Trouble

Trouble

She was all mandalas
and peace signs, a free
spirit dancing on the
graves of our society.

She was all recreational and shit,
she was the kind of music that
injected euphoria into your soul.

She was all pierced tongue
and piercing eyes that
would crash land you into
a sea of exhilarating trouble.

She was all smiles and swear
words, but she was unapologetic
about the way that she loved.

She was all me, until she wasn’t.

The Week My Grandmother Died

The Week My Grandmother Died

I screamed at my mum to get the car, and carried my grandmother down the stairs.

I prayed for the first time in a over a decade, to a god that I don’t believe in.

I muffled violent sobs with a beach towel in the back yard. I did not go to the beach.

I consoled my mother outside a public restroom, in rural Spain, in the middle of the night.

I heard my grandmother wheezing every time I closed my eyes.

Family members fought to feed us. We ate roast chicken all week.

I saw my granddad cry for the first time in my life.

Our flight was three hours delayed and when we landed it was too late.

A doctor said that if we had rang an ambulance, she may have survived.

I did not cry at the funeral. I did not feel I had the right.

The Emerald Isle Herself

The Emerald Isle Herself

I packed up my whole life and moved
overseas for her. Granted it was more like
across the pond, only two hundred and
twenty-six miles, but it was two hundred
and twenty-six miles out of my comfort zone.

To a brand-new country, where they speak the
same language, only there it sounded more
like a song, and I could listen to her ad-lib forever.

She welcomed me with open arms, wrapped
a shamrock around my shoulders, poured me
a Guinness and asked: ‘how’re you getting on?’

We sat underneath Ha’penny bridge,
smoking joints as the Liffey went by,
rocking us with its sleepy stream.
These days, I’ll bet the tide is always high,
for every time I pass it, I refill it with tears.

Monster and Gown

Monster and Gown

I

Do you think I wake up in the morning, look up from my coffee and think to myself ‘let me see here, which one will it be today?’ I don’t. I don’t have to. The day will go on and one of them will do something. Anything. Something left out of place. Meals not cooked or served on time. Not the right temperature or flavour combination. Hiding around the house, pretending to attend to things.

What purpose have I for them if not to wait on me like a king? I’m sick and tired of putting up with this type of unacceptable behaviour. How they have the audacity, the absolute nerve to ask me why. Why? Why the fuck do they think?! I take them in, Her and her ugly little pest of a daughter.

“Whiskey!”

I take them in, provide for them and She treats me like I am stupid. She thinks I don’t see Her, I don’t hear Her. I do, I hear Her, I hear them. I always hear them. I hear everything. She deserves it. And they wonder why I drink. Do you think I would need to come down here every day, drink the contents of a bottle of whiskey until you can see straight through it, until I can see double of it, if I had a decent woman at home waiting for me? It’s a fucking tragedy.

“Whiskey!”

Her sorry self, with her fatherless child, her bastard child. Poor kid is so desperate for love that she still thinks that I am the greatest. She’s got this new thing where she calls me daddy and follows me around like a lost puppy. Well she is no child of mine, not my blood I will tell you that. Fucking four eyed little gremlin.

“Whiskey!”

What she is, is an inconvenience. She ran away from me today. It was my turn to pick her up from school. I instructed her, very clearly, that she was to finish school and walk with the landlady’s child and meet me here, at the Bar. Do you think the petulant little bitch listened? Two hours I wasted, looking for her. I went to the school, looking like a fool. I looked everywhere, every corner of the neighbourhood, all the playgrounds. I would have gone around to her friends’ houses, had she any. Then it dawned on me, finally. The childminder. And that is exactly where I found her.

“Whiskey!”

Cowering behind the sofa, like I’m some kind of fucking monster. She came kicking and screaming and begging the hippie to not let me take her. The utter embarrassment. The woman looked uncomfortable, but she knows me as the father, she had no choice but to let me take the child. It cried all the way home. I don’t know how many times I had to yell “Quiet!”. But it was once we were back at home, behind closed doors that she took it too far.

