Archive for the ‘names’ Category

For two days he drifted around Orkney. He got onto public busses when he saw them and got off at random stops, to walk along the one track country roads or simply across the windswept plain. On the seemingly limitless sky clouds and sunshine changed periodically according to an inscrutable schedule determined by far away currents and convection.
At the Standing Stones of Stenness, a Neolithic circle of stones set on a narrow peninsula between two shallow lochs, he met an old man walking with two hounds. The boy had been standing in the shadow of one of the stones smoking and watching two crows argue in coarse voices when the man suddenly spoke.
“Memories, huh?” the man asked. His windbreaker was the dark blue of municipal uniforms, and he had a lazy eye that made it hard to know what he was looking at.
The boy smiled noncommittally and tossed aside the cigarette. The old man slapped the cold stone next to them. “They got memories, too, you know?” he said, and when the boy didn’t answer he answered himself.
“Yes, old memories. Do you know that they have been set up at the same time the earliest civilisations started out in Egypt and Sumeria, India and China.”
The boy looked around, across the lochs and the pastures dotted with gorse and tufts of wild oats, all the way to the end of the land and the sea many kilometres distant.
“What did people do in this place?” he asked the old man. “There’s nothing here.”
The old man looked around as well, with his mismatched eyes, and then watched his dogs chase each other between the standing stones.
“Maybe that is what they came for.”
In Kirkwall he had two strange encounters that would haunt him for a long time. One of those happened as he picked pockets in the cathedral. A clump of tourists was listening to a guide tell some tale about a woman unjustly accused of witchcraft, and who mysteriously disappeared from a dungeon cell underneath the church the night before her execution. The boy had mingled with the group and used their shoving and pushing and the distraction through the guide to steal wallets. Just when the guide encouraged them all to peer inside the gloomy hole that lead down to the dungeon and everyone was craning their heads, a hand closed itself around the boy’s wrist.
“Not this one, Jack. Believe me. It’s not worth the trouble.”
The man was tall and stared at him with intense eyes. Then he let him go. The boy slowly walked away, so as not to rouse the attention of his other victims and make sure nobody else would remember his face.
He strolled through Kirkwall for a while, and listened to two heavily tattooed girls play Minstrel Boy near the harbour. The long-haired, dark one sporting raven feathers on her arms was playing the guitar, and the cropped, blond one with the Celtic knots and heavy leather choker and bracelets played a fiddle.
At dusk he walked around the Peedie Sea, a small body of water at the Western border of the town, cut off from the sea by a narrow sandbank with a road running across. The sky was overcast and reflected the town’s lights a sickly sulfurish yellow. In the shadow of a silo, amidst high stands of pricklyburr he met the tall man from the Cathedral again.
“Hold this for a moment, Jack.” The man was holding out a red glow stick. The boy took it and in its light watched the man set fire to the spiked fruits of the pricklyburr, drop them into a bowl and inhale the lazy white smoke.
“Thanks.” The man took another hit and the boy thought he could see the man’s pupils widen and swallow all of his pupils until there was nothing but two limitless black wells. The man’s voice was cracked and strangely quivering when he spoke again: “I have something for you, Jack.”
The man took something small out of his coat pocket and handed it to the boy. The boy turned it over in his fingers. It was a guitar-pick made of ivory, with scrimshaw filigrees and patterns winding around in it in slanted likes like some sort of unearthly writing, and a silver framed hole. The boy didn’t play the guitar, but the pick seemed to be almost too heavy to be useful.
“My name is not Jack.”
