We are the children of Trash, by Trash I mean our culture of bright colours, bright lights, loud sounds and strong smells from the commercial products that allow us to bury our senses in. The Looking Glass Anthology is comprised of works of student poets, playwrights and storytellers from the University of York, with almost 60 of them available it is a vast literary achievement that is sorely missed in our university.
Reading these poems, scripts and stories has helped me figure-out the ‘zeitgeist’ of young people of today, I believe that we are divided. Our organic senses are divided, as we can see in Karl O’Hanon’sAutumn’s Heart, and in Christian Foley’s Farther. Our senses collide against each other and we see things change as certainly as machines function, but they do so as if made of skin and bone.
“a pink smear that slowly turned into an ocean churning blue black”
Metaphors of trash culture demonstrated by the students of the University of York reveal not only how they think but also how you and I think and feel. Our world is one of a constant collision of opposites, as is shown in Alexander Ulyet’s Gratitude,
“manufactured crashes and robotic hymns”
The age old traditions still do live on but now they look like robots and advertisements for a product to sell. This is where the beauty of the Looking Glass Anthology’s pieces reside; the mundane world becomes strange and ecstatically beautiful,
“moulding tumbledriers and clothes pegs”
“I think of the strangest place in melody and multiply it”
(Beth Curtis, There’s an old Funk in the Basement and The Resting)
This new way of looking at our mundane world is a solution to our youthful problem of boredom, in which we bluntly experience a dullness and plainness of a monotonous life (see Bethany Wilson’s The Average Life). We, the young generation, swing between boredom and ‘nausea’ and between confused and ecstatic emotions. Today, our metaphors and poems are like innocent dreams on cocaine, such as Alexander Ulyet’s Bambi on Ice where youth, joy and hedonism propel us to our own disaster and leaves our teeth scattered on the ground.
The Looking Glass Anthology demonstrates beautifully the way the young person thinks and feels, this anthology is not merely for individual artistic recognition of writerly talent, it can help us understand the consequences of living in this multifaceted world.
The revolving doors moved him and he stepped out into the street. A great fog had shrouded the city, which smothered its life and deadened its skyline. The wind pressed heavy against the stretching bones of the London Wheel, which sought to see everything but saw only the fractured red glow of the distant towers, whose light seeped through the clouds like the flame of a flickering candle through the crevices of a closing hand.
A raindrop fell from the heavens and came crashing down onto the man’s head. He had escaped the workplace, and headed eagerly to his favourite lunch spot, hoping for a moment of silence and a bite of a sandwich. His spotted blue tie flung itself at his left shoulder, then, having been straightened back into the centre, onto his right. His head sank low into his chest as he cowered to the mercy of the wind.
Monday had thus far been stillborn. The promise of a week of fresh opportunity had seen him stapled to his desk in a way that struck him as surprisingly similar to the previous Friday. For the last three weeks he had established lunch as the centrepiece of his day- where he would leave the office and go onto the streets to consume his food. This had been a major change in his life, for, as far back as he could remember, his home-made lunch had waited for him in the communal fridge. The thick layer of sickly yellow margarine lay beneath the thin ham, squashed between the pieces of bread. This was gift-wrapped by his wife in a cellophane skin, which squeezed the margarine into the corners and dampened the crusts. Enough was enough. Besides, the communal area in which the communal fridge sat was a soulless room. All talk revolved around business, and each individual occupied their space whilst weighing up their competition across the carpet. Crumbs fell from loose mouths as they tried to establish themselves as the authoritative voice on who was next for the chop. A place without conversation would provide the only solace from incessant gossiping.
He drifted towards his chosen café with the other businessmen in a silent parade. They marched in uniform, their mouths hanging open, ready for their feeding. His thoughts fell back to the day he was forced to join them, his office lunch having been marked by the most recent of rumours to grace the room.
