English - Imaginative Response
I am awake now, in the top safe room. I can see the monitors from here, nothing is moving.
There are 6 of them altogether and they show every corner of the house, inside and out, as far
as the metal barrier at the end of our street. Against the back perimeter fence I can see the
soccer ball i was playing with when Dad’s call came, four days ago now. Our two remaining
house workers were to go immediately with our driver to their villages. Safer for them, safer for
us so they couldn’t be forced to show where our safe rooms are, hidden away at the top and
bottom of the house. The pets, Mum’s stray cats, dogs and birds, were moved weeks ago when
the madness started. Mum said, it’s just routine. She always says that when the madness
comes. She and Nan go to the downstairs safe room, I go to the top.
Let me tell you about our madness. There are two major religious groups on our island, let’s call
them the yellow shirts and the white shirts. It doesn’t matter who they are because it’s not about
religion anyway, it’s about what it’s always about everywhere, who has the money and who has
the power. Usually the yellow shirts win because they’ve got the numbers and that just makes
the white shirts madder. So we have the buses bombed, even the school buses, shops and
houses burnt, random people taken on the street and ‘tried’ and ‘hanged’ with a burning tyre
forced over their heads for some imaginary crime. The person who might’ve cut your hair at the
barbers yesterday is now chasing you down the street with an axe. Then it’s all quiet again and
for weeks and months people lay marigold wreaths on the streets where people were killed.
Sometimes on my way to school it looks like every street has a marigold carpet. Then it starts
again. Last year at school, we read ‘The Crucible’ and there’s a quote that describes it perfectly
“... I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem - vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always
were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and
common vengeance rides the law!”.
If you have enough money you can protect yourself from the madness. First you build really big
walls, at least 12 feet high. You build a huge house so it has no windows facing the street.
Inside you make it like a maze so that it is hard to tell quickly where the safe rooms are and you
put in hidden cameras to track everything. You might even buy up the whole street and fill it with
family and relatives. Make sure to block both ends of it with metal barriers and guards so no
‘strangers’ can come in or at least you to slow them down if they do.
I would like to say my family wasn't part of the madness, but of course it was. My family is
Muslim, so not yellow shirt or white shirt but still a small part of the community for 400 years. We
have always been traders. “That’s the key to our success, son. People will always need what we
have to sell, whether they’re white shirts or yellow shirts and we must not get involved”. To a
large extent, Dad is right. It has protected us. Not getting involved has let us buy the street, build
the fortress and send any family member in danger overseas immediately. That’s what we had
to do with my sister, Adiva. Dad told her over and over and over, no social media, ‘they read
everything’, but of course she had to do it. Well, she’s only 14 and she put a picture on her
friends facebook holding up protest signs. What an idiot! Dad put her on a plane that night to our
Auntie in Singapore. Right now, I miss her but it’s better that she’s not here. It’s a bit mad to live
like this, to teach your children to practice “the hiding game” in their own house and have them
travel in the car boot when they have to go beyond their street and you’re not sure how things
are or send them to school with armed guards on the school bus. No matter what Dad said, we
were involved whether we liked it or not.
We didn’t get involved the day the yellow shirts came looking for Mala, our Nanny who’d looked
after us since we were babies. Apparently, she’d spat on the ground outside the yellow shirts
temple. Nobody believed that because our Mala is not stupid. We cried and begged but Dad
silently handed her over. We could hear her screams for long time after that but we didn’t go
out. At school we’d been told not to be bystanders, to stand up for what is right, but nobody
stood up the day they came for our Hindi teacher. She’d said bad things about the yellow shirts
leader, they said and 400 students and staff watched her disappear down the drive. They didn’t
get involved either. Now they were coming for us.
It started quietly at first. There was a bit of trouble at one of Dad’s factories but that usually died
down after a couple of days. This time it didn't and a few of our shops were burnt down. Then
dad heard that his brother had been accused of spreading anti yellow shirt propaganda or it
might’ve been white shirt propaganda, I can’t really be sure. Anyhow, Dad went to help and we
haven’t heard from him since. I’m hoping Mum and Grandma are still alright in the downstairs
safe room but I can’t be sure. Dad had deliberately not connected the two safe rooms so if one
was breached, the other might still be safe. I have to be calm. I know I have to be calm. I scan
the monitor for the thousandth time. Nothing. Wait, there’s a shadow moving to the right of the
living room. And another.