“Isn’t it? Well, it should be. Run a string through the hole, wear it like a charm. You’ll never be caught again. And now go away, Jack, and don’t come back. Take the light and go back to where you came from.”
By then darkness had fallen, and the boy made his way to one of the hostels.  That night he had some problems bluffing himself past the age and ID check of the Kirkwall hostel. He tried to sell the yarn that he had gotten separated from his sister (the girl at the check-in counter seemed more receptive to a boy with a big sister than one with a big brother) who he was travelling with, that his papers had been in the backpack she carried, and that she would arrive the next day, but the girl at the check-in counter wasn’t buying it.
“Ah’m sohry, bit Ah cannae do it, luv.”
He nodded, resigned to try another hostel. He pushed his hands into his pockets and encountered the strange, heavy guitar pick. He took it out and looked at it again.
“At’s a pretty thing. D’ye play the guitar, luv?”
“Do you have a string or something?”
Maybe feeling sorry for denying him earlier, she hunted around her desk and handed him a length of some gilded cord.
“There ye are, luv.”
He ran the cord through the hole in the pick, just as the stranger had recommended, and tied both ends off. He slipped it over his head and centred the pick on his chest, underneath his T, when the girl said:
 “Leuk, there is yer sis.” And at his startled expression: “’At is yer sister, luv, in’er?”
The boy turned around and saw a young woman carrying two backpacks, a violin case, and a naked guitar. It was the blond girl with the Celtic knot tattoos who he had listened to earlier. Something about her indeed bore an odd resemblance to him. And somewhere nestled in the corners of her eyes there was weariness he recognised. Trusting his gut, he rushed towards her to help her with her luggage and said loudly:
“Hey, I thought you’d arrive tomorrow, sis. I forgot my ID in the backpack. Stupid of me. Good thing I was wrong.”
The young woman sat down the larger of the bags and handed him the other one without perceptible hesitation. “I don’t think so. You didn’t forget it in Aberdeen, you numbskull, did you?”
The boy knelt down and began to rifle through the strange bag. The young woman started to chat with the check-in girl, telling her about the annoying wet end of a little brother, and got three beds on her ID.
“Come on, wet end,” she said, jingling the room keys. “You carry the bags.”
And in the hallway: “Listen, kid.  I only agreed because I really can do without a scene right now. Don’t let me regret it.” After a pause, “Annie. You are?”
“Wet End. And thank you.”
Annie laughed. “Alright.”
In the room they were joined by her dark haired friend with the raven feather tattoos.
“Did you get it?” Annie asked, voice discordant with tension.
The raven girl nodded but asked:
“An’ who would tha’ be?”
Annie looked around as if she had completely forgotten her new relation.
“That seems to be my little brother, Wet End. Wet End, this is Bev.”
“Mistaek,” Bev said, with a broad Irish accent. She took a small package from a pocket which Annie grabbed with obvious greed. “Ye don’t want her fer a sister, ye want me. I’m the fun one. But ye can be my brother as well, if ye want te.”
Annie excused herself to the bathroom. Bev took up the guitar. She strummed it once, rolled her eyes and began to tune it. The boy sat on the edge of a bed and relished the pain her comment had caused him. It took Bev a while, but when she was satisfied, she started in on what the boy eventually recognised as “Johnny I hardly knew you”.
He and Bev then spent the night talking and her teaching him the basics of playing the guitar, while Annie lay in blissful stupor on one of the beds. The boy wondered how his sister might have turned out if she had still been alive. Early in the morning he got up and searched through the packs of the sleeping girls. He took almost a hundred pounds and an old but well-whetted, well-oiled Swiss army knife. He gave Bev a light kiss and then snuck out of the room.
That day he travelled the islands again, and slept on fresh hay in small, lonely barn in the middle of a wide, lonely field. The next night he took another ferry further north.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chust sit on Conall’s fer noo!”

