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16 October 2014
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Lynda Tavakoli
Lynda Tavakoli

I was born in Portadown in 1955 but now live near Lisburn with my Persian husband and two teenage children. I began writing short stories four years ago after joining the Lisburn Island Arts Centre Creative Writers' group. I am presently in the middle of writing my second novel.

Two Voices by Lynda Tavakoli

     If you listen carefully you will hear it; the beating of my heart as its lifeblood gushes and slops against my ribs. Gradually it moves, thumping and pumping along the endless tubes and caverns of its journey, to the centre of my mind. Thump, thump. Slop, slop. Today and yesterday. Tomorrow and forever. Fear.
     It is morning and I allow my eyes to lie shut and think of Jamie. He is the voice inside keeping me sane; keeping me from the hopelessness that threatens to engulf me, keeping me alive. I listen to the soft movements from the kitchen below where my mother prepares breakfast. Our house is small and every movement reverberates through its frame which means that when I cry I must be careful to pull the duvet tightly around my head. I am thirteen, and crying I have learned is only for wimps and nerds. Jamie never cries.
     Muffled voices seep through the floorboards and a door closes downstairs. My father has gone to work. He used to come and kiss me goodbye, but once when he saw me scrunched within the duvet, he closed the door and never came again. This I understood and it never diminished my love for him. My mother calls, “James, get up or you’ll be late,” and I bury myself deeper beneath the covers listening to Jamie saying, “Come on James. Get moving – you’ve a bus to catch,” and because I know I have to, I comply.
     It is October and autumn leaves crackle beneath the soles of my shiny black brogues. I walk to catch the bus; up Chester Avenue and past the crumbling gateposts of the municipal park. I am in no hurry but Jamie is vying for attention in my head, encouraging me to speed up. Then I see them standing in silhouette, lounging carelessly against the wooden bus shelter as smoke from their cigarettes drift slowly outwards in staccatoed pockets of puff. The one who is closest turns her eyes on me. And so it begins.
     Jamie hisses the words I have heard in my head every day for nearly a year. “You can do it today. Do it today.” But I am James and know that today will be the same as any other. Four pairs of eyes are on me now and like heat seeking missiles they hone in on their target with perfect precision. Backs straighten and cigarette butts are obliterated beneath designer heels. The attack begins.
     “We like your shiny shoes James,” purrs the first, malice sticking like cream to her glossy lips. “Mummy clean them for you, did she?” And the others close in, smelling the scent of the kill and waiting excitedly for this morning’s share of the spoils. I feel the moisture on my back as sweat sucks at my clean shirt but today I am saved by the bus as screeching brakes herald a sudden scramble for the doors. The survival of the fittest - strong to the back seats; the weak, standing room only at the front. It takes twenty-two minutes to get to school. I have timed it on my ultra sophisticated diver’s watch my parents bought me for my birthday. It is hidden beneath the chewed cuffs of my jumper and I feel its pulse travelling up my arm; one second for two heartbeats marking the growing apprehension churning in the pit of my stomach.
     “Deep breaths,” Jamie says, “we’re nearly there.” But I cannot control my rising panic and feel the sour taste of sick rising up in the back of my throat. Up ahead I see the school gates and hold my breath in an effort to prevent myself from throwing up. My lungs are burning but I manage to hold on until the bus pulls up and we pour out onto the gum-peppered pavement. A large glob of spit hits me on the back of the neck, seeping down the collar of my shirt and resting at the top of my spine. Jamie does not miss his chance, “Get the bastard’s name James. Glob the bastard back.” But I can only feel the slow drag of my feet carrying me through the gates and into hell.
     The locker area buzzes. Forgotten rugby kits spill from holdalls in sweaty bundles and are kicked contemptuously across the floor. A girl from my year walks by and unexpectedly stops to ask, “Can I check with your maths homework James?” Her name is Hazel. She has the skinniest pair of legs I have ever seen, but she is nice. “Later,” I say and she continues down the corridor, her skirt swaying effortlessly as she walks
     “Oooh, James has got himself a girlfriend then. Tasty bit of stuff, is she?” It is Billy Greg, king spitter. We stand eyeball to eyeball, our lips practically touching.
     “Tell him to piss off James,” urges Jamie from somewhere faraway in my head. I want to. In fact I want to hit Billy Greg so hard that I smash his beautiful straight teeth right to the back of his throat. But I can’t, and I won’t, and I know I never will.
     “She’s not my girlfriend,” I tell him, reaching to close the locker door and make my escape. It is a mistake. Billy glimpses the watch and grabs my wrist like a vice. His fingers are unbelievably soft and I sense Jamie sniggering at this unexpected femininity.
     “And what’s this James?” Billy snarls, “A nice new watch from mummy and daddy. You kept that one a bit quiet.” I am getting scared now; the smell of the locker room is overpowering, the tension unbearable. Some of the boys have gone to class but none of those who have stayed will champion me. I am on my own with a stupid voice in my head and a useless body to go with it. The vice–like grip tightens.
     “Give me the watch nerd,” Billy whispers, his breath hot in my ear but I do not want to relinquish the watch. It is the only possession I have managed to keep secret and I do not know how to explain its disappearance to my parents. Jamie screams at me, “James. Punch his lights out. Keep the watch. It’s ours,” and for a fleeting moment I almost feel like I could do it. But the bell rings and the moment is gone, my bravery banished by the reality of an ever-present threat even Jamie cannot erase. I remove the precious present from my wrist and place it into the hand of my tormentor.
     “Coward,” accuses Jamie. He will not speak to me until later when his disgust at my weakness diminishes. Billy saunters away and the others, disappointed that there has been no bloodletting, make their way to class. My eyes remain dry. There are no tears left for me to cry. I am thirteen years old and I wonder what it was; the terrible thing I did in some past life, to pay such penance now. My parents tried to help but their intervention only made things worse and in the end I pretended the bullying had stopped. The only one I share it with now is Jamie but today his silence makes my isolation more intolerable and even Hazel has forgotten her earlier request to cross check our homework. It was such a little thing but I feel the hurt of her forgetfulness acutely and the fear in me melts into a kind of resigned despair.
     Today the journey home allows some respite. The big, tough, macho boys remain in school with the big, tough, macho rugby playing teachers. The girls don their makeup and gossip together on street corners. Nobody is interested in James Baker anymore. Our house is empty. My mother has left the key beneath a flowerpot and I let myself in. The house smells nice. Everything is tidy. Outside I hear the familiar noise of the traffic trundling down our road.
     Jamie begins to forgive me and starts up a conversation in my head, “Tell them you lost it at PE James. Get it back tomorrow.” But his voice is coming from a distant place and I am not listening. I go to the closet beneath the stairs where my dad keeps his toolbox and I rummage to find the old rope he saves ‘just in case’. I wonder if it is long enough. Thump, thump. Slop, slop. Strange that the fear remains when I feel nothing but absolute calm. Strange, too, that for the first time Jamie has begun to panic. “Don’t James. Don’t let them win,” he screams, but I tie an end of the rope to the banister and tug it tightly, feeling my weight on it and testing its strength. I make a kind of noose with the other end and place it over my head. Will it hurt? Will it be immediate?
     You know what? It really doesn’t matter.

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More from this writer:

Short Stories
Two Voices
At The Gate
This Child of Mine

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