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Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 29 maj 2011 05:19

Well, while it would be an honor to be related to you, I am here to do a job, and if I'm going to be able to keep doing it then I know you'll be more conscious of respecting my boundaries from now on." Dad claps loudly. I fall back on the floor. "That'll never work," I groan. "Nan, this woman's not God! She's just a person. You need a mantra. You need to go in there like Lao-tzu ... Say no to say yes. Say it with me!" "I say no to say yes. I say no to say yes," I murmur with her as I stare up at the floral wallpaper on the ceiling. Just as we hit a fever pitch, the door flies open and music floods the room. I roll my head to see my grandmother, cheeks flushed to match her layers of red satin, leaning against the door frame. "Darlings! Another masterpiece of a party and my son's hiding in the closet at his fiftieth, just like he did at his fifth. Come, dance with me." In a cloud of perfume, she sashays over to my father and kisses him on the cheek. "Come on, birthday boy, you can leave your tie and cummerbund here, but at least dance a mambo with your mother before the clock strikes twelve!" He rolls his eyes at the rest of us, but the champagne has worn him down. He pulls off his tie and stands up. "And you, lady." She looks down on me sprawled at her feet. "Bring the mink and let's boogie." "Sorry to disappear, Gran. It's just this whole earmuffs thing." "Good lord! Between your father and his tuxedo and you and your earmuffs, I don't want to discuss apparel with this family again until next Christmas! Up and at 'em, gorgeous, the dance floor awaits." Mom helps me to my feet, whispering in my ear as we follow them back to the party. "See, no to say yes. Your dad's chanting it right now." Many dances and bottles of champagne later I float back to my apartment in a bubbly haze. George slides up to my heels as soon as I unlock the door and I carry him back to my corner of the room. "Happy New Year, George," I mumble as he purrs under my chin. Charlene left this morning for Asia and I am giddy with the three weeks of little freedoms this affords me. As I kick off my heels I see the light on my answering machine flashing in a soft blur. Mrs. X. "What do you think, George, shall we risk it?" I bend over to let him down before pressing the "new message" button. "Hi, Nan? Um, this is a message for Nan. I think this is the right number . .." H. H.'s slurred voice fills the apartment. "Oh, my God!" I scream, turning to check my appearance in the mirror. "Right. So um, yeah.. . I'm just calling to say 'Happy New Year.' Um, I'm in Africa. And-wait-what time is it there? Seven hours, that's ten . .. eleven ... twelve. Right. So I'm with my family and we're about to head into the bush. And we've been having some beers with the guides. And it's the last outpost with a phone . .. But I just wanted to say that I bet you had a hard week. See! I know how you've been working hard and I just wanted you to know, um ...that I know ... that you do ... work hard, that is. Um, and that you have a happy New Year. Okay, so then-I hope this is your machine. Right. So that's all, just wanted you to know. Um ... bye." I stumble to my bed in utter euphoria. "Oh, my God," I mumble again in the darkness, before passing out with a grin plastered to my face. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. "Hi, you've reached Charlene and Nan. Please leave a message." Beep. "Hi, Nanny, I hope you're in. I'm sure you're probably in. Well, Happy New Year." I crack one eye open. "It's Mrs. X. I hope you've had a good vacation. I'm calling because .. ." Jesus, it's eight o'clock in the morning! "Well, there's been a change of plans. Mr. X apparently needs to go back to Illinois for work. And I, well, Grayer's- we're all very disappointed. So, anyway, we won't be going to Aspen and I wanted to see what you're up to for the rest of the month." On New Year's Day! I stick my hand outside the covers and start flailing for the phone. I unplug the receiver and throw it on the floor. There. I pass out again. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. "Hi, you've reached Charlene and Nan. Please leave a message." Beep. "Hi, Nanny, it's Mrs. X. I left you a message earlier." I crack one eye open. "I don't know if I mentioned, but if you could let me know today ..." Jesus, it's nine-thirty in the morning! On New Year's Day! I stick my hand outside the covers and start flailing for the phone and this time actually manage to pull the right plug out. Ahh, peace. "Hi, you've reached Charlene and Nan. Please leave a message." Beep. "Hi, Nanny, it's Mrs. X," Jesus! It's ten o'clock in the morning! What is wrong with you people? This time I can hear Grayer crying in the background. Not my problem, not my problem, earmuffs. I stick my hand outside the covers and start flailing for the answering machine. I find the volume. "Because you didn't say if you had any plans and I just thought-" Ahh, silence. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring.

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Oh dear -- I have just returned from one of Kitty Coleman's At Homes with such a headache. In January something happened that I had always dreaded might one day. Kitty Coleman changed her At Homes to Wednesday afternoons so that she could attend some sort of meeting in Highgate on Tuesdays. (At least that means she will not be coming to my At Homes!) Now I have felt obliged to go -- not every week, I should hope, but at least once or twice a month. I managed to get out of the first few, saying I had a chill, or that the girls were unwell, but I couldn't use that excuse every time. So today I went along, taking Lavinia and Ivy May with me for support. When we arrived the room was already full of women. Kitty Coleman welcomed us and then flitted across the room without making introductions. I must say it was the loudest At Home I have ever attended. Everyone was talking at once, and I am not sure anyone was actually listening. But I listened, and as I did my eyes grew big and my mouth small. I didn't dare say a word. The room was full of suffragettes. Two were discussing a meeting they were to attend in Whitechapel. Another was passing around a design for poster of a woman waving a sign from a train window that read 'Votes for Women'. When I saw it I turned to my daughters. 'Lavinia,' I said, 'go and help Maude.' Maude was serving tea across the room, and looked as miserable as { felt. 'And don't listen to what anyone around you is saying' I added. Lavinia was staring hard at Kitty Coleman. 'Did you hear me, Lavinia?' I asked. She shook her head and shrugged, as if to shake away my words, then made a face and crossed the room to Maude. 'Ivy May,' I said, 'would you like to go downstairs and ask the cook if she needs help, please.' Ivy May nodded and disappeared. She is a good girl. A woman next to me was saying she had just been speaking at a rally in Manchester and had rotten tomatoes thrown at her. 'At least it wasn't rotten eggs!' another woman cried, and everyone laughed. Well, almost everyone laughed. A few women like myself were very quiet, and looked just as shocked as I felt. They must have been Kitty's old friends who came to the At Home expecting pleasant conversation and Mrs Baker's excellent scones. One of them, less timid than me, finally spoke. 'What is it that you speak about at these rallies in Manchester?' The tomato woman gave her an incredulous look. 'Why, for women to have the vote, of course!' The poor woman turned bright red, as if she herself had been hit by a tomato, and I was mortified for her. To her credit, Caroline Black came to her rescue. 'The Women's Social and Political Union is campaigning to have a bill brought before Parliament that would allow women the right to vote in government elections, just as men do,' she explained. 'We are rallying the support of women and men all over the country by speaking publicly, writing to newspapers, lobbying MPs, and signing petitions. Have you seen the WSPU's pamphlet? Do take one and read it -- it is so informative. You can place a donation for it on the table by the door when you go. And don't forget to pass on the pamphlet when you are done -- it is really surprising how much life there is in a little pamphlet when you hand it on to others.' She was in her element, speaking so smoothly and gently and yet also forcefully that several women indeed took away pamphlets and left coins by the door -- myself included, I am ashamed to admit. When the pile of pamphlets reached me, Caroline Black was watching me with such a sweet smile on her face that I had to take one. I could not bring myself to hide it down the back of the sofa as I might have liked. I did that later, at home. Kitty Coleman did not take the floor in quite the same way as Caroline Black, but she was still in an excited state, her eyes glittering, her cheeks flushed as if she were at a ball and had not stopped dancing once. She did not look entirely healthy. I know I should not say this, but I wish she and Caroline Black had never met. Kitty's transformation has been dramatic, and undoubtedly it has pulled her out of the bad way she was in, but she has not gone back to her old self. She has changed into something altogether more radical. Not that I was greatly enamoured of her old self, but I prefer that to her present state. Even when she is not at her At Homes with suffragettes everywhere, she still talks incessantly about politics and women this and women that till I want to cover my ears. She has bought herself a bicycle and goes around even in the wind and rain, getting grease marks all down her skirts - if they are not already covered in chalk from all the signs she has been drawing on pavements about meetings and rallies and such. Whenever I find her crouched somewhere with a bit of chalk, I cross the road and pretend not to see her. She is never at home now in the afternoons, but always at a meeting, and neglects poor Maude shamelessly. Sometimes I think of Maude as my third daughter, she is at our house so often. Not that I am complaining - Maude is very thoughtful, helping me with tea or Ivy May with her schoolwork. She sets a good example for Lavinia, who I am sorry to say never seems to take it up. It is very peculiar that one daughter can have a mother who pays her no attention and yet turns out well, while the other gets all the attention in the world and yet is so difficult and selfish. It was a relief to leave Kitty's At Home. Lavinia seemed eager to come away as well. Back at home she was very kind to me, sending me off to bed to nurse my head while she insisted on making supper. I don't even mind that she burned the soup. JENNY WHITBY Lord, I hope these At Homes don't last. Since the missus switched 'em to Wednesdays I'm run off my feet. At least I've got Maude to help - though I don't know that she'll stick it. The whole afternoon she looked like she wanted to bolt, even when Lavinia came to keep her company. That one makes me laugh. When she's here she watches the missus with an outraged look on her face. And when the master's home, she looks at him all puzzled and sorrowful. She hasn't said nothing, though, nor tried to send another letter - I've kept an eye out. I've no intention of letting her wreck this house - I need my wages. As it is I'm not managing to pay for Jack. Or I am, but I've had to do something I never thought I'd stoop to - taking spoons to sell from an old silver set in the sideboard what the missus' mum left her. They don't use it, and no one but me ever polishes it. It ain't right, I know, but I don't have no choice. I finally listened to them suffragettes today as I passed round the scones. What I heard made me want to spit. They talk about helping women but it turns out they're choosy about who exactly gets the help. They ain't fighting for my vote -- only for women who own property or went to university. But that Caroline Black had the nerve to ask me to donate some of my wages 'for the cause'. I told her I wouldn't give a penny until the cause had anything to do with me! I were so mad I had to tell Mrs Baker about it when we were washing up afterwards. 'What did she say to that?' Mrs Baker asked. 'Oh, that men would never agree to give the vote to everyone all at once, that they had to start with some women and once they'd secured that they would fight for everyone. But ain't it always the way that they put themselves first? Why can't they fight for us first, I say. Let working women decide what's what.' Mrs Baker chuckled. 'You wouldn't know who to vote for if they bit you on your arse, and you know it.' 'I would!' I cried. 'I ain't that stupid. Labour, of course. Labour for a labouring woman. But these ladies upstairs won't vote Labour, or even Liberal. They're all Tories like their husbands, and them Tories'll never give the vote to women, no matter what they say.' Mrs Baker didn't say nothing. Maybe she was surprised I was talking politics. To be honest, I were surprised at myself. I've been round too many suffragettes -- they're starting to make me talk a load of rubbish.

