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If you prick us do we not bleed?

If you tickle us do we not laugh?

If you poison us do we not die?

And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?


- The Merchant of Venice


1

Painful memories are impossible to forget.

What happened haunts you forever.

You play the memories back and wince. You think what you could have done, what you could have said. You pray for peace. You look for meaning. You make wild promises. You try to think: it wasn't that bad.

But it was.

The memories stay vivid and alive: they cut you slowly to bits.

You think: there are people in the world with worse problems than me. True, but those people are not you, isolated within your body, accompanied by your pain.

Bitter, dark memories come back on sunny days; they make you catch your breath and squeeze your eyes closed. They freeze you out of crowds. At night they chase sleep away. You can't trust anyone. You'll never love again. You hate the world and you want out.

One day, some bright sunny day in the future, you may feel fine. One day you'll feel goodwill to humankind and you'll smile a real smile, a smile to light up a room, but now you don't know how. You don't feel like that now.

You feel hurt. You have been hurt. You have been given pain.

No, right now you want revenge.

Violent, bloody revenge.

And today you will have it.


2

Ms Eliot frumped into the classroom and dropped a stack of papers onto her desk. Immediately her palm shot up: "Not now, whoever you are. Just stay right there in your seats. I have absolutely zero interest in hearing a single world from any one of you guys until I've taken attendance."

Ms Eliot was short, stocky and wore billowing white shirts which she hoped hid her shape. This morning her white-yellow hair was fluffed up over ruby-rimmed glasses which covered most of her face and matched her shoes. Her dark eyebrows were painted on: as usual she looked permanently surprised.

That snow and ice might look pretty and all, she was grumbling to herself, but you try driving three miles in it down stupid little country lanes while weird shrivelled old folk come at you, folk who can barely see up over the steering wheel and through the windshield for crying out loud!

Oh, why had she ever moved to England?

Ms Eliot lived alone, with only a cat, the TV and the radio for company. The real reason she was angry was because winter made her remember the past, when she was happy. Christmases.

"Alawi?" Ms Eliot began (she insisted on the Ms), forcing a weary tone, signalling that she really didn't want to be there that morning and they'd better not think of crossing her.

"Here, miss."

Miriam Alawi raised her hand but kept her amber eyes on the desktop. Her nickname was Bin Laden; never mind that Bin Laden was Saudi and she was Syrian, she was "one of them" and that was enough. Each time she lifted her desk or opened a can of drink someone shouted, 'Allah Al Akbar' - or fake jumped as though diving from an explosion.

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