Mo and Saj. Saj and Mo. Chilling out and kicking back. Sprawled in their deep arm chairs with cans of coke and United on the widescreen. Mo and Saj denouncing how boring their beloved Red Devils have become. Under the Dutchman. After the Scotsman.
Mo and Saj.
Cousins. But the shared joke of their familes has always been that they are more than cousins. More like brothers. Always inseperable. From the very get go. From way back in the day when they first learned to walk.
Mo and Saj. Yorkshire born and bred. Reared in the damp air of Union St, Rotherham. Soot blackened red bricks and low rise social housing where a great mill had once stood tall and proud.
Mo and Saj. A shared primary school and a shared secondary school. Shared late night hours behind the counter of the family shop. Manners for the pensioners in for newspapers and milk. Watchful of the addicts seeking blind spots in the CCTV. On edge with the racists with their tattoos and short legged dogs.
And for a while Yorkshire had a chance to keep a hold of the two cousins. On the days they took the bus to watch the Test Match at Headingly. When they thrived in the middle order of the school team.
But slowly but surely Yorkshire had lost them. The dog shit through the letter box. The drive by abuse. The spray painted ‘PAKI TWATS’ on the shop window. The endless stop and search. The helicopters hanging in the rain sodden skies.
And then one night they had been beaten. Side by side and together. Down on the grimy pavement together. Kicked and spat on together. Loaded on board the ambulance together.
Side by side on ward 15 with all the family around them. Their fathers aged by years. Their mothers bringing samosas wrapped in foil to try and make it right.
But Yorkshire had lost them on that rainy night. Forever. And what looked to one and all like business as usual wasn’t business as usual at all. For now Saj and Mo were in escape mode. Savings cashed and pooled. Cheap flights to Turkey Googled and viewed. Cheap flights to Turkey Googled and booked. Cheap flights to Turkey Googled and taken and the cold hatred of Union St, Rotherham left a thousand miles behind.
Then it was the rat run south to the border. And then it was over the border and a ride in a shining 4x4.
To Raqqa. To the heart of ISIS. To a place far, far away from the stop and seach and the hammering boots and the spit in their hair and the dog shit through their letter box. And their place on the grimy pavement.
A flat of their own. And a 50 inch widecreeen. And Sky and BT Sport. And of course it was OK for them to watch United. Why not? No smoking though. Not even a crafty one. In Raqqa smoking means public whipping. And drinking mean public whipping. And drugs mean public execution.
Saj and Mo. Mo and Saj. Making easily affordable sacrifices for be a thousand miles away from the danp South Yorkshire air and the spit and the dog shit and the all pervading hate.
Three weeks now. Getting their bearings. Praying like they have never prayed before. The whole six times a day package. Days of learning how to strip and clean and fire the AK47. Days of running and burning off any spare ounces. Days of hearing all about the one and only god and the one and only prophet and the glory of getting the chance to die in his name.
Nights on the sofa in front of the tele. Nights with the the PS4. Nights online checking out the Twitter hate from home.
“Keep calm and burn a mosque”
Slow burn hate. Two sons of Yorkshire. Two lost sons of Yorkshire.
A knock at the door. Heavy. Demanding..
A shared glance. Shared fear in the eyes. What the….
Mo gets the door. Saj hangs back. United pass the ball along the back four. Van Gaal takes notes.
Three of them. Men in black. Beards and eyes of coal. Beards and eyes of death.
Out onto the street. No need to lock up. No stealing in Raqqa. The new Sharia law sheriffs are in town. Shoplifters go from having two hands to having one hand in the blink of an eye. In the flash of a blade.
A big black 4x4 with tinted windows and alloy wheels. Saj and Mo in the back and quiet and scared shitless as corners are taken fast.
No words spoken but the hairs on the back of their necks can sense the American F16 jet invisible in the grey clouds above. Seeking out the hardest of the hard men in their top end 4x4’s. Hellfire fodder.
A fifteen minute drive to the edge of town. A large box of a house behind walls topped with razor wire. A machine gun nest at the gate. Three more shiny 4x4’s in the yard. A man on the flat roof cradling a semi automatic.
They follow. Through a thick front door. Over a gleaming marble floor. Into the large room at the back with picture windows taking in a manicured garden. Furniture out of a Harrods catalogue. A rug worth as much as a two up, two down on Union St, Rothrham. A half naked girl draped across a leather sofa. Empty eyes. Heroin eyes. How old? Shit. Maybe twelve? Shit.
A desk by the window. And a man behind the desk fixing them with the stare of a waiting snake. Iron grey hair. A Persil white shirt and thick gold rings on thick hairy fingers.
A cigarette in an ash tray.
A twenty year old malt in a crystal glass.
“Sit down. There. Yes. There.”
They sit. The man takes them in. Slowly. Patiently. Behind them the door eases closed.
“So. Mohamed Iqbal and Sajid Khan, yes?”
“OK. You want a drink, have a drink. You want a smoke, have a smoke. I don’t give a shit, OK?”
They nod. They exchange a glance. They each take a Lucky Strike and light up. The man focuses on the papers in front of him. They see pictures of themselves.
“OK. Listen, OK? Me? You don’t need to know me. I am big man. You can see. Once I was Colonel in Republican Guard. I fight America. Fallujah. Ramadi. Al Anbar. Everywhere. Now I am in Raqqa, OK? Why? Dollars. Fucking millions. So you want drink, you drink. You want smoke, you smoke. I make different rules.”
