Archive for the ‘blood’ Category

And then there was Hendrik. Oh, how do I describe Hendrik to you?

I have known Hendrik for the best part of my life. He is four years older than me, and he played for the same football club as Orcun, Hector, Leo, and I. The first time he made an impression on me was when he acted as ref during my F-Youth days – that is football aged 7 and 8. He was only 12, but there was already something about him I adored, right from the start. He was without mercy. Once he made a call, you knew there was nothing you could do to change his heart, and any attempt to argue just resulted in a foul being given against you. He applied the rules very strictly, but he was fair, and as far as I know always correct. He knew his stuff.

I began paying attention to him, watched him when he played himself, or when he hung out at the club house with his mates, or when he just helped Coach or older players stow away stuff, take care of equipment, and so. Hendrik was always a bit stocky, at times almost chubby, but in that firm, supple way that makes you think of a powerful, aggressive dog, or a tiger, or a wolverine. His hair, usually worn longish and shaggy, was a rich, dark blond that depending on the light could be the tawny colour of honey or the shimmering green gold of tarnished brass.

He was a quiet bloke, and rarely smiled. He didn’t scowl either, but just seemed to watch things in a detached, almost serene way. He was almost always at the club, either playing or helping or watching. He was never particularly close with anyone, but he was never an outsider either. And when you looked into his eyes – though I suppose few ever did except me and Coach – you knew that he didn’t miss much, and that he always knew what he wanted.

As a player he never lost his cool, but there was a grit in him, a deep, smouldering fire that wouldn’t ever let him give up. Oh, he could be tactical, even devious in his attempts to get his will, on the pitch or off, but he never waivered.

I always tried to be like Hendrik, as a football player, to be equal to his focus, his courage, his ruthlessness, and his absolute will to win.

And then came 2003. I was in E-Youth. Hendrik, who turned 14 that July, was in C-Youth. Coach had asked him to be his permanent assistant on our team, and we’d seen a lot more of him. Coach had always trained us to be efficient and goal-oriented – no “it’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” hogwash – but Hendrik made us bend the rules to the breaking point. ‘Thinking outside the box’ was what he called it, to win, and to win by wider margins.

“It’s only a foul if the ref gives it,” he told us. “And even the, sometimes it’s worth it. Sometimes a booking, and at the end of the game even a send-off can be worth it, if it gives us a tactical advantage. Just be smart about it.”

We practiced awareness of when we were invisible to the ref, and how to create diversions that drew attention away from a player about to commit such a tactical foul. I know it is bad form, it’s considered unsportsmanlike, but I still say that there was something very sporting about it: it wasn’t just that we played only against our opponents, but also against the system itself. The challenge, the fun and joy of it, is being so good, so quick, so deft and perceptive that you can get away with it. For after all a rule or law is only as good as it is enforceable. Following it is not a necessity, but a choice. You just have to be aware of the consequences. Later I applied all of that to my career as a crook, but I learned it from Hendrik on the football pitch. Don’t they say that sports teach you for life?

You can imagine how as our team moved up in our league we got a rep as grade A bastards.

***

I knew that Hendrik was paying me some attention also. I certainly did everything I could to impress him, and slowly I became one of his favourite players. I started out as a winger, because of my size, but eventually I was made centre forward. But still, he never seemed fully content with my performance, and always wanted me to exhaust myself more, play more aggressive, and more daring.

“It’s not your job to be careful, Ricky. Leave the defence to Bariş, Leo, Cem, and the others. It’s your job to score and to help Hector to score. Nothing else matters.”

And when I complained that he was less harsh judging Hector, he ginned without humour: “Hector is content to be merely good. If I push him harder, he’ll walk. And I don’t have anyone better to replace him with. You, you want to be the best. You I can kick as much as I like, and you’ll come back for more. So, yeah, I expect more from you. A lot more. And you know you can give it.”

There was that one game that summer, an away game against a team from Halle, in Saxony. We’d screwed them the last time we’d played them with two unlawful scores. So the tone of the game was hostile from the kick-off. They were fairly secure at the lower mid-table of our league, and they needed a win less than they needed to avoid another lost game, so they’d decided to stonewall us all through, with only occasional passes and quick strikes when we neglected our own defences too much.

It had rained hard not just through the game but for the last couple of days, and the pitch had turned into a mud bath. The game was almost over, we might even have been in stoppage time, and no goal had been scored by either side. We were all exhausted, and very frustrated after 90 minutes of railing futilely against this wall of disdain.

I had just made a solitary run down the right wing, to open up their left flank. Hector had been supporting me, while our two other forwards got into position. But when I tried to pass to them directly over the centre backs of the Hallensers, one of them had leaped up gracefully and blocked it with his head. The ball had fallen down, and they drew four of their defenders together around it, apparently intending to slowly pass it back to their goalie. Everyone was waiting for the ref to end the game, and they only meant to kill the remaining time.

I was still running lightly in the direction I had kicked the ball, and threw a quick glance over my shoulder towards Hendrik, who was standing at the sidelines. Through the rain I could make out his set jaw, and the cold fire in his eyes, his angry, withheld disappointment, nay, loathing with us.

It was still only moments after they had blocked the ball, and they were still ambling around each other, tired and lacklustre in spirit themselves. Their goalie was slowly approaching them, leaving the goal wide open. And then I understood the mistake they had made, in their wishful thinking that the game was already over, and picked up speed again. I ran as hard as I could, my thighs protesting with sharp pains, my ankles groaning and trembling with the stain of having to stay steady on slippery ground, until I was an arrow aimed at the heart of their defence. Only one of their defenders saw me coming, and he shouted to alert his slowpoking mates, but it was too late. I knew I couldn’t shoulder through the three bloke wall between me and the ball. The ball was still just outside the penalty box, so even if I hurt one of them, or tripped them, it probably wouldn’t result in a penalty kick against us, and anything else wouldn’t make any difference at this point. So I dropped down to one knee, the other leg outstretched, and on a wave of mu and water I slid through between their legs, kicked the ball, and scored.

