26th September 2013

26th September 2013
Seven killed in a market place bomb

He is firm, angular, made of subtle planes. A thin beard scribbled on his solid jaw, he rakes it gently with curved fingers when thinking.

He is single, left alone by a woman he loved deeply. For several years he kept his loneliness close, an exclusion zone around his grieving heart. But sun rises, hearts lift to meet it and see the light falling on the turn of a pretty head. With the new season came a sense of awakening, a hope that he may not be after all, forever lost.

His standing posture slips into the curve of a gamer. He sits for hours in the vinyl swivel chair of a local internet shop, winning and losing amongst the twisted black cables and clattering busyness of others. Internally his reactions are strong, emotional. Externally there is only a slow breath out through his nose each time he dies.

This is a holiday.

She is very dark, with a pretty round face, round mouth. She has small hands and feet and a cushioned round body, a toy-like construction that she has used to her advantage when the ruthlessness of her business dealings require subterfuge.

She has a shop, still small but significantly bigger that the shared market stall where she started. She knows what will sell, she warms her customers, nurtures them as a part of her growing business, building day by day.

Her child, a daughter of four. She talks in a constant quiet patter to her inanimate friends. She is shy with other children, leans into her mother’s round thigh in their presence. She sits behind the counter (a happy barrier) contentedly talking with her toys.

Another of her children, a boy just turned six, quiet like his sister but more confident. He wears a hero’s cape of shiny red. His mother made it hurriedly at the end of a long stretch of counting in, counting out, figuring her gains and accounting for her losses. In a bad mood she scantly fulfilled an impatient promise to her son. Since then he has not taken it off. Full of tender love for him, she regrets her resentful haste, wishes she had lavished more care on the making.

An old woman with long white hair tangled freely under a close-wrapped scarf. Eyes slow, as if to shut, she looks sleepy. Her hands move around each other in slow, time-worn choreography.

She has a good sense of humor and delights her great-grandchildren with her sudden animations, awakening bursts of funny observation and sharp remarks. As a young woman she loved to surprise people, to be daringly other than what they expected. The shrieks of glee from the children give her the same pleasure.

A boy of seventeen with ancient beauty, hair lying in ordered curves like a statue of antiquity. Though this is a living beauty, too vivid, too brown to invoke marble.

Once, on a bare field where boys play football, the shadow of a plane crossed the shabby grass, crossed him. He was struck by the ever-living sun, the modern machine, his one short life meeting in a moment as small as a single piece of confetti.


16 August 2013

16 August 2013, Car bomb, 16 killed

Slim and strong, she walks with an exaggerated caution as if trying not to sound a creaking floor. She has lived alone for many years, separate from a husband who she has lost track of, a shiftless father, a selfish man, drifting finally far enough away to be discounted. When her children were young she carried them close to her in mitigation for her own insecurity, caused by the frailty of her marriage. But once the husband’s absence was a certainty she grew in confidence and switched tack, taught her children implacable independence, nurtured in them the ability to nurture themselves.

She has one lingering fear, breast cancer, examining her small breasts nightly, searching for the small, hard mark of betrayal.

A pale young man, lacking the confidence to be ambitious but with the imagination to invent dreams of his success. He has worked hard and carefully, has gained some ground. Internally his dreams of success bubble and grow, move like lava. Externally a solid wall of quiet revolved slowly around him, shielding his dreams from the cooling air of reality.

Her clothes are too large, comfy, her small body nests within the disparate selection of gathered items. Patterns never meant to be formally introduced jumble uneasily in each other’s company.

I am old, she thinks, with a sense of wonder rather than regret. All of her life her thoughts have been dusted with this wonder at being here at all, head in space, feet on the ground.

He loves a girl, she loves him in return. He wants to marry her, to carry her across rivers and build walls to protect her. He wants the world to end if he can’t share it with her. And though she feels the same (she wants to build protecting walls around him, protect him from wolves) he can’t cross the turbulent river of his own doubt and ask her.

He is young, nineteen years old. In the dark of evening he sits on a wall in front of his house, a pale spill of light borrowed from a window, falls weakly on his back. He looks down at his night-shadow, tries to coach himself in the courage he needs to ask for her hand.

