UKArchive ID: 35474

How we came to Wales
by shadow
Originally published on September 18, 2015 in Fiction        

I wrote this back in 2003, just before the Iraq invasion. Sadly, it has become topical again.

We set out before daybreak, taking only what could be easily carried. I had a rucksack with all the warm clothes I could fit in. Huw always said we should have bought a bigger one. I left him a note to say where I’d gone. Not that he'd ever read it. I closed all the windows, turned off the gas and the water. Then I shut the front door behind me and put the keys in my pocket, as if I expected to come back.

Lindsey was waiting in the road. She had Daniel in his pushchair, the tray underneath it crammed, a bags dangling from the handles. As well as the rucksack, I had a carrier bag with all the food I had left. It wasn't much, I hadn't dared try to get to the shops for weeks.

There were no lights showing in the houses. Most people had already left. As we reached the end of our road we heard a machine gun, but not near enough to worry about. It was growing light by the time we got to the A5 and joined the stream of people heading west. I remember the quiet. The sound of shuffling feet, the occasional cry of a child. In the distance, the crump of artillery. 'Lichfield's getting it,' someone said. People pushing prams, supermarket trolleys, piled with whatever they had managed to salvage. Few cars, those mostly abandoned where the fuel had run out.

At Gailey roundabout we met a great mass of people heading north out of Walsall and Wolverhampton. They said the M54 was closed except to the military, so we decided to head down the old A5 instead. By mid afternoon we were passing through Weston-under-Lizard. I never liked that part of the road, the way it closes in on you, with the wall on the left and the trees overhanging the road. Feels like a tunnel, which is silly because it's on a ridge really. A couple of trucks were blocking the road, from one of the militias. They were stopping all the cars, siphoning off the petrol. There was one as we came up, a big Toyota, crammed with stuff. Two kids in the back, crying. The driver had got out to argue. They took no notice of us. A bit down the road, we heard a shot. Didn't look round.

We'd hoped to get past Telford before night, but word came down the line that it wasn't safe after dark. We huddled together, Daniel in the middle, in a building with a bit of roof left. It was so cold.

Telford – I don't want to think about Telford – rubble with the odd weed poking through – the smell – fireworks in an abattoir. We got through at last, carried on, the dark hump of the Wrekin on our left. We used to drive there once, walk up. You could see for miles, like you were on top of the world. Someone was up there now watching us, all the ants crawling along the road. I could feel it.

We met Olivia and her granddaughter Claire on the road. They had a trolley, but one of the wheels had come off. Claire was about fifteen, very quiet. I think something had happened to her but they weren't saying. We let them pile some of their things on the pushchair, perched Daniel on top. They had to leave the rest.
We had thought we might stop a while in Shrewsbury, find something to eat for our food was finished. Only they'd blocked off the road, so we had to go round by the bypass. The verges were covered in daffodils, masses of them, bright yellow. So pretty.

As we approached Nesscliffe more army trucks passed us. We heard firing ahead, and took shelter in a roofless building. It had been a pub, we used to pass it on our way to visit Huw's mother in Llangollen. Low, whitewashed, it looked a good place to stop for a meal, only we never did. Now we crouched behind a wall, hearing explosions, very near, very loud. When we came out two trucks were burning.

The last part of the journey I don't remember well. We plodded across the endless plain, the hills in the distance never getting nearer. We were very hungry. We reached Gobowen at dusk. The big hill fort they call Oswestry Old Town was covered in camp fires, we felt like we were back in the Iron Age. Some men, deserters, sat by a fire. They let us join them and share their food. We never asked where they got it. Everyone said the border at Chirk was closed, only people born in Wales or with family there were being let through. I'd be all right though, I had Huw's birth certificate.

In the morning the men were gone. So was Claire. Her grandmother rushed off after them, though we tried to stop her. We waited till noon. Neither of them came back so we carried on.

From the last hill, looking down at Chirk, we saw the whole valley crammed with tents; a checkpoint with the red dragon flying overhead and a long queue snaking back through the camp. We joined it.

Lindsey said if they wouldn't let her in, I must take Daniel. I didn't want to, but she started crying, she had heard there was sickness in the camp. I told her, when she got through, to look for me in Llangollen, at my mother-in-law's house. A Welsh Army officer looked at my papers. Lindsey didn't have any. I said she was my sister, but he shook his head. Then he looked at Daniel, asked if he was mine. I said, 'yes'.

I climbed the road up into Chirk, past houses with intact windows and roofs and washing hanging out. I wanted to cry. I went into a shop and bought pasties, chocolate, two cans of coke. Daniel was whinging for his mum. I'm your mam now, I told him. Then we walked on, up the valley, towards Froncysyllte.

© shadow (shadow on OLD UKA)

UKArchive ID: 35474
Archived comments for How we came to Wales

Gee on 18-09-2015
How we came to Wales
I think it's the ordinary things in this that contrast with the overall story, making it more chilling. The part about leaving a note and switching off the gas and water, the yellow of the daffodils, the meal in the pub that never happened. There is one particular phrase – “fireworks in an abattoir” – that I found particularly effective.

Great short story that would be great as part of a novel.

Author’s Reply:
Thanks for the comments. I've always had a a soft spot for this story, I wrote it for a competition and it won me £500! Most I have ever earned,

Kipper on 18-09-2015
How we came to Wales
So quickly we have become used to the pictures on the TV of large numbers of people, desperate to find safety or a better life.

“Thank goodness,” I guess most us are saying, “it couldn't happen here.”

You paint a very vivid picture Moya, even though it feels and reads like part of something bigger.

If it isn't perhaps it should be IMHO


Author’s Reply:
As I said, I wrote it years ago. It's a bit unnerving that what it depicts it now happening – though not here (yet).

deadpoet on 19-09-2015
How we came to Wales
This is very good- thank you for the read.

Author’s Reply:
Thanks for reading – stuck my reply in the wrong box, I'm always doing that.

shadow on 19-09-2015
How we came to Wales
Thanks for reading

Author’s Reply:

Mikeverdi on 19-09-2015
How we came to Wales
I like this a lot, I think as others, it could be bigger. You write with authority and the parallel is obvious. It really would make a great novel.


Author’s Reply:
Thanks for the kind words, but as I seem to have been working on my current novel for about 10 years, I'm not sure if I'd live to finish another . . .

Bozzz on 20-09-2015
How we came to Wales
The macabre element is reinforced by the low key description of the reasons behind the journey and the absence of information on the identity of the enemy – clever. There is also a conjured streak of typical British phlegm. A well-written piece….David

Author’s Reply:
Thank you. I deliberately kept the details of the conflict vague -maybe a civil war between Ukippers and Corbynistas?

Andrea on 22-09-2015
How we came to Wales
Hello Moya, how great to see you! A great read, too. Hope all is well with you 🙂

Author’s Reply:
Thanks Andrea – I'm fine. Nice to be back.

Ionicus on 24-09-2015
How we came to Wales
A chilling and prophetic tale skilfully crafted, Moya.

£500 pounds prize,eh? You clever thing.

Best, Luigi

Author’s Reply:
And very welcome it was. Though I didn't realise I was a prophet at the time. Thanks Luigi.