When blokes understood what I had just done – reasonably certain that everyone was just then staring at the goal, and given the poor visibility, and that I was hidden behind the thicket of their legs – all of them kicked me as hard as they could. All the anger we had so justly incurred all through the season, and all the mute, cold frustration of this long, wet game went into those kicks.

And then the ref’s whistle signalled the end.

Hendrik carried me back to the bench himself. Before the designated game medic (the father of one of the blokes who’d just vented on me, actually, and who as an EMT by profession) began patching up my bleeding face, Hendrik hugged me quickly, and hard enough to make me groan in pain, and whispered: “That was fantastic, Ricky. Fucking fantastic. I am so fucking proud of you!”

It was the first time he said it, and I knew I would willingly put my right arm into a meat grinder to have him say it again.

My back was one big bruise, and I had serious trouble breathing. The medic gave me a shot that made me woozy and faintly high but reduced that sense of suffocating. They debated if I should get checked out at the hospital in Halle, but in the end decided against it. On the bus ride back, Hendrik had me lie on the backseat of the bus, where I could stretch out, and put my head in his lap, partly to make sure I was okay and didn’t pass out or anything, and partly to ease my breathing by taking pressure from my chest.

It was late as we drove back, and almost dark outside. Everybody was excited and relieved that we’d won after all, and talking loudly over the thundering diesel engine, and the hard rain, and the evening rush hour traffic on the A9 northbound towards Berlin.

Hendrik put his hand on my head.

“Try to sleep, brave Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.”

“What’d you call me?” I whispered back.

“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. You know, the mongoose from the story, the one that follows the cobra into its lair and kills it.”

“I know the story. My sister calls me the same. She calls me Tavi.”

“She’s a bright girl, then. Now try to sleep.”

The bus was shaking us gently. My cheek rubbed against the smooth nylon fabric of his trackie bottoms, damp from the rain. Mostly he kept both his arms stretched out along the top of the seat’s back, like a relaxed Jesus on the cross, but every now and then (when nobody was looking?) he put one warm, strong, heavy, and slightly sweaty hand on my shoulder or my head, and would as if absentminded tousle my hair. For a while Coach sat with us, offering to spell him, but he said I’d just fallen asleep (which I dutifully pretended to be, after that), and he’d rather not wake me. They’d talk quietly for a while, and then Coach went back up the aisle to keep the rest of the team in check. The red and white lights of the passing cars got caught in the rivulets and raindrops on the deep indigo windows.

And in my memory I held firmly the image of his face, as he’d hugged me, carrying me across the pitch, both of us rain-drenched and muddy, and as the blood from my nose had soaked the arm of his track suit. I held the fire in his eyes, no longer cold, but fiercely hot, like a furnace, as he said: “I am so fucking proud of you.”

So what do you expect? Of course I fell for him. I fell like a ton of bricks. But this was football. Football players aren’t queer. Even in 2003 that still just didn’t happen. Period. I kept being one of his star players, at least as long as I didn’t slacken and kept the performance of the team in higher regard than my personal well-being or my good name as a sportsman, but he never called me Tavi again, and he never held me again. He never even let me sit next to him on the bus, or join in a conversation he was having with mates his own age, or anything. He was strictly business, and I didn’t dare to push that boundary.

So for the best part of the following year, all through winter, I pined for him from afar, and did what I could to stay in his good books, and dreamed of him doing nameless, ill-imagined things to me at night. I came out to ‘Nette, and Lukas found out about me and told ‘Nessa. And in spring Tariq caught my eye, and for a while I put my desire for Hendrik aside as unattainable. But I never forgot him.

Continued here

From here the path gets rougher, and some of it I only remember through a haze. Some of it I don’t remember at all. And some I wish I didn’t.

There isn’t much to tell you about Inverness. I staid in a hostel where I was woken at 5 in the morning by some Spanish backpackers sharing their checking out process with the world. My shoulder felt swollen and was hurting something fierce. Unable to find my way back into sleep I walked down to the harbour. It was a charmingly ugly and practical affair without any touristy frills. At a kiosk frequented by oil-stained labourers stinking intensely of fish and burnt diesel I got a cheap breakfast of kippers and bitter tea. The labourers made fun of me, of my too large army surplus clothes, and the fact that I belonged in school and not with them, but I could laugh with them and it made me feel rather good.

I answered some mails and wrote a blog entry at an Internet Café and set out for the outskirts of Inverness to hitch a ride along the A862 around Beauly Firth and then north, into Ross-Shire or maybe along the East Cost. That was how I got that lift with the plumber in his old white Ford Transit. He seemed fine at first, but it didn’t take me long to realize that he was pissed out of skull. I tried to get him to let me out along the way, but he wouldn’t ear of it.

“Whitfor?” he asked, sniffing suspiciously. “A thocht ye wis gaun tae Beauly?”

“I, er, changed my mind. I want to go West instead, to, et…” I racked my brain for some tourist attraction that might be West of where we were. “Loch Ness?”

“Ye think A’m fou, dinye?” he shouted accusingly. I didn’t know if by ‘fou’ he meant ‘full’ or ‘fool’, but I thought, either was pretty accurate.

“Ye think A’m tae fou tae drive, dinye? Bit A’ll pruve ye, A’m nae fou ataa!”

And he took both hands from the steering wheel and shook then in the air. Maybe he was thinking of bicycles and how driving without hands might prove your sense of balance, I don’t know. He laughed at me triumphantly. The van drifted into the opposite lane. There were cars coming our way.

I shouted and tried to grab the wheel. The van swerved and wobbled.

“Whoah!” he shouted, wrested the wheel from my hands, and got us more of less back on course. The honking of the other cars dopplered and faded behind us.

“Git yer hands oaf! Are ye tine tae kill us?!”

“You were…” I began shouting back.

He interrupted me with a slap to my shoulder that made me gasp with pain.

“A wis barrie! A haed aathing unner control. Twas ye what naur kilt us.”

While we were shouting e was only facing me and not paying any attention to the road ahead. I was afraid anything I might say would just make things worse, so I shut up.

For a while he muttered darkly to himself. Then, when we arrived at the turnoff, he said: “Wast he wants tae gae, wast we’ll gae. A’ll tak ye tae Struy, aye, bit nae faurer.”

