The beach was a mess. So much clutter remained, after the tide had been unwillingly dragged back into the sea earlier that morning. The ridges left in the sand. Bits of seaweed and pieces of shell littered the length of the beach, some perched precariously on top of the ridges. In the valleys between, nature’s rubbish. Crisp packets, sandwich wrappers, and cola bottles. Mementoes. Little presents left by people who had visited. The churning of the sea had thrown up detritus from the bottom of the seabed, mixed it up with the crap left by people and deposited it unceremoniously onto the beach.

Amongst this mess, Rahki ran.

Every now and again, she would glance over her shoulder, to make sure she was alone. She did not like to run when there were a lot of people around. She was not especially comfortable around people. They made her nervous. She found it difficult to relate to them. She felt apart and distant from them. Running allowed her to decompress from the long time she was forced to spend in their company.

So, Rahki ran.

She glanced at her watch. Only thirty minutes into her run. She had planned a long run this morning, but her body felt heavy. Her head was down. The grey, overcast sky and the mugginess in the air was weighing down on her. She wanted to stop, but she willed her legs to keep going.

At the end of the 5 km stretch of beach, she took the raising path back up to the civilisation. Well, what passed for civilisation in this small, seaside town. The High Street was lined with the ubiquitous souvenir shops, a green grocer, a butcher and a baker. It was a picture postcard. A cliché.

As she ran along the High Street, people were starting to come out and open up the shops. Getting ready for the day ahead. Hopeful they would see many visitors come to town and spend their money. People looked up as she ran passed and threw a cheery “morning” in her direction. She would glance back, and smile weakly and raise a hand in acknowledgement. Some people would stare at her for a little too long and she felt their accusing and disapproving gazes lingering on her back.

About ten metres up the street ahead, Rahki eyeballed a group of three young men hanging around a bench on the side of the road, their bikes propped up against the bench, and passing around a joint. Every now and again they would glance up in her direction. Her stride shortened, her shoulders stiffened and she gripped her hands into fists even tighter, as she passed the bench.

“Fuckin’ Paki.”

Her breathing shallowed. She looked straight ahead and focused on getting her breathing under control. She heard the other two in the group giggling.

“Yeah! Why don’t you run back to where you came from. Your kind don’t belong here anymore.”

“We voted you out! Britain for the British” the other yelled.

She could feel their eyes on her, boring into her like alien worms that were put into Chekov and his Captain, from the scene in Star Trek II.

Her pace began to slow and then she stopped. What was she doing? She should just ignore them and just keep running. Before she knew what she was doing, she turned around and was facing them. She walked forward, to within a half a metre of the group. They shuffled and giggled as she approached. Her hands by her sides, she stared them down.

They stopped giggling and looked back at her. Rahki looked into their eyes. She could see that they were wondering, wondering what she would do. She quickly raised her fist. All three flinched and took a step backwards. She extended her middle finger and silently counted to five. She turned, took a deep breath and continued on her run. No rush or haste. Just a calm going about her business.

The gang stood, open mouthed staring at the impression Rahki’s middle finger had left in air in front of them. It was taunting them and defying them to respond. But they could nothing. They did not know what to do. This had not gone according to plan.

A group of bystanders had gathered and witnessed everything. They cheered as Rahki ran passed. This aggravated the gang even more and they hissed and spat in the direction of the crowd, only to be shown about ten middle fingers. Impotent, the gang turned and sloped off.

Rakhi was no longer running with her head down, but looking up. Her legs left lighter. She could feel the adrenaline racing through her bloodstream. Her heart felt like it would punch through her rib cage. She had survived. It was a small victory, but it was a victory. To ignore those kids would be to silently accept what passed and perpetuate these new societal norms. She had to fight the bullies and the discrimination wherever she could. No matter how small or trivial the situation might seem.

She jogged back to the beach, past the group of beach huts that adorned the edge of the road. Each beach hut was adorned in red, white and blue bunting and small Union Jacks fluttered on poles which were stuck onto the roofs of the huts. Patriotism? Nationalism? Fascism? All these “isms” were just swirling around, colliding with each other, melding together, the edges becoming blurred. It was not easy to tell the difference anymore.

Set back a little from the shore, was a small outcrop of rocks. Rahki climbed up and sat down. The sky had continued to darken and rain was falling out to sea, gradually making its way inland. In an hour or so the rain would drench the town. She sighed and pulled out a protein bar from the pocket of her jacket. She ripped off the plastic wrap, and pulled her knees up to her chest. She took a bite and stared out into the sea and watched the storm making its way towards her.

A British Indian living in Gothenburg, Sweden, looking at a blank page. Just waiting for inspiration…