Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate

The door moved soundlessly on its new fangled hinges into the dark room. He waited for his eyes to get accustomed to the darkness, intruded upon only by the glow of the street lamp three storeys below the large window and the full moon, so very far above it. The almost silence seemed solid, a living thing holding its peace. He tiptoed into the room so as not to break it. The sound of his leather shoes stretching to accommodate the movement of his feet echoed in his ears. He held his breath as though hoping that he could make up for the animation of his feet with the stillness of his lungs. The large bed occupied most of the room, the white sheets dropping off the sides of the bed until they almost touched the floor.
The only occupant of the room lay silent and peaceful, protected from the world behind a veil of slumber.
He walked softly toward the bed, the silence forgotten, all of his attention focused, his heart beating as though he'd run a marathon. He placed the styrofoam cup he was holding on the end table and stared down at her face.
"Beautiful, so beautiful. You always looked cute when you were asleep ... peaceful. Quite a change from the bundle of energy you normally are ... ", he whispered. Looking down at the woman in the bed, the corners of lips turned up in an almost smile, the sadness in his eyes pushing them down.
He sat beside her on the bed. Her head on the pillow, face framed by the deep black shoulder length locks, highlighted by the soft moonlight streaming in through the window, looked exactly as it had so very long ago. The soft ticking of the wall clock seemed an unwelcome intruder, reminding him that he couldn't stay too long. Reminding him that if he did he wouldn't be able to do what he had come for. He reached for the cup, the coffee in it had turned cold while he paced outside the room gathering his courage, trying to figure out what to say. Trying to make this seem right somehow. A soft smile tickled the corners of his lips. He shook his head slightly.
"My greatest weakness ... how many times have you told me to stop drinking this sludge. And then you go and insist that you should make it for me. 'The froth is the most fun part.' It takes so long for you to make a single cup of coffee, but it's always worth it ... just to see the satisfaction on your face", he smiles at her, swirling the coffee in the cup, hoping to replicate the feat that she'd gotten down to an art.
The faint sound of a bus rushing past the building, winding its way to its destination.
"Remember the first time we went out for coffee. You were so late. I was waiting at the bus stop for almost an hour", he snickered into the cup. "I'll never forget that sheepish grin you had on your face when you got of the bus. Then that puppy dog expression. That would melt anybody's heart .... always worked on me."
His eyes fell on the silver locket glistening in the moonlight - 'Angel'.
"The first fight we ever had. You remember that. Those lockets you wanted to make out of clay."
He looked up at the ceiling of the room, noticing the cracks in the smooth white surface. "We barely spoke for days after that. I felt so terrible. I remember coming over with the flowers and that box of candy ...what was it ... your favourite kind. The expression on your face changed so quickly once you saw those. I never seen a frown turn into a smile that quick!"
He chuckled into his cup. He moved to sit more comfortably on the bed. His hand brushed hers. Gently opening her fingers he held it, the warmth from her hand seeping into his cold, sweaty palm.
"Talking to you used to be so easy, so simple. I'd never have to worry about what I said to you, never had to look before I leaped ... with you. I don't know how much of money the company had to spend on my phone bills just for the time that I spent in the office talking to you."
He brushed a stray lock of her hair away from her eyes.
"I always found it strange that you never called me by name. You'd just say 'listen' everytime you wanted my attention. Why is that? I remember how you laughed when I'd respond to that with 'listening'. It always got such a rise out of you. It was so easy to make you laugh."
Grinning, he took another sip of his coffee. The bitter taste at the bottom of the glass making him grimace. Throwing the almost empty cup into the bin he hunched over as though the act had sapped him of all of his remaining energy. He rested his face in his palms. The sweat from his brow finding its ways between his fingers. The weight of what he had come to do making him hunch over further. Only his elbows resting on his legs keeping him from falling over.
"I'm sorry, Angel. I'm sorry for so many things. I'm sorry I didn't take you out dancing. I'm sorry I never learned how to dance, I know how much you love it."
He looked at her, tears glistening in his eyes.
"I'm sorry for what I'm going to do. I just don't have the strength to go on anymore. I feel like I'm letting you down, like I'm letting us down. I'm leaving town tomorrow, I have a new job far away from here."
He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an envelope that he placed on the side table.
"This should explain everything."
He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. He touched the locket she wore, running his fingertip over the cursive script.
"Merry Christmas, Angel. I love you."
He pushed himself off the bed and walked to its head, reaching behind it, all the while keeping his eyes on her. The soft click of a switch being turned off. The room seemed to become suddenly more silent, still as the surface of a pond in winter, broken only the ticking of the clock and the sound of just one person breathing.
Mr. Kaunds brushed the cheek of his Angel one last time and walked out of the room into the corridor of the hospital.
Mr. Kaunds is one of the people I introduced more than a year ago in 'A Pinch of Soul'.
Euthanasia is a concept and an act that we all have to learn to deal with. We can't choose how we're born, but we should be able to choose how we die. Some of us are unable to do even that. If nothing else, we should at least be able to die with dignity.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

