“There are Precious Things” - A Short Story by “Alison MacLeod from All the Beloved Ghosts- 2017
Gateway to Alison MacLeod on The Reading Life
This is the ninth Short Story by Alison MacLeod upon which I have posted. I highly recommend the purchase of her collection, All The Beloved Ghosts.
Like many others in book blog and literary world I have been brought to ponder my priviledged position in the world. Long ago, almost ten years ago, I stated that The Reading Life was a multicultural book blog dedicated to the goals of literary globalism. “Literary Globalism”, an expression I made up, has now come to mean doing what little I can to let my readers know about literature that deals with the human consequences of racism, nationalism, anti LGTBQ ideology, sexism, class hatred, religious based hatred and more. Much of this is a legacy of colonialism and its servant slavery. Today’s story, set in contemporary London, “There Are Precious Things” shows us the cruel consequences of this in the life of Tanisha, a Nigerian woman living in London.
As the story opens, Tanisha is taking a seat on the 4.38 train out of Mile End Station. She is running late. Her mother comes every day to take care of her young son, Obi, but today she got there late.
“Each afternoon, when Obi comes home from school, she looks at his new drawings or marvels over the words in English he has learned to spell. Then her mother comes – today bearing electric Christmas candles from the Pound Shop – and Tanisha sprints from her door to the Underground. Sometimes she wonders that so much of her life can pass below ground. Each day, she travels from her basement flat to the Central Line, from the Central Line to the Victoria Line and from the Victoria Line to the ladies’ toilets beneath Victoria Station, where she is the evening attendant.”.
MacLeod populates the crowded car Tanisha is in with a cross section of tube riding London
society, of course the posh do not take the tube. Across from her is Edgar, a very well mannered man. When Sister Kate, sixty years old comes in he gives her his seat. MacLeod gives us a glimpse of her forty years as a nun. Some Polish construction workers ride for a short time.
Then Lionel gets on. “Lionel feels odd sitting across from a nun with a semen sample in his shirt pocket.”. Lionel and his wife have been trying with no luck for a while to have children so he is getting himself tested. There seems an irony in our nun who day dreams of the children she might have add combined with burden of Obi.
We learn more about Edgar:
“He’s one of the nine soloists, and in the fifth verse, the intervals must be perfect. He tries to remember where syllables cluster intricately over a note; where the breath is divided into semibreves. He thought James, their conductor, pompous when he said it, but now he understands: the polyphonic antiphon is, literally, breathtaking.”
Great art saves us even in ugliness of the tube car.
Clifton enters car, he is a retired history teacher, his memory comes and goes. During his working days he rode the train many times but now he carries a note from his wife telling him at what station
he should leave the train.
The close shows the depth of race based hatred in elements of London society. The exit from the train of Tanisha was deeply moving.
Alison MacLeod is a novelist and short story writer. Her most recent book, the story collection 'All the Beloved Ghosts', was shortlisted for The 2018 Edge Hill Prize for best story collection in the UK and Ireland. It was a 'Best Book of 2017' for the Guardian, and a finalist for Canada’s 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
Her website has a detailed bio. http://www.alison-macleod.com/
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