I have decided to do something. To post a novelette on my blog. In installments, of course. One chapter per post, once every four-ish days. Now, you may not care. You do not need to read these. But you may like it. So there you go. This is a story I wrote last year (I can't remember when) (but it was on a whim) and I really like it. I reread it the other day and I thought to myself that yes that wasn't too bad of a story even if I do say so myself. I hope you enjoy it. (I know I already said something like that but you know, I really DO hope you enjoy it.)
(Small warning: this story does mention a case of rape at some point. Of course it is handled delicately (and it's not talked about in detail etc.etc.) but if you are younger than 13 you may want to ask your parents if they're ok with that.)
This is chapter one. Chapter two will be coming 28th of March.
Extremely quirky – hair straight as a stick – intended puns – I chew my lips.
Behold, my Instagram profile. @Anna_the_Welsh was my username and I had 13 followers because I only posted bad i-phone pictures of books, cute shops and sunsets. The picture that got me the most likes was that only selfie I took, with me and my best friend Gayl. They probably liked the picture because of Gayl’s starry brown complexion and amazing eye make-up. They couldn’t have liked it for me, because I only wore mascara on Christmas and had fore-head acne and basically looked like an ugly pumpkin. And I didn’t care. I honestly didn’t.
I didn’t really care for Instagram, either. Not like my friend Tiffany who literally posted three times a day with mind-blowingly gorgeous pictures and captions with thoughtful reflections and funny quotes depending on her mood. And of course she put #nofilter in the caption to show that she was queen of Insta.
I liked books, ranging from Rainbow Rowell awesomeness to Charles Dickens grittiness, and shoes and journaling. I liked cats and chocolate. I loved strangers. I loved my village. I never wanted to leave it because, I vowed, I had Henffordd Village in my blood.
Henffordd was Welsh for ‘Old Road.’ Over time they squashed the Welsh words ‘Henn’ and ‘Ffordd’ into one, and now no-one questioned it. It’s like ‘okay’, which used to be ‘all correct’ and somehow, over the course of our silly human history managed to end up as ‘okay.’ Maybe in one hundred years or so, it’ll be ‘Bokey.’ And we’ll say, ‘Bokey, I’ll go and fetch the salt for you.’
In the village where I lived there wasn’t much space for ‘extra stuff.’ Back in the day, when our ancestors built our little welsh village, they put no thought into potential space for things such as pretty fountains, nice public benches with views on flower beds, or statues of an old apparently famous person who once again, apparently, once had been in our village. (Rumours went that George Clooney’s father once lodged in the Master’s Lodge, our hotel, but we had no place for a statue to prove it.)
Everyone had their house (‘everyone’, being about 1200 people) and then there were a bunch of shops, a little bank, a primary school, a secondary school, a Church, a hotel, and ten pubs who all looked exactly the same and all had names like, ‘The red lion’ or ‘The green panther.’ This may not seem that small of a village, but it was a small village, and I loved it.
It wasn’t too small, that everyone knew everyone and that everyone gossiped about everyone, but it wasn’t too big either – I constantly recognised and accidentally bumped into people I knew on the road, and there was always a sense of cosy, crunchy community which a lot of people read about it books and see in Period movies. Like Cranford, that BBC Drama that made my mum cry and made my dad fall asleep.
But there was this one ‘bare spot’ in our village – inhabited by an old, brown brick wall. It stood there awkwardly, separating the air and nothing else, standing uselessly next to the house of its lucky owner, Mr Show.
But then, no-one really owned that wall. No-one called it ‘Mr Show’s wall’, it was simply ‘the wall.’ The wall of Henffordd Village. It was public domain – it was everyone’s wall. To me, it certainly felt like mine – for some reason it always seemed to be a person. I passed it every day during my childhood, and I would imagine where ‘his face’ was. Was that darker brick his nose? And that big ugly blotch, was that his wacky tongue? For a long time I thought there were wild dogs behind the wall (an idea that terrified me!) but then I saw the other side of it; exactly the same, really. Maybe less familiar, but just as brown and crumbly and ugly and artistically beautiful.
