Archive for the ‘pain’ 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.

I walked Sim to the curve in the path, where it left the birch wood and started out onto the open moor, past the bony white scrags, and I kept staring after him when he had ridden his bike down that path far longer than it took the darkness to snuff him.

I knew that even by my own fucked up standard I could leave whenever I wanted. All I had promised was to teach him as long as I staid, after all. I hadn’t said how long that would be. Also, while I had promised to teach him what I knew, I hadn’t specified what part of my knowledge. So why was I so uneasy? Why didn’t I simply up and leave? Why didn’t I stay and just teach him some harmless coin tricks, and some confidence tricks so elaborate or so dated that he wouldn’t ever be able to actually use them?

I clearned and locked up the house and withdrew into the woods again. I didn’t really believe he would rat me out, but I didn’t fancy being caught asleep by some farmerishly early visit of his dad or anyone else of his family.

But that night sleep refused me, even on my soft pillow of moss and wormy wood. So after a while I decided to pay a visit to Port mare. It was a decent hike and I arrived just before dawn. Port Maree is a bit larger than Inverewe, and something of an administrative centre for the peninsula, with houses threaded on a main road that follows the long curved beach.

The combined supermarket and news agent wasn’t officially open yet, but they were getting deliveries and the bloke there sold me a packaged sandwich and a can of ginger beer, and told me to try the hotel for internet access. I made my way along the beach, and watched the Atlantic turn the sand a silvery mirror again and again, only to be blotted up each time. And each time the waters disappeared they took my footprints with them.

Crows and sea gulls raucously greeted the returning fishing boats. At the far end the sand darkened with algae and sea weed and gave way for blackened, fishy smelling boulders. The hotel was one of the Victorian country houses that looked all pretty and perfect from far away, but from close up revealed all the little damages time had wrought, the many patches and spots that had been painted over, added to, and modified to keep up.

Inside the night clerk was setting the tea room for breakfast. She allowed me access to one of the two computers they have for guest use, as long as I left before the shift ended. I checked mail, blogged the last couple of days, and then opened the Yahoo browser messenger to see if there were some night owls from the US or some early birds from Europe online. Indeed, both my BDSM Daddy Matt from Texas and Peter, an elderly queer bloke from the Midlands were on.

I tried to talk to both of them about Sim and the promise I had given him. The paedophile African-American Baptist Sadist and the closeted Anglican Poofter agreed that it was bad enough I was doing this stuff, and that I should get my arse back to Berlin onto a school bench, and that it would be better to break my word than to go through with it.

I told them both they could go screw themselves. Master Daddy Matt told me to beat myself with a birch rod or ruler or so the next time I wank. The night clerk asked me to finish up. I erased the browser history and logged out.

I checked out what I assumed must be Sim’s school, Maelrubha High. It was a Saturday, though, and the school remained dead and empty. I stood at the fence for a while and pressed my face against the iron rails. The sky was low and dark, and in a glowing a cold light the colour of polished tin just above the hills.

When I left Port Maree for the emptiness of the moors, I didn’t take the A832, and didn’t try to hitch a ride. Instead I walked off the end of Lohim Road, a patchy cart rut that soon disintegrated into a mere deer pass through the hills and past the small lakes of the peninsula. It took me close enough to the cabin that I could cut across the heather, grab something to eat and a new book, and went for an uneasy nap in the woods. Later I settled down in my look out post again, practice coin tricks, reading a Darkover novel, and waited for the boy.

When he arrived, we got right at it.

“Whit wull ye lairn us first?”

“Nothing. You’ll show me first, what you already know.”

“A ken naeting aboot stealing an t’ like.”

I tossed him a coin. He was still moving a bit stiffly, but apparently his soreness was better, and he caught it out of the air, without effort of fumble.

“There, very good.” I grinned. “Now put it in your palm and hold it very lightly between the ball of your thumb and the edge of your hand. No, that’s already too hard. You hand doesn’t look natural that way anymore.”

He relaxed his hand.

“Let it drop down to your side. Keep it relaxed.” I watched him. “Great. You’ll keep that coin there all evening, and when you leave, you will continue to do so every moment you can. I mean every, okay, this is hard work. Under the shower. While brushing your teeth. Sitting in school. Doing your homework. Doing your chores. Train yourself to be able to do anything with a coin palmed. Switch palms every now and then. Keep your hand relaxed and try to not clink the coin against anything.”

Then I questioned him about hobbies and chores. As a crofter’s son he obviously knew his way around animals.

“See, that’s useful: Animals can both warn a mark and attack you. On the other hand, make friends with a man’s pet and he will more likely trust you. Every little bit you know about animals, especially dogs, can help you.”

He also knew how to sharpen blades, how to tie various knots, how to climb sheet poles, how to use the saw and the claw-hammer efficiently, and how to repair fences. He had acted in school plays – amongst other roles that of the Artful Dodger in a school performance of “Oliver, The Musical” – and had been playing the fiddle since he was 5.

“Aw tsat uss uissfu?”

“Sure. Take the fiddle. Your fingers and hands and arms are strong and nimble from the practice. It’s given you a good sense of timing and a good ear. Nearly everything can be used by a thief and liar. What you are good at determines how you go about the art. The other thing that determines any grift are the weaknesses of the mark. After all, you don’t want to make it hard on yourself. You want it to go off smoothly.”

His greatest asset, of course, was that he really wanted it. Whatever I told him, or showed him, he sucked it up like it was cream and he a starving kitten.

Like, after a while he began t complain that his hand was cramping up around the coin he was still holding in his palm.

I told him: “That’s why you have to practice.”

And he grinned at that. He grinned and then concentrated on relaxing his hand without letting go of the coin. And when it fell out of his hand, he picked it up and put it right back. And he asked me for techniques to strengthen and relax his hands.

I taught him the basics of change raising, pocket pocking, and cheating at card. He immediately understood the three main challenges: To be aware of where the mark’s attention was; to find ways – or better yet: to use already present opportunities – to distract the mark and steer his attention away from his misdeeds; and finally the quickness and smoothness to pull it off in a minimum of time with a minimum of movement. The last bit, he’d simply have to practice, and practice, and practice, but that was nothing new to a life-long fiddle player, was it?