In the evening when the sunlight scoops long shadows he steps out of his neat house, picks up a large galvanized watering can and tends to his plants – all exaggerated, elaborate flowers of highly bred cultivars. He talks to his wife through the door as she either prepares or clears a meal, or sits at the kitchen table with lists and bills. He tells her how the plants are doing in some laborious detail; she appears bored or indifferent but cherishes this time, and the knowledge that he wants her to be part of the things he loves.

Nobly kneed, skinny legged, when not racing his posture is tensed as though for entering cold sea, fingers star-fished at his side, the two small knots of his shoulders raised. A slight boy constantly agitated by anticipation and excitement. He exhausts himself and his mother every day. Every night he sleepwalks to the verge of her bed and they lie side by side in deep slumber until he wakes them with the dawn, a sudden burst of energy at odds with the slowly waking day.

She walks with a stick, one heavy leg full, swollen with ancient disease. When she stops to rest or chat she leans, one hand on the stick, the fingers of her other hand resting lightly on top as if to steady the load.

On her grandchildren’s visits, they squeeze oranges for juice, then gleefully spin the empty peel bowls on the table top. The game is that if one falls to the floor she makes a stagy labour of trying and failing to pick it up, with much huffing and blowing until the grandchildren pretend to notice her difficulty and dive down ‘just in time’ to be the one to save her efforts.

She drives a car that is as untidy on the inside as it is battered on the outside. She carries a bag that even she regrets having to search too deeply. She is busy, devoted, capable and harried, retreating from a hectic life to bed linen of the highest quality and obsessive care; dense cotton, a pristine, ironed surface, soft and smooth as a petal.

His world is too small, his resources too meagre, his courage low and pragmatism high. His female self exists only in his imagination and in the lingering touch of his hand passing over certain fabrics.

Once, this girl collected fallen leaves and arranged them chromatically, a blended snake, a necklace for her neighborhood, each leaf held in its infinitesimal colour ranking by a small stone. She ranks colours, counts chimney pots, cups flowers in her two hands, journeys into the miniature world of pollen brigades and the taut, pale towers of stamens.

He sits outside his house on a stout chair, legs open as if guarding a large box with the bracket of his knees. He is a man of sixty-seven, he has a loud voice and startled eyes in a sack-cloth face. He booms exhortations of a playful nature at passing children, terrifying the living daylights out of them. He is a great player of games, especially cribbage and rummy. He thinks that nothing invented by man will rival the beauty of the steam locomotives, seeing an engine whose valiant power is expressed in every aspect of its design.

He moves in curves, fluid but slightly ungainly as if made of animated pipe cleaners. His clothes, in snuggly fitting his narrow torso, are always too short for his long arms and legs. He has long, dark eyelashes, a nice smile. He is funny, a teller of tales, the pilot light for his friends merrymaking. He rides a large bicycle, a strip of brown back always showing as he bends forwards over the handle bars, a trailing shoelace flirting dangerously with the chain.

She is compact, solid, long wavy hair streaming behind her ferocious directions. She yells, she punches, tougher than all the boys. Her uncle has a bruise from when she ran to him, grabbed him round the knees in a joyful fighting hug of greeting and let fly a right hook to the outside of his thigh. He laughed to cover how much it hurt.

She tries to fill a space with action and movement, ricocheting noise into the gaps that her motion cannot fill. She doesn’t yet read or write very well but can climb trees like a leopard. The only time she is quiet is when she is in a glowering sulk, sitting on an unreachable branch of a tree.

He was a beautiful boy who became a chubby, ill-defined man, his features and his habits pettish. He is vain, fusses over his plain wardrobe and high-street style, dabbing at himself.

He takes two weeks off work every year to visit and care for his parents and an aunt who lives near them, filling his clean, unremarkable beige car with two beige suitcases of pressed clothes and a number of gifts – replacements, items of use and value to his older relatives. He feels a sense of cheerful purpose and of satisfaction in this care, glad to return that which was given to him so abundantly as a beloved boy. He replaces panes of glass, changes plugs, buys ornamental shrubs, planting them inexpertly, sweeps yards and re-ties boiler lagging. In the evening he plays backgammon with his mother.

She is a middle-aged woman, her face has deep lines, a square determined jaw and a bulwark forehead. Her voice rasps, sent deep into her chest by years of smoking. She wears bright colours, conscious of her age but not forsaking the gaiety of her youth. Her hair is short and dyed a brutal brown.

