Happy Thursday Book Dragons!
How is everyone?
Today is my stop on the blog tour for Truth Be Told by Kia Abdullah. I have an extract from the beginning of the book to share with you all today. It’s out today, I’ve included links to buy it at the bottom of this post.
The Hadid family was an effortful one. Even minor occa- sions and trivial achievements were marked with a rigid persistence. Birthday cards arrived precisely on the day in
question, except on Sundays when they would tip through the letterbox one day early. Wedding anniversaries were marked not only by the couple concerned but the entire extended family, great blooms of pink mandevilla arriving in steady procession. Lavish bouquets were dispatched routinely: congratulatory lilies for passing a test, good-luck orchids for a summer job, get-well roses for a lightweight cold. These gifts were cordially acknowledged with thank you notes, each of which then garnered a phone call; a three-act play that ran on repeat.
Family news was issued systematically to ensure that everyone received an update. When Kamran interviewed at Oxford and his mother forgot to tell an aunt, she took it as a personal slight and needled them for weeks.
Kamran understood that his family made sense of the world through this codified means of connection, so when his housemaster pointed at a bouquet of flowers, instead of feeling pleasure, he only felt a sense of duty. He collected it
with resignation, the sturdy ceramic pot held securely against a hip, then thanked the master and headed back to the third floor, his footsteps echoing off the wood-panelled walls.
At seventeen, Kamran was a senior and no longer had to share his room unlike the boys in lower years. He set down the flowers on his desk, a Victorian construction of quarter-sawn oak. He opened a drawer, shaking it free of its mahogany boxing, and took out a piece of paper. Hampton’s coat of arms was printed along the top, a golden lion on a royal blue shield with the words Alere Flammam Veritatis inscribed underneath. To feed the flame of truth.
Kamran’s mother insisted that he use official stationery when writing to their relatives. She was of second-generation wealth, garnered by her father’s steelwork business, but aspired to older money – hence Kamran’s enrolment at Hampton College followed by his brother, Adam.
Set in a sprawling wooded estate, the boarding school was eight miles west of their family home: a stucco townhouse in Belsize Park where they were received each break like kings. Sometimes they would arrive on a Friday to find the house filled to the brim. Kamran and Adam would swap a glance before slipping into character of ‘the two good sons’.
When greeting his uncles and aunts, Kamran would recall second-hand reports of other Asian families: their raucous laughter and flavoursome food, brash debates that verged on rude. He had seen the evidence on Instagram Live: brothers jostling over the last piece of chicken, set to a mother’s gentle chiding, cut by a father’s sterner scolding. Together, they sounded like family. The Hadids in comparison were more composed; a little more ‘clenched’, a friend once said.
Kamran’s mother, Sofia, was obsessed with saving face. A great beauty at the age of forty-six, she had a laughably strict style of dress: slim chinos that tapered at the ankle, tailored tops with navy-and-white stripes, structured jack- ets with embellished buttons, complemented by pearls or diamonds but never both in tandem. Her dark hair fell in coiffured curls, framing her fine-boned features.
Kamran could tell that she was proud of them in the fussy way she arranged them for pictures: Kamran to the right, Adam to the left and herself ensconced in the middle. There was a neat symmetry to these photos: the brothers an identical five feet ten and their mother three inches shorter. It was strange to define a family this way – well groomed – but he couldn’t deny it; he too liked the way they looked.
Kamran bore a clear resemblance to their mother: fine features with high cheekbones and a delicate, elegant jawline. Adam, at sixteen, took after their father with his large, heavy- lidded eyes and lips that were overtly full next to Kamran’s more subtle appeal. Their mother liked nothing more than showing them off at weddings, her only regret that she had named her sons the wrong way around.
‘You should have been Adam,’ she would say to Kamran. After all, didn’t ‘Adam and Kamran’ flow off the tongue more smoothly than ‘Kamran and Adam’? It annoyed her, this slight hitch in their naming, especially as she had spent so long selecting ones that kept to Islamic tradition but could also pass for western.
Still, she couldn’t be prouder of them – a fact she shared with a finely tuned mix of vanity and humility. Seeing her spar with an aunt was akin to watching ballet. Sofia might
start with a passing comment, a reference say to Kamran’s interview at Oxford.
