Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Inverness?”

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

He pulled out an ordinance map from his pocket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She handed me both with a thankful smile.

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

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

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

“Yup,” I said.

“Where is your family?” she asked.

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

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

“About one thousand kilometres thataway.”

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

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

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

“Sixteen,” I lied without looking up.

More silence while we ate and I studied the map.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yup,” I said again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue here

In Edinburgh I finally returned to my webspace. What, you thought I learned to write such stunning prose in school? Nah, I had a nice space on Yahoo, the old 360 that they eventually got rid of, where I had virtual friends, and where I could write the stuff nobody in my real life could give a flying fuck about. In fact, a lot of what I’m telling you here originally appeared on Y360 and – after that was gone – on multiply.
I had established my online presence in early ’07, mostly putting up Neil Gaiman quotes, taking the piss in other bloke’s comments, and chatting with dirty old men.
Some of those friendships actually endured.
There was JD, an Asian-Australian Christian, who began by wanting pics of my butt in undies, but ended chatting with me about religion and literature. There was “Uncle Ed”, the obese, insecure shoe salesman from New Jersey, who in all seriousness tried to get me to mend my wicked ways while audibly drooling whenever he asked me about my sins. There was Jim, the seventy year old ex military intelligence chap who lived in a little cabin in the wilderness of Michigan, tended his vegetable patch, and couldn’t for the life of him admit that he was into young blokes. He, too, wanted me to repent, but when I wouldn’t, he was quite content just to talk about people, politics, and philosophy instead. And there was Matt, the black father of two teenage daughters, who dreamed of having a white boy as his slave. We sort of got into a father-son sex role-play that over time got to be less and less about sex and more and more about being father and son.
Not all of them were naughty, mind you. Shawn, for example, a queer HIV+ ex-amphetamine-junkie from Philadelphia, and writer, director, and producer of small but increasingly successful Off-Off-Broadway plays, made it abundantly clear that he wouldn’t talk with me about anything sexual until at least my 18th birthday. We began chatting when I was 14, so if that had been his aim, he certainly was in it for the long haul. No, he was perfectly happy to just be a pen pal, follow my blog as I was following his, comment, listen, advise, and chat.
Or Bo, the unemployed teacher and writer of a sport celebrity biography and a historical novel, who claimed to be 100% straight (but who had a curious tickling fetish and a penchant to befriend teens on the web), and really never bothered me about wanting to cam or anything of the sort, but was just interested in talking about life, the universe, and everything.
I hadn’t blogged or chatted with anyone for over a month when I went back online from the ESCape Internet Café on London Road in the New Town of Edinburgh on August 13, four days after I had left Leeds. My online friends were suitably impressed about my daring, or dutifully admonished me to be sensible and return to my mum, though I suspect most of them didn’t believe a word of what I told them. Only Jim actually figured out a way to follow my IP addresses and reluctantly decided to trust me on the rest of what I blogged. He also became an increasing pain in the arse about me stopping this nonsense.
The other thing I returned to in Edinburgh was regular training. When I had been nine years old it had become apparent that my regular and unacceptably violent fights were part of a pattern. I was sent to a kiddie shrink and to Ergotherapy – and to an Aikido Dojo. Once I started doing Aikido my fights really did seem to abate. Of course, then my dad up and left, and two years later after a fashion so did ‘Nette. That was when things became really bad, rozzers and all.
But ever since then I had trained martial arts almost religiously. I always liked how it complemented football. Football was about interacting with the external world, about strategy, and friendship, and fighting the enemy. Martial Arts was about the internal enemy, about discipline.
Some people have raised eyebrows and commented that it was a really stupid idea to teach a troubled, violent kid how to dish out hurt more efficiently. But I am certain, if it hadn’t been for Aikido and for my sensei, I probably would have become a killer a long time ago. It really helps, you know.
Anyway, a while ago my sensei had kicked me out of the Dojo for dishonourable behaviour. But I continued to train on my own, mostly up on the roof above Berlin. I even did while I was locked up in juvie. It helped calm my nerves. But when I got back out, I stopped. The internal enemy had won anyway, hadn’t he? What was the point of continuing to fight a lost battle?
In Edinburgh I returned to training. I went for regular runs in Holyrood Park. Those two weeks I spent in Edinburgh it was raining almost constantly. Seriously. Even by British standards it must have been the wettest August in ages. Once it got so bad the sewers backed up all the way into the flat where I was crashing. I woke to screams of disgust and the stink of sewage soaking into the carpets.
I learned to love running up and down Arthur’s Seat in the pouring rain. The sweat and rain and mud all would become one and my self would almost dissolved in all the grey, brown, and green.
Mostly I ran so I wouldn’t lie awake on the couch, chasing sleep that just eluded me. There was too much I didn’t want to think about as I lay there and stared up at the ceiling. To avoid that my choices were either exhausting myself to the point of collapsing into comatose sleep, or drinking myself into a stupor. On some nights I resorted to the latter, but even I knew I felt much better the next day when I did the former.
Of course, after a week of this Charley introduced me to Ponyboy. I continued training, but after that I had other things to distract me during the nights.

