Archive for the ‘past’ Category

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.

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I am scared to go on. I am scared to revisit the places he took me. I am scared to look into the mirror of those memories. But more than that I am scared to show you those places, those memories, and that when I do your eyes will not see the beauty, and that your gaze will not be accompanied by understanding. I am scared your sense of morality and propriety will force me to re-evaluate something that for the longest time had been a place of refuge for me, somewhere to withdraw into and feel special, and safe, and good about myself.

But I do want to take you by the hand and take you there, you see, show it all to you, with all the passionate impatience of a child burning to show off his favourity toy, his favourite climbing tree, his secret treasure.

When my father up and left, his collection of CDs remained, for a while, until my mum did something with them and I never saw them again. It was all stuff like Marillion, Pink Floyd, Queen, U2, and Billy Joel. One day, I must have been 11, I took some of them out and listened to them. I hadn’t yet entirely given up on him, but mostly, and every song was a barb that tore up the inside of my heart.

But it was Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” that really sucker punched me. I was at an age where that particular explicitness sometimes still was needed, and I had no rents providing it. When I listened to “The Stranger” I finally understood what the Flesh Fair in “A.I.” had meant to me, and what the weird feeling had been that I’d had when I watched one and a half years before.

My mates and I had rented the Spielberg flick and watched it one afternoon. I had been 9. I’d got my first queer crush, on Jude Law’s Gigolo Joe, and that had been bad enough – to sit there with the others and realize that that feeling they had just begun to talk about, the one they got when they saw Christina Aguilera or Avril Lavigne, that I got that when I saw Jude Law. When I saw Jude Law with Haley Osment. But that hadn’t been the worst.

We’d been in the living room of Hector’s rents, and my mates had hoted and jeered at the glacial pace and the sickly-sweet sentimentalism, and for a while I had pretended to do the same. But then we had gotten to the Flesh Fair, where masterloess robots were executed on torture machines done up garishly like carnival rides and circus acts. They were dissolved with acid, drawn and quartered, and turned into sentient torches, still babbling and begging that they could still be useful. That they could still be loved.

I watched the scene in horrified fascination, lying on my belly to hide my aching hard on. I knew we were supposed to wait in breathless suspense whether the little girl would manage in time to save the boy-robot David, Gigolo Joe and the walking, talking Teddy Bear. My mates were cheering the robot-destroyers on, calling for the death of David so that the film would be over. And I, I too wished for the girl to be too slow, hoped for him to end up on one of the machines… but I yearned for it, because I wanted to be him.

I wanted to be that parentless robot child, wanted for Gigolo Joe to hold my trembling hand and tell me the sweet lies we tell children to deceive them into believing the world is not as monstrous as it really is. I wanted him, wanted myself to be torn from those arms, crying, begging and struggling, and then be tortured to death in front of an applauding crowd.

Never before had I been so turned on. And for over a year it terrified me. Being queer was one thing. I mean for a 10 year old that is bad enough. But to be… this?

So, when Billy Joel asked me, did I ever let my lover see the stranger in myself, I finally understood who I had met that day. And when he told me not to be afraid, that everyone has a face they hide away forever, relief washed over me. It was probably the last kindness, the last fatherly act my dad did for me.

Still, for a long time afterwards, I only took that face out and wore it in the cold solitude of my fantasies, by night under the covers of my bed. I didn’t show it to Colin, or Jonas, and not even to ‘Nette, and I never would have dreamed of showing it to Hendrik, though I might have suspected that the part in me that craved him so, his ruthlessness and cruelty, was very close to that strange in myself.

But I want you to keep in mind that long before I lost my angel wings and stepped over that invisible threshold that seperates innocent children from perverted men, that demon was already living in my heart. Whatever you may think of Hendrik, after I am done telling you about him, it wasn’t him who fucked me up.

Had it been illegal what he did? Probably. Had it been morally wrong? Maybe. Did it hurt me? Oh yes. It still does. But I had wanted it, for years, before it finally happened.

***

Nothing would have happened, I suppose, had it not been for my failing grades in 3rd form. I had spent most of the winter 06/07 in emergency rooms, police cars, arrest cells, and doing increasing lengths of community service, and the bill for my lack of school attention and even attendance was due. At the end of the first term it clear that only a miracle could keep me from having to repeat the year. Given that professional tutoring services were too expensive I asked my form teacher Mrs. Nastarowitz, and she promised she’d ask around amongst the older pupils.

My football performance had suffered considerably as well. At 14 football was no longer the centre of my universe. I had put my dreams of beomding a professional away together with my LEGO building blocks.