ANNONS
Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 29 maj 2011 05:12

Seven years was a long time to be away from one's clan. A man's place was not always there, waiting for him. As soon as he left, someone else rose and filled it. The clan was like a lizard, if it lost its tail it soon grew another. Okonkwo knew these things. He knew that he had lost his place among the nine masked spirits who administered justice in the clan. He had lost the chance to lead his warlike clan against the new religion, which, he was told, had gained ground. He had lost the years in which he might have taken the highest titles in the clan. But some of these losses were not irreparable. He was determined that his return should be marked by his people. He would return with a flourish, and regain the seven wasted years. Even in his first year in exile he had begun to plan for his return. The first thing he would do would be to rebuild his compound on a more magnificent scale. He would build a bigger barn than he had had before and he would build huts for two new wives. Then he would show his wealth by initiating his sons into the ozo society. Only the really great men in the clan were able to do this. Okonkwo saw clearly the high esteem in which he would be held, and he saw himself taking the highest title in the land. As the years of exile passed one by one it seemed to him that his chi might now be making amends for the past disaster. His yams grew abundantly, not only in his motherland but also in Umuofia, where his friend gave them out year by year to sharecroppers. Then the tragedy of his first son had occurred. At first it appeared as if it might prove too great for his spirit. But it was a resilient spirit, and in the end Okonkwo overcame his sorrow. He had five other sons and he would bring them up in the way of the clan. He sent for the five sons and they came and sat in his obi. The youngest of them was four years old. "You have all seen the great abomination of your brother. Now he is no longer my son or your brother. I will only have a son who is a man, who will hold his head up among my people. If any one of you prefers to be a woman, let him follow Nwoye now while I am alive so that I can curse him. If you turn against me when I am dead I will visit you and break your neck." Okonkwo was very lucky in his daughters. He never stopped regretting that Ezinma was a girl. Of all his children she alone understood his every mood. A bond of sympathy had grown between them as the years had passed. Ezinma grew up in her father's exile and became one of the most beautiful girls in Mbanta. She was called Crystal of Beauty, as her mother had been called in her youth. The young ailing girl who had caused her mother so much heartache had been transformed, almost overnight, into a healthy, buoyant maiden. She had, it was true, her moments of depression when she would snap at everybody like an angry dog. These moods descended on her suddenly and for no apparent reason. But they were very rare and short-lived. As long as they lasted, she could bear no other person but her father. Many young men and prosperous middle-aged men of Mbanta came to marry her. But she refused them all, because her father had called her one evening and said to her: "There are many good and prosperous people here, but I shall be happy if you marry in Umuofia when we return home." That was all he had said. But Ezinma had seen clearly all the thought and hidden meaning behind the few words. And she had agreed. "Your half-sister, Obiageli, will not understand me," Okonkwo said. "But you can explain to her." Although they were almost the same age, Ezinma wielded a strong influence over her half-sister. She explained to her why they should not marry yet, and she agreed also. And so the two of them refused every offer of marriage in Mbanta. "I wish she were a boy," Okonkwo thought within himself. She understood things so perfectly. Who else among his children could have read his thoughts so well? With two beautiful grown-up daughters his return to Umuofia would attract considerable attention. His future sons-in-law would be men of authority in the clan. The poor and unknown would not dare to come forth. Umuofia had indeed changed during the seven years Okonkwo had been in exile. The church had come and led many astray. Not only the low-born and the outcast but sometimes a worthy man had joined it. Such a man was Ogbuefi Ugonna, who had taken two titles, and who like a madman had cut the anklet of his titles and cast it away to join the Christians. The white missionary was very proud of him and he was one of the first men in Umuofia to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, or Holy Feast as it was called in Ibo. Ogbuefi Ugonna had thought of the Feast in terms of eating and drinking, only more holy than the village variety. He had therefore put his drinking-horn into his goatskin bag for the occasion.

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One short phone call later and Grayer is not only dancing and singing the actual "Here we come a wassailing among the leaves so green," which is infinitely less painful, but I have been inspired with a delicious plan. As I give Grayer's wassailing outfit (green and red striped turtle-neck, felt reindeer antlers, candy-cane suspenders) a final once-over for "ultra wassailyness," Mrs. X comes bustling in, Ramon in tow, laden with boxes. Her cheeks are rosy, her eyes are glistening. "Oh, it is a zoo out there, a zoo! I nearly got into a fight with a woman at Hammacher Schlemmer-put them down over there, Ramon-over the last ScrewPull, but I just let her have it, I thought there is no point descending to her level. I think she was from out of town. Oh, I found the most darling wallets at Gucci. Does Cleveland understand Gucci? I wonder-thank you, Ramon. Oh, I hope they like them- Grayer what have you been up to?" "Nothing," he says, while practicing his soft-shoe by the umbrella stand. "Before lunch we made unsweetened cookies and decorated them and then we've been practicing carols and I read him The Night Before Christmas in French," I say, trying to jog his memory. "Oh, wonderful. I wish someone would read to me." She takes off her mink and nearly hands it to Ramon. "Oh, that's all, Ramon, thank you." She claps her hands together. "So, what are you up to now?" "I was going to let Grayer practice his caroling-" "WASSAILING!" "-on some of the elderly in the building, who might appreciate a little holiday cheer!" Mrs. X is beaming. "Oh, excellent! What a good boy you are and that'll keep him o-c-c-u-p-i-e-d. I have so much to do! Have fun!" I let Grayer press for the elevator. "Which floor, Nanny?" "Let's start with your friend on eleven." We have to buzz three times before we hear "Coming!" from inside the apartment. As soon as the door opens it's apparent the hour and a half of "practicing" was well worth it. H. H. leans against the door frame in faded Christmas-tree boxers and a well-worn Andover T-shirt, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "HERE WE COME A-WASSAILING.' AMONG THE LEAVES SO GREEN.'.'/" Grayer is red faced, swaying back and forth, with his jazz hands splayed and antlers waving. For a split second it crosses my mind that he might literally sing his heart out. "LOVE AND JOY COME TO YOU.'.'.'" His voice ricochets around the vestibule, bouncing off every surface so that it sounds as if he's a chorus of emphatic wassailers. A wassailing riot. When it appears he has reached his conclusion, H. H. bends down and opens his mouth. "AND GOD BLESS YOU.'.'.'" This move mistakenly places him at ground zero to be blasted with the spit and sweat of Grayer's effort, which is then followed by an even louder finale. "Well, good morning to you, too, Grayer!" Grayer collapses onto the vestibule floor, panting to catch his breath. I smile beguilingly. Make no bones about it; I am a girl with a mission. I am here to get a Date. A Real Date with a plan and a location and everything. "We're caroling-" I begin. "Wassailing," a small exasperated voice pipes in from the floor. "Wassailing around the building." "Can I have a cookie now?" Grayer sits up, ready to be rewarded for his efforts. H. H. turns into his apartment. "Sure. Come on in. Don't mind my pajamas." Oh, if you insist. We follow his boxer-clad body into what is essentially the Xes' apartment, only two floors higher, and one would never guess that we were even in the same building. The walls in the front hall are painted a deep brick red and are decorated with National Geographic type black-and-white photographs between kilim tapestries. There are sneakers lining the floor and dog hair on the carpet. We make our way into the kitchen where we practically trip over a huge, graying yellow Lab lying on the floor. "Grayer, you know Max, right?" Grayer hunkers down and with uncharacteristic gentleness rubs Max's ears. Max's tail animatedly pounds the tiles in response. I look around; instead of the large island that Mrs. X has in the middle of the room, there's an old refectory table piled high at one end with the Times. "Cookies? Anyone want cookies?" H. H. asks, brandishing a Christmas tin of David's cookies that he has pulled from a teetering pile of holiday baked goods on the sideboard. Grayer runs over to help himself and I force myself to focus. "Just one, Grover." "Oh, man." "Do you want milk with that?" He heads to the fridge and returns with a full glass. "Thank you so much," I say. "Hey, Grayer, anything you want to say to our host?" "Thanks!" he mumbles, his mouth full of cookie. "No, man, thank you! It's the least I can do after such a powerful performance." He smiles over at me. "I can't remember the last time someone sang to me when it wasn't my birthday." "I can do that! I can do 'Happy Birthday'-" He puts his glass down on the floor and places his hands into the jazz position in preparation. "Whoa! We have done our fair share of wassailing already-" I put my hand out to shield us from another round. "Grayer, it's not my birthday today. But I promise I'll let you know when it is." Teamwork, I love it. "Okay. Let's go, Nanny. Got to wassail. Let's go now." Grayer hands H. H. his empty glass, wipes his gloved hand across his lips, and heads for the door. I stand up from the table, not really wanting to leave. "I'm sorry I never caught up with you that night; their party ran really late." "That's all right, you didn't miss anything. The Next Thing was having a private party, so we just ended up getting pizza at Ruby's." As in the Ruby's that is exactly twenty feet from my front stoop. The irony. "How long are you home for?" I ask without batting an eyelash. "NA-NNY. The elevator's here!" "Just a week and then we go to Africa." The elevator door waiting, my heart pounding. "Well, I'm around if you want to hang out this weekend," I say as I step in beside Grayer. "Yeah, great," he says from the doorway. "Great." I nod my head as the door slides closed. "GREAT!" Grayer sings as a warm-up to our next performance. Short of writing my number on a piece of paper and shoving it under his door, I leave 721 Park on Friday night knowing there is no way I am going to see H. H. before he leaves for Africa. Ugh. That night I make Sarah, who's home for Christmas vacation, accompany me to a holiday party being given downtown by some guys in my class. The whole apartment is festively decorated in glowing jalapeno-pepper lights and someone has glued a cutout of a large penis onto the picture of Santa in the living room. It takes less than five minutes to decide that we don't want a Bud Light from the bathtub, a fistful of corn chips from a filmy bowl, or to take any of the frat boys up on their gracious offers of quick oral sex. We head Josh off on the stairs. "No fun?" he asks. "Well," Sarah says, "I love to play strip quarters as much as the next girl, but-" "Sarah!" Josh cries, giving her a hug. "Lead on!" Several hours later find me doing a martini-sodden rendition of the wassailing story for Sarah in a corner booth at the Next Thing while Josh hits on some fashionista at the bar. "And then ... he gave him a cookie! That must mean something, right?" We do an interpretive dance of every subtle nuance of the entire five-minute exchange until we have completely wrung the encounter of any meaning it might possibly have had. "So then he said 'Great' and then I said 'Great.'" Saturday morning I wake with my shoes still on, a killer hangover, and only one day to buy presents for my entire family, the Xes, and the many little people I've taken care of over the years. The Gleason girls have already sent over two glitter pens and a rock with my name painted on it-I've got to get my act together. I wolf down tomato sauce on toast, drink a liter of water, grab a double shot of espresso on the corner, and ba-da-bing, I am alive with the Holiday Spirit. An hour later I emerge from Barnes and Noble Junior a good $ 150 lighter, prompting me to do a little math as I walk down Park. Forget Paris, I'm going to need that stupid bonus just to pay off Christmas. I walk down Madison to Bergdorf s to get a Rigaud candle for Mrs. X. It may be tiny, but at least she'll know it wasn't cheap. As I stand on line for the all-important stiver gift wrap I try to figure out what to get the four-year-old who has everything. What would make him really happy, short of his father actually making an appearance to do the high-ups? Well... a night-light, because he's scared of the dark. And maybe a bus-pass holder that could keep that card protected before it completely disintegrates. As I'm on Fifty-eighth and Fifth, the logical thing would be to cross the street to FAO Schwarz's enormous Sesame Street section to find him a Grover night-light, but I can't, can't, can't. I debate which would be faster, taking the train to a Toys "R" Us in Queens or navigating a few thousand square feet of bedlam just a block away. Against my better judgment, I drag myself across Fifth to wait in line with the entire population of Nebraska in the cold for over half an hour before being ushered into the revolving doors by a tall toy soldier. "Welcome to our world. Welcome to our world. Welcome to our world of toys," blasts relentlessly from mysteriously placed speakers, making it sound as if the eerie, childlike singing is coming from within my own head. Yet it cannot drown out the tortured cries of "But I waaaant it!! I neeeeed it!!" that also fill the air. And this is only the stuffed-animal floor. Upstairs is total chaos; children are firing ray guns, throwing slime, sports equipment, and siblings. I look around at parents who share my "let's just get through this" expression and employees trying to make it to lunch without sustaining serious bodily injury. I slither to Sesame Street Corner where a little girl of about three has prostrated herself on the floor and is sobbing for injustice everywhere. "Maybe Santa will bring you one, Sally."