And he was already brilliant at distraction and misdirection.

Finally he said: “Masel hae tae gae hame and dae ma chores or ma paw will tak a sparey.”

“How do you explain your absence anyway?”

“Naessin tae it. Yesterday A makkit on masel hae tae practeese wi t’band.”

“You play in a band?”

At that he actually blushed a bit. “Aye. T’ Port o’ Daw. Masel sing and fiddle. And t’day A chust said maself wuss meetin in wi ma mates.”

“Can you come back later?”

His smile deepend. “Shuir. Want fer me tae bring sometsing? Mae fags?”

“Actually, I had a field trip in min. Want to learn how to break in somewhere?”

Continued here

He didn’t release my arms. He just sat on me, leaned forward, holding the weight of his upper body on his outstretched arms, and allowed for the world to collapse inward and dissolve in that lasting, coppery kiss.

Once, he bit my lip, and our blood began to mingle. I trembled with my whole body.

What did I feel? Relief. Waves, and waves of relief. They welled up inside me like a flash flood, filling the lightless caves, and flushed all the dust, lose shale, and guano of past disappointment, rejection, and doubts away. They kept rising, those waves of relief, until I was certain they would spill out as tears, finally free again, but it was giggles instead, bubbly, pealing, as if my insides had been carbonated.

And there was lust. So much more, and so much more raw, than there had been with anyone else. The way his knees dug painfully into my wrists, the way my lip throbbed and burned, the taste of the blood, and of the tobacco on his spit. The way he just wouldn’t break the kiss, even when I started giggling. The way his tongue patiently, savouring, explored the inside of my mouth. The way his breath flowed from his nose past my cheeks alternately cool in and hot out, evenly, unhurried.

After a while, still without breaking the kiss, and without lifting his knees from my arms, he put his socked feet together, put the toes between my thighs and pushed them apart. He brought his feet further up until he was sitting on his heels and his spans were pushing hard into my crotch. He wriggled his toes ever so slightly against my bum, and I could feel his lips form a smile against mine when I groaned.

His tongue was still in my mouth and our combined saliva and blood was running down my cheeks and chin and into my nose. He kept kissing me while I helplessly humped my crotch upward against his feet. He kissed me allthorugh that most uncomfortable and strenuous form of masturbation, until I filled my shorts.

Only then did he sit up and look down at me. He wiped his mouth once, with the back of his hand, smearing the blood and giving him a terrible, wolfish expression. He just looked at me questioningly. I looked up, dizzy and uncertain what he was expecting.

“Well, Tavi?”

“Thank you…?” I hazarded, my voice hoarse.

“Thank you what?”

“Thank you, Sir?”

“Is that a question, Tavi?”

And there was the last uprising of relief. There still weren’t any tears, but If elt it pour out of me, out of every pore and orifice, wash over me, until I was shivering, the way one does at the end of a long piss. I relaxed, and I smiled, without any reservation, and said with utter conviction and sincerity:

“Thank you, Sir.”

And I was rewarded with that strange smile of his that only sat in the corners of his eyes.

In the following weeks, Hendrik expected me to continue studying hard and reaching all the goals he had set for me. And if we spent less time on my studies while together, he expected me to make up for that in my own time. But to be honest, he never expected more of me than I could deliver, if I really put my back into it.

It was probably the strangest relationship I ever had with someone, way stranger than with Ponyboy or even with that cold bitch that would end up shooting me 2 ½ years later. There was sex, of course, but even that was, I dunno…

I was required to cum onc, but only once, each time we met, and it was always the last thing we did, before going our separate ways. And it was always and only by me humping his feet and creaming my undies. Usually he would sit on a chair or the edge of his bed, and I would kneel before him, my hands on his thighs, and do my business. Afterwards he sort of lost interest in me until next time.

And he… well, take the time he took my cherry. This was how it went: He asked me if I’d ever been fucked before. I said, honestly, that I’d played around, you know, with some things, like carrots, and stuff. I’d even done it a few times on cam for dirty old men getting off on it. But no other person had entered me there. For a afew days he didn’t mention it again and I was sort of disappointed, and then he told me to get permission from my mum to go camping with him for a night the next weekend.

For his 18th birthday, just one or two weeks or so before, he’d gotten his driver’s licence and a used fire-engine red BMW Funduro. That Friday he was waiting for me in the yard behind the tenement building his rents were living, next to his bike. He took my backpack with my sleeping bag and change of clothes and everything and just stuffed it into the narrow gap behind the concrete shed that housed the bins. There was a load of other trash there.

“Nobody will take it. You can get it out when we get back. Now take of your pants und briefs.”

“Here?”

He just looked at me impatiently. He hated when I questioned his commands. I looked around in the yard. We were alone. Half hidden behind the bin shed I opened my belt and dropped my shorts. I stepped out of them without removing my trainers, and then slid down my briefs. (He had forbidden me to wear boxers any more. Only tight slips were allowed.)

He took the briefs and had me put on my shorts again. When I had rebuckled the belt, he stuffed the briefs in my mouth. Then he put the sextra helmet he had sitting on the seat of the bike onto my head. Turned out he had spray-painted the visor opaque from within. When he had shoved it onto me, I was gagged and blind.

He sat down on the bike and started the engine. Then he had me climb onto the seat behind him and off we went.

I have no idea where exactly he took me, but according to my watch it was about a three hour ride, first through the city, then on the highway, then country roads that got increasingly bumpy, and finally completely off-road. For me this ride, mouth dry, jaws aching, in darkness, the noise of the wind and the engine blasting everything from the world except the feel of his cool, slick, leather-clad torso against my chest and the naked arms I had slung around him, lasted forever. In some ways it hasn’t even ended yet. Maybe it never will.

