Thank you for both the competition and the prize. It has made us all very proud and reinforced Ishaq’s plan to make a career out of his writing.Salina, Ishaq’s mum
Winner of ARE’s Windrush Voices competition
Ishaq Maclachlan, Woodhouse College
The boat was as he had imagined it. His brother was a sailor. He had seen ships before and it came as no surprise when the large hulking, metal vessel loomed over him. It seemed to consume him. It seemed to swallow him whole with its presence. It seemed to want to change him. But he would not be changed. He had a name, a family, an identity. He had pieces of himself he could cling onto. He had memories, sitting on the beach, attempting to climb the walls of Fort Jesus. They were pieces of home he could hold tight with him as the bow of the ship charged through the waters.
No, he would not be changed.
He felt the wind brush his face. It was cold and sharp like a knife, cutting away his flesh, exposing a layer beneath to the world. A layer not like home. A layer not constantly hit by the sun, a layer different to those around him. It was a layer that he felt was not his, as if he had been made to cut away his skin and reveal some artificial idea of who he was. The world, this new world, wanted him to cut away the skin of his youth, the skin that was so dark and strong and brave. The skin that reminded him of Mombasa.
No, he would not be changed.
The water stared back at him as he peered over the railing; the waves lapped against the side of the boat with a steady drum-like rhythm. They would carry him forward, they would take him to his new world. He liked their familiarity, the dances on the water were things he knew, things that even as he slept below deck soothed him. His brother had told him their stories as a child, how the waves could speak, tell stories of times long past. In his dreams he could feel their presence, telling him that his new world was waiting for him. Everyday of the journey he imagined what it would be, how this new kingdom would feel.
The sky above turned navy every night; the stars looked down upon him with smiling faces. “Good luck,” they said. “Life is waiting for you.”
They glimmered with that shine of hope, twinkled like they were waiting for him to feel the same spark of a dream. Every morning after the stars wished him a good night, the sun would wake him, pull him up to ponder his new life again. Every morning he would look out at the waters, stare into the ocean ether, watch an albatross drift down from above and snatch a poor fish from beneath the waves.
It reminded him of home, where birds would soar the skies, carried across the heavens by the wind beneath their wings. They would nestle in the small Meru Oak by his house; call out to him when he attempted to sleep. He scratched his head, itched the scar just beneath his hairline. It was white and brown, large enough that it covered the top half of his forehead.
He remembered receiving it. He remembered running with his brothers. They, all older, all stronger and all faster as he ran to chase them. He remembered it clearly.
It is sunny, but not hot like summer. The heat isn’t aggressive, it is cool. They run, run past each other and far from him. His feet can’t carry him as fast and he is tired. He doesn’t look down, only forward at his brothers becoming large dots in his vision. His shirt begins to stick to him, his sweat bonding the fabric and his skin. His breathing is heavy but he doesn’t stop. He keeps on running, as if his continued sprint will lead to his lungs being able to take in more oxygen. He doesn’t look down; he trips. His foot hits a crack in the road, stops while the rest of his body continues to move. And he falls, his head hitting the ground hard. The blood is not heavy, but the cut is deep. He touches it. His fingers come away red, his cranium aches and a spot of black red ink stains the ground where he tripped.
He couldn’t remember much after that. But he thought of his mother’s hands. They were rough but comforted him. They were deep brown and small, gentle when they embraced him. They stroked his face, held him tight, cleaned his wound when he cried. He thinks of his brothers. He remembered eating chapatis with them in the kitchen, remembered wrestling with Ali before he left. Only one of them is with him now, but he remembers the three of them as they were, back then. They ran back to find him crying. Salim, the oldest, carried him home. He was strong and muscular, his arms supporting his little brother like thick brown pillars. They all laughed with him when his head was covered with the buttery ointment. He wouldn’t forget them, he didn’t want to though he felt as though he might be forced to. He felt as if this journey was the transition, the gateway through which he must travel to claim his place in the new world. He felt as if in order to go forward he must let go.
When he arrived it was approaching dark, night was beginning and the grey skies were slowly turning dark blue or black. Seagulls greeted him with loud, shrill calls and the vast exodus of those leaving the hulking iron mass pushed him forward onto the dock. After a while of pushing and standing he reaches a gate. A man sat behind it. He was pale and skeletal in frame, his thin black hair fell languidly over his forehead. The man asked for his name. He deliberated for a time, shifting the names his parents had given him at birth in his mind. One sprang to mind in particular. It was biblical, western and was perfect for his transformation into a man of the new world.
But he did not settle. He did not allow himself to be made anew. He did not allow himself to forget, to blend in. He remembered his name. He remembered his family, his father was strong but loving, his brothers much older but who were all born under the same starry skies as he had been, his mother always there like a warm presence, eternally watching over him. He remembered his tribe, Mijikenda. He remembered who he was. And he said to himself:
‘No I will not be changed.’
By Ishaq Maclachlan
Youth voices at ARE
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