Wales Arts Review asked some of Wales’s top writers to pen some thoughts on the future. This new series brings together a wide variety of perspectives and ideas in a vibrant array of styles and forms, expressing hopes for a new way of doing things when the Covid-19 coronavirus is finally overcome. Political, personal, sociological, ecological, cultural – this is an evolving tableau of ideas. Here, poet Hanan Issa imagines a moment of human reconnection.
There’s not much to say about the park. It’s got a cluster of lifesavers at one end, a playground in the middle next to the ventilator pod, and a wide patch of grass where most activities take place. Mum flips open the picnic blanket under the shade of our favourite lifesaver and we each settle into our usual spot. Dad likes to sit with his back touching cool bark whereas Mum prefers the edge of the shade so sunlight strokes her skin. Dad insists we give thanks before tucking into the berries and, as usual, Hayat races through the prayer under her breath. Pink juice runs down her chin before I take my first bite.
‘Can I play Dad?’ She barely waits for him to agree before bounding over to a gaggle of dandelions and kicking up the frothy seeds. The wind blows some of them in our direction and they stick to the juice on my lips and hands. ‘Hayat, stop it!’
‘Leave her be,’ says Mum preening in the sun’s warmth; ‘We all enjoy Green Time in our own way.’
‘But she’s so annoying! Look, I’m covered in dandelion fluff!’
Dad lugs a carrier bag at me. ‘Love, make yourself useful and put those in the Neighbour crate.’
I wiped my fingers on the grass and pick up the bulky bag, which is surprisingly light, then make my way to the crate tucked behind the lifesavers.
Hunched over the crate opening is a boy with dyed green hair and brown roots. I make as much noise as I can with the bag, ‘Hiya’. He looks up and moves back to give me space: ‘It’s pretty full.’ The Neighbour crate is a deep square hole in the ground with cement walls. As my eyes adjust to the relative darkness I can see he is right. The tins of food are piled right to the top. I look in the bag. ‘It’s mostly toilet roll so I suppose we can squash that in. I’ll tell my dad the tins weren’t needed.’ Unasked, the boy starts shuffling the softer items to make space for the huge pack of loo roll Dad is donating.
‘There. Try that.’ He tucks a green curl behind his ear while stepping out of my way. The pack fits in the space he made nicely. We lift the crate’s heavy door back into place. He closes the lock with a satisfying click.
‘Sorted’, he smiles, ‘I’m Umma – I know. It means “community” in Arabic. What did you get?’
‘That’s not too bad you know. My sister’s name is Arabic, Hayat. It means life.’
Umma starts to head back to the open field so I follow.
‘Is your name Arabic as well, then? My parents went for a global approach with our names but I know some people like to keep it simple and stick to one language.’
‘Oh, no my name’s boring English although much more embarrassing than yours – it’s Love.’
Umma laughs, ‘Ah bless. Yeah I reckon you win.’
I bend to avoid a low-hanging lifesaver branch. Umma stops to pick some of its blossoms. He takes a small notebook out of his pocket and presses the flowers inside.
‘Not that I want to be like my parents in any way but I do wish I could have one of those old-fashioned names that don’t have so much attached to it.’
He signs “thank you” to the lifesaver. The gesture is automatic. He may not even be aware he is doing it. I know I’ve caught myself in the middle of many little things that feel like habit.
He turns to me, smiling, ‘Yeah I think you could pull off a Kylie or Melissa’.
‘Whoa, harsh! But seriously though, was it that big of a deal? What they went through I mean?’
We walk back to the open field. I can see my parents fully engaged in today’s Green Time – they never waste a minute. They act like every session might be their last. Hayat has stopped her kicking game and lies on the grass looking skyward. Her hands are cupped over her mouth and I know she is practicing to grass whistle like how Mum taught us. Hayat’s hair is a curled tangle of leaves and daisies around her face. Each tendril reaches outwards and down into the grass. Just like the roots of a lifesaver.
Check out the other articles from Wales Arts Review’s ‘When This is Over’ series.
The debut poetry collection from Hanan Issa, My Body Can House Two Hearts, is out now.
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Wales Arts Review is pleased to present a new series of literary vignettes; next up is ‘Bukit Lawang’ by Hanan Issa. These vignettes will be glimpses into the thinking of the writer and their experiences; from the day-to-day to the extraordinary. They might have the intimacy of a diary entry or have the scope of something much larger. Hanan Issa has worked with several TV production companies including Film4, ITV and the BBC.