ANNONS
Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 29 maj 2011 05:05

Nanny! I'm waiting. Come onnnn!" I follow his voice around the maze of floor-to-ceiling cages lining the walls. Some are more packed than others, but each has the requisite luggage, ski equipment, and random pieces of bubble-wrapped furniture. I round the bend and see Grove lying on his stomach atop his skateboard under a sign that says 132, pulling himself along the wired wall by his hands. "Oh, man, it's gonna be so fun when Daddy comes home and does the tree. Caitlin gets us started and Daddy does the high-ups and we have hot chocolate in the living room." "Sounds pretty cool. Here, I have the key," I say, holding it out toward him. He jumps up and down as I unlock the cage and then proceeds to deftly make his way in around the boxes. I let him lead as he's clearly made this trek before and I wouldn't know a storage locker from an Easy-Bake oven. I sit down on the cold cement and lean back on the cage door facing that of the Xes. My parents used to daydream about storage space, sitting with both feet up on the trunk packed to bursting with our summer clothes that served as our coffee table. On occasion, we'd allow ourselves to talk about what we could do with one extra closet-much as a family in Wyoming might fantasize about winning the lottery. "Do you know what you're looking for, Grove?" I call into the piles, as I haven't heard anything in a few minutes. Loud clanging noises break the silence. "Grayer! What's going on in there?" I start to stand up as his flashlight comes rolling out of the darkness and stops at my feet. "Just getting my stuff out, Nanny! Turn the light on me, I'm going to get the blue box!" I click the high beam on and point it into the cage as directed, illuminating two dirtied socks and a little khaki rear end tunneling into the middle of the pile. "Are you sure that's safe, Grayer? I think maybe I should ..." What, crawl in behind him? "I got it. Oh, man, there's lotsa stuff back here. My skis! These are my skis, Nanny, for when we go to Aspirin." "Aspen?" "Aspen. Found it! Going to pass 'em out. Get ready. You get ready, Nanny, here they come." He is far into the boxes. I hear fumbling and then a glass ball comes flying out of the darkness at me. I drop the flashlight and catch it. It is handblown and has a Steuben mark on it, along with a red hook. Before I can look up another one comes flying out. "GRAYER! FREEZE!" With the flashlight rolling around on the floor, casting a weird light on Grayer's boxes, I realize I've been letting Mickey Mouse run the show. "Back it up, mister, back it right on up. It's your turn to hold the flashlight." "N oooooo." "Gray-er!" It's the Wicked Witch voice. "FINE!" He tunnels back out. I hand him the flashlight. "Now let's try this again, only this time you'll be me and I'll be you." When we get back up to the apartment Grayer marches ahead to establish a plan of attack while I gingerly set the box of ornaments down in the front hall. "Nanny?" I hear a small voice call for me. "Yes, G?" I follow him into the living room where a flamboyant Johnny Cash is on a ladder, decorating Grayer's tree. "Pass me that box of doves," he says, not even turning to look at us. Grayer and I, standing safely by the door, survey the living room floor, which is littered with doves, gold leaves, Victorian angels, and strings of pearls. "Get down. My dad does the high-ups." "Hold on a sec, Grayer," I say as I pass off the birds to the man in black. "I'll be right back." "You better get down or my daddy's gonna be mad at you," I hear Grayer challenge as I knock on Mrs. X's office door. "Come in." "Hi, Mrs. X? Sorry to bother you-" The room, ordinarily pristine, has been taken over by her "elfing" and stacks and stacks of Christmas cards. "No, no, come in-what is it?" I open my mouth. "Have you met Julio? Isn't he a genius? I'm so lucky I got him-he is the the tree expert. You should see what he did at the Egglestons-it was just breathtaking." "While I've got you, can I ask? Is a plaid taffeta skirt just too cliche for a Scottish Christmas party? I can't decide-" "Oh! You should see-I bought the cutest twinsets today for Mr. X's nieces. I hope they're the right color. Would you wear winter-weight cashmere pastels?" She pulls out a TSE shopping bag. "I might exchange them-" "I was just wondering," I cut in, "Grayer was really looking forward to decorating the tree. He said it was something he did with Caitlin last year and I was wondering if maybe I could just get him a small tree for his room that he could hang a couple of ornaments on, just for fun-" "I really don't think it would be a good idea to be traipsing needles all over that part of the house." She searches for a solution. "If he wants a tree activity, why don't you take him to Rockefeller Center?" "Well... Yeah, no, yeah, that's a great idea," I say as I open the door. "Thanks-I'm just so overwhelmed!" When I get back in the living room Grayer is holding a silver baby spoon on a string and tapping on Julio's ladder. "Hey! How about this? Where does this go?" he asks. Julio looks down in disgust at the spoon. "That doesn't really gel with my vision-" Grayer's eyes start to well up. "Well, if you must. In the back. On the bottom." "G, I've got a plan. Grab Al, I'll get your coat." "Grandma, Grayer. Grayer, this is Grandma." My grandmother crouches down in her black satin pajama pants, her pearls clicking together as she extends her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Grayer. And darling, you must be Al." Grayer blushes deeply. "Well, are we doing Christmas or what? Everybody in who wants rugelach." "Thanks so much, Gran. We were in desperate need of a surface to decorate." The doorbell rings behind us as I reach to take off Grayer's coat. "A surface! Don't be ridiculous." She reaches over Grayer's head to open the door and there stands a huge tree with two arms wrapped around it. "Right this way!" she says. "Now, Grayer," she whispers, "you cover Al's eyes. It's all about the surprise." We kick off our boots and follow closely behind them into the apartment. I've got to hand it to her-she has the deliveryman place it squarely in the middle of the living room. She sees him out and returns to join us. "Grandma, you really didn't have to get a-" "If you're going to do something, darling, then do it all the way. Now, Grayer, let me hit the special effects and we'll get this soiree started." Grayer holds his hands carefully over Al's eyes as my grandmother turns on Frank Sinatra-"Can't find Bing," she mouths- and hits the lights. She's lit candles all about the room, setting a beautiful glow around our family pictures, and as Frank croons "The Lady Is a Tramp," it's breathtaking. She leans down to Grayer. "Well, sir, whenever you're ready, I believe Al should meet his tree." We both make drum-roll noises as Grayer takes his hands off Al's eyes and asks him exactly where he would like to hang out first. An hour later the two of us are lounging on cushions beneath the green boughs, sipping hot chocolate, while Grayer relocates Al at whim. "So, how's the drama with your H. H.?" "I can't get a read on him. I want him to be different from those boys, but there's really no good reason why he would be. Of course, if I never see him again it's pretty irrelevant." "Keep riding the elevator, dear. He'll show up. So, how are finals going?" she asks. "Only one more and I'm done. It's been insane-the Xes have been out at Christmas parties every night. I only study after Grayer goes to sleep, which, ultimately, is probably better than trying to concentrate over the sounds of Charlene and her hairy boyfriend-" She looks at me. "Don't even get me started." "Well, just don't wear yourself out. It's not worth it." "I know. But the bonus is bound to be good this year-she's mentioned Paris." "Oh la la, tres bien." "Nanny, Al wants to know why Daddy isn't doing the high-ups," Grayer asks quietly from behind the tree. I look over at her, unsure how to answer him. "Grayer"-she smiles at me reassuringly-"has Nan told you about wassailing?" He emerges. "What did you say?" He comes up close to her and puts his hand on her knee.

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'Doesn't matter -- I can have them cleaned afterwards. How do you climb down -- with a ladder?' 'No, no, no ladder,' our Pa says. 'With a deep un like this we got all this wood stuck in, see, every foot or two, to keep the sides from caving in. We climbs up and down it. But don't you go doing that,' he adds, but too late, 'cause Livy's climbing down already. All I can see of her is her two legs sticking out from a dress and petticoats. 'Don't come down, Livy,' I say, but I don't mean it. She's climbing down the wood frame like she's done it all her life. Then she's down on the coffin with me. There,' she says. 'Are you pleased to see me?' 'Course.' Livy looks round and shivers. 'It's cold down here. And so muddy!' What'd you expect? It's a grave, after all.' Livy scrapes her toe in the clay on the coffin. 'Who's in there?' I shrug. 'Dunno. Who's in the coffin, our Pa?' I call up. No, let me guess,' Livy says. 'It's a little girl who caught Pneumonia. Or a man who drowned in one of the Heath ponds trying to save his dog. Or ' 'It's an old man,' our Pa calls down. 'Nat'ral causes.' Our Pa likes to find out something about who we bury, usually from listening to the mourners at the graveside. Livy looks disappointed. 'I think I shall lie down,' she says. 'You don't want to do that,' I say. 'It's muddy, like you said.' She don't listen to me. She sits down on the coffin lid and then she stretches out, her hair getting mud in it and all. 'There,' she says, crossing her hands over her chest like she's dead. She looks up at the sky. I can't believe she don't mind the mud. Maybe she's gone doolally. 'Don't do that, Livy,' I say. 'Get up.' She still lies there, her eyes closed, and I stare at her face. It's strange seeing something so pretty lying there in the mud. She's got a mouth makes me think of some chocolate-covered cherries Maude gave me once. I wonder if her lips taste like that. 'Where's Maude?' I say to stop thinking of it. Livy makes a face but keeps her eyes shut. 'Over at the library with her mother.' 'Mrs C.'s out and about?' I shouldn't have said nothing, nor sounded surprised. Livy) opens her eyes, like a dead un suddenly come to life. 'what do you know about Maude's mother?' 'Nothing,' I say quickly. 'Just that she was ill. That's all-I've said it too quickly. Livy notices. It's funny -- she's no like Ivy May, who sees everything. But when she wants to she notices things. 'Mrs Coleman was ill, but that was over two months ago' she says. 'She does look dreadful but there's something else wrong. I just know it.' Livy sits up. 'And you know it-' I shift from one foot to the other. 'I don't know nothing.' 'You do.' Livy smiles. 'You're hopeless at lying, Simon. now, what do you know about Maude's mother?' 'Nothing I'm going to tell you.' Livy looks pleased and I wish I hadn't said even that. 'I knew there was something,' she says. 'And I know that you're going to tell me.' 'Why should I tell you anything?' 'Because I'm going to let you kiss me if you do.' I stare at her mouth. She's just licked her lips and they're all glistening like rain on leaves. She's trapped me. I move towards her, but she pulls her face back. Tell me first.' I shake my head. I hate to say it but I don't trust Livy. I have to have my kiss before I'll say a word. 'I'll only tell you after.' 'No, kiss after.' I shake my head again, and Livy sees I'm serious. She lies back down on the mud. 'All right, then. But I must pretend I'm Sleeping Beauty and you're the prince who wakes me.' She closes her eyes and crosses her hands over her chest again like she's dead. I look up. Our Pa ain't hanging over the grave -- he must've sat down to wait with the bottle. I don't know how long I'll be lucky, so I lean over quick and Press my mouth against Livy's. She stays still. Her lips are soft. I touch them with my tongue -- they don't taste like chocolate cherries, but like salt. I move back onto my heels and Livy opens her eyes. We look at each other but don't Say nothing. She smiles a little. Simon, get yourself going, lad. We've another to dig after this our Pa calls down. He's standing up top leaning over like he's going to fall in. I don't know if he saw us kissing - he don't say. 'You need help up, missie?' he says. I don't want him coming down here when Livy's with me. Three people is too much in a grave. 'Leave her 'lone,' I call up. 'I'll bring her out.' 'I'll come up myself as soon as Simon answers my question' Livy says. Our Pa looks like he's going to climb down, so I has to say it quick. 'Mrs C. visited our Ma,' I whisper. 'What, on a charity visit?' 'Who says we need charity?' Livy don't answer. 'Anyhow, it were business, not charity.' 'Your mother is a midwife, isn't she?' 'Yes, but-' 'Do you mean she's had another child?' Livy's eyes get big. 'Maude has a secret brother or sister somewhere? How exciting! I do hope it's a brother.' 'It weren't that,' I say quickly. 'She don't have a brother nor suchlike. It were the other. Getting rid of the brother or sister before it's born. Else it would've been a bastard, see.' 'Oh!' Livy sits up straight and stares at me, her eyes still big. I wish I'd never said a thing. Some people's meant to be innocent of life, and Livy's one of 'em. 'Oh!' she says again, and starts to cry. She lays back down on the mud. 'It's all right, Livy. Our Ma was gentle. But it took her a time to recover.' 'What will I tell Maude?' she sobs. 'Don't tell her nothing,' I say quickly, not wanting it to get worse. 'She don't need to know.' 'But she can't possibly live with her mother in those circumstances.' not?' 'She can come and live with us. I'll ask Mama. I'm sure she'll say yes, especially when she's heard why.' Livy's stopped crying now. 'Don't tell her nothing, Livy,' I say. Then I hear a scream overhead and look up. Livy's mother is looking down at us with Maude peeking over her shoulder. Ivy May's standing by herself on the other side of the grave. 'Lavinia, what on earth are you doing lying down there?' her mother cries. 'Get out at once!' 'Hello, Mama,' Livy says calmly, like she ain't just been crying. She sits up. 'Were you looking for me?' Livy's mum sinks to her feet and starts to cry, not quiet like Livy did, but noisy with lots of gasping. 'It's all right, Mrs Waterhouse,' Maude says, patting her shoulder. 'Lavinia's fine. She's coming right up, aren't you, Lavinia?' She glares at us. Livy smiles a funny smile, and I know she's thinking about Maude's ma. 'Don't you dare tell her, Livy,' I whisper. Livy don't say nothing, nor look at me. She just climbs up the wood fast and is gone before I can say more. Ivy May drops a clod of clay into the grave. It falls at my feet. It's quiet when they're all gone. I start scraping mud into the cracks round the coffin. Our Pa comes and sits down at the side of the grave, dangling his legs over the edge. I can smell the bottle. 'You going to help me or what, our Pa?' I say. 'You ear, bring the Lamb's box over now.' Our Pa shakes his head. 'It's no use kissing girls like her; he says. So he did see. 'Why not?' I say. Our Pa shakes his head again. Them girls is not for you, boy. You know that. They like you 'cause you're different from them, is all. They'll even let you kiss 'em, once. But you won't get nowhere with 'em.' 'I'm not trying to get nowhere with 'em.' Our Pa starts to chuckle. 'Sure you're not, boy. Sure you're not.' 'Hush, our Pa. You just hush.' I go back to my mud -it's easier than talking to him. LAVINIA WATERHOUSE At last I have reached a decision. I have felt sick ever since Simon told me. Mama thinks I caught a chill down in the grave, but it is not that. I am suffering from Moral Repulsion. Even Simon's kiss -- which I shall never tell a soul about - could not make up for the horror of the news about Kitty Coleman. When they came to get me at the cemetery, I could hardly look at Maude. I knew that she was annoyed with me, but I genuinely felt ill and could not speak. Then we returned to the library and I felt even worse when I saw Maude's mother. Luckily she paid no attention to me -- she was in the clutches of a frightening woman who Maude told me is a local suffragette. (I don't understand what all the fuss is about with voting. Politics are so dull -- what woman would want to vote anyway?) They walked home arm in arm, talking intimately as if they had known each other for years, and ignored me, which is just as well. It is truly astonishing how brazen Maude's mother is, given what she has done. I have not been comfortable with Maude since that day, and, indeed, for a time felt too ill to see her or go to school I know she thought I was simply pretending, but I felt so burdened. Then, thank goodness, it was half term, and Maude went off to see her aunt in Lincolnshire, and so [ could avoid her for a time. Now she is back, though, and the burden of my knowledge is greater than ever. I hate to keep such a secret from her, and indeed, from everyone, and that has made me sick. I have not told Mama, for I cannot bring myself to shock her. I am feeling quite fond of dear Mama and Papa, and even of Ivy May. They are simple people, unlike myself, who am rather more complicated, but at least I know that they are honest. This is not a House of Secrets. I must do something. I cannot sit by and watch the contamination at the heart of the Coleman house spread to dear Maude. So, after three weeks of soul-searching, I sat down this afternoon in my room and wrote, in a disguised hand, the following letter: Dear Mr Coleman, It is my Christian duty to inform you of Unbecoming Conduct that has taken place in your household concerning your wife. Sir, you are encouraged to ask your wife about the true nature of her illness earlier this year. I think you will be profoundly shocked. I am writing this as behoves someone concerned with the moral welfare of your daughter, Miss Maude Coleman. I have only her best interests at heart.