He sat on his haunches in the light drizzle, hugging his rifle as the sounds of the jungle surrounded him. As black of the night pressed in on him. The sound of his companion in the bushes and the flickering light of the lantern his only comfort. The shadows danced with the faint flame in the middle of its glass cage, sometimes sharpening, sometimes receding, making the surrounding jungle a little larger or just that much smaller as it did so. He crouched a little lower and hugged his rifle a little tighter, keeping it an angle so that the water falling through the tree above him didn't find its way into the barrel.
Blinking to get the water out of his eyes, he strained his ears hoping to pick up any sound. Taking the night watch had been a mistake, he was too young for this, but somebody had to do it. He looked at his companion picking his way back through the puddles and felt a little better. Much older than him, his companion was an experienced hunter, and bore the scars to prove it. He'd had a few close calls before, almost lost an arm in one of them and there he was, still standing, limping but still standing. If only he would talk a little more. It seemed like he was constantly hunting. Rarely making a sound. He moved like a cat in spite of his limp, surefooted, lithe, the rifle seeming like an extension of his arm.
The old man settled down with his back against the tree. They sat silently in the small, flickering circle of light, watching for any movement in the darkness beyond it. The sound of the crickets lulled the young man towards sleep. A sharp jab in the ribs woke him and awake he stayed, keeping vigil, trying to look in all directions at the same time. The old man indicated that his eyes were useless, his ears, on the other hand were immensely useful. The youth listened, not just heard. The jungle seemed to take on a life that hadn't been there before. The sounds of the crickets seemed to jump out of the night, the rhythm seeming like a symphony. The wind whistling through the swaying trees. The drops of rain falling into the puddles surrounding him. The sounds of the jungle as it slumbered.
The old man listened for something that was still awake. His ears hunted for something like himself, for something that hunted in the night.
The lion stood absolutely still, watching the two men sitting in the shelter of the large tree. The water slid down his coat, matting his fur, but he was unaware of it. His eyes, as sharp as they were when he was a cub, were riveted to the two men. His body, still as a pond in winter, tensed like a spring waiting to be uncoiled. His claws digging miniature ravines in the wet mud beneath his paws as he retracted and extended them, waiting patiently for the moment to strike.
The hunters waited for their prey.
The old man stood, trying to get the circulation in his legs going again. The signs of age showing in his movement. Arthritis sent shots of pain through his joints. His body tensed as he heard the bushes to his left rustle. Standing very still he indicated to his companion to get up. The young man sat frozen with fear. His limbs refused to move. He stared at the bushes surrounding him, each one baring its malice. The shadows held nightmares waiting to spring. Each sound the jungle made heralded the coming of the apocalypse. Each drop of rain that touched him seemed like a nail in his coffin. Fear ruled his senses. Terror gripped his limbs. Each breath was an effort. His rifle shook as he shivered in the cold, mirthless night.
The old man growled to himself and cursed silently. The boy was all but useless, probably worse. He scanned the woods for anything out of the ordinary, any sign, any warning. He hoped he'd see it in time.
The lion growled under his breath. The water dripping from his mane into his eyes made him blink, but he dared not try to shake it off. He'd had already announced his presence. They were alert now. The smell of fear from the young one made his whiskers twitch, made him impatient. Years of hunting instinct, honed and sharpened in the jungle, could not battle impatience and hunger. It had been two days since somebody from the village had come out. It frustrated him that he had to hunt humans. He was too old, too slow to hunt in the jungle. Iron like muscles contracted under his skin, making crevices in which the water flowing over his body found a place to stay. He crouched, balancing his weight across his legs, preparing to charge.The damp soil gave way beneath his paws. Hunger boiled in his mind, frustration burned in his soul.