Hendrik was still our assistant coach, but he, too, had been less active since he’d gotten himself a girlfriend, a surprisingly ugly girl, one year younger than him, with a crooked nose and kinky, caramel hair. He had also grown lean with his last growth-spurt, had shaved his once shaggy hair down to a skullcap of brass coloured fuzz, and looked so lean and mean it hurt.

One Friday in April he came up to me after training. He wore a black tracksuit with red and gold piping, and black football boots. The cleats clacked loud on the tiles of the corridor to the changing rooms.

“Yo. Nasty Rowitz tells me you need some help.”

I was tired and spattered with mid, and I had to get up very early the next morning for weekend community service. The nights were still crispy cold, and steam was rising from my body.

“Yeah. Math, and chemistry, and physics, and…”

“And French,” he said, looking me up and down like a buyer checking out the merchandise. “I know.”

And after a pause: “I take 10 an hour. And I expect you to give it a lot more than you did here today. You will take this serious, understood?”

“You will tutor me?” I couldn’t believe it.

There was that rare flash of a smile, the twinkle in the eye of a distant god.

“If you don’t fuck it up. Monday, after school, my place.”

And Hendrik, the boy I had dreamed of for the past 4 years, gave me his address and his mobile phone number.

As a tutor he was as strict as he was as football coach. He took the time to figure out exactly where my problems lay and he was good at explaining things, but he expected me to study hard and to mindlessly practice all the formulae and vocab.

It started pretty early on. We met two times for two hours every week, that was 40 Euros I’d have to play my mum back somehow. We sat at the dinner table in his rent’s flat, catercorner, so that he could read over my shoulder.

When he saw me making a mistake, he only would snort quietly, not “God you are stupid”, somehow, but always “Jeeze, you know you can do better than that.”

And, like, from the second time on, his leg would touch mine under the table. And his elbow would touch mine on the table. Or his hand, lying innocently there, his fingertips would brush against my hand when I reached the end of the page.

And then, maybe the second week, the third at the latest, I had not done my homework. I did it probably half on purpose, to test him, the way I tested teachers, and rozzers, and social workers, to see how much I really had to conform, and what was merely expected bit without the stomach to enforce it.

I told him I’d forgotten to do it, my expression 4/5th contrition and 1/5th challenge. He hit me with the open hand right in the face. He didn’t pull it. My hand whipped around and I tasted blood.

I jumped up and wanted to punch him, but he just leaned back, looking at me from half-lidded eyes.

“That was your only screw-up, got that? Next time, you’re out, Tavi.”

It was the first time he’d used that name since the night on the bus. I couldn’t believe he remembered at all. All the fight went out of me and I sat back down.

“Are we clear?” he asked.

I nodded. “Yes.”

“Yes what, Tavi?”

“Yes, Sir.”

A smile crept into the corners of his eyes. It wasn’t a friendly smile, and it never reached his mouth, but it made me shiver. It wasn’t telling me he was fucking proud, but still, I wanted to make him smile like that again. And again.

But I didn’t know how to, and so for another week I studied hard and did my stuff and had a hard-on through all those hours that he kept touching me.

It was his girlfriend that picked the moment for me. She called him during one of the tutoring sessions, and he stepped out into the hall with the phone. He left the door ajar, and I listened.

They talked about something I can’t remember, because it paled to insignificance next to the thing he said at the end. She probably asked him when they could meet, or something, and he said, with a sigh: “Got to stay here with that little creep I told you about. Once I’m rid of him, I’ll head out.”

The disappointment was more than I could handle. All those days, all those moments, touching me, it had all just been in my head. I could feel the tears burning in my eyes, the shame in my cheeks. I could hear him say good-bye on the phone and walk back towards me. I knew that in a few seconds he would see the shame on my face.

When he returned to the living room I attacked without warning. Like Lukas Hendrik knew how to fight, and like Lukas he was a lot bigger and stronger than me. It didn’t take him long until he had me on the ground on my back, arms pinned under his knees. But his lips were bloody.

“You listened, Tavi.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Fuck you, Tavi! I’ll her whatever I like. It’s none of your fucking business!”

“Don’t call me that!”

And then he kissed me, long, longer, saturated with the taste of his blood.

It was the last fight I had until the one with Samuel, except for the one with that lady rozzer, and as I told you, that doesn’t count.

Continued here

When we changed from primary to secondary school, again my mates and I were split up into different classes. In my new class I met Jonas. Jonas had wavy brown hair that I always wanted to run my hands through, and a snub nose, and a beautiful, expressive mouth that made me think of lions, and of that scene in “God’s Army” where the Archangel Gabriel says: “Do you know how you got that dent, in your top lip? Way back, before you were born, I told you a secret. Then I put my finger there and said ‘Shush!’”

During the braks I still hung out with Hector, Orcun, and Leo, and Jonas sometimes joined us for football. Like us he was also part of the run-about table tennis crowd at the concrete table tennis tables in the school yard. When I had to be with my own class, I spent most of my time in his company.