She was a dancer in clubs and shows for a few flamingo years, her bright personality and beautiful movement at home in the glamour of after-show parties and night clubs. On falling pregnant at the thin end of a relationship she gave it up for babies and the minimum wage. The relationship thickened into a durable, unromantic marriage, life ticked over happily enough. She is still a wonderful dancer, surprising people, abandoned and thrilling to watch, when the rare occasion arises.

A boy of twelve learning by rote the disdainful swagger of his older peers. He wears a baseball cap, practices not saying hello, shoves a hand into his front jeans pocket if asked to help with meals at home and will only do it with one hand and a look of boredom that would be dismay if it could be bothered. His mother feels smiling tenderness for her son, wisely expressing it only to his back.

He affects disdain for his younger brother but cannot keep it up, reverting gratefully to well worn strategies of play, carefree in a back garden happily not overseen, he feels, by the mysterious arbiters of cool that draw him in so successfully when away from his home.

19 July 2013

19 July 2013,  Four protesters killed, shot by security forces

A young man, lean and burnished, shiny black hair, bright eyes. He rides a battered beige scooter, most often giving one of three younger sisters a lift. From a number of unofficial jobs, he is saving slowly (what is left from buying the petrol that gets his sisters to their destinations) to buy a car and become an official, paid taxi driver.

He is learning a little of how a car engine works by helping out at a repair shop, but spends most of his time there finding metal objects and scraping them back to their raw state. His sisters all keep pencils and hair bands in plain silver tins. In the back yard are more elaborate and less functional items, rendered sculptural, naked metal, under his patient attention. He is troubled by his desire to create this pointless beauty, a path that seems to him to be devoid of the opportunity to prosper yet a path he is unwilling to leave. He is about to take apart his beige scooter and strip it back to the metal.

She is fifty-two years old, has short hair, a broad face that looks like it has spent time smiling in the sun. She talks little and listens a great deal, with focused attention that hooks and draws out words and feelings, a patient fly fisher of stories that live in river-deeps.

She has great intelligence. Her action in the world is contained, low impact. Her quiet demeanour and tendency to listen rather than to speak obscure to the casual observer what is a profound desire for change, a ferocious political heart.

Reverting to a younger self, she holds her mother’s hand. She is downy, soft, her face seems drawn tenderly in smudged charcoal.  There is a mole on her jaw, a black button, a point of definition in the cloudy softness of her face.

She is easily at home in the busy streets, but today she lets herself be guided by a peripheral reading of her mother’s assured movements negotiating the flock conflicts of a chaotic street, her own mind free in imaginary nowhere fields of calm.

A tall man, large-framed. He has a natural expression of childlike perplexity. In combination with his handsome face and strong, slightly awkward body, this makes him very attractive. Happily, although he is not in the least perplexed and is rarely uncertain about anything, he is caring and considerate. Whilst he does not understand the attraction he inspires in many, he is always grateful, and kindness is so engrained that it has never occurred to him that it is a choice. Kindness is a consequence of being, like taking breath.

9 July 2013

9 July 2013, Roadside bomb, 17 killed

Pear-shapes, snub nosed, blunt and soft. She wears plain and sensible clothes in inoffensive ice cream colours over her short legs and long body. She has a pretty gold coloured watch. She loves landscapes and views, her children tease her for the way that even seeing a mediocre vista, she puts her hand on her chest and says “oh, just look at that” as if a few dusty hills present waterfalls sweeping through jungle chasms at the foot of majestic mountains. She is not a hardy traveller, so at home she has covered a wall with carefully stuck pictures, postcards and magazine pages; a million tiny windows to gaze on the beauty of the world.

She sits quietly with her head on one hand, the other hand pernicking at the edge of her scarf. Her gaze is distant, unfocused, slightly troubled, and enduring. If you watch long enough, you catch an occasional smile, as fleet and gentle as the landing of a falling leaf in summer.

She is thinking about a boy; she loves him. She is thinking long and slowly of impossibilities, caught in the paths that twist ever further into the difficult terrain that surrounds her love for him. The smile that lands so briefly, is when she remembers one moment that shyly, he smiled at her.

She has a reputation for fierceness, she packs a punch, stands up to anyone and keeps standing. She can’t pass an injustice without her sense of outrage compelling her to involvement and action. She is a campaigner of small things, an upholder of neighborhood rights.

Her feet hurt, she fights the day and at night, takes off her shoes and rubs her sore feet. Sometimes her husband rubs them for her.