Once we arrived, he had me climb off and took my by the hand. Still blind and dumb he guided me through some underbrush, down a slope, and into a thicket of reeds. The ground got marshy, and then I stepped into cold water. Hendrik just lead me on. I could hear him splash through the water next to me. With nothing to hold onto but his hand, I walked on. The water reached my knees, my hip, my chest, and then we were swimming, me still with the helmet, his hand still my lifeline. A few minutes later, there was again muddy ground under my feet, it got shallower, and he was leading me up another slope.

Wordlessly he had made me sit down, back to a tree, and tied my wrists behind it. Then he busied himself with a fire. Only when he was done, he removed the helmet and the gag. We were on a small wooded island, in a small, swampy lake, surrounded by a coniferous forest. There was a tent he must have had waiting for us. Over the fire he was boiling water in a tin pot. When it was done, he made tea and fed it to me from a tine cup. It was too hot and burned my tongue. He didn’t stop forcing it into me. The clothes, mine and his own bike leathers, he just let dry on our bodies.

So, when he eventually untied me, and we snogged, and rolled down back into the shallow, muddy waters of the lake, and he took me with my head half submerged, it was really only that one other thing, that happened that weekend. The ride, the tea, the blind swim, and the island, and later, spending the night – tied up again – in his arms, those were what it had all been about.

Or there was thing with the clothing. First it was the boxers, but then he gave me a bunch of old underwear and socks from his little sister, Solveig, to wear instead of my own. And finally he made me give him my hi-top Chucks and gave me a pair of Solveig’s worn, low, pale yellow Keds instead. When I balked, he just gave me this strange look. Not dominating, you understand, he never brow-beat me. It was just this mild contempt, like a dare. Like, aren’t you even man enough to be able to wear a girl’s clothes without getting frightened. And so I did. And you know what. I felt good about it. I felt proud.

The worst, and the best, he demanded of me, was without a doubt the night in the woods.

In late July he had told me to stop wanking. My only relief would be those sessions with him. Of course there wasn’t really any way for him to know if I complied, though I think he knew he could trust me to keep my word. Being faithful made me much too happy and proud to do anything else.

“But,” he said, “when I have to trust you, I need you to prove that you also trust me. Really trust me. Do you think you can do that, Tavi?”

What do you think I answered to that?

So one evening he again put me into that helmet and drove me deep into some woods. When he removed the helmet and showed me what he had prepared, I grew very faint, and very afraid. At the bottom of a small hollow he had dug a grave, a neat, oblong rectangular hole into the forest ground. The spade and the axe he had used still leaned to a large oak tree nearby.

He knelt down next to me, lit a fag, and handed it to me.

“You can say no, Tavi. I won’t tell you what will happen. I’m not telling you it will be okay. I’ll just ask you to trust me. If you don’t, we go back bow. But you and me, it will be over. It’s your choice.”

I looked at him. It was one of the few times he was flushed, too. He, too, was breathing hard. In his eyes burned a fire, a strange, wild desire. He really, really wanted this. But he left the choice to me. Only, of course, it wasn’t a choice. I wasn’t going to be a coward. I couldn’t. So I nodded.

“Say it, Tavi.”

I had to think about that for a second, but then I got it.

“I trust you… Sir.”

He gave me one of his smiles, strained by his dark desire. He tied my wrists behind my back. Then he had me climb in the hole and lie down. One side of the hole wasn’t vertical, but sloped, like a bathtub. I had to lie with back on the slope, facing up. He tied my legs, too. And then he began to fill the gave with the dark, damp earth, all the way until my face, staring straight up, was more or less flush with the ground, a pale oval in the middle of the forest floor.

Last he scattered leaves and twigs and lose earth over the whole area. I blinked some dust away and blew some leaves from my mouth and nose, but I must have been practically invisible even from only a couple of meters away.

“Can you breathe, Tavi?” he asked.

I tried. It was harder than normal, but I thought it wouldn’t be a problem. I tried to smile, in spite of the terror, and whispered: “Yes… Sir.”

He nodded, gathered up the spade and axe, got onto his bike, and drove away. I heard the engine recede and fade into the wind in the treetops.

I don’t think there are words to describe that night. The unbearable fear, the loneliness, the sounds of the nature around me. I watched the last light fade from the little sky above me. The dark crowns of the oaks and pines and maple trees standing high above me like giants merged with the night until only a few pinpricks of starlight remained here and there. Insects crawled over my face. Mosquitoes discovered me early. I must have fed thousands that night.

I honestly didn’t know if he would come back. And a part of me totally got off on that idea, that he had left me there to die. Even when I started to call for help. Even when I started to beg.

At some point I pissed myself, turning the earth around my crotch to mud. At some point a group of wild pigs moved past pretty close. Ever since reading Clive Barker’s Pig Blood Blues, and later Thomas Harris’s Hannibal, I had been fascinated by the idea of getting eaten by a pig. I was certain, they would discover me and eat the face of my skull. I couldn’t even see them, just heard them moving and grunting and snuffling in the darkness. Eventually the went away.

Time stretched, like taffy, and fragmented. I realised that breathing was getting harder. I was running out of energy to push away the earth pressing against my chest, and lying on tied arms didn’t make things easier. I don’t know if I really could have suffocated that way, but at the time, it felt that it was happening, right then. The feeling grew more and more intense, until sheer physical panic took over. I screamed and yelled and begged. I struggled, but all I managed was to wear myself out even more. I had loosened the earth around my head enough so I could turn it a few centimetres to either side, or lift it a little bit, but doing that was so strenuous I had to let it sink back after a few seconds.

At some time it rained for a while, big drops hitting me in my face. I could feel the wetness seep down through the earth, making it even heavier and breathing even harder. The dripping of the drops from the leaves continued for a long time after the rain itself had stopped, distorting all sounds even further.

I sometimes thought I heard people, or steps, or a suppressed cough. Sometimes I was afraid and ashamed, sometimes I screamed for help. The sounds always drowned in the sounds of the nightly forest, leaving me uncertain if I had just imagined them.

When morning finally came, and I lifted my head and tried to look around, I could see a figure from the corner of my eyes, sitting hunched against a tree on top of the slight rise encircling the hollow I was in the centre of. I was near delirious at the time, and exhausted beyond anything I had ever experienced. I was convinced that the hunched figure was Death, incarnate, waiting for me to give up my last breath. And I was certain I would do so soon. Each breath was a gasp, flat, and I felt very dizzy and faint. The world had ceased to be more than a vague scribble on a paper-thin sheet of experience. Underneath was only that void I had already encountered once, on my 12th birthday.

