Skip To Content

    Read This Short Story From New BAME YA Anthology "A Change Is Gonna Come"

    Aisha Bushby's short story "Marionette Girl" follows Amani and her family as they learn to cope with Amani's OCD symptoms.

    Lucy Banaji / Stripes Publishing

    A Change Is Gonna Come is a new YA anthology featuring 12 stories and poems on the theme of change. The full book is out now.

    BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales from this link.

    Marionette Girl
    by Aisha Bushby

    Ask me anything about Harry Potter. Seriously. I’ve done twenty-three quizzes online so far and got one hundred per cent on all of them. I’m a Gryffindor, apparently, although I don’t feel brave most of the time. Usually I feel scared when things don’t go to plan, but that’s for another conversation.

    My wand is seven inches, maple, unicorn hair, bendy.

    The bit about the unicorn hair is my favourite.

    Maple is supposed to mean I’m a natural traveller and adventurer. That made me laugh. On a scale of adventurousness, I don’t even register.

    Oh, and my patronus is a cat. That I can believe because cats thrive on routine. Did you know that if you try and disrupt their routine it messes with their mental health?

    I did, because I’ve researched it.

    A lot.


    12:01 p.m.

    Maths is my favourite subject. I like the certainty of it. We spend the first half of the lesson learning a new formula and the second half applying it to a worksheet. Also, unlike in English, we aren’t asked to contribute our opinions. That terrifies me.

    But today is different. I go to sit at my usual spot: third row in, by the wall. I don’t sit right at the back where Callum and his minions cluster, nor do I sit at the front.

    But today someone else has taken my seat and I freeze, actually freeze, by the door when I see her. A few people who had been following behind bump into my heavy rucksack and swear at me, but I don’t care. Eventually they squeeze past while I stay glued to the spot.

    “A problem, Amani?” Mr Delacourt asks. He has a stern-looking face with a thick greying moustache and he always sounds sarcastic, even when he’s being sincere.

    “Um…” I pause. I want to say someone is in my place but it’s a girl who’s just visiting for the day before deciding whether to join our school next year. Milly Wilkinson. Our form tutor, Ms Yates, introduced her to us this morning and she looks terrified.

    Plus it’s petty, isn’t it? Even so, I hope this doesn’t mean I’ll have to move around during my other lessons. Mr Delacourt’s drawl interrupts my worries.

    “Well, then, take your seat,” he says, shuffling through his papers. Everyone is starting to stare. I take the only seat left, which is right in front of Mr Delacourt’s desk, and already I feel exposed.

    I drop my bag to the floor, sit down and pull the chair forwards. As I do I feel something pliable beneath my fingers. I cringe. Someone has stuck a piece of used gum under the chair and I’ve just touched it.

    My uncontaminated hand shoots up.

    “Yes, Amani?” Mr Delacourt sighs.

    “Please may I go to the toilet?” I ask. Please, please, please. My heart beats in time with the request. I can feel the germs dancing across my fingers – it makes them tingle.

    “Has someone put you up to this?” He sounds irritated now.

    “What? No, I—”

    “You had plenty of time to go to the toilet during break. I’m sure you can hold it until lunch.” Without a pause he launches into the lesson, but I can’t concentrate.

    All I can think about is washing my hands. I can’t touch any of my things, either, so I flip through my book one-handed.

    Mr Delacourt’s words float in one ear and out the other. My mind is too full of worries to absorb anything.

    Instead I sit and watch as the clock tick-tocks closer to 1:00 p.m.

    1:03 p.m.

    I’m in the girls’ toilets before most people have even made it out of their lessons. I let the tap run extra hot and stick my hand under it for as long as I can bear.

    I feel the anxiety slip down the drain as I wash.

    But once isn’t enough.

    One, two, three.

    Some girls walk in and I have to speed up my ritual.

    They can’t know.

    1:27 p.m.

    “Chicken and sweetcorn again?” Gabby teases.

    I look up from my lunch in time to catch the amused expression on her face.

