Creative Non-Fiction


As I stood waiting for the painfully slow line to advance, I saw my name flash up on the monitor. I rolled my eyes and sighed. This wasn’t my first rodeo, with a Colombian surname and a Pakistani first name, I really felt like public enemy number one. They pulled me out the line and moved me to the front, they swabbed my bag and searched me, maybe looking for drugs, or bombs, maybe both? Like my mum always said, el que nada debe nada teme, meaning he who owes nothing fears nothing. At this point these checks were routine. In the grander scheme of things this racial profiling is awful, but in this case it got me on to the plane first, so in reality I couldn’t really complain. I walked on to the plane and adjusted my pendant like I often did when I was bored or nervous. I put my hand luggage in the overhead bin and sat down, seat 23E.

The flight attendant woke me. I had landed in Colombia, I looked out the window and we were here, I was home. I was born and raised in London but I couldn’t help but miss my homeland of Colombia, like my mum says, la sangre llama. I knew exactly where to go; I had planned this moment. I collected my luggage and went straight to the cafeteria, I ordered 3 empanadas with aji and a tinto. Empandas are somewhat like meat pies (but way better) aji is a delicious tangy chilli sauce, finally a tinto is like an expresso (but also better). As I bit into the empanda it tasted like home, I sipped my coffee and yawned, and saw a British couple getting lead by a Colombian taxi driver.

I knew what this meant. Some may think of Colombia and connect it with Pablo Escobar and cocaine, or maybe its delicious coffee or better yet its beautiful nature, but something that’s not so well known, is how persuasive and sweet talking the vendors and taxi drivers are. They probably heard the couple speak English and pounced. The man was in his 40s and somewhat overweight, the woman was probably 30 and petite. I heard the taxi driver speak in broken English and ask if the man was a famous footballer. This made me chuckle, granted the man was wearing an Arsenal shirt, but it was also two sizes too small. My mind was at ease, aside from maybe getting charged two to three times the normal cab fare, they’d be fine. This gave me a sense of complacency; I was too street smart to get caught by anything like that. I adjusted my necklace, so the pendant was the right way and  opened up Uber on my phone. It was illegal in Medellin at the time, but it was far cheaper, the trick was to sit next to the driver in the passenger seat and if the police stopped you, just say you’re friends. As a native Spanish speaker, I had no worries. I finished up and took my coffee cup to the counter, the waitress winked at me and said “Chao papi” and I thought to myself, God bless Colombia.

I got into my Uber and went to my apartment, I was so tired that I opened up the flat and headed straight to bed. I woke up after 10 hours but I was still tired. I decided to look around the apartment as I didn’t really get a chance to see it yesterday. It was a pretty nice two-bedroom apartment, in a nice area, in a gated community. I had a shower and started to plan my lessons. I took some instant noodles out of my traveler’s backpack and had it for breakfast, it wasn’t the most exotic breakfast, but I had overslept, and was late for my class. I finished getting ready and went downstairs to meet my Uber, I waved at the officer at the gate and got in. As we drove to the school, I rolled down the window and looked out, it was beautiful. It was as if the world had the Hefe Instagram filter on it, but what I found most intriguing was how happy everyone looked. Quite a contrast to London. I had a nice chat about the Colombian national football team on the ride to the school, even the Uber drivers seemed friendlier. I arrived at the school, I thanked my Uber and made my way into the school. I wasn’t the type to get nervous, but it was my first time teaching so I was a little apprehensive. I was met by my internship associate, Carolina. She introduced me to my class; much to my surprise the class was around my age in fact, a few were older. They greeted me and were inquisitive, they wanted to know where I was from, why I spoke such good Spanish and what London was like. The class was a voluntary so everyone in the class wanted to be there, despite this there was still a class clown, Alejo. Granted he made me laugh and helped me with the class, so I’ll always remember him fondly, the class went smoothly. The feedback I got back from the class was positive, I was very pleased. I adjusted my pendant and ended the class. The students cheerfully said their goodbyes and made their way home. I was teaching in Barrio Los Mangos, which wasn’t the safest area but I felt fine.

