Archive for the ‘anger’ Category

I can’t get enough of you, no never put you down
I don’t wanna be wrong, don’t wanna be right
Just wanna play along
– Children’s Masterpiece Theatre: Flesh of Lost Summers (2007)

Let’s talk about fear for a moment. Let’s talk about cowardice.

When I was seven years old, we went on our very last trip with the entire family, mum, dad, and us four kids. Mosquitoes, campfires, canned ravioli, fishing, and swimming in the lakes and waterways of Polish Masuria.

One afternoon our rents had gone for groceries. The sun was low and our campground almost entirely consumed by the shadows of the tress. Golden sparkles were still dancing on the gently lapping waves of the lonesome lake. ‘Nette was lying on her stomach on a large towel and reading a teen magazine. ‘Nette had waded out pretty far into the shallow waters and stood, arms outstretched like some Christ figure in the fading blaze of the evening sun. Lukas had disappeared in the woods. And I was playing by myself with these little plastic soldiers that come in a bucket.

Suddenly a big, far forest spider dropped first on my head and then down, knocking over one of my soldiers. I shrieked and jumped. And next to me, Lukas – who knew that I was afraid of spiders – began to laugh. He had returned from the woods brought the critter as a special present to me.

“For chrissake, Lukas, leave him alone, will you?” ‘Nessa groaned from her towel, but she didn’t even bother to stop leafing through her magazine.

Lukas ignored her. Instead he picked up the spider and let it dangle on its thread from his finger, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum.

“Look here, little pussy, she wants to play with you.”

I tried to get away, but stumbled over a root and landed with a heavy, painful thump on my back. Lukas followed me to stand over me and slowly lowered the spider towards my face. Terrified I lay still and stared up at the wriggling, eight-legged beasty.

And then a small hand closed around the spider. ‘Nette, nine years old and dripping wet, crouched down next to me. I knew that she hated spiders just as much as I did, and when we were alone with each other in the privacy of our room, she would shriek and hide behind me, and egg me on to put a glass or something over it, if one came to visit us there. Now she was trembling all over. I don’t know if it was with fear and revulsion, or with rage, or if it was because she was wet and there was a cool breeze blowing between the trees. Perhaps it was a mix of all of the above.

She stared directly in to the eyes of her 14 year old brother and held her lightly balled fist towards him, as if about to offer a gift in supplication. She even relaxed he fingers enough so that the scrabbling legs of the spider began to appear between them. And then I could see her steel herself. She gritted her teeth. Her breath hitched once. There were tears in he eyes but also a deep resolve.

Slowly she got up, put herself between me and him, and then she crushed the spider in her fist. All though she stared directly into his eyes, hers just as stormy grey as his. And I knew that I loved her, loved her with a blind, fiery passion I had never felt before and thought I never could again.

Lucas snorted and turned to leave.

“Pussies,” was what he muttered when I – now that the spider was gone – launched myself at him. I jumped on his back, and clung to him like a monkey, and tore at his hair and bit into his ear.

That night, when ‘Nette and I were down at the lake washing the dishes after supper, and I was still aching all over from the beating Lukas had ended up giving me, she took my by the arm, and she looked at me very seriously, and this is what I remember her saying to me:

“Everyone is afraid, Tavi.” Tavi was her special, secret name for me, from the Kipling tale. “But only a coward lets that stop him.”

That night I lay awake for a long time, and I swore to myself that I would never be a coward again. But things aren’t ever that simple, are they, and often enough life doesn’t permit us the luxury of keeping our word. Least of all to ourselves.

***

I’ve always liked boys, and men, and never really looked at girls, or women, in a sexual way. And as far back as I remember I knew that this was something I ought to be ashamed of. Like most of my kind, when my mates began talking about girls and pussy and boobs in that way, I first tried to avoid it, and then, for a while, I joined in and was probably especially obnoxious. But I hated it. Not because I was lying – I lie all the time, it doesn’t bother me at all – but because I really didn’t like that particular role.

‘Nette was the first person I talked to about this. I was 10 at the time, and it was my assistant football coach I had been thinking about. She listened very seriously and said matter-of-factly: “So, you’re a faggot.” And she hugged me and kissed me and added: “Then that’s just the way it is.” And for the short time afterwards that we had we could talk about boys, and compare what we liked about them, or didn’t, and what we wanted them to do to us.

And later, when she was dying, she egged me on to go through with it, to finally get fucked. But I didn’t have the first idea how to go about it. I mean, I had my fantasies, but they were never too clear about how to initiate it all.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I was eleven, during ‘Nette’s last summer, there was Tariq. He had thick, black hair, and dark eyes, like a horse, and skin the colour of coffee with lots of milk. His nose was aquiline, and his face heart-shaped, and he had a birthmark low on the left side of his jaw line, close to the ear.

The only way I found to express my desire for him was to annoy him thorouly with constant needling, jibes and taunts, until he lost his patience, and we fought in the school corridor. We both got quite a lot of heat for that from our teachs and rents, and he never forgave me, but I remember how much I loved wrestling with him, how much I loved feeling his fingers dig into my arm as he tried to hold me down, how hard my prick was against his hip as he lay on me, pounding my face to get me to finally cry uncle so he would be able to walk away with his head held high. How he began to sob with frustration when I wouldn’t, and how he spit into my face as they dragged us apart.

That afternoon I spent at ‘Nette’s side. She’d one of her migraines and had returned from school early. She was already scheduled to go to the hospital, but we still assumed it would only be temporary. I cried about the way Tariq had looked at me when he’d come from the principal’s office and I had been on my way in, and I had known that even if I ever had had a chance before, it was gone forever now. ‘Nette had rested one hand on my head, and without opening her eyes she had said: “Coward.”

Continued here

It was raining again when I entered Glen Dee. The sky was as rugged as the ground, clouds, torn, chasing each other, sunlight coming through the ragged opening in scattered bursts, the way a gunman might occasionally strafe a besieged house with bursts of automatic fire. The hills on both sides of the glen grew into mountains and the path itself plodded ever upwards.

In the evening I reached a mountain whose lopsided peak jutted out impressively over the glen, like a cock straining against tight trousers. As I found out later it’s called “Devil’s Point” in English, which was the polite translation of its Gaelic name as it was told to Queen Victory when she travelled through these parts. A more literal translation would be “demon dick”.

There was a small stone hut at the foot of the Devil’s Point. I thought about spending the night there, but when I got close, I saw that a group of happy hikers were just getting cozy inside, hanging freshly washed socks from the window sill and busying themselves with the fireplace. I greeted them half-heartedly, without breaking my stride. I hurried past the hut and up a small path that lead to the ridge joining the Devil’s Point and several other peaks to a plateau.

I had not intended to climb any of these peaks. I had wanted to stay on the trail along the valley. But the path to the stone hut had taken me away from the main trail, and once I was there and saw that it was occupied, I only had the choices of either staying, or turning around, or walking on, uphill.

I didn’t want to stay. Helen and John had been all the company I craved that day. And I didn’t want to turn around, because doing so would have made it only to apparent to those hikers that I was avoiding them. And somehow that moment I couldn’t have born the shame of my cowardice becoming visible to them. Even if it meant having to drag myself up that devilish mountain.

I cursed myself every exhausting and agonizing step. Each made my shoulder throb with a deep, dull fire. And when the night had quietly done away with the last of the dusk I found myself in a large corrie, illuminated only by the wan light of a distant, gibbous moon – an immense natural amphitheatre made up of moss-covered rocks and steep slopes. And I felt very lost, and small, and terribly exposed to the heavens.

The corrie was lines with little brooks. I found a dry, sandy spot between two of them, had the last of Helen Campbell’s sandwiches, emptied the bottle, tended to my feet, and finally smoked my last fag and gazed down into the Glen, and the tiny flickering light of the hearth fire in the stone hut far below me at the foot of the mountain.

As I sat there I was still mulling over the things Helen had said. And her question whether I believe in God and in Jesus Christ.

Just to be clear on this, I do believe in God. I do. I do. But… how do I say this?