The roofs of Beauly were already visible to our right, while the sign pointing straight ahead said “Struy, 9 miles”.

“No, no, I’ll go to Beauly. Let’s go to Beauly!” I tried to stop him, but too late.

For the next fifeen minutes I was quiet, securely buckled in, clinging to the handgrip, feet braced against the floor of the footwell, as he drove down the narrow, tree-lined country road, running the engine alternately at too low or too high revs, cutting curves, and swerving around oncoming traffic. He kept up a false cheer and talked to me all through, but I didn’t listen.

Finally he stopped at a telephone box in Struy, grinning, deeply satisfied with himself.

“See? See? I telt ye. A’m nae fou ataa.”

“Yeah, well, thanks, you crazy fuck,” I said, jumped from the van, and slammed the door hard behind me. I could see his face twist in anger behind the windscreen. He shouted something and shook his fist. Then he gunned hi engine, made a tight turn, and roared away back the way we’d come.

It was around noon. The sky was overcast and grey, but it wasn’t raining. Cured from any wish to hitchhike for a while, I decided that since I was here now anyway, instead of going back those 9 miles to Beauly I’d follow the road along the valley of the river Glass and see where that would lead. After half an hour the sun came out for a while and showed me that the trees were beginning to change into their autumn finery. Summer was beginning to end.

Eventually I came across a bridge to a crossroads and a couple of grey stone houses. I was still pondering my choices – shops, police station, and Glen Afric, or Glen Cannich and Mullardoch, or Drumnadrochit, public loos, and a camping ground – when a group of backpackers only a couple of years older left a shop ahead and came towards me. So I bummed them for smokes.

***

The next day I left when it was still dark. Everything was hazy with booze and shame. I couldn’t find my jacket, the M65 I’d bought back in Manchester, and the T I had been wearing was soiled. I took it off and left it on the middy ground of the camping site, put on my spare and the hoody I’d carried in my satchel.

The road towards Loch Mullardoch rose quickly out of the valley, and soon Strathglass and the Cannich camping ground were hidden behind a thicket of birches. I was shivering and didn’t know with what. I froze and sweated at the same tie, my shoulder hurt something beastly, the pain radiating out, joining forces with a headache and a sore throat and the pain from my kidneys where Trevor, or maybe Fred, had hit me when I wouldn’t hold still.

After a while I got out of the birch wood, and when the sun rose in my back my shadow leaped out in front of me, hurrying ahead and showing me the way. I followed, glad of anything that took my mind off the night I was leaving behind. And even though I felt sick to my stomach I began to run.

The valley opened up, wider and wider, and the mountains on both sides grew higher. The river flowed through several small lakes, and after a couple of hours I cam to a huge concrete dam, cutting across the valley. I climbed the last rise at the side of the dam and looked out over Loch Mullardoch and the lonely, treeless mountains that sheltered it.

I was seriously ill, and I knew it. It was more than just the effect of booze and the pot from last night. I was running a fever, and I needed a doctor to look at my shoulder and the ugly blue-red veins that were snaking away from the inflamed wound like little tentacles under my skin. But the road ended at the dam. I twas either turn around and creep back to Cannich or go on into the wild.

The fragments of last night that were stuck in my chest burned worse than the fever. So I stepped off the road onto the unmarked trail along the Northern shore of Loch Mullardoch.

Even today, a couple of years later, I can’t tell you exactly what happened. Oh, I remember the events, mostly, and frankly, the details are none of your beeswax. Yes, in the end it had gotten rough, enough that I might have the law on my side – though nancy boys should beware of such assumptions – but in my heart I knew that for the most part I could have stopped things. I could have fought harder, or run away, or called for help. In the end, I, some part of me, had let them do it.

It had begun friendly enough. I’d bummed them for that fag, we’d gotten talking, and they’d invited me to their camp fire. They’d shared their hotdogs with me, and their beer and the joint. We’d talked some more. They’d been from down under, on a pre-college trip to the old country, jobbing in London and travelling around when time and money allowed them to. I’d told them pretty much the truth, just sufficiently altered and vagued up to keep my legal identity and origins hidden. I had called myself Alan, and eventually sexual orientation had come into things.

On the shore of Loch Mullardoch I missed the bridge across a brook and instead followed the narrow path upward. Now and then I had to ford a tributary. Water ran into my boots and made my feet heavy and cold. Every step was hell. I sweated like a pig when I moved, but when I rested I trembled with chills. Halfway up the mountain I had to throw up, but I had this mad idea I mustn’t leave the trail but that I couldn’t, like, soil it either. I tried to hold it in, to get on where it touched the river again, but ended up puking the remains of those sausages all over my chest and arms and hands.

The path dragged on and on, past a couple of small waterfalls, and eventually lost itself in the heather and bracken of a wide, deep corrie. All around me the rounded humpbacks of the mountains rose and dove under the low, shifting sky. In the middle of the corrie a single dead tree stood at the convergence of the many little streams, bone white, and supplicating. I dreamed a gathering of people into the wilderness, and I heard drums and whistles, and then lost track of things.

You see, they had been curious, the boys from down under. I think that had been genuine. In the beginning they had just asked how it was, you know, to be with another bloke. And they got to musing how it is different to get a blowjob from a bloke or from a girl. After all, a mouth’s a mouth, innit? They made low cracks, jokes in high voices, flapping a limp wrists. Where exactly was the line across which those jokes crossed from crude to cruel, from sleazy to savage? When had I stopped being a guest and became a victim? And how much did I participate in this transformation?

***

I came to by the side of a small lake in a deep valley, with high, rocky slope behind me. My satchel was missing, as was any memory of how I had gotten there. All I could remember was a fucked up dream about some weird party, or maybe a procession? We had been walking somewhere, along some dark road. Or maybe it had been a boat crossing a vast underground body of water?

My palms were marked with fresh, uneven scratches, the kind you get from climbing rough rocks, as were my knees, the trousers torn above them. And, most annoyingly, the lace of my left boot was torn. Other than that I felt good. The fever had mostly passed. I was still weak, and very thirsty, but that was all.

