“Who do you think will win then?” Rebecca asks.
I’m currenrly scrolling through the news, looking at the latest referendum updates. “I think it’ll be close.”
“Give a figure,” she says.
“Uh, I don’t know.” I’m not good at Maths. I hate numbers. Numbers hate me.
“OK, I think it’ll be 65% for Remain and 35% for Leave.” She writes this down on a post-it. “What do you think?”
“Ummm, OK. 51% Remain and 49% Leave.”
Rebecca writes this down. “Wow, you really don’t have hope.”
“I live in a borough where the likes of UKIP spawn from. Just last week they were rolling through on a big bus yelling Vote Leave and get rid of immigrants.”
Rebecca grimaces. “Scumbags. Sorry to hear that.”
“OK, well here are our guesses. Let’s see what the day brings.” Rebecca sticks the post-it on the board between our desks.
“Suraya, did you book that restaurant I asked?” Kathryn calls as she rushes past us.
I freeze. Did I?
It’s Referendum day. I go to the polling station on the way home from work and put a big fat X for Remain. It feels weird walking through my home town and seeing posters for the Leave campaign dotted around lampposts and walls. Would people really want to Leave? Why would people give up the perks of travelling, studying, living and working around the EU? Not to mention the economy. Hasn’t this country always been dependent on other countries to thrive? *cough*COLONIALISM*cough*
I go home and try to focus on Ramadan-ing; get some recitation in, have a little nap before iftar. Dad won’t stop watching the news.
“Who do you think is gonna win?” Aroosa asks him.
“Shaytaan,” he grumbles back. “People are fed up of immigrants, especially Muslims. This whole campaign is about getting rid of us.” UKIP sent another “get rid of Shariah law” leaflet through our door today. Banning the hijab was among other policies. Why are white people so obsessed with the hijab? With immigrants’ bodies? #liffmehalon
“Right, no more TV. It’s nearly time for iftar. Everybody to the kitchen.” Mum turns the TV off.
We all traipse to the kitchen to get iftar ready. Today’s menu is lasagne with chips and coleslaw. Fourteen minutes left to sunset. Must be strong.
I spend the rest of the night avoiding my phone and the internet. But once I finish my late night prayers, I can’t help but go to check what’s happening at the polls. London has voted Remain. Phew. Thank God.
But as the coverage continues, my relief starts to waver. More regions then I thought voted Leave. Now Remain. Leave. Remain. Leave. Remain. My borough overwhelmingly voted Leave. Fml.
I need to get some sleep before waking up for the pre-dawn meal but I can’t tear my eyes from the screen as the votes come in. It’s way too close to be sure who’s going to win. My Twitter timeline is buzzing with cusses for places that voted Leave – *presses like on everything* – but a sense of despair is starting to set in.
Before I know it, mum is calling us to go and have our pre-dawn meal before starving resumes again. I leave my laptop and make myself eggs on toast. Extra salt and butter. These are difficult times.
I drown as much water down as possible until I have a water baby growing in my stomach. Fajr time. Back to my laptop. No, I need to sleep; I have work tomorrow. I put my phone away but five minutes later, I’m on it again looking at the updates. More people than I thought have voted Leave. This is insane.
I try to sleep but keep jumping back on my phone. Both sides are too close.
But then it comes. 51.89% Leave. 48.11% Remain.
I must be dreaming. Or hallucinating. Maybe this is one of those moments where the votes were mixed up and any minute they’ll announce they got it wrong.
The announcement doesn’t come.
Layla: This is DUMB WTH
Daniyah: I’m actually baffed
Yasmin: wow, do ppl hate immigrants this much?
can’t believe it
BREAKING: The Pound sinks after EU Referendum result announced…
I feel cold. I don’t get much more sleep and before I know it, it’s time to get ready for work. My heart feels heavy. Hatred won.
I take Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with me on the train today for comfort. Maybe if I get lost far enough in its pages I might actually disappear into the book. God. I can’t believe it. What a time to be alive.