He has bad skin, dark eyes and bristle-up hair. He is ardently lazy. But it is only laziness from without. He feels full of the world when unencumbered, a tangible soul-filled pleasure of being taken over, by nothing. He wants to lie on some grass, on his back, and let the nothing he is doing take over. It is laziness for some but for him it is an expression of his soul.

She plucks her eyebrows to a fine arch, an arch of haughty splendor, of a queen in procession. Her answering look to most events is one of regal disappointment. She thinks rather well of herself and rather little of others. But this is armor, built since childhood around a tender heart that was too quickly taught the perils of trust.

A formal, reserved man, always polite and ordered by an old-fashioned courtesy. His life has been carefully administered and runs on smooth tracks, not fast, not grand but caring and kind.

Sometimes he and his wife will dance together in their house, re-enacting the formal courtesies of courtship. A postcard sent from their youth. They are solemn, romantic, but laugh gently at their creaking knees, wrinkled hands resting in imitation of uncertainty on thickened waists.

Two years old, sweet smile and fat feet. She is shy and curious. She holds out her little dress by the hem so that she can look down at the pattern.

A fat and disheveled man in a faded blue shirt. He has an excessive habit of laughter which, seeming to start as something that should be avoided, is terribly contagious. Many things make him laugh and it always starts with a look of trying to suppress what is about to happen, like a naughty boy in front of the teacher. But the banks always burst and a loud, uproarious and joyful laugh sweeps everyone into the stream of enjoyment.

His wife loves him, enjoys him and his belly-shaking laughter. But she wishes he would not stick and waggle his little finger in his ear when he is reading the paper.

Small. very skinny, twenty years old. Flamingo legs folded around each other, stick arms with hands that drop off the end as if tendon-less. She squints curiously across the world, has not yet realized she needs glasses. She tips her bird-like skull, delicate and fragile, this and that way to catch the sight and sound of life.

In the evening she sits in her bedroom with the window open and catches the rose-gold of evening sun on her face, bony knees clasped in an angular embrace, seated on the end of her narrow bed. Absorbing the world for once as a whole, rather than as a series of mayfly details.

Happiest in fifteen morning minutes between waking and getting up and out to work, he lies in bed on his side, elbow propping up his large head, his other hand resting gently on his wife’s hip and they talk about the day ahead, the days gone, the children, the plans they have made, the ways they will adapt and adjust. They have made these changing plans in detail over the years and see them out piece by piece as their means allow. Small, satisfying gains paving a road ahead for them all.

His son. He has the beginnings of his father’s solid masculine frame, still athletically agile in his younger form but promising the same powerful shoulders, strong arms that will cover with thick black hair, strong hands made for work.

Under his t-shirt he wears a silver chain with a drop shaped medal that he found in the street. He believes it will spill magic for him one day. He found it in a dusty corner at a precise moment of fervent hoping, a dull glint, a silver promise.

She spends too many hours with a phone screen trapping her gaze. She spends too many hours reframing her life to report and relay in small snatches. She takes a photo of every group she is with, almost of everything she eats. She is as interested in the lives she reads as she is in her own.

As a girls, she lost herself the same way between the covers of a book. Now she sees the world as captioned pictures, she hasn’t read a book for five years.

As a nine year old child she went on a long, clandestine, meandering walk. She happened to find a dying lamb in an isolated spot. She sat next to it, without touching or holding, without knowing what else to do but to sit and keep company, to be there with the lamb. She sat completely quiet for what turned out to be more than eleven hours, not returning home until the stillness of the day was outdone by the stillness of the lamb. When she returned past the dark of dusk, she was flayed by the fear and anger of her parents, fear and anger made worse by her inability to give a reason for where she had been for so long.

Now as a grown woman she believes the silent vigil formed her in some way. She feels closer to the lamb than any other living creature. She has still not told anyone.

She has a lazy, sensuous carriage, a slow smile; a warm woman, trailed by the warmth of many admirers. Streamers of admiration fan out unnoticed behind her.

She tries to bake cakes but does not ever do it well, usually ending up absent-mindedly spooning icing into her mouth, gazing across the kitchen above the remains of a burnt or misshapen sponge base cooling unhelpfully on the kitchen table. Undaunted by failure, she makes cakes for all occasions, for all friends and loved ones and this dogged determination makes them always welcome additions to special feasts and meals.