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

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

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

“Balnchard, Sir. Daniel Blanchard.”

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

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

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

Only Sim kept quietly bugging me.

“Whaur ye frae, mo caritsh?”

“Canada.”

“Uss’at sae? Whaurawa frae tare?”

“Winnipeg.”

“Och, aye? Nae frae Quebec?”

“No.”

“Bit Blanchard uss a French naem, nae?”

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

“Yer accent ussna Canadian, uss’t?”

“My mum is from Austria.”

“Hou auld ar ye?”

“Sixteen.”

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

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

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

“Just travelling.”

“Aw by yersel?”

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

And so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not much later, Sim shook me awake.

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

“Pit on yet claes!”

“What?”

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

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

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

He opened the dormer window and looked out.

“Kin ye sclim o’er tae t’ ruif and…”

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

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

That was the first time, I used his name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

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

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

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

Continued here

I spent a couple of days on the Isle of Skye, walking around mostly along the shore, swimming in the sea, and reading my way through a bunch of cheap crime and romance novels I picked up at the hostels. In the hostel in Uig in the north of the island I met Ruth, a thief from London who had specialised on backpackers. We spent a night of getting drunk on whiskey and swapping tales and tips about grafting and life on the street. I tried to get her to join me in some confidence game, but she wouldn’t. She had been screwed royally by another con artist a while back and had been caught. It had cost her 10 months and 2 prison rapes. She would never again trust anyone to play anything more complex than straight theft. She tried to get me to team up with her for that. I’d had enough of that in Leeds.

Thursday afternoon I got a ride out of Broadford Bay. Sparring was opened right away with the confession of the Honda Civic Si diver who had picked me up that he normally didn’t take on hitchhikers because of “how today’s youth is”. I probably succeeded in confirming most of his prejudices – more than he knew when he finally kicked me out at that unmotivated roundabout outside Achnasheen, since I had lifted his wallet and a high end mp3 player from the coat he had flung on the back seat.

I was still giving him a two fingered salute and shouting some choice expletives in Polish and Turkish after his diminishing hatchback when a muddy, dented, bottle-green Defender One-Ten Pickup stopped next to me. Two sheep were bleating under the aluminium hard-top covering the bed. The window was cranked down and a large, slender brown dog looked out. Past him, from the driver’s seat, a young man with a freshly stitched up face peered at me.

Faesger ma. Masel ween ye want fer anusser ride.”

He wore dirty curderoys, tall, olive Wellingtons, and a colourless, coarse woollen jumper. His hair was cropped to a fuzz. The stitches on his left temple and cheek gave him a rakish appearance, but underneath he seemed friendly, and open, and ready to laugh.

He reached past the dog and opened the passenger door. I climbed in.

“Thank you.”

Isheh do veha,” he answered and put the car in gear. “Masel uss on t’wey tae Inverewe, by Port Maree. Bit if yer gaun aist A coud tak ye tae Garve or Ullapul.”

None of these place names meant much to me, though I had heard of Ullapool. So I said: “Ullapool would be perfect, if it’s not too much trouble.”

He let the clutch come too fast, and stuttering and coughing the Defender crawled out of the roundabout, and only picked up speed as we passed through Achnasheen, past the train station and a burned down hotel. The dog sniffed at me and gave a short bark. His tail thumped against the vinyl upholstery.

“Awricht. Masel uss Conall. T’ dug uss Jovantucarus.”

“Daniel,” I answered.

“Nice tae meet ye, Danny. Whaur ye frae?”

That one was always tricky. If you are too far from home, it raises all sorts of questions. But passing yourself off as local obviously doesn’t work either. Back in England I had sometimes gone with relatives living somewhere beyond where my ride would take me, sometimes embellished with a sick single mum and the need to stay with said relatives for a while, but in the Highlands I had made the experience that peeps were apt to go out of their way and hand me over to my imaginary family. So I went with this tale instead:

“I’m from Canada, but my dad’s grandmother came from Scotland. My parents are visiting some distant relative today, but I didn’t want to, so they let me explore a bit on my own.”

Conall was astonished at how far I had gotten, on my own (I kept underestimating travel distance in the Highlands, it may not be much as the Crow flies, but given the state of the often single track roads, it was a lot in travel-time), but I think I would have pulled it off, had not a police car come our way shortly after, lights flashing. Normally, the best way to react to the rozzers is by keeping your face under control and just going about your business as if nothing’s amiss. But the A832 between Achnasheen and Garve had been bloody deserted and I still had the wallet and the mp3 player of that Civic driver burning a hole into my pocket. So I slunk down and pressed myself into the corner between seat and passenger door. Conall watched me and raised an eyebrow, but kept on driving.

“Sumtsun masel shoud ken?”

I tried to turn my slinking manoeuvre into a yawn and stretch, fully aware that it wouldn’t be convincing, not after my worried glance into the wing mirror. But the police car had disappeared behind us, and it set up my next yarn nicely.

“C’mon, Danny. Masel uss no blind. Why’re ye hidin frae t’ polis?”

I summoned up the memories of Cannich and all the shame and resentment I could and put on a sullen face. And I told him about an abusive dad, and a stupid cow of a mother who never fought back – and how last night he had gone off on one of his rages again, back in the holiday cottage on Skye they had rented. How normally I would weather these storms at a friend’s place, but how there wasn’t anyone here. So I’d taken some money and planned to make the best of it, stay in some hostel, and wait out the three days it usually took him to calm down again.