“I hear Richard will be fired by the end of the month” someone had said across the carpet in a gloating tone. He had shuffled in his plastic chair and began to twist the corners of the cellophane wrapper. A cold silence set in, broken only by the constant buzz of the machines. So quietly he had been sat in the corner that no one had noticed his presence, or maybe they had and were trying to undermine him. It didn’t matter, he didn’t care. He retreated further into his cave, and looked forward to the bits of bread that had remained dry. The room now seemed so obviously drained of thought and life that he became numb. The next day he set out, looking for a place in which he could think clearly and fill the stomach which drummed heavily at his bones. The café he had eventually found had nothing particularly defining about it- the coffee was hot and black, the sandwiches were cold and expensive- but it stood beside St Paul’s Cathedral, looking onto the impressive building with a pious kneel. From the relative quiet of the café window he could peer onto the steps of St Paul’s, looking in as if he wasn’t a part of the life that filled them. Tourists fell from the cathedral like coins from a slot machine; the city’s people staggered in ones and twos as if on pilgrimage, turning their backs to the grand entrance when they got near, while their eyes stared distantly into the lines of shops and businesses that littered the pavement. All around them creatures moved. The pigeons’ tensed, scrawny necks plunged at the floor, scraping their mouths against the pavement to peck at the crusts that had been left behind. And what they left behind the street cleaners came at. Swooping from dark corners of London, their fantastic fluorescent feathers were striking to the passer by, yet distracted them from realising the souls beneath the formless garish green. Into their bins the strewn food from the eateries moved; some unopened, some untouched, but still unwanted. They swept away the food so that they could buy their own. They scrubbed at a diseased floor that would never be cured. He walked up the road towards St Paul’s. An advertisement hanging from a shop blocked his view of the marvellous building and he peered round it only to be greeted by a larger sign with an arrow pointing in the opposite direction towards a burger joint. As the entrance eventually manifested itself, the fog had painted a thick grey over the intricate details. The crowds of the stairs had not noticed, and the shimmering gold of the crucifix glinted upon their heads with an approving nod.
Nearing the cafe, his thoughts fell upon his home. Shortly after his departure from the daily office feasting, his manager had called him into his office. His round table invited the pilgrim and he took his seat accordingly. The news came in a quick, cold thrust. The next three weeks would be his last; he was surplus to requirement; the machine had jammed and he would have to be shredded. It was possible that he was now liberated, but his real talents would not be able to feed his family and so he would simply wander into a similar job, with less pay and thinner walls. His eyes refocused on the world around him. The chosen café stood before him, decorated in slogans and prices. But though the red glow inside seemed inviting, he felt a sudden panic rush over him. The faces around him became diffused with the dead eyed stares of his co-workers, the red light pulsated and he became suffocated. He felt as if there were a deadweight, compressing and compacting him into the tightly canned crowd. His anonymity had been violated, and the idea of impending conversation came at him like a tube in a tunnel. He felt the cellophane wrapper coming over him, squeezing him in to the corners, and sealing in the air. His thoughts could not grow and live in this atmosphere. Where did one escape in a world in which every nook and cranny was filled with people and things and ideologies?
The rush of the wind came at him, whipping at his exposed ankles where the raised socks did not meet the upended trouser legs. He turned to face his accuser, and before him stood the grand entrance of St Pauls. The bells chimed with a heavy a blow which resonated across the square, causing a frenzy of movement like sheep called to order by their shepherd. And he, feeling the hysteria within him, quickened his step towards the doors without a thought for where he was going.
A small queue of tourists sifted through the internal entrance, and he came to the till. The worker serving was small and timid, with a vegetating brow, curling around his spectacles. Despite the incense that wafted into the passage and the dim hum of an organ, the worker did not seem to be consumed by the spiritual air. His stubby fingers jabbed at the till; sighs leaked from his mouth as he received yet another fifty pound note for the twelve pound price. The cash register and his worker were caught in a limbo between the two congregations, pulled this way and that; they existed only in the waiting room, praying for their number to be called. The worker was handed a sweaty twenty pound note, and gave a ticket to the man. The till’s teeth clamped shut with a menacing snarl and the queue shuffled forward once more.
