There was only one school in the Mesnil-Amelot Muslim Ghetto, and Mina stood outside it shivering in her old, worn coat as she waited for her son. Her hood was up despite the dry weather; if a soldier asked, she’d say it was for warmth, but the several women around her who did the same thing knew it was because wearing the hijab in public resulted in anything from a fine to a jail sentence. She could feel her heart palpitating and her breath growing harried – the letter from the Mars Immigration Service was searing a hole in her pocket. She hadn’t dared to open it yet. She remembered the process when she was a little girl-her mother desperately trying to get them out of Morocco, a place that the Climate Emergency had been slowly destroying over the twenty first and twenty second centuries. They had been allowed to live in a lovely house in Paris for a while; her father practised medicine, and she got to go to a very well-regarded school. It had always been a difficult relationship between the secularists and the Muslims of France, but until a few years ago she had thought it was getting better.
Her parents had finally accepted her partner Nyla: they’d been able to get married, and they’d had a baby, Anwar. They had been happy. It was when their son was three years old that it started to get frightening. It started small – no hijabs in public, no speaking Arabic… Now they were relegated to a Muslim ghetto, forced to live in a small shack, only given government rations to live on. They had heard it was different on Mars and in its capital city – Colonie Provenance. There they had freedom of religion, a spectacular planetary healthcare system, and the education system was even better than the private school Mina had gone to (and it was free.) Of course, the soldiers said the reason they could have this was because they had a strict immigration system. Mina and Nyla didn’t buy that, it was just the excuse they were given. Anwar had already begun to believe the propaganda they taught him at school; they had to leave.
Anwar ran out of the school gate and hugged his mother instantly, taking the wind out of her. She wrapped her arms around him in response, surprised and concerned. Anwar was reaching that age when he would never cuddle her, kiss her, or hold her hand in public. Something had to be wrong. She knelt down, and held his arms, not focusing on how her black braids were falling from beneath her hood.
“Ani sweetheart, what’s wrong?” She asked, seeing the tear trails down his cheeks.
“Nothing,” he grunted, rubbing his eyes. “Let’s go home.”
“Now Mama, now,” he pressed. Mina stood up straight, and looked around at the other children and parents, all avoiding looking at the scene. She forced a smile at Anwar, took his hand, trying not to be pleased at his lack of resistance and led him home.
When they arrived at their tiny shack, she made Anwar a hot chocolate and some margarine on toast. They were only allowed a small block to last a month, but this had been far too difficult a day. He was taking small bites out of his toast and sipping his drink like they were both a scarce substance – which in the ghetto, they were.
“Ready to talk about it, Ani?” Mina asked gently, sipping only water. Anwar’s meals were a priority.
“Don’t wanna upset you,” he mumbled, looking down at his plate.
“You won’t, I promise,” she replied, smiling to hide her anxiety.
“Ms Gounelle tore up my homework in front of everyone.”
“She did what? Why would she do that?”
“S’posed to write about our Easter holiday so I wrote about what we did for Eid and- “ Anwar swallowed and looked down at his legs. Mina didn’t know what to say, she was afraid this would happen. That he would begin to hate who he was, and where he came from. “Madam Gounelle said- she said that under Islam you and Mama Ny would- would be murdered.” Mina took a deep breath. She had hoped she could avoid this conversation.
“That’s not just in Islam, sweetheart,” she said gently. “It’s nothing to do with Islam. Some people are just… ignorant. But things will get better, we’re safe here.” She knew that was a lie, but she couldn’t say anything else. She took Anwar’s hands in hers, wrapped her long fingers around his small cold ones. “One day, we’re going to be away from here. On Mars, Mama Ny will be able to be a doctor again; I’ll get to work at the university; and we’ll be able to celebrate Eid and Ramadan, and I’ll get to wear the hijab again-“ she sighed and stroked Anwar’s short hair, which was just starting to curl -the first sign it needed cutting. “Everything will be better on Mars, I promise.” Her son nodded, his tears hanging onto his thick black eyelashes. “Why don’t you get changed out of your uniform before Mama Ny gets home, sweetie?” Anwar nodded and ran from his chair to their shared bedroom. Mina bit her lip and took out the letter from her pocket. She sighed, and let her shaking fingers open it. When her eyes scanned across the small black font, she let out a shocked laugh as her hands tremored and tears poured down her face.
We are pleased to inform you that the claim for asylum on COLONIE PROVENANCE on MARS made by Madam MINA SAMIE, Madam NYLA ALLAL, and Monsieur ANWAR SAMIE-ALLAL has been ACCEPTED.
Growing up in Halifax, West Yorkshire, racism was deeply ingrained into the community. Hearing racial slurs was a daily occurrence, and the majority of the South Asian community lived in poor-quality housing. My mum was always a huge anti-racist advocate, and I like to think she passed that onto me. I want the reader to see elements of this hypothetical future in today’s world, and perhaps be left with hope and determination that this does not have to be the case! Originally, this short story had a sad ending, but I found myself unable to write it. My strongest influences here would be Audre Lorde’s book of essays Sister Outsider – she talks about being a queer black mother, the way she was excluded from white feminism, and the issues her children faced. Whilst not a direct influence, I do need to mention James Baldwin’s ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’. I was first referred to this great writer by my mum, who was bought her first copy by my granddad. He said that Baldwin’s descriptions of the black community in 1930’s Harlem felt almost identical to his experiences growing up in a Catholic ghetto in Derry Northern Ireland (technically Republic of Ireland since he was born before partition, sorry Granddad). I believe this fuelled his fight against bigotry, something that was passed onto my mum, and then to me.
Elliot Rivron is a queer writer and activist from West Yorkshire. He specialises in fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction. His interests include the paranormal, mythology, and fandom culture. He is most inspired by Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Susanna Clarke, and various forms of anime. He lives in Cleckheaton with his partner, their hamster, and various plants.