I mostly stared out the window or at the scuffed tips of my boots as I talked, my head ducked to match the role of the battered child, but I threw Conall a furtive glance, and to my astonishment saw he had swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. There was no doubt on his face, just compassion and concern.

“You will not hand me over to the cops, will you? If they drag me back now, only one day into his fit, he’ll smile and be polite and my mom will back him up in everything. They’ll make it all out to be my imagination and stuff. But he’ll kill me once they’re gone. Seriously, you must promise not to tell!”

Conall promised, solemnly. And then he invited me to stay at his family’s place for the night. I tried to wriggle out of that, but I’d dug myself in too deep, and short of jumping out of the car and running away, there wasn’t a no he’d accept for an answer.

So at Braemore Junction, he took the turn for Wester Ross, and in silence and a golden sunset we drove through some of the most breath-taking land I have ever seen. On the right the sea, quiet and slate grey, and reaching for the horizon. And on the left the earth dark with moor and heath, and the rushes pale golden and shivering in the wind. And behind that, dusted in snow, the mountains, rising, and rising, like time made substance.

Continued here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Inverness?”

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

He pulled out an ordinance map from his pocket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She handed me both with a thankful smile.

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

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

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

“Yup,” I said.

“Where is your family?” she asked.

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

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

“About one thousand kilometres thataway.”

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

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

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

“Sixteen,” I lied without looking up.

More silence while we ate and I studied the map.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yup,” I said again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue here