My Dad had been raised a Roman Catholic, and my aunt had converted to the Church of England when she married. My cousins had been raised Anglicans. My mum is from a family of strict Prussian Lutheran protestants. My oldest friend and neighbour, Orcun, was from a family of moderately devout Muslims. And Hector’s parents were lapsed Communists and strict and vocal atheists. From the beginning I had known that whatever anyone wanted to claim about religion, there was always a way to look at things differently.

My mum had me and my siblings baptized in the local Lutheran parish, and all but me went to Confirmation class from 12 onward. I was the only one to flat out refuse to go. But that was the extend of my mum’s involvement with the Church. The only times I ever saw her even talk to the vicar was during ‘Nette’s funeral, and at Nicky’s baptism 2 ½ years later.

Primary school offered religious instruction for Protestants and Catholics, but none for Muslims, so it mainly served as a segregator for the main ethnicities – the German kids mostly went to the Lutheran class, Polish kids to the Catholic, and the Turkish and Arabic kids had a free period (but usually visited a Qur’an school some afternoons of the week.) Again it seemed to me that somehow religion was less about truth and more about belonging, about identity and taking sides.

I remember how astonished I was when I finally received religious instructions how boring and meaningless everything was that I was being told about God and Jesus. How God – supposedly almighty and all-knowing – was this soppy stern chap who in some never fully explained way was supposed to love everybody (like, what does that even mean?) and watch over the entire world and every littlest critter in it, and who for some reason was to be credited with every good turn but never to be blamed for everything that went wrong. And Jesus, the son (or incarnation, they never could tell me which) of this almighty God, had brought even more love and forgiveness into the world – I kept wondering what a perfect God needed a version 2.0 for – but then got killed rather badly for it.

And then I looked around in my world, and inside myself, and saw all the violence, and the callousness, the pettiness, and how messed up and dirty and run down everything was, and I thought, kurwa, He sure is doing a terrible job.

I also began to seriously resent my teacher, and God, because if there was any truth in what she told me about God’s intentions and power, then God must either hold one hell of a grudge against me, or – and that was even worse – I must be so unimportant that in all his omniscience He never noticed me.

And then ‘Nette started her confirmation classes, and in the nights we would talk about what she had learned, and what she was thinking about all of it. And we’d try to make sense of it ourselves. And once again I was astonished, this time because the stuff we read was nothing like that boring, pedantic, and utterly ineffective God the grown-ups had been telling me about.

The God of the bible is a truly wicked bloke. He is rash to anger and totally overreacts to everything. He blunders along and often acts before he thinks and then comes to regret it later, or changes his mind in mid-stride. He blusters and boasts, sulks, and refuses to admit when he’s made a mistake. He’s bloodthirsty, and untrustworthy, and incredibly vain. But He is full of love – and not that boring, serene love my dried-up teach was going on about, but a love that years, and hurts, is proud, and tender, and that knows how to forgive, not for morals butt for passion. Who could read the story of God and David and not be moved by the flawed, fiery passion for one another?

The bible is full of great folks, and I was pissed off that the teach had made them all sound so dull. There was David, and his suggestive, well, not even love-triangle but love-quadrangle, with King Saul and Saul’s son Jonathan and saul’s daughter Michal. I mean, talk about kinky. David’s career as an outlaw and rebel, his ascent to kingship, his trouble with his own sons, and his less than glorious old age.

Or take Jacob, the thief, liar, and runaway, who got into actual fisticuffs with God, and who God loved so much that he re-named him Israel. Or Job, who took God to court and forced Him to show His true colours. Or Moses, who I think it can be argued is the only person other than Mary who has a reasonable claim to the boast that God made love to him, but who was still turned back at the border of the promised land and had to die, alone, in the desert.

At the age of 10 the New Testament was a bit boring for me and often very hard to understand. But even there were hidden gems that the grown-ups had withheld from me: Why do they gloss over Herod’s mass child murder in the Christmas Story? And who came up with these three boring old kings, when the actual text tells of an numberless group of wise men – possibly wizards! – from the East? And then there are moments like the one when Jesus begs God to spare him, when he is filled with fear and doubt, but God refuses him and Jesus is nailed to the cross anyway. Later when ‘Nette’s tumour had metastasised into her bones and she had to be given morphine, an still it hurt her so badly, I had to think of the crucifiction and what it would feel like to have nails driven through my wrists and the spans of my feet.

This God of the bible was a God who made sense, a God who fit the world I was living in. It wasn’t a God I could approach about a new bicycle or a Playstation, sure, but it was one I could somehow respect.

Until he murdered my sister.

That long Saturday afternoon, as I walked up Glen Dee and climbed the Devil’s Point, He was a lot on my mind again, and for the first time in years I asked myself if I still had faith. If I was, as Helen had said, putting my fate in the hands of God.

The idea bothered me, it bothered me a lot. I mean, if I allowed for God as the charioteer of destiny, I could hardly avoid it, could I? But it rankled with me: Since her death I had never begged. I preferred to take what I wanted and be damned the consequences. I didn’t want handouts from Him.

When I was sitting up on the mountainside, shivering in my damp clothes in the night’s chilling breeze, I tried to see the world through the Atheist’s eyes. It was surprisingly easy, under those racing clouds, with the cold and distant stars blinking through them from afar. It was easy to imagine the vastness to be empty not only of matter or warmth, but of meaning. But it remained a thought experiment. It didn’t truly relieve me of my conviction.

It did make me remember those nights, though, when I’d lain in my sister’s bed, had felt the warmth of her body against mine, smelled her skin and the shampoo in her hair, and when we had gazed out through the narrow window, so high on the wall – the same window that I would try to flee through from that lady rozzer only a few years later, condemning myself to jail and all that followed – and through which we had looked at the very same stars that I was seeing now, from the slopes of the Devil’s Point. And the memory hurt. It hurt with a raw, sudden intensity I had not expected, and I wanted to cry out in pain.

Instead I bit down on that pain, and spit it onto the gravel, and snarled: “Yeah, well, fuck you, too!” And I curled up as tight as I could, under those cold stars, and surrendered myself to the nightmares once more.

***

It would be easy to leave it at that and to move on to the scary White Van Man from Beauly, and that beastly night in Cannich, and my near death experience in the Mullardochs, but that would be dishonest.

When I woke up I was very cold and did a double Aikido session before walking back down from the Devil’s Point. The day was misty and gloomy and I was hungry and very thirsty. By the time I reached the hut the hikers had moved n. I looked around inside, vaguely hoping to find some left over food, or to warm myself on the ambers of their fire, but only warm ash remained, not enough to do me any good.

My shoulder hurt if anything even worse than the day before. It made me think of Ponyboy, and I knelt down in the middle of the room and wanked. That made the pain flare up, but I gritted my teeth and brought myself to a sad, whimpering ejaculation onto the floor. Still kneeling I pissed on it as well. Then I buttoned up and left.

I drank of the cold waters of the Dee, filled up the bottle, and walked on. The sun came out for a while, and to my right be Ben Macdui reached for the sky. Clouds came and went, but the mountain remained, its peak dipping in and out of the wisps of mist.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the mountains in Scotland, but they are nothing like the Alps, or the mountains of the Balkans. The Cairngorms may have rocky cliffs here and there, and sometimes there are clumps of trees at their feet – pine, and birch, and aspen, and bushes of juniper and rowan – but other than that they are these rounded humps, steep, but startlingly smooth, overgrown with heather and lichen in the valley, but the tops  bald and covered in immense fields of lose, round, fist-sized stones. Walking amongst them is like paddling a small sealskin canoe through an immense herd of gigantic whales.

And so, their steep, smooth walls flowing out ahead of me along the valley’s sides, the valley floor itself rising like a wave to the distant pass, in spite of my anger and resentment, it made my spirits lift.

And when I passed a gushing creek coming down the mountain I veered off the path and began to hike up a pathless mountainside. It was hard going, and soon I was out of breath, but I didn’t slow down. My eyes were constantly on the lookout for the next good foothold, my brain kept calculating distance and balance, and once again it was his magic of movement, the trance of the trop, that pulled my heart along.

From time to time it rained, and the cold water ran down my body underneath my clothes. Then the sun came out again and dried me. And then, finally, in densest fog, I reached the heap of stones that marked the highest peak of the Ben Macdui, the highest peak of the Cairngorms.

