Today I'm going to introduce you to a book called Losing Agir by an inspiring new author, Liz Fisher Frank. Losing Agir is a book which deals with real, serious issues of today and it was published yesterday, on Human Rights Day. A percentage of the royalties will be donated to a young people's advice service, Youth Access. This really is a thought provoking story, for a good cause, and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to provide you with an extract from the story.
I truly hope that this encourages you to pick up a copy of the book.
Ormanici, Turkey. 5am. 20 February.
The sudden thunderous crackle of machine gun fire slicing through the still, early morning air, wrenched the boy from his sleep. He bolted up without thinking, his hands mechanically pushing at the mound of blankets which, until seconds ago, had shielded him and his younger brother, Haran, from the cold. As his hands fumbled, he swung his head towards the space where his parents slept either side of his sister.
But his father was ahead of him, already scrambling to his feet. For a second their eyes met. The panic, terror and confusion he found in his father’s face shot a jolt, like an electric current, through his whole body.
‘Up... get...’ His father’s words were lost, hijacked by a second round of gunfire, louder, sharper than before. The boy’s eyes stuck firm on his father’s mouth as it opened and shut pointlessly, spewing out only the terrifying sound of ammunition.
The hut rocked. A row of bullets hit the outside wall, one after the other, crashing against the stone not far above their heads. He understood his father’s efforts. They needed to move. Fast. Stumbling to his knees, the boy pulled at his younger brother who remained rigid under the covers, his small hands stuck to his ears, his eyes shut tight.
‘Move,’ his father screamed over the noise. His mother jumped to her feet, grabbing Sema, his little sister and wrapping her in her arms before staggering towards the kitchen area of the hut. A fleeting flicker of relief swept over Sema’s small bewildered face as mother’s embrace, for a moment, made everything in her small life good again.
‘Haran,’ the boy shouted at his brother as he reached for the younger boy’s stiff shoulders. ‘Get... ‘ A deafening blast lifted him from his feet and hurled him, like a tennis ball, through the air until he landed hard onto his brother’s small body. Sounds, so loud, so foreign to any he had heard before, reverberated through his head as stones and rubble crashed onto his skull and back. Dust clogged his nose as he lifted his head and tried to breathe. Though his ears were caked in dirt and debris, a high pitched wailing scream of pain made its way into his head.
The boy turned, managing to shake the rubble from his back. He got to his knees and saw sky through the wall of the hut which had caved in on them.
The welcome touch of his father’s arms pulled at him, removing him from his brother whom he had somehow protected by the cover of his own much larger body. Taking one arm each, they yanked Haran into the kitchen to join his mother and sister huddled together in the corner of the room.
‘What’s happening...?’ the boy asked helplessly, crammed in the corner beside his mother, brother and sister as his father pathetically tried to shield them with his thin body.
The door burst open, kicked in by a man wearing white camouflage gear. As he waved his machine gun wildly, he shouted something over his shoulder and three others, all dressed the same, carrying guns, stormed into the hut.
‘Out. Now,’ the man at the front shouted, pointing the gun at the family. As he spoke, a soldier from the back of the group marched forward and grabbed his father’s hair, pulling him across the floor towards the broken-down door.
‘Move,’ the front man shouted as the family quickly clambered to their feet and left the hut, by gun point, into the freezing air of early morning.
Within seconds, the boy’s thin bedclothes and socks failed to fight the cold, intensified by the snow which had tumbled relentlessly overnight on to their mountain village. He stared as he passed the remains of their neighbours’ hut. The rocket propelled grenade had done its job. The roof destroyed, the walls razed to the ground, rubble and smoke everywhere. He heard his mother gasp and watched as she pushed Sema’s head firmly into her chest. His eyes followed his mother’s stare to see white soldiers pulling their wailing and screaming neighbours away from a mound on the ground which he struggled to make out. He gulped, swallowing hard at the vomit which shot to his mouth as he realised the mound was the body of Sema’s best friend, lying in the ruins with half her stomach blown away. Her broken body lay shattered in the precise spot where the two girls had played the evening before.