Jonas could tell great jokes, and had a keen eye for the weaknesses of our teachs. No one could imitate them like he, cruel and true. And he was always ready to join in any mischief. But at the same time there was something very fragile about him, some sort of puppy dog quality, the way he would follow orders, and his quick, darting looks, checking out the eyes and faces of those around him, if we were still laughing, if we were all still with him.

That winter I had graduated, via Grant Morrison, from superheroes to the wonderful worlds of Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Warren Ellis. I had tried to convert Jonas, and had first given him Morrison’s Invisibles and then The Filth. One afternoon in late May we were at my place. Jonas was deeply immersed in the sexual misadventures of Greg Feely, and somehow we got talking about pron. It was all red faces, and machismo, and giggles. I kept taxing his face for signs of rejection and was always ready to jump back into joking, but Jonas proved reluctantly interested.

“Want to?” I asked finally.

“What?”

“Wank.”

“Now?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

Jonas hesitated, but he didn’t say no. So I sat up against the wall, and began to unbuckle my belt. After a second he followed suit. We were both very hard but also tense and uncertain. When we both had cum, grunting and panting, we fell back and got a major case of the giggles.

After a while we recuperated, but neither of us made a move to clean up or even pull up his trousers again. Jonas liked at me, a bit concerned, and asked: “Isn’t that gay?”

For a second I was tempted to say: ‘Nah, we’re just messing around,’ or something like that, but I steeled myself, and said. “I am gay.”

He gave me a long look and I couldn’t read his face. Then we heard ‘Nessa come home, and got cleaned up. A short while later Jonas said he had to get going, and left. And the next two days he was oddly reserved in school. He didn’t cut me or anything, but there never seemed to be a moment when we were alone together, and no mention of that afternoon was made.

The following weekend our class made a three-day excursion to an old monastery in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, a couple of kilometres north of Berlin. The weather was very hot, but still with the humid green heat of late spring. On the bus ride Jonas had sat with someone else, and I was fully decided to ignore him and forget about him. But that evening, after supper, when we had some time to do as we pleased, he came up to me in the hall and told me to follow him. He lead me to the herb garden, where we were alone but for the last of the evening sun. And behind a dogberry bush in full bloom he pulled me to him, awkwardly, not knowing were to put his elbows and knees, and kissed me with those wonderful, leonine lips, long, and wet, and without any skill.

“I am, too,” he said, when he finally let go of me.

Together with the sun our shadows faded from the gothic, red brick wall of the ancient building, but I will forever remember the smell of those dogberry roses, and the wind in those gnarled, old oak trees, and the taste of the hostel cantina supper on his tongue, and the sense that maybe, just maybe, there could be an ordinary life to be had on this here planet, for me.

For one month we were an item. A secret, covert, closeted item, to be sure, but a real couple. We went to the cinema, we held hands, we snogged behind the school, and we made out on my mum’s couch. Then came the summer holidays. He went to Italy with his rents. I waited, eager for his return. When he came back, he had fallen in love with a girl and wasn’t gay any more.

Continued here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continued here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucas snorted and turned to leave.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continued here

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

Step out the door and it feels like rain
That’s the sound on your window pane
Take to the streets but you can’t ignore
That’s the sound you’re waiting for
– OneRepublic: All Fall Down (2007)

Edinburgh’s northern boundary is the Firth of Forth, the estuary of the River Forth. I crossed it on the road bridge from South Queensferry to North Queensferry.

It felt good to be on the move again. It felt good to walk once more with the long, even paces meant to cover distance. The drizzle on my face felt good, and the street under the air cushioned soles of my new boots.

In the middle of the bridge I halted, leaned against the eastern railing, lit a fag, and looked out, across the firth and through the bars of the old Victorian railroad bridge beyond at the sea beyond. I had glimpsed it every now and then when I’d been on Carlton Hill, and Arthur’s Seat, but I’d never paused and looked at it.

I thought about it and figured that the last time I’d really looked at the North Sea would have been as I crossed it on my way from Berlin to Wotton-under-Edge – I counted the days in my head – 39 days ago.

Tolkien came to my mind and his famous lines about the dangerous business of going out your door, about those who wander, and about whither their road will lead. And Gaiman’s comparison of how change might be less this big, swooping thing that carries your off, and more like a thief who steals little things, night by night, until nothing familiar remains to keep you.

It all seemed so long ago, Berlin, my aunt’s, that day I had set next to Alice by the pond under Wimley Hill. Even the Big Chill, and bloody Leeds. As I stood on the Forth Road Bridge, smoking my way through half a pack, and watched the ships go by, and he trains on the other bridge, and the as the drizzle slowly soaked through the hood and began to trickle down my neck, as I stood there, I became aware that something had changed in the two weeks I’d spent in Edinburgh. Was it something fundamental, something inside of me, or just one of the little things, just one step along the winding road that was taking me ever onward? I didn’t know.

