Archive for the ‘music’ 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.

The sun was slowly dying in a bloody swamp of stringy clouds above the Hebrides when Sim returned. He came on horseback.

“Ower t’ muir uss t’ shortest wey,” he explained as he dismounted. He was keeping two coins palmed, one in each hand. One of them fell to the ground as he tethered the horse to a tree. He picked it up with an apologetic shrug.

“Hae tae haud at practeesin, richt?”

“Right,” I said, and I couldn’t have felt prouder.

“Sae, whaur uss we gaun?”

“I had the other cottage in mind, the one a bit down the shore. It seems to be empty at the moment.”

“T’ McDonagh boothy?” His face fell. “Tsat’s dreich. Naessin tarein bit stour’s sel and moose-wabs.”

“Nothing there but what?”

He rolled his eyes: “Dist and speeder wabs.”

“Oh. Yes, which is why it’s a good place to practice. We’re not going to knock over Fort Knox on our first try, are we?”

The disappointment on his face remained.

“Okay,” I relented. “How about we try your rents’s house, later, when they’re asleep?”

Sim shuddered. “Certes, and tan ma paw kin catch ye lairnin masel hou tae be a berglir? Tsat’s a mischancy thochtie, mate.” Then his face brightened: “Och! Masel ken chust t’ perfit goose. Ut’ss in Port Maree, bit ut’ss geylies oot-t’-way. Ut’ss belangin tae somebody frae Edinburrae, bit ut shoud be emptie te noo.”

“You are crazy, you know that, Sim MacLeod?”

Aye. Masel uss, ussna A?” He grinned. “C’mon, aff we gae.”

He climbed back onto the horse and scooted to he very front of the broad saddle. “Ceana telt msel ye ken hou tae ride. Ye tak t’ reins.”

I stepped into the stirrup he had just taken his own feet out of, grabbed the saddle horn, and swung myself into the saddle behind him. He leaned back into me as I reached around him on both sides to take the reins, and I had to think of Hendrik and the rides on his motorbike.

Without waiting for his directions I nudged the horse into canter and went to the narrow path across the moor to Port Maree.

“Och, ye awready ken yer wey aboot,” Sim commented.

“It pays to know your exits. If you want to be a thief, you better keep that in mind.”

Bitterly he muttered: “A leart tsat lesson lang syne, mate.”

Silence settled over us as we rode through the chilly September night. He snuggled his back against me and I kinda hoped he didn’t notice my wood, but I had told him enough for him to be forewarned, and anyway, he neither joked about it nor shied away. A low waning moon winked heartlessly through ragged clouds and the lonesome beauty of the land burned itself into my soul forever.

The house Sim lead me to was a nice, modern, flat-roofed holiday home at the north end of the village, set back a bit in the hills above the beach. We left the hose tethered to a clump of wild gooseberry bushes in a hollow hidden from the village behind the last crest of the shore-side hills. Sim wanted us to camouflage ourselves Ranger style, with mud across the faces and grass and leafy twigs and heather stuck across our clothing, but I stopped him.

“Bit ut’s really wirkin. A wis amang t’ best at ACF fieldcraft.”

“ACF?”

“Airmy Cadet Force. At schuil. At’s tis paramilitary sivival trainin, ken, Bear Grylls like. And masel uss guid, guid at’ut. Pent and ryss and t’ like, tay brak t’ contours, mak ut real fickle fer t’ issers tae ken us fer human.”

“Ryss?” – “Twigs, man. Twigs, and grass, and leafs. And pent fer t’ face. Make-up.”

“Yes, Sim. I believe you are really good at paramilitary survival, and if it was a matter of getting shot at or not, I’d agree. But you’re going to break into an empty, unprotected house. It’s our job nobody sees us at all, with twigs or without. And if we are caught, you can always say, we were just bored and had a look around for a laugh. At best you get a slap on the wrist for trespassing. But if you show up in bloody camouflage, that’s not going to stick. When they see you meant business, they get you for B&E. That’s no joke. We are breaking into a house.”

He sobered a bit and followed me over the wall, across the sloping lawn, and to the front door. By then the moon had set, and the only light came from the street lamps beyond the wall and the bushes. Sim wanted to take an electric torch from a pocket. I held the wrist.

“No light,” I whispered. “The beam of a torch at night is really suspicious. Someone who has a right to be here would turn on the porch light, and if they were coming or leaving they’d have a car down by the street and everything.”

“Bit hou wull we appen t’ door?” he whispered back.

“I’m going to teach you how to pick a lock now. And that is done by sound and touch anyway. Here, gimme your coins and take these.”

In the darkness I pressed two small tools into his hands, a safety pin and a small flathead screwdriver I had taken from a tool box back in the cottage.

“To pick a normal security lock you need a pick – that’s the safety pin in this case – and a tension wrench – the screwdriver. The pick has to be both thin, so you can get it inside the lock and move around inside, and strong, so it doesn’t bend away once you start to poke at things. The wrench has to be able to administer torque, that is pressure on the cylinder, turn it, you know, like a key would. So it needs to fit into the slit and apply pressure on the sides, but leave as much room as possible so you can still move the pin freely. It’s always a sort of compromise.”

I showed him how to apply torque with the screwdriver and the guided his other hand with the pin into the lock. While I had waited for Sim that evening I had bent the last three millimetres of the pointy end of the pin upwards with some pliers.

“The thing about the pick is this: Most stuff, like paper clips, especially those made of brass or copper, are too soft. Once you try to press against the pins inside the lock, they bend somewhere along the long part between your grip and the little bent pointy end. And those covered in plastic are usually too thick to get inside properly. So you need something made from steel, but stull just pliable enough so you can bend the end 90 degrees without it snapping off.”

“Like a sauftie-preen?”

“For example. A good, long, not too thick steel paperclip can work, too. Really fine hacksaw blades can also be good. Wire is mostly too soft, but that depends. Okay, now feel around inside the tumbler. Scrape the pin along the bottom. Can you feel how the point keeps catching?”

“Aye.”

“That’s the pins. There is 5 to 8 pins in a lock like this. Each pin is actually two steel pins and a spring pressing against them. When a key is inserted the teeth of the key push each set of pins exactly so that the break separating them – remember, it’s always two pins and a spring – is aligned perfectly with the side of the cylinder, so that one pin is exactly outside, and one is exactly inside. But when you remove the key, the springs move the pins so that they go across the line and pin the cylinder in place, so it can’t turn. Got that?”