‘Move’ the soldiers shouted as the boy, with a tight hold of his brother’s hand, took in the devastation. Soldiers, guns, chaos everywhere as doors were kicked in and bewildered villagers hauled out of their homes at gun point. The mountain air stank of burning, as flames worked their way through both homes and corpses, swallowing up horses, dogs and precious village livestock shot at point blank range and left to burn with the buildings.
They approached the village square.
‘Over there.’ As his father was dragged off in another direction, they were pointed towards a group of women and children huddling together.
‘Quickly... move,’ the men shouted, waving their guns trying to get heard over the screaming and crying, gunshots and flames. The boy stumbled with his mother and siblings, through the slushy, wet snow, the cold wind smacking him hard in the face, like some bad-tempered old man, perversely enjoying the contribution to his pain. They reached the group of terrified women and children, clustered together in a silence which screamed of despair.
‘This one’s too old.’ A voice shouted as a soldier marched over. ‘Put him with the men.’
A firm hand grabbed the boy’s arm and tugged him hard. The boy pulled back, but the grip tightened as he was wrenched from the group and dragged towards the village square. He stumbled and fell. A heavy boot landed hard in his ribs. As he clambered back to his feet, he twisted his head to look back at the women and children, scanning the group for his family.
As Haran and Sema hung to each other, their white faces dazed, his mother held out her arms, as if trying to gather him back, to return him to her embrace. Their eyes met, she screamed.
Jupiter Mansions. It hardly looked like a mansion, more a small, newly built box in a cul-de-sac. And it certainly wasn’t anywhere near Jupiter, it was only two miles from town.
‘Are you sure about this Frances?’ I asked.
A look of irritation flickered over her social work smiley face. I knew I’d annoyed her. My voice, the words I used, the way I was slouching in the front seat of her clean, sparkly car.
She pulled up outside number 37.
‘Of course. Tom and Glenda seem really nice and the fact that they’re new to fostering is a good thing. You’ll get loads of attention.’
I remained slumped in my seat. I didn’t really want to get out. All my excitement at the thought of this move, another fresh start, seemed to be evaporating fast; seeping out of the car and vanishing into the clean, perfect air of the clean, perfect cul-de-sac where clearly nothing ever happened. I fiddled with the hole in the knee of my scruffy, worn jeans, enjoying the feeling of the threads as they ripped under my fingers.
Frances lent over, a fixed smile caked across her face. ‘OK then? Shall we go?’
I turned my head towards the window, closing my eyes really tight, trying desperately to stop the tears that I knew were there, hanging about, waiting for their chance to break free. The dull feeling in my stomach, which had started after breakfast, had worked its way upwards sometime during the journey. It now stuck in my throat, somehow sucking all the moisture from my mouth. It always made me feel like this, going somewhere new.
‘Alice?’ Frances repeated.
I didn’t speak, scared that my shaky voice would give me away. And then, Frances would be on my case. Going on about how lucky I am that she found me this home, that other kids would jump at this chance, that I ought to be more thankful. Frances glanced over as I let out a long sigh and wondered why I should be grateful when none of it was my fault. I never chose a life in care and certainly never opted to move from foster home to foster home, wondering each time if this would be ‘the one’, the one that lasted.
‘It really is time to go,’ Frances snapped, checking her watch as she started to get out of the car. She flicked back her long brown hair which she tended to do, almost twitch-like, when she was stressed and hurried, which was always. ‘I’ll grab your bags.’
I slowly unclicked my seatbelt, the last bind holding me back from an unknown life waiting behind the shiny red door of number 37. I climbed out of the car.
Frances pulled two bulging bin bags from the boot mumbling an apology for forgetting a suitcase. ‘Right, this way, come on.’ She thrust one of the bags at me then hurried down the driveway, stumbling slightly in her high heels as the bin bag, which looked ready to split, bashed against her legs. ‘I think I got the bag with your books in, you know.’ She called over her shoulder through gritted teeth before swearing quietly to herself as she almost toppled over. ‘Isn’t it pretty though,’ Frances said in a super-cheery voice as she dropped the bag by the front door and pointed to the perfect daffodils, perfectly spaced in perfect rows. I nodded just about resisting the temptation to stamp on them and pummel their sunny, yellow petals into the ground.
As Frances turned and knocked, the door immediately sprung open.
