Hours after the sky room stopped burning, the sky itself began to.
An orange haze above the horizon, lit the sky aflame. Yet the haze was so crisp and clear. The smoke of these flames were no more than fluffy clouds. Each one was splashed with the random colours of hot pinks, reds and even hints of purples and blues.
The sun was so large that it was almost as if you could touch it. It seemed to look at them with a dull glare, knowing that it’s beauty and the planet’s dependence on it for survival made up for it. it sunk lower and lower in a lazy manner; almost as if it never wanted to leave. A pool of gold gleamed behind it, spilling across the sky.
Tiana looked around at her friends. They were all captivated by the sunset. Zangi was using Ravi as a chair, and Ravi was using her as a hot water bottle. Simi was sharing her Pringles with Tahati, so Tahati shared her cushion with Simi. All of them were crowded together on the cliff top, looking out on the horizon, watching the sun sink lower and stars raise their sleepy heads.
Quietly as she could, she picked up her camera, adjusted it to fit them all in, as well as the golden sky above, and snapped a shot.
Tiana felt a rush of affection for them all. Even though they were bitchy and annoying and loud, they were so full of love. It just took fresh air, sunset, to prove it. Then Tiana remembered that they were going to part ways. A pang of pain hit her stomach and rushed up her throat.
She tried to kid herself into believing they would stay in touch, but she had lost every single person she went to primary school with, and one lived at the end of her road. She knew that they wouldn’t let go easily, but in the end, they would slip away. Just thinking about losing these idiots made her chest twinge with pain.
Damn she would miss them.
Tiana blinked back the tears that were pricking the edges of her eyes.
But It wasn’t time to say goodbye yet. They’d barely left London. They were setting up camp near Dovedale, ready to take on the peak District in the morning. At least they would try to. They had no idea which direction they were going, let alone what they would see when they got there.
Tiana curled her legs underneath her and began to click through the pictures on her camera. All you could hear was the soft whistle of the wind, the rustle of the leaves, and the beeping of the camera. That is, until Simi stood up.
“It’s getting dark,” she declared.
“No shit,” Ravi said.
Simi glared at her momentarily. “It’ll get cold. We need a fire.”
“That sounds like a terrible idea,” Tiana said.
“Sounds like a plan. That’s something we don’t have,” Ravi said.
“Alright then. Everyone split up and collect as many sticks as possible,” Tiana shrugged.
“Whoever gets the most sticks gets to sleep with the pillow!” Ravi declared.
They only had one pillow. Stolen from the hotel and everything. It was a good prize to try and win if you wanted something soft to lay on. As soon as it was on offer, Zangi leapt to her feet. She had stolen that pillow she damn well wanted to keep it.
If you were in a helicopter looking down on the girls, it would have been a particular sight to behold. A bunch of girls were dotted around the hill, no more than fifteen feet from the van parked on the hilltop, bobbing up and down as they collected twigs. There were very few twigs because there were very few trees. That didn’t stop them searching. Zangi was furthest away because she wanted to win so badly. She wanted to gather the most. Tahati returned to the only spot of sunlight on the hill, and started the pile of firewood.
Then she pulled the half of the arrow from her pocket, and leaned back to grab a stone from a little way away. It was fairly big. It was rough and just fit in the palm of her hand. She examined the broken edge of the arrow, and carefully began buffering it with the stone.
Tiana dropped a bundle of sticks onto the pile in front of Tahati. Tahati was still sitting on the cushion, rubbing the broken end of the arrow with a rock. Tiana furrowed her brow in confusion.
“What are you doing?” Tiana asked.
“I want to keep this. Maybe make it into something,” Tahati explained.
“So, what’s with the rock?” Tiana asked.
“Mrs Castrol said if you didn’t have sand paper you can a rock,” Tahati explained.
Mrs Castrol was their woodwork teacher. She was mean and strict and German, but she knew what she was talking about.
Tiana was going to point out that she probably meant a specific rock and not one she could just find on a hill in the middle of nowhere, but Tahati looked so content that she didn’t. Instead she sat down beside her.
“Can I see?” She asked.
Tahati glanced up at her hesitantly. They had teased and picked on her for loving things before. Her toy cat for example. They’d tried to steal or break her things before too. She really didn’t want to lose the arrow. But Tiana looked to be in a funny mood. A kind of wistful one. Not a breaking-something-you-love-for-shits-and-giggles one.
Hesitantly Tahati held out the arrow tail for Tiana to take. It was lighter than Tiana was expecting. Its tail had three triangles sticking out from the strict. They were thin plastic, fashioned to look like feathers. Each little feather was sandy brown with little dark circles set along its base. Along the broken edge there were uneven splinters.