 I began to make my way out, when suddenly Carolina rushed outside after me and handed me a blue waist jacket. Somewhat startled and confused I took the jacket and asked what it was for, Carolina explained that this jacket guaranteed my safety in the neighborhood. They didn’t take kindly to outsiders. She said that if the locals saw me without it, they’d probably snatch my pendant and phone. Barrios in Colombia are something like favelas, they do tours of barrios, like they do with favelas. When you think about it, it must be so dehumanizing, having wealthy foreigners come to view your neighborhood as if it were a zoo. I thanked Carolina and put on my waistcoat. It had the name of the school on the back. I tucked my pendant into my shirt. I saw a group of guys looking at me, they walked towards me and I thought to myself, shit, the waistcoat didn’t work. But as they got closer, they yelled ‘oye Profe’ they knew I was a teacher at the school and I breathed a sigh of relief. They told me not to get an Uber back today, there was a planned attack on Uber drivers and their cars. Much like London’s iconic black cabs, Colombia has a rich history with their taxi drivers. Thus, there’s almost a civil war going on with the taxi drivers and Uber drivers. I took their advice and got a taxi home, what I saw on the way home horrified me. The road ahead of us was blocked by 3 or 4 deserted cars with ‘FUERA UBER’ spray painted on them, and on the side, burnt remains of what looked to be Uber cars. My taxi driver sighed and said “eso les pasa” translating to that’s what they get. I didn’t grasp the severity of the feud between the two groups. As I rode home in the taxi I looked out the window seeing cars in flames, I felt my own impotency, my pendant tucked in and confidence knocked down a peg. I felt like a child who had been told off for being naughty, when suddenly my phone buzzed. It was my friend James Monslave, I had become friends with him when I visited Colombia as a child, we had kept touch and we were finally going to reunite. My taxi driver arrived at my apartment, I greeted the caretaker and tipped my taxi driver, I walked into my apartment, and my phone rang. It was James, “Dime donde te quedas papi y yo le llego” this meant where you staying at I’ll make my way over, we traded barbs and laughed over the phone. I hung up and text him the address. Without realizing I had walked out to my balcony whilst on the phone, I gazed at the view, it was beautiful. The mountains covered the capital of Antioquia, the river ran endlessly opposite the metro, the sun was setting and the warm, red, cloudless sky warmly illuminated the whole city. Despite this tranquil spectacle, the cars continued rushing, each one looking like a small orb of light zooming from one place to another. The energy was crazy, the day was just getting started. I showered quickly and threw on my favorite jeans and a black shirt.

