My name is Amery Hall, I live on the sixth floor of a council block in East London with my older sister Henri. I’m sixteen years old and I haven’t seen my parents for five years.
In the morning, our modest two bedroom flat is filled with the rank smell of fat as the neighbours fry Chappati on their grease- encrusted hob. Sometimes, if you walk past in the late evening you can spy twelve of them, crowded around a fold out table in the kitchen, trying to subdue the cries of the reticent baby in his off-white romper suit. Everything about our world is off-white, off-white with frayed edges as it grips on to the crumbling bricks below.
My sister, Henri was the ‘bright one’ of the family. We grew up in Dubai, before the tourists took over. My childhood memories are filled with dusty sunshine and late afternoons running barefoot around the yard of our apartment. Now the dust gathers in our home as Henri struggles to find the will to finish each day.
My teachers say I have a bad attitude and I suppose they’re right. Sabotage is my middle name and I must take a subconscious joy in poisoning everyone around me with my negative thoughts and feelings. This is my eighth school. Every time I cross the road I imagine what it will be like when I’m hit by a car. If I see blood on the floor I slow my pace, stop and stare. Sometimes I find it hard to believe in other people’s misery because I’m so wound up in my own thoughts and feelings. I can accept that the holocaust happened, but I also wonder whether I can truly appreciate pain until I feel it myself and see the crimson gush of agony rushing towards me like a tidal wave. I haven’t shed a tear since the last time I saw my mother; I’ve started smoking cigarettes to bleach out the familiar smell of her cotton wash that sometimes catches me off guard after all these years.
My sister suffers from anxiety and deep- seated neurosis about every aspect of our lives. Sometimes she goes on dates, but she’s never truly satisfied- always obsessing over some past love and her desperation to identify what she did wrong. She’s a really beautiful girl, with mid-length, colour- saturated hair; a product of her ever present fixation with bettering herself. She’s a size 12-14 and constantly on a diet, grabbing her midriff and screaming when she thinks no-one can hear. At night, sometimes I hear her with some bloke through the paper thin walls. I listen to the rhythm of the bed squeaking but I feel nothing outside of a powerful sense of disgust. None of my classmates appeal to me and I know deep down we are both searching for someone who understands love, poetry and pain as we do.
Every morning I hear my sister calling me, irritated and exhausted after another sleepless night warding off demons and checking her own pulse; she doesn’t know I’ve been smoking cigarettes on my windowsill and fingering the dust which gathers on our furniture like multiplying bacteria. We have our own routines; she counts calories and creates a storm of trepidation everywhere she travels, angrily wiping makeup in to to the hem of her work skirt. When she’s gone, I have a few moments of peace and I can watch the bald man on the ground floor throwing a ball to his Doberman. Sometimes I unhook Henri’s washing so it falls down to the flat below. She doesn’t ever dare claim it, we’ve both heard the raft of domestic abuse from below. I giggle to myself as I imagine them collecting her satin underwear and debating what to do with it.
Every day I take the underground to school, which is in a relatively leafy area of West London. My journey on the underground is one of the most intriguing and disturbing parts of my day. Crowded on to the platform, I watch ‘thrill seekers’ who stand over the yellow lines, tempting their own end. Sometimes I stare up at the fixtures and fittings on the platform; the swinging ‘EXIT’ sign and the train timetable. I wonder how secure they are in their brackets and imagine the day that the constant motion will dislodge one and see it fall to the floor. On the way to school recently, I passed a cordon and flowers for a woman crushed by a falling window. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, the chance involved and the passers by describing her last breath. These sort of things concern me and consume my waking thoughts.
On the packed train I become familiar with the stench of armpit and the acrid scent of unwashed trousers in close proximity to my face as I dash to an available seat. Sometimes, in the late morning I have the fascinating pleasure of a closeness to another human I have never experienced before. I indulge in the ability to scrutinise the pores and fine moustache hairs of a businesswoman or the naturally long and scratching nails of a worn out old hag. These are all keen fodder for my active mind…