Look, I don’t want to take back anything I just told you about my relationship to God, or life, or anything. It didn’t change anything, it didn’t convince me of anything. But still… while I stood there, catching my breath, the sky tore open, the mists around me blew apart, the world unrolled all its horizons, and the sun set everything ablaze. All the wetness caught and magnified her fierce fire, like a universe of jewels. No religion or philosophy dreamed up by humans can say as mayn good tings about the world, or say them as convincingly, as the sun, the air, the water, and the rocks did just then.

After that it was all downhill. By afternoon I surrounded by trees again, where I promptly got lost. By nightfall, tired beyond endurance, I ended up in Inverdruie, where I spent the night. Monday I first had a look at the Aviemore Centre, a piece of daring architecture from the 1960s so incredibly uncool that it is actually kind of cool again, and hitchhiked to Inverness, where I arrived in the evening.

Continued here

When I opened my eyes it was well after sunrise. Two people were coming up Glen Tilt. They were still away enough for me to take a leisurely leak against the rocks, straighten my clothes, shake the ants from my hair, have a drink down at the stream, and light a fag.

My first impulse had been to scramble uphill and go into hiding somewhere, but I figured, they’d see me running away, and I didn’t like that idea. So I sat down on a rock by the side of the water and waited.

It was a bloke in neat blue jeans, and a neat, zippered sweater in dark marine, and a baseball cap in the same colour, and a lady in a grey tracksuit trousers, a sweater in a startling cool magenta, and a white baseball cap with a black bill. Both seemed to be in their 30s or so.

“Hi there, young man,” the bloke said, when he reached me, and wiped the sweat off his face. He had that athletic chubbiness that seem to be specific American. His eyes were brown and friendly, in a rather patronizing way. Hers were a water blue and shifty, as she sat down her backpack and sat down heavily next to it.

There was a funny thing going on between the two of them. One thing Uncle Valya had taught me is to never trust people’s words but – if anything – their bodies and their eyes. And looking at the two of them, beyond their surface behaviour, this was what I saw: His attempt at friendliness towards me, his smiles and words, was an act – meant to put her at ease. That she, while outwardly calm, was in the grip of panic, like a deer staring at you frozen in fear and ready to bolt. But she wasn’t afraid of me, nor of him. I think it was the mountains. I think it was their age, their silence and loneliness.

“Hull,” I answered, put the fag between my lips, and offered him my hand. A little bit astonished he shook.

“Hey,” he asked. “You wouldn’t be on your way to Inverey?”

“Inverness?”

“No, no,” he laughed, strained, and put more of himself between me and his lady as if to shield her from whatever I might have to say. “Inverey. A little, er, a little village, that’s… look…”

He pulled out an ordinance map from his pocket.

“Here,” he pointed to a small hamlet at the end of a tiny road in the middle of the mountains. “And, we’re rught about, er, here… right?”

His stubby finger poked vaguely at an area covering several streams and trais somewhere Southwest of Inverey. I took the map and looked for Blair Atholl an Glen Tilt.

“I’m not certain, Mister, but we should be somewhere in this valley, here. Probably near the end.”

Together we determined our most likely position. It was almost funny how they both began to visibly relax, like little kids that had just made it out of a haunted house, or peeps who just barely avoided a dangerous accident. I doubt it had much to do with the meagre and uncertain information I could provide. I think it was mostly the fact that the mountains had yielded another soul, a human face to speak to without feeling crazy. I wondered if they would have felt the same in some stretch of wilderness in whatever US State they came from, or it was in part due to their sense of being so far from home.

While he and I were brooding over the map, she put down her backpack and began to produce a surprising amount of food: Sandwiches, cut into little squares and neatly wrapped in cling film and stowed in little Tupperware containers, apples and carrots, peeled and sliced to finger size, and small PET bottles of Isotonic drinks.

“Can I offer you something too?” she asked. I studied her face, the one behind her mask. She really wanted me to share their food, to stay with them.

“We also got some Mars bars, somewhere,” she added, almost pleadingly, and began to dig for them.

“That’s my wife, Helen,” the man said. “I’m John. John Campbell.”

We’d already shaken hands, but he’d been too tense then for introductions, so there was a brief, awkward moment now.

“David,” I offered in return, clearly pronouncing it dah-vid, not day-vid. “David Silberknopf.” Sil-bur-kuh’nobf. And to Helen I said: “Wouldn’t say no to a sandwich and a drink, ma’am. Ta.”

She handed me both with a thankful smile.

I asked John: “Could I have a look at your map again?”

It was the first time I’d looked at a detailed map of the area, and I decided that I wanted to head north, through Glen Dee, towards Aviemore.

Helen looked around. “Are you alone, David?” (Of course she had to pronounce it day-vid.)

“Yup,” I said.

“Where is your family?” she asked.

Defiantly I looked her straight in the face. Then I pointed roughly East-Southeast. “Thataway, ma’am.”

She didn’t get it and actually craned he neck to look at the steep, bare hillside. I sighed.

“About one thousand kilometres thataway.”

“Kilometers?” she asked and frowned. Then she said: “Oh,” and after a moment, again: “Oh.”

I busied myself with the map, but I could feel her eyes ravelling all over me, over my oversized M65 jacket with the sleeves rolled up, and my face still bruised and scabbed with the traces of Ponyboy’s caresses.

“How old are you, David, if I may ask?” Day-vid again. This time from John.

“Sixteen,” I lied without looking up.

More silence while we ate and I studied the map.

“Are you a runaway?” Helen sounded timid, but she couldn’t let it go.

I looked up again and debated making up some story. But somehow the strange balance of power between them and me made me feel unnecessarily mean if I did so. So I answered as straight as I could: “I suppose that you could say that.”

John had watched me as well. I handed him back his map.

“Where are you headed?” he asked, as he took the map and looked down on it. I showed him, none too precisely.

“We’ll have the same route up until here,” he observed.

“Yup,” I said again.

“Do you mind if we walk with you?” I smiled, though I didn’t much care for the looks passing between him and his wife.

As we walked Helen wanted to know if I’d been abused. If I had been beaten. And she gestured towards my face. When I refused to answer that, she dragged her husband into this. They both began to offer me “solutions”, from finding some church organisation that would put me in a new home with good, Christian folks, to going to the American Embassy and asking for asylum (like, huh?). It was only when she tried to drag God into things, too, that I got seriously annoyed.

“I’ll square with God myself, and I’d appreciate it you stayed out of that, thank you very much, ma’am,” I said through gritted teeth.

“So you believe in the Lord God, and in our saviour Jesus Christ?” she asked, half apprehensive, half relieved.

I thought about quoting Riddick at here – I absolutely believe in God, and I absolutely hate the fucker – but then thought, that would only lead to more hassle. I certainly wasn’t going to tell her the fully story, was I? So I just nodded curtly and walked on.

After t hat we walked in silence for a while. Not much later, John, still trying to ease things for Helen, proposed a rest. They offered me more of their food, but I declined, probably somewhat haughtily, in favour of an apple of my own. We’d left the river Tilt and had not yet reached the Dee, so I had to do without drink.

Helen drew John away from me under the pretence of wanting to show him some part of the scenery, and when they returned, he said: “David, we have decided that we will accept your decision to run way” – as if it was theirs to accept – “and we’ll not speak of it any more. I apologize if we came on strong.”

And Helen chimed in: “If you are willing to put your fate in God’s hands, we shall have faith too.”

I smiled wearily, but  wasn’t especially sorry that I had made use of the time they’d been away to go through their backpacks and take 60 quid from thm. Since they’d been taking pictures during the break, I also decided to relieve them of their camera before our ways separated, to make certain they didn’t keep any record of our meeting.

True to their word they didn’t mention the topic for the rest of our time together. I the early afternoon we reached the White Bridge across the River Dee. They would go East from there towards Inverey, and I’d turn Northwest, along Glen Dee, deeper into the Cairngorms.

Helen insisted I take several of their sandwiches, and a bottle of isotonic drink.

“We will pray for you,” she assured me, as I reached with my right hand past John to shake hers, and lifted the camera from the pouch on his belt with my left.