I drank from the lake, repaired my shoe lace as good as I could, and got going. I crossed a couple of kilometres of wild, hilly country, and earthen, rusty heath, until I came to a large lake. The sky was a sickly shade of saffron, and the sun, hidden behind clouds, shimmered on the waves like hammered brass. And as far as I could see only untamed wilderness, except for one small rowboat far out on the lake.

I hollered and waved my arms. For a while nothing happened. But then I saw that the boat was coming towards me. Against the glare I could not make out who as at the oars until it was almost upon me.

“Hullo there, m’boy. Everything alright?” It was an old chap, tall and whip thin. He was wearing an old, long sou’wester, a thick, woollen jersey, dungarees, and tangerine Wellingtons.

“Hullo, Sir. Um. Can you tell me were I am. I seem to have gotten lost.”

“I’ll say. Good grief. You look a fright.”

I looked down on myself. My black hoody was stiff with mud and dried vomit, so were my fatigue trousers, and torn. My hands and knees were scraped and dirty with peat. I had no backpack and no coat.

“Everything is alright, Sir,” I said hastily. “I just lost my way.”

“Want to come into the boat, m’boy? I can ferry you to the other side. Got a small lodge there. Catch your death out here like that.”

I hesitated but then gave myself a push and stepped into the rocking dinghy, careful not to step on the fishing rods and tackle box that cluttered the bottom.

“Better sit yourself down, m’boy,” he said, and when I had settled down on the seat in the stern, he offered me his hand. It was old, and bony, and very firm.

“Benedict Isaac Roth.”

“Colin Campbell,” I answered. He looked at me for a second, astonished. Then he laughed. “Alright, Colin. Come along then.”

He took me across the waters of what turned out to be Loch Monar, one valley over from Loch Mullardoch. Mr. Roth was there on a fishing holiday. In the lodge he had rented he had maps of the area and on them I figured out that I must have walked about 7 kilometers from the Coire an t-Sith to the northern slopes of the An Riabhachan, a path fraught with steep ridges and sheer cliffs.

“By rights you should be lying dashed on the rocks of the Sgurr na Lapaich, m’boy. I know what I am talking about. What were you thinking?”

I didn’t tell him. He told me some more of my monumental stupidity, made hot tea and baked fresh scones, which he served thick with melting butter and strawberry jam. Then he heated enough water to fill a small wooden tub and had me wash and warm up. I had a look at my shoulder but it seemed a lot better. There were thick dark scars now. The surrounding tissue was still ruddy and tender, but that angry throbbing was gone, that tight feeling of a tomato about to burst, as were the bluish-red veins.

“Where to now, m’boy?” he asked me when I had towelled myself off. “My trust chariot isn’t far.” At my raised eyebrow, he chuckled and added: “An old Daimler, very comfortable ride. If you want I could take you someplace.”

“Like where?” I asked.

“Like Inverness, or Glasgow.”

I put on my trousers and saw that he had patched the tears at the knees while I had bathed.

“Thank you, Sir.”

“My pleasure. Well? Look, let’s not mince words, shall we? You have got nowhere to go, have you? I used to be a lawyer in my old life, and quite a fine one if I say so myself. So, if there is some institution, some halfway house perhaps…”

He looked at my face and saw refusal written all over it. He sighed.

“Where will you go then?”

My T smelled pretty bad. I put it on anyway and grinned. “The world is my oyster.”

He smiled wanly and handed me a long, neon orange shoelace.

“So I noticed.”

“Wow, what did you get that one for?” I took the shoe lace and ran it through my fingers. “Really dense fog?”

“I can keep it if you prefer limping around with one unlaced boot, m’boy.”

I threaded it into the oxblood Doc Marten. The colours clashed horribly. I looked around for my socks, but they had been replaced by a fresh, dry woollen pair.

“I took the liberty of disposing of your old rags. Try these.”

“I couldn’t, Sir.”

“Well, you’ll have to go without any then. I burned yours.”

“You haven’t. You haven’t even got a fireplace in here. They’re probably just in the trash.”

But thinking of Huey and his lesson, I took them and finished dressing.

“Seriously, m’boy. Where do you think you’ll go now?”

“Seriously?” I showed him on the map. “I thought this trail here, and then to Skye.”

He gave me a couple of tips about the route, and a small nylon backpack, and some provisions.

“Take the map, also,” he added. “Don’t want you to get lost again, do we?”

Mr. Roth took me with his boat back across the lake. I tried to say my good-byes, but he just shook his head, waved, and rowed away. And I turned west.

Two nights later I arrived at the road circling Loch Carron, and I made an astonishing discovery: It was already Saturday, August 30th, 2008. It had been Tuesday morning when I had left Inverness. Which meant that I must have lost not one, but two nights and a whole day, delirious in the Mullardochs…

The next night, showered and dressed in a stolen pair of boxers and a fresh, black T, I was lying in a bed in a hostel near Kyle of Lochalsh. It was a shared dorm and there were a bunch of travellers in the room with me. Some were getting ready for bed, coming from or going to the bathroom, while others were lying on theor beds, reading guidebooks, or talking quietly. I had a top bunk, and I was on my back, staring at the ceiling above me, and suddenly I began to tremble. It wasn’t the fever or anything. And it wasn’t no relief either. I was just shaking with my whole body, enough to make the bed begin to rattle against the wall. I curled up into a tight ball and hugged my knees to my chest and tried to breathe evenly, until it passed.

I knew that Mr. Roth had been right. By rights I really should have been dead. My bones should have been lying in some gorge, being picked apart by scavengers and bleached by the rain and the sun.

The next day would be the first day of school after the summer holidays in Berlin. Tim, and Samuel, and Florian, and also in another part of the city Leo, and Orcun, and Hector, they would all be sitting in their chairs in their various class rooms, tomorrow, staring out of the window. Only my seat would remain empty.

I had to think of the “The haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. Best damn ghost story ever, IMHO. Except maybe for “The Ghost of Canterville”. At the end of “Hill House” Eleanor, the main character, is driving the car and wondering: “Why am I doing this? Why don’t they stop me?”

