Letters from Kilburn. fiction by Vanessa Gebbie

Vanessa Gebbie

LETTERS FROM KILBURN

901 Essex Heights
Kilburn
London
United Kingdom
October 15

Dear Your Majesty,

     I hope you do not mind that I am writing. It is about the water pipes at Essex Heights.  The water is brown and I am worried. I have asked the Immigration Office many times but they say the pipes are old.
     I am still worried.
     I have seen you in the newspapers and on TV. I hope you can help me. Please forgive my bad writing.                              

     I am yours,                         
     Karim Hussein (Mr) (Aged 18)

Buckingham Palace,
3rd November

Dear Mr. Hussein,

     Her Majesty has asked me to convey her thanks to you for your recent letter.  
     As you will appreciate, she is unable to respond personally to the many hundreds of letters that arrive every week, but she is always most interested to receive them.

     Yours faithfully,

Sarah Williams
(Deputy Secretary, Correspondence.)

901 Essex Heights
Kilburn
London
November 7

Dear Your Majesty,

     I am very pleased to receive today a reply to my letter about the water pipes from Sarah Williams Deputy Secretary of Correspondence. I am deeply affected that you are most interested to receive letters.
     That is why I am now writing again. It is still about the water pipes. The water is still brown. I am still worried.
     The water is brown sometimes in water pipes in my country, Iraq, but not always. Sometimes, since the fighting, there is no water at all and we have to wait.

     It is very hard to be clean for prayers in brown water,

     I am yours,
     Karim Hussein (Mr) (Aged 18)

                                                                                                                                          Buckingham Palace,
19th November

Dear Mr Hussein,

     Her Majesty has asked me to convey her thanks to you for your recent letter.

     As you will appreciate, she is unable to respond personally to the many hundreds of letters that arrive every week, but she is always most interested to receive them.

     Yours faithfully,

     Sarah Williams
     (Deputy Secretary, Correspondence.)

901 Essex Heights,
Kilburn
November 24

Dear Your Majesty,

     I am humbled to have two replies from Sarah Williams Deputy Secretary of Correspondence.
     There is still brown water in the pipes at Essex Heights. However, I now buy clear water in big plastic containers from a shop. I use this clear water for cooking, drinking and washing before prayers, so I have finished with one problem. The containers are expensive, (£3.75p) but I will no longer bring my pipes.to your attention.
     I have travelled a long way to arrive in your country. I have arrived because I want to be a medical doctor. It is not possible for me to learn to be a medical doctor where I live at the moment. (Please see PS).
     I have see you on TV. There is not a TV here at 901 Essex Heights. You were on TV in the window of a shop in Kilburn High Street. You were putting red flowers on the ground, and were wearing a black hat. I think you looked very nice.

     This letter is too long. I must not waste your time as you have many hundreds of letters to read. I hope it is not a burden, and I hope it does not make you tired.

     I am yours,
     Karim Hussein, (Mr) (Aged 18)

PS
     Our University Medical School is not in very good repair since the fighting.  

Buckingham Palace,
1st December

Dear Mr Hussein,

     Her Majesty has asked me to convey her thanks to you for your recent letter.

     As you will appreciate, she is unable to respond personally to the many hundreds of letters that arrive every week, but she is always most interested to receive them.

Yours faithfully,

Sarah Williams
(Deputy Secretary, Correspondence.)

  1. Mr Hussein –

I would also like to add my thanks for your letter. SW.                                                                                                                                  

901 Essex Heights
Kilburn
December 7

Dear Your Majesty,

     It is also a great honour to receive a Post Scriptum from Sarah Williams Deputy Secretary of Correspondence.
     I have attended two meetings about medical school, and I am very hopeful. But it is easier to write English than listening and speaking English. I have a friend here who is helping me write. You have many different accents, I cannot hear the words sometimes. I  am learning, however, in two books from Kilburn Library (Mrs Anne Fitzpatrick, Chief Librarian).
     This morning I attended a third meeting about medical school. I do not have qualifications, and certificates. (Please see PS 1). This is another problem, but not for Your Majesty.
     Your newspaper face today is tired. I hope it may be permitted to observe this. If I am your medical doctor, I would tell you to have a holiday. (Please see PS 2)

     I am yours,
     Karim Hussein, (Mr) (Aged 18)

PS 1.
     I did not carry any papers. My brother Hassan had a wallet round his waist with our papers and my examination certificates. They are all lost. 