She knows better than to stay silent when she’s being spoken to. She just ignored me. I asked her what the fuck she thought she was doing, hiding from me. She just sobbed, first silently, then louder and louder. She wouldn’t stop. She wouldn’t answer me back. The louder I yelled, the louder she cried. She left me with no fucking choice. I left her there. Her limp body laying on the tiled kitchen floor. She’ll be fine. She needs some discipline in her life. Her mother is too soft with her, you know? Ah, what do you know? You’re just a barmaid. The kid needs to learn.

“Whiskey”

II

I was very brave today. I ran away. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to leave Mum behind. But I was very scared. He told me to meet Ana at the school gates and walk home with her. Not our home though. Her home. Ana lives above the Bar. He drinks there almost every day. He said he had to look after me until Mum finished work. But I don’t like it when he drinks. He’s very mean.

I thought I had bought myself enough time until Mum came home. But he figured it out. He found me before Dragon Ball Z had even finished. I am only five, and we haven’t lived here for very long. It’s a very small place. I don’t have any friends and the only other adult I know is my childminder, Lucile. Lucile was very surprised when I rang the doorbell today. I told her Mum must have forgotten to tell her I was coming today. I don’t know if she believed me, but she let me in anyway. She made me chocolate milk and let me watch cartoons in the living room.

I knew I was in trouble when the doorbell rang again though. And I definitely knew I was in trouble when I saw him. The veins on his head looked angry. He was very angry. I was very scared. I cried. I begged Lucile to let me stay. She looked very sorry, but she said that he was my Dad and I had to go home with him. But the thing is, he’s not my Dad. Not really.

I was born before my mum met him, so I have another Dad. But he didn’t want me. I only call Him daddy because all the other kids have a Mum and a Dad. And Mum is having another baby with him. So, he will be my baby brother’s Dad. He was very nice in the beginning and took me to the playground and bought me dolls and ice cream. I wanted him to be my Dad. But I don’t anymore. He hits Mum a lot.

They go in the living room a lot, and he always locks the door so I can’t go in and he always leaves blue and yellow circles on her skin and makes her cry. Mum always says: “If we stay in the living room for too long and it’s quiet, go out into the street and ask for help.” But I’m only five. I shouldn’t talk to strangers. I want to ask for help now. His hands are tight around my neck, like a snake. I can feel my hair brushing the ceiling and then it all goes dark. And it’s cold.

III

You are not my daughter, not born from me, or carry my family’s blood. I suppose that is why I could never connect to you. Yet you adored me deeply, it repulsed me. Your brother, my heir, that is my pride and joy. But as I look back on my life, I fear it is with you that lies most of my regret. Your brother was too young, the last time I saw him he was days away from his second birthday. He will not remember anything. You, however, you will remember everything. Won’t you?

They say those are the most formative years of your life and I fear I ruined your childhood. You must think of me as a monster. But I was just a very sick man, and the drink didn’t help. If only you could see me now. Sometimes, I think about just turning up, one day, unannounced, but the reality is none of you would even recognise me. I found all of you online. I often look at the little information your private profile provides, mainly your profile picture updates. Your brother is a different matter, it’s hard to keep up with his ever-emerging new profiles.

If he’s anything like me at his age, he will create a new account and promptly forget the password forever. I lost count of how many e-mail addresses I had in my twenties. I hope he is like me, he certainly looks like me. I know I have made mistakes, but god knows I have paid for them along the years. I hope your brother knows that. I wonder if your Mother has poisoned him against me. I could never blame her. He will soon be arriving at his eighteenth birthday. He will be a man and able to make decisions of his own. I will try to engage in contact with him at this time.

I assume you have told him horror stories from those days. I wonder how skewered your memory is. Did you tell him about the time you fainted? I didn’t even hit you. I thought better of it. Didn’t I?  I left you alone and went to the Bar. Your mother wouldn’t forgive me that time, that offence. Not her precious girl. But it was you, you ran away. You disobeyed me. You lost me my heir, my precious son. But still you were a child, you had seen so much, of course you would dramatize the situation. You would have said anything to get your Mother away from me.

That is my deepest regret, what I did to your Mother, a good woman, beaten black and blue, trapped, weak. I regret the way I treated her, and I regret making you watch.