    “And, let me guess.” Efe joins us at the table. “Salt and vinegar crisps?” She grins. “And…”

    “A Mars bar!” they both finish together in a fit of giggles.

    “You are a weird one, Amani,” Gabby says, smiling at me fondly.

    Whenever we get into this sort of territory, I clam up. “Ha, yeah,” I mumble, swallowing half of my sandwich in one go. It hurts as it goes down – too dry.

    But they’ve already moved on to discussing their summer plans, barely registering as I sink further into myself.

    They don’t mean to be unkind.

    They just don’t understand.

    3:45 p.m.

    The bell rings, signalling the end of the day, and I rush out to meet Dad, who should be waiting in the car park.

    Or, at least, I try.

    On the way out Callum intercepts me. “Hey, Amaaar-niii,” he says, standing in my way.

    I hate the way he stresses the vowels in my name, drawing them out. He always likes to point out how ‘foreign’ my name is.

    Callum’s the popular guy at school and he loves to exercise his power by getting a few laughs from his friends. Unfortunately tormenting people like me will do it.

    I don’t say anything, just keep my head down and try to push past. We do a little dance as he matches his steps to mine.

    Eventually I mumble a request for him to move.

    “What was that?” he asks exaggeratedly.

    I glance at the clock. 3:51 p.m. I’m officially late. We won’t make it home in time.

    Callum still doesn’t move and my hands start shaking. I know he’s taunting me but all I can hear is the blood pulsing in my ears as the clock ticks on and on.

    Eventually I shove him aside, adrenaline fuelling me. I hear him yell after me, “Oi, you bit—” but I’m already out of the door before I can hear the rest, my breath coming in heavy pants as I race to Dad’s car.

    I’ll pay for this on Monday but right now I don’t care.

    “We have to hurry!” I cry as soon as I get in.

    “Well, hello to you, too,” Dad remarks, but he starts the car quickly after he sees my face.

    “How much time do we have?”

    “Five minutes,” I say, glancing at the clock.

    “Don’t worry,” Dad says, determined. “We’ll make it in time.”

    I wonder what would happen if we didn’t make it in time. I don’t find out as Dad speeds to get home and we step through the front door at 3:59 p.m. I know this because I set an alarm to go off at 4:00 p.m. It vibrates in my pocket just as I rush up the stairs to my room.

    As I step inside I feel my chest deflate, the tension oozing out of my body.

    I have several alarms that get me through the day.

    This is one of them.

    It’s hard to explain why I do this. But try to imagine that your brain is going to internally combust unless you walk through the door of your home before 4:00 p.m.

    And then ask yourself what you would do if you were in my shoes.


    7:23 a.m.

    My alarm wakes me up. The first thing I do is check to see if I have any notifications on my phone. Sometimes it takes the whole seven minutes, other times it doesn’t. Today is one of those days where I’m done by 7:26 a.m.

    I can’t get up though – not until 7:30 a.m. It’s kind of like the floor is lava, except the lava is inside my stomach. I can’t leave my room until 8:00 a.m., either. It seems odd but I didn’t decide these rules – my brain did.

    I just follow them.

    Even though it’s the weekend I won’t sleep in – I don’t remember the last time I did.

    It’s never as bad when I’m at school. There’s a timetable and I stick to it. Then the evenings usually go: homework, teatime, TV, read and bed.

    It’s the weekends I find hard.

    Dad always suggests days out but the idea of not getting back in time scares me a little too much and I usually ignore him. (See, I’m definitely not a Gryffindor and my wand isn’t maple.) Mum understands my routine and we work around it together. But she’s not here today.

    I spend the next few minutes peering out of the window from my bed. All I can see is a cloudless sky and the tops of the trees as they rustle in the breeze. It’s sunny today and the light is shining through my blinds in delicate strands. I watch the little dust particles float in the air in front of me. They sway to and fro, and for a while it’s like nothing else exists in the world.