Aunty Rana, their father’s sister, would reply with a lament on fees. ‘But it was worth it,’ she would say with a shrug. ‘Yusuf did after all get a First and look where he is now.’
Sofia would volley back, ‘Fees are certainly annoying. We’re not made of money after all. I hate it when people assume that. Take Mack’s Jag. He works so hard but just because he drives a Roadster, the garage assumes he’s drip- ping with cash.’
A tight laugh from Rana. ‘Why doesn’t he take it to the official factory? That’s what Aadil does.’
The children would watch these contests with tense amusement. Perhaps this is why they received such frequent congratulation. Their smallest achievements were shamelessly embellished – a keen swimmer recast as an Olympic hopeful, a piano recital hailed virtuosic. Neither side wanted to seem ungracious and so they bestowed each triumph with outsize praise, prompting this empty rally of thanks.
Kamran smoothed the piece of paper and began to write with his Cartier pen. In neat letters, he thanked Aunty Rana for her wishes following his interview. The note was polite but impersonal and he finished with an expansive ‘x’, their customary substitute for truer intimacy. He placed the note inside its envelope and sealed it with a sponge-tipped pen, knowing it would prompt a phone call to thank him for his thank you. Wearily, he returned to the office downstairs. Finn Andersen received him with a smile. With wavy blond hair, broad shoulders and an easy, affable manner, Finn was
the sort of boy who featured in Hampton’s brochures.
Kamran placed his envelope in the silver pail reserved for outgoing post. ‘You must be looking forward to tonight,’ he said.
Finn glanced at his calendar. ‘Tonight?’ ‘Your fancy party in the Hawtrey Room?’ ‘Ah, of course. Yes, I certainly am.’
‘I hear that everyone gets a bit “tired and emotional”.’
Finn laughed, his blue eyes squinting winsomely. ‘That’s what I hear.’ As assistant to the housemaster, Finn was invited to Hampton’s spring fundraiser where powerful alumni gath- ered to reminisce and write generous cheques after copious drinks. Hosted in the lavish Hawtrey Room at West Lawn, the party was an opportunity for invited pupils to network in a semi-formal setting.
‘Well, have fun,’ said Kamran. ‘I’ll see you later.’ Finn nodded. ‘I certainly hope so.’
Kamran headed back up to his room. His duty was offi- cially done and now he was free to play. At 6 p.m, their spring exeat would begin; a scheduled weekend that granted them leave. Barrett, a broad-chested boy in the same year as him, had invited some friends to the Cotswolds. Kamran was thrilled that his mother had permitted the trip and began to pack with alacrity, humming a half-formed tune.
From his wardrobe, he pulled out a standard-issue suit- case. With a sturdy brass handle and buttery leather in a dark green olive, it was one component of the Hampton aesthetic: well turned out young men, all smartly tugging the exact same case.
Kamran folded his pile of clothes into one half of the suitcase: chinos in khaki, black and dark navy, one polo
T-shirt in white and another in black, a knitted jumper and a pair of jeans. Barrett’s parents were away, but from what he heard, these weekends in the country were civilised affairs: whisky in the drawing room with pungent cigars, as if prim- ing already for their grand collective destiny. Hampton was, after all, breeding ground for the country’s most powerful men. Here walked the sons of moguls and royals. These boys with their plummy accents and cheerful confidence were future kings and leaders. Kamran was comfortable in their midst. He may be of a different race but he dressed as they dressed, spoke as they spoke and held the same values and graces. He knew that it wasn’t colour but class that set you apart at Hampton. You could spot the social intake by a mile. They pronounced their ‘t’s and rounded their vowels in an effort to fit in, but they did not know how to hold a fork and were flummoxed by silver service. Kamran pitied them. No matter how they tried, they would never be accepted. Instead, they were treated with a bemused paternalism, as if too dim to withstand challenge. Of course, Hampton did not tolerate bullies, so the worst they ever faced was a hearty ‘pleb’ on the rugby field. It was fitting, thought Kamran, that at Hampton, even insults were traded in Latin. He closed his suitcase and wheeled it to the door. Carpe vinum, he thought as he checked his watch with a smile.
Zara Kaleel gazed at the four-tier chandelier looming above the altar, its mass of golden arms like snakes on Medusa, each curved and spindly, topped with a tongue of light. It cast a ceremonious shadow across the cavernous room, making it somehow colder. She was perched on the edge of a pew,
wary of being asked to speak after her silence in the meeting last week. She squared her shoulders and crossed her legs, her right foot positioned in a demure en pointe. Places of worship put her on edge.