“Why don’t you break these off and then sand down the smaller bits?” Tiana asked.
Tahati frowned as she took it back. “Will that work?”
“Dunno. You did woodwork for longer than I did. You figure it out,” she shrugged.
Tahati frowned as she tried to focus her mind on these lumps of wood and rock. Tiana knelt up beside her and tried to start the fire with a pair of flints she had found.
Zangi dumped an armful of twigs onto of the pile, along with at least a dozen leaves.
“You could use these,” Zangi said.
She pulled a sleeve of matches from her pocket and held them out. They were the blue ones with “SAFE” written across the top in red. She’d stolen from the school.
“When did you take these?” She asked.
Zangi shrugged. “That nutmeg owed me for my eyebrows. Without them I look like your bitch arse!”
Tiana frowned at her. “Dude. Chill. Ain’t that deep.”
By the time they’d started the fire, Simi and Ravi came wandering over and left their sticks fireside to be used later. The flames stayed low on the sticks, but burned white hot. Sparks of white flickered between the scarlet and orange hues.
“I’d kill for a marshmallow right now,” Ravi said.
“You are a marshmallow,” Zangi muttered.
“I can’t have them,” Tahati said miserably.
“Really?!” Ravi gasped in surprise, “You’re missing out man, they’re amazing!”
Tiana wrinkled her nose in disagreement but said nothing. She’d had this fight often enough to know it just ended in mindless bickering.
The red sparks flew from the top of the flames, spilling into the inky air. Tiana adjusted her camera to take photos of them. Zangi took her camera away and set it up on a nearby rock to replace the broken tripod.
The girls gathered together between the fire and the van. Simi gave her best smolder, Tahati opened her eyes and mouth wide, Tiana’s hand was on her hip, Ravi’s arm was around Tiana’s shoulders, and Zangi raised her fingers like a peace sign. For one picture. As the camera prepared for the second picture, Zangi threw herself into everyone’s arms, laying across the front of the photo. Everyone else was reacting with surprise or pain. In the third and final picture, Zangi had been pushed to the ground and the others were laughing.
Even so they we great photos. If they had a campervan rather than the people carrier they did have, it would have been a typical instagram photo.
The camera beeped in complaint that its batteries were tired. Tiana returned to the van to swap the battery for the charged one and put the dead one on charge. As the fired died and the wind picked up, they retreated to the warmth of the van.
they folded down all the seats to smooth the back down enough for them to lay on, and laid the back the two front seats. The boot became a bundle beside two single “beds”.
Simi claimed the driver seat for herself, and Tahati took the other. Tiana, Ravi and Zangi were topping and tailing. Ravi and Zangi had their heads by the boot, and Tiana’s was between Simi and Tahati. Ravi, Zangi and Tiana had the duvet to share. Simi and Tahati had to drag on extra clothes from their suitcases. Tahati, feeling the cold, had dragged Tristan’s abandoned navy pea coat over to use as a blanket. They had found it under the bags in the boot while rearranging to sleep. Tiana had placed dibs on keeping it for her own.
Because of Tristan’s idea to wake everyone up so early, they were all completely exhausted. As they do when you’re exhausted, Emotions were getting mixed up. This was blatantly obvious when Ravi began to sniffle.
Zangi raised her foot over Tiana to jab Ravi’s back with her cold toes. “You ok?”
“Yeah...” Ravi sniffed.
“But?” Tiana asked.
There was a long pause before her shaky voice came with a reply. “But I’m homesick. I know it’s ridiculous because I saw my family yesterday, and I’ve been fine all day but…”
“But nights are different, right?” Tahati said quietly.
“Yeah... why?” Ravi sniffed.
“that’s a question for you little miss scientist,” Simi let her hand sprawl out to hit Tiana.
“I think it’s probably Because as soon as the sun goes away you worry about predators getting you while you sleep. Don’t hold me to that though,” Tiana explained.
Zangi propped herself up on her elbows. “What you on about fam?”
“Like, at home you know you’re safe because you’ve always been safe there. with people you trust. Here is different. Deep down you don’t know if this is safe, or if you could trust us to protect you if you needed it.” Tiana explained.
“What?” Simi repeated in annoyed confusion.
“You’re homesick because you don’t feel safe and you know it’s safe there!” Tahati tutted impatiently. “That’s why I’m not homesick. Because home I don’t like my home.”
Silence returned. Tiana slowly reached a hand up to squeeze Tahati’s shoulder.
“I know what you mean,” she muttered.