    It’s a relief not to think about anything for a minute, until I hear Dad start the blender. He’s making one of his gross breakfast smoothies again. The sound puts me on edge and reality comes crashing back into my mind.

    He finishes by 7:29 a.m. and it feels like I can breathe again.

    Then, my second alarm of the day goes off.

    7.30 a.m.

    Hermione is sleeping on the teal chair that sits in one corner of my room. It has this fringing on each of the arms that she loves, and she spends ages playing with it.

    If you’re confused, Hermione is my cat.

    She’s a really pretty tortoiseshell and she hates feet.

    If you put even a toe near her she’ll growl at you and cat-walk away. We get along because she’s just as set in her ways as I am.

    Every night when I go to bed I leave the door open just a little and every morning when I wake up, she’s there, sleeping.

    I stroke her three times before I go for a shower. I don’t know what I’d do if the bathroom wasn’t connected to my room.

    I won’t tell you about this bit of my routine because that’s, well, kind of weird.

    When I’m back I stroke her two times and get ready for the day. I always lay out my clothes the night before. They’re folded neatly at the end of my bed. I dress slowly and even then I’m done by 7:51 a.m.

    I stroke Hermione, just once this time, and that’s usually when Dad calls for me, even though we both know I’ll be down at 8:00 a.m.

    Dad works from home doing design stuff, so we have breakfast together on Saturdays before he finishes his jobs for the week. Mum’s usually still asleep but today she’s at some sort of academic conference.

    I wait at the threshold of my room, one hand poised on the doorknob, the other flicking through my phone, until the alarm goes off.

    As I mentioned, I have all of these alarms on my phone to remind me what I have to do next. It keeps me motivated.

    I tap off the alarm and, before I leave, I take a last look at Hermione through the doorway.

    She’ll be in there for a few more hours.

    8:00 a.m.

    This is when it gets a little more difficult.

    Outside my room there are all these external factors that I can’t control and just the thought of it is making my mouth go dry.

    Especially after yesterday.

    “Hey, Dad,” I say as I sit at my usual spot at the dining table.

    “Yo,” Dad says, barely looking up from his paper. It’s either his attempt at a joke or sounding cool, I can’t really tell which.

    I give him a grudging smile and take a sip of tea. I have this mug that says ‘Don’t Let the Muggles Get You Down’ and it’s my favourite.

    It’s not that Dad and I don’t get along. I love him, of course. It’s that he doesn’t always understand my issues. I once heard him say to Mum that if they left me to it, I’d ‘snap out of it’. He didn’t exactly say I was attention-seeking, but it was definitely implied.

    Dad looks up and frowns. “Your hands are a little dry today.” That’s all he says.

    Dad’ll never properly engage me in a conversation about it. Mum will always ask directly: “Amani, have you been washing your hands again?” Sounds like a strange question, doesn’t it? I mean, most parents would be pleased to have a hygienic child. But there’s that and then there’s using a whole bottle of handwash a day.

    That’s not normal.

    They tried to send me to a therapist once. His advice was that I should have an allocated budget for cleaning products each week. The idea was that I would learn to ration myself, like we’re in some sort of zombie apocalypse. But that didn’t work. Four days in and I’d already used all of the money, and had to beg Mum for more. It got so bad I was on the floor screaming, just screaming at her. She cried. I cried. Dad walked out of the house and didn’t come back all evening.

    We stopped going after that.

    The kitchen smells like fresh coffee and toast today, and that’s when I notice the problem.

    “Dad?” He doesn’t answer. I clear my throat. “Dad, why aren’t we having eggy bread?”

    Every Saturday we have eggy bread. That’s how it is.

    I stare at the pile of toast and spreads teasing me from the centre of the table.

    Dad sighs deeply, like the world’s problems are lodged in his oesophagus. “We ran out of eggs,” he says simply, staring me down.

    It’s a challenge.

    My palms start sweating and it’s as if my chest is on fire. I can feel the tears coming on. That makes me sound like a brat, doesn’t it? Crying over eggy bread. But it’s not like that, I swear.