“Aye.”

“What you want to do is push each set of pins so that the crack between them is aligned perfectly with the cylinder wall and you can turn the lock with the wrench… the screwdriver.”

“Bit winna t’ springs push t’ pins back, ance A muive tae t’ neist ane?”

“Spot on, mate. That’s why you need to keep torque on the cylinder with the wrench all the time: Not so much you can’t push the pins anymore with your pick, but enough so the pins don’t slide back in. Once you get a feel for it, you can actually hear and sense the tiny click when a pin separates at the crack.”

“Och, ut’s fickle, eh?”

“It’s a lot harder than it mostly looks on the telly, but it’s not magic either. Just try to feel and hear and imagine what’s going on inside the lock.”

“Uss’t up or doon tsat A thrimmle t’ pins?”

“Can be either way. Depends on how the key is put in. You always push the way the teeth of the key are pointing. In Germany it’s usually downward. I think it’s the same here. I read that in America it’s usually upwards, but I’ve never been there myself.”

“Doon, richt.”

And then I settled down and let him work on it. I knew that the first time takes forever. And it did. It took Sim almost three hours, and he was bathed in sweat at the end. It’s not easy to stay crouched in front of a door, keep constant but delicate pressure with a tool not really good for the job with one hand and try to make tiny adjustments in a space you can’t see with the other.

Once, after about half an hour, Sim wanted to give up.

“A cannae dae it, Dana. A wull be here awe nicht.”

“I got time. So do you. Or do you have somewhere else to be?”

“Naw, atweel no. Bit tis maun be gey dreich fer ye. A tsocht we would hae fun te nicht.”

“I got time, Sim. You want to learn this or not?”

After that he concentrated on the lock.

I learned a lot about Gaelic cussing that night. It’s not only very strenuous, but it also incredibly frustrating. Every time your tension torque slips all the pins you already got into the correct position will slip back, and you have to start from scratch.

But he kept at it, and around two in the morning he turned the cylinder with the screwdriver once around we heard the latch slide back one setting.

Then the cylinder caught again and the door was still locked.

“Whit’s wrang?”

“It’s a double lock. Most are. You need to turn the key twice before you can open the door. But of course as you turn, the pins slip back, so you need to pick it all over again.”

“Och nae. Nae!” And he followed that with a long stream of Gaelic obscenities. “Ye kenned at woud happen?!”

“Yep. Well, I was pretty sure it would.”

“And noo?”

“Here, let me try this.”

I took another safety pin from my pocket and took the screwdriver from Sim. I applied the screwdriver and pushed the second safety pin into the lock and ratcheted it quickly in and out in a somewhat jiggly sawing motion. After a few seconds the cylinder turned a second time and this time the bolt inside slid all the way back and I could push the door open.

Sim stared at me with open mouth.

“Hou’d ye dae tsat?”

I grinned and pressed my second make-shift lockpick into his hand. He felt it and realized that I had not given it a single 90° twist at the end, but had rather bent it into a zig-zagging shape, not unlike a normal key, only that all “teeth” were roughly the same size and shape.

“Sometimes this works, too. You must apply the right amount of torque but then you can try to simply jiggle the pins quick enough and hope they will all catch at the right spot. Works a lot faster than picking each pin individually.”

An Taigh na Gall ort!” Sim spat a couple of nasty insults my way. “Hou wisna ye at telling masel tsat rich oot?”

“Sorry, I’m just a simple Englishman,” I said, grinning. “When you get excited I can’t understand you. What did you just say?”

“Feech! A askit: Why dinnae tell me hou tae dae tsat richt awa?”

“Seriously, Sim? Because now you actually learned how a lock works. Now you also know why this trick works. Now you understand a lock. And anyway, ratcheting doesn’t always work.”

“Hou lang uss it whan ye pick a lock?”

“Depends on the lock, of course. But normally I got it down to about 20 minutes. But that took a lot of practice I mostly practiced on the door to the roof. It was pretty difficult, and nobody ever bothered me when I sitting at the top of the staircase.”

I opened the door wide.

“Please, come in.”

The house was exactly what you would expect from a holiday home when it wasn’t it use. Lots of pine wood, and carpets and cushions in subdued colours and patterns that inured them against stains and dirt. The fridge door was propped open with a neatly folded kitchen towel, and in the cabinets remained a bag of sugar, a carton of salt, and an open pack of rice.

Sim went to the fuse box and turned the power on. Then he turned on the lights in the living room. I thought about telling him not to, but the windows were shuttered, the curtains were drawn, and the room itself, on the lower level, was hidden from the street behind the wall and the hedge.

“Hey, leuk here!” Sim had found a bottle of Scotch in one cabinet. We opened it and took turns drinking directly from the bottle.

Then Sim turned on the stereo and began to dance in the middle of the room. I sat down on the couch, lit a fag, had some more Scotch, and watched him. When he noticed me watching, he said: “C’mon. Dance wi us.”

“What?”

“Dance wi us.”

“But we’re both blokes.”

“Aye. And tsat baszers ye, pìobair?”

“I can’t dance.”

“Nowey!” Sim laughed. “Ye canna dance? Masel wull lairn ye! C’mon.”

For a second I thought about telling him to fuck himself, but then sighed, put the fag between my lips, and went over to him.

“Ut’s gey easy, Dana. Leuk. Ye pit yer caurie haund here and gie’s isser. Sae. And noo ye coont tae fower, wi t’ muisic. Ane, twa, tsree, fower, ane, twa, tsree, fower…”

I concentrated on matching his steps and after a while I actually got into the rhythm. Then Sim stopped and knelt down by the rack with CDs. He went through it and then pulled one out.

“Tis uss a Walz. Haud on.”

He put the CD into the player and then Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman began singing: “I know I stand in line you think you have the time…” Sim came back over to me, took up position again and showed me the gentle swayin one-two-three steps of the Walz.

And then we danced. For real. Slow, and close, to this insipid, silly, clichéd, soppy song. His nails on his fingers on his hand on my shoulder were dirty and badly cut. He smelled of sweat and horse. His belt buckle pressed against my crotch. From his nose his breath came through the neck of my T and was hot and chilling at once on my chest.