I heard a knock on the door, it was James! I opened the door and gave him a hug, James had a bottle of Aguardiente in his hands (something like Colombian Tequila) and he insisted we do a shot before heading out. I offered little resistance and did two instead! We laughed as we made our way out the gated community. My instinct was to open Uber but after today, I refused to let anything else go wrong. Instead, I waved down a taxi. Me and James got in. James offered the taxi driver a shot of Aguardiente if he got us where we were going faster, I laughed, James was always a joker, to my surprise the taxi driver agreed and we all did shots together in the taxi as the radio blasted reggaeton, Salud! (cheers) we all shouted. I felt secure now we were in the taxi, but my mind was so fixed on the Uber/taxi conflict I just realized I didn’t know where we were going… I asked James in Spanish “where are we even going?” He responded with a big grin and said “El Poblado”. When we pulled up and got out, I was taken aback, the street vendors making fresh Perros Calientes (Hot dogs with everything) the smoke from clubs leaking into the streets, the sea of people smiling and dancing, it seemed like a mythical street. El Poblado was a large strip with many nightclubs and bars, each nightclub housed a different genre of music, some had Salsa, some Vallenatos, some Rancheras, some Reggaeton. So many flavors, it would be hard to choose wrong. I stood just looking around like a child who had just seen snow for the first time, when a slim hand pulled mine and broke me out of my trance. It was a beautiful girl, her hazel eyes, red lips and olive skin just put me into another trance (not my smoothest moment). She giggled and asked “Hola me llamo Leslie, tu Bailas?” I lied and replied I can dance whatever she wants. James shook his head as we were led to the Salsa club by Leslie. Leslie had a friend for James to dance with, so it looked like we’d be okay, but truth be told we weren’t the best Salsa dancers. So we decided that the masterplan was to order double shots for everyone before we started dancing. As we took our shots we laughed and joked with each other, the fluorescent nightclub lights beamed everywhere, the smoke clouded the dancefloor (to our benefit, our dancing wasn’t great) and we danced and danced and danced. I danced with Leslie and just felt the Salsa music reverberate through me, I felt the sounds and instruments almost in my soul I suppose, this was the best moment I could’ve asked for. Leslie just moved so gracefully, I think for that night she was the love of my life (if that’s possible?). After a lot more dancing, laughter and alcohol later, we made our way out, James and Leslie’s friend decided to get a burger near James’s apartment, me and Leslie decided to order a pizza at my apartment, so we parted ways outside the club. At this point I was swept up in the moment and drunkenly ordered an Uber, I figured it’d be fine now. My pendant was backwards, I didn’t realize, I just wanted to get back and order pizza with Leslie.

Leslie and I argued as we got into the Uber about what toppings we’d have on the pizza when 5 minutes later a car stopped in front of us and one stopped behind us. I was very confused, as was Leslie. They opened the car door aggressively and screamed for us to get out, they carried baseball bats in their hands, it was the taxi drivers. I put my head in my palms, my complacency had landed me and Leslie in trouble. What Leslie did next really saved us both… she shouted at them back, and explained I was from London and if anything happened to me the British embassy would get involved and the Colombian government would crush them. I quickly provided my British driving license as evidence, they grabbed it, examined it and threw it back in the car, in frustration they yelled at each other and ran back to their cars. It felt strange to use my privilege to escape a tough spot. I looked to Leslie and we just laughed, we had just escaped, we should’ve been rattled but that wasn’t the Colombian way. We were healthy we were okay; we were happy. We got back to the apartment and finally ordered our pizza. We stood on my balcony talking about everything and anything, life, music, love, family, the pizza came, and we had a few slices and continued speaking. The minutes turned to hours and the sun began to rise, she told me she should probably go now, we shared a kiss, and she went in a taxi home. I walked back up to the balcony and watched her taxi leave, I wonder if she knew what impact she had on me, she’d forever changed my thoughts when I’d speak or act. I deleted Uber, I got into bed and slept for the whole day. I wondered if it was normal to have such a profound connection with someone so quickly.

I got out of bed and got ready for work in the evening, I had one morning class and one evening class a week. I’m glad I had an evening class because after yesterday’s antics my head hurt. I put on my hoodie and wandered outside my gated community and found a great lunch spot called Maria’s Fonda, after tasting the Sancocho I decided I’d have lunch here every day until I left. I developed a routine, I’d shower, go to eat at Maria’s then walk along the river to the taxi station. Me and James continued going out on Friday’s, we danced, drank and laughed every time. My students looked forward to our class as I devised revision games with prizes, given the age of my class I’d occasionally have prizes of the alcoholic persuasion. Like life tends to do cruelly, time flew, and my time was up. For my last night all my students came out to El Poblado with me and James, we all toasted and drank, several embarrassing dance moves later (I blame the Aguardiente) I saw Leslie across the room, I smiled at her and she smiled back. That was enough for me, having her part of my last night in one way or another was more than I could’ve asked for. The music blared all night until it went off, the last song had been played, we all made our way to the exit. I needed to finish packing for my flight in the morning, but before that Leslie grabbed my hand and screamed “Viva Colombia!” a huge roar was returned by everyone in the club, they screamed “Viva Colombia!” I screamed with them; it was almost poetic. I laughed and said my sad final goodbyes… I got into my taxi home, I adjusted my pendant, it was perfect. My time in Colombia was done. I love you Colombia. See you soon.

