Wednesday, 7 March 2007

PART TWO Chapters 3-4


The third thing carried by the slewing unit is the much shorter machinery arm.

I’m not writing any more emails to Ella, I think grimly. I don’t. But I’m also too disheartened to write any more to Rashid. I get one from him, though. ‘Give me a place to stand’, it says. ’I will move the world. ARCHIMEDES: Who invented levers.’ (I suppose he means that Archimedes, whoever he is, said it.) ‘Cranes are enormous levers,’ he adds, in case I don’t know: ‘Love Rashid.x’ This almost cheers me: but only for a moment. After a moment I feel more patronised than happy.

The worst thing is that Granny stays in such a strop. She still thinks the message – messages now – there’ve been more, just the same - are my fault. That’s one thing. But why should Ella bug her so much. If Ella is anyone’s twin she’s mine. (This still seems a crazy idea to me, but I can’t think of any other way to explain what’s happening.) Strange messages on your mobile are even creepier than unknown emails. A bit like having a stalker. (I only just thought of that! But yes.) I keep telling her it’s not me sending them, how can it be me sending them if I get them too, from her mobile? But she doesn’t take any notice. It’s as if she just wants someone to blame; anything except believe it could be Ella. What’s it to her though? How can my possible twin get up her nose? The only time we encounter each other – by accident – near her boat, she just bolts her mouth and looks angrier than ever. Weird. Scary, in fact.

I’m so desperate I even ask my mother. ‘Who’s Ella?’ But she looks at me as if I’m crazy. ‘That was your make-believe friend, Esther,’ she says. ‘I don’t know anyone else called Ella.’ Do I believe her? At the moment I don’t believe anything that grown-ups say. Every day now I have to pick up Border from Bob’s boat – ‘Poseidon’ is the Greek god of the sea, he says - not from Mnemosyne - Muse of memory. Who’s remembering who then? I miss Granny. I wonder if she misses me. She’s behaving like someone my age I think. It’s like this with schoolfriends sometimes. But not with Granny? Surely?

School is school, the same as ever. Frankie and his gang look at me evilly but don’t do much. THANKS FOR THAT. I daren’t spend time with Rahilah after what they’ve said, but we do smile at one another. One good thing happens; Trace invites me home with her after school. ‘Will your mum be there?’ I ask.

‘Could be. She was on call last weekend. Sometimes she’s home earlier on days after that.’

But Trace’s mum wasn’t there at first.

Trace lives in a council block – I’d never have guessed. It’s not a very nice one either: the lifts smell of pee: the hall and corridors smell of disinfectant. But once inside her door it’s lovely. The flat’s full of African stuff – blankets – hangings – rugs; also African statues. ‘My grandmother came from South Africa,’ Trace explains. ‘My grandfather was some kind of bully so she ran away from him when Mum and her brother were little and went back home to her mum. Mum stayed there till she was 17 and wanted to go to university. She hated South Africa, because of apartheid and all that. She won’t go back there even now. And my grandmother won’t come here. That’s why I’ve never met her. Lucky you, Esther.’

Not so lucky just now, I think. ‘But I don’t want to talk about granny, not even to Trace. ‘Your mum still likes African stuff,’ I say, looking at it all. There’s a blanket over the sofa that smells of something strange. (‘Goat-hair,’ Trace says casually, when I ask.) But I love the look of it. It’s white and black and red, with small animals and patterns in rows. It’s from Mali, Trace informs me. Not knowing where Mali is, is something else I don’t admit. I’m used to not knowing things Trace takes for granted. I’m used not to understanding her at all really. Maybe she doesn’t understand me. (I don’t understand myself sometimes; not when I wake up terrified out of a nightmare shouting ‘Ella! Ella! Ella!’) Outside this flat, now, in the hallway, I hear shouting and screaming. Trace takes no notice. When she sees I’ve heard she says: ‘The people next door are always fighting. It doesn’t matter.’

There’s more smell of goat in Trace’s room – another blanket is spread across her bed. There’s no more African stuff though, just bookshelves everywhere and a view over the not particularly pretty part of Brum she lives in, not far from the Rover car factory at Longbridge.

Trace has a pc on her desk like me. And she has a heap of cartridge paper, covered in drawings. Seeing me look at them she says, ‘Be my guest,’ making me feel nosy. Trace is just so brilliant, I think, enviously. I knew she was clever and could sing. But now I find she can draw- really draw – and she doesn’t even take art at school! The drawings are all of people, unlike the Seventh Dwarf’s pictures; though they are as tight and detailed as his. When I ask Trace if she does paintings too, she just says. ‘Nope,’ and goes on turning the sheets over.