Ponyboy was crawling around in the rain and the muck in the alley behind the pub. I helped him to his feet, put his left arm around my shoulders, and with some effort got him to tell me where he lived. Fortunately it wasn’t very far.
All the way I revelled in the warmth of his body as he leaned, shivering, on me, and the feeling of his rain-slick, greasy, clammy skin against my palms, and in brushing against the barbells piercing his nipples and only too visible under his wet My Little Pony tank top, and in the smell of puke, and sweat, and cigarettes, and pot, and some medical stink that I assumed was from his smack addiction.
I realized suddenly that it had been over a year that I had quit my own H addiction, and that I’d gone completely without since. Being a thief had completely replaced my libido. Sure, I had wanked, quite obsessively at times, but the last time I’d gotten any of the real stuff had been that time Hendrik had made me wear his girlfriend’s clothes and had then screwed me, calling me by her name all through, and demanding of me to answer in a ridiculous falsetto voice and pretending to be a horrible caricature version of her.
Amına kodum, was I ever in need of a good fuck.
But nothing of the sort happened that night: I finally got Ponyboy into his flat, a dank, one-room cellar affair that smelled as if it hadn’t been aired out ever, while for the last two years every weekend two unwashed teams of rugby players had had wild orgies in there, and in between the place had been used alternately as a meth kitchen and a field hospital. The gray sheets of his bed actually felt greasy. I dumped the near comatose boy onto it and lay down next to him.
Ponyboy said something that sounded like “I’ll be back in a moment” and started snoring. I lay next to him for a while. We were both still fully clothed (well, I was, he was still wearing his stage outfit), and soaking wet from the heavy rain. When I started to shiver, I took his bed covers that were lying – I swear, I’m not exaggerating here – in a heap on top of loads of unwashed underwear, an overflowing ashtray, and several half eaten, already partially mouldering, and mostly tipped over cups of instant noodles. Hence, it too was wet in several places, and just extremely nasty. I think the only way to ever get it clean again would have been to burn it. I think I have slept cleaner under bridges and supermarket loading docks.
That night it was the perfect cover for me. I put it over myself and Ponyboy, hugged him tight, and just lay there in all that grime, and wetness, and soaked in his presence. After a while I got too horny to bear, unbuttoned my jeans, and wanked until I blew a load into my boxers. For a brief while I fell asleep.
Very early that morning I stole out of Ponyboy’s cellar flat, and rang a very annoyed Charley out of his bed. I pestered him until he connected me with an ethically challenged locksmith who would make me a copy of Ponyboy’s front door key without asking any questions. (He did take a pretty hefty fee, but what was I really going to do with all the money Charley and I were making?)
That done, I sneaked back into Ponyboy’s place, crept under the cover with him, and woke him with a blow-job.
What can I tell you about Ponyboy? We didn’t really talk about much. He was somewhere in his early 20s and enrolled in something artsy and futureless at Edinburgh University. He was from Gretna, in the very South-East of Scotland, near the English border, and claimed he had been conceived in the shadow of the Lochmaben Stone. My favourite tattoo on his body was the phoenix rising from his crotch, and the three symbols on his back, one of each shoulder blade and one on the nape of his neck. I supposed they were the letters “G” (or perhaps “C”), “Z”, and “J” (or maybe “I”). Each was about the size of my palm and heavily ornamented in skulls, bones, blades, screaming faces, hangman’s nooses, and other symbols of death. At the time I sort of assumed they were his initials, though I never asked him for his name.
He asked me once. I was lying on his bed, on my side, hogtied, and trousers around my ankles. He had lit a fag and put it between my lips. I watched crumbs of still glowing ash fall and burn tiny holes into his rumpled, gray sheets. He was sitting next to me, naked, glowing in fresh, post-orgasm sweat, and folding little fighter jets from his huge stacks of sheet music – his rents had once made him learn the piano, but he had since sold his instrument to pay for H. He tried to knock the fag from my mouth with his paper planes, but all he could hit was my belly and shoulders and the top of my hat.
“Wha’ is yer naem, ma wee sluagh?”
“What does it matter to you?” I tried to growl around the cigarette, but it fell from my mouth. Fascinated we both watched it burn a big, smouldering hole into the sheets and mattress, but eventually it winked out and nothing really caught fire.
“No’in,” he admitted, and rolled me onto my stomach.
For the most part my routine that second week in Edinburgh was to be woken by nightmares and sneak out hours before Morpheus relinquished his hold on Ponyboy. If it was early enough that the city was still mostly asleep I’d go to walk to Holyrood Park, go for a run, and practice Aikido in the valley between Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags. Then I’d return to Curtis’s, Matt’s, and Marci’s flat for a shower and maybe a change of clothes, and go to a Laundromat nearby to wash what I’d worn the day before. Around noon I’d meet with Charley, who’d usually make me eat something, and we’d decide what games to play that day.