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:34

That day Gibreel Farishta fled in every direction around the Underground of the city of London and Rekha Merchant found him wherever he went; she sat beside him on the endless up-escalator at Oxford Circus and in the tightly packed elevators of Tufnell Park she rubbed up against him from behind in a manner that she would have thought quite outrageous during her lifetime. On the outer reaches of the Metropolitan Line she hurled the phantoms of her children from the tops of claw--like trees, and when he came up for air outside the Bank of England she flung herself histrionically from the apex of its neo--classical pediment. And even though he did not have any idea of the true shape of that most protean and chameleon of cities he grew convinced that it kept changing shape as he ran around beneath it, so that the stations on the Underground changed lines and followed one another in apparently random sequence. More than once he emerged, suffocating, from that subterranean world in which the laws of space and time had ceased to operate, and tried to hail a taxi; not one was willing to stop, however, so he was obliged to plunge back into that hellish maze, that labyrinth without a solution, and continue his epic flight. At last, exhausted beyond hope, he surrendered to the fatal logic of his insanity and got out arbitrarily at what he conceded must be the last, meaningless station of his prolonged and futile journey in search of the chimera of renewal. He came out into the heartbreaking indifference of a litter-blown street by a lorry--infested roundabout. Darkness had already fallen as he walked unsteadily, using the last reserves of his optimism, into an unknown park made spectral by the ectoplasmic quality of the tungsten lamps. As he sank to his knees in the isolation of the winter night he saw the figure of a woman moving slowly towards him across the snow-shrouded grass, and surmised that it must be his nemesis, Rekha Merchant, coming to deliver her death-kiss, to drag him down into a deeper underworld than the one in which she had broken his wounded spirit. He no longer cared, and by the time the woman reached him he had fallen forward on to his forearms, his coat dangling loosely about him and giving him the look of a large, dying beetle who was wearing, for obscure reasons, a dirty grey trilby hat. As if from a great distance he heard a shocked cry escape the woman's lips, a gasp in which disbelief, joy and a strange resentment were all mixed up, and just before his senses left him he understood that Rekha had permitted him, for the time being, to reach the illusion of a safe haven, so that her triumph over him could be the sweeter when it came at the last. "You're alive," the woman said, repeating the first words she had ever spoken to his face. "You got your life back. That's the point., Smiling, he fell asleep at Allie's flat feet in the falling snow.

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Wilson chattered on a fair bit -- "Don't get a lot of company these days, one way and another" -- and expressed, among other things, his deep irritation at having had his body discovered by the Chinese expedition of 1960. "Little yellow buggers actually had the gall, the sheer face, to film my corpse." Alleluia Cone was struck by the bright, yellow-and-black tartan of his immaculate knickerbockers. All this she told the girls at Brickhall Fields Girls' School, who had written so many letters pleading for her to address them that she had not been able to refuse. "You've got to," they pleaded in writing. "You even live here." From the window of the classroom she could see her flat across the park, just visible through the thickening fall of snow. What she did not tell the class was this: as Maurice Wilson's ghost described, in patient detail, his own ascent, and also his posthumous discoveries, for example the slow, circuitous, infinitely delicate and invariably unproductive mating ritual of the yeti, which he had witnessed recently on the South Col, -- so it occurred to her that her vision of the eccentric of 1934, the first human being ever to attempt to scale Everest on his own, a sort of abominable snowman himself, had been no accident, but a kind of signpost, a declaration of kinship. A prophecy of the future, perhaps, for it was at that moment that her secret dream was born, the impossible thing: the dream of the unaccompanied climb. It was possible, also, that Maurice Wilson was the angel of her death. "I wanted to talk about ghosts," she was saying, "because most mountaineers, when they come down from the peaks, grow embarrassed and leave these stories out of their accounts. But they do exist, I have to admit it, even though I'm the type who's always kept her feet on solid ground." That was a laugh. Her feet. Even before the ascent of Everest she had begun to suffer from shooting pains, and was informed by her general practitioner, a no-nonsense Bombay woman called Dr. Mistry, that she was suffering from fallen arches. "In common parlance, flat feet." Her arches, always weak, had been further weakened by years of wearing sneakers and other unsuitable shoes. Dr. Mistry couldn't recommend much: toe-clenching exercises, running upstairs barefoot, sensible footwear. "You're young enough," she said. "If you take care, you'll live. If not, you'll be a cripple at forty." When Gibreel -- damn it! -- heard that she had climbed Everest with spears in her feet he took to calling her his silkie. He had read a Bumper Book of fairy-tales in which he found the story of the sea-woman who left the ocean and took on human form for the sake of the man she loved. She had feet instead of fins, but every step she took was an agony, as if she were walking over broken glass; yet she went on walking, forward, away from the sea and over land. You did it for a bloody mountain, he said. Would you do it for a man? She had concealed her foot-ache from her fellow-mountaineers because the lure of Everest had been so overwhelming. But these days the pain was still there, and growing, if anything, worse. Chance, a congenital weakness, was proving to be her footbinder. Adventure's end, Allie thought; betrayed by my feet. The image of footbinding stayed with her. _Goddamn Chinese_, she mused, echoing Wilson's ghost. "Life is so easy for some people," she had wept into Gibreel Farishta's arms. "Why don't _their_ blasted feet give out?" He had kissed her forehead. "For you, it may always be a struggle," he said. "You want it too damn much." The class was waiting for her, growing impatient with all this talk of phantoms. They wanted _the_ story, her story. They wanted to stand on the mountain-top. _Do you know how it feels_, she wanted to ask them, _to have the whole of your life concentrated into one moment, a few hours long? Do you know what it's like when the only direction is down?_ "I was in the second pair with Sherpa Pemba," she said. "The weather was perfect, perfect. So clear you felt you could look right through the sky into whatever lay beyond. The first pair must have reached the summit by now, I said to Pemba. Conditions are holding and we can go. Pemba grew very serious, quite a change, because he was one of the expedition clowns. He had never been to the summit before, either. At that stage I had no plans to go without oxygen, but when I saw that Pemba intended it, I thought, okay, me too. It was a stupid whim, unprofessional, really, but I suddenly wanted to be a woman sitting on top of that bastard mountain, a human being, not a breathing machine. Pemba said, Allie Bibi, don't do, but I just started up. In a while we passed the others coming down and I could see the wonderful thing in their eyes. They were so high, possessed of such an exaltation, that they didn't even notice I wasn't wearing the oxygen equipment. Be careful, they shouted over to us, Look out for the angels. Pemba had fallen into a good breathing pattern and I fell into step with it, breathing in with his in, out with his out. I could feel something lifting off the top of my head and I was grinning, just grinning from ear to ear, and when Pemba looked my way I could see he was doing the same. It looked like a grimace, like pain, but it was just foolish joy." She was a woman who had been brought to transcendence, to the miracles of the soul, by the hard physical labour of hauling herself up an icebound height of rock. "At that moment," she told the girls, who were climbing beside her every step of the way, "I believed it all: that the universe has a sound, that you can lift a veil and see the face of God, everything. I saw the Himalayas stretching below me and that was God's face, too. Pemba must have seen something in my expression that bothered him because he called across, Look out, Allie Bibi, the height. I recall sort of floating over the last overhang and up to the top, and then we were there, with the ground falling away on every side. Such light; the universe purified into light. I wanted to tear off my clothes and let it soak into my skin." Not a titter from the class; they were dancing naked with her on the roof of the world. "Then the visions began, the rainbows looping and dancing in the sky, the radiance pouring down like a waterfall from the sun, and there were angels, the others hadn't been joking. I saw them and so did Sherpa Pemba. We were on our knees by then. His pupils looked pure white and so did mine, I'm sure. We would probably have died there, I'm sure, snow-blind and mountain-foolish, but then I heard a noise, a loud, sharp report, like a gun. That snapped me out of it. I had to yell at Pem until he, too, shook himself and we started down. The weather was changing rapidly; a blizzard was on the way. The air was heavy now, heaviness instead of that light, that lightness. We just made it to the meeting point and the four of us piled into the little tent at Camp Six, twenty-seven thousand feet. You don't talk much up there. We all had our Everests to re-climb, over and over, all night. But at some point I asked: "What was that noise? Did anyone fire a gun?" They looked at me as if I was touched. Who'd do such a damnfool thing at this altitude, they said, and anyway, Allie, you know damn well there isn't a gun anywhere on the mountain. They were right, of course, but I heard it, I know that much: wham bam, shot and echo. That's it," she ended abruptly. "The end. Story of my life." She picked up a silver-headed cane and prepared to depart. The teacher, Mrs. Bury, came forward to utter the usual platitudes. But the girls were not to be denied. "So what was it, then, Allie?" they insisted; and she, looking suddenly ten years older than her thirty-three, shrugged. "Can't say," she told them. "Maybe it was Maurice Wilson's ghost." She left the classroom, leaning heavily on her stick. o o o The city -- Proper London, yaar, no bloody less! -- was dressed in white, like a mourner at a funeral. -- Whose bloody funeral, mister, Gibreel Farishta asked himself wildly, not mine, I bloody hope and trust. When the train pulled into Victoria station he plunged out without waiting for it to come to a complete halt, turned his ankle and went sprawling beneath the baggage trolleys and sneers of the waiting Londoners, clinging, as he fell, on to his increasingly battered hat. Rekha Merchant was nowhere to be seen, and seizing the moment Gibreel ran through the scattering crowd like a man possessed, only to find her by the ticket barrier, floating patiently on her carpet, invisible to all eyes but his own, three feet off the ground. "What do you want," he burst out, "what's your business with me?" "To watch you fall," she instantly replied. "Look around," she added, "I've already made you look like a pretty big fool." People were clearing a space around Gibreel, the wild man in an outsize overcoat and trampy hat, _that man's talking to himself_, a child's voice said, and its mother answered _shh, dear, it's wicked to mock the afflicted_. Welcome to London. Gibreel Farishta rushed towards the stairs leading down towards the Tube. Rekha on her carpet let him go. But when he arrived in a great rush at the northbound platform of the Victoria Line he saw her again. This time she was a colour photograph in a 48--sheet advertising poster on the wall across the track, advertising the merits of the international direct--dialling system. _Send your voice on a magic-carpet ride to India_, she advised. _No djinns or lamps required_. He gave a loud cry, once again causing his fellow-travellers to doubt his sanity, and fled over to the southbound platform, where a train was just pulling in. He leapt aboard, and there was Rekha Merchant facing him with her carpet rolled up and lying across her knees. The doors closed behind him with a bang.