The stars filled the dark sky above like rhinestones. They twinkled down on the remains of the campfire and van full of cold school girls, who were far lonelier than they wished to admit.
The stars watched them as they lay awake, thinking all the others were asleep when none of them were. Sometimes the silver moon would appear from behind a cloak of clouds, and a sliver would slip through the glass and illuminate the girls.
Soft features chiseled by pastel light. Eyes gleaming with stars. Five universes, trapped inside five girls, each one feeling so alone while laying side by side. It was a sorry truth. One that can only be admitted beneath the moon.
The sun is for fun.
The moon is for truth. No matter how much it hurt.
Very, very quietly, almost a whisper, Ravi began to sing a quiet lullaby that her mother would sing to her as a child. She wasn’t aware that she was singing to the entire van. Or that her small, sweet voice soothed them to sleep.
Dikri mari ladakvayi lakshmi mo avtar,
Ae suve to rat pade ne, jage to savar.
Dirki tara vahal na dariyo jeevan bhar chalkay,
Pamta jeevan maat pita nu dhanya thai jai,
Ek j smit ma tara chamke motida hajar,
…alssabah ja’ li walkawn klh malakana lillah rabb alealamin walllah ’atlub minkum khayr alyawm wanijahih wamusaeadatih wanura wabarakat watalab alhadayat walttamas min alshshrr fi dhalik wamin sharr min ’an yati fi waqt lahiq.
As the pale morning light filled the van to glow around the girls, Ravi began to realise that it was not one voice she was hearing reciting these words, but two. Simi, and Tahati.
curiously, she sat up in her bed.
Simi and Tahati had opened up the boot to allow the sweet – if brisk – dawn air swirl through the van. Now they were kneeling on their jumpers on the dewy grass, facing Mecca, and praying. Their voices were soft and almost inaudible as it tangled with the birdsong in the breeze. An empty water bottle was left on the edge of the car boot. Clearly, they had used it to wash since they were still damp.
There was something about this moment. Something about waking up in fresh air, warm under a duvet, overlooking grassy hills crowned by the golden dawn, and listening to the Muslim morning prayer sung through birdsong that was transcendent. Something calm. Peaceful. It was as if, for a moment, all was right with the world.
And then the white man arrived to prove them wrong.
“DO YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO CAMP HERE?!”
he demanded in a booming voice that interrupted the peace like a thunderclap over a smooth sea.
Rising from her bed like a reanimated corpse, Tiana sat up. She forced her eyes open to glare at him, mildly wincing against the light as she did.
She saw a man in a National Trust fleece frowning at her, over his crescent-moon wire glasses, and sharp beaky nose. He had wrinkles like a prune, and dark-but-still-grey hair that was thinner than it had ever been before. He held himself like the lord of the land. The sneer of disgust that he kept giving them didn’t sit with Tiana.
It was too early for his shit.
“You can’t come here and interrupt prayers. That’s not right. If you want to talk we can go over there, but you need to be quiet so they can talk to Allah,” Tiana stated.
He scowled. “I don’t- “
“If the end of that sentence is 'want to talk', then fine. Leave. If it’s anything else, we’re going over there,” she interrupted.
He scowled at this girl – this child – who would dare talk to him as he spoke to her. How disrespectful could she be?! Well he was going to find out.
Tiana slid out of the duvet and perched on the edge of the boot for a moment to pull her shoes on. Then she stood up on the grass, and grabbed her hoodie. She started to walk away from the van, allowing the girls to go back to praying, and the man had no choice but to follow. Once they were a far enough distance away, she turned back to face him.
“How can I help you sir?” she asked.
“I’d like to know who gave you permission to camp here as you so clearly did!” he demanded.
Tiana shrugged. “We didn’t realise we’d need it. Now that I think about it it’s kinda obvious that we did.”
“yes, it bloody well is obvious! What kind of soft-minded imbecilic doesn’t get permission to camp?!” he fumed.
Tiana pursed her lips the way she did when teachers started telling her for nothing important. She had to bite her tongue then. The consequences wouldn’t be worth it.
But here, on a hill in the middle of nowhere, alone, there was no consequences.
“The kind that your generation ridicules for not knowing how to camp when yours never taught us how to,” she spat.
He frowned. “What does generations have to do with this?!”
“Nothing really. It’s just obvious that we come from different times because you think I should treat you with respect but don’t think I deserve it,” Tiana explained.
“Pardon? I haven’t even mentioned respect!” he snapped.
“No but you haven’t given it, have you?” Tiana spat.
“Now see here child-”
“Don’t call me child elderly man.”
