Tamim Sadikali was born in Sidcup, Kent. He read Mathematics at Warwick University before entering software, in which he now works, as a freelancer. Read his interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from his work Dear Infidel. Courtesy: Tamim Sadikali.
It’s the lows that you’ve got to watch out for. And the highs. The tedium of everyday is a danger, too. Sometimes I need to shut it all out and cut loose. Escape … But whilst you reach for a bottle, I reach for something else.
Others take things in their stride, the background noise having dulled their senses. But my senses remain heightened and I have no answer. Touch, taste, sight, smell and sound; I receive the same data as you, but I process things differently. They say a blind man’s hearing is more acute – I guess the same principle applies.
When I was a boy I loved The Incredible Hulk. I used to wait for the terror of the metamorphosis, sneaking peeks at the TV from the safety of my dad’s lap. Sure, the growling green monster throwing men and cars around was damn cool, but looking back, the real power lay in the rising tension – of the quiet man seeking a simple life, but then getting disturbed.
I am The Incredible Hulk. I am the Wilderness, locked in a cage. I Am Become Death.
‘The snow’s coming, the snow’s coming!’ Nazneen hears someone shrill, some way down the corridor. Whoops of delight reverberate along its length, with every maid and maintenance man joining in.
‘All right!’ … ‘Yeah!’ … ‘Let’s catch some Big Air!’ Footfalls rush inwards and as some girl dashes past the room Nazneen’s cleaning, she sticks her head in.
‘Hey, didn’t you hear? The snow’s coming!’ She beams momentarily before darting along, thus denying Nazneen the chance to look too busy to care, throw her a patronising smile or – her latest favourite – condescend charitably.
‘Honestly, it’s like rattling a monkey cage,’ she mutters, pissed at losing her stage to bitch. Laughter from the now-gathered cluster further sours her mood, but despite her determination to poop the party, she can’t resist turning to verify the claim. And instantly her eyes sweep over Keystone Lake, basking under glorious Colorado sunshine. It lies perfectly still, but for the most gentle of rippling across its surface, confirmation of its beating heart.
A solitary bird flutters down, landing softly. Nazneen watches it drift, falling under shadows as it nuzzles its fine down. A lakefront conifer welcomes the guest with an evergreen drape. The bird accepts without fuss, head turned to the phalanx awaiting their turn. And thus drape follows drape, a seamless patchwork of green, broken only when the bird falls under the deciduous Autumn Purple Ash. Nazneen could have sworn this tree’s leaves were also green, and thus despite the brilliance of the sunshine, she gets the message: nature’s cycle is turning.
She traces upwards, past the lakeside trees and the hotels behind them, across and beyond the fir-lined hills close-in, and finally out towards the Rocky Mountains, tearing into the distant heavens. They sit back but dominate, with peaks like jagged teeth snarling, just waiting for God’s final command to snap the world shut. And yes, just like that tree … Those peaks, there’s definitely more snow on them now. Her summer – her and Martin’s summer – it’s almost over. But still, behold: this irresistible lake, shimmering under late summer sun. Nazneen bows her head, cognising majesty. She just knows, something inside tells her – this must all be preserved: this time, this lake, this summer’s end. Whatever happens from this point forth, these memories must remain vivid. Some day they’ll sustain her.
Most people’s growing pains are confined to their teenage years, stretching at most till their early twenties. First comes the physical
stuff but alongside arrives competition, and with it the duty to compete. Subtle and not-so-subtle forces compel you to get in the ring, but unless you’re a prize-fighter, you don’t enter with relish. But there’s no going back. You know next to nothing but this one thing you are sure of: the protection of childhood has gone for good. You must raise your fists and fight, as much for your own safety as well as to beat on others. And thus one begins clambering for a seat at life’s top tables. And just like in any other race, it’s the initial exchanges that count. If you mess up your schooldays you’ll not get into the right university, or onto the right course, and it’ll be uphill from there.
Salman recalled some graffiti, scribbled underneath a toilet-roll dispenser in his university’s library: ‘sociology degrees – please take one’. All these years later and it still brought a smile to his face, but it held more than a grain of truth: he had a 2:2 in Accounting & Finance from a new uni/old-poly, and it was worth shit.
Ultimately, though, nearly everyone adjusts. With age comes the acceptance of mediocrity, and you learn to get by. Your partner might not resemble your adolescent fantasies, but it was just that – fantasy – and this is exactly this – reality – and we all know the difference, right? And anyway, you love them (or loved them once), and that will sustain you (or at least for as far as you have vision). And beyond that? Well it’s nothing to worry about. You live in the Free World.