That had been me. All the time I had secretly been waiting for some heavy hand to fall on my shoulder and stop me. To catch me and send me back. I hadn’t truly believed that I could actually escape, simply by walking away.

I knew, as I lay there, in that bed in that hostel, near the shores of Skye, surrounded by strangers, that I should turn around. That it would be the sensible thing to do, to go back to my mother, to get things back on track before they would spiral completely out of control.

I knew that I should do that.

But I also knew that I wouldn’t.

This wasn’t just something I was doing anymore. It was who I had become.

“And Father started giggling,” Castle continued. “He couldn’t stop. He walked out into the night with his flashlight. He was still giggling. He was making the flashlight beam dance over all the dead people stacked outside. He put his hand on my head and do you know what that marvellous man said to me?” asked Castle.
“Nope.”
“’Son,’ my father said to me, ‘someday this will all be yours.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (1963)

Ever since I had my first crush (on Jude Law in Spielberg’s A.I.) at the tender age of 9, I’ve had this tradition of falling for someone in spring and crashing come autumn. In ‘o4 it had been a boy named Tariq, in ’05 it had been Colin, ’06 had been Jonas’s year, and the summer of ‘o7 had belonged to Hendrik. But like in so many things, ’08 would change the pattern.
Neither Tim nor Charley or Ponyboy were destined to be the true heartaches of that year, that would be Sim and Alex. But Charley and Ponyboy in many ways foreshadowed the two boys that would both transfigure my soul in the coming months, first into ice, and then into fire.
The sales rep that had given me a lift out of Leeds got me as far as a few kilometres past Durham. I had fallen asleep in the stuffy warmth of his Volvo, the constant drone of his voice merged smoothly with the purr of the engine. After what must have been an hour – though it felt like 5 minutes tops – he shook me awake.
“You’re bleeding, boy.”
Indeed, there was blood dripping from my hand onto my lap and the upholstery of the passenger seat. I pushed the jacket from my shoulder and rolled up the soaking wet sleeve of my T. The bandages had come lose and more blood was trickling down my arm.
The sales rep brought the Volvo to a skidding stop at the side of the motorway.
“Out,” he snarled.
I looked at him somewhat shocked. I mean, I was sorry for the stains on his seat cover, but I hadn’t expected this reaction.
“I cannot explain why I had you in my car,” was all of the cryptic answer I got to my puzzled look. “Get out. Now.”
I grabbed my satchel and left the car. He pulled the door close from within and roared off, leaving me by the side of the M1.
I treated the wound. My next attempt to keep it under wraps and pressure wasn’t much better, but I’d had enough experience with cuts to the arms to know that it wasn’t all that easy to bleed yourself dry even if you tried. I would live.
I made it to Newcastle that night, and appropriated enough money to stay at another hostel. This time nobody wanted papers or a story why I had none. The next day I hitched a ride with a lady driving a bloody big Japanese SUV, and who made me listen to saccharine soft pop and her own sob story all the way to Edinburgh. She told me that story in that wonderful melodious Scottish sing-song that I would come cherish like few other sounds in the world.
Her name had been Cherry or Sheryl or something Valance. She was moving back to her aging rents in Aberdeen after she had been fired from a job as some sort of psychologist. She’d been accused of fudging some research numbers.
“The thing is, I haedna cheated. Not the way they said I did anywae. I had gotten the numbers wrong, that much is correct. But it musta been subconsciously. My boyfriend had just deserted me when I wrote the paper, and what I wrote sorta proved an argument we’d had. At least it would have, if I’d been right. That is to say, if I cheated on anyone it was mostly on him.”
I don’t know what I thought when she said that, but she must have read something on my face. She grimaced and said: “Yer right. I only cheated myself.”
And after a brief, uncomfortable pause: “So, that is my sorry tale. Want ta tell me yer oon?”
I eyed her wearily. She laughed.
“That’s okay, laddie. Ye don’t haffta. I can tell that it’s not a happy one. No noodle salad there either, huh?”
“What?”
“Never mind. Things are tough all over, huh?”
On the stereo Paula Cole asked us where had all the cowboy’s gone, but neither of us knew the answer.

