The Rag Doll
To Fellow Rag Dolls Living With Cerebral Palsy
Silk, linen, velvet, cotton, wool;
Made from all sorts; textures, fabrics,
Buttons, ribbons, hips made from zips,
Whoops-a-daisy and falling to bits.
Her heart is made of golden fluff,
Her smile is stitched shining bright,
Now and again she’s not there, quite,
Her spirit shines like ultra violet light.
Droops, dangles her limbs and neck,
Durable to all types of wear and tear,
Broken, damaged here and there,
People stare; she just does not care.
Battling, juggling impossibilities.
Shining diamond sequined eyes,
Always ready to give you a surprise,
Like a cartoon, she’ll always survive.
Has trouble with her physical being,
Words tangled in the laces of her head,
Still figuring out what you have just said,
Jerking, jolting to the day she’s dead!
Read the opening chapter of my novel - Dangerous Games - What Will People Say?
Jade yelled at her big sister, “Shez, come here! I've got som'at to show you!”
Shanil, who was standing outside her parent’s detached house talking to one of the boys in the neighbourhood, swiftly looked up at the sky blue MG Metro driving past. The 4-door car stopped around the corner just past the dark green curly hedge that belonged to the next-door neighbour. Before Shanil could comprehend who had called her Jade swung open the door and jumped out of the car, joyfully jogging to her older sister.
“Here she comes!” Smoke grinned. “What do you want?” he smiled.
Jade just ignored the words of the lanky boy and grabbed Shanil by her arm and tugged; “Look...” she seemed to be very excited for some reason. Without a word, Shanil followed Jade to the car, filled with familiar dark handsome male faces. Recognising them and realising she had never actually exchanged any words with these people, she smiled shyly. They were Jade's secret friends. Jade crept out most nights to meet these nocturnal friends knowing quite well that one day the dangerous game she was playing would definitely drown her.
“You know these guys, don't you?” Shanil stared into the car slightly leaning forward and trying to comprehend their features. She nodded nervously, knowing quite well that she always found it very difficult to nod. Everyone introduced themselves: Lakhan nicknamed Nigs who was in the driver’s seat, Riaz otherwise known as Rudeboy and Malik known as Singha who were both in the back seat. The young man called Raj seated in the passenger seat whom Jade had told her so much about was nicknamed Rebelz. Shanil always wondered why Asian lads had given themselves stupid western names that had no meanings or resemblance at all.
“Hi,” Shanil spoke shyly.
“Well, don't you think he looks like Kash?” Jade exclaimed. Kash was the boy who lived next door to Jade and Shanil in a very large detached corner house with two front rooms which stood out in the distance because of its two distinctive monkey puzzle trees on either side of the tarmac garden. The trees’ branches like spiky green arms with elbows and fingers reaching for the sky gave the house its own uniqueness. Everyone knew that house as the two monkeys making it easy to direct anyone who needed to find Mr and Mrs Dhillon's house. Shanil had always wondered why these trees had been named monkey puzzle trees, as there did not appear to be any resemblance.
“Yeah,” she agreed, even though she did not think he looked anything like Kash.
“This is Raj, I mean Rebelz,” she told her. Shanil looked at him and smiled sweetly. “Everyone, this is my older sister Shanil, but she likes being called Shez,” Jade proudly introduced her older sister.
“I know you, you used to go to my school,” Rebelz said smiling back.
“Yeah, I know,” she said even though she did not recognise him from school at all. There was something about Rebelz; she did not quite know what it was that attracted her to him. Maybe it was his wavy long hair, but all of the lads in the car had long hair apart from Singha. Maybe it was the way he smiled and that twinkle in his hazel brown eyes. She knew one thing, she definitely wanted to see him again.
“I'll catch you later, another time maybe.” Rebelz smiled once again. Shanil did not speak much and smiled at the rest of the young men sitting in the car.
“Yeah,” Shanil smiled back. She slowly walked away towards Smoke who was standing in the driveway talking to Jade.