The figure got up. It was Hendrik, holding his father’s hunting rifle. He stretched, brushed some leaves from his legs, and walked away. Half an hour later, I heard his motorcycle approach. He dug me up, untied me, gently took off my clothes, helped me into a fresh tracksuit, and lifted me onto his bike. I was shivering all over and could hardly hold onto him. He was very careful as he drove back.

At his place – his rents were away, like almost always – he ran me a hot bath. He washed me gently, with a soft washcloth, and some scented bubble bath.

“Were you there the whole night?” I asked, still barely able to use my voice. I kept trying to touch him, to hold onto him. Even when he left the room only for a few seconds, I felt like crying out to him like a baby.

His face remained serious when he didn’t answer. He only kissed me, the softest kiss of all the ones he ever gave me. There was no smile in his face, no praise. I don’t have a word for what was there, but it was worth to me even more than the night he carried me off the football pitch.

***

Why didn’t it last?

I don’t know, really. There wasn’t any one thing. He tried a lot of things. He played with pain, made me bleed. He also tried to find the point where my revulsion would best my need to rise to any challenge. He never found my limits. And that began to bring him to his.

He made me get my second tat, and even paid for it: Out of the money I had paid him. When my mum discovered it, she blew her top, as she had with the first one. Of course I neither told her who had done it, nor that it had been Hendrik’s idea. But even so, he was very careful not to mark me too much, cutting, or beating, and not to get me sick. Not for my sake, I am certain, but to avoid attention.

He began to abuse his girlfriend. He made me watch them, tied up in his wardrobe, or even in the large drawer under his bed where he kept his duvet and pillow during the day, as they made out. I was there when he defloured her, telling her he loved her all through. He made me go on picnics and stuff with them, selling me as this social case he had taken on to keep me off the street. He upped that eventually by telling her I was queer and getting her to talk to me girl to girl about blokes. The talks were double torturous for me, having to keep everything that mattered about my sex life – namely him – out of it, while suffering through her own humiliation that remained invisible to her.

None of that really stopped what I felt for him, but it began to fade. On our last meeting he made me dress in her clothes and pretend to be her, or some mock transvestite version of her, while he screwed me. I don’t know what he was after that day. I tried hard, but he never finished.

We lay next to each other, not touching, when I said:

“Can’t we come out?”

“Hm?” He turned his face towards me, brushed my long hair from mine. (He had forbidden me to cut my hair.)

“I don’t care if you stay together with her, and really, I am sure she wouldn’t mind about me. I mean, she must half know anyway, and she’ll suffer far worse for you. So will I. I just don’t wanna stay hidden anymore.”

After all the many challenges he had given me, all of which I had passed with at best a brief hesitation, this was the first serious one I had given him.

He blew softly on my sweaty face. Then he shrugged.

“You can go anytime.”

He didn’t call me Tavi. I felt hollow and tired and disgusted with myself. I got up, took off her clothes. Naked I was marked by him all over in a thousand small ways, masked by my usual bruises and scrapes, but I could have counted and identified every single nick and prick and scar he had left on me.

He watched me get dressed and walk out. He never said a word.

I didn’t call him again, after that. And he didn’t call me. We met at football training, but there we had always pretended that there wasn’t anything between us, so we just continued that act. It was hard at first, but it quickly got easier. And when I shaved my head and began wanking again, I knew it was over.

I think I could have forgiven him everything, except cowardice. It wasn’t that he didn’t admit to me, it was that he let himself be held back by fear, the fear of what others would think of him.

The real kicker, of course, wasn’t his failure. The kicker came, when at night, in the loneliness of that tiny room I had once shared with ‘Nette, I talked to her ghost, the way I often did. And I told her about Hendrik, and how pissed off I was at him. And her ghost, dry and far away, asked me, why not being a coward was so important to me.

“Because of what you taught me,” I said.

I felt her wistful smile, the one only ghosts can wear, because to them everything is past, is lost, is both precious and no longer important. And in her smile I read the bitter truth: I was afraid of failing her. I was afraid of being weak. I was afraid of being afraid.

Nothing had changed.

I was still a coward.

I can’t get enough of you, no never put you down
I don’t wanna be wrong, don’t wanna be right
Just wanna play along
– Children’s Masterpiece Theatre: Flesh of Lost Summers (2007)

Let’s talk about fear for a moment. Let’s talk about cowardice.

When I was seven years old, we went on our very last trip with the entire family, mum, dad, and us four kids. Mosquitoes, campfires, canned ravioli, fishing, and swimming in the lakes and waterways of Polish Masuria.

One afternoon our rents had gone for groceries. The sun was low and our campground almost entirely consumed by the shadows of the tress. Golden sparkles were still dancing on the gently lapping waves of the lonesome lake. ‘Nette was lying on her stomach on a large towel and reading a teen magazine. ‘Nette had waded out pretty far into the shallow waters and stood, arms outstretched like some Christ figure in the fading blaze of the evening sun. Lukas had disappeared in the woods. And I was playing by myself with these little plastic soldiers that come in a bucket.

Suddenly a big, far forest spider dropped first on my head and then down, knocking over one of my soldiers. I shrieked and jumped. And next to me, Lukas – who knew that I was afraid of spiders – began to laugh. He had returned from the woods brought the critter as a special present to me.

“For chrissake, Lukas, leave him alone, will you?” ‘Nessa groaned from her towel, but she didn’t even bother to stop leafing through her magazine.

Lukas ignored her. Instead he picked up the spider and let it dangle on its thread from his finger, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum.

“Look here, little pussy, she wants to play with you.”

I tried to get away, but stumbled over a root and landed with a heavy, painful thump on my back. Lukas followed me to stand over me and slowly lowered the spider towards my face. Terrified I lay still and stared up at the wriggling, eight-legged beasty.

