I cannot recall the last time the sun’s rays stroked this place with tenderness. Bitter cold has long gripped this broken, decayed city. Apart from the few hours of murky light, impenetrable darkness settles over us. The trees are gnarled, naked and pale. All the colour has vanished and a deathly silence permeates the Rock. Cars travel almost solemnly, as though each is part of an endless funeral procession. This is a place of the living dead. Did I mention the cold? It slices through the flesh and gnaws at your mind, burrowing deeper and deeper into your thoughts, unyielding. And the putrid breath of evil diffuses through the heart of this community. Everywhere there lurks the hand of evil, crushing the last quivering breaths of humanity. The sun, it seems, has abandoned us because we chose to be confederates of evil.
But I should stop speaking in metaphors and furnish you with some facts. Today, I left my grandparents’ house in the morning and saw, across the street, a police cordon at the end of a row of terraced houses. I assumed that there had been a burglary, and felt fortunate that my grandparents had not been the victims. About fifteen minutes later I learnt that the body of a young man had been found. The charred body of a young man. Opposite the house I was sleeping in that night. That night the flesh of a human being had been set alight. In the stinging cold, in the dead of night, someone’s son, brother, friend, was killed and burned (it hardly matters in which order). He was found slumped, discarded in an alleyway. This could be a scene from some imaginary dystopia . But it is real, and it is the world we already inhabit. A man was killed by other human beings and his body was desecrated. Why? I am not looking for a reasonable explanation for what is evidently barbaric; but instead I would like to know what possible course of events could have resulted in this outcome.
It is clear to me, by now, that where I live savagery manifests itself in relation to two main causes:
2) Sex and honour
Drugs pump through this community’s veins as though they are its lifeblood. The streets reek of cannabis just as much as curry. People here like being drugged- whether legally or illegally. They want to forget their sorrows with pills and powders, they want to magic themselves into some positive state of mind. Where drugs of the illegal kind are concerned, disputes naturally arise- over money, over territory, over prestige. It is a zero-sum game, some must win and others must lose. In some cases, only your life will repay a debt. Business is business.
I would like to believe that the man who lost his life was wholely innocent, but perhaps it is more likely that he was involved in some drugs-related affair, where the stakes got too high and he was made to pay the ultimate price.
Another possible reason for the young man’s death could be his involvement with a girl. There is astounding hypocrisy in this area, where sex and gender relations are concerned. Many people are bound together in loveless marriages where it is natural for the man to treat his woman as chattels. Because, it is perceived, she owes him for the fact that he has to endure her as a life-partner. But the men remain highly repressed, and no doubt seek gratification elsewhere, whilst maintaining the veneer of outward respectability. (It is a wonder that the national scandals involving men of Asian origins grooming young girls have not spread here.)
The women are compelled to wrap themselves up in layers and layers of cloth. Some seem almost mummified, whereas others dress like Muslim Barbie dolls. What is common to them all is that their actions and their conduct affect, profoundly, the honour of their men. These men do not recognize any inconsistency between shouting sexual obscenities at any woman walking by herself on the street; and deeming such abuse aimed at their own sisters or mothers as unacceptable.
Still lingering in our collective memory is the ‘Pak supermarket sex scandal’. A man had taken his phone to be repaired at a phone shop, when, apart from repairing the phone, the the phone-fixers also found an explicit video of sexual acts between two identifiable individuals. The video spread like wildfire, because most people here have an appetite for the tawdry and debased. The rumours that circulated in the aftermath were to the effect that the girl had been taken to Pakistan and shot dead.
In the context of the popular conception of honour and respect, then, it would not be a surprise if the man who died had been involved illicitly with a girl. Someone’s honour had been comprised, you see, and so no response could have been as adequate as murder.
It becomes more and more difficult to find any goodness in this increasingly god-forsaken place. It is ironic, indeed, that I should describe it as ‘god-forsaken’ because mosques abound, the men sport magnificent beards and the women cloak themselves in veils. Outwardly, God is here; but inwardly he does not occupy our thoughts. How else can we account for the moral decay, the lack of culture, the culture of abuse? Only a few days ago I found a Bangladeshi woman wailing over the phone in a shop because her husband had publicly beaten her. Only a few weeks ago a young woman was left in tears after thugs had swatted her aside and stolen her car. Only a few weeks earlier a self-styled sheikh with a history of gang-related brutality was between to a pulp, stabbed, and left collapsed on a pavement.
It is no surprise, then, that many people yearn to escape this place. The lashing black tides are wearing away our humanity, and some of us recognize that collapse is imminent; that our souls will come crashing down to oblivion if we do not rage against its force.