IV

I guess, it all started two weeks ago. I came home from work and I could feel the tension in the house as soon as I walked through the door. It was heavy on the shoulders and in the pit of your stomach. I found Mum upstairs, as usual, sat on the toilet with the door wide open. Only she wasn’t playing games on her phone or filing her nails, as usual.

She looked withdrawn. Puffy red eyes. My heart sank. Then I panicked. I imagined the worst. But in the end, there was no reason for panic. “Your brother’s father has died.” He was found dead in his home, after being “missing” for three days. Heart attack. My heart sank again. This time for my brother. I raced downstairs, through the house, into my brother’s bedroom extension.

He seemed fine. He looked sad, but much like his father, the only feeling he can express is anger. The rest gets thrown back, into the bottom of a bottle, piling up, building walls around him as tall as he is. That’s over six foot, none of us stand a chance. We smoked a lot that night. We got high in silence. I was just simply there, in the only way I knew how. In the only way he would allow me to be.

We’ve always had a strained relationship, my brother and I. I have always secretly hated how much he reminds me of his father. Of course, he has no idea of what his father was really like, of the pain he inflicted on Mum. And I would never want to haunt him with those memories or taint his own personal version of his father. I know how big of a hole growing up fatherless left in his heart.

I remember desperately wanting to meet my own father when I was a girl, to know what he looked like, to know who he was, to know where the other half of me came from. But my brother feels things more intensely, I know he has suffered not having his father around and now losing the chance to ever have him.

He and Mum flew over for the funeral last week, they were taken to his house, my brother got first digs of anything there. I think he felt a little closure. Yesterday I came home from work and found Mum on the sofa, curtains drawn close, crying in the darkness, unconsolably. I panicked. When she told me that it was over the recent death, I just couldn’t fathom it. Why? Why was she crying? Why was she sad?

We had an explosive row. She said I was cold hearted. Turns out he had left me a letter. Mum found it, an envelope with my name written in calligraphy. She said I should read it. I said she was weak. This man beat her for years, he hit me once. Didn’t he? In fact, I’m sure he strangled me. I was around five years old, and then he left me passed out on the kitchen floor to go drinking in a Bar. How does a letter make any of that okay?

How the hell can she be sad that he is dead? Or is she right?

Am I heartless?

Am I being irrational?

So, to answer your question, I am here because I need help. I’m graduating soon, hat and gown and all, I’ve accomplished so much in my life, so why is it that even though he is now dead, the monster inside my head is still very much alive?

Can I Call You Ribena?

Hello and good morning/afternoon/evening, in whichever corner of the world you currently find yourself in, I hope you are having a lovely week thus far. Today I’m going to talk about the elephant in every room of my life, my name. I was born in Portugal in 1991, where my aunt and godmother named me Romina, and in 2002 I migrated to the north west of England, where I’ve lived ever since, with the short exception of a year spent in Ireland. I have never come across another person named Romina in my twenty nine years of life.

Recently, I had an interesting interaction with another writer over on Working Class Poetry. I thought her surname ‘Alegre’ sounded Portuguese, and as I introduced myself, as always, I stated that my name is very unusual. It turns out that she actually hails from Argentina, where, she informs me, Romina is super common, and she herself actually knows a bunch. This ignited a roaring fire, that has been slowly burning away at the back of my mind. Where does my name originate from, and what does it mean?

I asked my mum how I came to be named Romina. She told me that my aunt Sandra, at the time of pregnancy, worked for an artist couple making clay sculptures named “bonecos malcriados” which translates to “rude dolls”. The sculptures depicted adult dolls, partly naked, sometimes in suggestive positions, and Sandra sculpted, baked, and sold them. Is that a cool job to have in your twenties, or what? Anyway, this couple had a daughter named Romina and my aunt Sandra just loved the name, and told my mum, who subsequently loved the name, and that is the story of my name choice.