Continued here

There was no more talk of the missing 200, of course. Bryan even tried to give me back my 500 and wanted to talk about how much of what we had made the past three days should be mine. I took a perverse pleasure in refusing all of it. Bryan couldn’t understand me, but Julie did. In the end she told him to leave well enough alone.
The next day, around noon, the crew met in the pit again. Bryan paid out 100 pounds to everybody, and an extra 200 to Tyler and Roger each, for watching me, another 200 to Melanie for catching me, and 400 to Julie for handling me.
“I think, Jan and we are quits now.” Bryan said.
“I think he needs a little memento,” Lonnie said. “Something so he doesn’t forget the lesson he’s learned.” He took out his knife, flicked it open, and looked challengingly at his leader. I saw at once that Bryan wouldn’t dare to refuse him.
So did Julie. She stepped up to Lonnie.
“You’re right,” she said. “And I’ll be the one who gives it to him.”
Lonnie eyed her suspiciously.
“You’ll not go all soft on him?”
Julie gave him a contemptuous look.
“You know I’m better than that,” she said. “And so is he.”
Reluctantly Lonnie gave her the knife. Julie came to me.
“Take off your jacket and roll up your sleeve.”
I looked into the semi-circle of faces around me, some pitying, some eager. One or two looked away. Not Melanie or Lonnie though. I did as told and gritted my teeth.
I hissed and winced as she made two deep cuts into the flesh of my upper arm, just underneath the shoulder, one perpendicular to the other. Like a rough L. Her eyes held mine, while she cut. Her eyes. Wide, and dark, and warm.
“So you’ll always remember us.”
Blood ran down my arms and splattered onto the concrete floor. Pat-pat, pat-pat-pat, pat, pat-pat. Roger took off his bandana and tied it around my arm. Mark offered me a fag and then gave me the whole pack and his lighter – a beautiful Zippo with the Death image of the Rider Tarot engraved in it’s side.
“Keep it man,” he said and averted his eyes.
I put on my jacket and hung the satchel over the other shoulder.
I walked 20 minutes to the Richmond Hill bus stop on York Road. My arm hurt like hell. I got bandages and some ibuprofen at a pharmacy I passed. I munched the Ranger candy while I waited for an eastbound number 18A, and put on the sterile pads and gauze with one hand and my teeth as good as I could.
Nate was waiting for me in Garforth, at the end of the line. He gave me the parcel, it was about the size of a one pound brick of coffee, if maybe a little bit heavier, and wrapped in plain brown paper. To this day I have no idea what it contained, although the idea of drugs certainly crossed my mind. I also considered simple cash, or jewels, or a disassembled gun or some electronic gadget or data storage medium, maybe packaged in polyethylene foam. Anasını satayım, for all I know it might just have contained a Bob Marley fan T-Shirt. After all, since the box underneath the brown paper might as easily have been made of plastic as of lead, the weight didn’t really tell me anything either.
I did shake it once and listened. Nothing clattered inside. Other than that I made no attempt to figure it out.
On Aberforth Road I put out my thumb. The third car to stop was northbound, a Volvo driven by an overweight and wheezing software sales rep who almost before we got rolling again began telling me in mind-numbing detail the advantages of the products he sold over those of his competitors. The ibuprofen dampened the throbbing in my shoulder while Leeds faded behind me in the drizzle and the gloam.
***
Why didn’t I run, when I could have? Why did I offer to take the parcel? Why didn’t I simply dump it in the first rubbish bin after I left town? I told you, I have no answers. I cannot even claim that it seemed like good ideas at the time. Everything about Leeds seemed like a bad idea, but I did it all anyway.
So, somebody tell me: Was this destiny? Was this providence? Because in a way, this was when this whole story truly started. This was when its inexorable end began to sneak into my cards. From here on out those three shots fired by the Aegean Sea were beginning to reverberate down the skein of fate that tied me, and Sim, Alex, Charley, Meryem, the Serrathas, that arsehole in Berlin, the chicken hawks of Jelenia Gora, the Ahimsa Corporation, even Steward, all of us together.
It is funny to think about it that way, to think about those brief moments in time, these random, ill understood choices that I made so unimaginably long ago now. But you cannot turn back time. The past is with you, always, and you just gotta learn to stand atop the rubble and to continue on your way, best as you can, until you finally run out of road.
So far, so simple, right? Because that should be all I have to tell about Leeds. For the next three days Julie and I worked the arcades and high streets on her crew’s turf, and by Saturday I had bought back my freedom and left town. And if that had been all that happened, I probably wouldn’t even have mentioned any of this in the first place, or at best skimmed over it. Because, in the end, what does it tell you so far? That crime doesn’t pay? That there is no decency amongst thieves, no hospitality amongst crooks? My, what news, eh?
If that had been how things had gone my story probably would have ended here, too. I would have continued my journey, and eventually I would have been caught and deported to Berlin, or I would have tired of the whole stupid Huck Finn shite, and slunk back myself, or, most likely, I would have just… oh well, what is the point of guessing, huh? As Aslan says in the Narnia books: “To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that.”
So, what did happen? Well, I may not understand my own choices, but I can try to tell you what they were.
***
I woke up sometime later in the darkness, shivering and hurting. I had to piss but nowhere to do it. Feeling around I found a corner – pissing hurt like the devil, and would for a couple of days – and then I crawled as far away as I could.
The smell of the piss was strong. I could imagine the puddle spreading outward, eating up grains of sand and dust on the way, until the concrete’s capillary suction and gravity’s pull overcame the surface tension, and it would soak away into nothing but a dark, wet stain. I remembered the taste of Hendrik’s piss, the pain from his beatings, the night in the forest, the cold and the dark and the fear. I cowered in the corner and tried to cling to his image and how we would get a kick out of all this.
I had no idea what time it was. What if they had decided to just leave me there. It didn’t look as if Britrail or whoever officially owned these premises was still using them. How long could you survive without water? Three days? Wasn’t dying of thirst supposed to be really, really unpleasant? Didn’t it drive you insane, wasn’t that what we’d told each other as little kids?
But I didn’t cry, even then, I didn’t cry. I couldn’t.
Eventually the door was opened.
“Want something to eat, before we go to work?”
It was Julie again. She hadn’t turned on the worker’s torches this time. Faint, grayish light filtered in from outside. I nodded, blinked up at her, limped out of my cell.
“Did you piss in there?”
“And let me tell you, the state of your facilities are a disgrace.”
She shook her head, as if dismayed by my manners.
“You locked me up in there,” I snapped. “What did you want me to do? Suck it up?”
In the first room stood a boy, no older than ten, skin as black as Julie’s. He wore a gray sweatshirt, hood drawn up over his New York Yankees baseball cap. In his hand he held what looked like a blue and yellow plastic Nerf gun.
