The Story Begins…
Her brother had sung songs — work songs, so proper and not decadent – as they decorated the hall with bunting: black, white, red and green. Normally she would have sung too, but you never knew who was listening, what they might say about her to undermine the cause. The meeting was in an old theatre, so when they finished they went backstage, where she changed into traditional dress for the meeting, but she also got to see some of the costumes; the local players had been busy since strict Sharia relaxed. Seeing the beautiful clothes, touching them, calmed her.
Father had been out door-knocking with party volunteers, trying to rustle up a good-sized crowd for their leader. Reporters were covering the whole political circus as it toured the frontier, and they wanted — well, Father insisted — that they all create a good impression. ‘Momentum’ was his favourite word lately. She couldn’t remember ever spending much time in their house in Birmingham, but they had been on the road for weeks now. The Progressive Party was doing well, thanks to his words and its leader’s good looks. The campaign buzzed along, and Father hoped that, at last, things might change, and Zoners might drag themselves out of the endless confrontation with the nations that surrounded them.
They would hold part of the meeting in Anglish, as not everyone spoke the official language on the frontier. “The Progressive Party Welcomes Everyone” said the banner over the front entrance, in both Anglish and Arabic. Father let her speak Anglish at home, so she could help if the speeches got too poetic and the official man could not cope. Playtime over, they watched the stalls and boxes filling up. Her father looked over the sea of faces — Muslims and Kafirs sat together — and smiled.
“You see, it is possible,” he had said; as if it was as easy as that.
He let go of the curtain and they went backstage. She had read the Theatre’s opening plaque to practice her Anglish: the Nuneaton Hippodrome had been rebuilt in mid C22 based on the old design, but instead of the original five dressing rooms there was a flexible space with partitions. The open-plan room was full of local notables, and she slipped to the back of the room. There was a ‘thud’ and she looked down to see a glass paperweight rolling on the floor. No one else paid it any attention so she knelt to retrieve it before someone trod on it and slipped. The ring of flowers inside the glass was so beautiful, protected from the ugliness of the outside –
Heavy boots thumped into the room. From inside the theatre itself, screams were silenced by a bang. She froze.
“Soldiers,” said her father to no one in particular, “and not ours.” His voice was steady, but she could sense his fear; he had got where he was by being the one who held things together, the still point in any crisis. She had to do something. Realising she was by an open doorway she wriggled through and found herself back in the costume store. Several racks of clothes filled the room, plenty of places to hide; she wriggled under the costumes to the back of the room. Then she crawled forwards again because she could not hear anything back there.
“Everybody keep slack,” a strange voice said in Anglish, “and no one gets harmed, me ducks.” Did he really say ‘ducks’, she wondered; it sounded like a bad pirate film. Something moved near her and she strangled a cry. The hanging clothes parted, and her brother’s face peered into hers. They crawled to the back of the room, so they could talk in whispers.
“What’s going on in there?”
“Soldiers from the east — Lincolnshire, I think,” he said.
“They must be after our leader and Father.” She saw the whole thing: with the Progressives leaderless, the Neocons would win the election. Then her people would remain isolated, and the conflict would go on and on; they’d heard those words – Father’s words – often enough. “We’ve got to do something.”
“What?” he wanted to know, “clever words won’t work against muskets and swords.”
“No, I…suppose not.”
Her brother looked satisfied. The moron thought that girls weren’t supposed to take the lead in their society. Has he learned nothing? Has he not listened to father at all? Her eyes narrowed as she realised that her big brother only looked like a man. He would rather stay a victim, see his people lose again than see his sister get above herself. She looked at him and smiled; she had an idea, and it might even work.
“What are you up to?” he hissed.
“Praise Allah,” she said, “you’re not the only stupid male in the world.”
She kissed her scowling brother, perhaps for the last time.
The story continues … here.
More about ‘Misput Fealties’ here.
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