And then a small hand closed around the spider. ‘Nette, nine years old and dripping wet, crouched down next to me. I knew that she hated spiders just as much as I did, and when we were alone with each other in the privacy of our room, she would shriek and hide behind me, and egg me on to put a glass or something over it, if one came to visit us there. Now she was trembling all over. I don’t know if it was with fear and revulsion, or with rage, or if it was because she was wet and there was a cool breeze blowing between the trees. Perhaps it was a mix of all of the above.

She stared directly in to the eyes of her 14 year old brother and held her lightly balled fist towards him, as if about to offer a gift in supplication. She even relaxed he fingers enough so that the scrabbling legs of the spider began to appear between them. And then I could see her steel herself. She gritted her teeth. Her breath hitched once. There were tears in he eyes but also a deep resolve.

Slowly she got up, put herself between me and him, and then she crushed the spider in her fist. All though she stared directly into his eyes, hers just as stormy grey as his. And I knew that I loved her, loved her with a blind, fiery passion I had never felt before and thought I never could again.

Lucas snorted and turned to leave.

“Pussies,” was what he muttered when I – now that the spider was gone – launched myself at him. I jumped on his back, and clung to him like a monkey, and tore at his hair and bit into his ear.

That night, when ‘Nette and I were down at the lake washing the dishes after supper, and I was still aching all over from the beating Lukas had ended up giving me, she took my by the arm, and she looked at me very seriously, and this is what I remember her saying to me:

“Everyone is afraid, Tavi.” Tavi was her special, secret name for me, from the Kipling tale. “But only a coward lets that stop him.”

That night I lay awake for a long time, and I swore to myself that I would never be a coward again. But things aren’t ever that simple, are they, and often enough life doesn’t permit us the luxury of keeping our word. Least of all to ourselves.

***

I’ve always liked boys, and men, and never really looked at girls, or women, in a sexual way. And as far back as I remember I knew that this was something I ought to be ashamed of. Like most of my kind, when my mates began talking about girls and pussy and boobs in that way, I first tried to avoid it, and then, for a while, I joined in and was probably especially obnoxious. But I hated it. Not because I was lying – I lie all the time, it doesn’t bother me at all – but because I really didn’t like that particular role.

‘Nette was the first person I talked to about this. I was 10 at the time, and it was my assistant football coach I had been thinking about. She listened very seriously and said matter-of-factly: “So, you’re a faggot.” And she hugged me and kissed me and added: “Then that’s just the way it is.” And for the short time afterwards that we had we could talk about boys, and compare what we liked about them, or didn’t, and what we wanted them to do to us.

And later, when she was dying, she egged me on to go through with it, to finally get fucked. But I didn’t have the first idea how to go about it. I mean, I had my fantasies, but they were never too clear about how to initiate it all.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I was eleven, during ‘Nette’s last summer, there was Tariq. He had thick, black hair, and dark eyes, like a horse, and skin the colour of coffee with lots of milk. His nose was aquiline, and his face heart-shaped, and he had a birthmark low on the left side of his jaw line, close to the ear.

The only way I found to express my desire for him was to annoy him thorouly with constant needling, jibes and taunts, until he lost his patience, and we fought in the school corridor. We both got quite a lot of heat for that from our teachs and rents, and he never forgave me, but I remember how much I loved wrestling with him, how much I loved feeling his fingers dig into my arm as he tried to hold me down, how hard my prick was against his hip as he lay on me, pounding my face to get me to finally cry uncle so he would be able to walk away with his head held high. How he began to sob with frustration when I wouldn’t, and how he spit into my face as they dragged us apart.

That afternoon I spent at ‘Nette’s side. She’d one of her migraines and had returned from school early. She was already scheduled to go to the hospital, but we still assumed it would only be temporary. I cried about the way Tariq had looked at me when he’d come from the principal’s office and I had been on my way in, and I had known that even if I ever had had a chance before, it was gone forever now. ‘Nette had rested one hand on my head, and without opening her eyes she had said: “Coward.”

Continued here

It was raining again when I entered Glen Dee. The sky was as rugged as the ground, clouds, torn, chasing each other, sunlight coming through the ragged opening in scattered bursts, the way a gunman might occasionally strafe a besieged house with bursts of automatic fire. The hills on both sides of the glen grew into mountains and the path itself plodded ever upwards.

In the evening I reached a mountain whose lopsided peak jutted out impressively over the glen, like a cock straining against tight trousers. As I found out later it’s called “Devil’s Point” in English, which was the polite translation of its Gaelic name as it was told to Queen Victory when she travelled through these parts. A more literal translation would be “demon dick”.

There was a small stone hut at the foot of the Devil’s Point. I thought about spending the night there, but when I got close, I saw that a group of happy hikers were just getting cozy inside, hanging freshly washed socks from the window sill and busying themselves with the fireplace. I greeted them half-heartedly, without breaking my stride. I hurried past the hut and up a small path that lead to the ridge joining the Devil’s Point and several other peaks to a plateau.

I had not intended to climb any of these peaks. I had wanted to stay on the trail along the valley. But the path to the stone hut had taken me away from the main trail, and once I was there and saw that it was occupied, I only had the choices of either staying, or turning around, or walking on, uphill.

I didn’t want to stay. Helen and John had been all the company I craved that day. And I didn’t want to turn around, because doing so would have made it only to apparent to those hikers that I was avoiding them. And somehow that moment I couldn’t have born the shame of my cowardice becoming visible to them. Even if it meant having to drag myself up that devilish mountain.

I cursed myself every exhausting and agonizing step. Each made my shoulder throb with a deep, dull fire. And when the night had quietly done away with the last of the dusk I found myself in a large corrie, illuminated only by the wan light of a distant, gibbous moon – an immense natural amphitheatre made up of moss-covered rocks and steep slopes. And I felt very lost, and small, and terribly exposed to the heavens.

The corrie was lines with little brooks. I found a dry, sandy spot between two of them, had the last of Helen Campbell’s sandwiches, emptied the bottle, tended to my feet, and finally smoked my last fag and gazed down into the Glen, and the tiny flickering light of the hearth fire in the stone hut far below me at the foot of the mountain.

