One year ago
The vast trading floor at Billingsgate Market teems with fishmongers peddling their wares, crying out their inventory.
‘Langoustine … Squid … Finest North Sea cod …’
Rubber-booted men shuffle through the slush of melting ice that overflows from the polystyrene boxes displaying every type of fish anyone could care to name.
Buyers traipse past boxes of cod, whole salmon, sides of tuna, lobster, still clawing lazily after their freedom, and prawns piled high. Occasionally, punters examine the merchandise on offer, commenting on the freshness of the produce to no one in particular. The clock, hanging from the rafters in the cavernous warehouse, reads just before 6.15 a.m. when two men take delivery of a wooden packing crate. A forklift truck, that had nosed its way through the crowds to their stall, reverses with a deafening beep. Customers scatter to allow it clear passage.
The two men examine the box. One stands no more than five foot four inches tall. He is black, sports a single earring and wears a gold chain round his skinny left wrist. The other is also slim, but white and fair-haired. His chin is mottled with three days’ worth of stubble. They are both dressed in white coats like all the other fishmongers. The taller of the two men wields the crowbar but has difficulty getting into the crate, struggling to gain purchase on the slippery concrete floor. The surrounding area gets wetter as the ice-packed crate thaws and water seeps from between the slats.
The trickle is tinged blood red, but nobody pays it much attention. Blood and guts are a familiar sight at Billingsgate Fish Market.
The other man takes over the attack. Eventually, the side of the crate gives way. Torrents of crushed ice, a sickly shade of pink, pour onto the ground. The tidal wave subsides, and everyone’s attention is drawn to the horrific sight of a severed human hand, resting palm up, on the ice. Chewed nails appear to claw at the air. A further shift in the ice reveals a leg, an ear and a nose. A clean-shaven head pokes from the frozen packing. Silence descends on the busy market as dozens of pairs of eyes survey the scene. Eyes widen, jaws drop, aghast.
The two men back away, looks of horror and shock on both their faces. The market erupts into noise and activity. Nearby fishmongers crowd around the broken crate and its macabre contents, jostling for the best view. In the melee, the men make a dash for it, separating at the end of the aisle and disappearing in opposite directions.
An officious, elderly stallholder inexpertly manages access to the scene. He proclaims loudly that he has experience of police matters and tries to usher people away from the crate with little success. ‘Experience of police matters? You mean you’ve served a stint inside,’ somebody calls from the back of the crowd. A ripple of sniggers washes through the mob of onlookers. Another pipes up, ‘I’ve called the police. They’re on their way.’
This was to be the last shipment. I promised myself that once Metin was here, I would close it. Close the shipping line for good. Although they wanted me to keep it open. And now this! They send me Metin’s body in thirty pieces. I turned on the television as I waited for my beloved brother to knock on the door. After all the heartache. Losing Houda and Samar. It gave me hope to know that Metin would be here. In England. Even if that bastard Johnson had denied him a visa. I had his new passport ready. A new life. For both of us. And then I turn on the news. Police all over a crime scene at Billingsgate. And I catch a glimpse of my brother’s body.
A message from them.
If only, if only he had been granted asylum. Like Houda and Samar, who gave their lives to the waves because the Right Honourable Timothy Johnson has no compassion. Just a visa, a simple visa, was that too much to ask? He does not know the suffering endured by ordinary, righteous people. He decided he did not like me, and that was why Houda, my darling sister, may she rest in peace, was denied her escape from the living hell back home.
I was going to give it all up. To live a life my beloved Houda would have been proud of. But now my cherished brother too has fallen victim to his callousness. He is a vindictive man.
It’s later now. The dust is settling. My heart aches for everything I’ve lost. And they have been in touch. They have offered an opportunity for me to avenge my family. Avenge the injustice brought against them by these British pigs. It will be done. They will know and remember the Dastans. They do not go meekly to their graves. But you, Timothy Johnson, and your loyal subjects, shall know terror as you reach your day of judgement. Inshallah.