Mo - Saturday
Pari Akbar was up at the crack of dawn to set the house up for her daughter’s birthday celebration, she had barely slept with the amount of preparation needed for such an auspicious feast. Mo returning from work battered and bruised the previous evening hadn’t helped her rest at all.
“What has happened to you?” she asked as soon as he entered the house, before he’d even had a chance to wash, “have you been attacked by bears?”
“No Mother, I fell in a hole,” he replied.
“Yes, there was a big hole on the pavement, left by workmen and I wasn’t watching where I was going. I just fell.”
“Daydreaming or reading no doubt. Are you alright?” she said as she gently touched his swollen cheek, “I’ll get my cabbage, and if Yaz asks why there is so little Band Gobi tomorrow, I will have to say it is because you fell into a big hole,” she smiled and noticed that Mo’s smile wasn’t a pure one.
“Good morning Mother,” smiled Mo as he entered the small kitchen that was alive with bubbling pots and spices.
“Mo,” his mother was appalled when she saw his bruised face, “that must have been some hole.”
“It was, almost to the centre of the earth,” he winked, or tried to, as much as the swelling would allow. He felt much better this morning, having prayed long and hard into the night. He knew hatred and anger would only damage him, and that forgiveness, although hard to attain was within him. He was still sad inside, but he knew seeing his beautiful nephews later would remedy that.
“Do you think Yaz will like it?” he said as he showed her the turquoise and gold pendant he had bought her.
Pari looked at it and then held her hand to Mo’s cheek, “you are the best son a mother could ever ask for, your father would be so proud of you,” she put her hand behind his head and pulled him down, enabling her to kiss his forehead. “Did that hole damage your ribs too?” she looked him dead in the eye, letting him know she was no fool.
“Morning,” yelled Irene through the letterbox on the front door, at just the right moment to prevent Mo from spilling the truth, “for the love of God Mo, what’s happened to you?” she said when she clapped eyes on him.
“He fell in a hole,” said Pari still holding her son’s stare.
“You wally,” smiled Irene, “’ave you ’ad a cabbage on that cheek? And what’s that? Oh Mo, Yaz will love that, want me to wrap it for ya? I’ve got some beautiful paper and bows next door.”
“That would be extremely kind Irene, thank you.”
The best gold tablecloth was laid, the candles were ready to be lit and the copper serving bowls were in the kitchen waiting to be filled when Yaz and her family arrived.
“I knew it was you,” she said as soon as she saw Mo, “I just knew it,” she flew into his arms and cried.
Pari looked to Kahil for answers, “he fell into a hole,” she said quietly.
“Happy birthday Yaz love,” called Irene from the kitchen, “and where’s my two boys?” Zami and Shafi ran to Irene as they knew she would have sweets for them as well as a big hug which smelled of lavender.
Kahil was the first to speak, “are you alright Mo?”
Mo nodded. Yaz broke away from him and then sobbed.
“Not a hole then?” said Pari looking at Kahil for some answers.
“Mumma, Mumma look what Irene gave us,” said the twins in unison holding up a large chocolate bar and colouring books with pens.
“I hope you said thank you,” said Kahil as Yaz had turned away to save her boys from seeing her tears. In the millisecond it takes for a keen eyed Cockney to sense trouble, Irene was ushering the boys back to the kitchen with the promise of starting the colouring immediately.
“It’s on the internet,” said Kahil, “Mo was attacked on the train home last night.”
Pari put he hand to her mouth.
“No,” said Mo firmly as Kahil produced his phone from his pocket, “I was there I know what it will look like. Do not show Mother, there is no point. I’m fine.”
“Have you informed the police?”
“No, and I’m not going to, this is sadly all too common. I have made my peace with it and it is behind me now. Besides, it’s my only sister’s birthday and I’m starving.”
Since Mo’s father was dead, Mo was the head of the household and his mother knew the subject was now closed.
“I will get us some food then, please sit.”
The start of the meal was more subdued than it would usually have been, but with the twins and their boundless energy, Yaz’s tears of joy over the beautiful present and the amazing feast their mother had prepared it wasn’t long until the thought of the attack was only lurking in the shadows of the small terraced house on Carnarvon Road. By the third course, the celebration really began to feel like one, it was only Mo who had the constant and painful reminder with two cracked ribs.
Irene had made Yaz a birthday cake, something she had done for both the Akbar children for as long as they both could remember. At the beginning, it was a secret, a daytime treat while their father was working at the factory, they weren’t sure if Mr Akbar would approve, he having come from a country where only the wealthy celebrated their children’s birthdays. Slowly, over the years, he had come to accept it as something that was part of being in England, and the cake was extremely good.
Later in the day the family stood to sing happy birthday to Yaz, and to watch her blow out her candles with the help of her boys, they said a prayer of thanks for the food, the family and their love. Yaz was about to slice her cake into small portions for the already full stomachs when there was a knock at the door.
“I’ll get it,” said Kahil who was the nearest. He came back into the room not two minutes later, “Irene would you be kind enough to help the children with some more colouring in the kitchen please.”
With the boys out of earshot, and no doubt with Irene just about within, Kahil showed the two police officers into his mother in law’s front room.
“We’d like you to see a doctor so your injuries can be properly recorded,” said the policeman with the moustache, “so that when your case reaches court all the evidence will be in order.”
“I’m not interested in pressing charges or going to court,” said Mo.
“We have enough evidence on the video to pursue it without your cooperation. If you are afraid we can offer you some protection, but the case will have a lot more clout if we have your support. Think about it Mohammed, please think about it. Racially motivated attacks on public transport are on the rise, we need to do something about it, send a message.”
“He’ll think about it,” stepped in Kahil, “please leave us with your details and we will come to the police station on Monday, won’t we?” he looked to Mo, “in the meantime officers please could you leave us, it’s my wife’s birthday and Mo has had a terrible shock.”
After the officers had left Kahil drove his wife and young sons home, before returning to spend the evening with Mo, to speak in depth about what had happened and what he wanted to do next.
“I am a nurse Kahil. I have a career, a good career that I will not be giving up.”
“But, someone has to stand up to the people of this country who think it’s ok to hate all Muslims, to tar us all with the same brush.”
“If you wish to be my spokesman you have my blessing, if you wish to take a stand then by all means do, you have my full support. I am a quiet man that wishes for nothing more than to return the smiles to my poorly children and then send them home. It is my calling. Maybe politics is yours?”
“What about the compensation you’d be entitled to?”
“Give it to a community group, or start your own.”
Kahil paused, his brow furrowed as he pictured the future, one where he had made a difference, one where his community felt like a real collective encompassing one and all. Mo poured them yet another cup of tea before realising it was cold and stewed. He rose to make another while Kahil scribbled notes on his pad, it was very late yet neither man was tired, both minds in a frenzy of possibility.