A couple years after my birth, my mum told me, she heard that Romina was a name the Roman Travelling community gave to women who were ready to marry. During my own research, I found that different languages claim to be the origin of Romina. It is claimed to be of Arabic origin meaning “from the land of Christians” but interestingly Italy also claims origins. Suggesting that Romina is the diminutive of Rome ‘little Rome’ and is a term to describe the people of Rome. It then makes sense that the origin is Italian, and the Arabic meaning the “land of Christians” as the Roman Empire. There is also mention of Romina as a female Persian name, meaning pure, purified.

I have always been aware that my name is unusual, since being a child I never had any friends by the same name, nor siblings or family members of friends, nor extended family. The only Romina I remember people speaking of when I enquired about my unusual name was Romina Power, Italian/American singer from the US. But at least, in Portugal, people could pronounce it, and at that point in my life I liked my name. It was when moved to Bolton, England that Romina really became a problem. It’s connotations of anti whiteness became a symbol of my foreignness, of my outsider-ness. It became one more thing that fuelled the playground and classroom xenophobia that I experienced during my first years in England.

British people simply cannot wrap their tongue around the pronunciation of the opening R, and so it trips them up for the rest of the word. Initially, I couldn’t speak the language, so I didn’t know how to translate my name into its “English” version. When I introduced myself to both kids and adults, peer students, and teachers alike, I was met with confusion and a lot of the time contempt. Contempt at my difficult name. So gradually, throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I began adopting nicknames such as ‘Meena’ and ‘Ro’ and as the title of this blog post suggests even ‘Ribena’ increasingly I began disliking my name. I became apologetic whenever I had to explain to someone new, that “yes, it’s a strange name, I’m Portuguese, just call me X”.

Until one day, a few years ago, I came across Uzo Aduba’s speech at Glamour magazine, about people in America finding her Nigerian name difficult to pronounce, and about her mother’s reaction to her request to have her name changed to Zoe. I realised then that my name might be a little strange and usual, but it’s part of my identity. It’s part of what makes me, me. I’m glad that I went in search of its origins and of what it means, and I will wear my name a little more proudly from now on. So here is to all the people who can never find their name on keyrings or coke bottles, to all of us who have to live a life of mispronunciations and “versions” of ourselves to facilitate and accommodate others. I see you, you’re not alone, love your name, wear it proudly, and cherish it because it is your legacy. This is for you, for all of us.

Speaking In Tongues

Speaking In Tongues

When I say I’m cleaning what I mean is
I’m going to cleanse, wash the whiskey sweating
out of my pores, the smell of bad decisions
and cigarette smoke ingrained into my hair.

When I say I have a meeting, I mean I have to
get out of bed this week, open the curtains
to the blinding light of disappointment,
air out the nightmares haunting my mind.

When I say I’m doing laundry I mean I’m going
to fold all of my responsibilities. I will separate
them into neat piles and leave them at the foot
of the bed so I don’t have to sleep alone anymore.

When I say thank you what I mean is I love you.
When I say I love you what I mean is don’t
ever leave me. I’ll never ask you to stay,
but when I say leave, that is exactly what I mean.

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

“But why can’t we all just go together?” Fabiana asks again as she follows her mother around the cramped bedroom the four of them share at grandmas, while mum packs the last of her belongings away into the giant suitcase by the door.

Fabiana has spent most of her formative years living with her baker grandparents and youngest aunt, and is the eldest of three children. They are now three again. Girl, boy, boy. Fabiana was an only child for five years, and then came the first boy, and five years later came the next girl. Girl, boy, girl. But the birth was premature and then it was back to girl, boy. Then one cold winter, as mum battles a bout of pneumonia, it becomes girl, boy, boy.

Fabiana hates the thought of being left beind, now, just as they finally become a complete family of four. Like everyone else. The plan is for mum to go on ahead, to find a job and a home before the children go to join her. Fabiana does not like the plan. She wants to go and help. She can look after the boys, she has learnt enough from watching and later helping her grandmother childmind. On average, her grandmother looks after ten children each day.

“Come on, Fabi, you know you have to stay here and help grandma with the boys, amor. Time will pass by quickly, you’ll see, before you know it, we will all be together again. Just be patient!” mum reassures her, and places a small, soft kiss on her forehead.