In this plain, almost anonymous living room of the empty holiday home I had taught him to break into, drunk on Scotch and excitement, success, and our own daring, we danced.

And when Nicole Kidmen left the stage and Robbie Williams started into the brassy “Do Nothing Til’ You Hear From Me”, Sim looked up into my eyes and with a burning face asked hoarsely: “Will ye lairn us t’isser stuff an aw?”

And when I didn’t answer right away: “Ye ken, whit ye dae wi…”

Not wanting to make him spell it out, I kissed him as gentle as I could. At first he tensed, and I had to think of Tim, and wondered if I had made a mistake again. But it wasn’t the same tension, there was no real shock in Sim’s body language, more a shivering, excited fear, and when his tongue met mine, it was as careful as a testing of the water. Careful, but curious.

After a while we cleaned up, turned off the lights, and rode back to the cottage. This time I used the bed. And Sim stayed.

Continued here

The lorry park offered free showers and a Transport Café. When the suczka  in the BP shop wouldn’t sell me fags, I went into he café for a coke and swiped two packs from tables I walked past. The driver had gone for a shower and a meal and I idled away the time at the Outdoor Activity Centre net to the petrol station, studying advertisements for white-water rafting and bungee jumping and other exciting adventures for rich pussies. Later the driver cam back carrying a pack of four large cans of Stella, which he shared freely. I got the narrow top bunk, and together we listened to a Best of Italian Opera mix and talked for a while about the Highlands, and the freedom of the road, and how it was disappearing a little bit every year. Then we settled down for the night.

I felt very comfortable in the cosy shelter of the lorry cab, in spite of the pain in my shoulder. I enjoyed the smell of patrol, beer, male sweat, and aftershave, the hypnotic lights from passing cars that came through the cracks in the drapes and moved white bars across the walls and ceiling, and the sound of the petrol station and the rain on the metal roof directly above my head. Eventually I drifted into sleep, and for a few hours I found rest in the deep sea silence and darkness of dreamless sleep, before the nightmares started again.

My dreams of that time came in two shades. Either it was that of the madding crowd. I would be in some place thick with peeps. Sometimes it was my old school, or the Prinzenbad public pool, where I used to go with my mates in the summers in Berlin, or it could be something from my recent life, like, say, a theatre or gallery I’d hit with Charley in Edinburgh, or the Headrow in Leeds, where I’d worked with Julie, or the camping site at the Big Chill. Wherever it was, it always began with me going about my business, alone. But then something would happen with the crowd. Sometimes they would start to mutter and talk amongst themselves, too low for me to understand. Sometimes I realized they were talking in some language I didn’t know. And then they’d begin to stare. Someone might ask me something in gibberish and get angry when I couldn’t respond. Or they’d start pushing me around, and shouting all together at me in an unintelligible cacophony of exclusion. In the end though the real horror wouldn’t come from those crowding me from head on but from someone being suddenly in directly in my back, touching me from behind, hot breath on my neck, too close to bear.

In the other kind of nightmare, I’d be stalked. Those would begin with me alone in some place that had been populated on moments ago, you know, Mary Celeste like. There would be food on the tables, and steaming mugs of tea. Tellies were on, flickering, but set to a quite murmur. There might be open books about, or fluttering newspapers, or unfinished letters, the pen still lying on the paper, the ink not yet dry. At first it wouldn’t be eerie, but seemed perfectly natural. As if I knew where they all were, and why. Sometimes I could hear peeps nearby, around a corner or behind some wall. Never loud, but, you know, present in their absence somehow. I knew they weren’t far.

But then something would enter. I’d notice motion behind a row of trees perhaps, or hear a floorboard creek beyond a door that’s been left ajar. Whatever It was, It would slowly come closer, prowling, lurking, circling me, moving behind furniture, or behind me. And I would realize that all those peeps that moments ago still had been just around some corner, that they were all gone now. I was all alone. Even if I’ start to shout for help, nobody would be there to hear me. Nobody would come. And I would become afraid. Terrified. I never had a clear idea what It would do to me when It caught, but I knew that anything would be better. Anything. Anything but that.

That was the dream I had that night. When I woke up with a start I painfully hit my head on the ceiling of the cab. For a moment I was convinced that It had followed me from the dream and was now going to grab me. Then a large lorry passed outside. It’s headlights illuminated the entire cab and I saw that nobody was there except for me and my still snoring host.

Too shaken to lie down again I got dressed in the darkness, grabbed my bag, and crept out. I lit a fag, crossed the A9 and the fields beyond, and climbed down the bank to the shore of the river Tummel. There I stripped and stepped directly into the cold, rain-swollen waters, and washed the stink of fear from my skin. The current was pretty strong. The water surged and swelled around me. In the distance I saw otters glide through the waves, look up, and disappear.

The overcast sky was beginning to grow grey when I walked back onto the shingle beach. I was shivering, partly with the cold, and partly still with the tension from the nightmare. I stepped into my boots, tied the lose laces once tightly around each ankle, and began training Aikido, hard enough to break out into a light sweat again. I kicked shadowy enemies, blocked their invisible blows, and rolled across the ground to evade their attacks, the pebbles scratching my back bloody. When I was done the shivers had passed.

There was hardly any traffic sounds from the A9, down there in the river valley, and when I finally got dressed, the birds around me began greeting the new day. My aunt is mad about songbirds, you see, she got her garden planted especially to attract them, and she is always pointing out one or the other of her little feathered friends, which is how I knew most of those that started singing all around me then: Thrushes and Robins, Tits, Siskins, and Blackbirds. And with their dawn chorus my soul, too, suddenly took wing, and soared, rose above the gloom of the night, rose, and rose, and revelled in the glory of the new day.

“All your life,” I sang quietly. “You were only waiting…”

“Blackbird” echoed with Aimee Mann’s gentle, hesitant voice in my mind, and I hummed along as I walked back up the riverbank and then northward, between the river and the road.

