Archive for the ‘family’ Category

The air in the cottage was cold when the grey morning filtered in through the shutters, but Sim’s naked body, next to me under the thick down covers, radiated heat. For a while I stared a the ceiling, and beyond it I saw all the ceilings under which I had woken in the past, in my mum’s flat, in juvie, in the flats of strangers, in the guest room of aunt’s, in the pit in Leeds, in all those hostels, in Dewey’s tent, and the different skies I had woken to when there had been no ceiling, from the night of being buried to the lost time in the Mullardochs.

I turned my head and looked for Sim’s face, peaceful and asleep, being slowly lifted out of a sea of shadows that clung to him, that caressed his cheeks and temples, the dark locks stuck by dried sweat to his forehead, his lips and neck, that clung to and caressed all of that like a mother saying good-bye to a child forever.

It took me a while to realise what the feeling was that filled me then. It took me a while because it had been so long since last I had felt it. It had been 484 days, to be exact, I later figured out since the day Hendrik first kissed me. The feeling was bliss, the sort that makes everything else meaningless.

And then, as if sensing my gaze, he opened his own eyes, sleepily, and smiled – a puzzled, content smile, almost as if in wonder where he was. I know it is impossible, but I swear that in that moment a single beam of sunlight broke through the clouds, found its way through the blinds covering the windows, graced his face, and made his eyes glow like a clear, cool, mountain lake in the spring sun.

“What’ss t’ time?”

“Not sure. Around seven. Maybe bit before.”

He smiled again and without letting his eyes leave mine tentatively moved closer, as if expecting me to push him away. When I didn’t he carefully laid himself into the crook under my shoulder, his head on my arm. Like that first kiss, in the holiday home, it was as if he entered my embrace like someone testing and then immersing himself in unknown water.

He pushed the covers down and ran his dirty fingers over the tat on my chest: A clock-face framed in two curved words, “pain” above it, and “killer” below.

“Is tsat whit ye feel?”

“Not now, no. But at the time it was very, hm, comforting.”

He took my arm, the one below his head, the way one wraps oneself into a coat an looked at the silver scars running along it inside, from the wrist almost to the inside of the elbow.

“Whit wuss ut tsat ye gat first?”

“I got the tat afterwards. After I… got back. To remind myself that the option remained. That even if I didn’t do it, every day would bring the day closer that…” I trailed away without finishing the sentence. Sim nodded.

“Wull ye tell us hou ye dead ut?” He looked back into my face. “Tsat’ss why tae ye Sassenach.”

“I know,” I said, running my hand softly through his curls. “I’m not all stupid, ye ken.”

“Och aye te noo,” he said, deadpan. And then: “Wull ye?”

I let my head drop back into a pillow. “I…” I faltered, took a deep breath, tried it two more times. But I didn’t find any words that didn’t either make it sound ridiculous or pathetic. “Not now, okay?”

Something must have stopped him from pursuing that one. Instead he pushed himself up on an elbow and began to inspect my body.

Last night we had done everything in darkness. Sim had wanted to turn on the light, but still in the role of the teacher I had advised him to try it by touch, smell, taste, and sound at first. Like with picking a lock, those senses are far more useful in sex than sight, and as long as we can we rely far too much on our eyes. It diminishes our world. And like the good Padawan that he was, Sim had heeded that advice then. But now he took the chance to fill in the blanks that particular experience might have left him with.

He touched the blackened, L-shaped scars on my shoulder almost with reverence. Two nights before, sitting by the lake, I had told him about Julie and about Ponyboy. Sim made as if to kiss the scar, but in the end didn’t.

“Hou mony tattoos uss’t tsat ye hae?”

“Three. Painkiller was the first one.”

“Whan wat uss tsat ye hae’t made?”

“Three years ago, pretty much.”

He whistled, a real boy whistle from between his lower lip and his upper incisors. “Yer paurents alloued tsat?”

“Are you daft? My mum totally lost her rag, every time actually. But it wasn’t like she make me wash it off, could she?”

“Daur say no. Shaw us t’ issers?”

I rolled onto my belly and showed him the barcode on my bum cheek with the tiny words – in some dot matrix font – “sold under sin” printed underneath.

“Hendrik had me get that one. He paid for it… in a way.”

Sim nodded. “And t’ last ane?”

I showed him my other shoulder, opposite the scarred one. The tat there looked unlike the painkiller and the barcode tattoos a little amateurish, in a pale blue ink. It was a three-layered piece of cake with what might have been a cherry on top.

“That one’s from juvie. My mate Sebi did it with a sewing needle and ballpoint pen ink.”

Sim thought about it for a while, then he smiled. “T’ cake uss a lee?”

“Och aye.”

I was still grinning back at him when the bed cover began to slide off the bed and off both of us. Sim caught it quickly, but not quick enough to keep me from noticing the welts on his back, and buttocks, and his upper thighs. He covered them as if nothing had happened, but there was a weariness in his eyes now as he tried to gauge my reaction. I didn’t show any reaction, I’m sure, but I probably kept my face blank for just too long. But, anasını satayım, too many things suddenly made sense:

Why Conall had been so ready to believe me, and why his father hadn’t. Why Sim had tried to get me away from the house, and why he had been so sore when he came by the next day. Why he was so skilled an emotional reader, and such a master at misdirection. And all the little, bitter comments.

When I didn’t say anything, he echoed me: “Och aye.”

What else was there to say – except that question that burned inside me. Had it been because of me, because he had warned me? A question didn’t dare to ask, afraid of what obligations it might put on our friendship.

Instead I asked: “What’s on the agenda today?”

I think Sim was relieved when he laid down on the bed next to me. At least he didn’t move away.

“Want tae come wi us tae kirk?”

“Don’t you think that’d be risking a bit much?”

Sim grinned at me, his beautiful, crazy, wild grin. “Nae at aw. Te day uss kirkin at Saunt Lorcán’s. Tsat means t’ kirk wull be fou o’ fowk, wi t’ pipe band, and awbody clappin haunds wi t’ priest and aw. Smookin ye in and oot wull be a pure skoosh!”

I hemmed and hawed, feeling very uneasy, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and his excitement was catching. The thought was kind of thrilling. And anyway, I never could refuse him anything.

He had told his rents he was spending the night at a friend’s. The friend was in on it, more or less, and used to covering for Sim. Sim rode together with me to the A832, but dropped me off there to loiter behind some rocks and wait for him. I had taken the Zimmer Bradley along and spent the next 45 minutes in the company of Rumal and Orain, until Sim returned together with Conall and Caena in the Defender Pick-Up. The rest of the family had ridden either with neighbours or in their dad’s saloon.