Mum was right, those five months pass by quickly, too quickly, and before long more big suitcases are lining up the corridor of grandma’s house, and their three little lives are being packed into them. Fabiana is beyond excited! She cannot wait to see her mother again. She doesn’t even notice or care that she has to leave a lot of things behind. Like her Harry Potter books, or her tiny guitar.

After finding a Portuguese/English dictionary on her aunt’s desk, Fabiana writes her mum a letter in English, to show off the things she has learnt in English class. She writes “to my sweat mother” instead of “to my sweet mother” and she puts two O’s on every ‘to’. She writes that she cannot wait to give her a hug tight and many small kisses. She is proud of this achievement, and can’t wait to try out this new language in this new place.

School finishes in early June so Fabiana spends her last month at home at the beach, like every other summer before. Grandad goes to work, pacing up and down the beach selling his baked goods, and Fabiana stays behind to man the hut with her aunt and brothers. Between shifts of manning the hut, Fabiana and her aunt take turns watching the boys play by the seashore.

The aunt likes to sit right where the wet and dry sand meet, reading a magazine and glancing up every few minutes, telling the boys to put on a hat, or another coating of sun protector. Fabiana likes to sit with the boys, right where the waves break onto the shore. She likes to dig around in the sand there and feel for razor clams. She likes the smelt of salt on the boys hair, and the colours she sees when she looks directly at the sun without her glasses on. The beach is her happy place, the ocean in particular.

Saying goodbye to her friends and family feels more like ‘see you later’ than ‘goodbye’. Subconsciously Fabiana thinks this move could be temporary. They are known to move around often, briefly, here and there. She will, much later, come to realise that this particular move is to be very much permanent. Now, the anticipation of being reunited with mother, of their little family being together again, finally, their new home and new schools, with uniforms and everything, all makes the transition a lot easier. It helps Fabiana kind of forget what and who she is leaving behind.

Seeing her mum again is euphoric. Much more than getting on a plane for the first time, even more so than actually flying, the taking off from the edge of the earth and then landing again, for the very first time. Hugging and kissing and smelling her mum again, after five whole months is just everything Fabiana had hoped it would be. This is happiness, she is happy. Ecstatic, even. Briefly. Until, they exit the arrivals lounge at the airport and make their way outside to hail a taxi.

Torrential rain welcomes Fabiana to her new home. Torrential rain and a sky coloured in with so many shades of grey, that she feels overwhelmed. Sure, she has seen rain before, yes, even in summer. But nothing quite like this, even the worst winter days back home do not match up to this tempestuous afternoon. Climbing out of the taxi outside their new home, Fabiana hears a strange high-pitch sound, almost song like, getting closer and closer. Screeching around the corner, a multicoloured truck comes speedily towards them, coming to a brisk stop a few feet ahead.

“What is that?” Fabiana asks, frowning.

“Oh, that’s the ice-cream truck, it sells ice-cream cones, with sprinkles, would you like one?” mum smiles.

“But it’s raining!?”

She looks around, at this landlocked, strange place, at this late July afternoon, grey, and cloudy and wet and for the first time since learning of their immigration plans, she realises just how much she is going to miss home. Waking up to the smell of freshly baked pasteis de nata and bolas de berlim, to the sound of seagulls flying ahead, and the murmur of children speaking gibberish in a tongue she does understand, and to the feel of Mediterranean sun on her skin, and sand in her toes.

Soundless Fights In The Middle Of The Night

You say: say what you have to say!

But those words echo in my mind because you
are not ready for the deafening tone of the
words that are spilling out of my eyes and you


do not understand what I mean by your eyes
make me want to skinny dip in the ocean and you
don’t speak the language that my body speaks
when it finds itself in enough proximity of yours.

So I sigh.

But you have plenty to say, you insist.

And I do. I want to speak but I can’t seem to get
my spoken words right, I try not to mind that
my mind and heart are in a constant knife fight.

But I can’t pretend around you it’s so intense,
you make them drop their blades and open fucking
gun fire. The bullets they ricochet off my brain to
the left side of my ribcage leaving the contents
of my broken heart splattered across my face.

So I say nothing.