PS 2.
     My last letter speaks of our University Medical School. I must say now it was used by soldiers from my country, then by American soldiers. Some rooms were used for sleeping, and some for eating. There were two good operating rooms but now one is a cinema And has pictures of ladies on the wall.
     The other is made like a prison room. I have seen excrement and blood on the floor. I do not wish to offend you, saying ‘pictures of ladies’ and ‘excrement’
     There are no books there, now and the laboratories are full of broken glass.

                                                                                                                             Buckingham Palace,
December 11th

Dear Mr Hussein,

     Her Majesty has asked me to convey her thanks to you for your recent letter.

     As you will appreciate, she is unable to respond personally to the many hundreds of letters that arrive every week, but she is always most interested to receive them.

     Yours faithfully,

     Sarah Williams
     (Deputy Secretary, Correspondence.)

Ps. Dear Mr Hussein,

     Thank you once again for your most interesting letter. May I wish you every good fortune in your search for a place at medical school.                                                                                                                  

Best wishes,
Sarah Williams

901 Essex Heights
Kilburn
December 20

Dear Your Majesty,

     I am very happy to receive good fortune from Sarah Williams Deputy Secretary, Correspondence.”
     I am reading medical books at Kilburn Library, found by Ann Fitzpatrick, the Librarian. So I can show my seriousness at the meetings about medical school arranged by the Immigration office. But
     I have a problem here. I talk to them about my examination certificates and they only ask questions about my journey to come here. (Please see PS 2)
     I am sad today.  901 Essex Heights has two beds. I have one. The other is empty.
     But Your Majesty, I am also very honoured indeed. In my letter I said for you to take a holiday. Now, I read in the newspaper, you will be going to another palace in your beautiful English countryside, Sandringham, for your Christmas.
     Please accept my wishes for a restful holiday.

     I am yours,

     Karim Hussein (Mr) (aged 18)

P S 1
I send my good wishes to Sarah Williams in addition.

PS 2.
My father is dead in the fighting. He was a gentle man, and my little brother Mansur died with him. He was six years.
My mother gave money to Hassan, my older brother, for us to travel to your country. I will be a medical doctor and. Hassan can make things work with electricity.
A man helped us, but he needed most of the money for the official arrangements. I do not know where this man is, he must tell the Immigration office about my official arrangements.

My brother Hassan is now lost and the wallet and examination certificates also.

Buckingham Palace, 
January 2nd

Dear Mr Hussein,

     I have been very touched indeed to read your letters addressed to Her Majesty, and by your kind concern for her despite your own troubles.

     I am extremely sorry to hear of the deaths of your father and brother at home. Where is home? Has your brother Hassan been separated from you somehow?

     I do hope you find him, and your certificates, very soon.

     I send you my very best wishes for a Happy New Year,

     Sarah Williams.

901 Essex Heights
Kilburn
January 12

Dear Your Majesty and Sarah Williams,

     I thank Sarah Williams for her very generous message.
     My last meeting about medical school took place yesterday. Two men asked questions again, not about my qualifications but about my journey to come here. (Please see PS 1).
     Your country is most splendid and good. In Kilburn Library I am now reading medical books every day to help me be a good student. I read the newspapers as well. I also read, to learn about your food, a book by J. Oliver Esq.

     Outside the library there is always a man and a dog. The man is shaking, his face is grey. If I was a medical doctor I could help him, but now I just buy his magazines.
     Please also see Post Scriptum 2.

     I am yours,
     Karim Hussein (Mr) (Aged 18)

PS 1.
Losing the wallet.