Pic of adorable canaries; Cello & Coral!
Image Credit: Matthew Chant

The Beauty In Their Beady Eyes

The glint in the eye is what pulled me to him, the inquisitive way that he jumped around and flew from perch to perch in search for something that wasn’t here. Something that we haven’t seen for hundreds of years and will never see again. There is a spark in them all, but there’s something innately special about this one, something eye catching for the right viewer. Something others wouldn’t see unless they let themselves take a step back and judge them as a whole, not by the beauty of their feathers. But the feathers are beautiful, that’s something that cannot be denied, the intense, vibrant yellow that cascades down his petite body ending in a rounded tail that seems to emote. I ask the woman to box him up.

I continue to scan the enclosure that holds at least a hundred different coloured canaries, all of them stunning but I look to make a connection. I gaze into their eyes, try and sus out personalities. Maybe they don’t even have them and I’m just trying to humanise each one, looking into their black eyes and seeing something that may not be there. But it is. I see it for a flash of a second and it’s gone. I desperately try and locate it again to confirm my connection. I scan the aviary until I see it again. She stands like a queen on top of the high placed, poo-stained perch. Her orange feathers look stunning as they turn into crisp white at the ends. I know I need her and she seems to understand me because she doesn’t move when the woman grabs her and she joins her companion.

Maybe I do add human traits to them, but to me they do show a wide range of emotions and understand who I am and why they are here. They constantly stay together jumping around from perch to perch and when I open their door, they follow each other in flight. Going from bookcase to bookcase to cage to desk to floor to sofa and back round again. I like to watch them interact and it seems they enjoy each other’s company. It’s said you should keep male and female canaries apart but the pair seem to have a connection that goes deeper than a primal animal relationship. They have paired up.

They do squabble and sometimes get irritated with each other, but after less than a minute they are back to being friends. My guinea pigs do this too. At one point I had five living together in a multiple story cage but sometimes they would fight and be annoyed, but only a few minutes later they are back to eating spinach together. Now there is just River and Albert left, and seeing as they are getting older, they don’t seem to even squabble anymore. I’ve had nine guinea pigs over the years; K, Pip, Ginger, Snowy, Albert, Leonardo, Titus, River and Lea. All of them have been great companions and treasured members of the family.

My house has always been a home with animals whether it be my guinea pigs or my hamsters. I only have one hamster at the moment: Madame de Pompadour who has a love of climbing. Humphrey was my first hamster, who was so sweet, the opposite of Luna who would bite anyone if she got the chance. Then it was Poppy (who got her name for eating her way out of the box before we had left the car park) and Orchid who were sisters and both adopted by me. Then came Wonder who loved sleeping and moving slowly.

I decided to name my canaries Cello, due to his bright yellow colour that reminded me of the Limoncello we got from Sorrento in Italy and Coral which I thought matched her mother nature vibe (she also matches the shade perfectly!) I wanted to have their names start with a C because when I was younger I had budgies, Billy and Bella, and wanted to match their name with their breed. Billy was a blue and white budgie who I had for about 10 years, he hated flying but loved going into the guinea pig cage and playing with their hay, much to their dismay. Bella was yellow and green and apparently wasn’t even a girl according to a man who came to install our windows so my childhood hope of having them be parents was dashed. One thing I learned about budgies is that my god they are loud and the reason I went for song birds with Coral and Cello.