The mood on the train feels oddly still. Everybody looks like they’re in shock. How has this happened? What does this mean for us now? I try to forget it all and read Harry Potter but even the magic and comfort of Hogwarts can’t help me escape today.
When I get into the office, everyone is absolutely silent and grim-faced. I sit down and switch my computer on.
“So,” Rebecca says quietly to me.
“Guess I win, hey?” I sigh and pull the post-it note down.
“Insane,” she says, shocked. “This is just insane.”
“I don’t even know.” I load up my emails and log on to Twitter. Despair pervades the timeline. Calls are being made for a second referendum; for Cameron to step down; for someone to fix this absolute mess. And then there is the gloating, the bragging from Leave supporters who are glad to be getting their country and jobs back; reports of Polish men being beaten up by right-wingers; tweets from people who got yelled at to go home.
Where is home? Is home the mythical motherland we get our skin colour from yet can’t speak the language of; couldn’t even point out on a map? Is home where mum and dad were born or their parents before them and before them and before them?
I thought home was here: these grey city streets, growing up on Bodger and Badger, Come Outside, Tweenies; playing bulldog in the school playground, dancing to S Club 7 on my eighth birthday; wanting to wear jeans and t-shirts instead of a salwar kameez. I think and feel in a language that’s led us to these murky waters of us and them. Where is this home they want us to go back to?
“… I mean, who’s really surprised this has happened?” Robert is saying.
I turn around. Robert, Kathryn and Meredith are sat together by his desk, talking with grave faces.
“All this media we’ve been fed, furthering divides, demonising immigrants. It’s no wonder this has happened.”
I turn back around. Media. I look around at the books and magazines on my desk. Some of these books glorify colonialism and slavery. All praise the white man who has civilised the barbaric brown nation. Bless that one sympathetic white character who is nice to the black slave. Let’s only talk about women of colour if they have fled forced marriages and honour killings. The brown terrorist. Illegal immigrants stealing houses and jobs. We’re either represented as draining the West for help or a threat to them. Of course we shouldn’t be surprised something like this result has happened. What else was going to happen with stories like these only getting the spotlight?
Iftar is tense, to say the least. Mum and dad aren’t saying much in front of us, but it’s obvious they’ve been arguing. Once we’re finished eating, we’re sent straight upstairs. I pretend to go into my room but creep back out to the landing.
“Asif, we’re not moving!” Mum says angrily from the living room.
“Would you rather die here? Have our kids go through what we did growing up here? You couldn’t walk from one road to the next without getting beaten up if you looked a bit foreign. I don’t want that for my kids!”
“And you think I do?”
“So why won’t you agree to move?” Dad demands. “My brother’s already set up in Dubai. You can still teach – they’ve got great packages for teachers there. I can find work; the kids will be safe!”
“What about Suraya? She’s just started working!”
“There’s publishing companies in Dubai, I’ve already looked. She can apply for something there.”
“None of us even speak Arabic, how are we meant to just move there?” Mum’s voice is rising by the second.
“We’ll learn, it won’t be that hard,” Dad insists. “This country won’t be safe for us much longer. Look at how many millions of people voted Leave; how many people want us gone!”
“So why should we go? This is our home as much as theirs! We work here, we pay our taxes; we even look after next-door Jessica’s ugly dog when she goes on holiday!” Mum sounds like she’s on the verge of tears.
“You think those bigots care about that? All they see is the colour of your skin, your hijab and my beard. We’re terrorists to them; a threat. Our six-year-old boy has already been suspended from school once just for having a Qur’an in his bag because of that stupid Prevent programme. It’s only going to get worse!”
“So w-we’ll take off our hijabs and you can shave your beard!” There’s a moment of silence before I hear mum bursts into tears.
Dad stays quiet. Mum’s sobs echo through the house.
I tread quietly back into my room and sit down on my bed. Would things really get that bad?
Aren’t they already?