Writing the Riots - the winners
Published on: 25 Ebrill 2012 Author: Bali Rai
So, I've finally decided the winner and runners-up in the Book Trust story competition. Most of the entries were excellent and picking the winner was a really difficult decision.
Having last year's riots as subject matter made the task quite difficult, in my opinion, but that was part of the reason I picked the topic. Good storytelling is about challenging yourself, and trying to make sense of the world around you. For some adults there is a stereotype about teenagers in Britain, which says that young people don't care about wider issues and live in their own little bubble.
I've always known that this was a false assumption, and the number and standard of entries for this competition prove it.
The diversity in approaches to the idea was amazing and I would like to thank everyone who took the time to send in a story. I know that prize judges always say that they wish there could be more than one winner, but trust me when I say that anyone of several stories came close. In the end I chose three runners-up (it was THAT close), and one overall winner. I would like to congratulate Caroline, Minahil, Jodie, and the winner, Katie, on their brilliant stories and I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading them as much as I did. Well done to everyone that took part!
Winner: Katie Bunting
I peered out of the window - it was dark already. I stood in my pyjamas, watching the people outside through the crack in the curtains. They were running around in the streets below, shouting and throwing things, broken glass everywhere. Across the road a lady screamed and flames sprung up from her house. I gasped and shut the curtains.
I sat on my bed.
I was scared.
Daddy and his friends had talked about everything these people had done. I'd seen the pictures on the news but I didn't think it would happen to us. I knew Daddy was scared too; he was doing that thing he did when he was worried. That thing when he talks to the other grown-ups really quietly, so that I can't hear what they're saying. But I know what they were saying because I worked it out.
Daddy was scared of the people because they were cross and stealing things. That was bad because we sold jewellery to get our money. Daddy was scared that the people were going to try and steal from our shop, and then we'd have no money. He didn't want then to do that. But the people were very cross - they set things on fire and hurt people. I saw it on the news.
I looked through the curtains again.
They were getting closer.
* * * * * *
I ran away from the shop, shoving the cash into my pocket. The boys were behind me somewhere. I ran around the corner and stopped to catch my breath. I stood panting, the adrenaline searing through me. There was at least five hundred in my pocket, plus everything the others got - tonight was going well. That would show those stupid politicians, I thought. They really didn't have a clue, did they? We needed money too.
I looked around. Things were getting serious and I didn't want to miss anything. I ran back out into the street. The boys were heading for a shop at the end of the road. I followed. It wasn't going to be easy to break into the jewellers. One of the boys was pulling something out of his bag. It was a plastic container. Petrol. He poured the liquid around the foot of the building until there was none left. Then he handed me a wedge of newspaper and a lighter. I knew what it was for - I'd seen it done - but I never thought I'd get the chance. I grinned at him.
Lighting the paper, I watched the flames move towards my hand. I looked down at the petrol on the ground, and then threw the flaming paper into it. I laughed as the building was engulfed in a glorious wave of flames. Then I ran towards the back of the building, grinning again. The wall of fire was growing. For some reason I looked up at one of the first floor windows.
A little girl looked down at me...
She looked petrified...
I stopped running.
The night was still as I wandered the deserted streets. Shattered glass and debris camouflaged the roads and paths. This place - in which I had spent my entire life - wasn't much, but it was home. To see it fall to pieces had struck something inside me - an untouched emotion, something I hadn't experienced before. I didn't ask for this. They didn't think of me when they burned the place down. They didn't think of the children who watched from shattered windows, petrified of the monsters that roamed down below. They didn't think of the shop-owners or the people who lived above the stores. Where would they go and what would they do? The crackle of a raging fire was all I could hear. Thick clouds of black smoke swallowed the sky and filled my senses with a jagged aroma.
A metal frame, sitting amongst the debris, stopped me in my tracks. I picked it up. The glass had been completely smashed and a thick layer of soot covered the photo. An image that would tell a story I wouldn't understand. I wiped the grime away with my sleeve and stared down at a mother and child. They looked poorer than me but their smiles showed utter love for each other. They showed resolve. My heart lurched with sympathy.
Our community had been destroyed. Yes, we wanted better homes and jobs. But why destroy what little we had – what good had it done? Now, we had even less than before – we had nothing. I took the photo and tucked it into my pocket. If I ever found these people I would give it back to them. Tell them that life isn't worth living without someone to love.
