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
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
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
#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
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