He doesn’t look up as he speaks. His small eyes remain locked on the paperwork. The girls eyes remain locked on eternity.
“So. Rotherham. You can tell me. Tell me everything. And no lies. I will know if you lie. I always know. And I am not a good man to lie to. You can understand?”
They can. And they tell him. And an hour becomes two hours. Then three. Then five. Outside the mosques of Raqqa call the faithful to their kness. The girls stares into a million miles of opiate nothing. The man behind the desk smokes one after another and from time to time refills his glass whilst teasing out what he needs to know.
They are honest about their lives. About how for a while they belonged to Yorkshire. The cricket and the football and the Queen.
And even after 9/11 they stayed with Yorkshire and Yorkshire stayed with them. After 7/7 they started to stray. Stop and search and abuse on the streets.
“Did it get worse?”
Yes it got worse.
“When did it get worse?”
The girls. The lost white girls. Forgotten. Worthless. From their families from hell from the council estates and the high rise blocks. Condemned to the care of a Social Work Department that didn’t care. Left to their own devices. Left to the mercies of the groups of Asian men who cruised the damp streets of Rotherham in their cars. Seeking out the lost girls. Buying the lost girls with free drinks and free drugs and crisp £20 notes. Rooms in guest houses paid for with cash. So many reports to the South Yorkshire Police, all of them falling on the deafest of deaf ears. Deaf for fears of racial incidents. So many reports to the Social Work Department and the Council. More deaf ears. More fears of racial incidents. And fears of careers crashed and burned. And pensions lost.
Until the damn burst and the septic truth exploded like a fountain of raw sewage. The truth that marauding gangs of Asian men had prayed upon hundreds upon hundreds of vulnerable Yorkshire girls. And for a while reporters had been all over Rotherham like a rash and the town had found an unwanted place at the top of the news.
“And this was when it all went bad, yes? This is when you got beaten?”
And now the man is smiling.
“So let me see if I understand, OK? When we destroy the Twin Towers, things for you are OK. And after we bomb the underground in London, things are still OK. But when we attack their women, everything goes to shit. They spit at you and put dog shit through the letterbox and they beat you on the street, yes? And now there is only hate in this place, Rotherham? Big hate?”
Silence. Dead vacant eyes on the leather sofa. Gentle drifting smoke. Darkness outside.
“Good. Very good. You can go now.”
Mo risks it. “Can we ask why?”
A flicker of annoyance in the small eyes. But only a flicker.
“Sure. Why not? Who you tell, right? You tell and I cut your fucking heads off, OK?”
Saj and Mo nod.
“So we tell everyone all about how evil the Kuffar are, right? The unbelievers kill Muslims. Everywhere. They are like animals. Like pigs. So they must be destroyed. Like rats. All of them. But there is problem. When our people switch on the TV they see pictures of fucking Munich railway station. Yeah? 'Refugees welcome her'. Its all cake and coffee and fucking teddy bears. And our people think maybe the unbelievers aren’t so bad after all, right? Here is cake. Here is fucking teddy bear. No good. Bad. Yes?”
Saj and Mo nod.
“So we need to change the tune. Change the channel. We need to make them be like we say they are. No more fucking teddy bears, OK. Only hate. Like your shit Rotherham.”
Saj and Mo nod without really understanding.
“Like you say. We can shoot the unbelievers and we can bomb the unbelievers but they still come out with their fucking teddy bears. But if we attack their women? Then it can be like your Rotherham, yes? Then we bring out their hate. The dog shit through the letter box. No more fucking teddy bears, right?”
Saj and Mo nod, beginning to understand.
“It is all about railway stations. For many months there are railway stations on the TV. Refugess welcome. Coffee and cake. Teddy bears. So now we can make a different picture I think. A different railway station movie for all the unbelievers to watch.”
“How? Easy. I put a thousand brothers on the street. New Years Eve. When the streets are crowded with the women of the unbelievers. All drunk and stupid. And the brothers will grope them and feel them and call them whores. Think of it. A thousand brothers. A thousand. All in front of a railway station. All in front of the TV and YouTube”
“Can you get them to do it? The brothers, I mean?”
“Sure, why not? We give them some cash. We give them some drugs. We give them some drink. Men are easy to bend. Better than a fucking suicide vest, right?”
Saj and Mo nod. Better than a fucking suicide vest.
“So you can go. I need to spend some time with my little Fatima. Watch the TV, OK. New Years Eve. We’re going to make the whole fucking world like your Rotherham. We’re going pull their strings. No more fucking teddy bears.”
Over the marble floor and through the door and into the chill of the Syrian night. Empty streets darkened by a power cut. And somewhere far away they feel the air bounce to the tune of an American air strike.
Back in the flat. The PS4 holds no great appeal. Not now. Not any more. They clean their teeth. They go to bed. They feel dirty. Sullied. Contaminated.
And a few weeks later they would indeed have tuned their 50 inch widescreen into the unfolding events outside the railway station in Cologne. They really would. But they don’t. Because a week after their visit to the man with the small eyes they are turned into a thousand pieces care of a Hellfire missile fired by a young man from Charlotte, South Carolina.
They never get the chance to see a world without teddy bears.