“That you for the food and the company, ma’am,” I said, slipping the camera into my back pocket. “Have a good journey. God bless.”

Continue here

In the two weeks that followed, we played a lot of games – though for some reason we never played that Badger game he proposed. Once he learned of my chromosomal preference though, we developed a vicious house remix of the Spanish Prisoner. The Spanish Prisoner (and its modern famous variant, the Nigerian Mail Scam) is the basic free lunch that turns out to be anything but. In its classic form the mark is approached with a tale of woe and injustice. Somewhere some authorities are keeping the roper from access to his rightful wealth. Penniless as he is right now, he desperately needs some funds to pay the bribes necessary to get his treasure to safety – an investment he would pay the mark back a hundredfold, once successful, of course.
Everyone who hears of this game thinks he could never be lured, but the beauty of it is that in truth everyone can be lured – given the right lure. For some that lure may not be money.
The version we developed and that we called The Teen Ticket went roughly like this: The mark encounters me and Charley in some seedy queer watering hole, with me practically begging Charley to help me in return for (only shyly and obviously very reluctantly hinted at) sexual favours. Charley, although obviously lusting, remains cold-hearted and distant, pointing out that he couldn’t possibly take advantage of me, given my age, because of the legal risks too him – and implying that he couldn’t give tuppence for my fate otherwise. Eventually he shakes me off, and leaves me in some dark corner, quietly struggling with tears and ready to be approached by the mark.
My legend would always be some variation on this tune: Coming from some backwater European village with ultra-conservative sexual mores I had followed the internet invitation and promises of true love by some lecherous old poofter. Upon arrival here I found that he had been in contact with several young chaps, and that a rival had arrived at the same time. The best story to hook the mark turned out to be some lurid tale of how the old man had made my rival and me enter a perverted bidding war of what we would be willing to do in return for bed, board, and affection. As long as I blushed a lot, stumbled over my words, played up my continental accent – giving it a slightly eastern twist – and obviously almost choked on trying to repeat the offers I had been forced to make and those that had trumped mine, it almost invariably assured the success of the game. I’m not quite certain why, but I think it was the combination of fanning the mark’s hidden desires, and at the same time providing a way to  avoid the associated guilt by offering him the role of the good Samaritan.
Anyway, the conclusion of the tale would always be how the old man had kicked me out but not without buying me a ticket back to the continent. After all, once he had found the perfect loverboy, he wanted to get rid of the worthless runner up. But I had burned my bridges and had no place to go, and no money to stay. Being not even 16 I couldn’t easily return the ticket for cash – and that was what I needed help with.
I wouldn’t directly offer sex, and I wouldn’t ask for anything, not for money, nor for a place to stay. All I would ask for is for the help of a grown up to get a refund for the ticket (a ticket rightfully mine). But implied was of course, that once I had that, I would still be in need of a bed to sleep in and perhaps a companion to warm it.
The cruel genius of the game was that none of this mattered. The entire routine, the sob story, the process of going to the train station and getting a ticket refunded (a very time consuming process in Edinburgh at the height of the Festival), it all had only one point: To keep the mark occupied. Because as he kept me company in all this, I would relieve him of his flat- or hotel-keys and pass them on to Charley. Charley would then in all leisure loot the place, return the keys to me, and eventually I would ditch the mark under some pretence.
I wish I could tell you that the marks we suckered deserved it, that they were evil paedophiles who only helped to get into my breeches – though I do think most of them were paedophiles (or hebephiles, if you want to get technical) and did want to get into my breeches. But I am not certain many of them would have had I truly given them a chance. And, I suppose, with several of them I really wouldn’t have minded.
But the reality was that none of them deserved it. It was a rotten game, through and through, a cruel, calculating mindfuck, designed to play at once on the best and the worst that exists in every human, and to exploit it shamelessly.
And I loved it every single time. I loved the guarded, tentative way they approached me. I loved elaborating my story, fine tuning the details to the body language of the marks so to evoke the maximum mix of lust, horror, and compassion. I loved their attention. I loved that through all this I remained untouchable: I was a “child” and they were queer men. And they knew it. As far as I know none of them went to the rozzers.
I loved how I could make them dance on my strings, how I could make them hungry to give, only to then take behind their backs, how – using the subtle alchemy of the con – I turned their yearning and generosity into my profit, and their shame and fear into my armour.
I loved offering them the chance of something too good to be true (with the promise of a clear conscience to boot) only to snatch it away just when they reached for it, and leaving them blue-balled and bleeding.
And a few, precious times I got to see that crazy, anguished flicker of hope for something long given up on in their eyes. And I knew that was the real reward I was playing for.

Continued here

I might have bettered my lot by blabbing about the harassment. One reason not to might have been The Code. You know the one: Deal with it yourself and don’t run crying to the grown-ups. Is it a stupid code? Of course it is. Is that any help in breaking it? Not much. I happen to believe in that code. Also, do I think peeps would have believed me? Certainly, there were the vids and it probably would have been possible to scrounge up some witnesses, though one never knows with these things. Smarter men than me have noted that the truth is a whore, willing to go to bed with whoever pays her best. And the real question probably rather was, who did I think the relevant peeps – teachers, principle, rents, etc. – would have wanted to believe? Me, or tall, good-looking, well-dressed, well-spoken, promising Samuel Richter? But be that as it may. None of it was the real reason to keep my trap shut anyway.
The real reason was that I would have had to tell them about it. Tell them about the piss and the cat litter. I would have had to show them the vids, those beautiful, shaky-yet-spot-on captures of the redness in my face, the glistening in my eyes, of me trying to blink it all away. And it wouldn’t have been just once, to one teacher. I would have had to tell all of them, over and over again. And I would have had to tell them the reason for it all. I would have to tell them about Tim, about the kiss. I mean, come on. You didn’t really think I would do that, do you?
So I took the punishment in stride. And funnily, when I returned for the remainder of that school year, I discovered that I had become something of a celebrity. Turns out it’s okay to be queer as long as you prove your manliness by violence. Seriously, all you queer boys out there. If you are getting static at school, just go berserk. It might get you into all kinds of hot water with the grown-ups, but it’ll counter most of the homophobia from your mates. As for queer girls, you’re on your own. Butch behaviour isn’t going to earn you any points, I guess. But then, do you want to earn any? I couldn’t make myself like those kids anymore. I couldn’t forget what had happened. I couldn’t forgive.
The other consequence was that I finally had my official coming out in front of my mum. The fight had happened on the Friday before mother’s day, and she was not amused when I told her about the suspension.
My mum must have known I was queer. I mean, I knew ever since I was eight or so. Lukas found out one day when I was nine or ten. He asked me if I was queer, not because he had any reason to question my sexual orientation or anything, but just because it’s something kids say as an insult, meaning soft or wimpy or something of the sort. Too bad it had been mere minutes after I had been wanking to thoughts of my assistant football coach, and when Lukas asked me like that I took the question literally for a second. And the guilt and shame written all over my face was too obvious for him to miss.
He grabbed me by the t-shirt and slammed me against the wall.
“Don’t you ever tell anyone, not while you and I are still living under the same roof, you little shit,” he snarled, his nose almost touching mine. “Or I’ll have to break ever bloody bone in your body. Got that?”
Of course, that same rule of discretion didn’t count for him. He told ‘Nessa the same day. But ‘Nessa never gave a damn. She sometimes made snide remarks – and she didn’t care if mum heard those – when she was feeling mean, but you could tell it was just any damn thing that came to her mind she could use to cut me with. She certainly never minded me looking after little Nicky.
From time to time mum must have noticed how I reacted to some bloke on the telly. (Amına kodum, did I ever have the hots for Harvey Keitel in National Treasure. Wouldn’t have minded him slapping cuffs on me…) She must have noticed that there were never any straight porn mags in my room, not like she found in Lukas’s from time to time, but sometimes well-thumbed, dog-eared girly teen mags with pictures of male emo band singers. And at least one time, almost 2 years before all this, she caught me and Jonas making out on the living room couch. We let go of each other at once, of course, but, I mean, 2 flustered boys, red faces, wet mouths, mussed hair, clothes in disorder, sitting next to each other on a couch, looking up at you decidedly sheepishly, how can you not know what’s going on?
But she had never mentioned it, never commented upon it in the least way. No clumsily probing questions (that wouldn’t have been her style anyway), no quietly sarcastic, knowing remarks (that would have been more what I’d expected from her), not even some hasty channel changing on the telly if homosexuality came up as a topic, or when someone happened across some culture program about dance theatre or so. Nope, she displayed total ignorance, until I came home and had to tell her why I had been suspended from school for 2 weeks.
I mean, at first all I said was that I’d been in a fight, and normally that would have been that. But she was so hurt, hurt that I couldn’t pull myself together that once, that I’d made a mess of things already again, not a quarter year after having been released. I couldn’t stand her wounded, disappointed eyes on me. I mean, my mother has had reasons to be disappointed in me plenty of time, and neither of us really expected much else from each other. But that time, well, I suppose, I could understand the blow this gave her. I wanted her to know how much I had tried not to, how hard I had struggled with myself, what I had endured, before I couldn’t take it any longer.
So I told her. Told her what had happened. Told her I was queer.
She took it with a stony, tired face. She thought about it for a while. And then she asked me, still so tired, so weary: “Can’t you try not to be that way?”
And when I just stared at her, she continued, still too tired to display even any haste in explaining herself, as if it was a bother that she had to clarify this at all: “I know it’s not fair, but people will react that way to you when they know you are, well, homosexual, if we like it or not. And with all your other problems, do you really need this one, too?”
I was that close to asking her how being straight had worked out for her: Almost 50, dumped by her worthless toe-rag of a husband, with four kids, one of whom had gotten herself knocked up at 18, and her oldest apparently hell bent on doing the same to any one of his many flings before long. I didn’t. Maybe I wasn’t pissed off enough. Maybe because following that argument would have lead dangerously close to mentioning ‘Nette. And that was something I knew mustn’t be done. So I didn’t say anything. I just left.
After that, I was back in my old rut. I got into a fight at football and was kicked off a team I had been a member of since I had been six years old. Then I had a bad one with Leo. He forgave me, afterwards, but that fight was what lead to me being on my own that Friday night in early July, when I woke up not knowing where I was, or even, for a delicious few moments, who I was.

