Sycamore, poplar, oak; it has taken me weeks to remember their names but I can now. London Plane is the tree I like best with its spiky round brown nuts dangling from its branches; it reminds me where I am and who I am.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. They refuse to understand. But I have no choice. The questions they ask me. I look at their faces and though they think I can’t see, I can. How many times? I can’t count. England; I thought it would be different here, but just like Karachi; always the same look; they don’t believe me.
The first week I was in London, I only went out to the shop to buy milk, dhal, rice and bananas. When I came home, I sat by the window, looking out at the small park, surrounded by tall trees with emerald green grass in the centre and watched the rain and cried; how I cried.
I don’t know why and how that morning, in my second week, I was able to walk out the door and instead of turning left, I went right, and right again into the park. There was no call to pray; just birds singing. Perhaps that helped me. When I got into the park there was no one there. I walked past the trees: strong, thick, brown, red, grey almost black; chopped branches; knotted, chipped, flaking bark; jade green leaves and tiny flowers at their bases: white, yellow, purple. As I looked across I became frightened. Someone was walking towards me. But then I saw it was an English woman with two small dogs, fluffy and white as though they had just had a bath.
‘Good morning,’ she said and before I could open my mouth she and her dogs were gone.
The next morning I wasn’t sure; all I could see were heavy, grey clouds raining down. By seven o’clock I decided it was too late; there would be too many people.
On the third morning the sky reminded me of the bright blue dupattas Razia and I wore at St Joseph’s before Senior Fikree confiscated them. Thinking of those crazy times in Karachi I smiled, as I walked out of the house. When I entered the park it was light but earlier than before so the woman and her dogs hadn’t come yet. There was no one there so I walked slowly round the park looking at the trees, tapping them as though I knew them which I didn’t then. As soon as I saw someone enter the park I walked quickly home.
On my fourth day the singing was joyful, as though the birds were teasing me. That was how I learnt to go out. I kept my head down if there were any men there but I didn’t mind to say good morning to the women.
By my third week I was less frightened and sleeping better. My new friends woke me at six and they welcomed me like the St Patrick’s Cathedral choir.
Every day I see women’s faces: old, young, brown, red, dark, light just like the barks of the trees; English, Chinese, Turkish, African.
One morning a young woman stopped me and said, ‘isn’t this just wonderful.’
I didn’t understand why she stopped me. But it was true; for seven days it had been raining.
‘We’ve been waiting for this for so long it’s like waiting to eat the food you’ve been cooking. Your lips, your mouth, your stomach are ready but you just have to wait.’
She made me laugh.
‘I’m from Newcastle and my mate told me it’s raining cats and dogs there.’
I laughed so loud I think she thought I was stupid.
‘So sorry,’ I said quickly; I wasn’t making fun of her. ‘In Pakistan it’s too hot now.’
‘That’s the trouble, too hot or too cold. We’re never satisfied but today is lovely.’
She was right; it was a golden day.
‘Shall we walk a bit?’
‘Oh.’ I didn’t know what to say.
We walked and she talked. She likes talking; taller than I am with long, wavy, black hair like me, big bright eyes and a round face. I just listened. She asked me if I knew about trees.
‘In Karachi we don’t have such large trees. There are kathal, faalsa and cheeko but they are small.’
‘I don’t know about that lot but what about all these?’ she said, pointing to the proud, old trees round the park.
‘That’s a horse chestnut, a poplar, a cherry tree, a sycamore…’
‘So many names.’
‘Tell you what? I’ll teach you a tree a day. What d’you think?’
So each day we meet. Besides the trees I’m learning about Newcastle and La Sagesse, the school she went to, and she is learning about St Joseph’s and Karachi.
She taught me about the flowers as small as a paisa: white cow parsley, purple thistle, yellow buttercups. By the time the summer days came, I began to look forward to walking with Rachel. I wasn’t frightened and told her. She didn’t ask me any questions. She told me about her family, her job working in the park café, her boyfriend, her girlfriends, and her dreams of travelling. I told her about the police, the torture, the rape; how I came to England alone knowing no one, how they wanted me to tell them over and over again what happened and how each time it pained me; and now that I was safe, Mama can continue her work without fear.
‘Your mother sounds a brave woman.’
‘I miss her.’
‘It must be hard.’
‘Very hard. She spoke to Senior Fikree, my old headmistress and she got me out.’
Over the months I told Rachel everything.
‘Lavender…The summer’s ending soon.’
‘Is that very bad?’
‘Does it snow in Karachi?’
‘Then you’re in for a treat.’
Red Pepper would like to thank Jocelyn Watson and Freedom from Torture for allowing us to reprint this story. Illustrations by Cressida Knapp
Freedom from Torture is the only national organisation in the UK dedicated solely to the rehabilitation of torture survivors. Its focus is on supporting people bearing the physical and psychological scars of torture to rebuild their lives.
Staff and volunteers of Freedom from Torture ensure survivors of torture and organised violence have access to rehabilitation services that meet their complex and diverse needs. Operating from five treatment centres around the UK, the organisation provides care, treatment and protection of torture survivors enabling them to rebuild their lives. It also contributes to worldwide efforts to stop torture, provide advocacy for survivors’ rights and campaign for torture prevention. www.freedomfromtorture.org
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant