Archive for the ‘death’ Category

I tried to apologize to Tariq, but he didn’t even hear me out. In the months that followed, ‘Nette got sicker, and sicker. There was that bad incident at the funeral. I turned twelve and failed my exit stage left. When they had me up and going again, I couldn’t stop hating, hating everything, hating myself. That May Day, on Heinrichplatz, was the first time I got into an open, physical fight with the rozzers, and the first time my mum had to collect me from the station. Around then my mates I also had our brief career as shoplifters.

My mum, so far overextended that she was crying herself to sleep every night, when she thought we wouldn’t hear her, sent me to my aunt for the summer. And to everyone’s surprise I sort of caught myself again, for a while.

It was in England that I met my boy #2. Colin F. was sixteen at the time, like my cousin Jane, and her best friend and confidant. He was blond, quiet, and had a shy smile that could flicker up and disappear at any moment, like a deer in a forest clearing. He was often at my aunt’s house that summer, and most importantly, he wanted me.

Not that he said anything, or made any move. How did I know? Well, it was partly how often he turned up in the door to a room I was in, or on the veranda when Alice and I were in the garden, and how he never seemed actually comfortable around me when we got within speaking distance. But more than that it was something in his eyes, some quality of eager openness and furtive closedness  at the same time. Or maybe it was just that I could smell his fear. After all, I knew all about that fear, didn’t I?

I tried not to tease him – at all. And I made the strange discovery that teasing was my main way of communicating with peeps. Any peeps. I hadn’t known that until then. But for Colin I made the exception. Even when Alice wanted to play some tricks on him and Jane, I made excuses, or distracted her with other ideas, and left him alone. I remembered ‘Nette, and Tariq, and tried to be less of a coward.

I didn’t throw myself at him either, of course. He probably would have run if I had. Outwardly I kept up the appearance of friendly indifference, but I relaxed around him. My body and my eyes, enough to let my desire become apparent.

The seduction of Colin was probably my first confidence job. Not that I would have been able to call it that back then. But I did seduce him. Not with lies, mind you, for all my practice that has never been my strong suit, but with the truth.

Lying is hard work. I know you do it, too, all the time. We all do. But have you ever made a study of how it is done? Have you ever stood in front of a mirror and tried to make your face and your body say something you didn’t believe?

As someone once observed, somewhere inside of us is this perfect mathematician. If someone gave you all that data describing an object moving in a curve through the vectors of impulse, gravity, inertia, resistance, and so on, how long would it take you to calculate it’s flight path? And yet, if someone tosses you an apple, you can catch it out of the air in a heartbeat.

Likewise body language is so hard to describe, and yet we all use and read it all the time without consciously thinking about it. It is only when we begin to lie on a regular basis that we have to learn that language by mind instead of by heart.

I now know what it was I did, back then. I opened my chest to him by keeping my arms at my sides or otherwise occupied just so they wouldn’t form a barrier between me an him. I kept my pelvis turn towards him, not sideways, the way we do to shield ourselves from possible blows. When he was in my back, I wouldn’t stiffen my neck, but bare it, inviting an attack. When he was close I would melt a little bit, so that my back and my bum and my legs would become this curve, this wave that asked for a hand to run along it.

I was a good liar, even then, but none of that was a lie. I seduced him with the simple truth, just showed him what I wanted. Why did I just call it a confidence job, then? Well, the essence of the confidence job isn’t that you lie to the mark. The essence is that you allow the mark to lie to himself. That you allow him to trick himself into believing that he could have something he desired for a price he could afford. That was the lie: That I would give something to him, and not just take.

Eventually Colin noticed. Oh, he never caught on to the fact that I was quite active in this. He believed it was all his own doing. But he lost some of his shyness around me, became more eager for my company. And when my aunt suggested my cousins should take me on a bike trip to Three Cliffs Bay in Wales – a three day tour each way – and spend a few nights camping there by the sea with me, Colin somehow ended up coming along. Unfortunately without any grown-ups along, Alice decided we would disregard the promise we had given my aunt, and she would sleep in a tent with Colin, while I would stay in the other with Jane. But I still got my wish.

