JACK AND ZENA
Jack and Zena's first attempt to elope
had failed. Now Zena's elder sister Miriam, the only family
member to know about their secret affair, was putting a firm
stop to it ...
My sister had told us we had ten minutes to say our final goodbyes.
Then she'd banged the door behind her and I was alone with Jack.
I couldn't stop crying, I was hurting so much inside. Jack gave
me a long hug - I didn't want to let him go. I looked into his
face and told him I would always love him. Then I closed my
eyes and asked him to kiss me. I didn't want to open them again
till after he had gone. I couldn't bear the thought of never
seeing him again.
When he'd left, Miriam threw a complete wobbly. 'He's got you
wrapped round his little finger!' she shouted. 'Don't you realise
he'll leave you when he's got what he wants?' 'He's only after
you for your money.' Horrible, hurtful things like that which
I really didn't need to hear. Then she was threatening to tell
my father and brothers exactly what had been going on all summer
and autumn. 'If this isn't the end of it,' she said, 'if you
haven't broken it off with him properly now, once and for all,
I'll tell them.'
I ran upstairs to my little bedroom on the top floor. I climbed
onto the bed just as I was and cried and cried. I loved Jack
so much; he loved me, wanted to marry me. And yet we had to
part, because I had been promised at birth to Bilal, who lived
on a mountain in Kashmir. I had met Bilal only once when I was
thirteen. It was so cruel and stupid and unfair.
Then I was lying face up, dry-eyed, watching the headlight beams
of passing cars sliding across the ceiling. And suddenly I was
thinking, I've got to go tonight. If I don't go now it'll never
My bags were still packed from the failed attempt of earlier
- I was all ready. I decided that I was going to make a break
for it first thing in the morning, when my father and brother
were back from the restaurant and asleep.
So I was off the bed and on to the floor getting ready. Making
as little noise as possible I tore up the pile of sheets that
I kept in my dressing table drawer into long strips, then tied
them together so I had four makeshift ropes. There was no way
I was going to get down two flights of stairs carrying four
bulky bags and not wake one of the family, so I'd hit on this
plan of lowering them out of the bedroom window straight onto
the pavement below.
Around four in the morning I heard my father and my younger
brother Amir coming home. (My big brother Kasim slept with his
wife in our other house down the street.) I listened as they
washed and got ready for bed, and gave them an hour or so to
be properly asleep. Then I slipped quietly into the Western
gear I'd put ready on my bed: a pair of Amir's old jeans, which
I'd got from the dustbin-bag on the landing where we used to
leave old clothes for the charity shop, and one of his striped
shirts I'd taken from the ironing pile. Over this I pulled on
a favourite Aran sweater of mine.
Then - it felt as if my heart was beating audibly - I pushed
open my little window and shoved the first bag through. Though
my father's bedroom was directly below mine, his window opened
onto our side street, not the main road as mine did. So there
was no way he was going to see the bags. But I was dreadfully
scared that one of them would brush against the bricks of the
wall and disturb him.
I had got to the end of my sheet-rope. I'd made it too short!
The bag was swinging two feet above the pavement and I had to
let it drop with a thump that sounded as if it would wake the
dead. I waited a long minute to see if anyone was stirring -
but no, it was all OK. Quickly but carefully I lowered the other
three bags on top of the first and tugged the window shut.
Well, this is it, I thought, taking a last hurried look round
my bedroom. There by the bed were the family photographs: Dad,
tall and distinguished as ever; my mother, her long hair now
flecked with grey; Kasim, flashily dressed in one of his designer
shirts; Miriam, in happier days, smiling broadly; Amir, acting
the typical lad as usual; finally my little sister Rani, grinning
as she hugged my niece Mina.
There in the bin-liner was all my traditional wear, my dupatta
and shalwar-kameez, still waiting for lazy me to iron them -
now to be left behind forever. There was my jewellery, in its
box on the dressing table. I'd brought a little, but most I
would have to leave. There on the stack system were all my old
teenage albums - Madonna, Queen, Michael Jackson. The fun we'd
had over the years dancing around the house to those! Dad had
never minded us listening to Western music, as well as the Asian
favourites we used to love.
But I'd made my decision - it was time to go. I was in such
a state of nerves that I grabbed the wrong pair of boots, this
old tatty pair I had in the corner, not the new ones I'd put
ready. I knew I had to get out quickly now because my bags were
sitting there waiting on the pavement.
As I tiptoed down the stairs in my bare feet my whole body was
shaking. On the second floor I had to go right past both Dad
and Amir's doors. I knew every creak in the house, but if either
of them woke, that would be the end of it. I'd be shipped back
to Pakistan and Jack would have known nothing about it till
my brothers came hammering on his front door.
Miriam was sleeping downstairs that night, on the couch by the
TV in the dining room. (Dad had forgotten to take the front
door key down to the restaurant, so she'd had to stay there
to let them in when they came home.) The dining room was next
to the front door so I couldn't risk going out that way. I'd
decided I would have to climb out through the kitchen window.
I managed it, holding my breath as I swung my legs over the
sill. But when I'd got out and was standing barefoot on the
freezing pavement, I could not get the window closed again.
The top aluminium rim kept getting caught on the lace curtain
inside. Even though my arm was trembling so much I could barely
hold it and I was desperate to get away, it had to be shut.
It opened right onto the street at waist level. Some passer-by
might have got in and woken my family. Then there was this old
lady over the road who always got up early and would have been
sure to ring the bell and say something.