The old man blinked to get the water out of his eyes, cursing that he could not see as well as he used to. Years of experience and instinct, sharpened in the jungle, told him this was the best time to strike down your prey. He could almost feel the lion's eyes on him. The slit like pupils watching every little movement he made. And he didn't know where the damn thing was! It was out there though, he was sure of that. He listened, hoping he'd hear a warning, hoping he'd hear it in time.
A blood curdling roar filled the jungle around him, the sound seemed to come from everywhere at once. He pushed down his fear and paid attention to the sound, trying to identify the direction it came from. Terror struck the young man like lightning. He gibbered and scrambled to his feet. Flailing about, he aimed his rifle in the direction of every new sound he heard. Stumbling backward away from the tree, he tripped over a root and dropped his rifle in the mud.
The lion charged out of the bushes seeing that one of the men was down, his paws splashing through the puddles of water. If he could just move fast enough he'd be able to take the young one before the old man even managed to move.
The old man heard the splashes and rushed towards his fallen comrade, keeping his eye and the sight of his gun on the bushes. He burst out of the cover of the bushes, a yellow and black blur. His breath misted ahead of him, powerful lungs sucking in air like a bellows. His curved teeth gleamed in the lamplight. His eyes shone with a fever for meat, for food. He lunged at his fallen prey.
The old man threw himself forward, firing blindly, hoping that he'd hit his target. He landed on the ground on his side, his arm beneath him.
The lion felt something knock the wind out of him. He landed, hard, almost as soon as he had started to pounce. His side ached, blood seeping out of it into the puddle he'd landed in, giving the water a reddish tinge like the sunset on a clear day. He tasted bile, the acrid sensation spreading in his mouth. The adrenaline pumping into his brain numbed the pain, taking the edge off. He got to his feet and charged towards his fallen opponent with a roar.
The old man tried to get his arm out from under him so that he could position his rifle. He saw the yellow blur rush toward, a hair slower than it had been just a few seconds earlier. He'd managed to hit it. The lion landed on him with the force of pile driver, crushing his arm. He could feel the hot breath of the lion close to his neck. He felt the blood ooze out of the beast's side onto his thigh. With all the strength he could muster he drove his knee into the lion's side. The resulting roar almost deafened him. It also gave him enough slack to be able to move his rifle. He tried to get his finger around the trigger, his hands slipping over the wet wood.
The lion bared his teeth close to the old man's face, saliva dripping from his curved teeth. The weight of the lion seemed to pause all other sensations, he felt something warm flow down his shoulder. His finger found the trigger.
It seemed like an age before the young man could move from his place against the tree. He trembled as he pushed himself onto his feet and gathered his rifle in the flickering lamplight. On tottering steps he walked to the old man and picked him up. Dragging him toward the village through dark jungle. He walked through the open gates of the village. Past the waiting sentries, one of whom ran through the peaceful village, banging on doors, waking its sleeping inhabitants.
They gathered in the village square. People walking slowly behind the the hunters. The young man got to the square and dropped the corpse.
"The lion sleeps tonight", he said to the people behind him.
He knelt next to the old man and whispered, "The lions sleep tonight."