There was a clique of blokes two years above me, lead by swimming ace, wealthy lawyer’s son, and ditsy girl’s favourite Samuel Richter. Samuel had two lieutenants and a couple of sycophants, plus two or three female groupies, and at school you rarely saw him without his entourage.
He and I hadn’t really crossed paths before. I had only been aware of him because early on Tim had pointed out that Samuel was known to be the meanest bully in school, and I had decided to stay as far away from him as I could. Not because I was afraid of what he might do, but of what I might.
Wednesday I had to live through a lot of whispering, staring, and averted glances when I looked back. But on Thursday happenstance took me on my way from one classroom to another past Samuel’s posse. There was a lot of hushed giggling as I approached. Suddenly one of the girls stepped up to me and asked me loudly:
“Hey, um, I have something of a problem. Could you…?”
I looked at her, guarded, uncertain what this was about. The way the posse nudged and snickered I suspected it wouldn’t be anything I would find amusing.
“Well, you see, my period just started, and I forgot to bring a tampon.” Here the giggling from the group broke out into loud snorting and gwaffing, and the girl herself couldn’t bite her dumb grin away any longer. “Can’t you help me out with one… Patricia?”
I blushed – damn that blushing – and just walked on.
Things quickly got worse. Nobody threw tampons at me, there was no concerted effort to attack or anything. But the requests for make-up tips, the lewd winks and blown kisses didn’t stop. I gritted my teeth even though it was hard. It was so damn hard. But I did keep my temper bottled up. I doubt I could have done it for as long as I did without Uncle Valya, but well, I had Uncle Valya and our work together to look forward to, and that was what I concentrate on while I bit on the insides of my cheeks until I tasted the blood or clenched my fists hard enough to hear my knuckles pop.
Then, sometime next week, I found that during gym class someone had pissed onto my clothes. And a few days later someone used my same inability to have an eye on my stuff during gym to cram my backpack, books and everything, into the toilet, before pissing on it and flushing. One day I found a pile of dog crap on my bicycle seat after school, and another time someone poured what I think was soiled cat litter into my backpack.
(I kept all of this from my mum and from ‘Nessa, mostly because at the time I had more money than I knew what to do with from my work with Uncle Valya, and so I could relatively easy replace the stuff they ruined.)
I never caught anyone directly, but from the way there was always someone from Samuel’s posse around to watch and giggle when these things happened, it wasn’t hard to figure out who was behind it.
And then there were the vids. One morning in the second week of this, a small bevy of beauties stood tittering around a mobile phone, going into whisper mode as I approached. However instead of regarding me with the amusement or scorn I had come to expect, they did something far worse, they regarded me with pity.
I was about to skulk past them when one of them almost shyly tugged me on the arm.
“Patr…” For a second she stopped herself, horrified. I am certain, that she had almost called me Patricia to my face. Then she forced herself to go on: “..rick. I think you should, uh, see this.”
And she showed me her mobile. On the screen the boy’s locker room. My class, changing back into street wear after gym. I could see myself, alone, silent, untouchable, a ghost amongst boys. I could see myself undress and reach for my jeans, start to get in, hesitate. The camera man, whoever he was, zoomed in, not on the wet trousers, but on my face, caught the flashes of shock, rage, and humiliation, before I clamped down my visor of haughty street nonchalance.
“I’m sorry.” She said, and she even looked as if she really was. I mumbled a quick thanks. Later I palmed the mobile of some arsehole I was certain would also have this vid, which sure enough he had, and a few more, including one that showed the cat litter being poured into my backpack, and my reaction when I found it. Also some of me being cat called in the halls. Most were done by the same artist, the one with a penchant for capturing the humiliation in my eyes.
That day, on the way back to Kreuzberg, I threw the phone into the canal.
Only once Samuel stopped me in a hall directly. He looked at me, his face serious, slightly shaking his head, like a disappointed father, and said:
“If I found out I was a dirty faggot pig, well, I hope I’d have the strength of character to ask a vet to put me down. But then, I guess when you are, you are also too sissy for a clean solution like that.”
His mates slapped his shoulder for the good line and they all trundled off, joined in satisfaction about having stuck it to the queer kid.
Now, please do not think that everybody participated in this. The more public displays of homophobia usually earned the name-callers disapproving looks, especially from the more socially minded girls. And as far as teachers took any notice, they too were of course very much against bullying. Of course that only made things worse. This form of a disapproval was after all part of what the comedians where after.
And when I couldn’t hide the results of the cruder (if more anonymous) jokes, most witnesses were shocked and appalled. But I suppose I couldn’t deal with the support any better than with the attacks. For one, I hated those girls who thought they could make a political symbol out of me. It hadn’t worked when I was the ex-con from the bad side of town, and it worked even less when I was the boy with the sexual identity issues. Also with a lot – not all, mind you, but enough – of those displaying shock and disgust at the practical jokes I had my doubts. Faces were turned away too fast to hide anything but amusement. Voices raised in the name of justice were too smug, too certain, to sound anything but happy about this opportunity to polarize. There’s no better news than bad news, right? I was a spectacle, and if people were on one side of the argument, or the other, none of them were on mine. Well, I suppose, I wasn’t on anyone else’s either. So maybe it all worked out.
What little social contact I’d had dried up with Tim. Even positive attention solely turned around my role as pariah, and mostly served to make those willing to talk to me feel better about themselves. So I more or less stopped talking at all, and did what I always did when facing an unconquerable enemy. I withdrew into books.
Of course, this was only a big thing for me. Every day school stuff went on as usual, tests, sports, school yard romances. Even for Samuel’s posse, this was just one amongst many amusements. There was other kids to torment (under other pretexts), girls to impress, teachers to toady to. This was just one small part of life. Only for me, for me it meant the end of my attempt to fit in and get along.
I was sitting by myself on a boulder in a corner of the school grounds more or less hidden from the main yard, reading Douglas Hofstaetter’s excellent Escher Gödel Bach, when Florian found me. Florian Maxim was one of Samuel’s chief lieutenants and one of the creative brains behind the campaign. If I’d have to finger anyone as the video artist, I’d have named him. Of course I had no direct proof, but he always struck me as a man who understood real pain. He grabbed the book from my hands and tossed it to one of his mates. They started throwing from one to the other, glancing at me from the corners of their eyes, expecting me to chase after it like a nervous squirrel with a bladder problem. I just leaned back and enjoyed their skilful passes. The blood in my mouth was soothing.
Florian turned the book around to read the title and overjoyed he called out: “Hey, Samuel, guess what, Patricia is reading about Dödles.” (Dödle is a silly kid’s word for penis, and it rhymes with Gödel, the mathematician mentioned in the book’s title. I know. Haw-haw.) They amused themselves a while making Dödle cracks, but I was more concerned with checking out how deep my fingernails would go into my palms to pay them much attention. Eventually Samuel got bored with the whole game.
Two days before I had made a pretty bad mistake. A girl had asked me how could I put up with all of it when she saw that somebody had written “I take it up the rear” on my hoodie with indelible magic marker. I tried to appear nonchalant and quoted a German proverb: What does the oak tree care when the boar rubs against it. It’s a good sentiment, even though like most sayings there is something of a lie hidden inside. Like the one about the sticks and stones. It would be nice, but it just is not so. Anyway, I said it while Florian was in the room, and he must have heard it and reported it to his leader.
So when Samuel was bored with the taunting, he took up position in front of me, hands on his hips, pelvis thrust forward.
“Hey, Patricia, hungry for Dödle?”
I looked up at him. At my old school peeps might have warned him that the flickering in my eyes was a serious warning sign. But even if, I suppose it had been too long since anyone had challenged him in his position as top honcho of the school yard, and if there would have been someone he might have considered a risk that someone wouldn’t have been a short, queer kid two years his junior. Also, I don’t think that he had ever been in a real fight in his life.