“Who’s the…” I was going to say ‘squirt’ when my body went rigid. My jaws clamped down, almost severing the tip of my tongue. I rose up on the tips of my toes, and all the air went out of me with a whistling sound as if I was a bicycle pump. Somebody was beating a rapid-fire nun-chuck tattoo on my thigh, while the other muscles in my body seized up in one massive cramp. I toppled like a felled tree, everything stiff, right onto my face. Then the nun-chucks stopped pummelling my leg, and I lay there, twitching and moaning.
“What the fuck? Nate! What you do that for, you knob?” Julie shouted.
“It was an accident. I didn’t mean to. It just went off!” the little boy shouted back.
Julie knelt down next to me and removed something from my leg.
“You okay?”
I rolled onto my back. Blood was streaming down my nose. Groggily I tried to sit up. I felt as if I had just run a marathon. I was badly winded and shivering all over.
“What happened?”
Julie held up two little metal barbs on wires, thin as hairs, and coiling away to the tip of the nerf gun.
“You got zapped by a taser.”
She helped me get up, lead me outside. The sky was overcast and spitting, but the air was indescribably warm and sweet. I leaned against the wall under the bridge. Nate came out after me, looking embarrassed, angry, and rebellious.
“Got a fag?” I asked Julie. She dug out a pack Mayfair King Size. For some reason the health warning labels were in Spanish. I tore off the filter and Julie gave me fire.
“Sorry about that. My bro is a fuckwit.”
“Am not!” Nate flared up, but Julie hit him good-naturedly on the bill of Yankees cap, making it slide over his eyes.
“Cut it out, Julie,” he complained.
“You okay again? Getting zapped is a bitch, I know.”
“Oh, do you, now?” I said, sarcastically.
“Yeah, I do.” She took the big blue-and-yellow gun from Nate and showed it to me. It said x26 on the side, and west yorkshire police. “Bryan got it off a copper. Gave it to me. For protection.”
“And you gave it to your baby brother ‘cuz your rents can’t afford real toys?”
She rolled her eyes. “He was supposed to zap you. If you try to run.”
I smoked some more and wiped the drying blood off my lips. A commuter train roared passed. From within peeps in suits and ties stared back out at me, for a moment almost close enough to touch but still worlds apart. The train faded with the familiar sound. Tack-tack, tack-tack. Tack-tack. I flicked the butt of the fag onto the tracks and nodded.
We went into the house at the end of the row. Like all such houses everything inside was narrow and shoddy. The kitchen was filled with junk, microwave, blender, bread-maker, electric coffee grinder, espresso machine, juice extractor, you name it. On what little countertop was not occupied by all that crap, unwashed dishes were stacked.
“Can you cook?” Julie asked.
“Uh. Depends.”
She got orange juice, eggs, and bacon from the fridge, several cans of baked beans from the shelves and sliced bread from a bread box.
“Wash a couple of pots, pans and plates and make us breakfast.”
“You’ve got to be joking.”
“You are here to work off one and a half K, aren’t you? Stop complaining and get to it. Maybe we’ll let you have some.”
Food turned out okay. I got my fair share, too. Afterwards I had to wash up everything, scrub the counters, and wipe the goddamn floor, while Julie lounged on one chair, a foot in an unlaced Doc Martens boot on another, smoking Mayfairs. Her brother was sitting on a third chair, hugging the back, chin resting on top, fag in one hand, the x26 in the other.
The council house officially was Julie’s grandmother’s. During the three days I was there, I never saw the old lady leave her bed-room. I just heard her shout slurred orders to Julie or Nate from time to time. Julie’s mum was away for a couple of years for some drug offence. The corresponding grandfather had died a few years ago. Julie’s and Nate’s dad, a refugee from some Caribbean island state, had been deported shortly after Nate’s birth.
Julie and Nate had been left in the care of their alcoholic, bedridden grandmother. Or the grandmother had been left in the care of Julie and Nate. Who keeps score anymore, huh? All those kitchen appliances, the bloody big flat screen TV in the living room, the stereo, all that was paid by Julie, mostly from selling dope I think. She also had gotten her little brother an X-Box and a wii and bloody BMX bike that he never used. Cleaning up the house was that last inch that she couldn’t go without giving up her integrity, I guess.
After housecleaning I got to take a shower. Nate watched me all the time, but it still was heaven to wash all the blood and grime from my skin, and put some disinfectant and plasters on my various scraps and cuts, and tend to my feet. By the time I was dressed again Tyler was there to take us to town.
It took some effort from both of us, but after maybe six or seven attempts Julie and I had our routine down. I picked the marks. I would have preferred a third man to scope out potentials and “mark” them with a chalky handprint (yes, that’s where the term is from, and a damn good technique, too), or at least someone who would conspicuously bump into the mark, so that he pated himself down and showed me where he kept his stealables. But we had to do without.
Of course they said that there was a third man, keeping an eye on us, or rather on me. That Wednesday it was Tyler, on Thursday a bloke called Roger. I caught a glimpse of them every now and then, but he wouldn’t participate.
Anyway, the way we made it work, I picked the mark and made the lifts. Julie didn’t have any training beyond low-level shoplifting, but she had enough people sense that she soon figured out how to tell when I would move. She came my way then, passing me just as I had the wallet. I would drop it into her hand and overtake the mark, with hands and pockets as clear as my conscience, while Julie would walk off in the opposite direction.
We did that all afternoon and most of the evening, until the streets began to grow empty and it became hard to find excuses to get close enough to peeps. Tyler took us back to the house, where we sat for a while in the kitchen, counted the money, drank beer and just joked around. Without Melanie around, Tyler was pretty amiable. But they kept me cornered the whole time, so that I would have had to go through one of them to reach a door or a window. And when I had to go to the loo, Tyler went with me.
Later the whole crew would meet somewhere in Harehills. Julie got a lilo and a sleeping bag from a cupboard. Stacked neatly in one corner of the cupboard was a bunch of sandbox toys: A dark blue plastic bucket, the handle of which had long ago been torn off and lost, a shovel, and two or three sand moulds. I remember a yellow one of a plane and a red one of an elephant. But most of all I remember the way Julie took them down and the way she held them.
“They were Nate’s.” She tried to say it with a laugh as she handed me the bucket, but her eyes couldn’t help but stare past me and a couple of centuries to the last time he had been child enough to use them.
“If you have to go.”
It was about 10 pm when she locked me in again. It wouldn’t be before noon the next day that she let me out again. She hadn’t thought to give me any light, and somehow I was too kahretsin proud to ask for one. 14 hours of sensory deprivation. The only thing I heard was my own breathing and the rustling of the nylon sleeping bag on the rubberized fabric of the lilo, and the occasional ringing of a coin on the concrete floor when I dropped it – practicing sleight of hand with a coin was the only thing I could think of to pass the time. (I felt still too battered to practice aikido.)