As I sat there I was still mulling over the things Helen had said. And her question whether I believe in God and in Jesus Christ.

Just to be clear on this, I do believe in God. I do. I do. But… how do I say this?

My Dad had been raised a Roman Catholic, and my aunt had converted to the Church of England when she married. My cousins had been raised Anglicans. My mum is from a family of strict Prussian Lutheran protestants. My oldest friend and neighbour, Orcun, was from a family of moderately devout Muslims. And Hector’s parents were lapsed Communists and strict and vocal atheists. From the beginning I had known that whatever anyone wanted to claim about religion, there was always a way to look at things differently.

My mum had me and my siblings baptized in the local Lutheran parish, and all but me went to Confirmation class from 12 onward. I was the only one to flat out refuse to go. But that was the extend of my mum’s involvement with the Church. The only times I ever saw her even talk to the vicar was during ‘Nette’s funeral, and at Nicky’s baptism 2 ½ years later.

Primary school offered religious instruction for Protestants and Catholics, but none for Muslims, so it mainly served as a segregator for the main ethnicities – the German kids mostly went to the Lutheran class, Polish kids to the Catholic, and the Turkish and Arabic kids had a free period (but usually visited a Qur’an school some afternoons of the week.) Again it seemed to me that somehow religion was less about truth and more about belonging, about identity and taking sides.

I remember how astonished I was when I finally received religious instructions how boring and meaningless everything was that I was being told about God and Jesus. How God – supposedly almighty and all-knowing – was this soppy stern chap who in some never fully explained way was supposed to love everybody (like, what does that even mean?) and watch over the entire world and every littlest critter in it, and who for some reason was to be credited with every good turn but never to be blamed for everything that went wrong. And Jesus, the son (or incarnation, they never could tell me which) of this almighty God, had brought even more love and forgiveness into the world – I kept wondering what a perfect God needed a version 2.0 for – but then got killed rather badly for it.

And then I looked around in my world, and inside myself, and saw all the violence, and the callousness, the pettiness, and how messed up and dirty and run down everything was, and I thought, kurwa, He sure is doing a terrible job.

I also began to seriously resent my teacher, and God, because if there was any truth in what she told me about God’s intentions and power, then God must either hold one hell of a grudge against me, or – and that was even worse – I must be so unimportant that in all his omniscience He never noticed me.

And then ‘Nette started her confirmation classes, and in the nights we would talk about what she had learned, and what she was thinking about all of it. And we’d try to make sense of it ourselves. And once again I was astonished, this time because the stuff we read was nothing like that boring, pedantic, and utterly ineffective God the grown-ups had been telling me about.

The God of the bible is a truly wicked bloke. He is rash to anger and totally overreacts to everything. He blunders along and often acts before he thinks and then comes to regret it later, or changes his mind in mid-stride. He blusters and boasts, sulks, and refuses to admit when he’s made a mistake. He’s bloodthirsty, and untrustworthy, and incredibly vain. But He is full of love – and not that boring, serene love my dried-up teach was going on about, but a love that years, and hurts, is proud, and tender, and that knows how to forgive, not for morals butt for passion. Who could read the story of God and David and not be moved by the flawed, fiery passion for one another?

The bible is full of great folks, and I was pissed off that the teach had made them all sound so dull. There was David, and his suggestive, well, not even love-triangle but love-quadrangle, with King Saul and Saul’s son Jonathan and saul’s daughter Michal. I mean, talk about kinky. David’s career as an outlaw and rebel, his ascent to kingship, his trouble with his own sons, and his less than glorious old age.

Or take Jacob, the thief, liar, and runaway, who got into actual fisticuffs with God, and who God loved so much that he re-named him Israel. Or Job, who took God to court and forced Him to show His true colours. Or Moses, who I think it can be argued is the only person other than Mary who has a reasonable claim to the boast that God made love to him, but who was still turned back at the border of the promised land and had to die, alone, in the desert.

At the age of 10 the New Testament was a bit boring for me and often very hard to understand. But even there were hidden gems that the grown-ups had withheld from me: Why do they gloss over Herod’s mass child murder in the Christmas Story? And who came up with these three boring old kings, when the actual text tells of an numberless group of wise men – possibly wizards! – from the East? And then there are moments like the one when Jesus begs God to spare him, when he is filled with fear and doubt, but God refuses him and Jesus is nailed to the cross anyway. Later when ‘Nette’s tumour had metastasised into her bones and she had to be given morphine, an still it hurt her so badly, I had to think of the crucifiction and what it would feel like to have nails driven through my wrists and the spans of my feet.

This God of the bible was a God who made sense, a God who fit the world I was living in. It wasn’t a God I could approach about a new bicycle or a Playstation, sure, but it was one I could somehow respect.

Until he murdered my sister.

That long Saturday afternoon, as I walked up Glen Dee and climbed the Devil’s Point, He was a lot on my mind again, and for the first time in years I asked myself if I still had faith. If I was, as Helen had said, putting my fate in the hands of God.

The idea bothered me, it bothered me a lot. I mean, if I allowed for God as the charioteer of destiny, I could hardly avoid it, could I? But it rankled with me: Since her death I had never begged. I preferred to take what I wanted and be damned the consequences. I didn’t want handouts from Him.

When I was sitting up on the mountainside, shivering in my damp clothes in the night’s chilling breeze, I tried to see the world through the Atheist’s eyes. It was surprisingly easy, under those racing clouds, with the cold and distant stars blinking through them from afar. It was easy to imagine the vastness to be empty not only of matter or warmth, but of meaning. But it remained a thought experiment. It didn’t truly relieve me of my conviction.

It did make me remember those nights, though, when I’d lain in my sister’s bed, had felt the warmth of her body against mine, smelled her skin and the shampoo in her hair, and when we had gazed out through the narrow window, so high on the wall – the same window that I would try to flee through from that lady rozzer only a few years later, condemning myself to jail and all that followed – and through which we had looked at the very same stars that I was seeing now, from the slopes of the Devil’s Point. And the memory hurt. It hurt with a raw, sudden intensity I had not expected, and I wanted to cry out in pain.