Sim reintroduced me to his brother and sister, who he declared loudly to be trustworthy, and Conall excused himself for having almost gotten me nabbed.

“Masel uss sae sorry, Danny. A really dinnae expect fer ma paw tae actually gae and clipe on ye.”

I tried to take it with some grace, which I might have gotten off reasonably well, and they complimented me and Sim that with the new hair cut, dye job, and different clothes none of those who had seen me before would recognise me as long as I staid in the background.

The church itself was a big, grey, squatting block of a building, and brimming with festive worshippers. Once we arrived there, Sim bade me stay behind, and dashed off – turned out he was one of the altar boys and had to change before service. But as soon as he was away, a young man, early to mid twenties, walked up to me. He was wearing dark slacks, brown suede shoes, and a moss green blazer. He had Sim’s dark curls and bright blue eyes.

“Hey. A’m Aidan. Ye must be Danny.”

Carefully I shook his hand. He was tall and look good in that charismatic way that has nothing to do with looks and that people have who see more than they let on and who can form an opinion without sharing it.

“I’m Sim’s brother. He asked me te look efter ye, while he’s busy.”

Aidan was there in the company of his girlfriend, Lydia, who in turn had a younger brother, John, who was in Sim’s year at the local High School. Aidan left me with Lydia and John while he said hello to his mother and his siblings. He no longer lived at home, and, apparently, wasn’t currently on speaking terms with his father. Lydia started to chat with me, but it was awkward with unspoken chunks of life barring us every way. When John asked me about football we were all very relieved.

That mass was the first time I actually prayed to God again since ‘Nette’s death. I prayed the way I had done before she had gotten sick, the way she had taught me. In prayer you do not ask God for anything. If you have eyes in your head and a brain to understand what you see, you know that God does not change His plans because of the whims and wishes of humans. And if anyone ever comes to you with tales of miraculous cures, ask them why no amputee, however deserving, however hard praying, ever re-grew the littlest finger, let alone an arm or a leg? What, God does cancers and comas but no missing limbs? No, there is no heavenly wishing well. Prayer, done properly, means giving thanks for the world as it is, and listening for God’s voice, to tell you how you can contribute to its beauty and splendour.

Fittingly the sermon’s theme that day was Job 37:14 – “Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.”

I reserved the right to heed or not to heed his words, as I saw fit, but we both – God and I, like God and Job before – knew that to do either was at my own peril. So I knelt down, in all the earnestness of my heart, and swallowed my pride, and for the first time in 3 ½ years I gave thanks. For, though I knew that my life was fucked up beyond belief, on that morning I was grateful for it indeed.

Afterwards Sim dodged his rents, and joined Aidan, Lydia, John and me. It was clear enough that Sim and Aidan shared a special closeness. Amongst his brothers Conall might have been Sim’s every day best friend and companion of many small adventures, but Aidan, the oldest of the siblings, was Sim’s hero and role model.

Aidan had come with Lydia and John in his extremely sexy black Toyota MR2 roadster, a car he had treated with luxurious contempt: The inside smelled of smoke, dope, and spilt beer, and there were parking receipts, betting stubs, and crushed cigarette boxes littered about. Aidan took me along, first dropping off Lydia and John at their rents’s place, and then me at the cottage. On the way there, along the A832 and down the port hole riddled cart rut across the moor, Aidan quizzed me.

“Sim thinks pretty big of ye.”

“He thinks pretty big of you.”

“Aye,” Aidan laughed and tried to dig a pack of fags from the breast pocket of his blazer. I leaned over, got it out, lit a fag, and gave to him. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“So. Oniweys.” He took a puff and hemmed and hawed a bit. “I’ll ask ye straight up. Are ye plannin’ on playin’ some sort o’ con on him and ma family? Or usin’ him fer some other crooked deal?”

“What makes you think I would do that?”

He looked at me through a screen of smoke.

“Sim told me just enough about ye te hae me worried, but nae enough to know what yer up te.”

“Did he now.”

“Look. I dinnae care what the two o’ ye are doin’ up here, as long as ye daena play fause wi ma wee brother.” And when I didn’t say anything: “Ye see, Sim doesnae put trust in fowks. But fer some reason I cannae fathom, he put his trust in ye.”

Not enough to warn me about you, I thought. But then, he probably put more trust in you than you deserve yourself. Do you really know your own brother so little?

I took a fag for myself. The cottage appeared at the end of the track. The car shuddered and shook on the uneven ground.

“I have no intention of playing false, Mr. MacLeod. I have no intention of hurting Sim. But…”

I searched for words outside amongst the heather, the crags and pools, and didn’t find any. Aidan stopped the car. He opened the door, dropped the fag end onto the ground and extinguished it with a well practiced twist of his right brown suede shoe. He looked at me and nodded. “Aye. Life sometimes deals us a shite hand.”

We both got out. There was a hint of the sea on the air.

“Well, Danny.” Aidan offered me his hand across the roof of his roadster. “If ye’re ever in need of a place te stay, feel free te come te me.” And he handed me his card, naming him a solicitor, and giving his address in Port Maree.

***

When I saw Sim again later that day, he was in a foul mood. Tourists had rented the cottage and would be arriving on Wednesday. Our time together had gotten an official time limit. But – he had to grin at the cleverness of himself – he had strategically annoyed his dad into giving him the chore of making the cottage presentable for the tourists. That meant he also had an official reason to come by after school on Monday and Tuesday, which he did.

The weather was rather dreary and cool, but we still had a blast. On Monday I met him at the gates of his school and together we played two cons I had dreamed up. The marks were day tourists passing through, minimising the threat to Sim of being caught, and the nature of the game made maximum use of the fact that he was well known to the locals, while I was a stranger as well.

Tuesday we rode the horses to the tip of the peninsula and swum in the sea. Later we fished in the lake. And later still I helped Sim clean up the cottage while he introduced me to his favourite Scottish punk band, The Real McKenzies. And then he put on Nick Cave and we practiced dancing some more. From dancing one thing lead to another, and ended with him kneeling in front of the bed while I buggered him energetically.

Had we been caught doing this before 1861, it would have meant death by hanging for me. Until 1980 it would have meant penal servitude for life or no less than 10 years. (Though only if I had been of legal age myself, I suppose. I never understood the British rules regarding the age of criminal responsibility.)

This is what it meant in 2008:

Suddenly Sim grew pale as death and stared over my shoulder. Someone had come in under the cover of Nick Cave singing about the Mercy Seat.

I turned around as fast as I could, given the circumstances, and could hear Sim wince as I did. Then my ears were ringing and I stumbled backwards and fell over the edge of the bed, the entire left half of my face in sickening flames.

Over me stood, face contorted by rage, fists balled and in the air, Sim’s father. I have no idea what he screamed or even if it was English, Scots, or Gaelic, but the meaning was clear enough: “I will kill you.”

I doubt though that he really had that resolve. Few do. He just thought it was the correct and manly sentiment to show at such a moment, and  that in the end some judicious violence would suffice. Of course neither of us knew that he had actually succeeded, but that it took one year and two months for the impact to run down the skein of fate and finally break my body.

I was still stumbling to my feet, hampered by jeans and boxers bunched around my ankles when Sim – his legs were untangled and naked but for a single, vividly orange sock – jumped up and went between his dad and me, begging – begging! – him to stop.

His dad caught him with a backhand slap to the temple that sent Sim flying across the room like a rag doll, until the corner of a table connected with his head and broke his flight curve.

He crumpled to the floor like a heap of wet clothes.

I told you I sometimes see red?

I assume I must somehow have gotten out of the jeans, and I must have grabbed whatever I got my hands on, Sim’s heavy-duty bicycle lock as it turned out, and I must have attacked Mr. MacLeod.

I only remember that I heard two sound: Furious and insane sounding bellowing – that must have been me – and then a soft whimpering. The red haze receded enough for me to realise that the whimpering had come from Sim’s limp body. That was enough to bring me back into the real world.

Mr. MacLeod was lying on his back, his right wrist and leg apparently broken, his face almost as pale as Sim’s had been when he had seen him. And I was standing above him, the bicycle lock held high and about to be brought down with all my strength onto his head.

I still wanted to murder him. That is not a figure of speech. I wanted to see his skull crack, his face split, and his brains run across the floor in a pink, frothing mush. I wanted to stomp into that mush and make it squish. I wanted him to be eradicated from this earth.

But the rage was fading almost as quickly as it had come. Having heard Sim’s one whimper had been enough to cut away the bottom of my heart and to let everything boiling in it fall out, leaving nothing but a terrible and cold emptiness.

Keeping the lock firm in hand I retreated to Sim and knelt down net to him, to feel his pulse. I didn’t feel it, but I was probably too shaken to do so anyway. He was breathing though, so he was still alive. There was blood pooling under his head and I couldn’t see where it was coming from. I didn’t dare move his body for fear of doing more damage.

Instead I fished his mobile from the pocket of his jacket – a jacket he had hung over the back of the chair – now knocked over – just an hour ago, when we had still been laughing. And hugging. Dancing. And kissing.

Pushing aside premature grief was very hard.

I concentrated on dialling emergency services.

“There has been an accident. Someone has been hurt at the head. He is losing a lot of blood. Unconscious. Fourteen years.”

She wanted to know where I was. I asked Mr. MacLeod. When he didn’t answer right away, I roared at him and hit his broken leg with the lock. He roared, too, in pain, and then told me what I needed to know. I passed it on to the shocked emergency operator and hung up.

I got dressed, gathered up my few belongings, stuffed everything in the nylon backpack Mr. Roth had given me, and waited by the window. I had expected an ambulance, but when I heard the helicopter, I knelt down next to Sim and gave him a small kiss on the forehead and, ignoring his father, hurried out of the house and hid amidst the birches.

I watched the medics carry Sim and his dad away. I saw that they had put a serious looking inflatable brace on his neck and that his face was uncovered. I couldn’t give tuppence about his dad.

When the helicopter had left, I picked up the bike Sim had left again carelessly lying on the gravel of the cottage, and rode off.

***

I went to Aidan’s place, the one noted on the card he had given me. There was no police car at his front door. When he opened the door for me, he was holding the telephone in his hand.

“I heard. What happened?”

I stumbled over my words, anger and grief and self-reproach tying my tongue. With a few quick, precise questions he sussed the situation.

“Stop apologising,” he said absentmindedly. “I know ma dad.”

I took a deep breath. I looked at him hard. Then I said:

“If you know your dad, you know he will put all of this on me.”

Aidan looked up, his face a question mark.

“I want Sim to live,” I continued. “I don’t see what I can do to help beyond this, but if there is anything, I will, even if it means going to the rozzers. But if your dad thinks he can finger me for Sim’s attacker and get away with it he’s wrong. If none of you will speak up, I will. I’ve seen the marks he left on Sim. Everything will come to light and he will go down with me.”

Aidan still didn’t react.

“I don’t know how badly you want to see him in jail, but they got my voice making that 999 call. They have me shouting at him and hurting him. My fingerprints are all over that cottage, and probably all sorts of other traces. And my prints will eventually lead them to everything about me. You’re a fucking solicitor, you do the math.”

He looked back at me for a while, thinking. I believe he was really pondering whether he should let both me and his dad go to jail. But then he took his phone again:

“Ma? It’s Aidan. I know, I’m on ma wey there. But ye must listen now, ma. Send Iona te the wee cottage. She must scrub it doon. No, everything. Change linen, and do every light switch and door knob, water tab. Anything somebody might put his hands on. No, ma, if ye daenna want yer husband in jail fer a very lang time, ye will dae it. Richt noo! Aye, A’ll see ye there. And ma? If ye get ther first, make him shut oop until A’m there, too, aye?”

He turned to me, looking grim and a bit sick. “I have te go now. Ye can stay or leave. There’s food in the kitchen. Help yerself.”

It was one of the longest nights of my life. I spent most of it sitting on the windowsill, staring out at the street, expecting police cars. I finished all my fags, remembering with each one the two boxes of Marlboro Sim had brought me. Remembering every damn thing we’d done together.

I got up once to pee, and another time to drink some water from the tab.

The sky was greying when Aidan returned.

“He’ll live. It’s a fracture and they say his brain is swollen, but they say he’ll make it.”

I slumped down in a corner against the wall.

“Ye gotta leave. They dinna believe our yarn aboot the accident and ye havin’ been chust a hiker passin’ through, but I daena think they’ll be able to pruive anything, once ye’re gone.”

I nodded. I gave him my e-mail address, in case he or Sim ever wanted to contact me later, and we went down to his car. We rode in silence. The land was still just as beautiful as it had been when Conall had taken me. He let me out at Braemore Junction. We shook hands, and he said farewell cordially enough, but there was little doubt he wished I had never set foot in his family’s house.