He scowled furiously at her. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me you walking corpse. Or maybe you didn’t. I hear old people have such hairy ears it makes them deaf. Maybe you heard that too. Probably not though. You’re pretty old,” Tiana snipped.
“I say! You youths have no manners these days!” he spat.
“Excuse you, bitch, but you stormed up to us, interrupted a religious act, and then called me a soft-minded imbecilic when I admitted I’d made a mistake. I called you sir and listened to your complaint-” she snapped back
“I haven’t complained-” he interrupted.
Tiana raised her index finger in the air to shut him up, “err, who said I was finished talking?! Is it respectful to talk over someone before they have finished? I don’t believe it is.”
It’s a known law of the universe that if you anger an older generation enough they lose their ability to form coherent sentences or speak at all. This is what happened now.
“I – I- you – how – you-”
Zangi crept up from behind the man, with hair messed up and a face like a skull. Her makeup was cleaned of make-up and the depths of the bags beneath their eyes was intense. She was in purple pyjamas with “eat sleep Netflix repeat” on the front, and Ravi’s shoes. (Her own were very nearly completely dry now but she didn’t want to risk it yet)
“Everything ok Tiana? Do you need a hand?” Zangi asked.
Tiana didn’t move her eyes from this old man.
“Nah Zang, I got this.”
Zangi glanced at the old man uncertainly. “you sure?”
“Yeah. I think this gentleman is willing to listen to my side of the story without being disrespectful to me now,” Tiana said.
“I’m gonna wait here, just in case,” Zangi declared.
The old man scoffed loudly.
“Typical! Thug youths ganging up on a defenseless old man! What has society come to these days?!”
“Don’t worry, society will improve when you die, so we won’t have to wait much longer!” Zangi scoffed.
“Is that a threat?!” he spat.
“No. it’s an insult. You’d think you’d know the difference by your age,” Zangi spat back.
He scowled at her and then turned his fury back onto Tiana.
“How dare you two?! You come onto my land, insult me, threaten me, a defenseless old man-” He fumed.
“Oh, shut up!” Tiana interrupted impatiently.
He scowled. “I thought you said it was disrespectful to interrupt!”
“It’s only disrespectful if the person being interrupted deserves respect. You don’t,” she stated.
“What about the respect the land deserves?! You come here, in a van, start a fire, without permission, on National Trust land-"
“Look, we didn’t come here to start trouble, but we’re not above it. I will fight you if it comes to that, but I’d rather not. It’s pretty early, and I’m pretty tired. It’d be a shame to start the day by breaking an old man’s arm.”
“It’d be an awesome way to start the day,” Zangi muttered.
“Zangi, I’m talking,” Tiana said.
Zangi wrinkled her nose, kissed her teeth and said, “Fuc- “
“Zangi,” Tiana warned sharply.
She shot her a mildly desperate look that begged her not to say it. Zangi pursed her lips. She could see how important this was to her. Begrudgingly and folded her arms.
Tiana gave her a grateful look and then glared at this man again.
“I am sorry we didn’t think to get permission to camp. We were caught up in the moment and didn’t think. As it happens I am a member of the National Trust. I love and respect the charities work. I do not respect stuck up old farts who think they’re worthy of respect simply because they demand it-”
“That’s why we don’t respect trump,” Zangi said.
“Truth!” Tiana sniggered, before continuing impatiently with, “we’ll clean up our mess and be on our way as soon as my friends have finished their prayers. Thank you for reminding us to be courteous. We’ll check restrictions before setting up camp next time. Is that all you wanted?”
He folded his arms and huffed. “I suppose that will do!”
“good, cause it’s all you’re frigging getting,” Tiana spat.
With that she stormed past him and back in the direction of the van. She walked past Zangi who held his man’s glare again.
“Remember fam, karma's a bitch. This will come back to bite you later.”
She turned around and followed Tiana. The man desperately scrambled for an insult to hurt these children that had just hurt him so badly.
“So, will you if you keep threatening people!”
Zangi turned to face him, and walked backwards, “that wasn’t a threat either. That one was a promise!”
Tiana smirked as Zangi caught up to walk beside her, leaving the miserable old git to stomp off towards the gift shop to complain.
“Nice,” Tiana grinned.
“Thanks,” Zangi grinned back. “You know we get to get out of here before he calls the police, right?”
“Oh, hell yeah. We’re breaking the law big time,” Tiana agreed.
Zangi laughed proudly. She was so delighted that Tiana burst into laughter with her. Then they both started running back to the others.
“Everyone get back in the van! Now!” Zangi laughed loudly.