    I grip the edge of the table and stare down at the empty plate. Dad is still looking at me, I can tell. And then I bolt, right out of the room and back upstairs. I get under the bedcovers and I cry.

    I cry because I can’t eat the toast. I cry because I’m stuck in a time warp – one where I’m doomed to live the same day over and over again and there’s nothing I can do about it. I cry because Dad doesn’t understand.

    Eventually, when I can’t cry any more, I sit up. My pillow is wet and scrunched up but I place it roughly behind my back. I look over at my chair for Hermione but she’s gone.

    8:51 a.m.

    Dad’s gone out, so it’s just me. That helps. It means I can get on with my day without worrying about someone else’s movements. He didn’t check on me, even though I was crying loud enough to make the walls shake. It’s like he’s scared of me, like I have some sort of contagious disease.

    When I go downstairs there’s a note to say a new printer is going to be delivered between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. I hate that it’s such a big window. I feel I have to sit and wait the whole time, on edge for when the doorbell rings. The best thing to do, I decide, is to start a new book from my never-ending pile and read until the delivery arrives.

    I’m enjoying the book. It’s about a girl who’s mixed-race, like me, who has anxiety, like me. Her dad dies and she can’t cope. She’s taken to a fantasy world where she has to fight a demon. I’m only a third of the way in but things aren’t going too well for her right now. I can relate.

    1:47 p.m.

    The doorbell rings and Dad’s still not home. But when I answer it, it isn’t the delivery. It’s my aunt. She sometimes likes to just ‘pop round’ for a cup of tea. She hasn’t quite mastered the art of texting or calling beforehand. Her impromptu visits make me nervous, especially as she has this way of talking at you, not with you.

    “Amani, how lovely to see you,” she says, her voice flat. “Is your dad around?” she asks, glancing past me, no doubt hoping he might materialize.

    “Um, no…” I say, shuffling my feet.

    “Ah, right, of course,” she says, as if she knew this already. “Well?” She’s still hovering. I’m hoping she’ll leave. “Let me in for a cuppa, will you?” she finally asks, bustling past me. “I’ll just wait until he gets back.”

    I’m still facing the door, which is good because that means she can’t see the face I just pulled. I take a few deep breaths before looking up and there’s the delivery man, staring down at me.

    “Hello, love,” he says, a little too cheerfully. “Sign here, please. Can I just have…”

    I don’t hear what he says next because my aunt is making a lot of noise behind me, clattering through the cupboards.

    “Am, where’s the Earl Grey?” she asks.

    I cringe. I hate that nickname.

    At exactly the same moment, the man holds out this machine to get my electronic signature. I can’t handle the two things happening at once so I cover my ears with my hands.

    “Oh, for goodness’ sake,” my aunt scolds, walking to the door. “Thank you,” she says to the man, giving me side-eye while she smiles at him.

    “Are you OK?” he asks, looking between me and my aunt as she takes the box. It’s clear he’s jumping to all sorts of conclusions, so I smile.

    “Fine,” I say.

    “Here it is!” she sings from the kitchen as she turns on the kettle.

    The man frowns down at me but nods, before stepping away.

    “Thank you,” I add, for good measure.

    Back in the kitchen my aunt rounds on me.

    “Honestly, Amani, you’re not a child. You need to learn to do these sorts of things without help. What would you’ve done if I wasn’t here? What’ll you do when you’re off to uni?” She stares down at me and I don’t have the energy to explain that I probably won’t be going to university because of my illness. So instead, I busy myself setting up the printer while she sits with her tea.

    She hasn’t taken off her shoes and I’m imagining all the germs on the carpet. I can see this path where’s she stepped, like a slug trail. I imagine my aunt as a giant slug for a moment and it makes me feel a little better.

    2:33 p.m.

    Dad’s home. It turns out he was running some errands, including a food shop, and I know it was to buy me eggs. I barricade myself in my room. I can hear my aunt talk about me from up here, her voice penetrating the walls. I can hear Dad, too, though he speaks too quietly for me to know what he’s saying. His voice sounds annoyed but I’m not sure if it’s aimed at me or her.