I walked slowly, towards a burning store. The glass had been blown out and was now scattered across the pavement. I stood and watched it glow as the flames gradually crept up the sides of the building. The scene, like a rampant menace, burned wildly. Bright colours blinded me and the smell of smoke struck my nose once more. I watched it engulf the rest of the building, swallowing the remains of a home, nothing but memories now. A tear fell down my cheek as I watched. The mother and child from the photograph could have lived in there. It could have been their home.
Now there was nothing left. Only wreckage cloaked in flames.
The shadows of the building loomed over us, blocking out all but a flickering light. I looked round. The shadows were moving, revealing themselves as kids in hoods. I saw innocent civilians standing to the side, confusion plastered across their faces. There was a buzz of tension in the air, like a string that was wound too tightly. A string that was about to break. I knew in that instant that we had to leave, no matter what. But as always, Layla wouldn't listen. She had never seen so many people. I could feel the excitement fizzing out of her. It scared me - something was happening and we were right in the middle of it.
That was when everything erupted. Time seemed to stop still for a second, before speeding on again. We had to go now. I planted my hand in Layla's and started to run. Instinctively, she followed. The smell of petrol and burning made me gag. The gangs had grown larger in numbers and were attacking anything they could find; windows were smashed, shops looted, graffiti sprayed on cars.
The shrill of police cars sounded in the distance. But they were like a match that added to the fire. As the police came marching in, heavily protected, the violence grew worse. A bus had been set alight close to Layla and me. It spread quickly and before we knew it, the fire was only inches away. I jerked away, trying to take Layla with me. But her hand had gotten loose and her little fingers slipped from mine. A crowd had come rushing past, trying to put out the fire. I lost her. I lost sight of her...
I screamed her name in desperation, tears streaming as I saw blurs of red, white and black. I searched frantically, panic seizing my heart. I could not lose her. She was all I had. I kept calling, screaming till my throat was dry and my voice croaked. Glass, shattered across the ground, dug deep into my shoes but I didn't care. My mind was set on finding Layla. I heard shouts and catcalls but I ignored them, my eyes seeking out her face. An image of her, trampled and bruised, crept into my mind but I refused to give in.
A hand tapped against my back. I turned round, frantic, and there she was; Layla. She wore a big grin, standing hand in hand with a hooded guy. He gave her hand to me, staring at my tear stained face in complete silence. I grabbed her and hugged her tight, my eyes closed. When I opened them, ready to thank the hooded youth, though, he was gone. I looked round but saw no sign of him. Taking a tighter hold of each other's hands, we turned our back on the riot behind us...
My pace quickens. I can here something, someone, coming up from behind me. It's getting late, getting dangerous. I dart into a nearby alley that is dark with black fog. Not even the keenest eyes will be able to find me here. I hope. Only as I stumble round the corner onto the narrow street do I realise my mistake. Smoke surrounds me. Disorienting, panic inducing, scary. What's happening? Why can I hear shouting and screaming? How do I get out?
My eyes sting, my throat is deathly dry; my whole body seems to be protesting. I stagger towards where I know the wall will be, reaching out, trying to steady my trembling hand. Just as my fingers touch the rough brick, my knees give and I tumble to the floor, bashing my head on the stone as I fall. My eyes begin to flicker. I notice two shapes, figures moving nearby. They seem to be coming closer. I think they may have seen me. I attempt to raise my arm but the pain is too much for me to bear. I can't stay like this much longer. The people are coming nearer - I can hear them. I think, I think they're laughing. Laughing at me. Laughing at me dying.
'Sara, dear! I've brought your lunch. Let me in?'
All of a sudden, I'm back in the present. On my bed. In my room. I'm safe.
'Darling, please open the door.'
I lift my broken, weary frame from the soft sheets and head towards the door. Mums waits on the other side, smiling. Her eyes are full of care and worry, a plate of ham sandwiches in her hands.
'You're looking a lot better today. Perhaps we could go out into the garden later? Not for long - just a few minutes. I think you should get out, you know, in the fresh air again.'
She looks so hopeful, her eyes so eager. But she knows what my answer will be.
'Not today Mum.'
She lowers her gaze, accepting my reply, just as she does every day. Silently she retreats downstairs, leaving me to my own devices, once again. I wander over to the window to peer down at the street below. Two shoe-less brothers are on the warm tarmac, playing with little plastic aeroplanes. A few weeks ago this street was covered in barely visible glass splinters. Now children are roaming barefoot, no fear on their faces. How can people go back to this? How can they act as though everything is fine? That all is safe again? How can they stand to breathe in that air? Can't they smell the smog that still hovers above my head?
Today is day twenty-five. The twenty-fifth day since I decided never to leave my room again.
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