“Jaydesh!” Nigs called out, “Catch you in ten minutes round the corner.” As he said that, Shanil turned and looked to get the last glimpse of Rebelz before the car drove away.
“Well... You know I hate being called that name. My name is Jade to you! Remember I’m precious, man!” Jade smiled. She had been named Jaydesh Kaur Dhillon by her parents, but refused to answer to it by anyone with the exception of her parents.
“Jaydesh, who was that?” Smoke interfered putting a sound effect upon her name. “I’ve never seen him in your bad boy posse before.”
“Oyee! I’m Jade to you. Only mom and dad can call me that… Ramesh!” Jade smiled cheekily.
“Shut up guys! That guy was nice… Whoever he was,” Shanil spoke in a dreamy tone.
Jade and Shanil left Smoke on his own while they went into their house. Shanil peered at her digital wristwatch, telling her it was 25th June 1990 and the time said 9:15 pm. It was a mild evening as the two girls walked in through the alleyway leading into their huge back garden full of bushes, shrubs and flowers. Slowly the girls sneaked in through the back door.
The sun was getting ready for bed as it began to pull its soft red, pink and orange blanket across the sky. Jade’s plan had worked as she could see that her older sister had fallen for Rebelz. Shanil would not stop talking about him. Jade needed her sister to back her up while she sneaked out. By introducing Shanil to the gang it was a perfect way to get what she wanted and keep her sister on her side.
Jade explained to Shanil that she would return home late and that there was no point in waiting up for her. “Don't worry about Rebelz, I'll fix something, until then just keep dreaming...” Jade teased her as she walked through the back door. Shanil wished she could stop Jade from this outrageous behaviour. Each time she tried she never succeeded as her little sister overruled everything she disagreed with.
Shanil just smiled, “Tell Smoke to go.”
Jade closed the door behind her. At that precise moment Shanil wished she had gone with her. Jade was an independent young teenager who did not like being told what to do by her older brother and sister. She lived a very different life compared to an ordinary fourteen-year-old Punjabi girl. She had met these young men while she waited for netball practice at school one afternoon. About three months later, she had decided to mention them to her older sister. Jade was living on the edge. She knew that if her parents caught her going out with a bad boy, it would cause many problems; let alone being caught out at midnight cruising with him.
Shanil went into the living room, sat in front of the television with her younger brother Josh and decided to watch a movie. Josh was a typical British-Asian younger brother; he always teased his sisters. He was a carefree person and did not show any concern about where his younger sister went at that time of night. He had a round face and wore a cheeky grin most of the time; he had big round glasses representing his bookworm characteristics and thoroughly enjoyed studying. His black turban sat on his head like a hat that covered his long broken hair which he tied up into a topknot on his head. Josh did not practise the Sikh religion; he only wore his turban because his parents had convinced him that having uncut hair was an expectation of his faith being a Sikh. Occasionally he wore his hair like a head-banger, wavy and messy, like it had not been combed in weeks. Shanil always wondered why Josh didn’t take much notice of and interest in his little sister because had he been like any other Punjabi brother he would have probably broken his sisters’ legs if he’d found her with a boy in the middle of the night. However, Shanil considered her sister very fortunate and privileged in having such a carefree brother; the little sister was living an extremely dangerous and outrageous life. Her parents were very strict and community minded; she knew that the day she got caught would not be worth living.
After the movie Shanil had slipped into bed and had fallen asleep right away. She hadn’t even noticed when Jade had returned home.
Shanil was an ordinary British-Asian Sikh girl with a difference; she had been born with a slight disability, cerebral palsy. Her disability did not exactly stop her from doing things, it just made her feel like she was not able, making her somewhat lazy. She walked awkwardly, appearing very clumsy and unstable. Many people she met on the streets thought she was a drunk or on drugs.
