In an ideal world there wouldn’t be children without parents. In an ideal world hospitals wouldn’t be bombed because they looked a bit like something else. In an ideal world everything would be sweet and smooth and we could all afford to be as selfish as we liked and it wouldn’t matter.
But it isn’t. Its messy and unpredictable, and no matter how much time we spend moaning about how bloody inconvenient that is it won’t change. We can’t change the cards we are dealt, but we can change how we play them.
The 3000 children, alone with no one, who have fled from all manner of ghastliness that it’s hard to even imagine, have been dealt some pretty bad cards by the world. We don’t have to go into who dealt them and if we have some role in how the deck was shuffled. No. It’s much more simple than that. Three thousand kids with no one looking out for them. So somebody has to. Who is it going to be?
Our government this week decided on our behalf that it definitely wouldn’t be us. Because if we did that, then every parent across the world would be putting their child in an envelope and sending them to the UK. (Presumably the Tories think the same of the NHS that curing people only encourages people to be ill.)
So who will take on the task of taking care of these three thousand children with nothing and noone, who have had everything taken from them, and now risk having their futures taken too? There is a queue of child traffickers eager to take on the job.
The sickening shamefulness of this got to me so much on Thursday that I put aside all the other things I was supposed to be doing and wrote in the genre I can do best, a picture book text – though obviously without the pictures. It ends with a child being turned away from a school because there’s no chair for her to sit on.
I Skyped my friend Jackie Morris cos the words were burning me and I had to read them to someone.
In the middle of a million things she has to do she said she’d draw a chair. Then I sent it to Emily Drabble at the Guardian and by Thursday evening it was up on the internet.
Yesterday afternoon talking to my friend Petr Horacek, I told him about the story and he offered to do a chair too.
Somehow the idea of 3000 empty chairs, one each for those lone, rejected children seemed like a good one. A chair, so shaped for a human, so strange and purposeless without body to sit on it.
And now, less than 24 hours later, illustrators, writers, readers, parents, children are sending chairs…drawn, painted, even and embroidered House of commons one from Karen Celestine.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could gather three thousand chairs ready to parade across the internet and make the people who voted to shrug their shoulders and throw those kids to the traffickers hang their heads in shame.
If you want to add a chair…it doesn’t matter if you can’t draw for toffee, just have a go
e mail it to me or tweet it with the hashtag #3000chairs and include Emily Drabble’s twitter handle @EmilyDrabs so your chairs wont get lost in the internet cracks and we can add it to the guardian gallery of empty chairs,
Here’s what I wrote
The Day War Came
The day war came there were flowers on the windowsill
and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.
My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose
and walked with me to school
That morning I learned about volcanos,
I sang a song about how tadpoles turn at last to frogs
I made a picture of myself with wings.
Then, just after lunch,
while I watched a cloud shaped like a dolphin,
At first, just like a spattering of hail
a voice of thunder…
then all smoke and fire and noise, that I didn’t understand.
It came across the playground.
It came into my teacher’s face.
It brought the roof down.
and turned my town to rubble.
I can’t say the words that tell you
about the blackened hole that had been my home.
All I can say is this:
war took everything
war took everyone
I was ragged, bloody, all alone.
I ran. Rode on the back of trucks, in buses;
walked over fields and roads and mountains,
in the cold and mud and rain;
on a boat that leaked and almost sank
and up a beach where babies lay face down in the sand.
I ran until I couldn’t run
until I reached a row of huts
and found a corner with a dirty blanket
and a door that rattled in the wind
But war had followed me.
It was underneath my skin,
behind my eyes,
and in my dreams.
It had taken possession of my heart.
I walked and walked to try and drive war out of myself,
to try and find a place it hadn’t reached.
But war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street
It was in the way the people didn’t smile, and turned away.
I came to a school.
I looked in through the window.
They were learning all about volcanos
And drawing birds and singing.
I went inside. My footsteps echoed in the hall
I pushed the door and faces turned towards me
but the teacher didn’t smile.
She said, there is no room for you,
you see, there is no chair for you to sit on,
you have to go away.
And then I understood that war had got here too.
I turned around and went back to the hut, the corner and the blanket
and crawled inside.
It seemed that war had taken all the world and all the people in it.
The door banged.
I thought it was the wind.
But a child’s voice spoke
“I brought you this,” she said “so you can come to school.”
It was a chair.
A chair for me to sit on and learn about volcanoes, frogs and singing
And drive the war out of my heart.
She smiled and said
“My friends have brought theirs too, so all the children here can come to school”
Out of every hut a child came and we walked together,
on a road all lined with chairs.
Pushing back the war with every step.