    I’m still reading my book. I’ve decided I’m going to spend the rest of my day reading because leaving my room is too stressful. Dad knocks on my door and the sound sends jolts of anxiety through my body.

    “Amani?” he calls, his voice muffled.

    “Come in,” I say, my voice hoarse.

    “She’s gone now.” He grins sheepishly. “She’s a bit full-on, isn’t she?” he says.

    I nod. I can’t explain that for me it’s more than that.

    “Want some lunch? You haven’t eaten today. I got eggs…”

    I don’t respond right away. We usually have lunch at 1:00 p.m. but we couldn’t because Dad was out.

    “I ate,” I finally say.

    “When?” he asks.

    “Ages ago. I had leftovers…”

    “And you couldn’t wait?” Dad asks, visibly annoyed.

    I look at him and I don’t know what to say. So I just say, “I’m sorry.”

    5:11 p.m.

    I hear Mum walk through the door just as I’m on the last few pages of my second book. My heart starts beating fast as I race to finish before she comes up to speak to me. I glance at the clock as I read, willing my brain to process the story faster.

    When I’m finally done I let out a sigh and fall back on to my pillow.

    “Amani!” Mum calls soon after.

    I run down to greet her. When I get there her diabetic equipment is out on the table. I frown.

    “Don’t pull that face at me.” Mum chuckles as she pricks her finger to test her insulin levels. I turn away when she sticks the needle in. “I didn’t have a chance to stop and eat much today.”

    “Mum you have to—” “Oh shush, and give me a hug,” she says, pulling me close. I hug her back a little too intensely and, when we break away, I see her frown over at Dad. He’s too busy packing away his laptop to notice.

    “Let’s go out for food tonight,” Dad says. His smile is a little strained.

    Mum looks at the clock. “The Italian down the road?” she suggests. “We have enough time for that.” She glances at me and I know what she means. So does Dad but none of us address it. “Is that OK, Amani?” Mum asks, and now they’re both looking at me, concerned.

    “Yeah, of course!” I say. “I just need to get changed.” I don’t. I just have this thing about leaving the house at fifteen-minute intervals. For example 5:00 p.m. or 5:15 p.m. The next slot is 5:30 p.m.

    I haven’t even told Mum and Dad about this quirk. It’s fairly new.

    I tried, once, to explain every little thing that preyed on my mind, but Dad scoffed and Mum couldn’t understand why some things bothered me and others didn’t. I couldn’t explain that it’s not me that decides, it’s the OCD. So now I hide anything I can from them.

    It’s easier.

    Only Hermione knows, probably because she’s the same. I watch her sometimes and it’s like she has an internal alarm clock. She can time things to the minute.

    She runs over to me as I enter my room, rubbing her fur against my legs. I found out recently that means she’s marking me as her territory.

    I bend down and pick her up, burying my face in her fur. She smells like talcum powder and almost immediately I can feel the butterflies in my stomach evaporate.

    I sit on my bed, cuddling Hermione, and wait until the time is right.

    6:23 p.m.

    “Isn’t it ready yet?” Mum snaps at the waiter. “It’s almost half six."

    He’s flustered and mumbles something about checking with the chef, before retreating to the kitchen.

    When he returns he says it’ll be another ten minutes and Mum looks like she’s about to explode.

    “My wife is diabetic, you see,” Dad explains, all the while avoiding my gaze.

    The truth is my routine means I have to eat at 6:30 p.m. If my food arrives sooner I usually wait. If it arrives later it feels like a balloon is expanding in my stomach, ready to pop. But you can’t exactly say, “My daughter has OCD and her mealtimes are planned like clockwork.”

    The mention of Mum’s diabetes does the trick and we’re sent some complimentary starters soon after. Just bread and olives, but it’s enough to start the ritual.

    As the waiter is pouring us some more water, my alarm goes off, signalling dinner time. He startles, spilling water all over the table.