The first day at Three Cliffs Bay Colin and I went for groceries at the the little camping site shop. It was rather crowded and while we queued Colin finally made his move, and stepped up close enough behind me that his crotch touched my bum. He did his best to make it seem accidental, for maximum deniability, and I carefully but unmistakably pushed my bum backwards and pressed lightly against his erection. Oh, the feeling of this undeniable proof of his desire. It send chills down my spine. To get the message across I once, very slightly, rotated my bum against him. He didn’t dare for more then, but when we went back to the girls, there was a new spring in his step.

Finally, finally, a whole day later, Alice declared she was going swimming and Jane went along. I said I would rather have a look at the little castle ruins up on the high shore, and Colin said he would come along with me.

The ruins, a single, crumbling wall and the remains of a gatehouse, were deserted. I went for the narrow chimney-like nook next to the gate, and pretended interest in climbing up inside there. Colin squeezed in with me, and pretended to help. I still think he was unaware how much I knew that this was only foreplay, the way he stood below me and put his hands on my hips, both of us wearing nothing but swimming shorts and trainers.

It was a bit chilly in the shade of that nook. We both had goose bumps when we embraces. The grass tickled my shins when I knelt down. His hands were wonderful in my hair, alternately gentle with restraint and then again helplessly demanding. And when I made myself swallow I thought: “I’m not a coward. I am a real faggot now. And I am not a coward.” But I was wrong.

I shivered, weak with relief, and a squeaking little laugh escaped my lips, a sound the Colin mistook for dismay. He hugged me and whispered he was sorry. Unable and unwilling to explain any of these complicated thoughts and feelings, I turned away from him to the walls of the ruined gatehouse, and said: “Well, are you going to help me up there? Maybe we can see Alice and Jane from the top.”

We stole a few such moment, Colin and I, but since we both tried to keep it secret from my cousins, opportunities were scant. We went back to Wotton-under-Edge, and it got even harder to find innocent pretexts for spending time alone together.

I didn’t want to return to Berlin. I didn’t want this summer to end, not just because of Colin, but also. As always, my time in Gloucestershire seemed to be time away from the real world, from my real life, from the real me. In England I could be someone I wouldn’t ever dare to be in Berlin. But I’d already forced one extension by crying my eyes out in my aunt’s lap, and with school about to start again I knew that my deportation couldn’t be stayed any longer.

I hope it was mostly the fear of my return to Berlin, to my mum, and my remaining siblings, and to our tiny flat that was still with too much echoing emptiness, that rode me that evening when Colin dragged me away behind the garage, and kissed me, hard and painful in his yearning.

“Rikki,” he whispered, and with a sudden dread I knew what was coming. “I…”

Panic welled up inside me, and hatred. In the half light filtering from my aunt’s kitchen through the oleander bushes I could see Colin’s tongue, pink and perfect, touch his upper front teeth, beginning to shape the one word I could not permit him to utter, the one that held promises I knew he wouldn’t be able to fulfil, the one that implied a betrayal too monstrous to allow.

Helpless, not knowing how to react, I headbutted him, hard, hard enough to crack his left upper incisor, cutting my own scalp on it. He stumbled back, and there was more astonishment than pain in his gaze, a stunned question, and I believe he still thought it must have been some accident, me stumbling forward, a silly mistake, ugly, but a shared experience we might soon laugh about.

Instead I punched him in his gut. Going down he knocked over a stack of empty terracotta flower pots, and they shattered on the tiled ground like a cluster bomb. Colin began to cry and pressed his hands in front of his bleeding mouth.

“If you need your cock sucked, you know where to find me,” I hissed, as my aunt and Alice came running around the corner to investigate the noise. Blood was trickling down my own face, from the cut of his tooth. I bent down lower, so that only Colin could hear me. “But don’t ever… kiss me again, you queer bastard.”