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:30

Sipping cognac, Pamela watched vampires on TV and allowed herself to take pleasure in, well, in herself. Had she not invented herself in her own image? I am that I am, she toasted herself in Napoleon brandy. I work in a community relations council in the borough of Brickhall, London, NET; deputy community relations officer and damn good at it, ifisaysomyself. Cheers! We just elected our first black Chair and all the votes cast against him were white. Down the hatch! Last week a respected Asian street trader, for whom M Ps of all parties had interceded, was deported after eighteen years in Britain because, fifteen years ago, he posted a certain form forty-eight hours late. Chin-chin! Next week in Brickhall Magistrates' Court the police will be trying to fit up a fifty-year-old Nigerian woman, accusing her of assault, having previously beaten her senseless. Skol! This is my head: see it? What I call my job: bashing my head against Brickhall. Saladin was dead and she was alive. She drank to that. There were things I was waiting to tell you, Saladin. Some big things: about the new high-rise office building in Brickhall High Street, across from McDonald"s; -- they built it to be perfectly sound-proof, but the workers were so disturbed by the silence that now they play tapes of white noise on the tannoy system. -- You'd have liked that, eh? -- And about this Parsi woman I know, Bapsy, that's her name, she lived in Germany for a while and fell in love with a Turk. -- Trouble was, the only language they had in common was German; now Bapsy has forgotten almost all she knew, while his gets better and better; he writes her increasingly poetic letters and she can hardly reply in nursery rhyme. -- Love dying, because of an inequality of language, what do you think of that? -- Love dying. There's a subject for us, eb? Saladin? What do you say? And a couple of tiny little things. There's a killer on the loose in my patch, specializes in killing old women; so don't worry, I'm safe. Plenty older than me. One more thing: I'm leaving you. It's over. We're through. I could never say anything to you, not really, not the least thing. If I said you were putting on weight you'd yell for an hour, as if it would change what you saw in the mirror, what the tightness of your own trousers was telling you. You interrupted me in public. People noticed it, what you thought of me. I forgave you, that was my fault; I could see the centre of you, that question so frightful that you had to protect it with all that posturing certainty. That empty space. Goodbye, Saladin. She drained her glass and set it down beside her. The returning rain knocked at her leaded windows; she drew her curtains shut and turned out the light. Lying there, drifting towards sleep, she thought of the last thing she needed to tell her late husband. "In bed," the words came, "you never seemed interested in me; not in my pleasure, what I needed, not really ever. I came to think you wanted, not a lover. A servant." There. Now rest in peace. She dreamed of him, his face, filling the dream. "Things are ending," he told her. "This civilization; things are closing in on it. It has been quite a culture, brilliant and foul, cannibal and Christian, the glory of the world. We should celebrate it while we can; until night falls." She didn't agree, not even in the dream, but she knew, as she dreamed, that there was no point telling him now. o o o After Pamela Chamcha threw him out, Jumpy Joshi went over to Mr. Sufyan's Shaandaar Café in Brickhall High Street and sat there trying to decide if he was a fool. It was early in the day, so the place was almost empty, apart from a fat lady buying a box of pista barfi and jalebis, a couple of bachelor garment workers drinking chaloo chai and an elderly Polish woman from the old days when it was the Jews who ran the sweatshops round here, who sat all day in a corner with two vegetable samosas, one pun and a glass of milk, announcing to everyone who came in that she was only there because "it was next best to kosher and today you must do the best you can". Jumpy sat down with his coffee beneath the lurid painting of a bare-breasted myth-woman with several heads and wisps of clouds obscuring her nipples, done life-size in salmon pink, neon-green and gold, and because the rush hadn't started yet Mr. Sufyan noticed he was down in the dumps.

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They were still sitting side by side on the edge of the bed. Jumpy touched Pamela on the forearm. "I just mean I know how it feels. Wham, barn. It felt incredible. It felt necessary." "Oh, my God," she said, turning to him. "Oh, my God, I'm sorry, but yes, it did." o o o In the morning it took an hour to get through to the airline on account of the volume of calls still being generated by the catastrophe, and then another twenty-five minutes of insistence -- _but he telephoned, it was his voice_ -- while at the other end of the phone a woman's voice, professionally trained to deal with human beings in crisis, understood how she felt and sympathized with her in this awful moment and remained very patient, but clearly didn't believe a word she said. _I'm sorry, madam, I don't mean to be brutal, but the plane broke up in mid-air at thirty thousand feet_. By the end of the call Pamela Chamcha, normally the most controlled of women, who locked herself in a bathroom when she wanted to cry, was shrieking down the line, for God's sake, woman, will you shut up with your little good-samaritan speeches and listen to what I'm saying? Finally she slammed down the receiver and rounded on Jumpy Joshi, who saw the expression in her eyes and spilled the coffee he had been bringing her because his limbs began to tremble in fright. "You fucking creep," she cursed him. "Still alive, is he? I suppose he flew down from the sky on fucking _wings_ and headed straight for the nearest phone booth to change out of his fucking Superman costume and ring the little wife." They were in the kitchen and Jumpy noticed a group of kitchen knives attached to a magnetic strip on the wall next to Pamela's left arm. He opened his mouth to speak, but she wouldn't let him. "Get out before I do something," she said. "I can't believe I fell for it. You and voices on the phone: I should have fucking known." In the early 1970S Jumpy had run a travelling disco out of the back of his yellow mini-van. He called it Finn's Thumb in honour of the legendary sleeping giant of Ireland, Finn MacCool, another sucker, as Chamcha used to say. One day Saladin had played a practical joke on Jumpy, by ringing him up, putting on a vaguely Mediterranean accent, and requesting the services of the musical Thumb on the island of Skorpios, on behalf of Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, offering a fee of ten thousand dollars and transportation to Greece, in a private aircraft, for up to six persons. This was a terrible thing to do to a man as innocent and upright as Jamshed Joshi. "I need an hour to think," he had said, and then fallen into an agony of the soul. When Saladin rang back an hour later and heard that Jumpy was turning down Mrs. Onassis's offer for political reasons, he understood that his friend was in training to be a saint, and it was no good trying to pull his leg. "Mrs. Onassis will be broken in the heart for sure," he had concluded, and Jumpy had worriedly replied, "Please tell her it's nothing personal, as a matter of fact personally I admire her a great deal." We have all known one another too long, Pamela thought as Jumpy left. We can hurt each other with memories two decades old. o o o On the subject of mistakes with voices, she thought as she drove much too fast down the M4 that afternoon in the old MG hardtop from which she got a degree of pleasure that was, as she had always cheerfully confessed, "quite ideologically unsound", -- on that subject, I really ought to be more charitable. Pamela Chamcha, née Lovelace, was the possessor of a voice for which, in many ways, the rest of her life had been an effort to compensate. It was a voice composed of tweeds, headscarves, summer pudding, hockey-sticks, thatched houses, saddle-soap, house--parties, nuns, family pews, large dogs and philistinism, and in spite of all her attempts to reduce its volume it was loud as a dinner-jacketed drunk throwing bread rolls in a Club. It had been the tragedy of her younger days that thanks to this voice she had been endlessly pursued by the gentlemen farmers and debs' delights and somethings in the city whom she despised with all her heart, while the greenies and peacemarchers and world--changers with whom she instinctively felt at home treated her with deep suspicion, bordering on resentment. How could one be _on the side of the angels_ when one sounded like a no-goodnik every time one moved one's lips? Accelerating past Reading, Pamela gritted her teeth. One of the reasons she had decided to _admit it_ end her marriage before fate did it for her was that she had woken up one day and realized that Chamcha was not in love with her at all, but with that voice stinking of Yorkshire pudding and hearts of oak, that hearty, rubicund voice of ye olde dream-England which he so desperately wanted to inhabit. It had been a marriage of crossed purposes, each of them rushing towards the very thing from which the other was in flight. _No survivors_. And in the middle of the night, Jumpy the idiot and his stupid false alarm. She was so shaken up by it that she hadn't even got round to being shaken up by having gone to bed with Jumpy and made love in what _admit it_ had been a pretty satisfying fashion, _spare me your nonchalance_, she rebuked herself, _when did you last have so much fun_. She had a lot to deal with and so here she was, dealing with it by running away as fast as she could go. A few days of pampering oneself in an expensive country hotel and the world may begin to seem less like a fucking hellhole. Therapy by luxury: okayokay, she allowed, I know: I'm _reverting to class_. Fuck it; watch me go. If you've got any objections, blow them out of your ass. Arse. Ass. One hundred miles an hour past Swindon, and the weather turned nasty. Sudden, dark clouds, lightning, heavy rain; she kept her foot on the accelerator. _No survivors_. People were always dying on her, leaving her with a mouth full of words and nobody to spit them at. Her father the classical scholar who could make puns in ancient Greek and from whom she inherited the Voice, her legacy and curse; and her mother who pined for him during the War, when he was a Pathfinder pilot, obliged to fly home from Germany one hundred and eleven times in a slow aeroplane through a night which his own flares had just illuminated for the benefit of the bombers, -- and who vowed, when he returned with the noise of the ack-ack in his ears, that she would never leave him, -- and so followed him everywhere, into the slow hollow of depression from which he never really emerged, -- and into debt, because he didn't have the face for poker and used her money when he ran out of his own, -- and at last to the top of a tall building, where they found their way at last. Pamela never forgave them, especially for making it impossible for her to tell them of her unforgiveness. To get her own back, she set about rejecting everything of them that remained within her. Her brains, for example: she refused to go to college. And because she could not shake off her voice, she made it speak ideas which her conservative suicides of parents would have anathematized. She married an Indian. And, because he turned out to be too much like them, would have left him. Had decided to leave. When, once again, she was cheated by a death. She was overtaking a frozen-food road train, blinded by the spray kicked up by its wheels, when she hit the expanse of water that had been waiting for her in a slight declivity, and then the M G was aquaplaning at terrifying speed, swerving out of the fast lane and spinning round so that she saw the headlights of the road train staring at her like the eyes of the exterminating angel, Azrael. "Curtains," she thought; but her car swung and skidded out of the path of the juggernaut, slewing right across all three lanes of the motorway, all of them miraculously empty, and coming to rest with rather less of a thump than one might have expected against the crash barrier at the edge of the hard shoulder, after spinning through a further one hundred and eighty degrees to face, once again, into the west, where with all the corny timing of real life, the sun was breaking up the storm. o o o The fact of being alive compensated for what life did to one. That night, in an oak-panelled dining-room decorated with medieval flags, Pamela Chamcha in her most dazzling gown ate venison and drank a bottle of Chateau Talbot at a table heavy with silver and crystal, celebrating a new beginning, an escape from the jaws of, a fresh start, to be born again first you have to: well, almost, anyway. Under the lascivious eyes of Americans and salesmen she ate and drank alone, retiring early to a princess's bedroom in a stone tower to take a long bath and watch old movies on television. In the aftermath of her brush with death she felt the past dropping away from her: her adolescence, for example, in the care of her wicked uncle Harry Higham, who lived in a seventeenth-century manor house once owned by a distant relative, Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder-General, who had named it Gremlins in, no doubt, a macabre attempt at humour. Remembering Mr. Justice Higham in order to forget him, she murmured to the absent Jumpy that she, too, had her Vietnam story. After the first big Grosvenor Square demonstration at which many people threw marbles under the feet of charging police horses, there occurred the one and only instance in British law in which the marble was deemed to be a lethal weapon, and young persons were jailed, even deported, for possessing the small glass spheres. The presiding judge in the case of the Grosvenor Marbles was this same Henry (thereafter known as "Hang"em") Higham, and to be his niece had been a further burden for a young woman already weighed down by her right-wing voice. Now, warm in bed in her temporary castle, Pamela Chamcha rid herself of this old demon, _goodbye, Hang"eni, I've no more time for you_; and of her parents' ghosts; and prepared to be free of the most recent ghost of all.