Renaissance Eyes

Disclaimer: For those of you who know me and/or have read anything on this blog before - I have not gone stark raving mad (or anything else). There has been no momentous or untoward event in my life. All of the deep questions are still left unanswered (at least by me).
I wrote this on the request of/as a response to a challenge from a friend of mine (honestly, I just think she wanted me to write something that didn't make her want to commit suicide). GP, I hope this meets with your approval.


He ran into the cafe and walked to the counter shaking the water out of his jacket. The rain had started out of the blue, literally. A clear sky and yet, there it was, pouring cats and dogs. He murmured thanks to the powers that be that the cafe was close by. A small place, plush couches, big display window, the rain flowing down it in rivulets, a view one could stare at, or through, for hours.
The young pimple faced boy behind the counter put down his book and smiled. "Good evening, sir. What can I get for you?"
"One double shot espresso to go, please", he said watching the rain through the window.
"Sir, that's black coffee," said the boy.
"I know", he replied with a smile.
A few minutes and something that sounded like the strangling of a goat later, a styrofoam cup with a dark, steaming liquid was placed in front of him. He paid for his coffee and walked to the window. The gentle tapping of the rain against the pane lulling him into a state of peace, the steaming liquid warming his frozen bones. He touched the window with his fingertips, he could almost feel the drops falling against it. He stared at the reflection of the cafe in the pane and saw her. Sitting on the red leather couch, a book in her lap, she looked exactly like she had the last time he'd seen her. Almost a year since he'd accepted her resignation, since he'd looked into those eyes. Eyes that seemed like they'd come out of a painting by Da Vinci or Michaelangelo, from the heyday of civilization. He stared at her reflection, hoping she wouldn't see him ... hoping she would see him. Did she see him? Maybe if he walked out quickly enough, she wouldn't see him at all.
Taking a deep breath, he balled up all of his courage and turned around. All of her attention taken up by the book she didn't seem to notice a lock of her hair dropping down in front of her left eye at all. Each step toward her seemed to get harder, each requiring more of the courage he'd balled up. He closed his eyes and walked in a straight line toward the couch.
She felt somebody bump into the couch, dropping her book she turned and caught her breath as she looked up into his face. She hadn't seen him in almost a year, since she quit ... he hadn't tried to stop her then. His mouth was moving but she couldn't hear what he was saying. He cleared his throat. "Hi," he said with a smile.
"Hi! How've you been?" she said. A wide smile on her face that touched her renaissance eyes.
"I've been good. What about you?"
"Good, good. Sit down, please," she said, gesturing to the empty seat on the couch.
He bent to pick up the book she'd dropped, 'The Bridges of Madison County'. "Reading it again, huh. I read it after you told me about it. Pretty good."
"It's my favourite," she said with a sheepish smile.
"I know", he said. Realising the implications of what he had said, he blushed and cleared his throat again. "I like his job, photographer for National Geographic, imagine all of the things you could see", he said with a mischievous smile. Her laugh, with its musical lilt, resounded in his ears. Memories of how he used to try to make her laugh flooded back, with all of the wishes he made then, echoes of conversations that never happened, visions of dreams that he'd had ... if only. Now he had the chance. The chance he'd wished for, he'd hoped for, he'd dreamed of. He gazed at her, watching the dimples of her cheeks dance as she laughed.
She couldn't stop laughing. Why couldn't she stop laughing? He was looking at her with that odd smile on his face. One side of his mouth turned up, the same one he'd worn a year ago, and she couldn't stop laughing.
Afternoon gave way to twilight as they talked, of times past, of times to come, of hopes and dreams, both lost and fulfilled. They laughed and basked in the glory of each others attention. Attention each had reserved only for the other. They didn't notice the passage of time or that the rain had dwindled to light drizzle, the small drops of water blazing like sparks in the evening light.
She stopped mid sentence. He turned to look at what had caught her attention. They sat in silence looking at the perfect sunset through lace curtains of the drizzle. He turned back to look at her and saw tears streaming down her face, their path shifting around her small smile. She noticed him looking and quickly wiped away the tears. Grabbing his hand, sending an electric shock through him as she did so, she dragged him out the door.
She bent her neck to face the azure yonder above, one horizon just beginning to darken and the other crimson with the setting sun. Closing her eyes to feel the drops touching her face, she let go of his hand, still oblivious of what she had done to him, and raised her arms as though to hug the sky, the clouds and the rain. She wished to could take all of it with her, she wished for once she could feel the whole of it, the immensity of it.
Energetic steps, bordering on dancing, propelled her frame through the rain, the lyrics and rhythm of 'Raindrops are falling on my head' spurring her through it. He couldn't help smiling as he followed her lapsing from singing softly to humming the bars of the rhyme and back again. Jumping in a puddle, she beckoned him to do the same. With a grin and without a care for his leather shoes, he jumped into the puddle beside her. Peals of laughter mingled with the sound of thunder overhead.
Catching sight of a park on the opposite side of the road, she grabbed his hand and ran towards it. Letting himself be led, he ran to keep pace with her, unconcerned about the rain soaking his clothes, all of his attention focused on her. The smell of wet soil greeted them as they reached the entrance of the deserted park. He couldn't help but stare. It seemed like something out of a storybook. The manicured lawns, the rain giving the grass a translucent quality so that it seemed like perfectly cut emeralds had been sprinkled on the ground. Bushes dotted the park at regular intervals, each with a different type of flower in full bloom, daffodils and hyacinths, tulips and lilies, each vying for attention, each adding their notes to the symphony of the park, somehow holding on to their individuality while being part of the whole puzzle.
He turned to see her walking barefoot on the grass, her sandals in her hand, looking at him with those eyes, eyes he could drown in, renaissance eyes. The dimples of her cheeks deepened as she smiled at him. They walked together, she with her sandals in hand on the grass and he on the path laid out through the lawn with stone. Neither said a word, and yet neither wanted to, each content with just the others presence, the comfortable silence only broken by the sound of the rain.