A week later, back in Berlin, I got a letter from Alice, informing me about Colin’s incisor. Neither I nor – as far as I know – he ever told anyone what happened back then.

I didn’t return to Wotton-under-Edge until those two weeks three years later that ended with me ditching the bus and following the fox into Westridge Woods. While I was at my aunts I met Colin once again. He’s now a student of law at the University in Cardiff, and like Tariq he, too, didn’t hear me out when I tried to apologize. He was too eager to apologize to me. It turned out that all these years he had been consumed with guilt. After me he foreswore homosexuality, became religious, and let his mum set him up with his wife and the mother of her future grandchildren.

That was the price I made him pay, for that first blowjob, that first confidence job. For my cowardice. Ah, who is keeping track any longer, huh?

Continued here

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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

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.

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.

The pit, as the Harehills Crew called the place, was one of several points in East Leeds where they met and stashed dope, cash, or weapons. The room you entered behind the steel door was large, maybe 10 by 10 meters. It was illuminated by workman’s torches, the ones on a stick, to hold them high, and with a hook on one end, so you can hang them on something and have your hands free to work. The room was furnished with a colourful mix of chairs and a mildewy couch. Half a dozen blokes and a couple of chavettes waited for us, greeting each other by touching knuckles and saying stuff like “my man”, and “what’s up”.
Their erstwhile ruler was Bryan, a sinewy black bloke in threadbare army fatigues, with a colourful, woollen Rasta cap and shoulder long dreadlocks. Purple boy – his name was Lonnie – made me kneel down in front of Bryan. When I wasn’t quick enough, I received a kick that made my legs buckle so that I feel hard on my knees. The impact ran through my body the way energy runs through Newton’s balls, and my teeth clicked audibly.
Lonnie then grabbed my hair and jerked back my head, forcing me to stare up into Bryan’s face: Long and horse-like, eyes heavily lidded, cheeks dotted with little black scars, his thick, expressive lips gripping a fag. When he took it out he pulled back his lips to reveal long, strong, yellow teeth. He went to his haunches in front of me and looked directly into my frightened eyes.
“Tell us your name, little boy,” he said in a voice so gentle and malevolent I broke out in goose bumps all over.
“Jan.”
“Jan…?” (He pronounced it almost like Ian.)
“Jan Niemiaszek.” That had been the name I’d used since leaving the Big Chill.
“Where you from?”
More blood trickling down my throat to be soaked up by the hem of my T-shirt. Lonnie tightened his grip on my hair and jerked my head back up.
“He’s from Germany,” one of the chavettes said, grinning.
Without getting up, Bryan turned to her.
“He just called himself Jerry Kraut in Polish,” the chavette added. “Sort of.”
And to me, with a half-apologetic shrug: “My family moved here four years ago from Gdańsk. Not long enough to forget.”
Turns out the Harehills Crew (that claimed not only the district of Harehills, but also Gipton, Halton, Halton Moor, Osmondthorpe, Cross Green, and part of East End Park) was involved in a territorial dispute with another gang based in Beeston and Holbeck in the South of Leeds. When I was spotted picking pockets in the city centre, part of the disputed area, I was mistaken for a member of that Beeston gang.
It didn’t take me long to convince them that I wasn’t affiliated with their rivals. But then they made me strip and when they found not just the wallet I had lifted but the 400 plus quid I had been carrying they became suspicious again.
“Let’s gut him and leave him in Cross Flats Park. Let Asiv know what happens to poachers,” Lonnie demanded.
Bryan took a drag on his fag and pensively scratched his goatee with a pinkie and ring finger.