More and more people appear. I recognise some of them: Rashid, Jay, Rahilah. And suddenly there I am too and I wish I wasn’t. ‘Do I really look like that? Does she always see me as frowning? I wonder Just like Granny in her photographs. Weird.

Perhaps I should ask her to draw a picture of Ella, I think. Which is crazy; Ella doesn’t exist and even if she does, how could Trace know what she looks like. I don’t know what Ella looks like. Yet I almost find myself saying, ‘Trace will you draw someone from me?’ But the words won’t quite come out. Next time, I think. Next time I’ll ask her.

Trace nods as if she hears my thought. She doesn’t say anything, merely turns up a drawing of a thin woman I half recognise, but don’t know. Lots of pictures of her follow: sitting in armchairs, reading, standing at a stove. ‘Your mum, Trace?’ Before she has time to answer a key turns in the lock, and Trace’s mum herself is flinging herself and her bag down on the sofa, not even bothering to take off her coat.

‘Tea, Misa?’ Trace asks. (She hadn’t asked me if I’d like tea, I think. But then why should she? And maybe she was going to ask me later.) She sounds just my mum when I come in from school, or when my dad comes from work. Tea comes out –biscuits - chocolate digestives, like I’ve been getting from Bob the Seventh Dwarf – and her mother drinks the tea and eats the biscuit and livens up fractionally, and tells me, that yes, she remembers me from the school play.

‘Have you got to go back to the hospital, Misa,’ Trace asks. (Is ‘Misa’ a special word for mum, I wonder; or is it her name?) Her mother nods. ‘Sorry love. So I need a bit of sleep now. But we can eat something together before I go back.’

‘That’s OK,’ Trace says. ‘I’m used to it.’ (Her mother grimaces at that. But I don’t get the feeling Trace means to be unkind. I think she just means exactly what she says. Trace always does.) ‘Go and sleep then. I can cook. Shall I make the salmon and rice dish?’

I am impressed by Trace. At the same time I’m glad I don’t have to be like that. I’m glad my mother has time to look after me really. I wish granny still did. WHO IS ELLA? WHAT IS SHE DOING TO US? I shout inside my head. Again I almost ask Trace to draw her picture. But I don’t.

We do homework after that; some difficult maths that Trace has to help me with, then notes on Lord of the Flies which we’re finishing in English. Poor Piggy, we agree, seeing what’s done to him by the others on their island.

‘Makes Smelly Poke seem a doddle,’ Trace says. Thinking of Frankie I’m not so sure.

Tracy walks me to the bus stop in the Bristol Road, then goes home to cook salmon rice and I go home on the bus, and with the help of Google look up Mali on the map. (It’s just South of the Sahara if you’re interested. They make beautiful blankets there. But you know that already, whoever you are.)


All the next week I continue to collect Border from Poseidon not Mnemosyne. Bob leaves the door unlocked for me the days he’s not going to be home – mostly he is; the site stops working when it gets dark. I see the lights on in Mnemosyne and smoke coming from her chimney. I see that plant pots and things have been moved on the top of the cabin. But Granny I don’t see. Her curtains these days are drawn. I feel horribly shut out

An email from Rashid suggesting we meet after his next stint at his uncle’s shop makes me feel better. When I collect mum’s paper that Saturday he winks at me behind his uncle’s back so I know it’s still OK. Outside the shop, three geese are sitting on the patch of grass as if they own it - it’s littered with their round green turds. Turds and all I love them. This morning I love all the people walking up Bridge Street, or getting in and out of cars, mostly Indians today – there must be an Indian wedding at the Registry Office in Centenary Square. The women wear gorgeous silk saris edged with gold; even the children are wearing bright silk clothes and have silk ribbons in their hair. They make English wedding clothes look boring, I think. It makes me still more pleased to be meeting Rashid. Pakistanis wear saris too.What would I look like in a sari, I wonder? If, if? If what?

We don’t meet in Bridge Street – that’s too near Rashid’s uncle – but in the Gas Street Basin, just by the Tap and Stile. Even on a day like today people are standing outside it with beer glasses in their hands. We walk past them, past the car park, round the corner along Holliday Wharf. The Stamp Man is sitting on the bench outside, huddled up in what looks like an old army coat. He doesn’t look at us.