Behind me the setting sun was a piece of burnished silvery sky shimmering through a frosting of clouds, and the Firth of Roth was an arrow pointing towards that failing light. Slowly they were inching towards each other, the one about to extinguish the other. My shoulder ached and throbbed, past love bites of Leeds and Edinburgh not quite yet letting go of me.

The cuts Julie had given me had healed well, initially. But Ponyboy, endlessly fascinated by them, had again ad again toyed with them, probing, prodding, making me squirm and squeal. Again and again he had asked me how I had gotten them. Every time I made up another answer: My crazy father had cut them into my wanking arm so that Jesus would deliver me into faggotry. Drug dealers had tortured me to et me to betray a lover who’d turned narc. I had cut out the tracking device implanted by aliens and was now on the run from Men In Black.

Two days before I had left he had all of a sudden held me down and rubbed the mushy salt-and-vinegar soaked remains of a fish’n’chips cinner into my arm, and the black sludge from a beer can we’d used as an ashtray. It burned like battery acid. I twisted and screamed, but he just held me harder, and rubbed it in more forcefully, until I was bleeding again.

“What the fuck are you doing, you aşağılık herif?!” I screamed and punched him hard into the face. He sat back, and smiled quietly through the blood.

“Noo ye’ll ne’er forgit, ma wee sluagh. Noo ye’r kenmerkt.”

And indeed the salt and vinegar had made the lips of the wound puff up, and the beer-ash-mix had seeped under the skin like tattoo pigment. And now, two days later, everything had grown angry red again, and hot, and painful.

I flicked the last cigarette butt out into the gusty air between me and the waters below, watching its glowing tip fall and tumble and disappear. The I shortened the shoulder strap of my satchel and walked on.

A few hundred meters down the A90 on the North Queensferry side of the bridge, at the North Access bus stop, a lorry stopped at my thumb. The door opened and from high above me a small face smiled out from behind thick, black horn-rimmed glasses and a wiry, black moustache.

“Hey, lad. Gaeing north?”

“Sure,” I said and took the hand he offered me and hauled myself up and into the cab. Later he stopped at the lorry park in Ballinluig for the night, and offered me to stay in his cabin if I wanted.