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:30

Sipping cognac, Pamela watched vampires on TV and allowed herself to take pleasure in, well, in herself. Had she not invented herself in her own image? I am that I am, she toasted herself in Napoleon brandy. I work in a community relations council in the borough of Brickhall, London, NET; deputy community relations officer and damn good at it, ifisaysomyself. Cheers! We just elected our first black Chair and all the votes cast against him were white. Down the hatch! Last week a respected Asian street trader, for whom M Ps of all parties had interceded, was deported after eighteen years in Britain because, fifteen years ago, he posted a certain form forty-eight hours late. Chin-chin! Next week in Brickhall Magistrates' Court the police will be trying to fit up a fifty-year-old Nigerian woman, accusing her of assault, having previously beaten her senseless. Skol! This is my head: see it? What I call my job: bashing my head against Brickhall. Saladin was dead and she was alive. She drank to that. There were things I was waiting to tell you, Saladin. Some big things: about the new high-rise office building in Brickhall High Street, across from McDonald"s; -- they built it to be perfectly sound-proof, but the workers were so disturbed by the silence that now they play tapes of white noise on the tannoy system. -- You'd have liked that, eh? -- And about this Parsi woman I know, Bapsy, that's her name, she lived in Germany for a while and fell in love with a Turk. -- Trouble was, the only language they had in common was German; now Bapsy has forgotten almost all she knew, while his gets better and better; he writes her increasingly poetic letters and she can hardly reply in nursery rhyme. -- Love dying, because of an inequality of language, what do you think of that? -- Love dying. There's a subject for us, eb? Saladin? What do you say? And a couple of tiny little things. There's a killer on the loose in my patch, specializes in killing old women; so don't worry, I'm safe. Plenty older than me. One more thing: I'm leaving you. It's over. We're through. I could never say anything to you, not really, not the least thing. If I said you were putting on weight you'd yell for an hour, as if it would change what you saw in the mirror, what the tightness of your own trousers was telling you. You interrupted me in public. People noticed it, what you thought of me. I forgave you, that was my fault; I could see the centre of you, that question so frightful that you had to protect it with all that posturing certainty. That empty space. Goodbye, Saladin. She drained her glass and set it down beside her. The returning rain knocked at her leaded windows; she drew her curtains shut and turned out the light. Lying there, drifting towards sleep, she thought of the last thing she needed to tell her late husband. "In bed," the words came, "you never seemed interested in me; not in my pleasure, what I needed, not really ever. I came to think you wanted, not a lover. A servant." There. Now rest in peace. She dreamed of him, his face, filling the dream. "Things are ending," he told her. "This civilization; things are closing in on it. It has been quite a culture, brilliant and foul, cannibal and Christian, the glory of the world. We should celebrate it while we can; until night falls." She didn't agree, not even in the dream, but she knew, as she dreamed, that there was no point telling him now. o o o After Pamela Chamcha threw him out, Jumpy Joshi went over to Mr. Sufyan's Shaandaar Café in Brickhall High Street and sat there trying to decide if he was a fool. It was early in the day, so the place was almost empty, apart from a fat lady buying a box of pista barfi and jalebis, a couple of bachelor garment workers drinking chaloo chai and an elderly Polish woman from the old days when it was the Jews who ran the sweatshops round here, who sat all day in a corner with two vegetable samosas, one pun and a glass of milk, announcing to everyone who came in that she was only there because "it was next best to kosher and today you must do the best you can". Jumpy sat down with his coffee beneath the lurid painting of a bare-breasted myth-woman with several heads and wisps of clouds obscuring her nipples, done life-size in salmon pink, neon-green and gold, and because the rush hadn't started yet Mr. Sufyan noticed he was down in the dumps.

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They were still sitting side by side on the edge of the bed. Jumpy touched Pamela on the forearm. "I just mean I know how it feels. Wham, barn. It felt incredible. It felt necessary." "Oh, my God," she said, turning to him. "Oh, my God, I'm sorry, but yes, it did." o o o In the morning it took an hour to get through to the airline on account of the volume of calls still being generated by the catastrophe, and then another twenty-five minutes of insistence -- _but he telephoned, it was his voice_ -- while at the other end of the phone a woman's voice, professionally trained to deal with human beings in crisis, understood how she felt and sympathized with her in this awful moment and remained very patient, but clearly didn't believe a word she said. _I'm sorry, madam, I don't mean to be brutal, but the plane broke up in mid-air at thirty thousand feet_. By the end of the call Pamela Chamcha, normally the most controlled of women, who locked herself in a bathroom when she wanted to cry, was shrieking down the line, for God's sake, woman, will you shut up with your little good-samaritan speeches and listen to what I'm saying? Finally she slammed down the receiver and rounded on Jumpy Joshi, who saw the expression in her eyes and spilled the coffee he had been bringing her because his limbs began to tremble in fright. "You fucking creep," she cursed him. "Still alive, is he? I suppose he flew down from the sky on fucking _wings_ and headed straight for the nearest phone booth to change out of his fucking Superman costume and ring the little wife." They were in the kitchen and Jumpy noticed a group of kitchen knives attached to a magnetic strip on the wall next to Pamela's left arm. He opened his mouth to speak, but she wouldn't let him. "Get out before I do something," she said. "I can't believe I fell for it. You and voices on the phone: I should have fucking known." In the early 1970S Jumpy had run a travelling disco out of the back of his yellow mini-van. He called it Finn's Thumb in honour of the legendary sleeping giant of Ireland, Finn MacCool, another sucker, as Chamcha used to say. One day Saladin had played a practical joke on Jumpy, by ringing him up, putting on a vaguely Mediterranean accent, and requesting the services of the musical Thumb on the island of Skorpios, on behalf of Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, offering a fee of ten thousand dollars and transportation to Greece, in a private aircraft, for up to six persons. This was a terrible thing to do to a man as innocent and upright as Jamshed Joshi. "I need an hour to think," he had said, and then fallen into an agony of the soul. When Saladin rang back an hour later and heard that Jumpy was turning down Mrs. Onassis's offer for political reasons, he understood that his friend was in training to be a saint, and it was no good trying to pull his leg. "Mrs. Onassis will be broken in the heart for sure," he had concluded, and Jumpy had worriedly replied, "Please tell her it's nothing personal, as a matter of fact personally I admire her a great deal." We have all known one another too long, Pamela thought as Jumpy left. We can hurt each other with memories two decades old. o o o On the subject of mistakes with voices, she thought as she drove much too fast down the M4 that afternoon in the old MG hardtop from which she got a degree of pleasure that was, as she had always cheerfully confessed, "quite ideologically unsound", -- on that subject, I really ought to be more charitable. Pamela Chamcha, née Lovelace, was the possessor of a voice for which, in many ways, the rest of her life had been an effort to compensate. It was a voice composed of tweeds, headscarves, summer pudding, hockey-sticks, thatched houses, saddle-soap, house--parties, nuns, family pews, large dogs and philistinism, and in spite of all her attempts to reduce its volume it was loud as a dinner-jacketed drunk throwing bread rolls in a Club. It had been the tragedy of her younger days that thanks to this voice she had been endlessly pursued by the gentlemen farmers and debs' delights and somethings in the city whom she despised with all her heart, while the greenies and peacemarchers and world--changers with whom she instinctively felt at home treated her with deep suspicion, bordering on resentment. How could one be _on the side of the angels_ when one sounded like a no-goodnik every time one moved one's lips? Accelerating past Reading, Pamela gritted her teeth. One of the reasons she had decided to _admit it_ end her marriage before fate did it for her was that she had woken up one day and realized that Chamcha was not in love with her at all, but with that voice stinking of Yorkshire pudding and hearts of oak, that hearty, rubicund voice of ye olde dream-England which he so desperately wanted to inhabit. It had been a marriage of crossed purposes, each of them rushing towards the very thing from which the other was in flight. _No survivors_. And in the middle of the night, Jumpy the idiot and his stupid false alarm. She was so shaken up by it that she hadn't even got round to being shaken up by having gone to bed with Jumpy and made love in what _admit it_ had been a pretty satisfying fashion, _spare me your nonchalance_, she rebuked herself, _when did you last have so much fun_. She had a lot to deal with and so here she was, dealing with it by running away as fast as she could go. A few days of pampering oneself in an expensive country hotel and the world may begin to seem less like a fucking hellhole. Therapy by luxury: okayokay, she allowed, I know: I'm _reverting to class_. Fuck it; watch me go. If you've got any objections, blow them out of your ass. Arse. Ass. One hundred miles an hour past Swindon, and the weather turned nasty. Sudden, dark clouds, lightning, heavy rain; she kept her foot on the accelerator. _No survivors_. People were always dying on her, leaving her with a mouth full of words and nobody to spit them at. Her father the classical scholar who could make puns in ancient Greek and from whom she inherited the Voice, her legacy and curse; and her mother who pined for him during the War, when he was a Pathfinder pilot, obliged to fly home from Germany one hundred and eleven times in a slow aeroplane through a night which his own flares had just illuminated for the benefit of the bombers, -- and who vowed, when he returned with the noise of the ack-ack in his ears, that she would never leave him, -- and so followed him everywhere, into the slow hollow of depression from which he never really emerged, -- and into debt, because he didn't have the face for poker and used her money when he ran out of his own, -- and at last to the top of a tall building, where they found their way at last. Pamela never forgave them, especially for making it impossible for her to tell them of her unforgiveness. To get her own back, she set about rejecting everything of them that remained within her. Her brains, for example: she refused to go to college. And because she could not shake off her voice, she made it speak ideas which her conservative suicides of parents would have anathematized. She married an Indian. And, because he turned out to be too much like them, would have left him. Had decided to leave. When, once again, she was cheated by a death. She was overtaking a frozen-food road train, blinded by the spray kicked up by its wheels, when she hit the expanse of water that had been waiting for her in a slight declivity, and then the M G was aquaplaning at terrifying speed, swerving out of the fast lane and spinning round so that she saw the headlights of the road train staring at her like the eyes of the exterminating angel, Azrael. "Curtains," she thought; but her car swung and skidded out of the path of the juggernaut, slewing right across all three lanes of the motorway, all of them miraculously empty, and coming to rest with rather less of a thump than one might have expected against the crash barrier at the edge of the hard shoulder, after spinning through a further one hundred and eighty degrees to face, once again, into the west, where with all the corny timing of real life, the sun was breaking up the storm. o o o The fact of being alive compensated for what life did to one. That night, in an oak-panelled dining-room decorated with medieval flags, Pamela Chamcha in her most dazzling gown ate venison and drank a bottle of Chateau Talbot at a table heavy with silver and crystal, celebrating a new beginning, an escape from the jaws of, a fresh start, to be born again first you have to: well, almost, anyway. Under the lascivious eyes of Americans and salesmen she ate and drank alone, retiring early to a princess's bedroom in a stone tower to take a long bath and watch old movies on television. In the aftermath of her brush with death she felt the past dropping away from her: her adolescence, for example, in the care of her wicked uncle Harry Higham, who lived in a seventeenth-century manor house once owned by a distant relative, Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder-General, who had named it Gremlins in, no doubt, a macabre attempt at humour. Remembering Mr. Justice Higham in order to forget him, she murmured to the absent Jumpy that she, too, had her Vietnam story. After the first big Grosvenor Square demonstration at which many people threw marbles under the feet of charging police horses, there occurred the one and only instance in British law in which the marble was deemed to be a lethal weapon, and young persons were jailed, even deported, for possessing the small glass spheres. The presiding judge in the case of the Grosvenor Marbles was this same Henry (thereafter known as "Hang"em") Higham, and to be his niece had been a further burden for a young woman already weighed down by her right-wing voice. Now, warm in bed in her temporary castle, Pamela Chamcha rid herself of this old demon, _goodbye, Hang"eni, I've no more time for you_; and of her parents' ghosts; and prepared to be free of the most recent ghost of all.

