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Issue 10






One: bees have a sole purpose in life. They are born knowing their job, they do their job, they die.

Two: bees understand community, bees work together.

Three: bees make something sweet (which is a lot more than can be said for most people).

Four: without bees, the whole world would collapse.


I’ve forgot the fifth one, but number four is pretty good, and I reckon it’s better to end on that one anyway.

These are the things that I tell Marcus only he’s not listening. Marcus is my brother, he goes to Affleck’s Palace a lot now and pretends to listen to The Smiths. He’s got a new girlfriend. She has a nose ring. One of the on-the-side ones, not one of the in-the-middle ones. But he’s not fooling me. He’s not fooling anyone. But that’s what happens when your mum dies, you can get away with quite a lot.

They can recognise human faces.

That was the fifth thing. I just remembered it.

Bees can recognise human faces.

Isn’t that amazing?

As I’m going home, I think about that. For a second, maybe longer, it’s hard to tell, I stand stock still on Market Street. I hold my head high like I’m squaring for a fight and try and clock as many faces as I can. Let them stream past me, don’t move, stock still, and it’s all buzzing. White, white, brown, black, black, white, brown, black, sad, happy, happier, young, old, big grin, paper-thin skin, skin-head, head scarf, head down, done-up, beard, beard, beard, beautiful, less than, no teeth, acne, dimples – no – piercings, happiest –

And it’s all buzzing.

Marcus leaves to buy an oversized shirt or some vintage vinyl or a book by an obscure German philosopher. I don’t mind so much, I just wish he wouldn’t do the thin-air thing. The disappearing thing. The leaving-me-on-my-own thing.

He was meant to be coming home. Dad will be worried. He won’t act it, he won’t show it, no, he’ll just sort of raise his eyebrows and do a crossword. But Dad gets worried a lot. He feels responsible, which is what dads are meant to feel. But sometimes Marcus sees our family as a big roll of blue touch-paper, and since hitting puberty he’s got limbs made of match-sticks.

Anyway, so I’m going home and I’m on Market Street. And there’s a man dancing. That’s the thing about this city. There are artists everywhere. And not in the usual way. Not in the beret-wearing-paint-brush-wielding way. Not in the high-brow way. In the ‘man-dancing-in-the-street’ way. Like maybe he’s a nutter, but he’s definitely got moves.

I stop to watch, and the woman stood next to me has flowers all over her hands. Minutely intricate swirling patterns snaking up her wrist. You’d need a microscope to do it, and very steady hands. You’d need to be a surgeon, really. A surgeon who’s really good at drawing flowers, which is something they don’t teach you in medical school (I’m guessing, I’ve never been; I’m 16 years old.) Artists everywhere.

Check the time. Really do need to go home.

Met’s delayed. 6 minutes.

Starts to rain.

People start smiling at each other. Nowhere else in the world, I think. Nowhere else in the world would they do that.

Cats and dogs and all. Tipping it down. Didn’t bring a brolly. Should have brought a brolly. Brought a brolly but left it at work.

People start sharing brollies.

Nowhere else in the world, I think.







“I’m going to be Wolverine!”

The tram is getting full now. A woman with four kids can’t get them to sit down.

“I’m going to be Wolverine!”

With one arm, she tries to find her mobile phone, with the other she grabs a child by the sleeve as legs it up the carriage. Four kids. Four. I want to give her a round of applause.


“Wolverine’s a boy!”


Magneto starts to cry. He hadn’t prepared for resistance. His mum gives him a Twix. Wolverine nods her head, satisfied that the day has been won, and she eases herself into a seat. Her feet barely touch the floor, but she’s fierce. She screws up her face and smokes an imaginary cigar, strokes imaginary side burns, and makes the Met a jet plane. The commuters are fellow mutants. Deansgate-Castlefield: a post-apocalyptic wasteland. At six years old, she has the world just how she wants it. There are goodies and there are baddies and the goodies always win.

I imagine I’ve got superpowers too.

I imagine I can read minds.

I look at every face on the Met, and imagine I can hear what everyone’s thinking.

And this mess of thoughts hangs in the air, in at least (at my count) five different languages.

And some people are thinking they’d really like a bath, others that they didn’t want the promotion anyway, but everyone’s thinking ‘ready to go home.’

And it’s all buzzing.

And all these thoughts, all this thinking, it gets a bit too loud. So, I switch off my mind reading powers and look out the window. They’ve got Wi-fi on the Met now. When I look at my phone it says, ‘Welcome back!’ like they do in films when someone comes out of a coma. Which makes me feel a bit weird, so I prefer to look out the window.

And yes, actually, I do think the skyline is quite beautiful. And not like in films where there’s a bit of pink sort of creeping up and maybe someone’s holding your hand. But beautiful in the sense that you can see the Hilton and it looks a bit like it shouldn’t be able to stand up, and beautiful in the sense that there’s always the same man smoking on his balcony in the flats that we go by, and he has no idea that I see him every day on my way home. That kind of beautiful. Beautiful in the sense of just sort of getting on with it. 







When I get home, there’s nobody in. That used to make me sad for a bit after The Rough Year, but now I kind of like it. It’s nice knowing that everyone is out doing things and producing things and being human and they’ll all come back later, and Dad will burn a pizza from ASDA, and we will be polite about it. Dad illustrates children’s books. His one at the moment is about a family that adopts an elephant and keeps it in the living room, which if you ask me is both impractical and unhygienic, and perhaps even a bit passive aggressive, but maybe they knew what they were doing.

I drop my bag and go into the garden.

Right down to the bottom.

Past the plants that haven’t been tended to since –

Past the apple tree that had the swing before –

Down to the bee hive.

It’s so quiet.

This white box at the end of the garden.

Her project. Her workers.

Never stung once.

I’ve been looking after it.

It’s cold at the moment.


They’re sleeping.

But they’ll come out soon.

And start working away. Start working together.

I know they will do that, because she taught me.

It’s a nice feeling, knowing.


Billie Collins


Commissioned by Read Manchester for 6 Minute Reads delivered by the Writing Squad and Manchester Literature Festival in 2017.



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