Only a few get to leave the ring outright (either through off-the-scale success or dedicated substance abuse), but it no longer matters – you all find some ground to call your own. You see yourself reflected in everyone around, and it’s comforting.
Salman never got there so smoothly, though, for Salman was a Paki.
It was 10.01 pm and most commuters were long since home, but for Aadam and a few other weary souls, the working day was only just done. His train had been due at 9.52 but it hadn’t even been announced. All eyes were on the boards. Waiting, waiting …
Aadam was near the top end of the concourse, just in from the Boadicea pub when he noticed a man stagger out, covered in blue. He was sporting a blue shirt, a blue hat and a spherical beetroot face, and he held a blue flag with intent: he was a Chelsea fan. Out of the pub he came and into the Burger King next door he went. Home from home.
Aadam looked around. No-one else seemed to have noticed the scarlet and blue clown, save for a young girl holding her mother’s hand. Aadam waited expectantly and the encore duly came: out of the BK hobbled Bozo, before plonking himself into one of the plastic seats outside. Again, Aadam checked his surroundings: still only he and the little girl were appreciating the artist at work. No matter – the show went on. Bozo sat and ate: burger, chips and shake. It was clearly a struggle, though, as successive chews were being teased out, as if he were masticating glue. And his eyes would regularly shut before he’d spring back scowling, occasionally grabbing his unfurled flag for those who ventured too close. But all on his own, Bozo could only dig deep and stay low. But then, suddenly, salvation: the cavalry arrived. Seven, eight, nine of his comrades poured out of the Boadicea, all sporting the same beetroot and blue – the colours of the King’s Road. Bozo locked with each of his Brothers in Arms, relieved for friendly company. Emboldened, he walked in front of his men and, unfurling his flag, sounded the battle cry like the buglers of old: ‘Who the fucking, who the fucking, who the fucking hell are you? Who the fuck-in’-hell-are- you?’ William Williams’s eighteenth century devotional, capturing the march of the Israelites to the Promised Land, had found a new twenty- first century home. For the Chelsea fans were in the Promised Land, too – they’d just won a football match. The whole ensemble, a modern- day choir, joined in and sang. And in unison they pointed their arms at the commuters, who in that peculiarly British way, simply pretended it wasn’t happening.
‘Oh dear, the natives are restless,’ quipped Aadam, deliberately loud enough for the chap nearest to hear. Aadam threw him a beaming smile and the guy stared back. Result! He’d long since given up caring about PR. No-one else commented and neither was there any movement – save for the woman now marching her daughter away, to the girl’s obvious displeasure.
Aadam turned back to Bozo, whose expression morphed from glory to hate. And with good reason – only him and his chums were allowed to enjoy this victory, and he’d make sure those fucking suits knew it. But once on a train, Aadam knew those very same suits would prefer Bozo’s company, to his own brown-skinned self. Whether Bozo be quietly dribbling spittle onto his jeans or treating everyone to a verse from ‘No Surrender to the IRA’, there was no way he’d win that beauty contest. But it wasn’t always thus. Things had changed. That one day, 9/11 – it had been seriously inconvenient. But he understood. He couldn’t hate them back, the British – God knows he’d tried. Perhaps it was now time; time to jump ship, bail out, start again. A new life – him and Nazneen. He wondered what she’d think of it.
The British fleeing the likes of him tended to go to Australia, and so it made sense for him to head in the opposite direction. Dubai – The East served up on a Western plate. Perfect. He’d talk to her – she’d see the sense in it. It was time they refreshed their vision.
Camphor. Tight curls of vapour spin out of control, penetrating and musty. We burn it constantly, especially at night, to keep demons at bay and our garden safe. For there will be no more trials, once you land safely on our shores. We will wipe the tears from your eyes.
Your World and our Garden. So exposed is your heart and so perilous your journey. But you have a choice. Crave knowledge and we will hold your hand. Revel in your world and we will watch you drift.
I am the Witness. I was there as your lungs took their first breath and I’ll be there when … I am closer to you than your jugular vein. I drift in on an eternal lake. A heavy mist hangs low but my all- seeing eye is not impeded. I see Pasha, lost in the embrace of music. You may hope for another year, another day, another hour – but time runs dry. My advice? Die before you die.