Northwords Now

New writing, fresh from Scotland and the wider North
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by Gillian Shearer

Sahar looked out across the white sands, the waves rolling over the beach like foam. They really did look like white horses she thought. Behind her, a grassy mound marked the place where sand met cultivated grass: The Links. 

Two men hefted their bodies into the prevailing wind. Their clubs held high. Sahar shuddered as she watched them take aim. The tiny white ball ricocheted high into the air until it was nothing but a spec on the horizon. The juddering ‘whack’ of their clubs carried with it images of a past life: her mother cowering on the ground, the shadow of a gun hovering over her. 

Sahar averted her eyes as she edged her way slowly towards the lip of water suddenly recalling the beaches back home, how they had once been places of sanctuary and freedom. Places where nature and the city lived in harmony. But then something changed. The natural rock pools where she had explored endlessly as a young girl vanished gradually supplanted by metal and wire. How she wished for those days, for those happy times. This place she realised might not yet be home but it had the possibility of being called home. Here, at least it was safe. Here everyone came to the beach. Men, women, children, the old and the young: all were drawn to the sea.

She was close to the edge now, felt the water brush against her flimsy trainers. 

‘Awricht hen?’ a voice beside her said. 

Sahar looked up, felt the memory retreat into the back of her mind. The woman reached out her hand, ‘fancy a wee paddle?’  

She had taken off her shoes and Sahar’s eyes were immediately drawn to the paleness of the woman’s skin. Like alabaster, she thought. Like the statues that had once adorned her beautiful city. A city now reduced to ashes and bone and an uncertain future. Sahar shivered.

Then she thought about the white horses and how wonderful it would be to be carried far out into the shimmering sway of foam and water. But she felt stuck; stuck in a past where such thoughts were dangerous. It was a boundary that even now, she found difficult to cross.

‘Nae bother, hen. Another time mebbee…’ 

The woman had a kind face and Sahar returned her kindness with a smile. 

She thought back to those early days: the long coach ride across the border; the woman holding her hand telling her that everything would be awricht. The words she had used were strange yet comforting. And when they drew up at the border there had been no guards, no guns, just the sight of the blue and white cross welcoming them. The woman, Jean, had talked long into the night. Words rolled off her tongue like the road unravelling before them. 

‘Here’s Flodden, the site of a great battle, and Melrose where the heart of a great King was put to rest.’ 

A history as bloody as hers, thought Sahar and yet peace had finally prevailed.

‘Tired hen? Want tae go back?’ 

Sahar shook her head. She let her gaze wander out to sea to the vastness beyond. The waves rolled in towards her, white spumes of light twisting, swirling all around her. She smiled, took hold of the woman’s hand, and stepped forward. 

Northwords Now acknowledges the vital support of Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
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