Then he took off, in his sexy black roadster. I stood where he had let me off, at the car park for Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach. I was 1,971 kilometres from Lake Iešjávri, as the crow flies. 1,971 kilometres and 86 days. And 1,533 kilometres and 191 days from a little, run down farm house in Lower Silesia.

And 3,026 kilometres and 393 days from that dinghy Greek guesthouse near the Aegean Sea.

Not that any of these places would have meant shit to me then. All I knew, as I stood there, was that I couldn’t go south. That I couldn’t go back.

So I struck out my thumb and waited for a northbound car to take me along.

Conall’s family lived in one of those long, whitewashed stone-built cottages, with small awning windows along the front and back and none in the narrow side walls that peak in a chimney. It was set a little back from the road, on a rise yellow with high, flowering gorse. The Defender roared as Conall raced it up that last bit before killing the engine in a choked stutter. When I stepped out, the coconut smell of the gorse washed over me. The sea, on the other side of the road, was dark, and quiet.

Conall took me inside. Everything was crowded with boots and coats and people. The air was steamy with the smell of boiling cabbage, and wet dog, and many conversations being carried on at once. In the living room a table was being set while a boy and a girl were hastily finishing homework. Three older men in work clothes were discussing something in Gaelic in the hall next to the front door. In the kitchen a matronly woman, her long hair streaked with silver, was directing more young people to cut bread and fill jugs. Lamps were spaced haphazardly, so that some areas were gloomy and others brightly lit, increasing the sense of buzzing chaos.

Conall shouted over the din to several people that I was “Danny” and that I would stay for tea. Several people nodded to me. The boy at the table, who was maybe a year or two younger than me, and who had dark, curly hair, bright eyes, and a chipped tooth, looked up from his homework and asked something in Gaelic. Conall laughed and answered back. I understood that he made it clear that my name was “Daniel”, not “Dana.”

Then he said to me “Masel buist fault tae yowes” and left again. I had no idea what that had meant. A young woman, maybe three or four years older than me, greeted me. Her English had the same beautiful Scottish sing-song, and the dry, harsh “r”s, but was a lot more intelligible than most of her family.

“Hi Danny. A’m Iona. Pleased tae meet ye. Tae’s awmost ready. D’ye want tae wash oop?”

And she showed me a tiny bathroom next to the kitchen. It had just about space for one deep, chipped enamel sink, and a loo with a rickety, wooden seat, and two feet, and it smelled very strongly of soap.

I closed the door, and breathed deeply. I washed my face and my hands rather thoroughly, and combed wet fingers through my shaggy and by now shoulder long hair. I looked down on myself: I was wearing my patched fatigue trousers, and – under an old black leather motorcycle jacket – a black T with bold, mustard yellow letters inviting everyone to “Guess where I’m pierced”. I had appropriated the T from an Australian backpacker on Skye. At the time I had thought it was pretty funny, but now I felt decidedly uncomfortable in it. But I couldn’t very well keep the jacket, that I had taken along when I’d left the sleeping Ruth, buttoned up to hide it, could I?

So, when I came out again and Iona took my jacket to hang it on a hook in the hall that had already two or three other pieces of garment hanging from it, the boy at the table nudged the girl and pointed out the words on my chest. Both giggled.

Iona said something to them in Gaelic, rather sharply, and they began gathering up their pens and papers. People filed into the room and sat down on chairs.

“Hey! Ta’ss ma sait!” the boy shouted when someone else wanted to sit on the chair he had been on before.

“Awricht, awricht, Sim. Dinna tak a sparey. Whit’s wi aw yir gibbles on ma ane cheer?”

“Chust sit on Conall’s fer noo!”

Sim – that’s pronounced shim – cleaned up his mess, and by the time he was done, everybody had taken their seat and  the only one that remained for me was the one next to him, from which he just then removed his book and papers.

I was officially introduced to Mr. and Mrs. MacLeod – he was one of the three men from the hall, a broad-shouldered, big-handed man with closely cropped, steel grey hair, and a dashing scar on the right side of his face; she was the woman the kitchen with the silver in her hair, and eyes surrounded by a nest of crow’s feet.

When Mr. MacLeod shook my hand across the table, he greeted me, but left my name hanging, expecting me to complete it: “Daniel…?”

“Balnchard, Sir. Daniel Blanchard.”

Gerald Daniel Blanchard is a Canadian master thief, who burgled amongst other places an Austrian castle in 1998, and who had finally been caught in 2007. I had followed his process with fascination and awe.

“Thank you for sharing your supper with me,” I added. “It was very kind of Conall to invite me.”

Mr. MacLeod seemed pleased, and for the rest of the meal, I was mostly left alone. Soon enough the necessary information transfer that always occurs when a large family sits down together took up everybody’s attention. And when Conall came back, he had to explain about the cut on his face – he had gotten plastered and fallen in to a barbed wire fence – and then about the sheep, or yowes, he had bought.

Only Sim kept quietly bugging me.

“Whaur ye frae, mo caritsh?”

“Canada.”

“Uss’at sae? Whaurawa frae tare?”

“Winnipeg.”

“Och, aye? Nae frae Quebec?”

“No.”

“Bit Blanchard uss a French naem, nae?”

“Yes, but people have French names outside of Quebec as well.”

“Yer accent ussna Canadian, uss’t?”

“My mum is from Austria.”

“Hou auld ar ye?”

“Sixteen.”

“Awricht? Ye leuk yunger. Masel uss fourteen!”

That last bit he said with all the pride of someone who only earned that distinction very recently.

“Sae, whit ar ye daeing in bonnie auld Alba?” He grimaced and thre a quick look at his dad, before he added: “In Scotland A meant.”

“Just travelling.”

“Aw by yersel?”

“My rents are back on Skye. Your brother Conall picked me up hitchhiking.”

And so on.

While Sim kept up this constant Q&A, I tried to figure out the peeps at the table and their relationships. Mr. MacLeod was a right patriarch, he kept the pose of the unmoved mover at the head of the table – and even though the table was round, it was very obvious that the head was wherever he sat. The others seemed to regard him with a mix of fear and respect. Most of the other were his children, and their general management was apparently left to Mrs. MacLeod. There were two daughters and three sons present, though I gathered that a few more had already left the house. One girl was a friend of Iona, and one boy a mate of seventeen year old Boyd. One of the older men from the hall had left when supper had started, but the other was a friend and neighbour, and I got the impression that he and Mr. MacLeod were working on some project or deal together, but could not pick up any details.