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:23

Rashid the rickshaw boy was seventeen and on his way home from the cinema. That morning he'd seen two men pushing a low trolley on which were mounted two enormous hand-painted posters, back-to-back, advertising the new film Gat-Wallah, starring Rashid's favourite actor Dev. FRESH FROM FIFTY FIERCE WEEKS IN DELHI! STRAIGHT FROM SIXTY-THREE SHARPSHOOTER WEEKS IN BOMBAY! the posters cried. SECOND RIP-ROARIOUS YEAR! The film was an eastern Western. Its hero, Dev, who was not slim, rode the range alone. It looked very like the Indo-Gangetic plain. Gai-Wallah means cow-fellow and Dev played a sort of one-man vigilante force for the protection of cows. SINGLE-HANDED! and DOUBLE-BARRELLED!, he stalked the many herds of cattle which were being driven across the range to the slaughterhouse, vanquished the cattlemen and liberated the sacred beasts. (The film was made for Hindu audiences; in Delhi it had caused riots. Muslim Leaguers had driven cows past cinemas to the slaughter, and had been mobbed.) The songs and dances were good and there was a beautiful nautch girl who would have looked more graceful if they hadn't made her dance in a ten-gallon cowboy hat. Rashid sat on a bench in the front stalls and joined in the whistles and cheers. He ate two samosas, spending too much money; his mother would be hurt but he'd had a fine time. As he pedalled his rickshaw home he practised some of the fancy riding he'd seen in the film, hanging down low on one side, freewheeling down a slight slope, using the rickshaw the way Gai-Wallah used his horse to conceal him from his enemies. Eventually he reached up, turned the handlebars and to his delight the rickshaw moved sweetly through the gate and down the gully by the cornfield. Gai-Wallah had used this trick to steal up on a gang of cattlemen as they sat in the brush, drinking and gambling. Rashid applied the brakes and flung himself into the cornfield, running -FULL-TILT!-at the unsuspecting cattlemen, his guns cocked and ready. As he neared their camp-fire he released his 'yell of hate' to frighten them. YAAAAAAAA! Obviously he did not really shout so close to the Doctor Sahib's house, but he distended his mouth as he ran, screaming silently. BLAMM! BLAMM! Nadir Khan had been finding sleep hard to come by and now he opened his eyes. He saw - EEEYAAAH! - a wild stringy figure coming at him like a mail-train, yelling at the top of his voice - but maybe he had gone deaf, because there wasn't any noise! - and he was rising to his feet, the shriek was just passing his over-plump lips, when Rashid saw him and found voice as well. Hooting in terrified unison, they both turned tail and ran. Then they stopped, each having noted the other's flight, and peered at one another through the shrivelling corn. Rashid recognized Nadir Khan, saw his torn clothes and was deeply troubled.

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It's hard to believe," Chamcha argued. "I've lived here for many years and it never happened before ..." His words dried up because he saw the manticore looking at him through narrow, distrustful eyes. "Many years?" it asked. "How could that be? -- Maybe you're an informer? -- Yes, that's it, a spy?" Just then a wail came from a far corner of the ward. "Lemme go," a woman's voice howled. "OJesus I want to go. Jesus Mary I gotta go, lemme go, O God, O Jesus God." A very lecherouslooking wolf put its head through Saladin's screens and spoke urgently to the manticore. "The guards'll be here soon," it hissed. "It's her again, Glass Bertha." "Glass . . .?" Saladin began. "Her skin turned to glass," the manticore explained impatiently, not knowing that he was bringing Chamcha's worst dream to life. "And the bastards smashed it up for her. Now she can't even walk to the toilet." A new voice hissed out across the greeny night. "For God's sake, woman. Go in the fucking bedpan." The wolf was pulling the manticore away. "Is he with us or not?" it wanted to know. The manticore shrugged. "He can't make up his mind," it answered. "Can't believe his own eyes, that's his trouble." They fled, hearing the approaching crunch of the guards' heavy boots. o o o The next day there was no sign of a doctor, or of Pamela, and Chamcha in his utter bewilderment woke and slept as if the two conditions no longer required to be thought of as opposites, but as states that flowed into and out of one another to create a kind of unending delirium of the senses.. . he found himself dreaming of the Queen, of making tender love to the Monarch. She was the body of Britain, the avatar of the State, and he had chosen her, joined with her; she was his Beloved, the moon of his delight. Hyacinth came at the appointed times to ride and pummel him, and he submitted without any fuss. But when she finished she whispered into his ear: "You in with the rest?" and he understood that she was involved in the great conspiracy, too. "If you are," he heard himself saying, "then you can count me in." She nodded, looking pleased. Chamcha felt a warmth filling him up, and he began to wonder about taking hold of one of the physiotherapist's exceedingly dainty, albeit powerful, little fists; but just then a shout came from the direction of the blind man: "My stick, I've lost my stick." "Poor old bugger," said Hyacinth, and hopping off Chamcha she darted across to the sightless fellow, picked up the fallen stick, restored it to its owner, and came back to Saladin. "Now," she said. "I'll see you this pm; okay, no problems?" He wanted her to stay, but she acted brisk. "I'm a busy woman, Mr. Chamcha. Things to do, people to see." When she had gone he lay back and smiled for the first time in a long while. It did not occur to him that his metamorphosis must be continuing, because he was actually entertaining romantic notions about a black woman; and before he had time to think such complex thoughts, the blind man next door began, once again, to speak. "I have noticed you," Chamcha heard him say, "I have noticed you, and come to appreciate your kindness and understanding." Saladin realized that he was making a formal speech of thanks to the empty space where he clearly believed the physiotherapist was still standing. "I am not a man who forgets a kindness. One day, perhaps, I may be able to repay it, but for the moment, please know that it is remembered, and fondly, too. . ." Chamcha did not have the courage to call out, _she isn't there, old man, she left some time back_. He listened unhappily until at length the blind man asked the thin air a question: "I hope, perhaps, you may also remember me? A little? On occasion?" Then came a silence; a dry laugh; the sound of a man sitting down, heavily, all of a sudden. And finally, after an unbearable pause, bathos: "Oh," the soliloquist bellowed, "oh, if ever a body suffered. . . !" We strive for the heights but our natures betray us, Chamcha thought; clowns in search of crowns. The bitterness overcame him. _Once I was lighter, happier, warm. Now the black water is in my veins_. Still no Pamela. _What the hell_. That night, he told the manticore and the wolf that he was with them, all the way. o o o The great escape took place some nights later, when Saladin's lungs had been all but emptied of slime by the ministrations of Miss Hyacinth Phillips. It turned out to be a well-organized affair on a pretty large scale, involving not only the inmates of the sanatorium but also the detenus, as the manticore called them, held behind wire fences in the Detention Centre nearby. Not being one of the grand strategists of the escape, Chamcha simply waited by his bed as instructed until Hyacinth brought him word, and then they ran out of that ward of nightmares into the clarity of a cold, moonlit sky, past several bound, gagged men: their former guards. There were many shadowy figures running through the glowing night, and Chamcha glimpsed beings he could never have imagined, men and women who were also partially plants, or giant insects, or even, on occasion, built partly of brick or stone; there were men with rhinoceros horns instead of noses and women with necks as long as any giraffe. The monsters ran quickly, silently, to the edge of the Detention Centre compound, where the manticore and other sharp-toothed mutants were waiting by the large holes they had bitten into the fabric of the containing fence, and then they were out, free, going their separate ways, without hope, but also without shame. Saladin Chamcha and Hyacinth Phillips ran side by side, his goat-hoofs clip-clopping on the hard pavements: _east_ she told him, as he heard his own footsteps replace the tinnitus in his ears, east east east they ran, taking the low roads to London town. As a young man he had shared a room with a painter whose paintings had grown larger and larger as he tried to get the whole of life into his art. 'Look at me,' he said before he killed himself, 'I wanted to be a miniaturist and I've got elephantiasis instead!' The swollen events of the night of the crescent knives reminded Nadir Khan of his room-mate, because life had once again, perversely, refused to remain life-sized. It had turned melodramatic: and that embarrassed him. How did Nadir Khan run across the night town without being noticed? I put it down to his being a bad poet, and as such, a born survivor. As he ran, there was a self-consciousness about him, his body appearing to apologize for behaving as if it were in a cheap thriller, of the sort hawkers sell on railway stations, or give away free with bottles of green medicine that can cure colds, typhoid, impotence, homesickness and poverty... On Cornwallis Road, it was a warm night. A coal-brazier stood empty by the deserted rickshaw rank. The paan-shop was closed and the old men were asleep on the roof, dreaming of tomorrow's game. An insomniac cow, idly chewing a Red and White cigarette packet, strolled by a bundled street-sleeper, which meant he would wake in the morning, because a cow will ignore a sleeping man unless he's about to die. Then it nuzzles at him thoughtfully. Sacred cows eat anything. My grandfather's large old stone house, bought from the proceeds of the gemstone shops and blind Ghani's dowry settlement, stood in the darkness, set back a dignified distance from the road. There was a walled-in garden at the rear and by the garden door was the low outhouse rented cheaply to the family of old Hamdard and his son Rashid the rickshaw boy. In front of the outhouse was the well with its cow-driven waterwheel, from which irrigation channels ran down to the small cornfield which lined the house all way to the gate in the perimeter wall along Cornwallis Road. Between house and field ran a small gully for pedestrians and rickshaws. In Agra the cycle-rickshaw had recently replaced the kind where a man stood between wooden shafts. There was still trade for the horse-drawn tongas, but it was dwindling ... Nadir Khan ducked in through the gate, squatted for a moment with his back to the perimeter wall, reddening as he passed his water. Then, seemingly upset by the vulgarity of his decision, he fled to the cornfield and plunged in. Partially concealed by the sun-withered stalks, he lay down in the foetal position.