    “Amani, for fu—”

    “Mark!” Mum’s glaring at Dad, who’s glaring at me. The waiter backs away, full of apologies. “If you’d just allowed us to eat at home…”

    “Don’t start with me, Leila,” Dad hurls back.

    “I was trying to do something nice. The meeting yesterday was awful. I lost the pitch to that start-up.”

    “Why?” Mum asks, her anger turning to concern. I breathe a sigh of relief. I hate it when they fight over me. “You always win them.”

    “I was off,” Dad admits, and I swear he looks at me. Guilt bubbles up inside of me and I can almost feel the tears, too, but I manage to stop them. “And then my sister came round today and wouldn’t stop talking.”

    Mum curses. “Doesn’t she have anything better to do with her time?”

    “Apparently not.” Dad laughs, and Mum’s laughing now, too.

    They spend the whole meal chatting about my aunt and her eccentricities, tactfully avoiding asking me about my day, for which I’m thankful.

    7:23 p.m.

    We’re back home. Dad and Mum retreat to the sofa.

    “Want to watch a film?” they ask in unison.

    “Maybe tomorrow,” I say, already halfway up the stairs.

    Though we all know that’s not going to happen. It’s just one of the things we do, where we play at being a normal family.

    7:32 p.m.

    I lie in bed with my lamp on, staring at the ceiling. All the while my heart is thump, thump, thumping.

    7:54 p.m.

    I’ve not moved. My parents are laughing at the film downstairs. I feel detached, like I’m not in control of my body. It’s as if they’re in a parallel universe to me.

    8:28 p.m.

    Eventually Hermione whines at me to let her out and I get out of bed, open the door for her, and grab my laptop. I put Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on and it feels like my fears slowly ebb away.

    9:59 p.m.

    I pause the film and start getting ready for bed.

    11:32 p.m.

    I fall asleep just as Gryffindor wins the house cup and I feel like tomorrow might be a better day.


    7:38 a.m.

    When I wake up, I realize I’ve overslept and, unlike a functional human being, I practically have a breakdown.

    I rush to the bathroom to get everything done before 8:00 a.m. I don’t even stop to stroke Hermione today and it’s only as I’m about to leave my room that I notice she isn’t there.

    My hand hovers over the chair like I’m about to stroke an invisible cat. I can see little tufts of her fur still there from the day before.

    “Mum!” I call. When she doesn’t respond I call louder. “MUM!”

    I hear hurried footsteps dashing up the stairs. “Amani?” she answers frantically. “What’s happened, what’s—?” She pauses when she sees me, letting out a breath. “Oh, thank goodness,” she says, between pants, holding her hand to her chest. “I thought you… What’s wrong?” she asks, rushing over to me.

    I’m crying now. Crying again.

    “Hermione,” I whimper. My chin actually quivers, like in a cartoon. “I can’t…” I stop, not voicing what I can’t do.

    “Stay right there!” Mum says, pulling away. “I’ll find her and put her on the chair, and everything will be fine.” She’s put on her cautious voice, the one she uses when she’s worried I’m going to go over the edge.

    I wait for some time, my stomach swirling like a whirlpool as the clock ticks on. It’s nearly 8:15 a.m. and today’s ruined already.

    “It’s OK, you’re OK,” I say, squeezing my eyes shut and repeating the words over and over like a chant. I haven’t moved from my position by the chair. Eventually I hear Mum’s soft footsteps by the door and watch as she carries Hermione through.

    She’s still sleeping as Mum places her on the chair.

    Her breaths come out in pants and she’s wheezing a little, like she’s having a nightmare.

    I want to wake her up and make it stop.


    6:53 a.m.

    I wake up to a weird scratching noise coming from the corner of my room. It takes me a few moments, in my sleepy state, to notice that it’s coming from inside my wardrobe. It’s only when I hear her shallow breaths and the same wheezing as yesterday that I realize it must be Hermione. I run over to her right away, forgetting that the floor is lava, and yank open the wardrobe door. She’s nuzzling into a pile of discarded clothes, pawing at the wood beneath with her claws. I try to pick her up but she falls limp in my hands. She feels as fragile as a newborn kitten even though she’s almost my age.