Eventually we’d end up in some pub, get pissed, and I’d bid him good night. Then I’d walk over to Ponyboy’s and peek through the window. When he wasn’t home, I’d just let myself in and nap on his bed till he arrived. When he was there, I’d watch him through his window until there was a good moment to sneak in and sort of just materialize out of thin air next to him. He must have figured out that I had a copy of is key early on, but I think I managed to startle him at least a bit every day.
I really liked my time there, and in a way Charley and Ponyboy became very close friends, probably the closest I ever had aside from Leon. But after two weeks – two weeks of increasingly unbearable nightmares at that, I started to suffocate.
So I invested some money in new equipment like waterproof clothes and lovely 10 eye oxblood Doc Marten’s boots to replace the Chucks I had worn to tatters. And sometime in the afternoon of Thursday, 21 August 2008, without ever saying good-bye to either Charley or Ponyboy I walked to where Telford Road becomes the A90 and struck out my thumb.
And that was my Edinburgh episode. I’ve never been back, and I left nothing but a long line of hurt marks and two blokes who didn’t know anything about me. I thought that with leaving Charley I had finally turned my back on Leeds for good, too. Never in a million years had I thought that Edinburgh could ever come to haunt me. It would be half a year before I would figure out how wrong I was.
Cherry, or Sheryl Valance left the motorway and dropped me off at the Maybury bus stop on Glasgow Road, where I took the 100 line to Waverley Bridge. The plan was to ring up my contact, but he beat me to it.
When I got off the bus, I was astonished how crowded Edinburgh was, crowded and grey, wet, and oppressive with its massive Georgian townhouses as it presented itself to me under the cloud shuttered sky. For a while I stood on that bridge spanning the train station and marvelled at it all: The Scotsman Hotel at one end, and Princes Street to the other, Carlton Hill with its old burial ground yonder, and, when I turned around, beyond Waverley Station, the park, and looming above on its high, rocky perch the Castle. Of all cities I’ve been to, I think only Budapest is as immediately awesome.
Finally I decided to walk over to the Princes Street side, around the Balmoral and then down to the train station. Train stations are fine places to make unobserved telephone calls. Way too many CCTV cams, of course, but that’s the point: Who is going to sift that sea of images for something as innocuous as a simple phone call? Especially given my complex (and faintly ridiculous) security instructions.
You see, Bryan had made me memorize but not write down a mobile phone number. I was supposed to call it, let it ring twice, then hang up, wait 5 minutes, and call again. And then we were supposed to exchange the passphrase: The bloke on the other end was to say: “Oz here,” to which I was to answer: “It’s Bob.” And then I was supposed to get instructions where to exchange the package.
On my way to the concrete terraces leading to the station, leaning against one of the low walls encircling the horribly out of place shrubbery, was a bloke, maybe 25 years old, wearing neat blue jeans, tasseled loafers, and a plain, navy windbreaker over an obviously brand new Ozzy Osbourne T-shirt.
He sucked on a fag and then he grinned at me insolently. Noticing my guarded stare that couldn’t quite hide my confusion, he asked: “Bob, right?”
I hesitated, then asked lamely: “Oz?”
He scrunched up his handsome face, blew out smoke, and said: “Please, call me Charley.” He put the fag into his mouth and offered me his hand: “Charles Tully.”
We shook.
“You got it?”
I hesitated some more. Charley sighed, got out his mobile and speed-dialled someone.
“Yeah, it’s me,” he said into the phone. “He’s here. Tell him to cut the secret agent crap, please.” He handed it to me. It was Bryan, who told me it was okay and thanks for everything. Charley took back his phone and held out his hand.
“Here?” I asked.
Charley made a big show of looking around. Then he exaggeratedly pointed at a rozzer standing on the other side of Princes Street, opened his eyes wide, and put his hand over his mouth.
He stage-whispered: “Oh no, what if he sees us?”
I sighed, got the packet out of my satchel (pained and laboriously, trying to avoid opening the wound on my arm again), and handed it to him. He didn’t even bother to stow it away or anything, just held it relaxed in his hand.
“Where are you staying?”
“No idea yet.”
At that he raised an eyebrow.
“Mate, it’s the festival, you know?”
And when my face didn’t register understanding, he explained: “The Edinburgh Festival. All of August. It’s the bloody biggest festival of performing arts in the world. There’s about half a million visitors in town, as many as live here normally.”
“Oh.”
Charley turned around and started to walk away from me. When I didn’t move, he turned around.
“Well, come on.”
“Where are we going?”
“Get you a place to stay. You don’t expect you’ll find a hostel or hotel room at the moment, do you?”
I said “I suppose not,” and followed him.
“So, what’s you’re name?”
“Bob.” Deadpan.
He gave me a long look.
“You can call me Bob Moros.”
At that he laughed and we became friends.

