A debut brimful of the music and movement of multicultural London, to stand besides White Teeth, Brick Lane and The Buddha of Suburbia.
Here, beneath the planes circling Heathrow, various lives connect. Priti speaks English and her nani Punjabi. Without Priti’s mum around they struggle to make a shared language. Not far away, Chetan and Aanshi’s relationship shifts when a woman leaves her car in their drive but never returns to collect it. Gujan’s baba steps out of his flat above the chicken shop for the first time in years to take his grandson on a bicycle tour of the old and changed neighbourhood. And returning home after dropping out of university, Lata grapples with a secret about her estranged family friend, now a chart-topping rapper in a crisis of confidence.
Mapping an area of West London, these stories chart a wider narrative about the movement of multiple generations of immigrants. In acts of startling imagination, Gurnaik Johal’s debut brings together the past and the present, the local and the global, to show the surprising ways we come together.
We Move publishes 7th April. Find out more here.
Read an extract below:
After he’d done the evens, Paddy did the odds. For the five years that it had been on his route, the road was like any other, neat rows of newly planted trees casting speckled shadows over semidetached homes. But doing his rounds a few weeks ago, Paddy saw a group of old men dragging a piano out from fifty-eight and onto the pavement. And from then on, it was the road with the piano.
At first, Paddy thought it was for the taking. He could see it in his dining room, his little one learning to play. But one of its legs was bike-locked in place. There was a stool tucked under it. Wasn’t a sign or anything. It was simply there.
Passing it each day, Paddy would run his finger along the keys, high to low. He hadn’t seen anyone play it until now. He posted a letter for fifty-five and looked across the road. A young man sat down on the stool.
Umer rested his fingers on the keys, playing silent notes, waiting for the 90 to go. In the month since he started working, he’d walked one way to the chicken shop. But today, he’d left a little earlier than he needed to and, on a whim, gone a different way. He wondered how long the piano had been here, only minutes from his home, without him knowing. He tentatively voiced a chord.
He tried to improvise a little something, but repeating the movement, he realised it was a song he knew, nothing new under the sun and that. He switched up, jumping into a stride with a Fats Waller pomp, before stumbling onto a minor refrain that he came at sideways, thinking Thelonius Monk. Over the static of growing traffic, he looped a Dillalude, gliding into a familiar Soulquarian groove. Melodies came and went like passing thoughts, and cars, with their windows down to let out smoke, slowed to hear him hum Badu over The Twelfth of Never.
Priyanka’s bus pulled up. Hearing music, she looked out the window. A man was playing a piano on the street. He was wearing a red cap and matching polo shirt. She took a photo and sent it to her group chat. The replies were instant.
‘He’s kind of fit you know’
‘TF is he wearing?’
‘Have we finally found priya’s type?’
‘Thought this day would never come’
Priyanka replied with a Forever Alone meme.
‘All that time playing pain gonna final come in useful’
The girls used to crowd the practice room at break when she was preparing for her piano exam. She’d run through her pieces, and they’d chat away. She’d taken up the piano to strengthen her university applications. It was supposed to indicate she was a person beyond her studies. But then the music became its own type of academic pursuit. The bus moved on, and Priyanka glanced back at the house behind the piano, all its windows open.
Reggie stood in the family room listening to the music. The piano was Vi’s. He’d given most of her things away, but the piano had remained, silent for months.
She’d been standing right here, by the window, when it started. She coughed. ‘Must be something going around,’ she said.
They went to the GP. They went to the hospital. Lung cancer.
A few weeks later, he went for a check-up of his own. The doctor found a benign lump and suggested watchful waiting, whatever that meant. He’d left Vi at home to rest. When he reached the doorstep, he could hear her playing her piece upstairs. He put the key in the door but didn’t turn it, listening.
Vi was determined to keep living life. She filled the calendar the piano with all sorts. Janelle, their daughter, came with them to appointments, closing her hair salon in the middle of the day. Reggie rolled the strange words around in his head: cisplatin, etoposide. They sat next to Vi during chemo, watching, waiting. At home, he cooked and cleaned. There were still bins to take out, grass to cut. There was respite in scrubbing tiles, relief scouring mould from grout.
After chemo, Vi flushed her system clean with water. They were both in and out of the bathroom all day. That was the extent of his own little mass, an endless feeling of needing to go, and the frustration of never arriving. He went to check-ups almost hoping for the thing to malign. It would be neat, he thought, that after a full life together, they would die together. He couldn’t imagine life without her, and there was something romantic in the thought of dying in each other’s arms. Or at least in neighbouring beds.
When Reggie was finally admitted – a routine procedure, the doctor said – Vi was an inpatient. Janelle taught them how to talk to each other through computers. The connection in the hospital was off and on. When the call buffered, Reggie hung up and redialled. They picked up where they left off, going through old stories, playing the hits. After years of marriage, they knew them all by heart. But they were like old songs, the kind that when they came on you couldn’t not sing along. Vi did the one where her foot got trod on by Nina Simone. Reggie that one about the salmon.
The connection cut. Vi froze, lit blue by her screen. Reggie redialled.
‘Where was I? Right, so I climbed through the window–’
‘Some might say fell.’
They were young again, talking all night, the first signs of the sunrise filling their separate rooms.
‘Sing the sun awake,’ he said.
‘It’s late,’ Vi said. She always did this dance.
‘It would make my day. Do the one you wrote.’
She sang under her breath. People were sleeping. Her voice was fragile but perfectly clear, like thin ice. There was a delay in the connection, and he watched her mouth move a second or so before any sound came out, like she was miles away. She froze.
He made his recovery in time for the funeral.
The piano player finished and walked off. The day passed as it usually did, both slow and quick. When clouds appeared, Reggie went out with two rainbow-striped umbrellas and attached them to the piano. The rain cleared and the sun returned, casting multicoloured shadows across the keys. He brought the umbrellas in. He was woken by music in the middle of the night.