Thursday went similarly to Wednesday: I had a noonday breakfast with Julie and Nate, and cleaned their bathroom while we waited for Roger to pick us up. I watched Julie water down her grandmother’s gin as much as she dared. Nate told me how Julie had once tried to concoct a mix of water, syrup, food colouring, and artificial rum flavour to create an alcohol-free rum substitute, but how their grandmother had got serious DTs, and so they went back to the gin. Nate laughed as he told this. I had to think of the sandbox toys again.
In the afternoon and the evening we made more money until it was time to go back. We had a couple of beers in the kitchen. Roger and Julie slagged some of their friends for fucking around behind the backs of their respective boy- or girlfriends. Finally Roger reminded Julie that they were expected at the Leeds International Pool, and Julie sent me to the loo before lockup. When I took too long, she whistled and called me: “Heel, Fido. Heel.” But her grin when I came out was infectious. After that followed another 14 hours of sleight of hand and bad dreams.
Continued here
As much as I try I cannot come to a conclusion about what happened next. I mean, the facts are simple enough, but they do not make any sense, not to me. Especially not what I did. But I must admit, given the circumstances, I cannot imagine making a different choice.
Picking that pocket was stupid, no two ways to see that. I still had over 400 quid from Queen Mum and from Frank the tout. The mark didn’t even do anything to deserve it, other than carry a visibly bulging wallet in the back pocket of his jeans. Probably full of fading receipts and ancient parking stubs I figured. I did it out of sheer boredom. For the heck of it, you know.
It must have been around nine in the evening, the sun had just set. Not long before it had stopped raining and the clouds were breaking apart in a blaze of blood, peach and salmon. I had eaten a slice of take away pizza and was still holding the piece of cardboard they had served it on. I folded up the cardboard until it had roughly the dimensions of the wallet. Then I shadowed the mark for a while until I saw that he was about to enter a small, incidental crowd.
I quickly walked up behind him, close enough to be jostled against him by the peeps around us. One hand pushed up the wallet and – while it toppled into the other – slipped in the folded-up piece of cardboard. This was the exact grift that got me sent to Plötzensee. But I was curious if I was still up to it. And I was bored. And lonely. Maybe I just wanted to touch somebody.
The lift went beautifully, the mark never noticed anything. But I was caught again.
I saw right away that the girl wasn’t a rozzer: White, gold-trimmed trackies, Adidas trainers, no older than 17. But her face left no doubt that she had made me as she grinned at me from between two overweight shoppers. We were on a small plaza surrounded by department stores. The girl belonged to a group of scallies loitering around the statue of a fat man carrying a beer barrel. She must have been waiting for me to make this mistake. I decided not to stick around to find out the back-story.
As soon as I made a break two blokes from the group took up pursuit. They chased me through an opening between a shopping centre and a departments store and on through a green churchyard. When I came out on another street on the far side a bloke in a black Nike tracksuit came at me from my left, forcing me to turn right and run down the hill. My legs were pumping like pistons, soles slapping the rain-slick asphalt. I picked up speed. Faces of elderly pedestrians flashed by, snapshots of disapproving fearfulness. Before I could reach the open crossroads at the bottom of the hill, another bloke came my way out of a street to my right. As I dashed around a corner and past an American pool hall to avoid him I could see that he wore a handless mobile phone in his ear and was shouting something. The answer came in the form of a fourth runner straight ahead. But instead of tackling me he kept to my right cutting off another exit there. The bastards were coordinating their hunt, herding me.
The chase ended on a car park between an inner city motorway and another small green space. My breath was going ragged, nothing but adrenalin propelling me onward. I tried to get to a narrow walk way between two grassy knolls when the door of a car opened directly in front of me. I didn’t have the time to even slow down, ran into it full tilt. It completely knocked the air out of me. The ground came up behind me, gave me a hard slap on the back and smacked me once roughly across the back of my head. Six pairs of trainers formed a circle around me, the faces blacked out by the fading purple light in the cloudy evening sky above.
“Poaching, are we, love?” a husky girl’s voice asked, as soon as she had caught he own breath. The same white and gold Adidas I had seen in the plaza kicked me painfully into my thigh. “Take him to the pit.”
Two pairs of hands grabbed me by the arms. One of them had melanie tattooed across the knuckles of the left. The hatchback of the car opened. It was a Nissan Silvia, the colour of brushed steel with a matte black roof and hood and a showy rear wing. The boot smelled so strongly of lubricant, solder, and naked metal that it made my tongue tingle. I struggled when they stuffed me into it, earning myself a sharp jab of the tattooed knuckle to my shoulder, right on the knob of bone there. My howl of pain was cut off by the hatchback slamming close.
Ten minutes later I was pulled out again, deafened and disoriented by the wide bore exhaust and a weapons grade subwoofer. Dusk was getting on. The Nissan stood in a dead end street. Red brick terraced houses all around, the sort with artificially tarnished wrought iron bars in front of the ground floor windows and doorbells disguised as brass knockers, meant to look posh but only looking naff. Screws crooked, so that you could rip it all out with one, two good yanks. Even the red bricks looked fake somehow.
A lanky, crop-haired bloke in a vile electric purple tracksuit, the one who had cut me off while talking on his handless phone, flicked out a switchblade and pressed its point under my chin.
“Try to run again, and I’ll cut your throat.” His Yorkshire accent made that roon and cout. He was joined by Melanie’s boy and two other blokes.
Before I could say anything a gate was opened in the wall at the end of a row of houses. A stocky West-Indies girl in blackcamo tank-top and trousers stood in the small garden behind the gate.
“He’s waiting.”
Purple boy grinned happily. He pressed the tip of the knife deeper into the soft flesh under my chin, deep enough that a small trickle of blood began to run down the blade and onto his hand. He took the knife away from my throat for a moment and licked the blood off his fingers. “Go on, scream, run, fight,” his eyes said. “I dare you.”
At the end of the garden was a chain-link fence with another gate in it. Behind that lay a narrow gorge with a sunken railway line at the bottom. The slopes were steep and wooded, the sort of area where people dump their old washing machines and broken bicycles, and where torn plastic bags flutter in the branches like the ghosts of last year’s birds. Crumbling concrete steps lead from the chain-link fence to a litter strewn path by the railway tracks.
Bridges crossed the gorge every few dozen meters, and set into the base of one such bridge, covered in twenty years worth of tags spray-painted over each other and half-hidden by blackberry brambles and a thicket of nettles, was a steel door. The black girl did the super secret knock. The door was opened from within and sulphur yellow light spilled out into the darkness under the bridge.

Continued here