She is an excellent mender, thrifty, clever. A problem-solving economy of mind and purpose. She is this way from need and because she loves to repair, to solve, to redeem. To better something. She has a big nose, thin hair and bright hazel eyes. She has a beautiful voice and hands you want to watch as they deftly pick through, pick up and repair the world.

A languorous, sulky girl of twelve, sullen and cross; she simply cannot believe the inadequacy of her parents. She can hardly be bothered to speak to her mother. In truth, she loves her mother with a depth that would have lasted many times more than the short twelve years she has had. But she is moody with the early summer storm of her age. Prickly, tetchy, lazy with the unexpected heat.

A boy of nineteen who has the grace of a true athlete, an eye, an arc that understands speed and space. He throws, catches, runs, races and always seems to glide, a fin that cuts through time and space, a bird’s wing.

He has the prowess of Achilles and the gentle grace of all his seven siblings, raised in harmony and careful love by a widowed mother and her two indefatigable stanchion sisters.

26 June 2013

26 June 2013, Remote control bomb, 7 killed

A barreling small woman with piled up grey hair in an old-fashioned coif. She wears shiny black shoes on tiny feet, a flowing and colourful scarf. In fear of robbery, she clutches a black handbag, old and flat, under her arm, held tight by pudgy fingers brightened with a few gold rings.

She is a widow, conscious of that status and of the status conferred by the wealth made during her dead husband’s successful business career. She feeds stray cats in her back garden, taking out pretty, cheap ceramic bowls of left-overs and cat food. She talks to the cats, when they are not there, as she is putting out food, and talks to them through the window if they come to eat. She won’t have animals in her expensive silent house.

A tall and narrow man with abundant grey hair and a high forehead. He works sideways and unimportantly in a small office, just enough to get paid and to remain unnoticed. He has a comfortable marriage, built on love but undertaken in much the same manner as his job. Both parties are happy enough in companionship and a home life where love has stopped being the story and instead is a distant, stable context for that which does excite their interest.

He is collating a huge amount of detailed research to eventually write a history of his home town. He chases contacts and new stories, photos and memories via social media, constantly high on the expectation of new seams of gem-quality information. The beginnings of his own words, the setting for the gems, written in anxious hand in fat black notebooks. Three empty ones, one with seven pages of writing.

The working day as a scaffolder is punctuated by songs sung in loops and snatches. He is a desperately proud and loving father of a two year old boy. He loves his son and wife with a fervor that is so animating and absorbing of his whole being that he sometimes feels the need to walk it off.

Amongst competing financial claims he has saved enough for a holiday at a place where his wife made happy childhood memories. He has been trying to decide for two weeks whether to make all the necessary arrangements and then offer it as a surprise, or to sidestep the possibility that she feels diminished by being organized in this way. If he tells her beforehand, he knows he will have to persuade her that the money spent on something she really wants cannot be counted as wasted, and he is not certain he will be able to do this, so he delays.

She is a bound woman, her hands pulled into her diaphragm, right hand over left wrist. She finishes her quickly delivered sentences by trailing off the words into a series of small and fast nods, eyes fluttering down like shutters as if to say she is no longer here, no longer demands presumptuous attention from the person to whom she is speaking. She assumes that she is irrelevant. If she could live with the mice in the skirting board she might well give it a try.

Barren barren barren is the bell toll that haunts her unhappy mind.

She has eyes of river green, dark, turbid, arresting. They are flecked with light, willow leaves floating on the surface.

Soft hair on a twelve year old head, the nap pushed into improbable free-style licks. He has large top teeth, always slightly showing what ever he does with his mouth. What he usually does with his mouth is chat. He walks with a lope like Krazy Kat, chattering in the still-high voice of a boy. Every so often he pauses for a small moment, head on one side, teeth on his bottom lip, then resumes his joy-filled commentary.

A twenty-four year old man with a prominent adam’s apple and a curly, mobile mouth. His hair sticks up, partly by nature, partly artifice.

He has a battered accordion inherited from his grandfather’s attic. He can’t play and in theory at least, wants to learn. He can remember the squeezed music from his history, the sightless competence of his grandfather’s large hands. He has placed the cumbersome object in the corner of a room where for the last 18 months it has looked at him sulkily, claimed his attention. In mental response, he counter-claims that as soon as he knows how to repair a tiny tear in the fabric of the concertina bellows, he will learn to play.