Instead I bit down on that pain, and spit it onto the gravel, and snarled: “Yeah, well, fuck you, too!” And I curled up as tight as I could, under those cold stars, and surrendered myself to the nightmares once more.

***

It would be easy to leave it at that and to move on to the scary White Van Man from Beauly, and that beastly night in Cannich, and my near death experience in the Mullardochs, but that would be dishonest.

When I woke up I was very cold and did a double Aikido session before walking back down from the Devil’s Point. The day was misty and gloomy and I was hungry and very thirsty. By the time I reached the hut the hikers had moved n. I looked around inside, vaguely hoping to find some left over food, or to warm myself on the ambers of their fire, but only warm ash remained, not enough to do me any good.

My shoulder hurt if anything even worse than the day before. It made me think of Ponyboy, and I knelt down in the middle of the room and wanked. That made the pain flare up, but I gritted my teeth and brought myself to a sad, whimpering ejaculation onto the floor. Still kneeling I pissed on it as well. Then I buttoned up and left.

I drank of the cold waters of the Dee, filled up the bottle, and walked on. The sun came out for a while, and to my right be Ben Macdui reached for the sky. Clouds came and went, but the mountain remained, its peak dipping in and out of the wisps of mist.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the mountains in Scotland, but they are nothing like the Alps, or the mountains of the Balkans. The Cairngorms may have rocky cliffs here and there, and sometimes there are clumps of trees at their feet – pine, and birch, and aspen, and bushes of juniper and rowan – but other than that they are these rounded humps, steep, but startlingly smooth, overgrown with heather and lichen in the valley, but the tops  bald and covered in immense fields of lose, round, fist-sized stones. Walking amongst them is like paddling a small sealskin canoe through an immense herd of gigantic whales.

And so, their steep, smooth walls flowing out ahead of me along the valley’s sides, the valley floor itself rising like a wave to the distant pass, in spite of my anger and resentment, it made my spirits lift.

And when I passed a gushing creek coming down the mountain I veered off the path and began to hike up a pathless mountainside. It was hard going, and soon I was out of breath, but I didn’t slow down. My eyes were constantly on the lookout for the next good foothold, my brain kept calculating distance and balance, and once again it was his magic of movement, the trance of the trop, that pulled my heart along.

From time to time it rained, and the cold water ran down my body underneath my clothes. Then the sun came out again and dried me. And then, finally, in densest fog, I reached the heap of stones that marked the highest peak of the Ben Macdui, the highest peak of the Cairngorms.

Look, I don’t want to take back anything I just told you about my relationship to God, or life, or anything. It didn’t change anything, it didn’t convince me of anything. But still… while I stood there, catching my breath, the sky tore open, the mists around me blew apart, the world unrolled all its horizons, and the sun set everything ablaze. All the wetness caught and magnified her fierce fire, like a universe of jewels. No religion or philosophy dreamed up by humans can say as mayn good tings about the world, or say them as convincingly, as the sun, the air, the water, and the rocks did just then.

After that it was all downhill. By afternoon I surrounded by trees again, where I promptly got lost. By nightfall, tired beyond endurance, I ended up in Inverdruie, where I spent the night. Monday I first had a look at the Aviemore Centre, a piece of daring architecture from the 1960s so incredibly uncool that it is actually kind of cool again, and hitchhiked to Inverness, where I arrived in the evening.

Continued here

In the two weeks that followed, we played a lot of games – though for some reason we never played that Badger game he proposed. Once he learned of my chromosomal preference though, we developed a vicious house remix of the Spanish Prisoner. The Spanish Prisoner (and its modern famous variant, the Nigerian Mail Scam) is the basic free lunch that turns out to be anything but. In its classic form the mark is approached with a tale of woe and injustice. Somewhere some authorities are keeping the roper from access to his rightful wealth. Penniless as he is right now, he desperately needs some funds to pay the bribes necessary to get his treasure to safety – an investment he would pay the mark back a hundredfold, once successful, of course.
Everyone who hears of this game thinks he could never be lured, but the beauty of it is that in truth everyone can be lured – given the right lure. For some that lure may not be money.
The version we developed and that we called The Teen Ticket went roughly like this: The mark encounters me and Charley in some seedy queer watering hole, with me practically begging Charley to help me in return for (only shyly and obviously very reluctantly hinted at) sexual favours. Charley, although obviously lusting, remains cold-hearted and distant, pointing out that he couldn’t possibly take advantage of me, given my age, because of the legal risks too him – and implying that he couldn’t give tuppence for my fate otherwise. Eventually he shakes me off, and leaves me in some dark corner, quietly struggling with tears and ready to be approached by the mark.
My legend would always be some variation on this tune: Coming from some backwater European village with ultra-conservative sexual mores I had followed the internet invitation and promises of true love by some lecherous old poofter. Upon arrival here I found that he had been in contact with several young chaps, and that a rival had arrived at the same time. The best story to hook the mark turned out to be some lurid tale of how the old man had made my rival and me enter a perverted bidding war of what we would be willing to do in return for bed, board, and affection. As long as I blushed a lot, stumbled over my words, played up my continental accent – giving it a slightly eastern twist – and obviously almost choked on trying to repeat the offers I had been forced to make and those that had trumped mine, it almost invariably assured the success of the game. I’m not quite certain why, but I think it was the combination of fanning the mark’s hidden desires, and at the same time providing a way to  avoid the associated guilt by offering him the role of the good Samaritan.
Anyway, the conclusion of the tale would always be how the old man had kicked me out but not without buying me a ticket back to the continent. After all, once he had found the perfect loverboy, he wanted to get rid of the worthless runner up. But I had burned my bridges and had no place to go, and no money to stay. Being not even 16 I couldn’t easily return the ticket for cash – and that was what I needed help with.
I wouldn’t directly offer sex, and I wouldn’t ask for anything, not for money, nor for a place to stay. All I would ask for is for the help of a grown up to get a refund for the ticket (a ticket rightfully mine). But implied was of course, that once I had that, I would still be in need of a bed to sleep in and perhaps a companion to warm it.
The cruel genius of the game was that none of this mattered. The entire routine, the sob story, the process of going to the train station and getting a ticket refunded (a very time consuming process in Edinburgh at the height of the Festival), it all had only one point: To keep the mark occupied. Because as he kept me company in all this, I would relieve him of his flat- or hotel-keys and pass them on to Charley. Charley would then in all leisure loot the place, return the keys to me, and eventually I would ditch the mark under some pretence.
I wish I could tell you that the marks we suckered deserved it, that they were evil paedophiles who only helped to get into my breeches – though I do think most of them were paedophiles (or hebephiles, if you want to get technical) and did want to get into my breeches. But I am not certain many of them would have had I truly given them a chance. And, I suppose, with several of them I really wouldn’t have minded.
But the reality was that none of them deserved it. It was a rotten game, through and through, a cruel, calculating mindfuck, designed to play at once on the best and the worst that exists in every human, and to exploit it shamelessly.
And I loved it every single time. I loved the guarded, tentative way they approached me. I loved elaborating my story, fine tuning the details to the body language of the marks so to evoke the maximum mix of lust, horror, and compassion. I loved their attention. I loved that through all this I remained untouchable: I was a “child” and they were queer men. And they knew it. As far as I know none of them went to the rozzers.
I loved how I could make them dance on my strings, how I could make them hungry to give, only to then take behind their backs, how – using the subtle alchemy of the con – I turned their yearning and generosity into my profit, and their shame and fear into my armour.
I loved offering them the chance of something too good to be true (with the promise of a clear conscience to boot) only to snatch it away just when they reached for it, and leaving them blue-balled and bleeding.
And a few, precious times I got to see that crazy, anguished flicker of hope for something long given up on in their eyes. And I knew that was the real reward I was playing for.