Chaz was my adopted dog who we got when he was about 9/10 years old. He was found as a stray in Wales and was going to be put down until he was rescued by Last Chance. We got him in November 2014 and he died in August 2018. He was an amazing, loving dog who loved everyone and anyone he came in contact with, smiling at everyone he walked past. His full government name was Lord Chazzington III, Earl of Chazwick. 

The dazzling pair came home shy, not liking when I came near them. They would jump away but keep their eyes locked onto me. It didn’t take long for them to sing. Cello stands up tall and calls out to the universe. Pushing his head up high, his neck bulges as the song of thousands of years of evolution breathes out of him. This ancestral intelligence is even more astonishing when I see the pair of brightly coloured beauties staring at themselves in a mirrored tealight holder. As they cock their heads to the side, I wonder if they recognise themselves or just believe they have friends who don’t want to play and fly around with them.

I’m watching Cello stare at me from across the room, I know he wants to come out again today but it’s a bit too warm so I’ve opened the window and can’t have him dying in the wilderness. He looks at me longingly and then at the hatch to his door. Coral joins him but is much more interested in splashing her face with the water at the end of the perch. They both love baths and adore splashing around making a mess for me to clean up. Water spraying everywhere, onto their table, the bookcase behind them and my precious 3 for £1 books; to the sofa that my mum would kill me if they stained, so I haven’t told her about the poo marks I can’t seem to scrape off the back of it. They have multiple water bottles in their home, I say home because the cage is shaped with a cute roof. They seem to be sticking their faces and splashing the water in their bottles more than drinking it but at least they’re having fun. I concede and shut the window and let them roam around the room.

As much as I have always tried my hardest to see the positives in the world, it is sometimes hard to block out the hardships of life. My father made some really horrible verbal attacks on me a few weeks before my 18th birthday, making me feel worthless and disgusting, I tried to ignore all those feelings but my mental state just kept deteriorating. Then Chaz’s death really tore me apart, a few months after that I joined university to study English but dropped out after only a day after I had my first full mental breakdown, crying till my voice went hoarse, I joined LSBU a month later. As much as my university experience has then been amazing, my depression took over me. I had mental problems from 2014 after being ill for four months with undiagnosed Type 1 Diabetes and the implications that come with people not believing you’re sick. To tell all the adults in your life that you feel ill and have them call you a liar for months on end is a humiliating experience. I spent my days crying as my body slowly killed itself from the inside out. I went pale, my skin dried up to the point when I made a fist my joints would go bloody, I needed to urinate constantly causing me to lose sleep, I got severely underweight, felt lightheaded constantly, my eyes sunk back into my head. I slowly died, feeling abandoned and ignored, I lost everything that made me, me.

I wonder if they know their past. Or do they just live in the present. Do they know about where they came from and do they think of where they’re going? Is their life enjoyable or is it just life? Can they really understand happiness and feel emotions? I don’t know but I choose to believe that they are happy where they are now, that they enjoy their lives together and with me.

Fish fascinate me, I currently have two neon tetras called Audrey and Seymour named after the iconic characters in Little Shop of Horrors, similarly I have had fish called, Effie, Rocky, Magenta, Colombia and Eddie. Along with Jolene, Jekyll, Hyde, Shallow, Alejandro, Venus, Selah, Jeffrey Moran, Kung Fu and Ambassador. I also now have three new guppies, who are all a beautiful shade of sunset orange called Eos, Helios and Astraeus. There is something fascinating about fish and how graceful they are, it is such a juxtaposition to people in water but I guess they wouldn’t do as well on land as us so it equals out. 

As I walk through the woods where I have stepped hundreds of times I am still taken by its beauty. The way trees seem to interlink and hold each other up, carefully sustaining life for us all. The way the leaves change over the months from soft greens to hard living oval beauties and finally cascading to the floor once they reach a rich brown colour. They crunch under feet and are a joy to every child who jumps on them and every adult with a shred of childlike wonder left in them. I’m fascinated about the way bark feels and looks. It is a hard casing to a life-giving being. The variety of trees you see across the woods is always lovely, as are the different treasures they drop. The acorns and nuts, the berries and fruits, the way each tree gives life to so many more. The shade they provide and protection from the wind and rain, the barrier for sound and giver of so much more. They provide homes for the animals and are taken apart for us.

