A Liberal Feminist Wrings Her Hands #fridayflash

I just don’t know what to do. Milly wants a Barbie for her birthday. Where on earth did she get that idea? We’ve always been so careful not to gender stereotype. Dolls and toy cars, teddy bears and train sets. Mind you, she’s insisted on wearing pink since she was three, because that’s what girls do don’t they? It goes against the grain, but we’d hate to give her an identity crisis. And she does look adorable in that fairy outfit she insisted I buy her.

We have to draw the line at Barbie though. Those improbable breasts. The invisible waist. The endless legs. The first of too many unattainable images. The kind that lead girls into anorexia, bulimia, unsuccessful boob jobs. It’s not just that though. You can’t buy one Barbie. You have to get them all – fashionista, bride, anchor girl – or your life is not worth living. And now I’ve heard Mattel is carving up half the Indonesian rain forests to make her packaging. Anti-feminist, consumerist and ruining the planet. They’re not the values we want to teach Milly.

But…at bedtime, after I’d turned Disney Channel off and tucked Milly up, she looked at me with her large brown eyes and whispered, “I AM going to get a Barbie for my birthday aren’t I Mummy?”

What could I say? What’s more important? A principle or our child’s disappointment?

“Of course you are sweetie, ” I said, giving her a kiss.

There’s nothing else for it. We’ll  just have to get her one. And  keep telling her why Barbie is so wrong. We can always give Greenpeace a donation as well. Fifty pounds should do.

I’ll go out to Toys R Us first thing.


Life Lessons #fridayflash

My Dad said I’d never amount to much. Slacker, he called me. Good for nothing! Sitting in front of that damn thing all day, when the sun is shining. What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you play outside like a normal boy?” Yada, yada, the soundtrack of my teens.

I didn’t care back then. High School was dull, full of idiotic tribes whose inane rituals bored me. My teachers with their constant nagging, You won’t get a good job without decent grades, even duller . My parents were tolerable, but they weren’t exactly setting the world alight. Dad with his dreary job at the tax office. Mom with her bake sales and bridge clubs. Why would I aspire to that? Is it any wonder DS was where I came alive?

At first it was the film games I loved the most – Transformers, The Green Lantern, X Men. I loved playing all the lead roles, fighting for justice, defeating the bad guys. It was a blast. That was till I came across the war games – Battlefield, Halo, Soldiers of Anarchy.  Soon I found whole worlds to command – my strategic skills and quick fire reactions winning battle after battle. I conquered lands, and empires. My enemies fled at the sight of me pumping bullets with my AK47s. It was an adrenalin rush all right. No wonder daily life sucked.

Dad never got it of course. How could he? Tied to his desk and his spreadsheets and ledgers. I doubt he ever had an exciting moment in his life. He was such a loser. No wonder that heart attack killed him at 50. I expect it was the stress of living so monotonously.

Still. I’ve showed him. I’ve showed them all. Those whiny teachers with their lousy report cards. The principals who hauled me in their offices for their tedious Pull Your Socks Up lectures. See, it turns out, after all, those years weren’t wasted. All that playing with joysticks and staring at computer screens was perfect preparation for a life worth living, serving my country. All that time to get me ready for this:

My computer screen has a perfect image, relayed back to me through the clear blue sky. A man is standing on the dusty street below, waiting outside a single story brick house. The intelligence on the ground has confirmed it, but I am waiting for him to turn round. To see the face of my enemy. Across the street, I see someone hail him. He turns round, relaxed, easy, unaware of the danger he is in. I cannot pick out his features. I zoom in.  The picture is blurry, but that long beard, those black rimmed glasses and hook nose are unmistakeable.  It’s him alright. My pulse is racing, as I call it in.

“We have confirmation, target is on the plot. Repeat. We have confirmation.  Target is on the plot. Do I have permission to fire.Over?”

The response is sweet. The words I’ve been longing to hear.

“Target approved. Fire at will.Over.”

I wipe drops of sweat from my forehead and reach for the controls. For a second, nothing happens. Then the flash of the bomb. The flume of smoke. Rubble, dust. People running.

“Target taken out. Over.”

“Nice job sergeant. Over and Out.”

I pull off the head-set and hand over to my co-pilot. I walk away from the booth and grab myself a Coke from the machine. The sweet taste of victory trickles down my throat as my colleagues surround me with congratulations. Another kill for my country. As always, it’s quite a rush. I can’t get enough.

My Dad said I’d never amount to much. If only he could see me now.

#fridayflash Blue Sky Thinking.

The sun burns bright today. Electric-yellow rays scorch the earth, even at this early hour. The blue sky is empty of clouds. The only thing visible is the heat shimmering on the horizon. Today is a day when a sensible man would stay inside. Cool, collected, protected from danger. But I am not a sensible man, and the sun is not the only thing I fear.

Once upon a time, when the Arabian Nights were real, and not just stories to soothe me to sleep, too much sunlight was the only thing that frightened me into the dark. That was in the days before Our Enemies came. Infidels from East and West with their bomb-filled aeroplanes dropping death and destruction. At first we were able to spot the warning signs. The drone of engines, the glint of steel, the trail of smoke were enough to alert us to run for cover. If  Allah was kind, the wind was fair, and we were slight of foot, we’d escape the blasts that ripped our communities apart.

But Our Enemies are clever and their tricks became ever more devilish. Soon we discovered the Russian Roulette of the yellow packages. Glinting, gold bars, dropping from the sky into the welcoming arms of juniper bushes. What treasures would they reveal? One day, a gift of sugar and flour, enough to feed a family for a month;  the next a curse of metal shrapnel, enough to fill a child for life.

Was it any surprise, I grew up to curse Our Enemies, East and West? Between them, they robbed me of my Grandfather, Mother, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins. For a while  I cursed Allah too, blaming him for my losses, till Mullah Ahmed showed me the error of my ways. It was through him, that I learn that God had made me suffer in order to prepare me for the fight. That the violence I had endured had a purpose. I must beat the Infidel as they had beaten me. Teach my countrymen to burn them as they burnt us. Destroy them as they destroyed us.

I preached this message, and as the Mullah predicted the people followed. For a while, I was blessed with  Allah’s beneficence, I prospered, married well and fathered children. In Allah’s name I smote my Enemies, and brought destruction to their Citadels. And truly, I had no fear, until…the worst fear of all overcame me. The soundless, sightless attack. At any time, in any place, the bomb falling from the pitiless sky.

And now, the Enemy is mine alone. I am on their list – a Wild West villain beyond the democracy they pretend to believe in. My Father appeals to their courts of law in vain. I am only safe if I put myself into their lion’s den, allowing myself to be transported to Guantanomo or some other sightless hell. I will not submit, I cannot. Yet my refusal condemns me to this – a life in perpetual motion attempting to out run a killer I can never see. Inside or out, I can never be safe, for the remainder of my days.

It is months since I have seen my family. Proximity to me places them in the gravest danger. One brief visit, and I would be their executioner.So I move from day to day, hoping to survive another day underneath the radar. Hoping my good deeds will be sufficient for Allah to preserve my life for another day.

The sun beats down as I leave the house. The horizon melts into the distance of possible escapes. Above me the blue sky is devoid of life.  When the moment comes I know it will show me no pity. A sensible man would disguise himself  and be smuggled across the border to freedom.And yet, I cannot leave the country of my birth, and so each day I wake, I pray, I run. Hoping, insh’Allah, that by the day’s end I will reach safety.

The sky above  is devoid of life. When the moment comes, it will show no pity.