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This Land is Your Land

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The next day, while you are eating what's left in your cupboards for breakfast, the men in suits burst into the kitchen and demand your attention. They are brandishing weapons. You don't know much about guns but you know that they kill. You and the family are ushered upstairs and are told to stay put. You swap wild-eyed stares at each other as you all try to anticipate what happens next. Your heart thumps like crazy in your chest as you hear slow, measured footsteps coming up the stairs. You grab the kids tightly, trying to protect them as much as you can. The door opens and you close your eyes, not wanting to see what terror awaits.

 

As you open your eyes, you see your neighbour. His face is soft and kindly, and his lips part in a warm and welcoming smile. He ushers you all to sit on the bed. He perches sideways on the end to address everyone. You are told that he is sorry but this land, and therefore this house, belongs to his family. They will be building more accommodation in the garden. As an act of kindness, your family will be allowed to live in the attic space. You try to stand to speak but a swift blow to the side of your head with the butt of a gun quickly sets you back down. There is no other option. You will only be permitted to leave the loft on their say. Supplies will be provided but only on their terms. You will be provided with buckets for sanitation. Every two days, you'll be allowed down to empty them. There is already a tap up there for running water for washing and cleaning. There are to be no questions. Men in suits fill the room, guns pointed at you. They order you to go to the loft hatch, open it and drop down the ladder. You wearily oblige. One by one, your family enters what you now call home.

 

There are already others here. Your house is an end terrace, one of four-in-a-row with your oppressors in a detached house on its own to the other side. The houses were built some time ago, and the shared attic space hasn't got round to being separated and bricked-off yet. The three other families are cowered in a corner, and you imagine their expression of pain and sadness is also mirrored on your face. You join them and nobody speaks for hours.

 

The silence is broken by one of the loft hatches bursting open. Everyone screams. The suits laugh at the reaction. They're enjoying this. A hessian bag is tossed up. Some basic provisions tumble out. You think to yourself how scarce they look and wonder how long they are meant to last.

 

You find out three days later. By this time, each family has built a 'home' in each of their loft spaces. Luckily there are enough airbeds, blankets, crockery and cutlery sets and other unwanted items to make it as habitable as possible. There is an old cassette/radio player. It picks up several stations and it provides some entertainment, however scant.  You wonder how long the batteries will last, so you ration the use.

 

The last few days, as well as being the longest of your lives, have been downright bizarre. Underneath you, there has been a great deal of activity. You pictured in your mind people moving in, keeping some of your belongings and discarding others. You've heard the washing machine. Your washing machine. You've heard people laughing while watching television. Your television. You've even heard people having sex in the room below. Your room. Your bed. All the good times you had in there fill your head. You weep and your family cuddles you.

 

Between the four families (as well as you there are two older couples and another family with a young child on the opposite end), there has been a decision made to engage in negotiations. The father at the other end nominated himself, leading you to swiftly volunteer yourself. The man is a bit of a hot-head and has a history of confrontation in the street. You feel he would make things worse. The others agree in a majority vote. The next time the hatch is opened, you will try to talk.

                     

 

You trudge back up the ladders, a crowd of expectant faces greet you. They are holding their breath, waiting for any scrap of good news. You slowly shake your head and stare at your feet.

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