“Don’t know, Sam. Haven’t seen yours, have I? Is it any good?” I asked through clenched teeth. There probably were hectic red splotches all over my face.
He laughed, carefree. “Better than all the Turkish dick-kebabs you’ve been getting at home, you can bet on that.”
And then another idea occurred to him.
“Hey, tell me Patricia…” He nestled at his fly. “Does the oak tree mind if the boar waters it? Cuz, I really gotta take a leak, you know.”
“Samuel,” I croaked. “Don’t take out what you don’t want to lose.”
He decided to call my bluff. And that was when I decided to end my period of non-violence, the one that had started when Hendrik had had me in a head lock almost a year before, and then had kissed me long and hard.
The fight was short and ugly. This wasn’t the back gate of an insignificant Kreuzberg primary school. This was a high school for the pride and joy of Berlin’s most influential national and international leaders. We had hardly found our stride when the first teacher was trying to break us up. But I wouldn’t let one lady in high heals and a tight skirt keep me from trying to put hurt onto Sam. After a second’s hesitation he, too, got back into the spirit of things. It took three teachers and two 12th graders to finally separate us.
By points I clearly lost that fight. And I have to be fair: none of Samuel’s sycophants joined in to help their glorious leader. Once he got it that I meant business, he didn’t wimp out. Of course, he was two years older, about 15 kg heavier and a good head taller than me. Anyway, I like to think that I gave him a run for his money.
Afterwards, when we were waiting in front of the principle’s office, me with a split lip, a closed eye, and torn up paper tissues stuffed into my nose, and him doing his best to prevent anything from touching his swollen family jewels, he suddenly grinned at me.
“Hey, Patricia. I take back what I said. You may be a poof, but you’re no sissy. I guess you can stay at my school.”
And he offered me his hand. But Samuel was no Leo, and I wasn’t six anymore. For a moment I was very, very tempted to hit him again, as hard as I could. Just to see that grin turn red as blood gushed from his nose. But I decided to find back to Ghandi and Jesus. Well, almost.
“And you may be an arsehole, Sam, but I promise you, I’ll never put my Dödle in it.”
We shook on it.
I was suspended for two weeks after that, while there was an official inquiry at the school. It ended with me having to state a public apology, being warned that the least antisocial behaviour on my part would lead to an immediate relegation – and that any more display of violence would also be reported to the police. After this I could feel how the administration was just waiting for another slip up so they could get rid of me rikki-tik. They had proved their social responsibility by accepting me in the first place and now by showing me leniency once, but that was it. The rest was a foregone conclusion, a pre-written script they expected me to play out.
Continued here
I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?
– Hemmingway (attributed)
There is three things that contributed a lot to me ever starting out to be a thief. One is fighting. The other is reading. And the last is playing poker. But I guess I better explain that.
I never could get my temper under control. I hatedmyself for it but that didn’t help. According to my sister ‘Nessa I’ve always had it. The way she tells it I did little else as a baby than scream and toss matchbox cars at her and Lukas. I’m not quite convinced that there isn’t a second side to that story but unfortunately I was too young back then to still remember now.
But it is true that I have always been fighting, all my life, and with nobody as much as with Lukas. Lukas is seven years older than me and physically of course I never had a chance. But that didn’t seem to stop me. I don’t really know why we never got along. To tell you the truth I don’t even know what sort of a person he was when he was younger. Now he is a real arsehole, a total chav. He signed up for four years of voluntary military service after school. To him girls are just mobile life support systems for boobs and snatches. He talks about little but his latest conquest. His regard for his mates corresponds to how often they get laid. For the few girls he actually regards as human beings it’s the same, only the other way around. What of his free time isn’t spent on the pursuit of one night stands is spent on his abs, biceps, and tan. He talks with a pretend lower-class, migrant, wanna-be hip-hop patois. He is a walking cliché in almost every regard.
But he must have been different once, a long time ago. My earliest memories of him – he must have been 10 or 11 then – is of him reading to me how-and-why type children’s books of which he had dozens. There are still a few around, most of them torn and defaced with crayon scrawls. My work, I must assume. And when he was 12 he used to cook for our dad, my sisters and me, when mum was at work. I haven’t seen him cook in years. I think, when I arrived, for a while at least, he tried to be a good big brother. And I suppose, I never tried to be a good little brother in return. Whatever it was, eventually he gave up, on all of us.
So, almost from the beginning we have been fighting. And I do mean fighting: The slapping, punching, kicking, spitting, biting, pushing, clawing kind of fighting. Even before our dad left us, Lukas claimed I was a bastard, in that traditional illegitimate sense of the word. And when dad went, Lukas claimed I was the reason. And later, well, he blamed me for much of what followed as well. I suppose Lukas blamed me pretty much for everything that went wrong. And who knows, maybe he was on to something. Children are cruel, that’s a given. As a rule they are not stupid.
When ‘Nessa hit puberty my mum tried to put the four of us into a boys’s and a girls’s room, instead of the old’uns, young’uns pairing we’d had going until then. The experiment lasted for one week, leaving me blooded and wailing every night. Don’t get me wrong, Lukas would have needed the patience of a saint to put up with my incessant needling and obstinacy. And neither of us had a patience that was anything of the kind. So my mum put him back into one room with ‘Nessa and me into the other with ‘Nette.
(Our rents had named us Lukas, Vanessa, Anette, and Patrick, but only Lukas was actually called that by anyone but our mum. To everyone else Anette had always only been ‘Nette, Vanessa ‘Nessa, and I only answered to Rikki. And yes, if you are wondering, there is a reasons why I spell it with a double-k instead of the more traditional c-k-y, but this is neither the time nor the place to go into that.)
As for the rest of the world, it was a little bit like that as well: Every new group I’d become a part of, every new class, a football team, summer camp, anything, it wouldn’t take me long before somehow I would get into a fight with the biggest, meanest bully around.
I am not a big guy, never was. Maybe a tad on the stocky side when I’m well fed. And I really would pick the biggest, toughest bloke I could find. That meant I would lose almost all of those fights. But the psychopathic, all-out way I went about it usually meant that after this first fight people would pretty much leave me alone. Long after the bruises and the punishments those fights earned me were forgotten the fear – I dare not quite call it respect – of hair-trigger Rikki persisted. Rarely did anyone need a second demonstration.
Please, don’t think I was courageous. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Nor was I trying to be strategically clever. I never set out to do this. In fact, I dreaded these fights when I saw one coming up, I just couldn’t help myself. It was as if there was something in me, some force I did not understand myself, that demanded this of me, like a sacrifice, like a proof for I don’t know what.
Violence is a funny thing. Sure, it’s scary. I mean, it bloody hurts, you know. On the other hand there is something very liberating in just closing yourself off from all rational argument, in drawing a line around yourself and reducing all communication across it to the staccato Morse code of blows and kicks. Little can focus the entire world to such a fine and clear point as unbridled violence. How many angels can fight on the head of a pin? All of them, mate. All of them, forever. There is a little bit of paradise in an honest fight, when nothing remains of the world but me, the other bloke and that strange satisfaction when we connect.
And it got worse and worse. In the past years I’ve gotten into fights with more or less everyone: Kids, teachers, random strangers on the street, or on the bus, and with bus drivers kicking me off for fighting. Hell, even with a cashier at a supermarket for not selling me fags. And with rozzers of course. Always bad news when you kick a police officer. They take a dim view on that, let me tell you.
A very few times I even blacked out during a fight, switched to autopilot. I would come to afterwards, victorious or vanquished, but with no memory of what had happened. That scared me badly, when that last bit of self-control went up in a red haze, and left me entirely at the mercy at whatever demon I had allowed into my life.
I only managed to stop when I started stealing. Well, more or less.
Continued here

