The White Hart

Photograph by Olivia Harris, Story by Caroline Bond

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We are pumped. Loud. Proud. Glorious. Victorious. Gail is at the front, leading the battle cry, full-throated, fierce. Her bare arm is raised - saluting the sun. I’m proud of her, of the numbers who’ve turned out.

 

Apparently we’re ‘the haters’, but they’re the hypocrites. They spout love and understanding, but they never listen to us. We’re the ones who are passed over, shoved to the back of the queue, told to keep our mouths shut and our opinions to ourselves. We do not count. 

 

But today we do. Today we’re a force to be reckoned with. Blood-and-bone brothers, roaring with one voice. Today we will be heard. 

 

Because it’s a fucking disgrace. 

 

This is our street! Our corner of God’s Own. The land of our father’s and of our kids. This is our town. It’s no place for a mosque. 

 

My heart pumps. Muscle memory kicks in, from my rugby playing days. The rolling, chewy, sweat-soaked effort. Our sole aim - yardage. Our fuel - the opposition. But here there aren’t any uprights. Today we’re scoring more than points. 

 

The pressure builds. We’re a wodge of flesh held back by a thin blue line. We move forward, they push back. The adrenaline surges - in us, in them, in me. My heart thuds. Bangs. Then explodes.

*************

 

I’m taking a pasting. One punch, then another. My body bounces, a wrestler on the mat. I’m down, being counted out. ‘One, two, three…’ 

 

I open my eyes. 

 

It’s a copper, and he’s braying seven shades of shit out of me. He’s committed to his task, dedicated, intent on caving my ribs clean through to my spine. 

 

I’m inside The White Hart, but instead of leaning against the bar, nursing a pint - I’m flat on my back, on the floor. The carpet stinks. It’s a comfort of sorts. Reassuring. Carlsberg, with a hint of dog shit. 

 

Something shifts inside me. I gulp, and start coughing like a seal with TB.

 

He stops. 

 

‘Welcome back.’ He rests on his heels. The soundtrack of the day kicks back in. The hush of the empty pub, the roaring outside, his breathing, my coughing. ‘You stay where you are, mate. There’s an ambulance on it’s way.’ 

 

I don’t move because I can’t. My heart feels like it’s being crushed - think Gail, wringing out a dishcloth, squeezing every last drop of greasy water out. Gail. My woman. The love of my life. 

 

‘Where’s Gail?’ I croak.

 

‘Gail?’

 

‘My wife. I was with her, outside. Does she know?’

 

‘That you had a funny do?’ 

 

I nod, though there’s nothing funny about how I’m feeling. 

 

‘Don’t know, mate. It’s chaos out there. I can ring her for you, if you want me to?’ 

 

I’m about to say ‘yes’, but I check myself. Sympathy - it’s not Gail’s strong suit. ‘I’ll call her from the hospital.’

 

‘You sure?’

 

There’s something in the way he says it. A tone, a tiny edge, like a paper cut.

 

‘Why, what’re saying?’ 

 

He shrugs. His hi-vis jacket crackles. ‘Nothing. But… I’m fairly sure you’ve just had a heart attack.’ He pauses. ‘You know… time… it might be of the essence.’

 

I try to sit up. But I’m a tortoise that’s been flipped on its shell. He watches me struggle, neither helping or hindering. I lay back on the sticky carpet.

 

Outside the shouting rises and falls, an ebb and flow that I’m no longer part of. 

 

‘You local?’ I ask.

 

He nods. I study his face, seeking recognition; a brush after football, a glance out of a patrol car. He doesn’t flinch. He seems to be wanting me to find something. But he’s just a bloke. Younger than me, fitter, stronger. His radio puts out a burst of static. He dials down the volume. That’s not a good idea, surely? What if they need to check our location? Something tells me that I should keep up the small talk.

 

‘What are you?’ I mean a medic or a copper. `You obviously know what you’re doing... with the CPR stuff…’ He says nothing. Then the penny drops. ‘Cheers, for that, by the way. The saving my life bit!’ 

 

He shrugs. ‘It’s my job.’ Again there’s that edge. I listen, but there’s still no siren. He gets to his feet and brushes the pub crud off his trousers. ‘You got a history of heart problems?’

 

‘No.’

 

‘Really?’ He says. ‘No warning signs there was something wrong?’

 

‘No.’ 

 

‘Strange.’ He walks around me, slowly. ‘I’d have thought, with your lifestyle, there would’ve been.’

 

‘Nothing. Packed in smoking years ago. I’m fit.’ It’s a bit of a stretch, given my current predicament.

 

He takes another turn around my body. ‘There are other factors.’

 

From my spot on the floor, I defend myself. ‘I eat okay. Drink… in moderation.’  I can lie just as well as the next bugger.

‘If you say so. I was thinking more about the way you live your life.’ He stops pacing and looks down at me. ‘The rage. It isn’t good for you, you know that, don’t you? It furs up your arteries. The pressure shreds the heart muscle. Eventually it goes boom.’ He explodes his hands to demonstrate his point. He leans down, his face in mine. ‘And next time - because trust me, if you don’t make some changes, there willbe a next time - there might not be someone like me around to get that screwed up hunk of gristle in your chest pumping again.’

 

He takes one last look at me, walks over to the door and opens it. The noise of the demo is faint - my tribe has moved on. At last I catch the sound of a siren. Above the rising wail he says, ‘My name is Sully.’

 

I reply, ‘I’m Mike.’

 

He doesn’t turn around. ‘That’s Suleiman Abdul.’ 

 

My heart staggers and expands. Blue light fills the pub. 

 

He turns to me. ‘And all hearts are the same colour to me, mate.’

Caroline Bond is a fiction writer with two novels to her name; The Second Child and The Forgotten Sister [out in May 2019], both published by Corvus. Caroline is a testament to the adage, 'If at first you don't succeed...' After years as a failed script writer she got her break by swopping genres and submitting her first novel to an agent's slush pile. Hence she's proof that it's not who you know, but what you write. She still loves to write across a mix of formats, including screen plays, short stories and children's fiction.

Olivia Harris  is a documentary photographer and filmmaker, based in London. She shoots documentary work with a particular interest in the changing power dynamics between women and men. She began her career as a photojournalist; initially picture editing for an online magazine, and then shooting pictures for Reuters in London and South-East Asia. She ran the Reuters pictures operation in Malaysia, and covered breaking news across the region. Her work has been exhibited around the world. @Oliviaharrisphotos

© 2016 A Thousand Word Photos

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