‘Hello, welcome, I’m Tom.’ A large pale man lunged at me with his fat hand outstretched. As Frances gave me a glare, silently telling me to get on with it, I limply shook the sweaty hand of my new foster father. He then smiled down at me, his small, brown, stained teeth out of place in his wide mouth. He pushed back a strand of light brown hair as it fell over his pale eyes which were almost invisible against the colour of his skin.
‘Come in, come in,’ he ushered us into the hallway, giving me the chance to wipe my sticky hand down my jeans. A woman approached from the kitchen.
‘This is Glenda,’ Tom said as Glenda nodded at me then quickly stood behind her husband who towered over her. Like the house, Glenda was small and tidy. Her dark hair pulled back in a bun, her skirt and shirt, plain, dull and boring. She was probably only in her thirties but dressed like one of those old grannies you see on TV who shuffle around in cardigans, thick tan tights and checked slippers and talk more to their grossly over-fed cats than their depressed-looking husbands.
Tom led us into the sitting room just off the hall. I glanced about quickly, not sure that a scruffy tom- boy like me would ever fit in to such an immaculate room. Glenda quietly offered me a drink and I followed her past the brown sofas and small dining table, into the kitchen.
‘Will water do?’ she asked, her voice flat, as she reached into a cupboard where gleaming glasses waited in lines.
‘Fine,’ I mumbled taking in the kitchen which looked more like a showroom. Clear surfaces, shiny units, a kettle that sparkled. So often, during the chaos of the past, I had longed for a life like this, so different, so tidy, with everything in its place. And now it was here, right slap bang in front of me. I took a large gulp of water and wondered if, amongst this tidiness, the mess in my life would somehow magically clear up too.
I moved to the kitchen window and looked out to the walled garden where weed-free flower beds, framed a square area of flat, lush grass.
‘So, what do you think of our humble abode?’ I jumped at the sound of Tom’s voice as he spoke quietly into my ear.
‘Yes, um, it’s lovely,’ I mumbled not appreciating that he had crept up behind me. I turned around and without realising, took a step back away from his large body. Tom then started on about his flowers, lisping and sputtering, occasionally splattering my face with a shower of spit which splayed from his mouth as he spoke. As I nodded here and there, desperate to wipe the liquid from my face, Glenda appeared and took my arm and offered to show me the rest of the house.
We went upstairs. Quietly, with head bowed, Glenda pointed to the closed door of their bedroom and then to an immaculate, sparkling bathroom.
‘This is your room. I hope you like it.’ I spun round as Glenda mumbled and pushed open the door.
Now, how could I not like it after some of the places I’d lived in the past. Childrens homes, foster placements, rooms shared with strange, awkward kids, no privacy, nothing normal.
‘It’s lovely,’ I said for the second time that day.
I walked into the room and looked about, touching the bed, the drawers, the small desk. It was nice, really nice. I moved to the window and looked out over the front of the house at the small houses in the Jupiter cul-de –sac as they sat together quietly, as if waiting for something to happen. As my mind wandered, Frances’ voice wafted towards me from the hallway, cutting dead my daydream.
‘... she’s moved about a lot... bright girl... has exams next year... a terrible family tragedy... had a big impact on her... she needs some space... usually quiet, well can be withdrawn actually... no... no, I haven’t told her yet...’
Hang on, hang on. What hadn’t I been told?
I froze, my hands tightening on the window sill until my knuckles became white. I knew it was all too good to be true, this perfect house, with perfect flowers, in a perfect cul-de-sac. How could I ever imagine for one minute that my messy life with so many changes and a past I struggled to understand, could possibly be a happy-ever-after?
There was something that I hadn’t been told and it was obviously bad.
Losing Agir: A story of courage, justice and love, crossing borders and cultures
Partly based on fact. this is the story of two young people, united by experiences of family separation and loss, whom, in their search for justice, find friendship and even love.
This is the story of Alice, a 15 year old in care and her relationship with Agir, a Kurdish boy smuggled into the UK following the violent destruction of his village in South-East Turkey. As Agir's terrible tale unfolds, Alice learns the truth about her strange and unnerving foster home. Against the backdrop of her own family tragedy, does Alice have the strength to challenge her foster father to free Agir from his clutches?