I feel very shy suddenly. ‘Look at all the geese’ is all I can think of to say, reminded of the geese sitting outside the newsagent’s shop. ‘My uncle is always getting complaints about the geese from people in the flats,’ Rashid answers. ‘He just says, “they live by the canal, so what do they expect? There are too many terrible things in the world to worry about geese.” He should know.’ Rashid falls silent a moment – when he does speak I wish he hadn’t. ‘A lot of my family were killed in India when India split from Pakistan. Some of them were pulled off a train and murdered. Another uncle was killed in anti-Muslim riots in Gujerat, not very long ago. He had his head cut off.

I stare at a duck swimming along the canal, at a wok sitting on the other side of the canal below some flats. My mind is so awash with this awfulness, I hardly notice it. I’m trying to imagine such things happening to Granny…. I can’t - I don’t want to imagine it. I cannot believe I’m talking to someone in whose family such things can have happened.

‘You seem to have a lot of uncles Rashid,’ I say, at last.

‘What’s a WOK doing there?’ asks Rashid.

He must have realised how much he’s shocked me. He takes my arm – he almost takes my arm and then takes his hand away. He’s not supposed to be out with a girl, I know, let alone touch one. He points at a crane far over to the left of us. ‘I still find cranes so beautiful,’ he says, ‘But I don’t think I want to go up one, not the way you do, Esther. I don’t like heights,’

‘I don’t like heights either,’ I say. ‘That’s not the point.’ But I’m not even sure what the point is. There’s a big dog ahead of us, now. ‘Border.’ I shout before she can try to attack it – she’s not afraid of big dogs. She comes running back and I put her on the lead.

The ice between Rashid and me is broken now. We walk along quite happily, talking when we feel like it, not when we don’t – just how things should be between friends, I think. We go through the long tunnel up towards the university. The ground is uneven there, it’s dim almost dark in the middle, damp-smelling, altogether creepy. We don’t go far beyond it. Rashid says he can’t be too late and nor can I. Coming back through the tunnel, I stumble, fall against Rashid who steadies me; for a moment we are almost holding hands. We look at each other in the dark – I think Rashid is looking at me– and hastily separate. Then we walk back silently along the towpath. A train trundles along the line besides us. Two cyclists ring their bells to show they want to get past. Border strains after two more ducks on the canal and barks loudly. ‘Shut up,’ I say. Rashid laughs. When we reach the staircase that leads up to Bath Road, he says; ‘I’d better go now. I can catch the bus at the top of Broad Street.’ ‘See you Monday,’ I say. He smiles and is off, his feet clattering on the iron rungs.

The Stamp Man is still sitting outside Holliday Wharf. He holds out his Stamp Hand when I go past; I blow him a kiss I’m feeling so happy. So happy in fact, I even dare knock on Granny’s door - the curtains are open; I know she’s there. I see her face staring out of the window. I knock still harder, but she doesn’t answer. I hand Border in at Poseidon and suddenly I’m not so happy any longer.

‘What have you been doing to your grandmother?’ Mum asks when I get in. ‘She seems quite upset.’

‘What’s she been doing to me?’ I say, and run out.

I slam my bedroom door behind me. Even the lovely warm thoughts of Rashid can’t stop me bursting into tears. Again. These days, it seems to me, I’m always bursting into tears. It’s BORING.


What would I do without the Seventh Dwarf? When I bring Border back after her evening walk these days, he almost always gives us tea and a biscuit. The tea is the strong sweet stuff we never have at home; mum drinks green tea mostly, and dad, coffee.

Bob is so used to me now he even gets his paints out sometimes and his drawing-board. But he covers what he’s doing, never actually paints while I’m in there. Nor does he say much. Once he says, out of the blue. ‘Apollo was my son’s name. I made him a mobile when he was born. With suns all over it. Apollo was the Greek sun god.’

‘ I know,’ I say huffily.

Another day he says. ‘My little girl; she was Artemis. Moon goddess. She got moons. On her mobile.’

‘I bet it was nice,’ I say, not particularly interested. I’m not feeling happy today. I’ve been unable to stop myself thinking about dead babies; what happens to them. Was Ella in hell because she hadn’t been christened? Is that why she keeps plaguing granny and me? I suppose I ought to feel sorry for granny too, if so, but I don’t. I just feel angry. And a bit frightened. As well as alone.