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:21

When can I see the doctor? When can I go to the toilet? When can I leave?" Chamcha asked in a rush. Stein answered equably: the doctor would be round presently; Nurse Phillips would bring him a bedpan; he could leave as soon as he was well. "Damn decent of you to come down with the lung thing," Stein added, with the gratitude of an author whose character had unexpectedly solved a ticklish technical problem. "Makes the story much more convincing. Seems you were that sick, you did pass out on us after all. Nine of us remember it well. Thanks." Chamcha could not find any words. "And another thing," Stein went on. "The old burd, Mrs. Diamond. Turns out to be dead in her bed, cold as mutton, and the other gentleman vanished clear away. The possibility of foul play has no as yet been eliminated." "In conclusion," he said before disappearing forever from Saladin's new life, "I suggest, Mr. Citizen Saladin, that you dinna trouble with a complaint. You'll forgive me for speaking plain, but with your wee horns and your great hoofs you wouldna look the most reliable of witnesses. Good day to you now." Saladin Chamcha closed his eyes and when he opened them his tormentor had turned into the nurse and physiotherapist, Hyacinth Phillips. "Why you wan go walking?" she asked. "Whatever your heart desires, you jus ask me, Hyacinth, and we'll see what we can fix." o o o "Ssst." That night, in the greeny light of the mysterious institution, Saladin was awakened by a hiss out of an Indian bazaar. "Ssst. You, Beelzebub. Wake up." Standing in front of him was a figure so impossible that Chamcha wanted to bury his head under the sheets; yet could not, for was not he himself. . . ? "That's right," the creature said. "You see, you're not alone." It had an entirely human body, but its head was that of a ferocious tiger, with three rows of teeth. "The night guards often doze off," it explained. "That's how we manage to get to talk." Just then a voice from one of the other beds -- each bed, as Chamcha now knew, was protected by its own ring of screens -- wailed loudly: "Oh, if ever a body suffered!" and the man-tiger, or manticore, as it called itself, gave an exasperated growl. "That Moaner Lisa," it exclaimed. "All they did to him was make him blind." "Who did what?" Chamcha was confused. "The point is," the manticore continued, "are you going to put up with it?" Saladin was still puzzled. The other seemed to be suggesting that these mutations were the responsibility of-- of whom? How could they be? -- "I don't see," he ventured, "who can be blamed . . ." The manticore ground its three rows of teeth in evident frustration. "There's a woman over that way," it said, "who is now mostly water-buffalo. There are businessmen from Nigeria who have grown sturdy tails. There is a group of holidaymakers from Senegal who were doing no more than changing planes when they were turned into slippery snakes. I myself am in the rag trade; for some years now I have been a highly paid male model, based in Bombay, wearing a wide range of suitings and shirtings also. But who will employ me now?" he burst into sudden and unexpected tears. "There, there," said Saladin Chamcha, automatically. "Everything will be all right, I'm sure of it. Have courage." The creature composed itself. "The point is," it said fiercely, "some of us aren't going to stand for it. We're going to bust out of here before they turn us into anything worse. Every night I feel a different piece of me beginning to change. I've started, for example, to break wind continually ... I beg your pardon you see what I mean? By the way, try these," he slipped Chamcha a packet of extra-strength peppermints. "They'll help your breath. I've bribed one of the guards to bring in a supply." "But how do they do it?" Chamcha wanted to know. "They describe us," the other whispered solemnly. "That's all. They have the power of description, and we succumb to the pictures they construct."

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After a time a curious mood of detachment fell upon Saladin. He no longer had any idea of how long they had been travelling in the Black Maria of his hard fall from grace, nor could he have hazarded a guess as to the proximity of their ultimate destination, even though the tinnitus in his ears was growing gradually louder, those phantasmal grandmother's footsteps, ellowen, deeowen, London. The blows raining down on him now felt as soft as a lover's caresses; the grotesque sight of his own metamorphosed body no longer appalled him; even the last pellets of goatexcrement failed to stir his much--abused stomach. Numbly, he crouched down in his little world, trying to make himself smaller and smaller, in the hope that he might eventually disappear altogether, and so regain his freedom. The talk of surveillance techniques had reunited immigration officers and policemen, healing the breach caused by Jockey Stein's words of puritanical reproof. Chamcha, the insect on the floor of the van, heard, as if through a telephone scrambler, the faraway voices of his captors speaking eagerly of the need for more video equipment at public events and of the benefits of computerized information, and, in what appeared to be a complete contradiction, of the efficacy of placing too rich a mixture in the nosebags of police horses on the night before a big match, because when equine stomach--upsets led to the marchers being showered with shit it always provoked them into violence, _an" then we can really get amongst them, can't we just_. Unable to find a way of making this universe of soap operas, matchoftheday, cloaks and daggers cohere into any recognizable whole, Chamcha closed his ears to the chatter and listened to the footsteps in his ears. Then the penny dropped. "Ask the Computer!" Three immigration officers and five policemen fell silent as the foul--smelling creature sat up and hollered at them. "What's he on about?" asked the youngest policeman -- one of the Tottenham supporters, as it happened -- doubtfully. "Shall I fetch him another whack?" "My name is Salahuddin Chamchawala, professional name Saladin Chamcha," the demi-goat gibbered. "I am a member of Actors' Equity, the Automobile Association and the Garrick Club. My car registration number is suchandsuch. Ask the Computer. Please." "Who're you trying to kid?" inquired one of the Liverpool fans, but he, too, sounded uncertain. "Look at yourself. You're a fucking Packy billy. Sally-who? -- What kind of name is that for an Englishman?" Chamcha found a scrap of anger from somewhere. "And what about them?" he demanded, jerking his head at the immigration officers. "They don't sound so Anglo-Saxon to me." For a moment it seemed that they might all fall upon him and tear him limb from limb for such temerity, but at length the skull-faced Officer Novak merely slapped his face a few times while replying, "I'm from Weybridge, you cunt. Get it straight: Weybridge, where the fucking _Beatles_ used to live." Stein said: "Better check him out." Three and a half minutes later the Black Maria came to a halt and three immigration officers, five constables and one police driver held a crisis conference -- _here's a pretty effing pickle_ -- and Chamcha noted that in their new mood all nine had begun to look alike, rendered equal and identical by their tension and fear. Nor was it long before he understood that the call to the Police National Computer, which had promptly identified him as a British Citizen first class, had not improved his situation, but had placed him, if anything, in greater danger than before. -- We could say, -- one of the nine suggested, -- that he was lying unconscious on the beach. -- Won't work, -- came the reply, on account of the old lady and the other geezer. -- Then he resisted arrest and turned nasty and in the ensuing altercation he kind of fainted. -- Or the old bag was ga-ga, made no sense to any of us, and the other guy wossname never spoke up, and as for this bugger, you only have to clock the bleeder, looks like the very devil, what were we supposed to think? -- And then he went and passed out on us, so what could we do, in all fairness, I ask you, your honour, but bring him in to the medical facility at the Detention Centre, for proper care followed by observation and questioning, using our reason-to-believe guidelines; what do you reckon on something of that nature? -- It's nine against one, but the old biddy and the second bloke make it a bit of a bastard. -- Look, we can fix the tale later, first thing like I keep saying is to get him unconscious. -- Right. o o o Chamcha woke up in a hospital bed with green slime coming up from his lungs. His bones felt as if somebody had put them in the icebox for a long while. He began to cough, and when the fit ended nineteen and a half minutes later he fell back into a shallow, sickly sleep without having taken in any aspect of his present whereabouts. When he surfaced again a friendly woman's face was looking down at him, smiling reassuringly. "You goin to be fine," she said, patting him on the shoulder. "A lickle pneumonia is all you got." She introduced herself as his physiotherapist, Hyacinth Phillips. And added, "I never judge a person by appearances. No, sir. Don't you go thinking I do." With that, she rolled him over on to his side, placed a small cardboard box by his lips, hitched up her white housecoat, kicked off her shoes, and leaped athletically on to the bed to sit astride him, for all the world as if he were a horse that she meant to ride right through the screens surrounding his bed and out into goodness knew what manner of transmogrified landscape. "Doctor's orders," she explained. "Thirty--minute sessions, twice a day." Without further preamble, she began pummelling him briskly about the middle body, with fightly clenched, but evidently expert, fists. For poor Saladin, fresh from his beating in the police van, this new assault was the last straw. He began to struggle beneath her pounding fists, crying loudly, "Let me out of here; has anybody informed my wife?" The effort of shouting out induced a second coughing spasm that lasted seventeen and three--quarter minutes and earned him a telling off from the physiotherapist, Hyacinth. "You wastin my time," she said. "I should be done with your right lung by now and instead I hardly get started. You go behave or not?" She had remained on the bed, straddling him, bouncing up and down as his body convulsed, like a rodeo rider hanging on for the nine-second bell. He subsided in defeat, and allowed her to beat the green fluid out of his inflamed lungs. When she finished he was obliged to admit that he felt a good deal better. She removed the little box which was now half-full of slime and said cheerily, "You be standin up firm in no time," and then, colouring in confusion, apologized, "Excuse _me_," and fled without remembering to pull back the encircling screens. "Time to take stock of the situation," he told himself. A quick physical examination informed him that his new, mutant condition had remained unchanged. This cast his spirits down, and he realized that he had been half-hoping that the nightmare would have ended while he slept. He was dressed in a new pair of alien pyjamas, this time of an undifferentiated pale green colour, which matched both the fabric of the screens and what he could see of the walls and ceiling of that cryptic and anonymous ward. His legs still ended in those distressing hoofs, and the horns on his head were as sharp as before . . . he was distracted from this morose inventory by a man's voice from nearby, crying out in heart-rending distress: "Oh, if ever a body suffered . . . !" "What on earth?" Chamcha thought, and determined to investigate. But now he was becoming aware of many other sounds, as unsettling as the first. It seemed to him that he could hear all sorts of animal noises: the snorting of bulls, the chattering of monkeys, even the pretty--polly mimic-squawks of parrots or talking budgerigars. Then, from another direction, he heard a woman grunting and shrieking, at what sounded like the end of a painful labour; followed by the yowling of a new-born baby. However, the woman's cries did not subside when the baby's began; if anything, they redoubled in their intensity, and perhaps fifteen minutes later Chamcha distinctly heard a second infant's voice joining the first. Still the woman's birth-agony refused to end, and at intervals ranging from fifteen to thirty minutes for what seemed like an endless time she continued to add new babies to the already improbable numbers marching, like conquering armies, from her womb. His nose informed him that the sanatorium, or whatever the place called itself, was also beginning to stink to the heavens; jungle and farmyard odours mingled with a rich aroma similar to that of exotic spices sizzling in clarified butter -- coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamoms, cloves. "This is too much," he thought firmly. "Time to get a few things sorted out." He swung his legs out of bed, tried to stand up, and promptly fell to the floor, being utterly unaccustomed to his new legs. It took him around an hour to overcome this problem -- learning to walk by holding on to the bed and stumbling around it until his confidence grew. At length, and not a little unsteadily, he made his way to the nearest screen; whereupon the face of the immigration officer Stein appeared, Cheshire-Cat--like, between two of the screens to his left, followed rapidly by the rest of the fellow, who drew the screens together behind him with suspicious rapidity. "Doing all right?" Stein asked, his smile remaining wide.

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