She takes a hurried trip across town to meet an old friend, a friend who has known her from a time that predates her hospital life. In this tiny break, she wants to see a part of the world that is distant and different, carefree. A quick coffee with a beloved friend who has returned briefly to visit aged parents will do that. All told, a break of nearly two hours. Then anxious return to her precious child, a child who was born in translucent frailty, all the feebleness of her innermost body somehow visible through her pale skin and huge, tarmac-dark eyes,

21 June 2013

21 June 2013, Suicide bomb, 14 killed

He is usually dressed in comfortable, durable workwear, tanned by sunshine and work outdoors. He has thick black hair and eyes fanned by lines. A face that is crinkled from laughter. He makes many jokes, bends forward at the waist for emphasis at the punch line then rocks back, throws himself and his head backwards into hearty laughter.

Recently he has renewed and repaired his relationship with a grown son, both always connected by love but become perilously distant with misunderstandings; the misunderstandings of two men whose caring became oppressive.

A man in his 30’s with thin, longish hair, receding a little. He is quiet, with the habit of nodding sagely at what people say in lieu of a response. He lives in a small flat, found serviceable and utilitarian, remaining baldly just so many years into his habitation. He eats standing up at the kitchen counter, food on plastic trays made slightly limp in the microwave.

He works on the roads, recently a small part of building a viaduct that strung taut and agile between distant steep hills. He felt a beautiful, angelic calm, a deepening of breath on that ribbon of slender grey, beguiled by the enormity of the space that fell away around his feet.

Always well made up and decorated, she is a lively, succesful woman of 32, slim, with curly black hair and colourful clothes. She talks quickly, gets animated and looks confusingly, quite alarmed in her animation. She is a jeweler.

She stores things for later, as memory, drawing or photograph. She carries a busy, stuffed notebook, furnishing ideas from all quarters, stuffing in papers that have pleasing colour, designs with interesting combinations of shape.

In the same way, she stores a small collection of gem stones, scrap-like nuggets of gold, remainders of commissioned pieces in a small metal box. She calls it her tinder box, not to be touched unless after some future disaster when her resources are unaccountably gone, she can use her tinder box to re-strike her fortunes.

This lady is three weeks from her seventieth birthday. Her husband has bought her a silk scarf, already wrapped. She has a square, short body, wears pale, floral fabrics. She bakes her own bread, insists on the soothing routine of kneading, the small pleasure of waiting for it to rise. She started baking as a distraction after the death of her 24 year old daughter. Sometimes still, she goes into an absence, subsumed by loss. And still, her husband, when he is present, comes to stand at her side, patting her hand most gently, knowing where she is lost. He has been guiding her back, his warm palm on the back of her hand, for twenty-one years.

He is a fashionable man, tall and well made. He tries not to walk with the stick that he needs since he damaged his leg in a car accident. He has sad eyes and a beautiful smile, eyebrows that look like small black caterpillars. He is still trying to unravel the way that his pronounced limp makes him feel lessened. He is still learning how to realign his view of himself.

His great satisfaction is in building things in his home, proud of the made-ness of what he makes. He works in a business that supplies office equipment to other businesses.

She is a girl of eight, warm with puppy fat and pretty tops. She likes to eat tea cakes, picking off the chocolate first with tiny nibbles. She eats all delightful treats this way so that they last and last. A life so simple and so sure that a sweet and pretty cake is about the greatest joy she can imagine.

A bumbling, fat young man, clumsy, large waist, disastrous jeans. The only time he feels himself not forced into fettered retreat is when confronted by frailty in another. The frailty of the sick, children, the elderly, creates a vacuum before him that pulls him inexorably, almost extatically in toward them where he shares his compassion for them, for himself and for all the lost and sad people in the world.

His face is round like a coin, with bright hair standing up around the crown of his head as if to emphasise the cheery circle of his face. He wears a red t-shirt with two white hoops round each sleeve. He is not yet fully grown into a large man.

He walks lightly on big feet, is good at sport, dreams of being a fantasy soldier hero and is aiming to become an engineer.

His friend, a thin young man, wirily muscular. His head sits forward on his body. He seems to have a closed face with eyes that are still and flat, the colour of tiger-eye stone. An inscrutable, slow, animal eye like an alligator. But he is a tender hearted boy, a generous friend, loving son. He skates wherever there is a flat surface and whenever he has his board. He can whistle the songs of seven different birds.