It seemed like forever, but eventually I got it shut enough,
ran round the corner and found my stuff - the big black sportsbag,
the fluorescent rucksack and the two others. What did I think
I was doing? As Jack said later, I'd brought everything but
the kitchen sink.
When I'd got my boots on, crossed the main road and walked to
the corner, I put this heavy luggage down for a moment. I turned
and took one last look back at our house. I got this very strong
feeling that that was it, the last I would ever see of my family.
Leaving them was the hardest decision of my life. I knew full
well what I was giving up. But I had to go. I loved Jack too
much now to lose him.
I struggled down the road to this yard by the local carpet warehouse
and unravelled all these long strips of torn sheet that were
still tied to my bags. There was a big sign there on the wall
there saying, NO DUMPING - £200 FINE. And here I am, I thought,
leaving all these scrappy bits of cloth. Still, I hadn't got
time to worry about that.
Round the corner was the local cab company. Luckily enough there
was a car ready waiting. It was one of the young lads who'd
sneaked me down to see Jack a couple of times before. As he
put the bags in the boot he said, 'You're running for it, aren't
I nodded. 'Yeah,' I said. He just grinned and when we had driven
off he radioed back to base with a false name for me, and a
false address for where I was going. He knew that Kasim was
a very close friend of the manager of that cab company.
'Good luck,' he said as he dropped me on the corner below Jack's
Mum's house. It was just starting to get light. I dragged the
bags up the steep hill and knocked on the window.
I was lying there on the couch when I heard this tap-tap-tapping
on the window. My first thought was that it was my brother Ryan's
young son Simon. He used to work mucking out at a nearby stables
and would often come early to the house.
'What d'you want?' I grunted. Then I heard Zena's familiar voice
(I've often said she sounds like the girl from the Boddington's
advert, her North Country accent is so strong) 'Let me in, it's
me. Let me in, it's me.' I thought: No, it can't be.
I jumped off the couch and ran through to open the front door
and there she was, just standing there in this massive cream
Aran sweater and blue jeans with a pile of bags around her that
wouldn't have looked out of place at Heathrow. The first thing
that went through my head was, She's done it.
I didn't even stop to hug her. I just pulled these four bags
'Right,' I said, 'you sit down there, I'm going upstairs to
get a wash, then I'm going to get us a lift.' I didn't know
where, I didn't know who would drive us, I just knew that my
heart was thumping and we were off. My mother had woken up by
this time. When she came downstairs and saw those bags she knew
exactly what was happening.
I'm not sure the reality of it all actually hit me at the time.
I ran upstairs to the bathroom almost in a daze. My mother used
to have this big mirror in front of the sink. I remember I was
leaning over, chucking water on my face to wake myself up and
I just looked into it, for several long seconds. Part of me
was thinking: How the fuck did she get out? I was absolutely
stunned that she'd actually done it. Less than twenty-four hours
ago I'd walked out of that train station thinking it was all
over. Now she was here, we were going, and I was forcing myself
to psych back into that running-away mode. I looked at myself
and I all but spoke the words, 'Jack - your life is never ever
going to be the same again.'
Downstairs my old lady was panicking. 'They're going to turn
up here now!' she was shouting, 'They're going to come after
'Calm down, Ma,' I said. 'They won't come here, will they, Zena?'
'No, Mum,' Zena replied (she used to call our mother 'Mum').'They
might go round to Jenny's but they won't come here, I promise
'Are you sure?'
'No, Ma, they won't,' I repeated. 'They could go to our sister's
and they could go to the flat but they won't come here.' I couldn't
see Kasim or Amir bothering with her. They knew how ill she'd
been, that she was just a frail old lady, living on her own.
In any case, the brothers didn't even know it was me Zena had
run away with. As far as they were concerned I was just a mate
who had worked in their restaurant. Would Miriam tell them?
She would hardly want them to find out she had known about us
all along - and she was the only link.
But we had no time to stop and speculate, we had to get moving.
Which meant getting to a train station straight away. And not
City Central. If any of them had woken up already and discovered
Zena had gone that was the first place they'd look. So I decided
we'd head to this little suburban station on the outskirts.
It wasn't far, but no one would surely ever think of following
I knew this guy Ted who lived over the street. I ran over and
banged him up. 'I've got to do a runner,' I said. 'Can't explain
now but I need a lift to the station.' He knew I had a bit of
a past so he didn't question it. He just rubbed his eyes, yawned
and said, 'Give us two minutes to get the keys.'
As we were leaving, Ma came out. 'Don't take all those bags,'
she said. 'Leave them here. The fuss'll die down in a couple
of days and you can come back for them.' She really didn't have
any idea quite how seriously the Asian community would react
to a situation like this.
'It's OK, Mum,' Zena said, 'I'll manage them. I don't think
we'll be able to get back up.'
I really do not know whether I did this to try and reassure
Ma or because I half hoped that she was right. But I decided
to leave my bag - or rather, binliner - behind. I only had a
couple of old shirts and a spare pair of jeans in there anyway.
By this time Ted was revving up his car - a red Sierra. I told
Zena to get into the back and lie down on the seat, just in
case they did suddenly come racing round the corner into the
street. I gave my mother a quick final hug. 'Go up to Ryan's,'
I said, because she hadn't got a phone at the time. 'We'll contact
you there - let you know we're OK.'
As we sped off I looked round. Ma was walking up the pavement
to the yard area where all the bins were kept. She was crying.
That was my last view of her, crying as she walked up after