The revolving door moved him and he stepped into the grand hall of the cathedral. A crisp packet tussled with the sole of his shoe, eventually escaping, and was carried off by the wind, scattering crumbs among the masses like communion to the hungry. A smell of blown-out candles hung in the air. Large groups of tourists clustered around statues, the flash of their cameras beating at the weary brows of forgotten saints. The man hovered near the back aisles wondering whether to go in further, but the price of the ticket was worth at least three lunches and he was compelled to go in by guilt. He slowly began to tip-toe through the endless rows of old wooden benches, his feet occasionally interrupted by piles of shopping bags scattered around the legs of the pilgrims as they hung to the benches like carcasses; their hands nailed to the wood, their heads dropped as if in deep thought. And all around them were icons of the forgotten martyrs; their faces caught in the stained glass windows, their bodies lying solemnly in marble shells. He walked up the long passage which was shaded from the glare of the electronically motored celestial lights. An elderly man lay beside him, fashioned in a cold hard stone. Pain and anguish crept through the furrowed brow on his pious face, but his lips sank softly towards his chin and there seemed a sense of equilibrium in his dead state. Of course the sculptor had intended this, but to the man it nonetheless seemed to represent a truth and reality that was forgotten.
His legs stirred again and pushed him towards the magnificent altar. The thick slab of marble was draped in golden covers and blood red sheets. And on the altar grew tusks of white candles, grasped tightly by their effulgent golden stands. Though they were not alight, the dense beams of the stands burned in the face of Christ, who drooped from his crucifix in the middle of the waxen towers. The gleam dissolved his features from afar, but the man could not take himself to move closer to discover the face on the cross. Eventually the glow around the altar became too intense, and he dropped his eyes from the crucifix and stared at his feet.
Despite the decadence and beauty of the place, he did not want to stay any longer and was reminded of his hunger as his stomach began to rumble. He would drop back into the flow of the crowds, like a pebble into a canal, and eventually find himself back in his work chair. He trudged towards the ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ signs, motivating himself to take another step with the slim chance that he could buy a ‘St Paul’s Sandwich’ in the shop. But as he came closer to the exit, he began to notice a small cove hidden away from the main hall. It was striking because it was cast in darkness, with only a dim light flickering. The darkness and emptiness grasped the man by his hand and led him in.
The space was stripped of any of the magnificence of the rest of the building, and only a single candle struggling in the dark could be immediately perceived. By the candle knelt an old woman, her face was tightly wrapped in a headscarf and so her features could only be seen where the flame was stirred so as to catch fleeting glances of her stony face. The man stood piously behind her, staring at her still body, wishing not to disturb her moment of silent devotion. She, who had probably only a mitre in her purse, seemed so rich in her simplicity. Her mouth gently opening and closing, her eyes drawn; she could speak freely in a world where conversation had become a means to an unperceivable end. While all around the cathedral, hordes of bodies buzzed but said and felt nothing, she penetrated their noise with her delicate mutterings.
The natural flame curled and stretched in the darkness, burning strongly but being flung from left to right as if it were despised by the wind. Despite its movement, the flame looked only at the woman, and lit her face in obsequious deference. He was consumed by a need to speak to something, to translate his fears into words and incantations; to alight a flame that burned for him. But in his life, only the flashing screen of his office computer was illuminated, preventing the gentle darkness from drawing him in and pulling forth threads of thought and contemplation. His family would of course always be there, but his voice called for an ear which did not judge and did not know him.
Despite her age she looked defiant in the face of the wind. Her back refused to stoop or cower and her stomach seemed full and satisfied. His thoughts fell to the hollow frames that trudged the streets of the city, brandishing coffee cups like symbols of devotion to a noble cause. God was absent in his life and he had concluded so at an early age- his reasons were honest, but there lay something in him that yearned for belief. There was something missing in the casino of the market world, where happiness was measured in fleeting successes and failures, where the blinding lights grabbed hold of lust and desire and made one forget about anything else. He could not find a cause, a way to satisfy his hunger, a flame to light his path. He had not found it in religion either, where from a young age he was taken by his parents and forced to recite words that did not speak to him. But this old lady, whom he did not know, had a tangible atonement in all her simplicity and silence. He began to feel he had lingered too long and risked disturbing the old lady from her prayer. His eyes fell to his watch, whose hands seemed to grasp at the half hour mark and sentence the man to his office space. He turned through the gift-shop, ignoring the claws that grabbed at stationary embellished with Christ’s face on, and left through the grand wooden doors. A solitary piece of paper with the ‘Our Father’ written on was conjured up by the wind, sucking it towards the exit, but as the man left, the doors slammed, and the paper was cast quickly into the corner.