Continued here

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

Continued here

I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?
– Hemmingway (attributed)
There is three things that contributed a lot to me ever starting out to be a thief. One is fighting. The other is reading. And the last is playing poker. But I guess I better explain that.
I never could get my temper under control. I hatedmyself for it but that didn’t help. According to my sister ‘Nessa I’ve always had it. The way she tells it I did little else as a baby than scream and toss matchbox cars at her and Lukas. I’m not quite convinced that there isn’t a second side to that story but unfortunately I was too young back then to still remember now.
But it is true that I have always been fighting, all my life, and with nobody as much as with Lukas. Lukas is seven years older than me and physically of course I never had a chance. But that didn’t seem to stop me. I don’t really know why we never got along. To tell you the truth I don’t even know what sort of a person he was when he was younger. Now he is a real arsehole, a total chav. He signed up for four years of voluntary military service after school. To him girls are just mobile life support systems for boobs and snatches. He talks about little but his latest conquest. His regard for his mates corresponds to how often they get laid. For the few girls he actually regards as human beings it’s the same, only the other way around. What of his free time isn’t spent on the pursuit of one night stands is spent on his abs, biceps, and tan. He talks with a pretend lower-class, migrant, wanna-be hip-hop patois. He is a walking cliché in almost every regard.
But he must have been different once, a long time ago. My earliest memories of him – he must have been 10 or 11 then – is of him reading to me how-and-why type children’s books of which he had dozens. There are still a few around, most of them torn and defaced with crayon scrawls. My work, I must assume. And when he was 12 he used to cook for our dad, my sisters and me, when mum was at work. I haven’t seen him cook in years. I think, when I arrived, for a while at least, he tried to be a good big brother. And I suppose, I never tried to be a good little brother in return. Whatever it was, eventually he gave up, on all of us.
So, almost from the beginning we have been fighting. And I do mean fighting: The slapping, punching, kicking, spitting, biting, pushing, clawing kind of fighting. Even before our dad left us, Lukas claimed I was a bastard, in that traditional illegitimate sense of the word. And when dad went, Lukas claimed I was the reason. And later, well, he blamed me for much of what followed as well. I suppose Lukas blamed me pretty much for everything that went wrong. And who knows, maybe he was on to something. Children are cruel, that’s a given. As a rule they are not stupid.
When ‘Nessa hit puberty my mum tried to put the four of us into a boys’s and a girls’s room, instead of the old’uns, young’uns pairing we’d had going until then. The experiment lasted for one week, leaving me blooded and wailing every night. Don’t get me wrong, Lukas would have needed the patience of a saint to put up with my incessant needling and obstinacy. And neither of us had a patience that was anything of the kind. So my mum put him back into one room with ‘Nessa and me into the other with ‘Nette.
(Our rents had named us Lukas, Vanessa, Anette, and Patrick, but only Lukas was actually called that by anyone but our mum. To everyone else Anette had always only been ‘Nette, Vanessa ‘Nessa, and I only answered to Rikki. And yes, if you are wondering, there is a reasons why I spell it with a double-k instead of the more traditional c-k-y, but this is neither the time nor the place to go into that.)
As for the rest of the world, it was a little bit like that as well: Every new group I’d become a part of, every new class, a football team, summer camp, anything, it wouldn’t take me long before somehow I would get into a fight with the biggest, meanest bully around.
I am not a big guy, never was. Maybe a tad on the stocky side when I’m well fed. And I really would pick the biggest, toughest bloke I could find. That meant I would lose almost all of those fights. But the psychopathic, all-out way I went about it usually meant that after this first fight people would pretty much leave me alone. Long after the bruises and the punishments those fights earned me were forgotten the fear – I dare not quite call it respect – of hair-trigger Rikki persisted. Rarely did anyone need a second demonstration.
Please, don’t think I was courageous. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Nor was I trying to be strategically clever. I never set out to do this. In fact, I dreaded these fights when I saw one coming up, I just couldn’t help myself. It was as if there was something in me, some force I did not understand myself, that demanded this of me, like a sacrifice, like a proof for I don’t know what.
Violence is a funny thing. Sure, it’s scary. I mean, it bloody hurts, you know. On the other hand there is something very liberating in just closing yourself off from all rational argument, in drawing a line around yourself and reducing all communication across it to the staccato Morse code of blows and kicks. Little can focus the entire world to such a fine and clear point as unbridled violence. How many angels can fight on the head of a pin? All of them, mate. All of them, forever. There is a little bit of paradise in an honest fight, when nothing remains of the world but me, the other bloke and that strange satisfaction when we connect.
And it got worse and worse. In the past years I’ve gotten into fights with more or less everyone: Kids, teachers, random strangers on the street, or on the bus, and with bus drivers kicking me off for fighting. Hell, even with a cashier at a supermarket for not selling me fags. And with rozzers of course. Always bad news when you kick a police officer. They take a dim view on that, let me tell you.
A very few times I even blacked out during a fight, switched to autopilot. I would come to afterwards, victorious or vanquished, but with no memory of what had happened. That scared me badly, when that last bit of self-control went up in a red haze, and left me entirely at the mercy at whatever demon I had allowed into my life.
I only managed to stop when I started stealing. Well, more or less.
Continued here

