The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 25

The Aziz family continued to run the newsagents in Brixton and were now respected members of the local community. Mohammad had grown into a handsome teenager, with his dark skin, prominent Arabic nose and light brown eyes. He adored his younger sister Aaila, but did not make friends easily and only with other Muslim boys rather than English ones. He was doing well at his secondary modern school and helping his father in the shop at weekends, when events suddenly turned his life into chaos. The arrest and death of a local West Indian youth in police custody sparked off riots in the area. They quickly got out of control due to the limited amount of police on the streets, thanks to savage budget cuts on the Metropolitan force by the government. Thugs, criminals and National Front hoodlums who were looking for any opportunity to create havoc and loot shops to fuel their needs soon joined the rioters.

Mohammad had been staying with a friend after school when the riot erupted. He rushed home to help his father close and shutter up the shop, the shelves of which were stacked with cartons of cigarettes, high on any looter’s list of desirable plunder. As he got close, a rabble of white youths wearing leather jackets decorated with heavy chains and swastikas’ hanging from their necks roughly shouldered their way past him, clutching overflowing bags of cartons of cigarettes. A cold chill came over him as he saw a spiral of dark smoke rising into the clear afternoon sky and the loud crackle of flames from the next street. Running round the corner, he screamed in fear as he saw the frontage of the shop disappearing behind a curtain of flame and smoke. Mohammad stood rooted to the spot, immobilised by the shock of the sight before him, an image that would remain burned into his mind for the rest of his life. The shop became a roaring inferno before his eyes, the front door a sheet of flame, and smoke was already thick behind the windows of the flat on the first floor where the family lived and seeping out through the eaves of the roof. A small windowpane in an upper window cracked, the glass falling down on the road, releasing the agonised screams of his trapped family and the sight of his mother in the shroud of smoke behind it galvanised Mohammad into action. Without a thought for his own safety, he ran across the road pushing the gaping bystanders out of the way, flung open the front door to the flat and raced up the stairs, choking on the thick smoke. Shouting his mother’ name, the only reply was the crackling of the flames and the suffocating smoke waiting at the top. The carpet under his feet smouldered and oblivious to the wailing sirens of the fire engines screeching to a halt outside, he wrenched open the door to the living room releasing the pent up fury of the fire. Overcome by the heat, he collapsed in a heap on the floor.

Two burly London fire fighters wearing breathing apparatus dragged Mohammad semi-conscious from the burning flat but their colleagues could not rescue his mother, screaming in pain from the upstairs window, when the old timber floor inside collapsed in a shower of sparks and flames. Mohammad regained consciousness on the road outside to hear his mother’s last dying scream. He spent many weeks in hospital enduring the pain of the operations and the many hours of physio on his burnt hands from trying to fight a way in to rescue his mother and sister. His face, badly scorched, had left his skin taught and stretched around his mouth. Initial plastic surgery had helped but more operations would be necessary. The day arrived for Muhammad to leave hospital and his father’s rich uncle, now an elderly man, collected him. The uncle took him into his home, as was the Afghan way with their kin. However, it would not to work out, as the young teenager’s loss of his family made him so bitter that he rebelled against the old man and all authority. He refused to have any more of the painful operations on his face and dropped out of school.

Later, Mohammad remembered the subsequent inquest findings into his family’s deaths. The coroner had returned a verdict of manslaughter. Although he had not seen the act with his own eyes, Mohammad knew that the thugs running away had murdered the family he loved so much. Pashto, his gentle and wise father, who had helped him grow up in a foreign land and encouraged him to become a devout Muslim, dying in the funeral pyre of the shop he had worked so hard to build into a successful business. His loving mother and not least Aaila, his tomboy sister, the love of his young life, even though she had teased him relentlessly. All were now just memories, murdered by low-life infidels and not least by the members of the British government who, with their slack, immoral laws, had allowed them to be on the streets.

He dropped into the wrong company, which led to a life of drugs and crime to fuel his habit, until his guardian wrung his hands in despair and could take no more. He kicked Muhammad out and the young man began a life on the streets of London, pick pocketing and shoplifting by day and sleeping under the stars or in the squalor of a dirty squat by night.

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