Continued here

Charley’s heart was in the art of the confidence game, but he got his regular income from peddling drugs. I only saw him push dope, but I know he also sold smack, and I’m certain he did other stuff as well.
Don’t ask me if or how that is connected to Bryan and Leeds, but, well, it’s hard to avoid that conclusion, innit? On the other hand, jumping to conclusions can be a dangerous thing. As I later figured out, Charley probably was involved in other  rackets as well, corruption, blackmail, and who knows what. Back then I thought that none of that mattered to me. I had nothing to do with his side jobs, all we had in common was the games we played and the marks we shook down.
But sometimes, when we were together, he met some peeps on some corner, in some park or some pub for a quick sell. That was what he did in that bar in Leith, near the port, that one night at the end of my first week in Edinburgh.
Outside it was pouring cats and dogs, and so I went inside as well. The bar – I have forgotten the name – was narrow, dark, and crowded, and smelled of wet wool and spilt beer. Charley was making his round, having a gab here and there, shaking hands, handing out little folded pieces of paper and palming equally folded bills in return.
I trailed behind him and passed the time studying his techniques. He had some sweet moves, and I thought I ought to trade a couple of handshakes with him, and practice that passing off routine, but on the whole I decided I was the better sleight-of-hand artist. Of course, I would never be able to charm peeps as easily and effectively as he could. Deceive them, yes. Manipulate them, sometimes. Charm – not a chance.
Usually Charley got out of these places as soon as he was done. That night, though, he bought a pint of stout for each of us instead.
“Here you go, Bobby,” he shouted over the general din.
“Ta!” I shouted back. “We’re not leaving?”
“Nah. You don’t want to miss this.”
“What?”
“Give’em a minute. They’ll be on soon.”
He pointed to a set of drums a heavily tattooed bloke was setting up in one corner. Two others in torn jeans, faded t-shirts and wearing studded black leather belts, bracelets, and dog collars were messing around with dodgy looking cables and an old set of amps and loudspeakers.
“Who are they?”
“Ah, the finest crappy band you’ll ever hear.”
“What do they play?”
At that Charley had to laugh. “Ponyboy is one of my regular customers. Fag like you.”
As far as I could tell Charley was pretty straight – blokes just didn’t rattle his kettle was how he put it – but he was about the least homophobic straight bloke I ever met. He had no problem embracing me, or walking around with an arm over my shoulder. He didn’t mind playing queer for our games, either, and when he did, he never camped it up. No floppy wrists or falsetto voice. When he played queer he was simply himself, only that he allowed the same possessive greed to creep into his eyes when checking out male butts that he usually reserved for his kind of ladies – the ones with a tramp stamp peeking out above low slung jeans, boobs straining against the top, and about a pound of war paint concealing their faces.
He played it well, too. The way his eyes undressed and nearly devoured me each time we played  the Teen Ticket – the way disdain mixed with raw, physical desire in his gaze – even after all that has happened since, even after Charley’s eventual monstrous betrayal and all it cost me, I still shiver thinking of it.
So when he called me a fag, in a fucked up way that was meant as a compliment. You know: “I’m so cool with you, I can use the bad word, cuz we’re brothers.”
The pub had no stage or anything. When the two blokes were done with the amps, they simply climbed onto the bar. One of them had a battered Ibanez electric guitar, the other held a mike in his hand. Their man at the drums started in with, well, I suppose it was a solo, or maybe just a noisy wake up call. The Ibanez followed, screeching scratchily, and finally the singer followed suit.
He was too drunk to be able to stand properly on the narrow bar, so for the most part he knelt on it, using his free hand to steady himself, while he screamed into the mike. It was absolutely atrocious. The crowd loved it and cheered them on in their drunken and stoned ineptness. And whenever the singer’s knees or palm slipped on the beer-slick bar and he crashed with his crotch or chin onto the hard, wooden top, everybody hooted and jeered.
“Aren’t they great?” Charley shouted when the singer accidentally tore the cable from the guitar and the guitarist kicked him hard into the shoulder with heavy combat boots, almost knocking the singer from the bar, and finally stomped hard on his hand.
“Which one is Ponyboy?”
I was hoping for the drummer – he was stocky, with a square forehead, a square jaw, and a fleshy face, but with intense, stormy eyes that blazed as he pounded away at his drums – as if he was chopping enemies to bits with a battle axe.
“Him.” Charley pointed at the singer. Just then the guitarist had plugged his instrument back in, and they continued, Ponyboy cradling his stomped on hand, and screaming through split and bleeding lips.
He was a tall, lanky bloke. He wore hi-top basketball boots, black patent leather with a neon green Nike arrow and neon pink laces, skin tight, black patent leather trousers, and a black tank top with a glittering picture of My Little Pony “riding” Hello Kitty. His arms, shoulders, and neck were heavily tattooed, and a half dozen piercings gleamed in his face. His hair was short, wet, and died a very artificial black. But the best was his eyes: laughing crazily while at the same time crying in quiet despair.
Just then, he threw up. Without warning he puked all over himself, the bar, the draft levers, and the patrons in the front row. And he didn’t stop singing, just continued with oatmeal coloured puke hanging in glistening strings from his chin.
But the pub owner started shouting at him. Ponyboy ignored it. Still screaming his profanities into the mike he just kicked backwards – like a pony – at the annoying voice behind him. The pub owner fended off his foot, grabbed him by the ankle, and dragged him from the bar. Ponyboy’s head thumped against the bar and the steel counter behind the bar. I had to think of Winnie-the-Pooh, and Christopher Robin dragging him down the stairs.
“No way, you sick pup!” Charley shouted at me, grinning wildly.
Ponyboy’s band-mates just went on playing as if nothing had happened.
“What?” I shouted back.
Instead of answering, Charley grabbed me between my legs, making me only too aware of my hard on.
“You really dug this sick shite, eh?”
I half started to bristle, but then instead simply grinned at Charley, half embarrassed, half defiant. Let me tell you: It felt great not to deny it.
“Go ahead,” Charley nodded towards the back door, through which the owner had dragged Ponyboy. “Go to him, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I hesitated for a moment. I hadn’t actually considered doing anything that daring, but now that Charley said it, I understood that I wanted to, very much. Well, it’s the confidence artist’s job to know his mark’s hidden desires better than the mark does himself, innit? And as I said, Charley was a confidence artist at heart.

