As usual, Saturday evening was crowded at London Bridge. Indistinct voices of people, cacophony of horns and loud noises of trains filled the atmosphere with pandemonium. With majority being tourists, London Bridge makes acquaintance with new faces every day. A young Indian was roaming around the place after his regular shift at Mark and Spencer's. Unlike tourists, he was not flabbergasted by this place's charm. The interest in him no longer exists due to the innumerable visits to its every nook and corner. Though the Big Mac meal he had earlier from McDonald’s was enough to fill the tummy, an insatiable urge for a cigarette left his appetite incomplete. Being locked up with cigarettes for years, he had taken the hard decision to quit smoking a year ago. Surprisingly, he succeeded in cutting down the daily intake from two packets to one or two cigarettes. Thus, spending 10 quid for a packet of cigarettes will only put him back in the fuming road. Instead, he decided to borrow it from pedestrians. Finally, after half a dozen of failed attempts, he managed to get one from a passer-by, a Marlboro Red. Expressing the gratitude, Aadil Fateh kept the cigarette between the fingers, lit it, took a deep puff and held it in the lungs for a few seconds before expelling the cloud of poison out. As the nicotine hit the brain, he was re-energized and continued walking, by gazing the river Thames.
The Thames was flowing unflustered and composed with deep undercurrents resembling a person totally unperturbed by the events occurred in life. The walkway was paved with medium sized concrete blocks. At regular intervals, seats were placed and blocks were removed in rectangular shape allowing trees to grow in order to provide shade to the visitors. A few ships and boats were anchored at the harbor while some river cruises were sailing through the water carrying tourists for sightseeing. Overseeing all these, the magnificent Tower Bridge hung above Thames heralding Victorian London’s majesty. Despite adverse weather and series of war attacks, the mega structure stood intact. That could be the reason for it to still remain as the most famous and recognizable landmark in London.
Summer was intensifying. Amidst the scorching heat, people were taking photographs against the spectacular backdrop of Tower Bridge. Unlike in the East, summer is precious for Europeans. It is warm, gorgeous and people normally celebrate a sunny day with beers, whiskies and different delicacies. Momentarily, everyone's attention got distracted when Tower Bridge raised its two equal bascules to allow a big vessel to pass. Since Fateh is accustomed to this phenomenon multiple times a week, he took his gaze away and walked further down the pavement to find a place free from the ruckus.
An indistinct guitar strumming was to be heard a few yards away. With every step forward, the strum became more audible and a soothing song touched the ear drum replacing the raucousness. An old man with a long moustache and wrinkled face was strumming a white guitar, hung across his torso, with a red pick. A hat was placed in front of him. Fateh dropped a pound in the hat, and stood nearby listening to the song. The old man looked at him with a smile and gave a slight bow.
“Thank you, Thank you everyone", he says amidst the applause. "Next song is Bob Marley's No Woman No Cry”
The old man started with the C major chord, strummed it a few times, then to G major, A minor and back to C major before starting with the vocal.
"Said, Said, Said I remember when we used to sit
In a government yard in Trench town,
Oba oba-serving the hypocrites. Yeah!
As they would mingle with the good people we meet”
Fateh was clapping along with others until he got distracted by a phone call. Janine calling, the screen said. He answered the call ensuring that others were not disturbed. The conversation didn’t last long. She wanted to inform that she is on the way and will reach there soon. By the time he hung up, the spectators were singing the chorus along with the old man.
"No woman, no cry
No woman, no cry
Oh my little sister, don't shed no tears
No woman, no cry”
While thinking about the political and social relevance of the song, Fateh thought about his close friend, Janine. He met her when he was working at Marks and Spencers a year ago. She was a customer service assistant at that time. She was gorgeous. The lascivious eyes and curvaceous body had aroused his sexual desires the moment he got a glimpse of her. After a few days, he met her at the canteen. She was sitting alone at a table and filling some forms. This was the first time he was seeing her so close and realized that distance can hide many things from the eyes. Her skin was tan. There was a very visible scar on her forehead. Her eyes were greenish and iris was so vivid, red lipstick was meticulously placed over the lips, and hair tied behind into a ponytail. He watched her from a distance for a couple of minutes before approaching and introducing himself.
“Hi. I am Aadil”, He said sitting opposite to her table.
She lifted her head up, looked at him and said with a smile, “Hello, Janine”
“Seen you earlier inside, thought of just saying a Hi". He paused there for a moment and continued, "So, newly joined?”
“No. Actually I am from outer London. I got transferred to this branch”
“Oh I see”
Unprepared meetings can be detrimental for building a sound relationship. Fateh knew it. After a few talks, he tried to excuse by creating the feeling of a half-finished conversation so that he can use the incompleteness as a reason for the next catch up.
“I am off, Janine. My break is over. See you later”
His intention was wrong. After the estrangement from his first lover, Fateh lost faith in relationship sanctity and sacredness and that may further influenced by his friends advice - 'fuck the girl first brother, then love her. Then she will stay with you'. For the first time, he was thinking of paying attention to his friend's words. “Fuck the girl first”.
Somehow he was trying to make a string-free relationship with Janine just to have sex and fathom if lust can overcome love. All day long, he satiated his sexual appetite by dreaming about fucking Janine and giving her a blow-job. By swapping shifts with colleagues and working on Janine's timings, he managed to see her at least five days a week. Gradually they became friends and their bond got stronger.
5.56 pm, the watch said. The crowd is increasing. It had been almost 20 minutes since he started waiting for her. Fateh took the phone and called her.
"I came out of London bridge station now" Janine said.
"I am sitting in front of the City Hall”
"On my way. And a surprise for you like you had given me", she chuckled saying this, saying this, but the way it sounded, whether it was scornful or sarcastic, was unable to be comprehended.