    Something’s wrong.

    Something’s very wrong.

    “Mum!” I yell. “Mum!”

    I stand there for a few moments, skipping on the spot. But the nuzzling gets worse and Hermione’s started making this strange purring noise. I pull open my bedroom door, look at the line that marks the threshold between my room and the hallway, and hover my foot over it.

    I step back. I can’t.

    Then an idea enters my mind. I grab my mobile and call the house phone.

    It rings a couple of times and then I hear a gruff voice. “Mu— Dad?” I answer, disappointed.

    “Your mum’s already left for work, Amani,” he says, his voice hoarse. “She isn’t your slave. Whatever it is, it can wait.” And he puts the phone down, just like that. I burst out crying.

    I look at the clock. 7:01 a.m. I can’t leave for another hour.

    I return to Hermione and stroke her as gently as I can, chatting quietly to her. I think it’s more of a comfort to me than her.

    But it works, a little. She stops nuzzling and all I can hear now is her shallow breathing.

    Eventually Dad comes in and finds me curled up next to my wardrobe. I don’t see him because my eyelashes are glued together with tears, but I smell his aftershave as he pulls me up from the floor and takes me to Hermione’s chair.

    “I’m sorry, Amani,” he says, and I can hear the guilt in his voice. “I try and understand but I—”

    “It’s Hermione!” I wail, and Dad turns to where I’m pointing. He says nothing, just rushes over and inspects her as she starts nuzzling into the corner again. After a few moments he heads for the door. “I’m getting the vet’s number,” he says, before hurrying down the stairs to the kitchen.

    He comes back upstairs less than a minute later and marches over to the wardrobe. “Yes, hello?” Dad says, his voice shaky. “I’m sorry to call so early but…” Dad explains everything – the nuzzling, her breathing, even the fact that she broke her routine yesterday and disappeared. While he talks, I go back and stroke her. I notice that her wheezing sounds more raggedy now, like every breath is painful. “One moment,” he says, and he turns to me. “Have you tried to lift her?”

    I nod. “She went limp,” I explain.

    Dad nods back at me and repeats my words to the vet. He pauses while the vet explains something to him. All he says in response is, “Oh no,” before leaving my room, and suddenly it feels like a lead brick has landed on my chest. I follow him to the door and lean out. He’s all the way down the stairs now. “OK,” he finally says. “Yes, I understand. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

    Dad walks back up, his steps heavy. He takes me to Hermione’s chair again and sits me down. “Amani, I have some bad news,” he says, wiping his eyes, and I wait for the words that will confirm my suspicions. “The vet says the symptoms suggest that she’s had a … a…” Dad mumbles the word and it takes a moment for the information to sink in.

    I run over to Hermione. She’s stopped struggling now. I wrap her in an old jumper, gather her in my arms and sit back down on the teal chair, cradling her like a baby.

    “I’ve got to take her now, love,” Dad says, crouching in front of me.

    “I’m coming with you,” I say. Dad looks up, slightly surprised.

    “But you can’t…” He turns to the door.

    I shake my head. “I’m going.”

    After a moment, Dad nods.

    “All right,” he says, the strength back in his voice.

    “I’ll just get dressed quickly. See you downstairs?” he asks, uncertain. “Would you like to bring Hermione down?”

    I nod through my tears. Dad leaves.

    I want to get changed but I also don’t want to put her down. I nuzzle into her fur for the last time.

    I walk to the door and glance back.

    7:23 a.m.

    My alarm goes off, signalling that it’s time to wake up.

    I step out of my bedroom.

    A Change Is Gonna Come features 11 more works on the theme of "change" and is out now from Stripes Publishing. Get a copy for £6.99 here.

    For more information about and support for OCD, visit Mind.

    Want great book recommendations in your inbox every week? Sign up for the BuzzFeed Books newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form