school the other day… a kid like that in her class… 12-years-old ya waradi. Where are the parents?

 

I’d dangle my kid from the window. Not in my house.

 

Allah yistur, said Menahem.

 

Then silence, save for the cracking of sunflower seeds and the low hum of the Telly. And all the while I sat there in the bathroom running the taps, waiting for the right moment to come out.

 

 

59.

 

My stomach is bubbling from the lines of coke that we took. I tell Shimi to get us some G&Ts at the bar while I use the toilet.

 

 

60.

 

On my way back. I run into Mikhail, who used to work at the restaurant. His boyfriend Yaniv beside him.

 

We slag off Elise, debrief on the reasons he left.

 

Shimi spots us, comes over holding our drinks. I introduce him to Mikhail, turns out he already knows Yaniv.

 

 

61.

 

How’d you know the boyfriend? I ask.

 

How does anyone know anyone in Berlin?

 

Oh, you fucked?

 

What. No. No. You mad? he says.

 

Why, he’s cute.

 

You don’t know what you’ll catch from him.

 

Bit harsh.

 

It’s true. Who hasn’t fucked that one.

 

I rub the bottom of my glass, unsure how to respond. 

 

 

62.

 

In bed. Lights off. Pillow talk.

 

I ask if he enjoyed the night, the bar.

 

He says, Yeah. Hesitantly.

 

So, you didn’t?

 

No, I did. But it was maybe too faggy in there.

 

What?

 

Faggy? Like very feminine?

 

I know what faggy is, I say.

 

I like my men to be men, he says, flicking the elastic of my briefs. Moves his hands underneath.

 

I wiggle away, Not tonight.

 

He turns on his back, mumbles under his breath, It’s never tonight. 

 

 

63.

 

Pretty sure that’s what he said.

 

 

64.

 

He massages my neck in the morning when I complain that it’s stiff. He heads to the chemist, buys me Paracetamol, Deep Heat patches. Makes me sweet tea with cinnamon and cloves. Cuts me slices of pineapple, honeydew melon, carries them to bed.

 

 

65.

 

And then, radio silence.

 

He doesn’t message and neither do I.

 

 

66.

 

Elise has a new rule. Floor to be mopped before the start of the shift.

 

 

67.

 

Elise’s new rule is scrapped. Gen and I toast with Sambuca shots at 10.30 am.

 

We head to our smoking corner.

 

She should’ve known her new rule was illegal. Silly cow, says Gen.

 

She asks about Shimi.

 

I say, It’s fizzling out. I think.

 

Oh, babe.

 

She lights a cigarette, passes it to me, lights one for herself.

 

You had a good run though, she laughs. Practically married for a gay couple.

 

There’s a lot I would like to say in response. But sometimes words fail. The key is in the ignition, but the car won’t start.

 

All I can muster is, Fuck-off Gen.

 

 

68.

 

In Dad’s Volvo. Stereo on. Ya fuadi starting. Quietly, slowly.

 

Dad says, If they call you gay boy again you hit them. Not a kaf but a box in the face. Big punch. And if Mr Dexler tells you off, you tell him your father gave you permission. You understand?

 

 

69.

 

I was burning a disc for his car. EastEnders on the telly. An emptied bowl of mahawag with rice. Red stains on the doily beneath it.

 

You know Umm Kulthum dedicated a song for Palestine, I said to him.

 

Who?

 

Umm Kulthum.

 

He looked at me carefully.

 

You know I did that tour of Lifta? In Jerusalem?

 

Mhmm.

 

The tour guide mentioned it. She sang nationalist songs as well… for Nasser… not just her: Abd el Wahab, Abdel Halim…

 

And?

 

I’m just saying, it’s not that shocking.

 

It’s different, he said.

 

How?

 

You’re comparing Umm Kulthum to this marbusha actress with her free-Palestine comments on the telly? 

 

 

70.

 

Jan is online. 400 metres away. 

 

Makes sense because he lives nearby.

 

I send him a message even though I’d said we were done hooking up.

 

 

71.

 

He answers the door. Topless in trackies.

 

Hair much greyer than from what I remembered.

 

Wie gehts? he says, kisses me on the cheek, on the lips. Slots his fingers in the belt loops of my jeans.

 

Hello to you too.

 

I thought we were finished doing this? he says.

 

I lock the door behind me, my phone vibrates in my pocket.

 

 

72.

 

Clothes on the floor. Lube stains the sheets. Condom wrappers by the bed. We smoke a spliff by the window in our briefs. The air flying in is ice-cold.

 

The poppers were strong, no? he says.

 

But I’m reading Shimi’s text on my phone:

 

I’m going to a ruin this weekend, come?

 

 

73.

 

Chewing gum stuck to the floor. Tags on the walls. Empty bottles of Sternies. A guy with a trolley and sleeping bag slumped in a corner.

 

Waiting for the U-Bahn home. High. A bit thirsty. Have the munchies. But the kiosk that sells the schnittlauchbrezels is closed.

 

Feelings I’m feeling:

 

Mostly guilt.

 

And things related to guilt and hunger.

 

But Jan’s a good fuck and he didn’t talk about ruins. And this is all fine because it’s not like we were ever together. Not like Shimi and I ever sat down and said from now on, we’re monogamous.

 

So why do I feel bad?

 

 

74.

 

On my carriage there’s a young boy with a dolly. I smile at his father, sat beside him.

 

 

75.

 

Dad didn’t like me playing with Barbies or dolls. Didn’t like that Dina and I would dress them up, brush their hair. Put on their little plastic slip heels.