The sound of the fountain crept up on them, the water gushing down the rocks, an extravagant mans attempt at bringing nature into the city. The large fountain modelled a pond with a small waterfall, complete with rocks at the edge. Settling on one of the rocks he dangled her feet in the make believe pond. Seeing that she'd settled down, he struggled with his laces of his shoes and socks, hopping about on one foot and then the other. She laughed softly at his clumsy predicament, his ears heating up in response. Settling down next to her, he cautiously dipped his feet in the water. They stared at the surface of the water, ripples spreading out from where their feet dangled meeting the ripples created by the waterfall. Her breath quickened as his hand brushed hers, goosebumps spreading up her arm.
"Do you have a coin?", she asked.
"Um, sure ....", he said as he fished out a shiny new coin from his pocket.
She took it from him and tossed it in the water. Only then did he notice that the bed of the fountain was glittering with coins, each of them telling a story, each of them a hope, a wish that may or may not have come to be.
"I wonder how many of those wishes came true," she said, staring into the pond, as though looking for the answer to her question.
He turned and looked down at her, "What did you wish for?"
She looked up at him with those deep brown eyes, her face close enough to his so that he could feel her breath on his face. Butterflies with jet engines propelling them took off in his stomach.
"I think it's about to come true", she said and closed her renaissance eyes.

A New Machine

We walked out onto the desert, under the searing sun, where just a few hours ago, the sky had two suns, not one. One of the others behind me said something I couldn't make out through the gas mask he was wearing. We walked uncomfortably towards the waiting jeeps, each of us with our own thoughts, trying to negotiate the distance to the jeeps in the stifling suits, each of us trying to come to terms with what had just happened ... what we had helped happen.
We piled into the two jeeps, all twelve of us. I touched the pouch at my waist, making sure my camera was there and the spare one next to it .... you never know what might happen and this was too important for me to screw up.
One of the men said in muffled voice, "We can't stay there too long, a few minutes at the most. So you guys had better do what you need to do real quick."
Three of the men nodded back to him, including me. Quick! I'd rather not be here at all, given half a chance I'd turn and run all the way back home, all the four hundred and fifty miles back.
The jeep bucked and threw us about all the way, about ten miles ... less than five minutes, it felt like a lifetime. It's only a lifetime. A lifetime in a span of five minutes, five agonizing minutes until we saw what we'd help accomplish ... I wish those five minutes really had been a lifetime.
The jeep in front of us stopped, somebody called back, "We can't go any further, we'll blow the tires if we do."
How would we blow the tires in a desert? I thought the man was off his rocker. I got out of the jeep with the others. We started to walk ahead and I understood what he meant. My feet landed with a crack on a green, glassy rock that crumbled beneath my weight. I saw more of the stuff ahead of us, a lot more. I photographed a sample of the stuff and followed the others.
"Hotter", said one of the men looking at a Geiger counter, it's crackling piercing the silence between us.
We continued walking, stepping on more of the green glass ... our steps became slower, smaller as though we didn't really want to continue. I know I didn't, but we did anyway and I kept clicking away, a photographic record of man's greatest achievement ... of man's greatest mistake.
"Hotter", said the man again with more urgency ... the Geiger counter emphasizing his point.
And yet, we continued.
I don't think any of us were prepared for what we saw ... after all, we didn't know what to expect, this had never been done before ... now I wish we'd left it that way.
There was a crater with more chunks of that glass, it must have been at least a thousand feet wide and there we were ... twelve men standing at the edge of it. Standing at the cusp of an age of awe. At the cusp of an age of horrors. At the cusp of the atomic age.
"It's too hot, we can't go down there", said the man with the Geiger counter, the needle going crazy in its glass case.
One of the men turned back, a folder in his hand, "The Manhattan Project: Trinity", printed across its cover. He put his hand on the shoulder of one of the men staring into the crater, the other flinching as though the hand weighed a ton.
"Thank you, doctor. This wouldn't have been possible without you."
The doctor fell to his knees, tears streaming down his face onto the gas mask and evaporating before they could fall off. "What have I done?! Forgive me!"
The world changed that day, some say for the better, others disagree.
All I know is, on that day we realized this change, that even with regret, could never be undone.
On September 11th (how fucking ironic) 2007, Russia had a press release stating that they'd tested "The Father of All Bombs."
There are two quotes that stood out -

"The main destruction is inflicted by an ultrasonic shockwave and an incredibly high temperature," the reports said. "All that is alive merely evaporates."