Continued here

I picked him up Saturday morning shortly past 8. His rents were both there to see him off. As always, I was on my best manners, and shook hands with them.
Tim apparently had never been on a bike tour, or if, at least he had never packed his bike by himself. I had to laugh when I saw how (and what) he had stuffed into his backpack and how he just stuck the rest under the simple spring loaded clamp of his luggage carrier. Most of it would fall off at the next corner, and his shoulders would be stiff and sore by nightfall. I made him leave half of everything at home, redistributed the rest and secured it all on his rack with a couple of spare bungee cords.
Like most rents his dad could be trusted to do the most stupid, insensitive thing, like, clap me on my shoulder and tell Tim what a practical and sensible fellow I was, and that he should learn from me. Apparently the old chap thought I would have a good, manly influence on his wimp of a son, or something. And not wanting them to rescind their permission, I smiled stupidly and promised I’d bring back their boy in one piece by Sunday evening. I know I’m far from the first when I demand a test and licence for the right to raise children, but anasını satayım, I mean, sheesh, what a salak!
It was about 65 km each way, a nice, relaxed ¾ day tour, half of that through the city, half outside. The weather was fantastic and we had great fun. Not far from the city border we stopped at a supermarket to get lunch. I taught Tim how to raise change, mostly to secretly spite his dad, and he did it beautifully. A bit later we went for a swim at Kleiner Stienitzsee, a small lake not far off our route. Tim claimed to have forgotten his swimming trunks (I mean, come on, what was I supposed to think?), so I said, that was okay, we’d both go commando. Good thing the water was still freezing cold. Or perhaps not. Maybe if it hadn’t been, things would have been different. Maybe that was one of those moments that pass totally unnoticed at the time, but where secretly life suddenly goes off on a totally different direction than it would have otherwise.
We camped wild in Rotes Luch, a beautiful, shallow moorland valley surrounded by a forest of tall spruce trees. We cooked sausages on a stick over a small campfire, had beer and talked until late into the night. He had seen my tat during our swim, and the scars on my arms, and he shyly asked me about them. Later he told me a bit about his own dad and their problems with each other: How he had to play-act a role all the time, but didn’t dare to just drop the act. He didn’t actually come out, and say anything directly, but what would you have read into this?
He obviously wasn’t used to the beer, though, and when he fell asleep pretty much as soon as he laid down, I blamed it on that and the long tour under a scorching spring sun. It took some time, hot and bothered as I was, but eventually I found sleep, too.
Sunday we went for a quick swim at another small lake, and had breakfast in Buckow, a nearby village. We had a look at the house were Berthold Brecht had lived for a while and then went to a small fun fair. The cherries were in full blossom, and it was totally romantic. Tim seemed happy, and we kidded around. Nothing overt happened, and maybe that should have tipped me off, but, well, hope keeps the misery in place, huh?
Eventually we went back. The return trip was long and tiring, but in a good way. If you’ve never biked down Frankfurter Allee in East Berlin in full end-of-weekend rush hour you may not know what I am talking about, but something tiring and even a bit  monotonous and dull can still sort of create a bond with the person you are doing it together with, you know? At least that was what it felt like to me.
I delivered him to his rents’s house. We stopped in the drive way. He got off his bike and opened the door to the garage, while I remained standing, my own bike still between my legs. He came over to me and asked if I wanted to come in for a drink or something. It was late, and I was tired, and didn’t want to overdo it. So I said, no thanks, I’ll head back to Kreuzberg. He said okay, and thanks for a great weekend,  and we’d see each other Monday in school. I said sure, and then there was a silence, the sort of silence, you know, that asks to be broken by a good-bye kiss, chaste but hinting at, well, at possibilities.
Was it a risk? I suppose so. Hey, you have to admit, the cues had all lined up pretty much, and given his usual shyness, I figured I would have to be the one to make the first move. Maybe I should have just held hands under the cherry blossoms in Buckow. Things might not have gone quite as bad then, although maybe it wouldn’t have made any damn difference.
I kissed him. He froze up for a second, just long enough to make me realize that this had been a bad mistake, but not long enough for me to brace myself. Then he gave me a savage push. I feel over, bike, luggage and all. For the briefest of moments he looked down at me, and all I could see was his face awash in horror. I just have no idea what the horror was about. Me? Himself? Something else? Then he disappeared into the garage, the door slamming shut after him. I was alone.
After a while I extricated myself from the bike, put my luggage back into order, and rode off, unable to think anything but an endless repetition of “stupid, stupid, stupid,” the entire time. I went home, sick to my gut, and spent the rest of the evening lying on my bed, listening to Belle & Sebastian, staring at the ceiling, and feeling very sorry for myself.
To this day I do not know the truth. Had I so completely misread him? Was he straight and I had just been projecting things? Was he queer, but unable to admit it to himself? Had he suddenly been afraid that someone, his rents, might see us, and had gotten cold feet? Much later, when I met Alex, I got the idea that maybe Tim had been abused and physical intimacy caused him to go fight ‘n’ flight. But the end of it is that I don’t know. We never spoke again, except for the most perfunctory and unavoidable exchanges in class.
He did however talk about it. To his best girl friend, who went to the same school as us. And she told her best friend. Who told three others. By the time school was out on Tuesday everybody knew that I was not only an ex-con and a thief, but also a queer pervert who had tried to kiss-rape poor, little, vulnerable Timmy.