Continued here

After the final count I was only 200 short of the 1.5K. So when Bryan was wrapping a rubber band around the bills and tossed the emptied wallets into a bin bag to dispose of them later, I took the tracker from my pocket and tossed it onto the table.
“That one should also fetch a nice price. What do you think you can get for it? Fifty? Seventy-five?”
Julie at least had the decency to blush. I think. I find it hard to tell with a black girl. Bryan just picked it up and gazed at it.
“Quite a bit more, man. When did you find it?”
I stared at him. I wanted to lie for some reason, no idea why or even what I wanted to say. But in the end I said the truth. Because everything else would have felt like cowardice.
“Today. Sometime in the afternoon.”
He regarded me impassively. There was some serious High Noon shit going down between him and me, me glaring fiercely and feeling somehow betrayed, silly as that might sound, and he all pensive and cool as a cucumber. He broke the eye contact, but it still felt to me as if I had lost the stare-down.
“Can you put him up for the night?” he asked Julie, as if I was just a friend visiting and he needed to scrounge up a bed for me. That was how I spent my last night in Leeds a guest instead of a prisoner, on a bed sofa in the living room of Julie’s grandmother. And that was how I heard that bloody conversation I wasn’t meant to hear, and how everything went off course.
It was a lot later. I had been tossing and turning on the couch. Whatever troubled me, and something did, it was bad enough that I didn’t even want to think about it. It had something to do with Julie’s grin when she had called me “Fido”. And something with the tracker. And a lot with the darkness in her eyes when she had smiled in the kitchen, when I had brought up Bryan.
Julie and Bryan came out of the kitchen. I could hear him put on his jacket, keys and coins jingling inside the pockets. They were murmuring quietly, covert lovers stealing a hidden moment, stripped of all sarcasm and coolness, of all the bravado they hid behind during the day. That was not the make-believe of teenage romance, not the coy flirt or the hard to get games of people too lost in self-doubt to take another person for more than a test of their market value. Right then they gave each other that rare gift only true courage is capable of giving: Presence without calculation. Two people wearing no masks.
I wasn’t listening to their words, just to their voices. Was it envy I felt? Jealousy even? I don’t think I begrudged them their brief moment of honest intimacy, dear enough, painful enough as it must have been. But I was only too aware that this was something I had never experienced, not with Hendrik, and certainly not with Jonas. The only person who had ever seen me anywhere nearly that naked had been ‘Nette, and I had been 10 years old.
I became aware that something in their conversation changed. I am extrapolating here from what I sensed and what I thought I knew, but I had the impression that Julie at last pushed Bryan to tell her what really had been bothering him all evening. And as he finally began telling her his real troubles a desperation crept into his voice, a helplessness I knew too well, because it had been the background sound of my childhood: Before my father had left, and when ‘Nette was dying, and when my mum had talked with social workers, shrinks and lawyers as they all tried to keep me from slipping over the edge into the darkness, there had always been this murmuring in the hallway.
The thick tufted polyester carpet soaked up the sound of my naked feet as I snuck over to the door and listened closer. There was a lot of disjointed mumbling, names and references I didn’t understand, and most of it made no sense to me at all. But slowly I pieced that much of the puzzle together:
Bryan had something in his possession that he needed to have delivered to someone by Sunday, or he would be in deep shit. The sort of deep shit that really scared him. Whatever it was, he couldn’t entrust it to the mail service, probably because it was quite illegal, and because the recipient wouldn’t be willing to pick it up from a post office, sign for it, or provide a traceable address. Neither Bryan nor Julie, not even Nate, could be there in person. (At least with Julie, I knew that she would get a visit from the social worker who was keen on sending her, Nate, and the grandma to state homes if they so much as gave her a reason. Hence all the housecleaning I had been doing.) And apparently he seriously didn’t trust anybody on his crew enough to let them deliver it either – from what I gathered less because they might keep the something, but rather because they weren’t supposed to know about the whole transaction at all.
I quietly pushed open the door. Bryan was sitting on the narrow stairs, head in his hands, and Julie squatted between his splayed legs, her hands on his bony knees.
“I’ll take it.” I said, rushing the words to keep my brain from stopping me. I cleared my throat belatedly.
Both looked up, tired even in their surprise.
“What have you heard?” Julie asked. I shrugged.
“Does it matter? I don’t know what it is, and I suppose I don’t want to know. I don’t know where you want to have it taken, but to me any place is as good as any other. It’s not like I have much of a goal anyway.”
They looked at each other again. The question written all over Bryan’s face was unmistakeable. Julie thought long and hard, and finally she nodded.
Continued here
All would have been well if it hadn’t been for the problem of the observer. You see, whenever we did that lift and passing off routine, we would walk away from the mark in opposite directions. If I had been made making the lift, it was my job to draw any rozzer or other witness away from the goods in Julie’s possession. But even when I really lost sight of Julie it was never more than ten minutes before she was suddenly walking by my side again, ready for the next lift.
