A New York Life

Ella Oldham


Temple Carrig School,


















My eyes snap open as the blaring siren erupts through my room. I sit up, my heart in my throat, only to realise that I’m in my bed in my crammed apartment and the ear splitting sound was just my bedside alarm. It reads exactly 8:00 am. I sigh and pull the duvet cover over my head , heart still pounding against my chest. I can hear the faint whisper of the city through the windows, as the light seeps through the curtains. I slowly rise and make my way to the bathroom, I splash cold water on my face, hoping it will make the charcoal bags under my eyes fade. It only seems to make them darker so instead I apply a thin layer of concealer and decide to fill in my eyebrows, attempting to make them look similar to the other girls who work at the cafe. After, I stroll back into my room and get changed in a rush, quickly pulling my navy hijab over my head.

The cold autumn air burns my nostrils as a blast of cool air smacks my face. I step out onto the sidewalk and pull my hijab tighter around my face making sure that not a single strand of my dark wispy hair was on show and take off in the direction of Times Square. The threat of rain looms over the sky and the sidewalk is damp and slippery. The mornings have been dim like this lately, September was beginning to end and it is slowly creeping into October.

I take the same route to work each day, alone. I do most things by myself now. I drink my morning coffee alone, listen to my music alone, eat my lunch in work alone and even ride the bus to Queens alone on the weekend. I’ve gotten used to it and I’m happy to be out of Damascus. But when I see a mother with her child or a pair of friends walking along the sidewalk together, my heart sinks in my chest and the guilt begins to itch in the back of my mind.


The blazing sun shines down on both our heads, heating us from head to toe. Each person in the crowd around us moves as if unseeing hands drag them this way and that, pulling their eyes to one thing and then another. I feel trapped and unable to move. I am suddenly calmed as Alina reaches for my hand, she looks up at me with her big brown eyes and gives me a wide smile. In one hand she holds her tattered bear, one of its button eyes is hanging off and one of its ears is completely ripped off, it was well suited for the bin in my opinion. I stare up at the cloudless sky trying to get a clear view of the street ahead of us. Then out of the blue an ear splitting shriek erupts. It was as though a fist of orange flame had decided to punch it’s way out of the towering building. Windows shatter as smoke and fire gushed out, and thousands of pieces of glass and steel, shower down on top of us. An immense bite had been taken out of the side and the roof of the building.


I’m snapped out of a daydream as an angry customer storms up, demanding a refill. The room stenches of cheap coffee and washing up liquid. I look at the other baristas out of the corner of my eye and see them all huddled together whispering and laughing with one another. I feel my face turn a deep crimson, worrying they are talking about me. I reach for my hijab tucking the single strand of hair back into place. I am not used to any of this, to standing out. My eyes begin to well up and my breathing becomes rapid and uneven. I drop the cloth I had been holding to wipe the stained counters and push past a waitress holding a stack of ceramic plates. I rush to the bathroom and slam the door behind me.



My face is covered in the thick black soot from the destruction all around me. I clutch Alina’s bear close to my chest. It’s once white fur had now turned charcoal. I scream for help until my lungs feel as If they are about to burst. ‘Somebody help me !’ My eyes scan the road ahead of me, looking for her. ‘Alina ?!’, my voice breaks as I shout her name. I plead for her to answer, but the only reply I get is another faint explosion coming from the distance.



The crisp autumn air rustles my raincoat. It’s golden hour and the sun seems to make everything in the city look more gentle and beautiful. I walk over to a rusty bench and take a seat awkwardly beside an old women reading. She doesn’t look up from her book. I take my bag off my shoulder and begin to root for my phone. Instead I pull out a large handful or wrappers and receipts. I see a crumpled receipt fall to the floor and blow across the path. I sigh and wander over to retrieve it. Just before I chuck it into the bin I take a quick glance at it. My heart jumps into my throat. It’s the photograph.


The funeral took place on a Monday. The funeral of my eight year old sister, Alina. The sun shone brightly, peeking out from behind the clouds, it’s glare was offensively cheerful. Everything should be as grey and foggy as my emotions, it should be cold and damp with silent air, lifeless. But I guess it was just an average spring day for anyone else, the birds still chirped from high up in the trees and the flowers still blossomed. As I took a pew near the front the long held back tears began to flow.


I stare blankly at the Polaroid picture that I have clutched in my hands. The picture is ripped and curled at the corners and the ink had begun to fade. She sits on the steps outside our flat, wearing a puffy pink dress with a wide smile spread across her face. It was the last photograph I had taken of her, before that day happened, before my whole life turned upside down. I was the one who persuaded Umi to let me take her out into the city for her birthday. It was all my fault.



It’s been a little over a month. I stand in the centre of Damascus airport my suitcase by my side. “You’re a coward, Daisha” I whisper to myself. I was running from my mistakes and fears. Jida had helped me book a ticket to America about three weeks ago, and had given me the rest of her savings. She told me Umi would understand, but I doubt she’ll be upset when I don’t return home this evening. I didn’t even know how long I was going away for, none of that mattered right now. I just needed to leave.


I sit at the back of the bus on the way home from Queens. My headphones blaring into my ears , the beat pulsating throughout my body. I stare out the grimy window, they’re beaded with droplets and the rain beats down heavily on the roof. The bus suddenly comes to a halt and another swarm of passengers enter. A small kid with a red puffy coat takes a seat at the front. His bobbled hat only just peaks over the back of his seat. He wipes the condensation from the window with a mittened hand and presses a button nose to the glass. My eyes dart back to the sealed envelope in my hands that Umi had sent me nearly 6 months ago. I take a deep breath, my hands shake as I peel it open ever so slowly. I can hear my mother’s voice as I read her elongated handwriting, and for a moment I forget I’m in this crammed bus, forget I’m in New York. As I read the letter the little boy gets up off his seat and walks towards the back of the bus. As he approaches I realise that he was actually a she. My whole body freezes when I see her face, the large hazelnut eyes and the rosy cheeks, I could have sworn it was her. She now stands beside me. I am not wearing my hijab today. I had decided to allow my locks fall past my shoulders. I feel different today, I can’t explain it. I feel fresh in a way, like a completely new and different person. I miss home, but at least home misses me too.

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