by Hadeel Elwilid, aged 13 years, Chandlers Ford, Hampshire
“You’re lucky, you know.” His phrase was short but had a huge impact on me. It’s strange that just four, short words could have so many thoughts running through my mind.
“What d’you mean?” I ask.
His dark eyes continued to stare at me as he said: “Well, young lady, take a seat here and I’ll tell you.”
The seats were horrible; their seams were coming apart and the cheap sponge was getting worn down.
“I remember when I was around your age, 14 I think. We couldn’t get out of the house safely. We needed to get some food; we had to creep out to the shop dedicated to us. It was horrible to say the least. You’d walk in there and wouldn’t even get a choice of what to eat.”
“Just let me continue. There were just tins. Baked beans, tinned sausages that was about it. We only had about 10 minutes in there to pile up as many tins as we could.”
“That’s horrible.” I was in shock. I thought what we were going through now was bad.
“Then the worst bit came, we went over to pay and the white person behind the counter shoved the tins across the conveyer belt, breaking and damaging the tins as they went along. When mother tried to pay, he’d say we didn’t have enough, despite the fact that we’d carefully calculated the price before we got there. One thing I left with after that day was an urge:
An urge to do something.
Something about this discrimination.
I wasn’t sure what.
But I would do something.
Even if it meant that I would never return.”
As he finished what he was saying, tears were streaming down his face. I didn’t know what to say. Throughout his life, dad had always said to me ‘You haven’t gotten it half as bad as we had it’ but he had never explained what he meant. For the first time in my life, I was lost for words.
“Wow, that’s terrible.” I finally said when I managed to get some words out of my mouth.
“Yes, it is. But it’s not like it’s getting any better. People believe that they are superior to others because of race, they believe that they rightfully belong to a country.”
He’s right but I don’t want to admit it.
“Who are you travelling with tonight?” He enquires.
“My mum.” I don’t want to tell him why I’m only travelling with her or why we’re going away but I can tell that he is going to find out soon.
For the first time since I got on the train, I look around me. I can relate the injustice this man was to talking about to my current surroundings. If we were on a white train, you wouldn’t see litter or rubbish all over the floor. There certainly wouldn’t be smashed glass or broken windows. Chairs would be cleaned and repaired; not left dirty or sewn up by unfortunate passengers who couldn’t physically sit down on the chairs. But because we’re “coloured” we don’t get these privileges. We just get a worndown carriage which most of us can’t even afford to get on.
“Young people like you interest me.” He says, out of the blue.
“Sorry, I don’t understand what you mean.” I reply politely.
“I just like to see how your minds work, what you think of the way we’ve been living, whether you’ve actually reached a realization to how we are equal to everyone and how we shouldn’t be treated like this.”
I pause and take a moment to think about my reply. “Yes. I have.”
Surprisingly, I really mean it. All through my life, I have been trying to ignore it, to avoid it hoping it was just a storm that would clear away. However, it doesn’t look like it is ever going to disappear from peoples’ minds.
After a long silence, he asks: “May I ask, where is your father?” Such a short question has such a quick and dramatic impact on me. Tears flow down my face like a wave crashing onto the shore.
When I don’t reply immediately, he turns to face me.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise that I would upset you. You don’t have to reply.”
I feel like he deserves an explanation.
“It’s fine. You’ll find out some time soon anyway. Have you heard of Mark Williams?” I ask, half of me hoping that he doesn’t know him, the other half hoping he does so that I can finish this conversation quickly.
“Yes, yes I have. Isn’t he the person who supposedly stole from that white guy; I’ve forgotten his name?”
He has a very good memory for an old man.
“Yes, well, he’s my dad.”
The expression on his face changes dramatically. To begin with, he had looked very confused but, now he looked traumatized to say the least.
“He never stole a thing!” I scream tears suddenly streaming down my face; I’ve never felt this upset before, never felt so connected to my long-gone dad.
“I understand, don’t worry about it. The same happened with my cousin; they thought he’d stolen something, didn’t even take it to court or look at the evidence, they just shot him dead.”
I get this man. I’ve only known him for 30 minutes but I feel such a weird connection to him, like I knew him before this or something. He can relate to everything I’ve struggled with; the inequality, the grief. My mind is saying that this is purely because of our racial backgrounds, but my heart is saying something else; something that I don’t currently understand.
“What makes it a million times worse is that the only reason they get “put down” as they call it is because of the fact that the person who lost something is white…”
“And they happened to be the nearest black person to the crime scene.” He interrupts me. Usually, this would get on my nerves; I hate it when people interrupt me (something I get from my dad) but, for once, I don’t care.
“We need to make a move, re-write these rules. But we need to be united, together as one.”
And, with that we set off gathering the people of this “coloured” train. As soon as we reach our stop, we have forgotten all our worries, the reasons why we got on this train to begin with. We no longer want to run away from our worries. We have decided that we will speak up, whatever the cost.
As we step off the platform, I feel strong and proud. My dad risked his life trying to fight for equality and, if that’s what it takes, then so will I. As the wind rustles through my thick, dark hair, the very tall and smart man approaches me. Staring at me with his pale eyes he began to tell me his story.
I remembered what he had said “You’re lucky, you know.”
One thing I left with after that night was an urge.
An urge to do something.
Something about this discrimination.
I’m not sure what.
But I will do something.
Even if it means that I will never return.