Around where Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire kiss there is a field almost entirely surrounded by a high hazelnut hedge. To the west of the field is a small hill, and to the east, beyond the hedge, a lonely country roads runs past. Along the northern end of the field, reaching from the hill to the road, and separating the hedge from the field, is a shallow ditch.
Around 6 o’clock in the evening I was sitting at that ditch, cooling my aching feet in a puddle of water, and wishing for something to eat. I had just been on the hill for a look around. All I had seen was more of what I had been walking through for the last couple of hours: Fields, narrow roads, more fields, the occasional cottage, even more fields. No village of more than three houses anywhere. I could have tried to hitchhike out of there, or I could have gone to one of the farms and asked to buy some food from them, and if I had, peeps might even have given it to me for free. But both would have felt like begging, and I am not good at asking. Never was.
I couldn’t have been far from Little Malvern. From the top of the hill I could see the Worcester Beacon, no more than two hours to the northeast, and behind that the Malvern Hills. But I didn’t think I could walk another two hours. I didn’t think I could walk another 2 meters.
My feet were a bloody mess. Sores and blisters everywhere, some of them rubbed raw and suppurating, others still filling with puss. The mere thought of putting my shoes back on was pretty horrifying. But I knew I couldn’t go walking around barefoot in the dirt in this state either, or I’d have gangrene first thing in the morning. Well, or something.
Lacking anything else to use I had taken off my t-shirt and was carefully drying my feet when I heard a car approaching. Nothing surprising in that, there had been cars on the roads every now and then all day. This one didn’t sound like the hoarse whisper of a Rover engine, however – Land Rovers were apparently a big thing with the local farmers – but the distinct put-put-put of a Volkswagen Camper. And instead of driving past like the others, it rolled to a stop right next to me. Doors were opened and a heated argument spilled out, with expletives flying every which way like stray bullets. I almost ducked.
“I bloody know exactly where we are, dickhead. Get back in the bloody car!” That was a woman’s voice and it came from the open passenger door, just on the other side of the hedge. A man, who apparently had gotten out the driver’s side and was now walking off, shouted back that they had been going in circles for almost an hour and he was going to ask for directions.
“Ask where? There’s nobody here!”
I couldn’t make out his answer, but her next one was only too clear: “That’s a stable, you blithering idiot. And the bloody roof has caved in. If you can’t see that from there, you shouldn’t bloody drive in the first place, you blind fuck!”
Whatever it was he said in return, he closed with a “stupid cow!”
I crawled to the hedge and laid down on my belly to have a peek. The dense hazelnut curtain between me and that stage-worthy performance ended about 20 cm above the ground in a fringe of high grass. I carefully crept forward until my face poked out on the other side.
They drove a VW T3 alright, autumn red, and both the front passenger door and the sliding door were open. Of the shouting woman I could only see tan shorts and naked feet in green flip flops. Her toe nails were the same shade of green as the sandals.
“Look here,” she yelled, and from the sounds probably waved some roadmap about. “This hill over there, that’s this hill here. And Huey? That path you’re on, it doesn’t lead to any farm but only back to the road we’ve been on ten minutes ago!”
There was a pause and then Huey’s voice was coming closer again, explaining in how many ways that couldn’t possibly be true. The woman stepped around the door to meet him, telling him that she had gotten one bloody turn off wrong, and that it had been twenty minutes, not an hour, and it had been his bright idea to avoid the M50, not hers, and on and on.
I had by then lost all interest in their argument since I had just discovered something else: In the back of the camper, amidst assorted travel clutter but right at the open sliding door was a high quality backpack, such as I had considered getting for myself. The zipper was open and inside were sandwiches, pears, packs of cookies, a large bottle of water, and a thermos.
Carefully I crept forward through the grass. There was just enough space between the hedge and the camper that I could get onto my knees next to the open door. I zipped up the backpack and lifted it out of the car. The plan was to push it underneath the hedge, get through myself, and extricated it from the other side, gather up the rest of my clothes that were still lying by the ditch and clear out.
Huey and the woman were still carrying on their argument in front of the camper, if a bit quieter and more constructive than before. I glimpsed underneath the car to check on them, and right enough, there were two pairs of feet at the street-side front corner; the familiar one of the woman and a much more hirsute pair, also naked and in flip-flops. Huey’s flip-flops were red and he didn’t paint his nails. The feet showed that the couple was now facing the car; they probably pressed the map to the windscreen, trying to figure out where they had gone wrong.
When I turned away I suddenly saw a third pair of legs. It was behind the T3. These were also naked and in flip-flops (blue ones), but they clearly belonged to a kid. The kid was facing away from the car and appeared to be dancing.
I crept to the back and peeked around the corner. Sure enough, there was a girl of maybe 12 years, with long, blond hair. All she was wearing other than the flip-flops was a too large men’s shirt. In one hand she was holding an iPod the way the silhouettes do on the adverts. And just like on those she was tossing her hair around, dancing to the rhythm of what I faintly could make out to probably be Amy Macdonald’s “This is the Life”, volume set to stun. I thought: Sick of mummy and daddy fighting? Who could blame her. Anyway, my luck, she wouldn’t notice if I stole the whole bloody Volkswagen behind her back.
I got the backpack and pushed it underneath the hedge. From up ahead of the bus another of those ubiquitous Land Rovers came towards us. I checked for the arguing couple. They were still there. The Land Rover slowed down. Sensibly they both stepped away from the road without losing a stride in their argument.
Satisfied the driver of the Land Rover began to accelerate again. I checked the dancing girl again, only to see if the approaching car had caused her to turn around. It hadn’t. If anything she was dancing wilder now. Over the rumble of the approaching engine I thought I could hear the bass of some fast electronic track, possibly that summer’s reissue of the Utah Saint’s “Something Good.” Whatever it was, it seemed to fill her completely.
I got onto my belly about to crawl back under the hedge, when there was the screech of breaks, the squeal of tyres, a bump, a thump… and then, after a breathtaking long pause, a howling scream.
I looked back under the car. The Land Rover had come to a standstill next to the T3, blocking the road. I couldn’t see the girl, but from her howls she must have been lying in front of the Land Rover. Huey was running around both cars on the far side, but the woman was coming right my way. I panicked and rolled underneath the camper.
Huey and the driver of the Land Rover went to the crying girl. For some reason the woman remained standing at the corner of the camper, as if afraid to come any closer. She just shouted to Huey, hysteria flickering at the edge of her voice: “Is she alright?”
The driver of the Land Rover was babbling a mix of frightened apologies and angry accusations, oscillating between “Oh God, I didn’t see her, I didn’t see her” and “Can’t you watch your bloody kids; what kind of a father are you, letting her run in front of my car like that!?”
However, everything was well. “Nothing broken, just bumped her shins and her head a bit,” Huey informed the woman. To the driver he said: “Hey, mate, thanks for breaking. She must have been listening to her earphones. Your reaction saved her life.”
My escape route through the hedge was still cut off by the woman dithering at the side of the car. I crawled away from the accident towards the front of the camper. Huey politely brushed off the driver, no-thank-youing offers to call an ambulance, and carried the girl to the sliding doors, to lay her down on the back seat inside the camper.
The Land Rover took off again, and I slowly got out more or less where Huey and the woman had been standing before the accident.
That was when the woman asked: “Where is the backpack?”
And: “What’s it doing out there? Did you hide it under the hedge, Dewey?”
(Dewey? I thought. What the fuck?)
I was trapped… I couldn’t stay in front of the camper. When Huey went back to the driver’s seat he would see me there, or if I could escape detection by staying crouched down, they would run me over. I didn’t think that I could get away unseen on the open road. I considered getting back underneath the car, but I didn’t quite dare to let them simply drive off over me. What if I miscalculated the path the rear wheels would take? Or if I somehow got hooked to the chassis and was dragged to a bloody face down death? I could imagine less horrible ways to go.
So I circled around the camper instead, keeping my head down. My feet hurt badly on the gravelly road, bad enough that I had to grit my teeth not to yelp in pain. Eventually I was behind the camper. Checking underneath I saw that Huey was sitting in the open sliding door, with the woman half crouched outside and going through the backpack. I couldn’t see Dewey, so she must have been inside.
The plan was to stay behind the car until they drove off, and then quickly roll under the hedge, hoping they wouldn’t see me in the rear view mirror. It was a good plan until Dewey said: “My iPod. I lost it.”
I heard the woman approach. Before she could come around the corner I dived under the hedge and wiggled through. She screamed. I got to my protesting feet and limped across the field, through rows of high wheat. Huey broke through the hazelnut hedge like a tank. He was a big guy, broad shouldered. On the whole he was probably more teddy-bearish than menacing but at the time I wasn’t in the mood to make the distinction. He wore Bermuda shorts and a flowery shirt that in an emergency might have doubled as a tent. He had me in three seconds flat.
He grabbed me in a choke-hold, wrestled me back through the hedge, and slammed me against the side of the camper. My head connected with a side window, making a hollow sound. I stepped on a pointy stone, grunted as a sharp pain lanced up through my leg, and fell to the ground.
“Who the fuck are you?” Huey yelled.
“He took out the backpack,” the woman cut in. “Oh my God, he must have been under the car the whole time.” I got my first clear look at her. She was slender and androgynous. Her tan shorts were accompanied by a black tank top and an open men’s shirt (the same size as the one Dewey had been wearing, and definitely not one of Huey’s). Her hair was short, spiky, and dyed jet black, and her face was pointy and pinched, disapproval cast in skin and bone.
“Is that true? Did you steal the pack?” Huey hollered.
“I bloody did not,” I yelled back at him. I can’t stand being screamed at. “If I had, it’d be gone, wouldn’t it?” At that he was taken aback for a second.
“I only tried to. But I failed. Satisfied?”
Both Huey and the woman looked down at me, as I lay there in the dirt, naked but for my jeans with the legs rolled up. Dewey stuck her head out of the door.
“Shall we call the police?” Huey asked.
The woman was quiet for a moment. Then she shrugged.
“What’s the point? He’s right, he didn’t take anything. Let’s just get out of here.”
I slowly got up. Gingerly I stepped away from them. I hate being caught. Not the rozzers, not even jail so much, though I certainly don’t relish that. No, punishment is fine with me, I mean, kahretsin, I deserve it, don’t I? It’s the stares, the uncomfortable silence between a thief and his mark. We do not live in the same world, they and me, we aren’t meant to cross eyes, not without our masks.
“Thanks,” I said awkwardly and tried to make another step backwards. Again I stepped on something and more pain shot through my legs. I winced and looked down. My feet were black, glistening with wet dirt, puss and blood. More blood was seeping out of them, smearing the grass and stones I stood on.
“Fucking Hell,” Huey said. “You can’t walk like that, boy.”
I stared dumbly at the mess.
“No shit, Sherlock,” I mumbled and sat back down.
Huey looked around, and then pointed to an old, overgrown orchard a few hundred meters up the road.
“It’s late anyway,” he said. “We’ll camp there.”
He tossed the car keys to the woman.
She stared at them. “What?”
“I’ll carry him. You bring the car.”