All around him was fog and cold and sterility. The synthetic red light of the distant towers seeped through the grey and he stepped towards it as hunger grabbed hold of his being, turning the cogs from within.
No, I am not a murderer. I am someone miserably trapped within the suffocating layers of colonial oppression. You might be a policeman interrogating me about my sole crime but even you are a victim. You are also a prisoner of a vicious and pitiless system that believes in killing innocents under the pretext of civilization.
My sincere apologies being for such a rude host; you are after all in my prison cell. I have some dates left over from the journey. Here you go, one for me and one for you. Firstly I must thank you for listening so patiently to me. You might not understand what I am saying but your continued presence by my side tells me that you are a moral man stuck in an immoral situation. To put your mind at ease I will declare to you that I am guilty. But before I declare what I am guilty of I will first beg you to show me further kindness and continue to listen to me.
From the frown lines on your face, I deduce that you are torn between compassion for the Arab jailed in front of you and your justice system which ensures that I face death sentence. I assure you that you have as little choice as I do. There is nothing wrong about that, it is how colonizers and colonized live together. Boundaries both geographically and culturally must be demarcated to ensure the sense of otherness perpetually hangs in the air. Ethnic segregation you must agree has structured our society and will continue to do so. Why you ask? In my opinion it is do with religion on our part and injustice from your side. I know the word injustice unsettles you but you must understand that when you came to Algeria you bought the best lands and left the worst for us. My tribe was hit frequently by famine and forced my family members to seek work on your farms and vineyards. I grew up with the stench of resentment and bitterness hanging around me. There were no roads, electricity and hardly enough food to feed the entire tribe. You see, large family is a sign of prestige for us so it meant there was very little to eat. By the time I was old enough to understand who the thief was and who had been robbed we were dispossessed of our tiny land. The main reason being we did not accept your laws regarding ownership of our land. Hunger is a powerful weapon. One time, we only had piles of wild-lily roots which we boiled and ate. Borrow money? From where could we have borrowed tell me kind officer. If we borrowed from you, you had interest rate rocketing to the sky. For some the only way out was to convert to your religion and denounce Allah and his Prophet and gave their children Latin names. I wonder what they were thinking when the call for prayers was recited five times a day. It must have been humiliating for them, nonetheless a necessary evil.
The hunger gnawed my insides and screamed for change. My hunger turned into a weapon, something I craved to fight against. So I decided to leave my village for the city. My plan was to learn a craft and hopefully send money to my family. I was ready to embrace your countrymen in order to support my dwindling tribe, more than that I had too much pride to be reduced to an illiterate statistic. I did not know my worth until I migrated and saw myself as how you see me. I was and am a faceless Arab who will never learn your ways. No matter how many times you teach me the four rivers of France or how to wear black leather boots instead of my sandals and jellaba, I cannot become what you want me to become. In the city, I worked alongside your people but never formed any friendships even though we all were equal when it came to craftsmanship. I still brought them coffee and carried out menial tasks that were beneath the other workers. The chasm between us revolved around cultural differences and when they made no move to understand who I was, I stubbornly refused to embrace their way of life as well.
Even though I received no proper education mainly because it was extremely difficult for us to enter the education system, I learnt French albeit broken sentences and picked up that our work was threatened by mechanisation. Cooperage was a dying art and our boss refused to increase our wages in order to maintain a margin of profit. It was difficult for any of us to change trade especially when it had been awfully difficult for me to convince my boss to hire an ignorant Arab. Petty money, long hours and building fatigue accumulated our anger but everyone’s hands were tied. My resentment grew and I had no desire to hold it back.
Please help yourself to some of the bread if it is still soft. I hope you understand that I am narrating to you glimpses of my life which will explain to you the reason for my guilt. The last thing I want to do is make you uncomfortable. Shall I continue? Thank you, dear officer. I woke up one day never to return to work. I never gave my boss any explanation for resigning and he never came looking for me. I felt like a slave who was suddenly free. For once in my life I had no one to answer to and no one to support. I was nothing but a dreamer and my heart leapt with youthful glory underneath the blazing sun with hope and the decision to fight back: free Algeria became my daily prayer.