This girl too has a round face, she is the sister of the boy in red. The roundness is doll-like on her child’s frame. She has crinkly, cinnamon hair. Now aged twelve, she is too self conscious to still carry around Tiggy, her toy dog, soft worn with age, soft worn with ten years of constant companionship. But some days, like today, she puts him in the bottom of a bag with an unnecessary jumper thrown in over the top.

She scoops hair back behind neat ears, constrains stray wisps under a scarf. She does this more than is necessary for the hiding or neatening of her hair, and as often as is necessary to give measure to the speaking she finds awkward. She is learning languages, is fascinated by their patterns and what is revealed of thought within these different patterns. She is never halted in speech by uncertainty or lack in a new tongue, only by a cautious unwillingness to bridge the gap between her internal and external self. It is a path she treads with careful measure and stalling gesture.

An exuberant man, wind and sun-battered, pell-mell chasing his freedom in the outdoor world. Whenever possible he is outside, blown by wind, caught by rain and sun, quantifying himself in the geography of the unmade world.

Gentle old man, a great grand-father, his white hair as thistle-down soft as the kind air around him. He would define himself as happy, the kind of happiness that exists as a deep and satisfying contentment. He has lived fully and well, with integrity and honesty.

He is only fierce when playing cards and only dissatisfied when remembering one betrayal, his own, of a fragile woman who he learned he could never love and abandoned for someone else. All other things have been righted over time but with such a problem as this, he has always felt keenly that he hurt and never put right that hurt. She died, and any way, how does a man un-break a heart that he cannot love?

A short, robust woman dressed in plum-dark colours. She has a bad temper, quarrels often with neighbors, fights ferociously with her husband, falls out with her sisters and argues repetitively and maddeningly with her three daughters.

She gains respite from her battle-weary life by looking at old magazines and sighing heavily over the world as it cannot be. But her heart is a treasure chest rich with love and pride. She adores and admires her family, cannot believe the luck of being married to a handsome man whom she loves so much and is sure that all who see her know that a woman so blessed is a woman to envy.

15th June 2013

15 June 2013, Female student-bus bomb, 14 killed

Thin arms make a barrier across her front. She is watchful, shy, curved away from the world. Her arms cross the gap where her body would have been.

She writes long letters to a friend who moved to another city, her life’s main confident.  They both intend to become writers, they both have only told each other this.

Her passions are made robust and ruddy, exercised in the stories she writes. She spends resolute hours either writing furiously or gazing speculatively at a wall, the end of her cheap biro winnowing through her hair, a gentle and soothing summoning of ideas.

Everyday for lunch, she sits at an outdoor table, eats a yogurt and a tangerine. Slowly and methodically, without intention, she repeats the same ritual each day. With a slight frown, at the end of each meal she looks at the peel, the pot the spoon, as if searching for evidence of her joyless undertaking to become more fit, more slim, more attractive.  Like many women, she is a poor judge of how she is seen.

All parts of the day that are not mealtimes are unburdened by self-scrutiny. In a white lab coat, she is vivid: she won’t have the life to learn how attractive this makes her. She has great intellectual curiosity, shambolic but effective study and assimilation of all that she is given. What is more, she responds with great creativity to everything she learns. A mind that would have gone on to challenge many blocks and create many beguiling connections, a mind that would have produced breakthroughs and solutions and new strategies.

She is slender as birch, neat and calm. She laughs a lot, shyly, with one hand brought up to her face. Her slim frame is always hitched to an enormous bag that contains many things that are only useful on the rarest of occasions.

Every evening she visits her grandmother – she is the only person to still spends time at her bedside. Her grandmother has a mind as quick as a sparrow and a body stuck in a bed. A solid cage. Her granddaughter comes in the fading light to open the cage door, reading her extracts from the books she has always loved. A chance to remember when she could fly.

She is sullen, boyish, restless, impatient for life to begin. Up to now it has felt like she exists in an anteroom. She feels constrained by the expectations of her family, tethered to a daughter that she is not. But what she wants is not grand and would in truth not shock her parents, or even disappoint them. What she wants is the freedom to leave the harbor of childhood for the wide seas of adulthood.