Her parents and family were supportive and over- protective of her. All her life she had been kept in a comfort zone but she had not been spoiled. She knew her father had loved her very much especially during her childhood. Her father would sit up with her for hours praying to God in the hope that his daughter would be cured of her disability. She had a good family and loving relatives. The most important factor the family lacked was the ability to communicate and interact as a family. With everyone working or at school, there was never any time left to discuss the day’s activities or problems with one another. By the time evening fell Mr and Mrs Dhillon were so tired they just about had the energy to eat their evening meal and go to bed, leaving the children up to their own devices.
Shanil was born in North East India, in the state of Uttaranchal in a little village called Kara Jothi, at the foot of the Himalayas near the River Ganges. She was the first-born child to her parents. Her parents were married just nine months before Shanil was born. It was a cold Tuesday 8th December 1970 the day she was born. All relatives gathered around the Dhillon’s clay house in anticipation waiting for their first grandson to arrive. When they realised a girl had been born, all the planned celebrations diffused into a saddened atmosphere. This little baby was not a normal baby, she had a thick layer of yellow jaundice covering her tiny skinny body. Her grandmother tried to wash off the colour assuming that it was just the colour of her skin. She moved very awkwardly with uncontrollable spasms, nobody knew what was wrong with her. There were no doctors in the village and even the non-medically trained midwife (desi dhayee) did not know what was wrong with the newborn child. Preety, her mother, was only sixteen years old and was unaware of what to expect and do during and after childbirth. She had to accept everyone else’s word for it. There was so much sorrow and distress on the day Shanil had been born. The baby was born with so much negativity in the villagers’ eyes giving her mother no enthusiasm to look after her alien like child. As the news spread around the village relatives came to witness the strange baby, cursing her, saying all kinds of terrible things about the newborn and her mother.
“Oh my Goodness, what has she given birth to? That new bride from Punjab has not brought the family any luck, has she? What kind of kismet has she come with to the Dhillon household? That child is not a child, but a burden and unnecessary weight to the family. Our poor son, Gurdev, will have to live with such a woman who produces such alien like children.” Her mother had hoped to be happy in her marriage; this child had brought nothing but guilt, sadness and depression upon her.
“Throw it into the river; nobody will want to marry it when it grows up. You won’t even notice after a couple of weeks that you ever had it. You’ll have more children, hopefully better than that one, so you must look forward to them. Just imagine all the distress you will have to live with, if you keep it. Just think you’ve had a miscarriage… and you’ll be ok.” They advised her mother. With this negative attitude the family and friends were pressing on, her mother almost threw her little helpless child away like a piece of rubbish. Society and culture had her believing all these lies about her baby; she almost hated and neglected this child for being born to her. This was the way of life in the uneducated villages of India. It was common for mothers to discard their newborn children if they did not want to keep them; especially if it was female and was born abnormally like Shanil.
It was her father who spoke, saying, “No! Nobody is touching my daughter. She is a part of me, Gurdev Singh. God has given her to me for a reason. I will respect the will of God. Nobody will do or say anything bad to my baby or Preety, my wife. I hope I have made myself clear. Her name is Shanil Kaur Dhillon,” he proudly announced. Gurdev had returned from England to marry and settle back home in India after living and working in England for five hard years. He was the oldest of two sons and three daughters; he wanted to stay in India to cultivate and develop his many acres of land which belonged to his father. He would be entitled to inherit a share of the land after his father’s death.
All the family took turns to take care of Shanil until she was a year and a half old. She still could not walk or talk and was very slow at picking things up. People still did not know what was medically wrong with her. Her neck dangled like a ragdoll; she could not support her head at all. Her awkward movements came like electric pulses waving her limbs like puppets. Preety asked her husband, “When can we go from here? This is not our home. Our home is where you came from in England.” Preety repeated this mantra day after day like a stubborn child. “Please we must get out of India. Your dad is in England so why can’t we go to live with him there? This village is really making me ill.” Preety visualised a perfect life in England full of glorious things and saintly people. “Believe me, our life is meant to be in England. Just think your Shanil might get better over there and we can take her to the doctors and get her checked and seen to and she will get well.” Preety finally convinced her husband to believe that she was right and he was wrong to live in India. It was not only her dream and ambition but many of the people in India longed to live abroad and migrate to the western world for a better quality of life. Then in 1972 Shanil and her parents, along with her grandfather arrived in the heart of England, the Black Country, to begin to live their perfect life.