There was a big building with no windows. Other men drank alcohol and laughed. Then they were playing, pushing me and Hassan and pulling our clothing. They saw the wallet round Hassan’s waist and they took it. They then laughed again when Hassan asked for it back.

They took the wallet, and the money and my school certificates.

PS 2.
Losing Hassan, my brother.

There was a train and it was not black but white and shiny. We had to go underneath it to find a small ledge, and hold on tight for the train would be going very fast. It took days to succeed due to men trying to stop us.
It hurt my legs, and it hurt my back. My hands were hot and my fingers were numb and cut from holding something sharp. I think I broke one finger.

I could not see Hassan but I heard his voice. “We are nearly there. Hold on, my little brother…”

The noise in my ears was like a very great wind, like dying. The wind was s a great hand to sweep me away to Allah.

I was getting tired, I could breathe only in my own armpit because of how I was lying. I was not clean, but I still prayed.  I would let the wind take me to Allah if it was his wish.

Sometime the train slowed, and I heard my brother. “Karim. You will be a medical doctor. Remember…”

I could not see my brother. My eyes saw nothing because of the wind. But I could feel the metal rails close like a knife. The knife made the wind.

At home there is a butcher who has a circular sawing machine. It has teeth, and I see this sawing machine under the train.

And when I arrived in London, and they took me out,  I could not move. Hassan my brother was gone. 

Buckingham Palace,
20th January

Dear Mr Hussein,

     I am so very, very sorry, and saddened, to hear about the terrible time you had on your journey. It is impossible for me to begin to imagine what it must have been like for you. I believe your brother Hassan was a very brave man.

     I would like to try to help you, so I enclose some information leaflets from people and organisations here in London who might be able to help you, both about your immigration status, and also (hopefully) about finding a place at medical school.

     With warmest wishes,

     Sarah Williams.

Heathrow Airport.
January 20th

Dear Sarah Williams,

     I am a little frightened so it will help to write once more.
     At 3.00 this morning two men opened the door of 901 Essex Heights Kilburn, and took me away to a car. They packed a small bag for me.

     I must return home because were no official arrangements. I am waiting now for an aeroplane.

     I did not like to tell untruths to your Immigration people. I did what Hassan told me to do. But also,  I did not like to tell untrutha to you, who are so kind.  I have told you one untruth only, and I ask you to forgive me. I am not aged 18.

     I thank you and Your Majesty and I wish for you both a very

long life. 

     I am yours,

     Karim Hussein (Aged 15)

P S:
It is Hassan who was aged 18.

Bhazra.
February 15th

Dear Sarah Williams,

     Please forgive me if I am trouble again for you.

     In my bag packed by the men there was a book from Kilburn Library, called English Usage. It is in this parcel. Please could you give it back to Ann Fitzpatrick, Chief Librarian.

     It was three months from Bhazra to Kilburn.  It is two days from Kilburn to Bhazra.

     I heard from my friend at Essex Heights Kilburn. He says a gift of money is come from someone not known. And the money is expressly for new water pipes. Essex Heights Kilburn now has clear water.

     Here, the water is still brown.

     Allahu akhbar.

     I wish you again long life.
     I am yours,

     Karim Hussein

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Vanessa Gebbie is an award-winning Welsh writer, teacher and editor. She has several books to her name –  among them a novel, and various short story, flash and poetry collections. She is also commissioning and contributing editor of Short Circuit, Guide to the Art of the Short Story (Salt Publishing). Her work has been supported by grants from the British Arts Council.  She has been a Hawthornden Fellow, a Gladstone’s Library Writer in Residence, and her work has been translated into several languages, including German, Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, and Punjabi. 

“Letters from Kilburn” appears in a slightly longer form in Vanessa´s collection Storm Warning. Salt Modern Fiction. 2010.

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Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie is now completing her first novel where, for a family with a Seventh-day Adventist father and a Mennonite mother, the End Times are just around the corner. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

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