Eventually tea was over. I offered to help with the dishes, but Ceana, the youngest, and the one who had been doing homework together with Sim when I’d arrived, wanted me to help her with her chores, namely feeding the horses and rabbits. Sim, who would have had to go also, asked if I could fill in for him, so he could help Conall with something (a lot of technical farming terms were used, in Scots or even Gaelic, too boot, and it all went right by me.)

Ceana showed me their four horses and the rabbits they kept in boxes behind the house. From her I learned that her family were crofters, people who kept a small farm next to a main job. Her father captained a whale-watching boat from Port Maree and her mother did some administrative work for the Highland Council. But they also raised quail, held sheep, offered hiking tours in summer, and hunting tours in autumn. And they had two hunting cottages to rent to tourists.

It my be girlish, but I really like horses. When I had been younger and begun getting into trouble, this one counsellor got me a place in a stable in the Southwest  of Berlin. I was told that it was a job, taking care of the animals. I only learned later that in fact my mum had to pay for it, and that it was therapy. I still bristled at the memory of the deception, but I really enjoyed spending some time with the horses. And when Ceana noticed that I got along with them, and knew what to do, she warmed to me. That was how I found out that Sim had put her up to getting me out of the house.

When I got back, Conall told me that I would stay in his and Sim’s room for the night. He would sleep in the room of another sibling who wasn’t there that night. It seemed a bit complicated but I went along. From the pitying looks I received from Mrs. MacLeod and Iona I understood that Conall had relayed my tale of woe.

Sim showed me to the room and gave me some washed out PJs from one of his older brothers. I had expected him to take up his interrogation again, but he hurried away and left me to my own devices. I was fine with that, and sank into the thick covers. I had had more to eat than in a long wile, and since I had begun the day early and with some serious walking on Skye before getting that ill-fated lift, I was quickly asleep.

Not much later, Sim shook me awake.

“Wheesht” he hissed, signalled me to be quiet, and handed me my jacket.

“Pit on yet claes!”

“What?”

“Yer claes.” He also tossed my trousers and T onto the bed. “Coorie oop!”

“Why?” I asked, but instinct had me obeying already.

“Akis ye coud fuil ma glaikit brusser wi yer yairn, bit nae ma paw, ye bawheid. An me naisser. Tsat T-shert o’ yers, nae lad what’s feart o’ his paw wat pe caucht deid in it. And oniewey, A ken what Gerlad Blanchard uss. So A ken yer nae what ye said ye ar. Bit ma paw onlie suspects, sae he’s callin’ t’ polis in An Gjerestan reit noo! Tsat’s hou ye want uptail tis bluidy seicont!”

He opened the dormer window and looked out.

“Kin ye sclim o’er tae t’ ruif and…”

But I was already at his side, then up on the window sill, and pulling myself onto the eave line and the dormer roof.

I looked down from there and said: “Thank you, Sim!”

That was the first time, I used his name.

He smiled up at me: “Isheh do veha, Dana.”

That was, what he would call me from then on forth.

There was a noise on the landing outside his room. I froze. He ducked inside but after a second he had his head back outside.

“Fause alairm. Hey, haud on fer a sec. Masel uss richt back.”

He disappeared and I heard him hurry out of the room. I considered scarpering anyway, but while I was still checking out the best – and that meant quietest – way down from the roof, he was already back.

“Here, tak tsir.” He held up a ring with two keys. “Tay’re fer ane o’ oor deer stalkin’ boossies.” And he explained to me how to get there.

“It’s toom richt noo,” and at my confused look: “Empty. Nae occupied. Ye kin scug tare. A’ll come by t’ morn and bring ye sum scran… sum food.”

“Okay.”

I wanted to turn away, but he whispered: “A kin onlie come efter schuil us soot. Ye promise ye’ll be tare, Dana?”

He looked zp at me, his face pale in the darkness.

I promised. He nodded and ducked back inside. I crawled across the roof to the windowless side wall and down the downspout, and disappeared in the night.

Continued here

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

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

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.