Sitting quietly looking out of the window, she examines complex plans for her mother’s surprise 50th birthday party. She has sourced spare tables and chairs, borrowed freezer space from her mother’s complicit friends, contacted and re-contacted distant guests for assurance of their attendance. She has overseen her younger brother and sister in the making of yards of paper bunting, and her young nieces in making felt pen place names for the table. She thinks of that table with joy, the flowers, the faces, the love and appreciation it will manifest. The perfect gift.

She waits anxiously for an email from her uncle, her mother’s distant and rarely seen younger brother. They have clubbed together for his fare and the final piece of her gift is to know that he has secured time off work and his place at the table will be filled.

There is a hole in the elbow of her jumper. Her blue and white blouse bubbles through because the jumper is too small, shrunk in the wash. She has others without holes, could replace it but doesn’t think to. She does chose the colours, today dressed in blue and white, but doesn’t notice the state. She carries her many books in an old leather satchel unearthed with great joy at a flea market. Her joy is in an old-fashioned notion of the academic life. Straight-laced, serious and prim.

Beneath this lies a vixen snap of competitiveness. She relishes every instance of bettering her classmates, of doing the best piece of work, of having her cleverness recognized. Studying is her joy, and secretly, her thunder.

This young woman is in the midst of an unhappy reassessment of life. She has had a hard and shiny certainty about the world throughout childhood but certainty has fled and the reasons are hard for her to understand. It s commonplace enough. She is pretty, spoilt and selfish, the small compliant ship of childhood was tillered to her whims. Her cruelties were forgiven and her wants treated as needs.

Now, in a less adoring world, the friends who would school her through difficult new times have been pushed away by harsh flicks of spite. She is miserable, appalled by her sudden loss of power. She has love and kindness in her soul but they are etiolated, slender shoots, unused to the wind and rain of harsh times.

She has a broad, honest face, horizontal cheek bones, prominent teeth and a full mouth, often smiling.

She is enthusiastic and curious, the first person picked for a team that needs to galvanize. She studies law, grasps the concepts and the details with ease. She listens to soul. When she was a child she had pet mice. Once she made sleeping bags for them from an old tea towel. If she could do anything she wanted, she would be a helicopter pilot.

With a flick, a glance, a flare of presence, she skips and slides from circumstance to adventure to fresh start to epic tale. Because she is not scared to fail even when far from confident of success, things happen in a way that give her vivid colour.

She has a sketch book in her bag full of beautiful drawings, these last few months, all birds, common and precious, observed in a small park near her home.

A mother and grandmother before her have modeled this held posture, elbows crimped to waist, mouth formed in a smile that comes form the muscles rather than the heart.  But a smile that displays willingness to be friendly. She is a good person, simple, loving, kind. She is anxious about change, often over-worried about small things but stoic and generous. She cherishes her family, longs for her own children and loves a young man she has known most of her life.

Betrayed in love she feels the burn of her disappointment. Her heart is intact but she wants revenge for her humiliation. Undeliverable scenarios fly through her imagination, get rewound for a refinement and edited for more exquisite effectiveness. The fact that her heart is not broken does not yet mitigate for the sense of embarrassment that she had believed she was in love. More importantly she had believed she was loved.

Next to her sits her patient friend, generous in her willingness to discuss hour by hour her hurt and annoyance. Generous too in not reminding her that this romance was always bound to be feeble and that it was an act of imaginative will to concocted a story worthy of such distress. She sits, one leg folded over the other, one hand folded over the other, nods and shakes her head and says ‘I know’ turning toward her anguished friend with a practiced yet genuine look of concern faintly scribbled on her brow.

This is a woman who lives through her friendships, as a buoy, an anchor, a tugboat. They take her for granted but are only following her lead. She determinedly skirts the main action in a supporting role, self-effacing, durable and kind.

A life pressed into a brittle, lumpen shape by loss and abuse, wrought by determination into a new material, malleable, ready to be shaped by her own hands, bright with the optimism of self-determination and fresh starts.

She is resolute, spare, honest. She has short hair, dark eyes, strength of purpose. She wears a gold chain wrapped several times round her slim wrist, she picks up and drops the loops, feeling the ripple of cool metal as it falls against the inside of her arm.

She plans for a life of use, a life dedicated to the help of others, lifting the heads of the downtrodden, righting the wrongs of fate and war. Most people know her by the gentle goodness of her heart. But they do not know that underlying this is a burnished and durable tenacity that would have made her plans a rock-like reality. A lighthouse.