 

We’d play Disney princesses, EastEnders. Re-enact what we saw on the telly.

 

Mum only seemed to care when dad was around. Only time she’d tell me go play on the PlayStation.

 

He tried to coax me away, promised me football stickers and DVDs. PlayStation games from the market in Stratford. We even tried a kick-about outside the house.

 

I breathed a sigh of relief when the ball got stuck under 32’s car.

 

Then he told me from the next Sunday on he’ll take me to play football with the boys from heder.

 

 

76.

 

I text Gen.

 

A sentence per message.

 

That’s how she knows I’m in a bad mood.

 

I get it all off my chest.

 

I write that I’m sick of these ruins. 

 

They’re corny.

 

And that he makes me cringe.

 

I don’t want to see a ruin.

 

Not with him.

 

Not ever.

 

I just want him to be normal.

 

Why is that difficult?

 

 

77.

 

That Sunday came round, and I didn’t want to go. Kicked and screamed all the way there.

 

Dad dragged me into the car, said, You’re going. Understand?

 

 

78.

 

Sat out for the entire match. On the floor. Crying.

 

When we got home, mum had to calm me down, put me to bed. Once I was tucked in that’s when they started to fight. Walls thin like baking paper.

 

The boy doesn’t want to go, why don’t you understand? she said.

 

You want them to call him a sissy? You want him to turn out like that?

 

Like what?

 

Like a woman… Yes. Yes. Don’t roll your eyes. I just want him to act like a boy.

 

After that, I understood that I shouldn’t play with dolls or Dina because Dad will get mad. I waited for sick days, half term, weekends. For when mum was on the phone and Dina elsewhere so that I could sneak into her room and play.

 

But it no longer felt right. I was too busy watching the door.

 

 

79.

 

I’ve been staring at the kid with the dolly for too long. And I’m probably creeping him out. Looking vacant, red-eyed. I lock eyes with the dad and remember why I hate public transport when I’m high.

 

 

80.

 

My phone vibrates. A text from Dina. The content is predictable.

 

I open my inbox.

 

And that’s when I see it.

 

The start of my text, of my rant, to Gen, is under the chat thread named Shimi.

 

 

81.

 

There are days when I feel like I’m still playing that honeycomb game on Sky. The one that Dad used to play all the time when mum left with Martin. Lining up the flowers, aiming the right colour into the right cell. Every so often I shoot a red flower into a green cell and just make it harder for myself.

 

 

82.

 

Dirty dishcloths. Napkins. Aprons stacked in the back room. Elise wants the machine on each morning. New rule. Gen’s looking for the detergent, I’m piling things into the drum.

 

So, he hasn’t texted back, she asks.

 

Would you?

 

No probably not.

 

 

83.

 

I send Shimi another text. Might be my third? Or my fourth?

 

Want to go see a ruin? Smiley emoji.

 

 

84.

 

I leave a missed call and a voicemail with the opening line: I know this feels very 1998 but I’ve exhausted all other options.

 

 

85.

 

Is there a better feeling than closing time?

 

We wipe the counters. Stack the chairs. Count the cash in the till. Stick it in manila envelopes with the time and the date. Gen pours us out two shots of tequila.

 

I tell her, I need more reasons to live.

 

Dramatic, she says.

 

 

86.

 

Amid all the stupidity. I realise that maybe, perhaps, I did like him.

 

 

87.

 

I see him online.

 

New profile pic. Someone cropped from the side.

 

A fresh haircut. Product in his hair.

 

 

88.

 

He knows I’ve looked at his profile.

 

 

89.

 

He no longer shows up.

 

 

90.

 

He’s not under his actual name on Facebook.

 

 

91.

 

He sends me a message with bite:

 

Stop with the texts. Listen to your words and be normal. It would be a good quirk to have.

 

 

92.

 

I resist the urge to write back, Habit.

 

 

93.

 

There’s a hole in the fence where someone has crawled in before me. I’m sweaty and dirty and unsure. Dressed in running tights and compression socks. Headphones slung around my neck. I get on my hands and knees and crawl in. My palms cake with mud.

 

I tell myself I could still turn around.

 

But the other part of me says, Follow through for once.

 

 

94.

 

A dinosaur laying on its back. A Ferris wheel turning orange with rust. Rollercoaster tracks emerging from a cat’s mouth covered in tags.

 

 

95.

 

I’m giddy and excited and the mud is squelching beneath me. Every snap of a twig, every crunch of a leaf makes me jump. I take photos on my phone.

 

I tell myself, Wait until Shimi sees this. He’ll have to respond.

 

 

96.

 

At the Ferris wheel I try to make a call. It rings then fades out like the number’s not in use. I text instead, Call me. 

 

 

97.

 

You hear me?

 

I hear you.

 

What about now?

 

I can hear you.

 

And now?

 

 

98.

 

I see him. 

 

Between the naked trees, coming towards me. 

 

A security guard with a walkie-talkie and a Hi-Vis vest. 

 

 

99.

 

Dad. Sing me el Atlal.

 

What?

 

Sing me el Atlal. From the bit about the ruins.

 

The ruins?

 

The part about drinking on the ruins of love. Isqini wa shrab… that part.

 

Everything okay? Something happened a’youni?

 

Sing Dad, please.

 

 

100.

 

He clears his throat and begins.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

LEEOR OHAYON is a writer from London based in Norwich, where he is completing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. He is winner of the Royal Society of Literature’s V.S Pritchett Short Story Prize 2021.

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