Countdown: 5 – Kiss & Tell

Posted: October 26, 2010 in berlin, dweep, family, prison, school

Violence it ripped through the old dogwood fence. See the hope, see the gravel.
– Band of Horses: Cigarettes, Wedding Bands (2007)
I told you that my last serious fight before I discovered stealing had been with Hendrik, in June ’07. The peace lasted until next May. After that there really didn’t seem to be much point in good behaviour.
I was released from juvie that April. It was clear that my old school wouldn’t have me anymore. Their statistics are screwed up enough with drop outs, fights, and drug busts to put up with a convicted criminal like me. Since I was still over a year away from being released from compulsory school attendance, there was talk of putting me in a school for difficult teenagers. But that would have meant graduating with no more than GCSE equivalent, and probably not even that. My mum wouldn’t hear of that.
She left school with no more than a CSE equivalent, and she suffered from her lack of education all her life. She was determined that her own kids were all going to pass A-Levels. She had managed to get Lukas to succeed, and she had bossed ‘Nessa to go through with it. She would be damned if I was going to mess up her quota.
So she went to town, talking to people, asking around, writing letters, begging, cajoling, pleading, appealing to generosity, magnanimity, and playing on their sense of shame if necessary. And finally she convinced the administration of this one rich kids’s school in the Southwest of Berlin to give me a chance. It was my German-English bilingualism that gave me the opening. Since I entered in the middle of the school year they made me take a bunch of tests, though, to see if I was up to speed. I passed and was accepted.
The first day in the new school was awkward. My mum had made me dress in my best, and she had made me get a decent haircut, and I looked like a total dweeb. What I wore was nothing like what the rich kids wore. And even if one of my new class mates had given me a go at their wardrobe, it would have looked all wrong on me. I walked the wrong way, with too much swagger and rolling, and I stood the wrong way, too hunched and scowling, and I very obviously spoke the wrong way. I suppose you can take the delinquent out of Kreuzberg, but you cannot that easily take Kreuzberg out of the delinquent.
The form teacher introduced me with my full name, which I hated. Then he had me take a seat at the very front. I don’t know if that was out of convenience, because it was closest, or if it was to better have me under control, or if he intentionally sat me next to the other boy at that table. One look at him showed that he wasn’t there because he was a troublemaker. If anything he looked a bit like a teachers pet. I mean, he wore a pale yellow argyle patterned slipover over a button down shirt. What more can you say?
‘Great,’ I thought. ‘He sits me next to the only one who looks even dweepier than me.’
Then the boy smiled shyly and gathered up his book and pens to clear my side of the table.
“Hi. I’m Tim,” he whispered.
“Rikki,” I said, and offered my hand. He looked at it for a brief, confused moment, then he shook it. Turns out rich kids don’t shake hands. They just say “hi”. Another thing to make stand out.
Continued here
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
Do you want to know what kept me up that night? Not little Dewey tossing and turning and whimpering unhappily in her sleep. Not a single thought of my mum who probably had a hell of a time right then, knowing that she had somewhere, somehow lost another child, or of my aunt who’d be sick with totally undeserved feelings of guilt. No, what kept me awake for the longest time was being pissed off at myself for trying to steal that backpack without wearing my shoes, or at all if I wasn’t able to run. That had been so stupid. I should have been better prepared, I should always be able to run at the first sign of trouble. Okay, I had been lucky, but relying on dumb luck just wouldn’t do. If I was going to make it on my own I’d have to work on stuff like that.
Eventually I fell asleep, at first only superficially, bobbing in and out of sleep, adrift amongst the shoals of nightmare and chased by all manner of unwholesome fears and memories. I remember waking up once, but uncertain if I was still dreaming. Huey and Louie were having an argument in the camper. They were trying to keep their voices down, and I couldn’t understand what they were fighting about, but it sounded vicious and bitter, in that way that betrays a deep seated and little understood hurt. I turned my head and thought I saw the gleam of Dewey’s eyes, wide open in the dark. I might have said something to her, but if I did she did not answer. When next I looked the gleam was gone. And then the current of the night took me over that unseen ledge where the continental shelf of the subconscious drops into the abysmal reaches of unconsciousness, and I sank like a ship once the last large reservoir of captured air has been blown out, trundling, circling into the blackness, tailing fragmentary dreams like tiny bubbles.
I did not wake again until late the next morning when the sun burning through the teal nylon of the tent was giving me a headache. My face and neck were taut with sunburn and my calves felt sore and leaden, but my feet were a lot better, and even though I was hungry for some breakfast, last evening’s gnawing pain was gone from my gut. I felt bloody good.
Dewey wasn’t in the tent, so I crawled outside. Louie was sitting in one of the chairs, wearing sunglasses and a straw hat, and read a book. Without looking up she said: “There’s cornflakes and coffee, sleepyhead.”
“Where are Huey and Dewey?”
“Jogging.”
Ah, a daddy and daughter pastime, I thought and sat on the unoccupied chair. The coffee was instant, and the milk for the corn flakes only UHT, but still I tucked in. While I ate I felt Louie look at me above the rim of her sunglasses. Uncomfortable I adjusted the neck of the shirt to better hide the tat on my chest, and lowered my face.
At that moment I hated her. I hated the assumptions she was making that reduced all of my history to that of a queer boy runaway. Of course being queer had something to do with it, but hell, being queer was just me, it was neither all nor nothing, just one of many parts.
After breakfast Louie began to pack up. I helped her some, but it was awkward since she was all testy and impatient. Obviously she didn’t trust me around, well, anything valuable, as if I might suddenly limp off with half their possessions or something. Then Huey and Dewey returned, flushed and hyper. I wanted to say good-bye but Huey insisted he’d drop me with a long shopping list of travel necessities at a pharmacy in Ledbury, a Herefordshire village close to Eastnor Park where the festival would take place.
Ledbury turned out to be a pleasant medieval looking market town with lots of timber-framed houses, abuzz with people there for the festival. I said my good-byes and thank-yous, and tried to give them money for the food, lodging, and clothes, which earned me played-up indignation from Huey and an unbelieving snort from Louie. Dewey shook my hand formally and slipped me a piece of paper with her email address and mobile phone number. And that should have been the last we saw of each other. Only, it wasn’t.
***
The pharmacy had everything I was looking for. Afterwards I sat down on a bench outside and taped up my feet. Next to the pharmacy was a haberdashery that sold socks made of all natural fabrics. I still had my own clothes, stuffed into a plastic carrier bag Louie had given me. I got a pair of black socks, and put on my trainers. Then I stuffed the black thongs in the thigh pockets of the shorts and dumped the bag of dirty clothes in a public bin. And after some hot, black and surprisingly good coffee, I decided to check out Eastnor, Eastnor Castle, and Deer Park.
I was reluctant to admit it to myself, but ever since Dewey had asked me to come to the festival with them, a plan had begun to take root in my mind, or at least an ambition. And as I stood on the ridge above the meadow stretching down to the two small lakes, with the stages, tents, concession stands, and the fairground all spread out around, I knew that I wanted to crash that party.
I’d been to several concerts and festivals in Berlin. Love Parade, Fuck Parade and CSD were all free, but of course I couldn’t actually afford tickets to the Berlin Festival, the Waldbühne summer festival, the Lostprophets in ‘06, or Wir Sind Helden in ‘07. Fortunately Hector has an older brother who has made it a regular art to get into such events without paying a single cent.
There is the legit way: Get a job picking up litter and cleaning the port-a-loos, working for the food or beer vendors, or for someone like OXFAM. You’d have to work 3 or 6 or 8 hour shifts, but usually got a fair amount of down-time in between to attend some of the acts. Usually you have to be 16 or even 18 to be able to do so, though.
You can of course also pass yourself off as staff without actually working there. The main prop is the right T-Shirt. Look busy and important and act the required age and it’s surprisingly easy to get through. Or you can forge the pass, wristband, and stamps. That is less difficult than it sounds – as long as they aren’t equipped for individualized bar-coded IDs, that is – since most festivals use the same set of logos, letter-type, and colour scheme on their posters and adverts in scene magazines that they use for the passes and wristbands. So it comes down to a good colour printer and laminator, getting the correct material for the wristbands, and a lot of chutzpah at the check points. I had the chutzpah, but not enough time for the prep, especially with the resources that Eastnor, Ledbury, or even nearby Hereford had to offer.
Of course I could have stolen someone’s tickets. I almost had, by accident, after all – Huey’s, Dewey’s, and Louie’s had been in the front pocket of that backpack. And for a while that was my main plan. But the weather was fine, and people were happy and relaxed, and somehow I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I spent half the day checking out security. I was certain I could get over the fence and around inside, but it would mean having to avoid their staff and check points all the time. It would be possible, but risky and bothersome. Still, that had become my main fall back plan by the time I met Frank.
I don’t know his real name, of course, but I called him Frank the tout after his line of introduction: “If I may be so frank,” was how he began his sales pitch. Tickets were his commodity, and he sold them with “only” a 100% mark-up. So for a teen ticket I had to fork over 120 quid. But Frank was such a spiv, from his chinless face to his fake snake-skin boots, that I knew I had found my mark.
I shadowed him for a while. He wouldn’t be carrying all his tickets or his money on his person, and right enough, he soon lead me to his black GTV6, where he dumped some of his earning and refreshed his stock of tickets. I waited for him to get back into the trenches, before I busted a window on his car. I have to admit, damaging that wonderful machine, no matter how rust-eaten and battered it was, hurt my soul. Still, it took me all I had to keep up the guise of the needy festival nerd handing over money he knows he cannot really afford to give away to get his hands on a ticket when I paid Frank with his own money (keeping some for beer and grub). God, that felt good.
Why didn’t I just take my illicit earning from Painswick? Well, if you even have to ask I probably won’t be able to make you understand. Of course it was against my pride as a con man to let someone like Frank rip me off. The sheer poetry of the act was worth it. But beyond that, I dunno, the idea of making the Cotswold Queen Mum pay for a Dance, Trance, and Folk Rock festival… I tried to imagine her lost amongst 35,000 ravers, turning confused and frightened around her own axis, holding on to her hat while her myopic corgi bit into a noz balloon and staggered away, yapping and whining. It just felt, you know, wrong.