As time had gone by, Shanil began to learn and grow up. She realised that the world around her was not like the world she had lived in the last twenty years of her life. The thought of this made her want to go out and explore but this was virtually impossible for her. The protection from her family and the limitations her disability caused were the main reasons she could not explore the world. During her years of schooling, she had not been able to walk to and from school because she and other students with disabilities had to be escorted by taxi for their own safety as well as the school’s insurance policy to protect their vulnerable students from any harm. Many of the children at school thought she was very lucky getting a taxi but to her it had been like a prison sentence. She longed to walk with her friends and do the things that normal children did; like going for detours and getting involved with other children and messing about at the school back gates. At this inquisitive stage her ‘ordinary’ Asian lifestyle began to change.
The morning sunshine awoke Shanil. She looked at her alarm clock on the bedside table, it was only 6:16. The alarm had been set for 7. Jade was asleep next to her with a sweet smile on her lips. “She's had a good night,” Shanil said to herself. Getting out of bed she reached for the radio to switch it on. It was no use sleeping now because she knew if she closed her eyes again she would fall into another timeless sleep. The one thing she did not like about this kind of sleep was being woken up in the middle of a lovely dream. She dressed and ate her breakfast before everyone. Then kindly she brought up a cup of tea for her mom and her sister. It was extremely difficult for her to carry two mugs of tea up the stairs. Still she managed by bringing the stainless steel teapot and two empty mugs and poured the tea at their bedside table. Her father always left the house at first light to open up the store and get the morning newspapers sorted and delivered. Josh never drank tea.
“Well? How was it?” Shanil sat next to her tired sister.
Taking the cup of tea and giving quite a large yawn, she smiled. “I'll tell you something, you missed a great night. Oh yeah, Rebelz wouldn't stop going on about you.” Jade sat up in bed.
“You what?” Shanil said with a sudden jerk hardly believing her ears. “Don't be daft, Rebelz doesn’t like me....” She felt her heart beat faster.
“You wouldn't like to bet on it,” Jade smiled and carried on with her story about the night. Shanil heard not a word of her sister’s so called exciting story. All she could think about was Rebelz, how could it be true? ‘Jade's having me on,’ she kept thinking. She wanted to find out but she did not quite know how. She wanted to believe Jade but swore at herself, telling herself it was ridiculous and absurd that a young man could like her in that way. She also despised the thought of getting hurt just as she always did. A thought wandered through her mind many-a-time that maybe Jade was using her as a cover-up for herself. Shanil being extremely naive and foolish had fallen into the trap. She knew very well all the times that Jade had gone out with her dangerous friends; it had been Shanil’s responsibility to cover for her. Shanil hated being her alibi and the thought of ‘being caught out’ by non-matching stories made her feel sick. Many times Shanil told Jade that she would blackmail her but Jade always had total faith in her older sister and knew she would never tell on her. It just was not in Shanil’s character. Knowing that her younger sister had such powers over her made Shanil furious.
At work Shanil plodded through the day as though she were in a world of her own. She was in a complete daze, only doing things she was told otherwise just sitting at her desk staring into mid air. Her working day had been very simple and she decided to leave work earlier than usual.
It was the usual routine when she got home. She helped her sister and her mother prepare supper clean up the house and wash the dishes. They made sure everything was ready for her father in the morning as he always left the house in the early hours. Once everything had been completed it was almost half-past eight.
At approximately half-past nine the girls heard a tap on their kitchen window. Jade, holding a cup of coffee in her hand smiled, “The midnight callers are here.” ......
If you like what you've read, please do let me know. The novel is about 100,000 words and I am hoping to find a publisher in the future.