Followed by -
"At the same time, I want to stress that the action of this weapon does not contaminate the environment, in contrast to a nuclear one."

I was laughing so fucking hard, there were tears in my eyes.
A few people asked me what the 'The Manhattan Project' was. Relevant links below:-
The Manhattan Project
Trinity Test

Brothers In Arms

This is the end of "The Post War Dream." I suppose one could call it an epilogue and "The Sound of Silence" would be a prologue.
I hope this will answer all of the questions that people have asked me about these characters, at least I've tried to address all of them.

The high ceiling of the church seemed shrouded in mystery, its secrets held dearly by the shadows. The dark beams holding it up seemed almost an extension of the shadows that reached out and crawled down the walls to the ground, holding them up against the outside world, letting in only a little of it at a time through the stained glass windows shaped like arrow slits in a castle moulded into facsimiles of legends and myths gone by. Each window with its own story to tell, it's own myth to immortalize. Here, the last supper, the bright table brimming with food and drink, there, Christ carrying the cross on his back, a cross as dark as the shadows high up in the church, dark as the doors that were opened wide.
People shuffled in, brushing off drops of rain from their black coats or dresses. Mothers fawning over their children, making sure that their little heads were dry, all as quietly as possible, lest the shadows be offended.
Up and down the aisle they walked, finding places to sit down, some close to the altar, some close the the doors. A trickle unchecked can turn into a flood, the church filled with people before long, standing next to the benches, sitting on the floor close to the doors, leaning on the walls and pillars, only the aisle between the benches was left unoccupied and yet not one soul said a word, a hush settled over the church, unlike any it had ever known. They waited, almost afraid to speak, lest the shadows be offended.
A rhythmic tapping and the sound of rubber flapping against the granite floor. A man, advanced in years, limped down the aisle aided by his plain dark walking stick. Surprised stares followed him as he walked down the aisle. Sporting a bright blue floral print shirt, khaki shorts and rubber slippers he walked with as much a swagger he could manage, completely oblivious to the people around him, to the shadows above him. He walked down the aisle with an air of purpose, a man who had something to do, something to achieve, something to say. Eyes, whispers and a few smiles followed him the entire length of the aisle. Eyes and whispers of the outraged and smiles from the people who knew him. He kissed a woman sitting in the first bench on her cheek, patted her hand and walked up the stairs to the podium on the altar.
He shuffled about in his pockets to find his spectacles and a piece of paper, the sounds amplified through the church by the microphone set up at the podium, shushing the whispers again.
"Good Morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming," he said in a quivering voice. "While I get myself together, I'd like you to read something. In the bible stands of your benches you'll find a few sheets. I'd like you to take those out and read it. I know its sort of unorthodox, but hey, you've got nothing to lose, right?"
A smile split his face almost in two. The shuffling of papers replaced the hush that had settled over the church. The people in the benches offered the papers to the people standing and kneeling once they had finished reading it. Minutes passed, the shuffling died down, once more replaced by a hush and an occasional sob from those particularly moved by its contents.
"Alrightey, I think everybody's finished reading. I am the subject of that letter and the best friend of its author. Him."
The old man pointed over his shoulder to the large picture of a man next to the dark wood coffin on the altar.
"I know that most of you think that I shouldn't be up here, dressed like this, that I should show some respect for the departed. I didn't respect him all of the years I've known him, I'm not about to start now. Ok, that's not entirely true, I did respect him for a lot of things, just don't anybody tell him that, it'll be our little secret," he said with a smile and a wink.
"We said that at the end of our days we'd get a place near a beach somewhere and spend the days in the sun. I couldn't give him that, I felt that at the end of his days I'd at least give him the semblance of that, hence my choice of wardrobe. That's the first of many letters he wrote to my mother over, oh, about five years, I believe. He became a son to her, visited her often, kept her company when I wasn't around to do it, right up until she passed away. Her dying wish was that he cremate her if I wasn't around to do it. He did."
The man's voice quivered as he spoke.
"A good man. A very good man he was. When I got out of the camps and back home he was there at the gate waiting for me. I remember seeing him there, cigarette in his hand, trying to look very cool with his long, gelled hair. Waiting with that wide grin of his. I always told him it'd split his face in half. I mean it! Literally! The grin would start at one ear and go right up to the other. Like this."
The man at the altar grinned wide fetching a few from his audience.
"Anyway, there he was and there he stayed, since that day up until a few days ago, right by my side."
The man paused to collect himself, took a deep breath.
"He'd already started a small business for himself, investing some of 'my' inheritance, he said. And that's how we started. I lived with him after that. Two bachelors living together, I'm sure you can imagine what kind of life we had. But then things had to change. He met the beautiful woman you see in the front row."
He pointed to the lady he kissed on the way to the altar.
"They gave me a family. There's been only one time I've walked down the aisle at a wedding, to give away 'our' daughter. Each one of us holding one of her arms."
He blew a kiss to one of the women sitting on the first bench. She held onto a young boy in her lap, crying into his hair.
"You should have seen the two of us at the end of that day. Two grown umm... men of advancing years, sitting on the floor, quite drunk, bawling our hearts out."
Smiles graced many of the faces in the room. Sunlight streamed bright through the windows, the beams of the church gleamed darkly.