Continued here

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

Continued here

I’m not much of a breakfast person. I got a take-away cup of coffee at the YMCA cafeteria and limped down to the front desk to settle my bill. The reception was awash with people. Some blokes had just returned from their regular morning marathon, and stood steaming happily in the foyer, congratulating each other on a super performance. In another corner a flock of serious mothers had gathered, chattering reproachfully amongst themselves, because the room where they usually let their toddlers play while they drank green tea and exchanged vegan recipes had been taken over by a summer holiday workshop for teenagers making bows and arrows. And the weekly Wednesday morning service, semi-informally called “a pause for thought” was just ending. The speaker, a fellow of 30-something in corduroys and button-down shirt, was cheerfully shaking hands at the door to the chapel.
Behind him a flipchart informed me that today’s topic had been “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (1 Peter 3:12)”
The old chap who worked the front desk was still gone trying to scrounge up an alternative room for the mothers, who had already rejected two offers. (One had been recently painted and still smelled of the fumes, the other was too far up the stairs. Two of the group were pregnant. I mean, men, sheesh, right?) I was getting restless and thought about scarpering.
Suddenly I became aware of someone’s eyes feeling me up. It was the smart fellow from the chapel. Like white gloved fingers his gaze ran over my body, exposing the sweat and grime on my skin, the dust on my t-shirt, the white patches of salt under my arms and on my back where the sweat had dried, and finally lingered a bit on the creases of my jeans. It made me feel dirty and naked. Defiantly I dug out my fags and shook one from the pack. When I put it between my lips there was a shocked gasp from the mothers, who in unison pushed their toddlers at me, human shields in a war of morals, and erupted in enraged titters.
Then the fellow was at my side, now shaking my hand, albeit with less cheerful geniality and with more earnest manliness instead. “I do not look down on you, my son,” his expression disclosed, “in spite of your sins. No, I accept you as you are, as one man accepts another. Because I am tolerant, and wise, and strong.” I had seen this expression before, on the faces of guidance counsellors, social workers, and police psychologists.
It isn’t the false, patronizing arrogance that gets me. Arrogance I can live with. It’s what the arrogance is hiding: They are not trying to convince me to trust them, even though if asked that would be what they would think they were trying to do. What they are really trying to convince me of, however, is that somewhere deep down, they are bad boys, too. They do not accept me – they ask me to accept them. What their arrogance is hiding is nothing but envy.
He gave me his name, which I immediately forgot again, and when he sensed that mine wasn’t forthcoming in return, he smoothly segued into an invitation.
“I saw you standing here, and you looked a bit lost. So I am wondering, would you perhaps like to join us for a second breakfast? There is always a little sit together at the cafeteria after the service.”
I disengaged my hand and wiped it on the seat of my jeans.
“I wasn’t at the service.”
He laughed, sounding chummy, understanding, condescending and still secretly pleading, all at once.
“Well, feel free to join anyway. Maybe you want to attend our next service. You are not from here, are you, lad? How long will you stay? You can also just come here for some quiet prayer, anytime. The chapel is open to everyone.”
“Sorry, I don’t pray that way.”
He sank his teeth in this like a young beagle in a stick offered for tug-of-war. I swear, you could almost see his waging tail.
“Maybe you want to give it a try. You should, just try. Talk to him. Can’t harm, can it? God does not give up on us. If we confide in him and ask for his forgiveness…”
My scornful snort cut him short. A look at my face and he made one step backwards. Was it the anger on my face that shocked him? The hatred shining in my eyes?
“Believe me, mate,” I snarled. “I don’t want God’s forgiveness. I certainly don’t want to talk to Him. I want to pay what I’m due.”
I handed him the 14 pounds.
“Just give it to the bloke when he’s back, will you?”
Glaring at the collective mothers I sparked up and left in a cloud of smoke.

Continued here

Heavy sex or violence is out – although I think the kind of violence that’s allowed on TV is the very worst kind. There’s no feeling behind it, and that makes it completely diabolical.
– David Lynch in an L.A. Times Interview with Kristen McKenna (August 20, 1989)

This is a true story. I swear, it really is. Whether you believe me or not is of course up to you. But this being the truth, the whole and nothing but the kahretsin truth, there is a few things I should warn you about.
There is violence, physical and otherwise, and only some of it pleasant. There is sex, some more and some less pleasant than the violence, and sometimes the two are hard to tell apart. A lot of it involves same-sex, underage, and/or not-necessarily-fully-consenting partners. There are drugs: legal, illegal, and some just questionable. But most of all, there is crime. Shitloads of crime. Because this is the story of how I was a thief. How, for the last two years of my life, I deceived, betrayed, defrauded, lied to, and stole from pretty much everyone I came into contact with. And I wasn’t the only one doing that shite, baby.
Just to be clear on this: I do not necessarily condone any of this. But I do not necessarily condemn it either. It’s complicated. Anasını satayım, it’s life, you know.
I’ll also have the one or other thing to say about God. And Jesus. Mohammad. The Dalai bloody Lama. And about eternal life, and the soul, and spirits, and all that stuff. And about race, and ethnicity, and nations. And the character of such groups, and faiths, and entities. If you feel strongly about that sort of thing (and what sort of a person would you be if you didn’t?) some or all of it might bother you.
I’ll also use strong language in places. At times I’ll be crude. And rude. And mangle spelling and grammar and punctuation and good taste.
Amına kodum, I’ll just say whatever I bloody well please, however I bloody well please. If you don’t like it, please, feel free to look away anytime.