“No matter if he works for Asiv or not,” Melanie, the girl who had spotted me, cut in, “he did poach, Bryan. You goin’ to go back on your word now?” She chewed bubblegum thoughtfully as she leaned into the arms of Tyler, her faithfully tattooed boyfriend, but there was something about her, cat-like, ready to pounce.
Bryan quickly exchanged a look with Julie, the black girl who had opened the garden gate, a mere flicker of eyes and probably unnoticed by anyone not as close to – and focused on – Bryan as I was. Then Bryan said: “Maybe you’re right, Mel. But we’ve got to do it right, so that nothing leads back to us.”
He gave me a last pitying look. “Lock him up.”
Lonnie and Melanie smiled, more triumphant than sadistic, as Tyler pushed me through a second steel door in the back wall. The second room was no more than 3 by 4 meters, raw concrete, as windowless as the first and completely bare. Naked as I was I stumbled in and the door closed behind me, leaving me in total darkness.
I don’t know how long I had to wait. Could have been thirty minutes, could have been three hours. For a few minutes I occupied myself by feeling around for an air duct or sewer grill I might have overlooked in the brief moment of light I’d had, but there was nothing. I ran my fingers across the door, the hinges, the lock. I suppose I might have had a chance to pick the lock given the right tools, but I didn’t have anything. The door was too heavy and closed too seamlessly for me to hear anything, get the least gleam of light. It was just black, cold, and silent. Only when a lorry passed across the bridge overhead did I hear or rather feel a faint rumble.
I tried to cling to anger, mostly at myself, for not fighting back, for letting them catch me, not running faster, doing the bloody stupid lift in the first place, but the anger didn’t last. In the cold, damp darkness of that cellar it guttered and died, and left me only the fear. Was I afraid of death, of dying, the pain, of watching life flow away? Maybe. Was I afraid of what I thought would come afterwards? Yeah, probably. I mean, kahretsin, I knew where I was going, didn’t I? I bloody knew! But mostly I was so very much afraid of the lonely, indignant, pointless way to go. God, was I ever afraid that night. I think there have been only two occasions I have ever been more afraid, leaving the prison of Jilava, in Romania, and in Greece, waiting for her those last few hours.
Eventually the door was opened again. I was trying to rekindle the anger, enough to maybe go down fighting. No idea if I would have.
I couldn’t recognize the person opening the door at first, that was just a silhouette against the bright light. But I saw the disappointment and loathing on Lonnie’s face, and I knew I’d gotten another lease.
It was Julie at the door, again, who guided me out. Had she seen the brief desire to fight when she came in? Or was it just what she would have done and assumed I would as well?
“Don’t give them a reason,” she whispered as she took me by the arm, “to change their minds.”
Bryan waited for me, standing tall and appearing very regal, even in his dirty olive fatigues.
“Tyler, Mark, hold him.” Tyler and another bloke each wrestled one of my arms behind my back. Bryan nodded to Melanie who stepped up in front of me, cracking her knuckles.
Afterwards while I was kneeling on the floor, heaving and gasping, Bryan told me the sentence. CCTV had saved my life – there was a camera near that church that I had run past that would have recorded me being chased by them. Lonnie probably wasn’t on it, but Melanie definitely was. So they wouldn’t execute me as an example to others. They would however enforce an act of contrition. On top of the almost 500 quid they took off me I would make them another 500, and since I need to be watched, I would have to reimburse the crew for those man-hours as well, coming to a total of 1,500 pounds sterling I would have to steal for them before they would let me go.
Julie would be my handler, working with me, I was told, and some other member of the crew would have an eye on me from afar, making certain I didn’t scarper.
Then they dragged me back into the second room, kicked my clothes in with me, and shut the door for the night. In the darkness I crawled around like a dog that’s been hit by a car. I groped for my stuff, dressed against the cold, and tried to find sleep on the hard ground.