Continued here

Just because you don’t understand it
doesn’t mean it isn’t so.
– Lemony Snicket (The Blank Book, 2004)

Their names, of course, weren’t really Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Louie was Louise Thomas, and Dewey was her daughter Drew. Drew had been 3 years old and her biological father long gone from their lives when Louise met Hugh. I don’t know how they came up with those nicknames, but once they got them they stuck.
They were on their way to the Big Chill music festival that is being held every summer in Deer Park at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire. This would be the fourth year that they attended. The festival started Friday, two days after we met.
Huey had pre-cooked the chilli Louie had been heating over the camping stove, and after he was done taking care of my feet, and checking – for the umpteenth time, because of the accident – Dewey’s pupillary light reflex, he relieved Louie of cooking duty for some last minute seasoning.
Louie disappeared in the camper. When she came out she tossed a heavy, clanking bag to Dewey. “Better set it up while there is still some light. It’s bugger to do by the light of a torch.” Dewey groaned and looked at me, but before she could ask, Louie interrupted. “Huey has just spent an hour patching up this young man’s feet. He is not going to do the work for you and ruin all of that again, you hear? Get going.”
Then she pressed a pack of clothes in my arm, topped by a towel, and some soap.
“Over there is a barrel with rain water. Please wash. Thoroughly. And then, I don’t know, burn your clothes or something. You stink. Oh, and…”
She put a fourth pair of flip-flops on top of the pile. They were black. I wondered if she sold them or something. “So you don’t get your feet messed up again.”
I put on the thongs and limped across the orchard to the barrel. The water was reasonably fresh and deliciously cool. I stripped and washed, head to toes. The clothes turned out to be hers: A pair of black unisex briefs, black shorts, and a black men’s shirt. When I came back she looked me over.
“Looks better on you than on me. Keep them. Now let’s eat.”
The chilli was good. They had crackers with it. Dewey drank coke, Huey and Louie had beer. At first Louie handed me a can of coke, too, but when Huey saw me look at the beer, he said: “Go ahead, take one.”
Louie looked cross but didn’t say anything.
Afterwards I shared my last fags with Louie and offered to do the washing up, but Huey wouldn’t hear of it.
“You keep off those feet until the morning, you hear! Just stay here with Dewey, Louie and I will take care of it.”
To that Louie added: “And no stealing.”
I was too relaxed to be pissed off by the remark. “Not on your watch, ma’am.” I said, grinning. (Come to think of it, she did look a bit like Demi Moore.) Dewey sat down on the chair next to me. Huey and Louie left for the rain water barrel.
Dewey and I made polite chit-chat. We talked mainly about music, and films. When there was a natural pause in the conversation like they sometimes happen when nobody really has anything more to say about the current subject, Dewey suddenly asked:
“What if I really did?”
“Did what?”
“Try to, what you said. With the car.”
“What?” I was puzzled. “What did I say? Hump it, you mean?”
She nodded shyly.
I stared at her. Above the cloudy sky was still a bright, if faded pigeon blue, but down here shadows were crowding in on us, and the trees, deadwood and underbrush had run into one another in the murk. Even the dark red camper was beginning to lose its definition. But Dewey’s face stood out clear and pale, like a frightened apparition on an age darkened painting.
“Dewey, that makes no sense. I was just making a stupid joke.”
“Never mind, hey, wanna come to the festival with us?”
Her conversational zigzagging made me vaguely queasy. “I don’t have tickets.”
“But it would be so cool. You could sleep in the tent with me. And it’s fun. But sometimes it’s boring, and it would be more fun with you. Please?”
“I don’t have any bloody tickets. I bet there aren’t any to be had one day before it starts. And if there are, they’ll be terribly expensive.”
“Can’t you just steal one? You’re a thief aren’t you?”
I hesitated. “Yeah, I am. And I suppose I could. But I don’t know…”
“But you will stay with us tonight, right? Sleep in my tent?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think your rents would be cool with that.”
“Why? Cuz you could steal something?”
“No, that’s not what I mean.”
It took a moment for the penny to drop. She blushed, giggled, and swatted me. “Nah, never mind that. I’ll manage that.” And she jumped up and bounced off, to join her rents at the barrel.
The three of them began lengthy deliberations, a dubious murmur punctuated by drawn out pleas, with the occasional sharp exchanges between Louie and Huey rising above the rest. For the second time that day I thought about scarpering, and if my feet hadn’t hurt so bad, I probably would have.
The night settled around me, and with the darkness clamminess crept into everything. Huey and Dewey returned the dishes to the camper and Louie sat down on the chair next to me.
“Well, thanks for the supper and everything,” I said.
“Yeah, well, you are welcome.” She hesitated. I was still thinking about how I could extricate myself from it all without sounding rude or crude, when she began: “Look, Dewey…”
“It’s okay, I’ll tell her I can’t stay.” I interrupted. “I’ll make it, like, totally my idea if you want.”
“No. Well, the thing is…” She floundered.
“If you’re not cool with it, that’s totally okay with me. If she was my daughter, I’d probably feel the same. And I’ll be okay on my own, really. What difference does it make if I go now or tomorrow.”
She swallowed. “No, we will not make you leave in the middle of the night. Yes, you will be on your own tomorrow, and that’ll be for the best, but you stay with us tonight. Don’t even act the tough guy, now, okay, it’s really just about you staying in her tent.”
I looked at Louie levelly. I don’t know, she was a bitch, no doubt about that, and I had no idea what kept Huey and her together, but somehow I respected her. So I decided to make that leap. I took a deep breath and said:
“Okay, listen. I don’t know if my word means anything to you, there isn’t any reason it should, but Dewey isn’t really my type. I mean, I like her, she’s a sweet kid and all, but it’s not just that she is a couple of years too young for my taste, she’s also not equipped the way I like ‘em. Chromosomally.” I adjusted my crotch. “And anyway, I’m way too knackered for any funny stuff tonight.”
“Oh.” She thought about it. “You mean, you’re…”
“As a bottle of chips. So, if there is anyone you need to worry about me hitting on, my first choice would be Huey. I like big and bearish. Just, don’t ask me to prove it, that’d be awkward. I don’t perform well in front of an audience.”