I worked in the tourist industry in the summer of 2019 in which I drunk way too much to try and hide the feeling bubbling up inside me. This way of life climaxed in an intervention by my friends on my birthday in September. Then only a few months later Covid took over the world and everything just got a lot worse. I went on antidepressants from August 2020 and slowly my health improved. I refound my connection and affinity to the natural world, going on long three hour walks alone through empty woods, grasslands, parks and fields. Picking up stones and crunching leaves. Watching the birds and squirrels start to prepare for winter. I brought my canaries home in December 2020 and their beauty and positivity radiated out into me. They along with all my other animals truly helped motivate me and inspired me to write.

I built a pond in my garden next to my shed where raspberries grow every year. I dug out the hole and provided the plastic casing for the water and filled it up. Over the years a family of newts and frogs have inhabited it. The newts with their variation of colours amazes me. Their small, slimy bodies look like what I think the first fish would have been when it dragged itself out of the water for the first time. Og the frog and all his children visit each year, their big round eyes staring out of the top of the water watching for threats like a water meerkat. The countless birds that come down to drink and bathe in the water from pigeons to crows to robins to tits to parakeets to any other British bird you could think of. Finches? Yes. Sparrows? Yep. Their intelligence is something I have always been interested in, like the way the crows will take your stale bread and dip it in the gutter to make it softer before eating it.

Coral and Cello happily sing and squawk when I first come down in the morning and remove their blanket. They are always already up and raring to go, they simply sit and wait for me to top up their food bowls before sitting their whole bodies in them and hogging the food. Thus, the reason for multiple bowls. They play with the toys, pulling apart the ones with thread and picking up hay just to drop it and watch it descend. They like to sit on the swing and rock backwards and forwards getting some sort of exhilaration from the sensation. They enjoy throwing their food out of the bowls too and then expertly hunting down the escapees. Especially when their door is open and they can pick off all of the ones that escaped to the table and floor.

It’s a weird feeling to want to kill yourself, to just stop existing. It’s something I’ve thought deeply about for a long time, it’s a thought that I think will never go away. It will always be there in my mind and I have to debate with myself, I have to fight myself. Maybe that’s why I seek happiness and brightness in this ever-troubled world. Why I want to brighten up the dark places inside me.

I have always wanted to see a hedgehog and badger in real life but the only times I see the latter is crushed and splattered on the motorway. And I have only seen a hedgehog once, actually it was very recently and it had been caught in an industrial lawn mower and been spat out in a sad pile of spikes and blood. At first thought I saw it as a weird big conker shell, and then as I got closer, I thought it was probably some rubbish that had been left. Then, when it was right at my feet, I saw the dried blood over its small body and its spikes poking out in all different directions. It is a sad sight and makes me think about the animals I have lost, not in such a dramatic way though. I always think that you give them the best life you can and that’s another, you shouldn’t be sad that someone lived an amazing life, you should be proud you got to share it with them.

I watch Cello and Coral all the time when I’m meant to be working or listening to someone. When I’m watching something on tv or online. When I’m reading a book or writing a piece of work. I involuntarily look and stare at them, same with my fish and when Madame is up. But the birds hold some sort of power over me. I stand up and check in on them, they are sitting around a little nest they had proudly made, with fallen out feathers, bits of thread they nicked from my sewing supplies and some hay they play with. I look in on them looking in on it and see what they see. A little pastel blue egg sitting proudly in the centre. It looks like a chocolate mini egg and I look out the window to see the sun shining in into the room. The clouds, rain and snow of winter have passed and spring is here to take its place.