Continued here

I’m not a big fan of chess. I mean, I adore the game on an abstract level. It’s one of the few sports I enjoy watching. I think it is a great game. Just not for me. Chess makes me paranoid – I always have the feeling I ought to think around one more corner, that there is some invisible danger lurking on the board, ready to pounce whichever way I turn. In short, it makes me feel stupid.
I really like poker however. It may not be as brainy as chess, but it’s not a dumb game either. I’m certainly not the first to remark that it’s got a lot to do with psychology. Yeah, you need math, and that is probably my weakest point in the game, although experience and rote learning makes up for some of what I lack in actually understanding of probabilities. But you also need to figure out which way your opponent is going to jump. And even if I say so myself, I’m pretty darn good at that.
But my enjoyment of poker had little to do with the graveyard games my mates and I used to play in 2006 and 2007.
Let me introduce you to my former best mates. Musketeers, you know, one for all and all for one. Best friends forever. Only, of course, that nothing lasts forever.
I have known Orcun literally all my life. His rents lived next door to mine. Not only did his mum and older sisters and my mum and older sisters pass us back and forth for babysitting duty, but as toddlers we explored the courtyard behind our tenement block together. Nowadays it seems like a narrow, lightless yard, with more dirt than grass, a couple of sad thorny bushes, and a tiny playground consisting of a small, weed-infested sandbox, rusting monkey-bars, and a swing set without swings. But I remember it as a glorious jungle where Orcun was Stanley to my Livingstone.
Hector I know from kindergarten. He comes from a huge family with dozens of cousins, half of them in Berlin, the other half in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where his folks are from. I suspect we mostly became mates because we were amongst the few who didn’t – yet – speak Turkish or Polish. By the time we left, we both did. Hector was better in Polish, I in Turkish.
And then there is Leo. When I started out in primary school Hector and Orcun were put into one class, and I was put into another. (Our kindergarten had informed the school that it would be better to split up Hec and me to prevent the formation of some ultra-violent gang or something of the sort.) Well, I told you that I had most of my fights with bullies. In first year at school that bully was Leo.
Leo isn’t really a bully, but he likes to swagger, to talk loud, and to have a bunch of followers. I mean, he isn’t half-bad as a leader. He can make you feel very appreciated, not only for your public face, but especially for your hidden self. And he can make peeps cooperate, feel as a group. He’s been captain of our football team for years, not because he’s the best strategist – that would be Georg – but because he can make the rest of us listen to Georg in a way Georg never could.
But groups are made by excluding everyone else. And in school, who can you easier exclude than the misfits? Small, snot-nosed, red-haired, freckled, and very badly dressed me practically screamed for that position. All summer I had wondered who it would be I would fight in primary school, and by the end of that first week, with those first alliances and enmities forged and everybody knowing who they would sit next to come Monday, I knew.
I was scared, because Leo was a good head taller than me, and heftier, and the bruise on his face told me that he was no stranger to violence. But the dice had fallen and there was no way around it. On the way out I challenged him.
That Friday it had rained hard in the morning and a lot of teachers had come by car. Turned out that all grown-ups meant to watch us at the end of the day were leaving by the front door, where the car park was. Leo and I belonged to those kids whose way to and from school led them through the rear gate. It took ages for a janitor to hear the noise and come investigating.
Also, normally Leo wouldn’t have let things progress far. Even back then he was usually great at making peace. I mean, hell, I bloody learned apologizing from him. (It’s certainly not like anybody in my family has ever been able to say I’m sorry.) But not that day. The bruise I had noticed on his face has been a special gift from his father for losing a key to their flat a week before school started. After that Leo had gotten a long neck band for his key, and he was taking that off to stow it away in his pocket so I couldn’t choke him with it, when I, scared and hyper, attacked. He saw the key and neck band land in the curb swell of rain water and get sucked down a sewer drain. I had really pissed him off.
When we were finally separated I had two broken fingers and a seriously mashed up face. Leo had a deep bite wound at the ball of his thumb on his right hand. He was missing a clump of hair at his left temple. He also had a bad tear in the skin holding his left ear attached to the skull and a bleeding wound at the back of his head, both from when I had grabbed him by the ear and slammed him against the ground several times. He needed four stitches on the back of his head and three at his ear, but the conch never really healed completely, leaving it somewhat lumped and crunched up. We were both crying with pain and frustration, and I think exhaustion, but none of us would give in.