My fight was not against an individual or any political party but against oppression and mass killings of innocents. I was a lowly worker who was willing to do anything to regain the once lost land that had been wrongfully snatched from us. Now, in the city I shared my room with another man who after I resigned from my job started asking me about the French I had worked with. He showed me how I was treated like a second class citizen in my own country and something must be done about it. I was pumped with contempt and anger to the point I was more than ready to hit back. My disadvantage was that I had never received formal education but because of work and my youth I was physically fit.
It happened so that my roommate kept me up all night asking me about my family, my opinion on French Algeria and what I thought of justified killings. I was never a philosopher but I knew one thing, I was not going to compromise any further. It was all or nothing. My answer registered a faint smile on my companion and he handed me a slip of paper. On the paper was a time and address that I had to visit the next morning. Looking back, I was extremely afraid to question him about what he wanted me to do or what will happen if I went there. At the designated place, the metal door opened slight and a messenger bag was slipped with a scribbled paper of further instructions. I did not even have a chance to see who had placed the bag or if I even trusted my roommate to pick it up. Yet, somehow I did. I took it and went to the place that I was instructed to drop it off. It was a bustling market square with majority of Europeans decked out in their colonial supremacy. The sun scorched the back of my head and fear trickled down my spine but I soldiered forward. I kept reciting Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and thinking of my dispossessed family. This was for my people, there was no going back.
I notice that you have turned your face away from me. I think you also know what I am about to say next. I am deeply sorry if I have caused you pain with my account but you must understand that it is a lie to say Algeria is French. Yes, one some level I was aware that I was carrying a monster in my bag which blew up the entire square and the people in it. Not only your people were killed by me, but sadly mine too. My fight had spiralled into this monstrosity which I have never stopped blaming myself for.
After the bomb implant, it was dangerous for me to go back to my apartment so I lived in an abandoned well for a number of days until the heat died down. The dominating presence in the streets was that of soldiers wearing green fatigues with trained dogs ready to jump at any suspicious Arab. It was exceedingly difficult to get out of the walled city at that time but I managed to pay for my passage back to the mountains. I was disillusioned and confused by my actions and my guilt was a parasite that ate my youth away. By the time I arrived back to my village, I was a shrunken man with no hope for the future. I was a bomber who did not know how many he had killed. The uncertainty was worse than any punishment.
Have you experienced suppression so extreme that all you can do is cry out in rebellion? The pain etched on your face shows that you are my companion in such times. I am a simple man, but I have the right to think. And I think that it is better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knee. So, when I went back home to find out that my village was suffering the worst famine to date due to the harsh weather conditions, my despondency grew. I could do nothing but mourn the loss of what I had never really experienced: freedom. Such mental condition can make a man go crazy. I was half deranged with guilt and anger.
A week after my homecoming, I was startled awake in the middle of the night to hear one my family members slinking away in the night. Due to the dense snow and chilly winds, it was unusual for outside trips at such a time so I followed him. He led me to a boulder at the foot of the mountain that cuts our village from the world and there he waited. I held my breath and waited with him. After a length of time, we were joined by a dark figure who exchanged greetings with my cousin. I was unable to hear their conversations without revealing myself but I knew who he had become. He had betrayed his land, his tribe and his family. My cousin was a harki and he must be killed. Allah knows and see everything!
My fight against colonialism came in the form of my cousin and I killed him in the bright daylight for my entire tribe to witness. I slaughtered him with my billhook and showed everyone how far the enemy had infiltrated our lives. My tears flowed as I saw his head separated from his body. They flowed for him and our land which was gushing with the blood of my people.
So, no I am not a murderer but a rebel. By rebelling I acknowledge your power over me but through my account I am making it clear to you that your power is dependent on my subordination. You are the guest in my land and you will leave, I promise you.
I may not believe in your justice but I believe that what I did was wrong in planting that bomb. For that crime I should be punished. I want a huge crowd of spectators hissing and cursing me when I am executed. It is only fair that I receive the same amount of hatred that I feel for them. Hatred manifests into evil. Me, I am a slave. But if I am evil, I am no more enslaved. Death is my liberation and nothing remains for me in this hell. Nothing but to be reborn or die; I choose death.