Once the town had a council meeting about the wall. Some said it was useless and should be destroyed, and then someone else said, “Oi, it don’t belong to us. It’s Mr Show’s property.” So they asked Mr Show (the sort of man that never dies) if he would like to sell his wall to the public, and he said no, so that was that.
But apparently there was more to Mr Show than sitting indoors watching Hugh Laurie in The House. One day his daughter came to him for a week, and before everyone knew this, the wall had undergone a, what she called, a project. This sounds extremely exciting, but all what happened was that it was plastered white. The ugly bricks and the tongue splotch had disappeared underneath the smooth coat of milky paint forever. The familiar grin of the brown cracks died as white splodge created an eye-blinding wall surface.
“My dad,” said she when people complained about the disloyalty towards the ‘traditional look’, “My dad needs more colour in ‘is life. All ‘e does all day is wa’ch em corky TV shows. Ain’t ‘ealthy for ‘is brain, can’t be!”
So you think, I thought, that painting my beloved wall will help. Wow. If only all problems were that easy to solve. Besides. White technically isn’t a colour. Brown is though. Stupid daughter. That evening, I posted a picture of the original wall on Instagram because I missed it already. I actually cried in anger when it only got one like. The wall deserved more love.
However, the saying that bad turns into good (is that a saying? Maybe Tiffany invented it) is very true. You hear proof of it all over the place, like the time when Gayl and I couldn’t go to see One Direction because were sick and it turned out to be a blessing because then Zayn left the group. Or like that time when dad burnt the apple cake he was making and then we ate Ferro Rocher chocolates instead. Or like the time when there were strikes in London which meant that we couldn’t go to visit Granny which was a good thing because Granny is one of those annoying Grannies. Or like the time when I was creeped out because an old man on the road kept on following me and then it turned out he just wanted to give me the ten pound bill that had fallen out of my pocket.
The wall was now white and dull and stupid and for a moment, it seemed like my childhood had been broken. It happened at the worst moment, too, because I had a cold and my acne was at its worst and my boss had given me a tough time at work. Also, sometimes one just needs to cry about happy childhoods and nostalgic thoughts when one is twenty-three and when one has never had a boyfriend in one’s entire life. Especially because Gayl and Tiffany and Laura and all my girlfriends now had a ‘significant other’. They all had such cute boys and snuggled up in their coats and took stinkingly adorable pictures of each other. Sometimes single life sucks.
Two weeks afterwards, I was already feeling some better. I felt happy for my girlfriends and I felt happier about life in general. I didn’t really care about the wall – it was just a wall. (Although deep down, I did care.)
And what cheered me up was that, as I walked down to the bus station one morning to my work, I saw someone had written something on the wall in small letters at the top left corner.
“I preferred it brown.”
There was a piece of chalk on the floor. I did what I normally wouldn’t do, and I wrote, “So did I” underneath it, and then walked on to the bus stop. I felt excited. I always was excited when it came to anything to do with strangers. I was fascinated by strangers – I loved imagining what the stories behind strangers were, why a random person had decided to paint the words ‘BE CAREFUL’ with hot pink graffiti in the London subway when the act itself was illegal (was it irony? Or was there a story behind it?), or why the bus driver had a tattoo of a cross on his hand. Was he a Christian? Why had I never seen him in Church? I knew he lived in the village.
Once I bought a train ticket to Cardiff just because I felt like observing travelling strangers. I would jot down bits of conversation, sketch wacky hats strangers had decided was worth the wear, and write down the titles and authors of books people were reading. Once I saw an old lady read The Fault in our Stars and I felt an instant connection. I cried buckets reading that. I so almost wanted to ask her if she ripped out the sex scene page too, because it was unnecessary, but I didn’t even gather enough courage to ask her who her favourite character was.
I was stranger-shy, but also stranger-loving.
Sometimes I read people’s text messages, over their shoulders. Once I saw a man send a very cute text message to his wife. “It’s been 27 years now darling. Still have to cry about how lucky I am to be your husband.” She sent back a heart-eyed emoji. They were cute. Once I saw a teen girl send a Donald Trump meme to a friend with “LOL the best one yt” as a reaction.