Continued here

There was no more talk of the missing 200, of course. Bryan even tried to give me back my 500 and wanted to talk about how much of what we had made the past three days should be mine. I took a perverse pleasure in refusing all of it. Bryan couldn’t understand me, but Julie did. In the end she told him to leave well enough alone.
The next day, around noon, the crew met in the pit again. Bryan paid out 100 pounds to everybody, and an extra 200 to Tyler and Roger each, for watching me, another 200 to Melanie for catching me, and 400 to Julie for handling me.
“I think, Jan and we are quits now.” Bryan said.
“I think he needs a little memento,” Lonnie said. “Something so he doesn’t forget the lesson he’s learned.” He took out his knife, flicked it open, and looked challengingly at his leader. I saw at once that Bryan wouldn’t dare to refuse him.
So did Julie. She stepped up to Lonnie.
“You’re right,” she said. “And I’ll be the one who gives it to him.”
Lonnie eyed her suspiciously.
“You’ll not go all soft on him?”
Julie gave him a contemptuous look.
“You know I’m better than that,” she said. “And so is he.”
Reluctantly Lonnie gave her the knife. Julie came to me.
“Take off your jacket and roll up your sleeve.”
I looked into the semi-circle of faces around me, some pitying, some eager. One or two looked away. Not Melanie or Lonnie though. I did as told and gritted my teeth.
I hissed and winced as she made two deep cuts into the flesh of my upper arm, just underneath the shoulder, one perpendicular to the other. Like a rough L. Her eyes held mine, while she cut. Her eyes. Wide, and dark, and warm.
“So you’ll always remember us.”
Blood ran down my arms and splattered onto the concrete floor. Pat-pat, pat-pat-pat, pat, pat-pat. Roger took off his bandana and tied it around my arm. Mark offered me a fag and then gave me the whole pack and his lighter – a beautiful Zippo with the Death image of the Rider Tarot engraved in it’s side.
“Keep it man,” he said and averted his eyes.
I put on my jacket and hung the satchel over the other shoulder.
I walked 20 minutes to the Richmond Hill bus stop on York Road. My arm hurt like hell. I got bandages and some ibuprofen at a pharmacy I passed. I munched the Ranger candy while I waited for an eastbound number 18A, and put on the sterile pads and gauze with one hand and my teeth as good as I could.
Nate was waiting for me in Garforth, at the end of the line. He gave me the parcel, it was about the size of a one pound brick of coffee, if maybe a little bit heavier, and wrapped in plain brown paper. To this day I have no idea what it contained, although the idea of drugs certainly crossed my mind. I also considered simple cash, or jewels, or a disassembled gun or some electronic gadget or data storage medium, maybe packaged in polyethylene foam. Anasını satayım, for all I know it might just have contained a Bob Marley fan T-Shirt. After all, since the box underneath the brown paper might as easily have been made of plastic as of lead, the weight didn’t really tell me anything either.
I did shake it once and listened. Nothing clattered inside. Other than that I made no attempt to figure it out.
On Aberforth Road I put out my thumb. The third car to stop was northbound, a Volvo driven by an overweight and wheezing software sales rep who almost before we got rolling again began telling me in mind-numbing detail the advantages of the products he sold over those of his competitors. The ibuprofen dampened the throbbing in my shoulder while Leeds faded behind me in the drizzle and the gloam.
***
Why didn’t I run, when I could have? Why did I offer to take the parcel? Why didn’t I simply dump it in the first rubbish bin after I left town? I told you, I have no answers. I cannot even claim that it seemed like good ideas at the time. Everything about Leeds seemed like a bad idea, but I did it all anyway.
So, somebody tell me: Was this destiny? Was this providence? Because in a way, this was when this whole story truly started. This was when its inexorable end began to sneak into my cards. From here on out those three shots fired by the Aegean Sea were beginning to reverberate down the skein of fate that tied me, and Sim, Alex, Charley, Meryem, the Serrathas, that arsehole in Berlin, the chicken hawks of Jelenia Gora, the Ahimsa Corporation, even Steward, all of us together.
It is funny to think about it that way, to think about those brief moments in time, these random, ill understood choices that I made so unimaginably long ago now. But you cannot turn back time. The past is with you, always, and you just gotta learn to stand atop the rubble and to continue on your way, best as you can, until you finally run out of road.