Although I have never read anything by Hannah Haq prior to this story, I have read several of the Riz Sabir thrillers authored by Charlie Flowers. Flowers writes some great action stories, all revolving around the character Riz Sabir (Hard Kill) and his gang of girls who work off the grid for British intelligence. The short story the duo has included in Twisted Tales contains none of the violence nor any of the spy stuff Sabir is involved in. The Night Passengers is the story of a meeting between strangers on a train.
Beginning with the smart aleck remark of the man in the “zipped-up Adidas tracksuit” and the Muslim woman, “one of them hijabis”, it is apparent some type of conflict is on the horizon. In spite of his obvious disdain for her attire he strikes up a conversation with her. More amazing still, she responds. This opening immediately aroused my curiosity. What could these two possibly have to talk about? It seems highly unlikely they can have a civil discourse on public transportation.
After they exchange their names, she is Ruby and he is Gary, they begin a rather odd and somehow flirtatious give and take. This verbal sparring becomes even more interesting when Gary reveals he is going to a “meet”; a gathering of a group called “Casuals United”. Ruby immediately concludes this is a group of “racists” who burn mosques and perform other anti-Muslim activities.
Gary, however, takes exception to this assuring her his group only marches and protests. So begins a discussion of what Gary and his group hope to accomplish much to the amusement of near-by passengers who overhear the dialogue. As Gary sips a beer he elaborates on how the Casuals United differs from the “English Defence League” (EDL).
During a lull in their conversation a slightly intoxicated young man stumbles through the car and stops to flirt with Ruby. Some mysterious signal passes between Gary and the “drunken city boy” and he stumbles on his way leaving Ruby wondering how Gary had driven him off. I wondered if this was an indication that Gary was not quite as brutish as he appeared on the surface. But the discussion now turns to her attire, her Hijab, and Gary doesn’t hesitate to make his opinion known. Rising to the occasion Ruby tells him in no uncertain terms her attire is totally her own choice and she is not forced to cover.
As a reader I am certain at this point there will be a loud disagreement or some unpleasant confrontation. Wrong. When the train grinds to an unscheduled halt due to a “Signal Failure” it is Ruby who continues the conversation. There is nothing particularly outstanding about their exchange until something totally unexpected occurs. As the train finally begins to move again and the journey resumes this new facet of their chat casts a surprising new view of their intercourse.
Discovering they have things in common, in spite of the differences that are apparent, there seems to be a desire to connect in some way. With the flavor of James Joyce’s observations of the Irish, Flowers and Haq allow us to peer through the window and watch two world’s bump, each learning they are not so different after all. Perhaps by recognizing and accepting their diversity, they gain an invaluable insight into each other’s worlds. For me the message here is, it’s hard to fear and hate something once you begin to humanize and understand it.
Perhaps I am reading too much into this story. However I found it incredibly uplifting. Maybe we all need to get stuck on a train with someone whose culture or religion we don’t understand and get a little educated. Maybe that would work toward less fear and hate and more acceptance and understanding.
ReadersAvenuePark/CharlieFlowers Charlie Flowers Amazon Author Page Rizwan Sabir on Facebook Charlie Flowers on Facebook
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Essex kids Charlie Flowers and Hannah Haq have been getting up to no good for years, be it impersonating random childrens’ parents at school evenings, upsetting people at the opera, or just generally being bad Muslims. So it was only a matter of time before they started writing about what they have seen and the people they’ve encountered. This is their first short story. But not the last, oh no. Readers can follow their escapades via the hashtags: #flaq #flaqontour #thecurseofflaq