I kept looking for the watchman that I was told had me under observation at all times, but aside from the occasional glimpse of Tyler or Roger in the distance, I never spotted anyone. Even when I went inside one of the arcades and department stores, even when I went to the loo of some fast food restaurant, nobody hurried after me, and still, a few minutes later Julie came towards me, as if she’d known exactly where I was.
Part of the reason I wanted to know how they were keeping tabs on me was of course that I thought about escaping but was too scared to try. Colour me yellow and call me a sissy, but I was pretty certain that if I tried to run and was caught by, say, Melanie or Lonnie, my chances of leaving Leeds alive would have been bloody slim indeed. I didn’t intend to do anything rash. But I wanted to know how they always knew.
It was more than that, though. I consider myself pretty sharp and keen eyed. I mean, anasını satayım, Uncle Valya and I had trained how to make and shake a tail and how to find a spot where you couldn’t be observed. And it bugged me badly that I couldn’t figure this out.
Then, Friday afternoon, Julie and I were at the Burger King at the back of the railway station. I was queuing for those mini pancakes they serve and going through my pockets for change when I noticed that some coins had slipped through tear from the pocket into the lining of my jacket. You know the bother when coins or pens or something slips through such a tear into the lining? Well, I dug around in there, rather absentmindedly, when I noticed something stuck in the seam that was about the size of a thumb-drive.
I wormed it out and looked at the thing – and that was when the penny dropped. The cunts had bugged me. It was a bloody tracker, too small for a real time GPS tracker I’d say in retrospect, but obviously with enough range for downtown Leeds. Julie, or someone, must have had an app on their smart-phone telling them exactly where I was at any given moment. They probably had slipped it in while I was taking that shower on Wednesday, before we went to town to work the first time.
Of course, that was when I could have walked. The next moment the smug bastards let me out of sight I could have slipped the tracker into someone else’s pocket, someone boarding a train or getting into a car, and quietly left town while they were chasing the decoy. Hell, I probably could have slipped out some back way right then.
Why didn’t I? Why, oh why, didn’t I take the blue pill, huh?
The tracker bothered me a lot. It wasn’t that I was being guarded, I mean, they had told me as much. I didn’t mind Nate waiting outside the shower with the taser, I didn’t even so much mind the 14 hours of sensory deprivation, even though I didn’t exactly relish that either. Too many memories, too many ghosts. I don’t think I would have minded if they had snapped one of these ankle monitors onto my leg. But the sneaky, covert way they’d gone about it bothered me a lot.
I thought about scarpering. But it felt as if running would be like leaving a sentence hanging before you made your point. Maybe I am flattering myself. Maybe I just didn’t want to stop being their dog. It was just that after I could run, staying implied consent. And I couldn’t give that either.
As I said, that was Friday, my third day with the Harehills Crew – not counting that first evening when I ran into them. That day it wasn’t Tyler or Roger or one of the others who took us back to Julie’s grandma, it was the boss man himself. Bryan was in a grim mood, you could see that at once. He picked us up in front of the rail station and one we got to the house he came in with us. He knew Julie’s grandmother and went upstairs to say hello.
“What’s with him?” I asked Julie while we waited in the kitchen.
“Problems.”
I didn’t say anything, but I suppose my face said it for me.
“When Bryan took over last year, there was some bad blood. Some of us feared he was just going to annex us to the Beeston Crew.”
“I see. At least I would if I lived in a universe where that sentence made any kind of sense…”
She rolled her eyes, not really pissed off.
“The Beeston leader, Asiv…”
“The bloke you wanted to send a message using my dead body?” I interrupted and she nodded, not breaking her stride.
“… he and Bryan used to be mates, been to prison together and stuff. But then Asiv…” She made a vague gesture. “He made some choices for his crew that Bryan couldn’t go along with. Difference of philosophy.”
“Philosophy…” I echoed dryly.
“Fuck you, man.”
I held up both hands. “Difference of philosophy, fine. Still, Bryan is a Beeston man, has a falling out with his old boss. How’s he get to lead the Hillhares?”
She gave me a hard look, checking if I was taking the piss, and then continued.
“Bryan was as good as dead if he defied Asiv on… that. He needed protection. We knew he had contacts, intel, not just on the other crews, but also business. He knows people, from prison. Big fish. Still, some felt that was just enough to buy him protection, membership at best. Not the right to lead us. But Bryan has his pride. So he fought Dimitri.” And at my raised eyebrow: “Dimitiri was boss before Bryan.”
“Where is Dimitri now?” I asked, afraid of the answer.
“Prison. Has nothing to do with Bryan. Bryan and Dimitri got along pretty good afterwards, Dimitri was his second, like. If Dimitri was still around, they wouldn’t be weaving their little intrigues.”
“Melanie and Lonnie?” I asked. Julie nodded. Suddenly I understood something.
“So, the thing about killing me… that was…?”
“Yeah. Mel has been trying to get Bryan to hang himself for months now. But Bryan is too smart for her, and he got some, uh, loyalty in the crew.”
She fell silent, and her eyes travelled towards the door we were expecting him to walk through any time now – and beyond into memory. I remembered the flicker of eyes, the brief contact, back when they were deciding about my life.
“They… do not know about you… and him?” I asked carefully.
Her smile was paper thin and soaked in pain.
“And you have been…” I continued, tasting the words for their truth, following my intuition the way a snake follows its own flickering tongue. “…since long before he and Asiv… back when he was still…”
Julie cracked another beer. “Some of us are so sharp they might just cut themselves.”