"Look at her now. Look at that little fellow in her arms. Brilliant chap, he is. First in his class and he can paint better than I can! You'll learn much more than I'll ever know, kiddo."
The old man whistled loud, two quick notes. The child quickly looked up and around in response to the familiar sound. His searching eyes found the old man and a smile broke out on his young face.
"XXXXXX wasn't all good though. Mischeivious bugger, Impish, I'd say. He once flicked a cop's helmet. I'm sure many of you don't know that story. So here we are, it's around half past midnight, we've been out drinking up until then and none of us wanted to drive, so we start walking home, three of us. There's a bike cop writing a ticket for someone he's just pulled over. Of course, the first thing that pops into my head is that I like his helmet. So I dare XXXXXX that he can't get that helmet. 'Youuu thhinkk I can't get thatt hellmet? Jusst you wait, misssy'". He pauses to let the snickers and the laughs die down.
"He said that exactly how I said it just now and off he goes almost at a run. I'm not kidding! The cop's busy writing in his book and this bugger nicks the helmet and continues walking. Come over to our house anytime, I'll show it to you. Thankfully, I didn't place a wager on that dare."
The woman in the front row with the child in her arms laughs through her tears.
"You think that's nuts, for those of you who know his wife, you'd know that her father was the owner of one of the towns largest hotels. This is how he first met his father in law. The three of us, I had to tag along, of course, being family and all of that .... we're sitting in the restaurant of the hotel waiting for her dad to come down and meet us. 'Meet the parents' time and all that jazz. He was nervous as hell and I was getting horribly bored. We'd been waiting for a while, you see. There was a bowl of salted peanuts on the table, don't ask me why they were there, they just were. I started tossing them in my mouth. He saw what I was doing and followed suit. Next thing you know we're juggling them and tossing one into our mouth with each loop. A few minutes of that and we're throwing it into each others mouth across the table, all of this while XXXXX's trying to stop us. Now of course as luck would have it, just at that moment, her father has to walk in and she screams 'Daddy'. Why do women have such shrill screams? Anyway, my aim goes out the window and the peanut lands bang in XXXXXXs eye. So, the first ever chat he has with his future father-in-law is in the hospital emergency room."
Snickers and giggles turned to open laughter filling the church, touching the high ceiling. The shadows at the top seemed to lessen just a little.
"However, I think this takes the cake -- we got thrown out of a pub ... I know it's hard to do, but we managed to do it. Again, we're pretty bored one night and we go out thinking we'll get a drink, but once we get there, neither of us really wants to drink. Here we are, a couple of bachelors, bored out of our skulls with absolutely nothing to do. If the idle mind is the devil's workshop then XXXXXX's mind was the place that every devil was working in. He just walks over to table that a couple is sitting on. Grabs a glass and takes a sip with both of the people at the table staring at him. 'I just wanted to see how it tastes' he says nonchalantly. All of this while, I'm staring at him from the bar, wondering what he's upto. When I asked him about it when he got back, he said, 'You're bored aren't you.'" He pauses to control his laughter.
"Long story short, we got thrown out that day after tasting about thirty or so drinks between the two of us," he said as he burst out laughing. Wiping a tear from his eyes "Good days, good days. We had our share of those. More than our share. Our share of bad days too, we got through those though. He helped quite a few other people get through theirs too. I think that's why there are so many people here today." His eyes surveyed the people in the room ... standing in the aisles, next to the benches, seated on the floor, leaning against the wall.
"He was just about to walk out of an ATM once and a man asked him for help. He claimed not to know how to use the ATM. XXXXXX takes the card from the man and inserts it, he asked the man for the PIN number, he had to explain that it's a four digit number used to identify the owner of the card. The man took out a piece of crumpled paper and smoothed it out in his hands. XXXXXX told him that there wasn't enough money in the account and that he was about a thousand bucks short. The man's face fell, he said that he thought the money was there, he needed to pay his son's school fees. No prize for guessing what XXXXXX did next, let's just say that he came out of the ATM a thousand bucks lighter than he was supposed to."
Eyes glistened in the light streaming in through the windows.
"He touched the lives of a lot of people. Helped a lot of them. I always told him he was too trusting ... he always told me I was too paranoid. I think that's why we were friends."
Men dressed in black waistcoats and bow ties had walked into the church while the man on the altar was speaking, each with a tray in their hands. They went around offering glasses to the people in the church.
"I kiss a beautiful woman goodbye every morning when I leave the house. She's married to him."
"I have three incredible children. They call him 'Dad'."
"I have a brilliant grandchild who calls my friend 'Granda'."
"My friend was a good man. He gave a lot of himself. He gave me a family."
"XXXXXX led a full life, a good life. He gazed at the stars with his children, taught them about the constellations. He dandled his grandson on his knee, played hide and seek with him. He had the love of a good woman and the respect of all who knew him. He led a good life. So, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in celebrating his life."
He turned to the back of the altar and gestured to the person sitting behind the curtains. Frank Sinatra's 'I did it my way' resounded through the church. Picking two glasses from the tray a waiter was holding, he held them up and shouted over the music, "To XXXXXX."
The shadows retreated to the place from whence they came.
Every single person in the church stood and raised their glasses.
He limped to the coffin and placed one of the glasses at its head.
"Our last drink together?" he said with an impish smile on his face.
He kissed the coffin and whispered, "Let me bid you farewell, every man has to die."