He was surprisingly gentle, after the rough choke-hold before. He carried me the way a groom carries his bride across the threshold, and with total ease. His chest felt good, big and strong. There was definitely a lot more muscles than fat underneath his absurd flowery shirt. And he smelled faintly of healthy sweat, soap and Rive Gauche.
His hands were also very gentle as he washed my feet and tended to them, humming of all things “Us or Them” from Dark Side of the Moon all the while. Turned out he was a paramedic and ambulance driver. The woman had tried to argue, hell, I had tried to argue, but he had brushed our objections away with a grunt. Seemed in his view of the world you just didn’t leave hurt people by the roadside, no matter what they’d done before, or if they even wanted your help at all.
The camper was parked a good way into the orchard, so that it was almost invisible from the road. Most of the ground was covered by high grass dotted with buttercups and high stands of nettles. Here and there someone had heaped a lot of dead branches, but that must have been long ago, judging from the rot and moss. On a clearing next to the camper they had set up a couple of foldable chairs and table. Dewey was loitering in one of the chairs, watching me with an unabashed and disconcerting fascination. I was sitting in the other, legs stretched out, Huey kneeling in front of me.
“By the way,” Huey had said at the beginning. “I’m…”
“Huey,” I interrupted him. “I know. And the wanna-be hood ornament is Dewey. Which makes your lady…,” I nodded towards the woman who was reheating a pot of chilli con carne over a camping stove. “…Louie?”
Huey laughed. “Yep. That’s right.”
“What’s your name?” Dewey asked me.
Louie, who had tried to hide her own grin, shushed her. “Let him be, darling. He won’t want to give us his real name.” (Right she was.)
“Well, what shall I call him then?” Dewey demanded. “I can’t very well just call him Strange Boy, can I?”
“You can call me Ishmael,” I muttered, a meagre attempt at wit. More half-hidden grins from Louie – Huey seemed to miss the reference entirely – but Dewey was delighted. She tried the name as if tasting it, rolled it around her tongue a few times and then declared she would call me “Ish.”
“What have you done to your feet, Ishmael?” Huey sighed when he had cleaned them. I had told him to leave them be, I would take care of it myself. He had frowned as if trying to make sense of what I said. “If you could take care of them yourself they wouldn’t be in such a state.”
“I walked a lot.”
“Yeah, from where? Siberia?”
“No, just…” I interrupted myself. Again Huey didn’t take any notice, he was too absorbed in his task of making me better. However I caught Louie looking at me sharply. “Wales,” I finished. “I got relatives in Wales. Been hiking for two days.”
“In those?” he asked me, nodding to my red canvas trainers lying in a heap next to my socks and t-shirt. When I nodded, he shook his head.
“Bad choice. And then no change of socks, either, no tape. Man, you don’t know the first thing about hiking, do you?”
And thus I got my first lesson in how to take care of my feet when on the road. And whatever else happened later, I never forgot that lesson, and never again let my feet take the punishment for my negligence. Even if I didn’t take care of anything else, I always made certain I had fresh socks to change into, not too warm, nor too cold. I tried to always carry a roll of surgical tape with me, and to protected spots that got irritated as soon as I became aware of them. If possible I would have moleskin rings on me to take care of blisters if they did form after all, and a safety pin to lance them, and some form of disinfectant, even if it was just hard liquor. The feeling of not being able to run away when they caught me, of being betrayed by my feet (though I suppose it was me who betrayed my feet) was too horrible for me to ever allow to occur again.
“Are you really no good as a thief?” Dewey asked me, when Huey was done explaining.
“What do you mean? If you hadn’t tried to hump a Land Rover, I would’ve gotten away with it,” I snapped.
“Language,” Louie snapped back. “At least try to behave as if you’re a bloody guest and not just street scum.”
And after a brief uncomfortable pause I sighed. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Dewey. That was a dumb thing for me to say. And maybe you are right, maybe I suck at this.”
At that Huey finally looked up from my feet, where he had been busy cutting away lose flaps of torn skin. He was laughing silently. “Nah, well, I don’t know about that. But I think Dewey meant that Louie called you a no good thief before, isn’t that right, honey?”
He glanced at Louie who threw him a dirty look that confirmed his speculation.
“Look, Dewey, what your mother meant is that Ishmael here is a thief and that being a thief is not a good thing. Even if he is really good at stealing, it’s still bad to do that at all.”
Dewey chewed on her lower lip and thought about that for a while.
“If you do something, you ought to do it well. That’s what Mr Bishop says anyway. If doing something is bad, but you’re doing it anyway, is it better or worse being good at it then?” And when nobody answered her, she did so herself. “I think it’s still better to be good at it, even at something bad.”
You know, that was what I always thought myself.