In the waiting room at the hospital at first we were both determined to hate each other’s guts, but boredom and joined worries about the reaction of our rents got us talking, about school, teachers, football, TV, computer games, and Star Wars. Turned out that we had both seen The Shadow Menace that summer. It may well be that our future friendship was forged in our common disdain of Pod Racing and the Gungans.
Hec and Orcun were well prepared to hate Leo in support of me – though Hec with a certain reluctance, because he had already been touched by Leo’s charm – but then we appeared best of friends the next week, and soon the four of us were inseparable.
We did a lot of stuff together, we joined the same football club, we had sleepovers, we snug into films we weren’t old enough to be allowed to see yet, all that stuff. When we were 12 we tried our hands at shoplifting. It was mainly a way to enliven otherwise boring afternoons. Eventually we were caught and got into a lot of hot water over it. After that Hector, who had blamed it all on my and Orcun’s bad influence, wasn’t allowed to associate with us until his rents forgot about it again. Leo got the worst thrashing ever from his dad. I don’t know what Orcun’s rents said to him – I doubt that they hit him, they never did – but he was very serious afterwards and never broke the law again, at least not to my knowledge. That had been the year I had first been taken in by the rozzers for attacking an officer, so on top of everything else, I suppose shoplifting didn’t really impress my mum all that much. She did give me the same sermon she had given Lukas and ‘Nessa on the subject a couple of years before, but it sounded tired and as if she didn’t believe it very much herself.
The next summer I came up with the graveyard poker games, and they all took to it like moths to honeysuckle. Between July and September of 2006 we would either claim to sleep over at each other’s rent’s places or simply sneak out at night and check out all the cemeteries of Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Tempelhof, Schöneberg, Tiergarten, Mitte, Friedrichshain, and Treptow. We would try to find a secluded place, sheltered by some mausoleum, or a thicket of trees, and play poker.
I was going to say that there is something very surreal about sitting with your best mates on weathered old gravestones in the middle of the night, smoking, drinking beer (or Pepsi in Orcun’s case; he takes the Islamic prohibition on alcohol very serious), and playing cards. But that’s not it, exactly. It isn’t surreal at all, it’s almost the opposite. It is as if that little circle of light you are sitting in, the circle of your mates, becomes the only thing that is real. Everything else just melts away, the wall of trees and darkness around you becomes the backdrop of a stage, as if the world was only painted on canvas. The ghosts of the dead all around become more real than the memories of the living and all your daytime worries fade away into insignificance.
For a short while you can breathe freely.
Continued here
All my siblings read to me from time to time when I was little, not just Lukas. ‘Nette was actually quite the bookworm. But I didn’t really discover the beautiful world of literature and the blissful escape it can provide until I was 11 years old. The first book to open that hatch for me, into another, saner world, was the Satanic Mill by Ottfried Preussler. I was sitting in one of the ugly orange moulded-plastic seats outside ‘Nette’s hospital room. My mum was inside with her and the docs, and I was scared shitless. I was supposed to have read the Satanic Mill weeks ago, the test was in 2 days, and I thought, what the hell. Anything to take my mind off the false smiles, the hollow promises, and most of all off the desperation in my mother’s face as she made herself believe the lies.
And you know what? It worked like a charm. From page 2 onward I was lost in the strange, bleak, romantic, magical world of the boy Krabat and his fight against the evil miller. I kept reading every free minute I could scrounge up, deep into the night, and by the next evening I was through. I remember the moment of waking when I suddenly ran out of words the way Wile E. Coyote runs out of street to stand on. I flailed and grasped for anything to keep me from plummeting down into the harsh chasm of reality. What my fingers found and clung to was ‘Nette’s bookshelf. I opened Michael Ende’s Neverending Story, and I suppose I haven’t stopped reading since.
Of course there were comments in school and at football training. But two of my psychopathic fights later those comments died. Reading didn’t make me soft. It made me somewhat numb, however, and that was exactly what it was supposed to do. Is it a wonder then that I found my true vocation in a book?
Continued here