I looked at her, sitting there in her camouflage clothes, her unlaced rude girl boots. She held her fag the way I did, between the thumb and the middle finger, index finger resting on the butt for control, glowing point cupped in the palm. I raised my bottle and clinked it against hers.
“To loyalty.”
She looked up, her grin so at odds with the darkness in her eyes as to be almost a grimace, and clinked hers back against mine. And she muttered:
“Sure, mate. To loyalty.”
Continued here
So far, so simple, right? Because that should be all I have to tell about Leeds. For the next three days Julie and I worked the arcades and high streets on her crew’s turf, and by Saturday I had bought back my freedom and left town. And if that had been all that happened, I probably wouldn’t even have mentioned any of this in the first place, or at best skimmed over it. Because, in the end, what does it tell you so far? That crime doesn’t pay? That there is no decency amongst thieves, no hospitality amongst crooks? My, what news, eh?
If that had been how things had gone my story probably would have ended here, too. I would have continued my journey, and eventually I would have been caught and deported to Berlin, or I would have tired of the whole stupid Huck Finn shite, and slunk back myself, or, most likely, I would have just… oh well, what is the point of guessing, huh? As Aslan says in the Narnia books: “To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that.”
So, what did happen? Well, I may not understand my own choices, but I can try to tell you what they were.
***
I woke up sometime later in the darkness, shivering and hurting. I had to piss but nowhere to do it. Feeling around I found a corner – pissing hurt like the devil, and would for a couple of days – and then I crawled as far away as I could.
The smell of the piss was strong. I could imagine the puddle spreading outward, eating up grains of sand and dust on the way, until the concrete’s capillary suction and gravity’s pull overcame the surface tension, and it would soak away into nothing but a dark, wet stain. I remembered the taste of Hendrik’s piss, the pain from his beatings, the night in the forest, the cold and the dark and the fear. I cowered in the corner and tried to cling to his image and how we would get a kick out of all this.
I had no idea what time it was. What if they had decided to just leave me there. It didn’t look as if Britrail or whoever officially owned these premises was still using them. How long could you survive without water? Three days? Wasn’t dying of thirst supposed to be really, really unpleasant? Didn’t it drive you insane, wasn’t that what we’d told each other as little kids?
But I didn’t cry, even then, I didn’t cry. I couldn’t.
Eventually the door was opened.
“Want something to eat, before we go to work?”
It was Julie again. She hadn’t turned on the worker’s torches this time. Faint, grayish light filtered in from outside. I nodded, blinked up at her, limped out of my cell.
“Did you piss in there?”
“And let me tell you, the state of your facilities are a disgrace.”
She shook her head, as if dismayed by my manners.
“You locked me up in there,” I snapped. “What did you want me to do? Suck it up?”
In the first room stood a boy, no older than ten, skin as black as Julie’s. He wore a gray sweatshirt, hood drawn up over his New York Yankees baseball cap. In his hand he held what looked like a blue and yellow plastic Nerf gun.
“Who’s the…” I was going to say ‘squirt’ when my body went rigid. My jaws clamped down, almost severing the tip of my tongue. I rose up on the tips of my toes, and all the air went out of me with a whistling sound as if I was a bicycle pump. Somebody was beating a rapid-fire nun-chuck tattoo on my thigh, while the other muscles in my body seized up in one massive cramp. I toppled like a felled tree, everything stiff, right onto my face. Then the nun-chucks stopped pummelling my leg, and I lay there, twitching and moaning.
“What the fuck? Nate! What you do that for, you knob?” Julie shouted.
“It was an accident. I didn’t mean to. It just went off!” the little boy shouted back.
Julie knelt down next to me and removed something from my leg.
“You okay?”
I rolled onto my back. Blood was streaming down my nose. Groggily I tried to sit up. I felt as if I had just run a marathon. I was badly winded and shivering all over.
“What happened?”
Julie held up two little metal barbs on wires, thin as hairs, and coiling away to the tip of the nerf gun.
“You got zapped by a taser.”
She helped me get up, lead me outside. The sky was overcast and spitting, but the air was indescribably warm and sweet. I leaned against the wall under the bridge. Nate came out after me, looking embarrassed, angry, and rebellious.
“Got a fag?” I asked Julie. She dug out a pack Mayfair King Size. For some reason the health warning labels were in Spanish. I tore off the filter and Julie gave me fire.
“Sorry about that. My bro is a fuckwit.”
“Am not!” Nate flared up, but Julie hit him good-naturedly on the bill of Yankees cap, making it slide over his eyes.
“Cut it out, Julie,” he complained.
“You okay again? Getting zapped is a bitch, I know.”
“Oh, do you, now?” I said, sarcastically.
“Yeah, I do.” She took the big blue-and-yellow gun from Nate and showed it to me. It said x26 on the side, and west yorkshire police. “Bryan got it off a copper. Gave it to me. For protection.”
“And you gave it to your baby brother ‘cuz your rents can’t afford real toys?”
She rolled her eyes. “He was supposed to zap you. If you try to run.”
I smoked some more and wiped the drying blood off my lips. A commuter train roared passed. From within peeps in suits and ties stared back out at me, for a moment almost close enough to touch but still worlds apart. The train faded with the familiar sound. Tack-tack, tack-tack. Tack-tack. I flicked the butt of the fag onto the tracks and nodded.
We went into the house at the end of the row. Like all such houses everything inside was narrow and shoddy. The kitchen was filled with junk, microwave, blender, bread-maker, electric coffee grinder, espresso machine, juice extractor, you name it. On what little countertop was not occupied by all that crap, unwashed dishes were stacked.
