The burning path

I’ve been tinkering away on this for a long while now and have decided its probably as finished as its ever going to be. I would like to submit it to some competitions so any  feedback is appreciated.

“Come on, out you get,” said a voice as torchlight spilled beneath the trailer. Khalid looked across at Amal, his bodyshape wedged in the gutts of the lorry.

“Move, then,” he muttered.

They dragged their bodies across the greasy tarmac to find the guards waiting beneath a floodlight, caps casting shadows across their faces. 

“I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” said one of them, jabbing Khalid in the stomach with a baton. Meanwhile, Amal squirmed nervously next to him. “What’s the matter?” said the guard, shifting his attention. “Thought we’d let you off?” The baton thudded against Amal’s ear with a muted slap. Another blow landed on his shoulder and he cried out. He lifted his arms up and the guard kicked him in the leg. Amal staggered, but stayed upright. That’s something, thought Khalid.

The guards marched them away from the quayside, past the line of lorries until they were outside the main gates. Khalid looked back and caught sight of the cranes and their blinking lights towering above the dock. They used to seem a lot brighter, thought Khalid.

“I want to go home,” mumbled Amal, dabbing at a bloody nose with his sleeve. Then his little body began to shake as the tears came.

“Well, you can’t,” replied Khalid. “You know what happens if you do.”

Amal sniffed hard and looked about, defiantly. “Where are we going then?” They started down the road towards the seafront, past groups of people huddled on the parched bank, eyeing up vehicles. Khalid looked for a familiar face, but their gazes travelled through him, seeking out a rattling lock or a nod from a sympathetic driver. Then a voice called. Khalid looked and saw Fadel squatted over a tree root. A cigarette burned between his fingers.

“When did you get back?”

“Yesterday.”

“What’s with the hair?”

Khalid shrugged. “People look different over there.”

“Who you with?”

“My brother, Amal.” Amal wiped furiously at his eyes.

“This is Hasan,” said Fadel, tilting his head to a scrawny kid in a grey tracksuit next to him. “He’s from my village.” Fadel passed round the cigarette and Khalid took it, observing the smouldering end like it was the tip of a sharp knife. “You’re supposed to smoke it.” Khalid pretended to inhale before passing it back. “What did you do there?” asked Fadel, smoke drizzling from his mouth.

“Farmwork, mostly. Sold some things.”

Hasan leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “You should have done what my brother did and marry a Spanish woman, then you can get any job you want.”

“No, you can’t,” replied Khalid.

“I’m telling you. When we make it, you can come and stay with us. He’ll get us jobs.”

“Where does he live?”

“Madrid, I think.”

“How will you find him?”

Hasan stared back, resolutely. “God willing.”

“What about you, Khalid?” asked Fadel.

“I had an apartment for a while.”

Hasan nodded, eagerly. “I want a penthouse. And a garage for all my cars.”

Fadel flicked the butt to the ground and smiled. “I can live with that.”

The chatter of voices and ringing cutlery was the first thing to hit Khalid as they arrived on the promenade. The smells reached him soon afterwards and pangs of hunger jabbed at his stomach.

“You shouldn’t smoke,” said Amal, frowning.

“So?”

“Mum wouldn’t like it.”

“She’s not here, is she? So, you remember what I told you? If you forget what to say, just hold out your hands, like this.” Khalid made a bowl shape and Amal copied him. They were about to approach the first set of tables when Fadel shouted from down the street.

“Forget it. They don’t give us shit anymore. We’ve got a better way.”

Khalid and Amal followed him to a side road lined with refuse bins. Hasan was crouched amongst the rubbish. A piece of cloth hung from his hand.

“Want some?” he asked. “It makes you brave.” He pressed it to his face and drew in a breath before passing it to Fadel. Even in the shadows, Khalid thought their eyes looked larger.
“Get ready to run,” said Fadel, with a rubbery grin. He sauntered up the lane to a metal door that was ajar and slipped inside. Moments later there was a shout and he reappeared with a stick of bread and an armful of fruit. Then they were all running.

“What does it say?” asked Amal, looking at the dim shapes scrawled on the wall.

“It’s just people’s names.”

“The ones who made it, you mean?”

Khalid nodded.

“Does that mean yours is there too?” Khalid ignored him and took another bite of bread, but his mouth was too dry to chew it. Along the beach, fires were starting to come to life and silhouettes of men gravitated towards them like nightly spirits. Amal stared wide eyed at the flames.

“It’s not safe to be with the older ones,” said Khalid.

“Why?”

Khalid looked across at the driftwood shacks next to the seawall, their polythene sheets flapping in the breeze. Shame prickled at his skin.

“It’s just not.”

“So, how long did it take you to find work?” asked Hasan, tossing an apple core towards the breakers. Khalid tried to think back, but already it was a blur. Buses, fields, faces with no names all melded together in a patchwork of moments. Only the part where they came to take him away was still vivid as a photograph.

Amal sprawled next to him, eyes almost shut. “I don’t like it here,” he murmured. “How long do we have to stay?” But Khalid didn’t answer. All he could do was stare at the blackwashed sky and dig his fingers into the sand, hoping for the memory to pass.

 

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Author: alexjrankin

Journalism and short stories.

5 thoughts on “The burning path”

  1. Just come across your blog. I’m really no writing expert but thought you might like to hear some more detailed feedback. I enjoyed your story but found some aspects a bit confusing so wondered if you could possibly make some parts a bit clearer.
    For example, at the beginning, I thought Khalid and Amal had been caught as illegal migrants, but then they were let go? I was still a bit confused by the end about where he had been working and got caught and how he had then ended up with Amal.
    Also, I think it would be nice if it could be clarified earlier on what their relationship is, as initially I assumed they were two adult men, then thought Amal could be his son. It might help to develop their relationship and the characters further if you could include more of Khalid’s feelings about Amal and why he is with him. A bit more of the back story would be good to help the reader to empathise more with Khalid and what/where he is escaping from.
    When you introduce Fadel, I think it would be helpful to provide more explanation about how they know each other, how does Khalid feel about seeing him etc.
    Otherwise I think you did a good job of describing this desperate way of life and the fear and danger all around them. Hope this is helpful.

    1. Wow, thanks Rebecca. This is by the far the most in-depth comment I’ve ever had!
      I really appreciate you reading through it.and totally understand that it might be confusing. I’ve been working on this story for ages and have changed it so many times its probably got a bit lost. In hindsight, maybe a smaller snapshot of the situation with more detail as you said, might have been better. This is probably one piece I’ll let go of and use as a learning experience.
      Thanks again for taking the time, Rebecca.

  2. No problem, I like detailed feedback myself and sometimes people can be too brief/polite on blogs I find! If it’s any consolation, I’ve got a few stories like this myself (not on my blog) where I’ve posted them on an online anonymous writing forum for feedback, and no matter how much I alter them still can’t get them to really work. There comes a point where you get fed up and want to move on, although I do think there are a lot of good things about this one and it has potential!

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