ZW16 1st Place

ZineWest 2016 – First Place and Best Prose

Unit 101 by Yumna Kassab

The police came at eight. The kids were getting ready for school. Nawal locked the door, pulled the blinds and screamed for Bilal and Ahmed to hurry up. She walked them down the stairs.

Outside, Bilal, the youngest, asked, ‘Mummy, why are the police running?’

‘Shhh. If they hear you, they’ll take you away.’

Their backs turned stiff. Neither dared look towards the police or their cars or any of their equipment. She made it to the corner with them. Then she watched them continue up the street alone. Not once did they look back. She saw them cross the lights and enter the schoolyard.
At the unit block, the residents were standing on the sidewalk. The Chinese woman from upstairs was speaking on her phone. Nawal decided to call Youssef even though he had told her to never call him at work.

‘I’m at work. What do you want?’ No hello, how are you?
‘The police are here.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Is it anything to do with us?’
‘Then mind your business and don’t waste my time.’

He hung up. She put a smile on her face and wondered if she should go back inside. The Chinese woman put her phone away and turned to Nawal.

‘So bad, so bad!’
‘Yes, so bad,’ she agreed. Did her neighbour know more?
‘What happened?’
‘Not good English.’
Same here but I try.

In the building, there was a scream, swearing, a crash, glass breaking, then a thud. More police ran inside. A second later, they led out a man kicking and yelling. ‘I didn’t kill her. I didn’t do it. I swear she fell. I didn’t do it.’

It was the tattooed man. They all had tattoos and rode motor-bikes and never went to work. A small boy, Bilal’s age, was led outside by two cops. His lip was bleeding and his cheek was bruised but otherwise he looked fine. The ambulance lady took him to the back of the van, speaking to him in a babyish voice. ‘Are you alright? Are you hurt? Does anything hurt?’

The child began to cry. The ambulance doors shut and it sped away.

A moment later, a body bag was brought out. Nawal stared at the bag. The body inside was too small to be a man. It must be the woman, she thought… the mother of the kids. She wanted to call Youssef but he would be working.

She stayed outside for an hour. She asked her neighbour if she spoke Chinese. The Chinese lady shook her head.

‘Me Vietnamese.’
‘But do you speak Chinese?’ she asked slowly.
‘Me Vietnamese.’

The neighbour went inside. Nawal did the same. She thought the people downstairs were always trouble. You could tell from the look of them.