“Can you cook?” Julie asked.
“Uh. Depends.”
She got orange juice, eggs, and bacon from the fridge, several cans of baked beans from the shelves and sliced bread from a bread box.
“Wash a couple of pots, pans and plates and make us breakfast.”
“You’ve got to be joking.”
“You are here to work off one and a half K, aren’t you? Stop complaining and get to it. Maybe we’ll let you have some.”
Food turned out okay. I got my fair share, too. Afterwards I had to wash up everything, scrub the counters, and wipe the goddamn floor, while Julie lounged on one chair, a foot in an unlaced Doc Martens boot on another, smoking Mayfairs. Her brother was sitting on a third chair, hugging the back, chin resting on top, fag in one hand, the x26 in the other.
The council house officially was Julie’s grandmother’s. During the three days I was there, I never saw the old lady leave her bed-room. I just heard her shout slurred orders to Julie or Nate from time to time. Julie’s mum was away for a couple of years for some drug offence. The corresponding grandfather had died a few years ago. Julie’s and Nate’s dad, a refugee from some Caribbean island state, had been deported shortly after Nate’s birth.
Julie and Nate had been left in the care of their alcoholic, bedridden grandmother. Or the grandmother had been left in the care of Julie and Nate. Who keeps score anymore, huh? All those kitchen appliances, the bloody big flat screen TV in the living room, the stereo, all that was paid by Julie, mostly from selling dope I think. She also had gotten her little brother an X-Box and a wii and bloody BMX bike that he never used. Cleaning up the house was that last inch that she couldn’t go without giving up her integrity, I guess.
After housecleaning I got to take a shower. Nate watched me all the time, but it still was heaven to wash all the blood and grime from my skin, and put some disinfectant and plasters on my various scraps and cuts, and tend to my feet. By the time I was dressed again Tyler was there to take us to town.
It took some effort from both of us, but after maybe six or seven attempts Julie and I had our routine down. I picked the marks. I would have preferred a third man to scope out potentials and “mark” them with a chalky handprint (yes, that’s where the term is from, and a damn good technique, too), or at least someone who would conspicuously bump into the mark, so that he pated himself down and showed me where he kept his stealables. But we had to do without.
Of course they said that there was a third man, keeping an eye on us, or rather on me. That Wednesday it was Tyler, on Thursday a bloke called Roger. I caught a glimpse of them every now and then, but he wouldn’t participate.
Anyway, the way we made it work, I picked the mark and made the lifts. Julie didn’t have any training beyond low-level shoplifting, but she had enough people sense that she soon figured out how to tell when I would move. She came my way then, passing me just as I had the wallet. I would drop it into her hand and overtake the mark, with hands and pockets as clear as my conscience, while Julie would walk off in the opposite direction.
We did that all afternoon and most of the evening, until the streets began to grow empty and it became hard to find excuses to get close enough to peeps. Tyler took us back to the house, where we sat for a while in the kitchen, counted the money, drank beer and just joked around. Without Melanie around, Tyler was pretty amiable. But they kept me cornered the whole time, so that I would have had to go through one of them to reach a door or a window. And when I had to go to the loo, Tyler went with me.
Later the whole crew would meet somewhere in Harehills. Julie got a lilo and a sleeping bag from a cupboard. Stacked neatly in one corner of the cupboard was a bunch of sandbox toys: A dark blue plastic bucket, the handle of which had long ago been torn off and lost, a shovel, and two or three sand moulds. I remember a yellow one of a plane and a red one of an elephant. But most of all I remember the way Julie took them down and the way she held them.
“They were Nate’s.” She tried to say it with a laugh as she handed me the bucket, but her eyes couldn’t help but stare past me and a couple of centuries to the last time he had been child enough to use them.
“If you have to go.”
It was about 10 pm when she locked me in again. It wouldn’t be before noon the next day that she let me out again. She hadn’t thought to give me any light, and somehow I was too kahretsin proud to ask for one. 14 hours of sensory deprivation. The only thing I heard was my own breathing and the rustling of the nylon sleeping bag on the rubberized fabric of the lilo, and the occasional ringing of a coin on the concrete floor when I dropped it – practicing sleight of hand with a coin was the only thing I could think of to pass the time. (I felt still too battered to practice aikido.)
Thursday went similarly to Wednesday: I had a noonday breakfast with Julie and Nate, and cleaned their bathroom while we waited for Roger to pick us up. I watched Julie water down her grandmother’s gin as much as she dared. Nate told me how Julie had once tried to concoct a mix of water, syrup, food colouring, and artificial rum flavour to create an alcohol-free rum substitute, but how their grandmother had got serious DTs, and so they went back to the gin. Nate laughed as he told this. I had to think of the sandbox toys again.
In the afternoon and the evening we made more money until it was time to go back. We had a couple of beers in the kitchen. Roger and Julie slagged some of their friends for fucking around behind the backs of their respective boy- or girlfriends. Finally Roger reminded Julie that they were expected at the Leeds International Pool, and Julie sent me to the loo before lockup. When I took too long, she whistled and called me: “Heel, Fido. Heel.” But her grin when I came out was infectious. After that followed another 14 hours of sleight of hand and bad dreams.
Continued here