I observed strangers a lot. Once I saw a lady refuse a friend who asked her to go out. Once I saw a fat boy cry on his mother’s shoulder while he told her about how he was bullied in school. Once I saw a man who looked just like Prince Harry – it might have been him. I almost asked but I didn’t want to sound like I was flirting, so I didn’t. Once I saw a lady with ten piercings in her nose – she looked scary as a vampire. Once I witnessed a couples’ first kiss.
And now I’d responded to a message on the wall. Life was good.
I hoped that there’d be another response to my response, and there was. A different person had written “me too” under my “so did I.” And under the “me too” was an “I like it white” written in curly letters.
By the next morning more people had written little messages on the wall; some in the middle of the wall, for everyone to read, some shyly tucked away in the folds of the corner. One said, “I feel so lonely.” One had written out a quote by Robert Louis Everson (“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake.”), one had written, “I’ll be your friend” (under the “I feel so lonely” one) and someone had written, “I met the Queen when I was two.” Everyone knew who that was. He owned one of the pubs, and he told everyone about that. Nobody really cared about his stories.
By the end of the week, the whole wall was filled with random messages written in chalk. Some were stupid. Like, “Duuuuuuude.” Or, “Aaron was here.” Or, the silliest yet, “Chicken Nuggets aren’t American.” Whoever wrote that must have either hated Chicken Nuggets and been American, or vice versa. Or maybe he or she had just written it for the sake of confusing people. There were other messages like that, such as the odd, exclamation-mark-less message, “This is an exclamation mark : exclamation mark.” The message was interesting because it had dimensions to it. The word ‘exclamation mark’ means exclamation mark, so therefore the word is it. But yet it isn’t, for everyone knows that “!” is what an exclamation mark is. One would never read a book where “watch out!” is written as, “watch out exclamation mark.” But yet one would not be able to deny that the series of letters that form the words ‘exclamation mark’ is ‘exclamation mark.’
There were other lines that made me think. It was amusing, to muse over these things people decided to scribble on the wall on the way to work. It made me rather happy – in an odd sort of way. It was lovely to know that there were odd people in the world – people who took the time to write ridiculously random stuff on the wall. One person wrote: “If Cinderella’s shoe fit her perfectly, why did it fall off in the first place?” The same mysterious handwriting later on added another muse: “If One Direction says that not knowing you’re beautiful makes you beautiful, why did they make a song about telling people they’re beautiful?”
Then there were also encouraging messages such as, “YOU ARE GORGEOUS YOU!!!” and “God knows you” and there were sad messages such as the “I feel so lonely” one and the one the little kid wrote about his parents splitting up. Someone wrote down a Bible verse. Coincidentally, it was my favourite Bible verse. Out of the thirty-one-thousand-one-hundred-and-two-verses in the Bible, that random person had decided to write down exactly that verse that happened to be my favourite. Now that made me really happy. Too few people read the Bible these days.
Someone wrote, “Typos should be banned from society” and I loved that someone immediately. I wrote “Grammar Nazis unite!” underneath (and made sure I didn’t accidentally misspell any of those three words because that would’ve been humiliating.)
Of course, then the inevitable happened: it rained and all the messages washed off. A few at the bottom remained dry and the message about the person being lonely wall still vaguely readable on the white paint. But by the end of the week, it was all filled with new messages. New weird things to read, new cute lines to get encouraged by, and new questions to ponder about.
That Saturday evening, when I went to the wall to properly read all the new messages, I thought about how lovely it was that Mr Snow’s daughter had decided to paint it white. This wall had become a beam of thoughts – filled with little snippets of lives, brains and individuals' perspectives on lives. It was filled with different handwritings, wacky questions and diverse thoughts. I felt so happy under the warm Saturday sunset, with the purple sky above me and the familiar Henffordd ground underneath my feet. All seemed alright with the world.
“I have six fingers. JK.”
“This wall gives me hope for the world.”
“Why does no-one dance on zebra crossings?”
“I wish my boyfriend would propose to me.”
“My dad smokes too much.”
And then I read something which froze my smile into one rigid place. Not in a good way. Not like, “Wow, I am never not smiling after this.” More like, “NO. WHAT. WAIT. WHAT?!?!” For lo and behold, I saw the complete unexpected.
“I have a huge crush on @Anna_the_Welsh.”
(Who is Anna's secret lover? Come back on the 28th of March to find out. dun dun dunnnn.)