At that she had to laugh. She leaned back in her chair and looked at me. Then she nodded.
Dewey returned and told me I would read to her now. I asked if she wasn’t too old for that that but she gleefully said, nope, she wasn’t. So, after a second nod from Louie I crawled into the tent and Dewey switched on an electric torch and gave me the big brick of a book she had brought along. It was Inkheart, which gave me a bad sting. The last person I had read this to had been ‘Nette.
Dewey showed me where she had stopped reading. I began, and soon I was lost in the harsh, dangerous, and hauntingly beautiful world of Meggie Folchart. Eventually Louie poked her head in, handed me a second iso-foam mat and said:
“Don’t stay up too late, girls.”
Dewey did one of these happy little squeaks that only girls her age can pull off, hugged me, and then hugged her mum good night. After that Huey also came by. He was a bit more sombre and gave me a tube of zinc oxide cream for my feet before wishing us a good night.
After they were gone, Dewey snuggled up to me and had me read on. And while I did, she rested her head on my left arm and let her fingers trail the long, silvery scars on its inside.
Continued here
I did stop fighting. I had stopped after that one fight with Hendrik, at the beginning of our affair, back in June. That had been the last time, actually the last time until Samuel, almost one year later. And when H and I went our separate ways, I started stealing, and I didn’t have to do it anymore. I know, nobody believes me, but it is true. That thing with the rozzer in my mum’s flat that the judge got herself so worked up about, that doesn’t really count. I wasn’t trying to hurt her at all, you see, I didn’t even know she was there.
If Kreuzberg is one of the bad parts of Berlin, then SO36 is one of the bad parts of Kreuzberg. And the Kotti, the Kottbusser Platz, a market place, roundabout, and U-Bahn station, is the living, beating, rotted heart of SO36. At the Kotti it’s easier to find a pusher than a rozzer. At the Kotti German is barely recognized as business language, it is the sign of the outsider, the visitor, the tourist.
The Kotti is surrounded by tall, bleak, prefab tower blocks. And for as long as I can remember we have lived in a small, three-room council flat on the top level of one of those towers. My room had formerly been mine and ‘Nette’s together. Later I had to cede it to Lukas for a couple of years until he finally went away to join the military. The room was tiny and lightless, not much more than a walk-in closet. There was the mattress directly on the floor (it had been bunk beds while I shared with ‘Nette), a tiny desk, a chair, stacks and stacks of books and CDs, a rickety wardrobe, half of which was occupied by even more books and music, and still space enough left to turn around on your own axis without bumping your elbows or stepping on something – if you were careful and did it standing on one foot.
The only window was narrow and high on the wall. But that window was the best part of the whole room, and why I really liked living there. For the wall that window was set in for the most part separated our house from the next one, but ours was a few meters higher. The window was set so high because the roof of the next house ended just there. Which meant that through that window I could climb onto that neighbouring roof, a roof ten stories over the surrounding streets and courtyards, and watch all of Berlin spread out around me.
That roof has always been my favourite place in all the world. Whenever things got bad, I would get up there, smoke, drink, and let my legs dangle from the rim and my eyes travel over the skyline. Usually that alone would be enough to calm me down. And if it wasn’t I’d practice aikido during sunset or sunrise. Corny? Sure. But have you ever done it? Well, then don’t laugh. Just believe me, it feels great.
Of course the roof was also a great place to get away in the other, less metaphorical sense. There was a door directly to the staircase, and you could jump down to the roof of the next house and get into the staircase there. Lots of entrances and exits.
So when the rozzer came knocking that day that was what I tried to do – get away. Only she was much closer on my heels than I thought. Literally. When I kicked around to wriggle out of the window onto the roof she was just reaching for my ankle. Instead she got the sole of my trainer smack in the kisser. There was the crunch of cartilage and bone and a lot of blood. And the last black mark on a long list of such marks, convincing the judge that I was one pitch black sheep in dire need of separation from the flock.
Maybe it was an understandable mistake. Given my record why should anyone have believed my claim that I hadn’t intentionally hurt that lady copper. I was neither know for my pacifism or restraint, nor for speaking the truth. Especially not to my mum. But that one time it was the truth, goddamn it, it was.
It was only after I landed in juvie that they began to take note of my lack of further fighting. I was the model inmate. And they totally misunderstood that, too.
I only studied so hard for school because being inside was so mindbogglingly boring that even irregular French verbs were a welcome distraction. Also, I wasn’t stupid enough to go stealing from peeps I was locked up with. I mean, come on, folks. I was the bloody youngest bloke in there, by a margin of a whole year. And the others were there for stuff like drug trafficking, rape or assault – and not kicking a rozzer by accident during arrest but of the deliberate baseball attack sort.
Of course I was not going to steal from anyone there, I was not going to rip anyone off. And even I was able to discipline myself enough to not go psychopath on some bloke who would have been not only way stronger than me but who in all likelihood had a whole gang at his back, though there were times I had to walk away and beat my fists bloody on a wall to stay clean.
But none of that kept me actually on what the guards, the social workers, the shrinks, and my mum looked at as the straight and narrow. No, I just got along. I figured out the rules of the game and I played by them, not because I believed in them, but because it was the only way not to lose. When I saw a chance to bend or break those rules without repercussions for myself, I did so. Of course, there were less possibilities within the limited game of juvenile hall. But when I met Uncle Valya, I jumped at the chance to learn how to.
So maybe you could say that this was really where that path began, in Old Luisenstadt Graveyard, playing poker with my mates. Or by breaking up with Hendrik. Or I was pushed on it by whatever it was that made me fight and that could only be placated by becoming a thief.