She had given similar response when he first expressed his intention to love her and sleep around with her. He gazed at the tourists entering the HMS Belfast. Their face had the excitement of fulfilling a dream like Fateh had when he entered Janine's room for the first time.
"Janine, the moment I saw you, I thought we can be together, make love and marry”
She looked into his eyes for two seconds and asked “Do you know where I come from?”
No, I don't, he said in mind. He should have asked this basic question before he was actually going to propose Janine. What an embarrassment. She caught me this time peeling off the sheep's mask I worn, he thought.
“Ahh, you said to me that you got transferred from Birmingham store to here. So I reckoned you are from Birmingham” He said without showing the predicament.
“No, I am not”, she replied.
“Then, where are you from?”
“I am a Palestinian”, she said.
"Yes", showing the scars on her forehead and arms, she continued, “you rarely see a Palestinian without one of these”
“How did you get it?” he enquired curiously.
“You don’t read newspapers?”
Janine is a Palestinian Arab from Ramallah in the West bank region of Palestine. She was supported by her parents and had three siblings. Janine's father was a glass-maker. When she was in tenth, tension between Palestine and Israel intensified. In 2000, Israel attacked Palestine. Many civilians were killed, villages were obliterated. On the third day of war, her village was hit by a Jerricho 2 missile carrying nearly 1500 Kilograms of payload turning her father's glass factory into rubble. He lost both his legs, suffered severe injuries. Two of her siblings were killed instantly. Her younger sister succumbed to wounds after three days of suffering at the Ramallah Hospital. Luckily her mother survived, though with grave injuries. While the family was recovering, she applied for the Asylum Visa and reached the United Kingdom in 2007. After arriving in the UK, she completed graduation in Journalism from Thames Valley University and is now pursuing Master degree in Journalism.
“I want to be a journalist, and one day I will start my own Newspaper in Ramallah”
“Wouldn't it be better if you become a doctor? Newspapers are already showing Palestinian's sufferings to the world”
“Those are just tip of the Ice Berg. And you believe them?”
"I do. Why? You don't?" She seemed to be a bit skeptic about the western media
“Well No, I am skeptical about their agenda, she continued, "because they are not showing real sufferings of the people”
He said nothing but waited for Janine to continue. After thinking something, she looked at Fateh and asked, "Did you hear any news about Palestinians in the last one year”
“You know why, TRP and Sales drive the Western media", she rebuked. "They would not dare to publish anything which affects their country's diplomatic relationship with Israel. If some other exclusive news emerges, they go behind it. We are ignored. The world should not know our problem based on somebody's priorities”
She lives by this dream to start an autonomous newspaper in Palestine that gives priority to Palestinians' sufferings and not to any TRP or sales. She has a long way ahead but she is determined, persistent and unrelenting. She says "to achieve some dreams, people have to wait for a long time. The doors to goals are always open. It's all about identifying the right path”
"My studies will finish in 2 months. After that I am planning to go back to Palestine”
Fateh was thinking about her determination and courage. The decision to give-up the comfort of a safe haven and returning to the war-hit country is nothing but bravery. He felt huge respect for her. However on the other side, the same man was standing in her room solely for having sex, with the pretension of love. It would be no different from molesting and ruining a woman’s dream. How such a person can be different from the Israelis who had killed thousands of innocent Palestinian people? he thought.
"Now you tell me,do you want to marry me?" She interrupted his thought.
He was looking for words to start without stuttering. "Janine, listen patiently", he says, "I didn't have any intention to love or marry you, I was lying". There was a moment of silence. He noticed the shock in her face but he continued. "My only intention was to have sex with you and get rid of".
She was tormented after hearing the unexpected intent of her dear friend. Her face turned to disappointment and then filled with sadness. Tears came in distress. She wept for a few moments without uttering a word. He was trying to justify and console, but she paid no heed. "I don’t want to see you anymore", she said controlling the sob. He thought of explaining further, but words didn't come out. "I don’t want to see you anymore, get out", she yelled closing her eyes.
Janine found him sitting in front of the City Hall. She looked more charming and more beautiful than ever. After the incident at her home, Janine had made no contact with him whatsoever until two days ago. When he picked up the phone, it was Janine on the other end. She wanted to meet him.
As the crowd kept increasing, the place became noisier. Ironically, an ocean of silence prevailed between them uninfluenced by the outside commotion. How strange it isn't that some moments can turn the most loquacious people to laconic, he thought.
"My studies are over. I Got my degree" She said breaking the silence.
"Good news and Congrats." The feeling of guilt made him wordless. Once again, silence began to build. "Is that the surprise?" he asked.
"No. I am going back to Palestine, for good.”
Though, he had no communication with her for the past six months, the news about her return touched him somewhere emotionally. Fondness and reverence still remain unblemished, he realized.
"Why so early?" He asked.
"I have nothing else to do here except this meeting." She turned her gaze away from the Thames and looked at Fateh'e eyes, she continues, "I came to say Good bye to you, I don't have any hard feelings. And sorry for responding in that way", she said with a smile.
"It's all my fault Janine. I deserve it. When are you leaving?”
"Today is my flight, at 10 PM"
They both spend around 30 minutes at London Bridge before she boarded Jubilee Line towards Green Park. While waving at her from the platform for the last time, the feeling of guilt subdued him. "An action in the past cannot be changed Aadil, no matter how much you wish for it. So do not over think about what you did" her words reverberated in his mind. Train moved into the darkness of underground. Fateh walked thinking the song sung by the old man.
"No woman, no cry
No woman, no cry
Oh my little sister, don't shed no tears
No woman, no cry”