Continued here

I’m not much of a breakfast person. I got a take-away cup of coffee at the YMCA cafeteria and limped down to the front desk to settle my bill. The reception was awash with people. Some blokes had just returned from their regular morning marathon, and stood steaming happily in the foyer, congratulating each other on a super performance. In another corner a flock of serious mothers had gathered, chattering reproachfully amongst themselves, because the room where they usually let their toddlers play while they drank green tea and exchanged vegan recipes had been taken over by a summer holiday workshop for teenagers making bows and arrows. And the weekly Wednesday morning service, semi-informally called “a pause for thought” was just ending. The speaker, a fellow of 30-something in corduroys and button-down shirt, was cheerfully shaking hands at the door to the chapel.
Behind him a flipchart informed me that today’s topic had been “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (1 Peter 3:12)”
The old chap who worked the front desk was still gone trying to scrounge up an alternative room for the mothers, who had already rejected two offers. (One had been recently painted and still smelled of the fumes, the other was too far up the stairs. Two of the group were pregnant. I mean, men, sheesh, right?) I was getting restless and thought about scarpering.
Suddenly I became aware of someone’s eyes feeling me up. It was the smart fellow from the chapel. Like white gloved fingers his gaze ran over my body, exposing the sweat and grime on my skin, the dust on my t-shirt, the white patches of salt under my arms and on my back where the sweat had dried, and finally lingered a bit on the creases of my jeans. It made me feel dirty and naked. Defiantly I dug out my fags and shook one from the pack. When I put it between my lips there was a shocked gasp from the mothers, who in unison pushed their toddlers at me, human shields in a war of morals, and erupted in enraged titters.
Then the fellow was at my side, now shaking my hand, albeit with less cheerful geniality and with more earnest manliness instead. “I do not look down on you, my son,” his expression disclosed, “in spite of your sins. No, I accept you as you are, as one man accepts another. Because I am tolerant, and wise, and strong.” I had seen this expression before, on the faces of guidance counsellors, social workers, and police psychologists.
It isn’t the false, patronizing arrogance that gets me. Arrogance I can live with. It’s what the arrogance is hiding: They are not trying to convince me to trust them, even though if asked that would be what they would think they were trying to do. What they are really trying to convince me of, however, is that somewhere deep down, they are bad boys, too. They do not accept me – they ask me to accept them. What their arrogance is hiding is nothing but envy.
He gave me his name, which I immediately forgot again, and when he sensed that mine wasn’t forthcoming in return, he smoothly segued into an invitation.
“I saw you standing here, and you looked a bit lost. So I am wondering, would you perhaps like to join us for a second breakfast? There is always a little sit together at the cafeteria after the service.”
I disengaged my hand and wiped it on the seat of my jeans.
“I wasn’t at the service.”
He laughed, sounding chummy, understanding, condescending and still secretly pleading, all at once.
“Well, feel free to join anyway. Maybe you want to attend our next service. You are not from here, are you, lad? How long will you stay? You can also just come here for some quiet prayer, anytime. The chapel is open to everyone.”
“Sorry, I don’t pray that way.”
He sank his teeth in this like a young beagle in a stick offered for tug-of-war. I swear, you could almost see his waging tail.
“Maybe you want to give it a try. You should, just try. Talk to him. Can’t harm, can it? God does not give up on us. If we confide in him and ask for his forgiveness…”
My scornful snort cut him short. A look at my face and he made one step backwards. Was it the anger on my face that shocked him? The hatred shining in my eyes?
“Believe me, mate,” I snarled. “I don’t want God’s forgiveness. I certainly don’t want to talk to Him. I want to pay what I’m due.”
I handed him the 14 pounds.
“Just give it to the bloke when he’s back, will you?”
Glaring at the collective mothers I sparked up and left in a cloud of smoke.

Continued here