At home I spend a lot of my time on Google putting in words like ‘twins’ and ‘past lives’ and ‘unborn’ and ‘ghosts’ and even ‘cyberspace’. I get a lot of stuff back but none of it helps. It doesn’t seem to cover ghosts sending emails, let alone text messages. I go back to cranes with relief; I know all the sites now. Or I think I do. I especially like the message board, its chatroom. Even though you can get too much of crane drivers boasting about the view from cranes in places like Cincinnati or people called things like ‘Bossman’ droning on about safety precautions and security on tower-crane sites- about people getting to the top of cranes who shouldn’t - ‘another unsecured crane,’ I read, over and over. It takes a while for the penny to drop. That this means people like me do get to go up cranes sometimes, in spite of everything done to stop them. I’ll remember this, I think. For a moment I feel encouraged.

My homework doesn’t go too well now. Even when I do it, it’s pretty skimped. Miss Key our class-teacher (politer nickname ‘Doory’ I’m not going to explain why; just guess) shakes her head and says I’m going to have to pull my socks up or I’ll be demoted. (Miss K – Doory- is always full of phrases like ‘pulling up socks,’ which I put up with because she can, mostly, keep our class in order, unlike some.) I worry about this in a distant way, but not so much that my ‘socks’ don’t remain round my ankles.

Trace seems to think it’s my problem, nothing to do with her. Jay teases me as usual. I’m fed up with Jay making a joke of everything; nothing feels like a joke just now. I feel ever more fed up too, with the way he fiddles with his hair. Sometimes I almost hate him. I glare at him, and he looks back – his expression might look hurt on anyone else; but not on Jay, I think. Rashid doesn’t say anything; he just gives me the odd worried glance. Rahilah fills in stuff for me, finds answers, tries to help me keep up with the rest of them. Probably it’s thanks to her I stay where I am, for the moment.

I haven’t been to Trace’s again. Rashid hasn’t suggested another walk. Suddenly Rahilah seems the only person in the world who’s nice to me apart from Barty who’s taken to shouting with pleasure every time I walk in at the door. I can’t think why he does, though.

I need more and more to talk to Rahilah. She’s the only person who might understand what’s happening, I think, because of her own dead twin. But I don’t want her to think that I’m crazy. Sometimes I feel as if I am.

Forgetting about Frankie, let alone his mates, I corner her in the Year Ten cloakroom one day, and ask her ‘do you ever dream about your dead twin?’ It feels tactless even as I say it. ‘Your dead twin.’ Rahilah, her coat in her hands, crumpling and un-crumpling it between her fingers, considers the question very seriously. ‘Sometimes, perhaps,’ she says. ‘But I don’t remember my dreams very often.’

‘Do you ever hear her speaking to you in your head?’ I ask still more urgently. She drops her coat – it’s a dark green anorak with a tartan lining. She bends to pick it up – stays down there as if thinking very hard. Again, though, rising to her feet, not really looking at me, she shakes her scarved head.

I can’t stop now. ‘Rahilah, can you imagine getting letters from your twin?’ but this time she throws her head back, thrusts her arms into the green anorak, pulls the trailing end of her hijab out of the way, and says almost crossly for her – or is upset? – I wonder: ‘Esther do you think I’m crazy?’

‘Of course you’re not,’ I say. Wanting to add. ‘Do you think I am?’ But I don’t. Perhaps because she might say ‘yes.’ And also because I know she is sad about her twin. I also know, suddenly, looking at her, – I don’t know quite how I know, but I do – that her sadness is quite different from mine, much sadder even. Compared to hers, my sadness seems as much about loneliness –bewilderment - anger – fear -as about grief. My grief, though real enough, feels almost like it belongs to someone else.


Talking to Rahilah has been against all my rules. But Frankie’s leaving me mostly alone this term has made me forget. Also, seeing him in New Street being shouted at by his mother has made it harder to see him as scary. Even though I still know that he is.

Silly me then. One of his girl hangers-must have been seen me and Rahilah hobnobbing in the girls’ cloakroom. What happens next is my fault, for sure. I wish - I really wish – it has happened to me, not Rahilah. Fat lot of good that does.

It wasn’t Frankie did it anyway – I guess Frankie’s a bit too fly to attack a Muslim girl himself. He let the girls do his dirty work for him: out of school what’s more.