by Hannah Rose
Christmas in England this year made a festive looking smokescreen for the dirtiest of politics. Whilst civilians were stripping the shelves of Lidl of pickles, the PM and her cabinet were negotiating terms for exiting Europe for good—no one would see them slink away through the back door. In mid December the Brexit Impact Assessments, which had taken up most of civil service’s working week throughout the year, sat in a sagging pile on the Cabinet’s round table, resembling the Christmas cake which no one actually likes but must stay there reminding everyone of the hard effort some relative put in to making it. “Who has actually read these?” the PM asks. Silence, except for the shuffle of feet. She picks up the top file between her forefinger and thumb and waves it at the men sitting around her. “Has anyone read” –she pauses to peer at the title—“’Effects on Self-employed Building Site Managers’?” The Defence Secretary coughs and offers a response.
“That isn’t my area ma’am.”
“Esteemed colleagues,” the PM says to her cabinet, not unkindly. “Brexit is everyone’s area.”
Aleksander lost his hearing when he was seven years old. The accident on the building site where his father worked, and the accident which killed him, wouldn’t have happened if Aleksander hadn’t been there. Aleksander wouldn’t have been there if there was someone else at home to take care of him while his father was at work. But there was no one else. Aleksander’s father took him to England on his own, leaving his wife and baby daughter—Aleksander’s little sister—in Warsaw. Schools in England were said to be good and Aleksander was a bright boy who could already say some English words at four-and-a-half: “banana”, “tree-tops”, and—curiously—“Jesuit”.
When Aleksander started primary school, it was easier for everyone to just call him Alex. But Aleksander missed the sound of his real name, and when he got home from the English school he would say his Polish name aloud, over and over, into the little round mirror in his bedroom, stressing his speech on the hard K, which was his essence, he felt. “AleKsander AleKsander AleKsander!”
He would hear his father call to him from the living room: “Aleksander! That is you! My son!” And Aleksander would feel like himself again. School was ok, the teachers were nice and they were allowed to spend time in the afternoon playing games, singing songs and making robots from cardboard boxes. The other kids didn’t mind that he didn’t speak as much English as them, and he enjoyed learning new words everyday. But at Christmas time he missed his mother and new baby sister who was already growing so fast. Him and his father Skyped with them most nights, and his mother would show his sister to him on the screen and she would gurgle happily, and Aleksander would say all the new words he learned that day, hoping that his sister’s first words would be in English: “nativity”, “carol” and “turkey”.
“You are so clever, Aleksander!” his mother would say, clapping. They blew kisses to each other and waved goodbye and Aleksander would feel big and grown up, for a moment, until the night came again and he was alone in his strange English bed with his father snoring loudly in the next room. His father, who worked every day apart from Sunday from early in the morning until Aleksander got home from school, explained how the money he earned here in England was safer in Poland with his mother and sister. Once a month on Sunday afternoons they went into the town to the Western Union desk and transferred the money to Poland—from pounds to zloty. It was a happy little ritual that they enjoyed doing together and his father would kiss the wad of twenty pound notes and then pass them to Aleksander to kiss before handing them over to the clerk.
“English money lasts much longer at home,” his father explained, “and if we spend the money on travelling home for a short visit, it means we have to stay in England longer, and not see them for a very long time.”
“We are lucky dad,” Aleksander reasoned. “To have the chance to come here and look after mum and the baby.”
“Yes we are, Alek,” his father said, with the smallest of frowns. Aleksander’s father had owned his own building business in Warsaw, and had been contracted to work on the Warsaw Spire—the second tallest building in the city. To Aleksander, it looked like a spaceship, and when his father went to work each morning he imagined him climbing up so high into the Spire he could touch the moon. It was his hard work on the Spire which opened up the opportunity for him to work in England, managing his very own site in London where the buildings were even taller.
“And you will be speaking fluent English in no time and will probably go to Oxford University one day because of it.”
Aleksander didn’t know what Oxford University was but he knew he’d probably like it, because his father did.
to be continued…
Featured image CC0 via Pexels
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