And then the taunts began.
Continued here
What can I tell you about The Big Chill? If you’ve been to festivals you know what I am talking about. If not, how can I paint a picture that does the experience justice? Wandering in the pouring rain from act to act, sweating under a poncho made from bin bags, queuing for hours for the loos, paying outrageous prices for warm and beer and cold hot dogs, watching the grounds turn from green meadows to muddy fields littered with rubbish and noz cans, dealing with totally shitfaced punters convinced that your tent is theirs, unable to make them even understand that they are on the completely wrong campground?
Yes, all that is part of it, and even if it may be hard to understand, those aren’t the bad parts. The bad parts are finding out you’ve missed an act you were desperate to catch because they rescheduled it, or being disappointed by one you waited to get in for over an hour. The bad parts are finding your tent slashed and your stuff stolen. (No, I didn’t do either, this time, nor did they happen to me. Huey had both his camera and a stash of weed nicked, though. And our camp ground neighbours had their tents demolished by some arseholes.) The bad parts are being roughed up by fist happy security blokes, or losing Dewey in a field of 5,000 MDMA-dazed dancers, and spending a panicked half an hour before finding her just in time to get her away from some dodgy bloke who is about to sell her little red pills.
But then there were those utterly perfect moments that you do it all for: Hearing Martha Wainwright rising to the challenge left by her dead brother, being in a water balloon fight with totally chilled out security blokes, kicking Huey’s arse at the table football tournament in the Disco Shed, laughing yourself silly at Eddie Izzard’s voice acting during a kid’s screening of The Five Children and It, winning the three-legged rave contest together with Dewey and cheering her on at the organic egg & spoon race, having a damn fine cup of coffee all alone over at the Sunrise area while everybody is still asleep, forgetting everything while you and Dewey lose yourself in the rhythm together with 5,000 MDMA-dazed dancers, or just drifting through the crowd at 3 o’clock in the morning and watching a bloke twirl a glowing baton in the darkness while all around you peeps are singing along to the Commodore’s “Easy like a Sunday Morning.”
Huey and Dewey were always fun to have around. They both appreciated that I was pretty free with Frank’s money, getting food and drinks for everyone. (I didn’t touch the Queen Mum Charity Fund for Student Travels to the UK, though. I had stashed all of that money in a zip lock bag under a root in the woods around Eastnor castle.) I even eventually told them the story of how I had made Frank pay for the very ticket he sold me and all the grub they were now enjoying with me. They both thought it a very funny story, but I made sure not to let Louie in on the joke. I noticed that apparently Huey and Dewey didn’t either.
Louie I didn’t really get. She was damn smart, and she saw and understood a lot. She read me a lot better than most peeps I’ve met. And she mostly wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, in fact, it seemed to me she enjoyed speaking it as unvarnished as she could without compromising it, using it like a kosh. Hell, even her ellipses usually spoke louder than other people’s sermons. Poor Huey often got a good pummelling of such truths, sometimes looking dazed and confused trying to keep up with her.
Of course every now and then, like, twice or three times a day, she’d go to far, and Huey would turn on her like a rearing snake, and they’d be off on another of these ear-blistering quarrels that had caused Dewey to almost step in front of a 4×4. Louie usually won the arguments, though, and afterwards wore smugness like an armour, while Huey did his best to swallow his anger and slip back into his well worn joviality or finding solace in Dewey’s company. Sometimes it seemed rather as if Louie was mum to both of them, and Huey just the wayward older teen son, who got all the scoldings. Still, it was sort of fun to be part of a family for a change where the rents fought and the kids stuck together.
That meant that I had little to do with Louie during most of the festival. Either I was looking after Dewey, and Louie and Huey were off together or apart, or I did something together with Dewey and Huey, with Louie off on her own, or one of them had Dewey, and I did my own thing.
The only act we all attended together was The Mighty Boosh. Dewey had been telling me all Friday and most of Saturday how totally funny they were, and the crowd seemed to think the same. Many seemed to expect that show to be the highlight of the entire festival. Huey was also massively excited, and even Louie was obviously looking forward to it.
Well, paint me square and call me a German, but I utterly failed to see the humour in a bloke in a bad robot costume with an extensible dick or a bunch of zentais jumping up and down and singing off-key and off-rhythm “bouncy, bouncy, everybody”. Still, I was the utter minority, they had everybody else in stitches, and after a while the general hilarity was sort of infectious.
And then Sunday evening rolled around. I had spend the day enjoying Orchestra Baobab doing alternately hauntingly bluesy rumba and intoxicating African pop that made you forget the deep hanging clouds, and later Imagined Village totally rocking a rain-soaked audience with a drum and bass supported, violin flagellating rendering of “Tam Lyn”. Everything promised to be gloriously concluded by the only act both Louie and I wanted to see at all costs: Leonard Cohen live! Dewey was totally partied out from the preceding two days and even though she pretended to protest and sulk when Louie decreed that she would go to bed early, it seemed to me she was secretly relieved. Huey said he’d keep an eye on her.
“You two pansies go listen to that old crooner. I’m too young at heart for stuff like that, I’ll keep Dewey company and twiddle my thumbs.” And he held up his PSP.
So we went. We got in and even found a really good spot. And then the man got onto the stage. Hey, he may be in his eighth decade on this planet, but he sure has more generosity, humanity, and humbly sincere, subtle, sophisticated sex appeal than any other you are ever going to see. He was a dark and soulful saint. In fact he was so bloody good that I asked Louie if we shouldn’t get Huey or at least Dewey to have a taste, too.
