'Equal Importance' - Sidra Hussain

Sidra Hussain was a runner-up in the 2019 Orwell Youth Prize for their entry, Equal Importance.

'Equal Importance' - Sidra Hussain

He awoke again, supporting a god-awful hangover headache. Curse the lowly father he had inherited his alcohol addiction from. And his gambling, drug, prostitution addiction, for that matter. Squinting his eyes to block out the glaring daylight, Alex took a moment – or five – to recover his bearings. Cold, concrete floor? Check. Torn clothes? Check. Bruised, sore body? Check. He must have had a typical night then. Well, more like what he considered typical ever since his vicissitude on that unforgettable evening of 28th September. Gradually, half-formed images of the previous evening formed in his throbbing mind: he’d gotten into a bar fight again, after drinking one too many cheap beers and goading a particularly belligerent patron of the tap room. Slowly (whilst experiencing excruciating pain) Alex lifted himself off the floor – not bothering to fix his appearance.

Alex arrived at his one-bedroom apartment at quarter past ten and launched himself upon the hole-filled fabric sofa. It was the colour of mouldy cheese! Filled with a sense of satirical humour, Alex let loose a belly-deep laugh. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! All his life, he had lived a privileged lifestyle after being the only son of millionaire conglomerate owner Edward Charles Arthur Logan Saint. As formidable as his father had seemed, he too had been over-powered by his bone-deep desire for gambling. Even though his father was an evil wretch, Alex had mourned his death: he had been devastated to lose his only parent at the age of 19. His mother had disappeared long before that – she had abandoned them both when Alex was two – for a middle class banker. He could still vividly recall the afternoon he learnt of his father’s murder. Alex had just left a lunch meeting with a potential contractor, when he received a call from his now former best friend.

‘Sin, I’m so sorry but your father… he was murdered. It was a gambling deal gone wrong. Your father thought he could outsmart Vittorio but just triggered him instead. Vit retaliated by sending a group of hoodlums to finish him off.’

It’s kind of detestable, but Alex was partially happy to hear his father was dead. That man had robbed him of a happy childhood, constantly beating and punishing him: his father had wanted to mould him into the ideal heir but to no avail. Edward Saint had completely and utterly resented his son for being ‘a shoddy imbecile’. Being the sole heir, Alex immediately became the CEO of Saint Enterprises. Up until then, Alex had never truly understood how arduous it was to run a multi-million-pound company. Within days, excess work had piled up and Alexander Charles Arthur Logan Saint found himself resorting to a debauched lifestyle to find reprieve. Every weekend, without fail, he had hosted the most scandalous parties at his 8-bedroom mansion in Chelsea Park Gardens. Oh, how he longed to be back in his four-poster bed rather than this mouldy couch in a closet-sized apartment in Hackney!

Ever since he had started living the lifestyle of a vagabond, his perception on reality had altered drastically: he had been such a self-absorbed socialite he had failed to identify that his former lifestyle was not common, but extremely rare for a citizen of the UK. He had always heard on the morning news about poverty increase and more people living on the breadline. Until now, he had never truly understood their dire straits; he felt like the worst idiot in the world for not helping them when he had the means to do so. That fact that these people- despite their hardships- had welcomed him with open arms and shared their meagre possessions with him only added to his guilt.

The initial days after losing his wealth had been decidedly difficult: he had been manhandled out his own home by the brutes sent courtesy of Vittorio Vidali: An Italian multi-millionaire kingpin who dabbled in every unethical business practise known to man from money lending to human trafficking. Alex knew it was pure madness associating with the man responsible for his father’s death but Vidali was the only contact he knew that could appease his disreputable proclivities such as drugs and prostitution. It was thanks to his aforementioned proclivities that he was now both penniless and homeless. Since his time on the streets, he had discovered how corrupt society truly was: as a rich entrepreneur he was able to escape punishment for breaking the speed limit or drunk-driving by flashing a little cash but an ordinary person would be charged with bribery for attempting to do the same. His weekend ‘hobbies’ would result in jail time for most people but because he had wealth, he was exempt from that. Knowing all this now made him feel sick; he couldn’t even do anything to fix this appalling problem as he no longer had influence over politicians without his excessive wealth. Sat on the sofa contemplating life, Alex felt his stomach rumble. There was no food in the kitchen – he would have to go back out again.

It would be dark soon. Alex decided to take the short cut to get to the local Chinese place faster. Suddenly, a trio of hooded men burst through the alley; the first carried a hunting knife while the other two possessed a hockey stick and baseball bat.

“Hand over the shoes, man.”

Alex glanced at his shoes and then back to the men. They weren’t even a pair worth mugging, only like £150. He once owned pairs worth triple the price; now this was his only one. With one last glance at his feet, Alex spun around and launched into a sprint. Adrenaline pumped through his veins and fear pooled in his stomach: something terrible was going to occur. He knew it. The sound of feet thudding on the pavement got louder, as did the curses erupting from their throats. He sensed it before he felt it. The impact of the swing splintered wood and left Alex seeing stars. His footsteps lost rhythm and he fell to his knees. The trio mercilessly rained down blows upon him as he curled himself into a ball. He felt blood seep into his clothing from the multiple wounds punctured into his flesh.

He knew this was the end.

But that’s not what pained him. What pained him the most, was knowing nothing would be done to investigate his death. Hackney was notorious for its obscene knife crime levels and so the police just didn’t put in as much effort with incidents that occurred here. All he hoped for in his final moments was that one day every crime – no matter how big or small – got treated with equal importance.

We interviewed Sidra about their entry, and you can read the interview here.

The theme for the 2020 Orwell Youth Prize has been announced. For more information, including details on how to enter, visit the Orwell Youth Prize website.


The Orwell Youth Prize

The Orwell Youth Prize

The Orwell Youth Prize is an annual programme for 12-18-year olds culminating in a writing prize. Rooted in Orwell’s values of integrity and fairness, the prize and the activities around it introduce young people to the power of language and provoke them to think critically and creatively about the world in which they are living.

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