There were seven of them tonight in this sorry assembly of miscreants and misfits, all dotted across St Alfege church as if sharing a pew might unglue a wound. Zara recognised three of them: Sam, the part-time teacher; Kerry, the wounded writer; Ed, the ex-criminal on the cusp of surrender.
As feared, Chris, the session leader, nodded at Zara. ‘Would you like to address the group?’ he asked, his Irish accent soft and lyrical.
Zara felt a spike of unease. How was it that she had spent years orating in open court but was anxious at the prospect of addressing this room? She raised a hand in polite refusal. Chris angled his head to the right, entreating her to speak.
She faltered for a moment, caught exposed in his hopeful stare. ‘Okay,’ she said finally. ‘I’m Zara Kaleel.’ She pressed a nail into the pad of her thumb, leaving half moon crescents that slowly plumped back. ‘And I am an addict.’ The words were strangely hollow, as if she were playing a role. ‘I have been clean for three weeks.’ The word ‘clean’ held a hitch, laden with sarcasm or irony as if she were somehow superior to this charade of recovery.
She had read that acceptance was a pertinent step and she agreed that this was true, but mainly for people who were really addicted. Zara hadn’t fallen so deeply. In fact, she had stopped taking Diazepam regularly nearly five months ago and hadn’t touched it for a full three weeks – except that one Thursday when she needed to sleep. She wasn’t really
an addict but those words formed a vital part of admission to this club and so she deigned to say them.
Unlike in the movies, there was no round of applause to praise her for her courage. Instead, the group waited in silence. In the front row, Ed turned in her direction. His hair fell in strings from the swamp-green canvas of a baseball cap and he stared at her with deathly grey eyes.
Zara wondered if she had made the right choice. Her options had been to see a therapist or join a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. She had balked at the thought of therapy; the shock-white exposure of sitting in a room, bleeding intimacies into soft upholstery as a stranger sat by and watched. She had agreed to attend this NA meeting; to come to church on a Saturday evening and say that she was a junkie.
Chris nodded sagely. ‘Thank you, Zara. Can you share some of your story?’
She wrapped her woollen cardigan around her and folded her arms tightly. With her long dark hair in a messy bun and her skin make-up free, she looked many miles away from the barrister she used to be. ‘I first started using about six years ago.’ She uncrossed her legs and shifted in her seat. ‘At first, it was because my job was stressful.’ She paused, not knowing how much to share. ‘I was a lawyer and it wasn’t unusual to take medication to keep yourself going. I took it for several years on and off without any problems and then…’
Ed in the front row gave her a gentle nod.
Zara felt oddly touched by the gesture. She averted her gaze to the altar and focused on the folds of rich purple velvet. ‘Then my dad died in 2017 – three years ago now.
He – we hadn’t talked for six months because…’ Zara shook her head. ‘Anyway, I didn’t get to say goodbye.’ She tried to remain neutral as if reciting facts in court, but felt the dull, aching beat of ceaseless remorse. ‘After that, I started taking Diazepam more frequently and I did some things I’m not proud of.’ She flashed back to a newspaper headline: FOUR MUSLIM TEENS RAPE DISABLED ENGLISH GIRL. ‘I let
some people down and now I’m here.’
‘Because you choose to be?’ Chris was clearly more perceptive than Zara had believed.
Her lips curled in a plaintive moue. ‘Because I have to be.’ Chris waited and she shifted beneath his gaze. ‘After I quit chambers, I took a job at a crisis centre working with victims of sexual assault. I had a difficult case last year and things have been… erratic ever since.’ She gripped the edge of the pew in front. ‘My boss told me to seek help if I wanted to keep my job.’
‘Has that helped?’
She half shrugged. ‘Well, I’m here, so that remains to be seen.’
Chris smiled. ‘Okay. Thank you for sharing, Zara. You’ve been very brave.’
You’ve been very brave. Was recovery really this cheesy? Zara imagined how Safran would react when she told him about her NA meetings. She pictured the amused curve of his brow and the familiar lilt of his laugh. She – Zara the Brave – in recovery. What a joke, she thought. What an abject hoot.