Louie looked at me as if waking from a trance. I repeated my question.
“I’m not going to leave.”
“It’s okay, I’ll dash over to the camp ground and fetch them.”
I weaved out of the densely packed crowd to the skipping tune of “So Long, Marianne” and raced off. I got to the Volkswagen camper and tent in record time, running mostly on exhilaration and pure joy.
At the camp things were quiet and dark. I was about to run my fingernails over the tent’s nylon skin and call out “knock-knock” to see if Dewey was approachable, when I noticed the quiet groaning from the T3. Without thinking much I peered inside.
Huey was standing inside, hunched over and leaning heavily with one arm against the head rest of the back seats, the other hand between his legs. My first thought was that he’s having a wank, and I thought about how to call attention to myself without embarrassing him. But then – since I really thought he was pretty hot looking, and anyway, he must have known the risk of doing something like that in such a public place – I risked going to my tip toes and catching a glimpse of his dick. And that is when I see the small head with the long blond hair between his legs, when I catch his murmured, crooning words: “That’s it baby, that’s it. You make daddy feel so good.”
I wandered away, unable to form a coherent thought. Night had fallen. In the darkness a bloke mocked me. He was wearing a black suit adorned with glowing lines of neon, turning him into a living stick man. At the push of some button he toggled the set of blue-white lines that gave him a smiley face and a halo on his head to a set of fiery red ones that had him poke a tongue at me and wear devil’s horns instead. I stared at him, unable to make sense of it, when he toggled back to the white-blue, empty smile and strolled off.
I couldn’t be certain it hadn’t been just any slender, blond girl, of which there must have been hundreds attending the festival. Hey, I’ve had blokes getting off on calling themselves daddy during sex with me, that didn’t have to mean shit. Huey certainly had reasons enough to seek out some fun on the side, and who was I to judge infidelity? I never checked the tent, maybe Dewey was lying there deep asleep. I wanted to believe that, I didn’t want to find out anything different. Maybe I should have told Louie.
“Dance me to the children who are asking to be born.” Cohen’s gravelly, searing voice drifted across the lake. “Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn.”
It was only rain running coldly down my face. I didn’t feel anything.
“Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn,” he sang, as I disappeared in the night. “Dance me to the end of love.”
I had gotten my ticket, but still two problems remained. The first was that with a teen pass I needed an adult to usher me in. I would have just jumped the fence with my pass, I had after all been studying their security all afternoon, but you needed to redeem the pass for the wristband, and without someone passing himself off as my guardian they wouldn’t let me have that.
I suppose it wouldn’t have been hard to find someone, if I’d asked – hard as asking is for me – because peeps were generally really friendly and relaxed at the festival. But there was the second problem: As the day went by the weather had gotten worse, and by early evening it was raining hard. Without a tent or anything like that it would become an uncomfortable night indeed. And by the time I realized that it was too late to even try to go back to Eastnor or Ledbury and see if I could purchase one there.
So that left me with the option to ask random peeps at the festival if they had a second tent they might be willing to sell to me (I still had a lot of dosh, after all). Or I could do what I did: I lifted someone’s mobile phone and called Dewey.
They came all three. Dewey ran up to me, screaming “ISH!” at the top of her lungs as she threw herself into my arms.
“Whoa, easy, Tiger,” I gasped and hugged her back.
“I knew you would be back. Huey and Louie didn’t believe me. Hah, I was so right, though.”
“You sure were. Did you have a good day?”
“Nope, it was totally boring. We went to There-ford, and that was boring, with boring old houses, and a boring church, and a boring whole grain lunch because Louie wouldn’t let us go to Burger King. And Bled-bury was totally the same only even smaller. And then Huey took me fishing, but we just sat there for one whole hour and he didn’t catch anything at all, not even an old boot or some rusty tin can. Will you play with me, please?”
She beamed at me and held up her LED illuminated Frisbee.
“Louie is tired and Huey sucks at Frisbee, he never catches it, or, like, once in a thousand throws. I mean, I hit him in the head with the thing more often than he catches it.”
“Dewey, it’s pouring.”
“Yeah, but it’s warm rain, and we’d be running, and I’m bored. Pretty please?”
“Let me talk to your rents first.”
Huey was amiable, Louie guarded. She could smell a con, even if technically there wasn’t one. But I suppose I’m not exactly the most trustworthy of fellows. I showed them my ticket.
“Where did you get that?” Huey asked.
“Did you…” Louie cut in, leaving the sentence hanging.
“I didn’t nick it off some poor sod who now has to cry bitter tears over being excluded, if you mean that,” I said slowly. “I paid good money for it, quite a lot at that.”
Technically that wasn’t even a lie, and I didn’t see any reason to burden Louie with the particulars of that transaction. She looked doubtful but nodded.
“Thing is, it’s a teen pass. I thought, we could maybe help each other. I’ll spend some time with Dewey, keep her out of trouble, so you two can catch some acts together, and you get me through the gate?”
I could sense Huey tense up at that. He threw Louie a furtive glance. The moment passed. Louie smiled wanly and put one raincoated arm around my wet shoulders.
“It’s a deal, Ishmael.” She sure liked to rub my nose in that one. “Welcome in the family for the weekend.” And to Dewey: “Why don’t you show your big brother the way.”
And so I was in. I offered to take care of my own sleeping arrangements, but I suppose I knew them well enough by then to not seriously expect them to take me up on it. They didn’t.

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

Take a breath, take a step, meet me down below
Everyone’s the same
Our fingers to our toes
We just can’t get it right
But we’re on the road
– OneRepublic: All Fall Down (2007)

How can I explain to you why I’d let some bug-fuck crazy cunt shoot bloody big holes into my body? What fucked up path had lead me to a point where I schemed to get her to riddle me with bullets? Where I plotted to have little 8 gram bits of lead rip chunks of flesh from my limbs, tear open my veins and arteries, break my bones with the force of 500 joules, and paint red the raw concrete walls of a back staircase in a dinghy Greek guesthouse? I kinda wondered so myself on that Wednesday evening in the October of 2009, while I was, you know, lying on the cold steps of that staircase, no longer able to breathe, my chest nothing but a spread of hurt: Where had the road begun that like a sentence running into an ellipsis ended in these three sharp reports not 200 meters from the lapping waves of the Aegean Sea?
I suppose the deceptively easiest answer would be that this road began at the front door of my aunt’s house in Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, England. I stepped on it when I left there shortly before 9 o’clock on the morning of Tuesday, 29 July 2008. I had been 15 years, 157 days, and a little over 16 hours old, and everybody, including myself, expected me to return more or less straight away to my mum’s flat in Berlin, Germany. That morning nobody had any idea that it would be almost half a year before my mum saw me again, and that by then things had progressed way beyond the point where I was still in control of my fate.
That morning my cousins Jane and Alice accompanied me to the bus stop. My own private farewell committee. I had spent two lovely weeks at my aunt’s, the first time in three years. The last time before had been during my twelfth’s summer. When the time had been up back then I had cried and they had let me stay until school started again. But the era of tears was past now, their well long dried up. So I had to leave, however miserable I felt about it.
I have always been close to my aunt and my cousins, especially to Alice. Alice is one of those people that know how to be bad and look good at the same time. That summer I had asked her how she did that. We had been sitting on a fallen tree by the side of the pond under Wimley Hill, sharing a fag and squelching our naked toes in the mud. Alice had taken a long drag, elbows resting on her knees, and given it some thought.
Finally she said: “Maybe ‘cuz I make peeps think I see them how they want to see themselves? You know, once they swallowed that, they don’t dare to scratch on my façade either. So not to rock the boat they are sitting in.”
Maybe that’s it, I thought. I never learned how to do that – for all my lying, I can never make peeps think I see them for anything but what they are.
Alice looked up at me through her fringe, ginger like everybody’s in our family, with her inscrutable amber eyes. And then she did that thing where she lets her face slowly split from side to side by a maniac grin. The smoke curled out of her mouth and nose and she crossed her eyes trying to watch it get caught in her hair. And with a gravelly voice she said: “Course it helps that I’m cute as a button.”
God, do I ever miss her. Kahretsin.
Anyway, that morning, Alice and her sister Jane delivered me to the 9 o’clock to Stroud. We exchanged hugs and kisses and promises to mail and skype and all that, before I hoisted myself up the steep and narrow steps and found a seat by the window. I stuffed my backpack and jacket into the net above, popped the earphones of the mp3 in and settled down for the 30 minute ride to Cainscross. Jane and I exchanged a last wave. Alice was already drifting across the street.
As always the mp3 was set to random play. Snow Patrol struck up as the bus pulled away past the war memorial and St. Mary’s. “Light up,” Garry was singing, Mark and Jonny plodding heavily through the bleak rhythm. “Light up. As if you have a choice.”
The sky was clear, tinted emerald by the bus’s windows. The last of the grey stone houses rolled by. To the right the landscape opened up towards the valley and Blackquarrie’s Hill on the far side. To the left black and white cows dotted the green grass slope that reached into the sky past the window frame, all the way to the edge that had given this place its name.
“Even if you cannot hear my voice I’ll be right beside you, dear.” Gary sang on, cheerful hopelessness dripping from his voice. “I can hardly speak. I understand why you can’t raise your voice…”
For two weeks I had succeeded in staying mostly in the here and now. I had left Berlin in Berlin, and had been happy with that. But now I found myself helplessly watching my mind rush out ahead, back, back towards the life I had left there. I tried to cling to England, to soak it up, breathe it in, but I was failing fast.
The meadow of Coombe Hill to my left and up ahead became the sickly green interior wall paint of Plötzensee juvie hall, the lynchets running across it bars in front of the windows. That’s the past, I tried to tell myself. Look to the future. The rest of the summer, the coming school year, and the next and the next, they all loomed ahead. Family and friends, teachers, enemies, everything.
“Slower, slower. We don’t have time for that. All I want is to find an easier way to get out of our little heads.”
Have you ever had a panic attack? When all the heaviness and doubts and fear of your life become this fist closing around your chest, squeezing the air out of you? Your heart begins to flutter and race and skipping its beat like a miner’s bird suddenly aware that there is no exit, no light, no other purpose to its existence but eventually snuffing it.
Everything closed in on me, the aisle of the bus a long tube, stretching, and tightening, and finally tipping over, becoming a well with green balefire glowing hellishly at the bottom, and I was falling into it.
I clawed at the neck of my T-Shirt and tried to calm my breath, but all I did was make it worse. Then I couldn’t stand it any more. I rolled out of the seat, half crawled and half ran forward, bumping into seats and elbows, gripping backrests and shoulders for support. The driver said something, sharply, probably telling me to sit down or so but nothing reached me through the music and the panic. I stammered confused, jumbled pleas to let me out, nonsensical explanations about something forgotten, something left behind. I was about to scream at him when the good man – amidst sighing and eye rolling – brought the wheezing wale of a bus to a stop.
Doors opened with a hiss. I stumbled off. Doors closed again. The leviathan shook itself to life and roared off, leaving me beached at the side of the B4058. Alive. Breathing the air of a free man. It was not even seven minutes past nine. On the mp3 Snow Patrol’s “Run” gave way to Sixx AM’s “Van Nuys”. Life would never be the same again.
I had gotten off next to the tennis courts between Valley and Holywell Road, just outside the old town. Jane and Alice wouldn’t even have made it back to my aunt’s by then. I had no idea where to go, no plan what to do. I only knew that I couldn’t go back.
Perhaps guided by a craving for open spaces I decided to walk up to Wotton Hill and sit under the beech trees there, try to see the Canal, and think about it. I walked back to where Adey’s Lane starts up the hill when I suddenly realized that I had left everything on the bus: The backpack, clothes, the lunch my aunt had packed for me, the book I had borrowed from Jane, my mobile phone, the tickets, the wallet, money, passport, everything. Even my jacket. All I had left was the clothes I was wearing, the moss green Firestarter T-shirt my mum disliked so much, blue jeans, and the canvas trainers in that vivid shade of rosso corsa that I liked so much; that and the mp3 player.
Two kids, younger than me, were coming my way on the other side of the street. I called out to them.
“Hey!”
They looked over to me.
“Can you catch?” I asked.
No reaction except for mild bewilderment. I decided to take their Brooklyn street-wear attire as cause for optimism, and wrapped the earphones tightly around the player.
“Here!” I called and tossed it in a high trajectory across the street. One of them caught it.
“Cheers,” I called and walked on past them.
“Hey, uh. Thanks, man!” One of them shouted after me. I grinned.
The last bit of the lane leads pretty steeply uphill through a narrow strip of chestnut and beech trees. At the top I turned left onto Old London Road. The sun was in my face, and I didn’t notice the sign post until I almost walked into it. It pointed to my right where the Cotswold Way – a national trail leading through most of Gloucestershire from Bath to Chipping Campden – goes into Westridge Woods. At the edge of the woods a fox stood in the shadow of a hawthorn bush. It looked at me attentively for a moment, then it turned around and disappeared in the brambles.
I scrapped my plan to sit on Wotton Hill. I would walk the Walk instead, and see where it would lead me, and what would happen.
When I reached the first trees of Westridge Woods I began shaking, badly. I began to stumble, had to put my hands on my shaking knees, reach out for a tree for support. It was a crippled old oak, gnarly and half dead. I was afraid I would pass out. But I didn’t fall, didn’t have to sit down.
It wasn’t another panic attack, you see, quite the contrary. Was I afraid? You bet I was. Was I excited? Definitely. But more than anything, all of a sudden, I was relieved. The wave of relief flooding me was so strong, so palpable, filled me so completely, it was almost like a seizure. I was really going. By God, I was. Right here and now.
For one moment the fear resurfaced, a corpse buoyed by gas rolling over in the water, beckoning me with a rotted arm. For one moment I thought about going back. But the moment passed, the corpse sank again below the surface. I was still shaking, but I could get up again, stumbled forward. I walked on into the woods. And after a few hundred meters the hiking did its magic: My body got into the rhythm, step, breath, step, breath, and the mind followed along.
Continued here