Invisible City

Nik stared out the window at the dim lights of the train station as they pulled into it. The brakes made his teeth jar, kind of like the way chalk on a blackboard did. The shadows played across his face as the waning of one light turned into the waxing of another. It looked like someone was staring at his face frame by frame in slow motion.
"Will you be alright, son? Is someone coming to the station to pick you up?" asked the old man in the seat across from him.
"Yes, my aunt is coming to the station" Nik lied.
The old man settled back in his seat, satisfied that the young lad would be taken care of.
Nik, relieved that the old man hadn't probed too much or offered to wait with him for his aunt, turned his attention to collecting his things - the green "Scooby Doo" colouring book, his crayons, his soiled handkerchief that he'd used as an eraser in the absence of a real one. He carefully stuffed all of his things into his olive green canvas school bag along with his Batman action figure, the few clothes he was carrying and his most prized possession, a clay piggy bank, pink in colour, complete with the snout and coiled tail. The clasps on the bag closed with a soft click. Nik double checked the clasps, like he'd been taught. Satisfied, he bent to put on his floaters. Grabbing the one he saw, he got on the floor searching for the other of the pair under the benches of the booth. Retrieving the floater from the recesses of the bench he drew his hand back carefully so as not to disturb the cockroach he found staring at him.
The sight of the bug had put an extra spring in Nik's step. He fastened his floaters, collected his solitary bag and ran straight for the door to the train compartment, the sound of the old man's goodbye barely even registering in his racing mind. The screech of the brakes resounded through the silent compartment, a few snores the only other sound to be heard. The disadvantage of reaching your destination in the middle of the night and ahead of schedule to boot. The compartment swayed as the brakes kicked in, pushing Nik off his feet and into the sleeping form of a man soon to become quite disgruntled. He woke with a grunt and stared at his attacker, or his prey. His eyes gleamed in the sparse lighting, holding Nik to his current position. The movement of the man's hand broke the spell the boy had been put under, his young legs carrying farther and faster than he thought were possible. He reached the end of the compartment just as the train stopped at the platform. Jumping off without giving it a second thought, Nik continued to run away from the man, who hadn't even found his way out of his blankets yet, who loomed larger than the Beanstalk's giant in Nik's mind, whose eyes gleamed like the wolf's.
Nik ran past the dirty metal pillars, through puddles of water, over refuse dumps, ahead of desperate porters and disparate passengers until he ran out of platform to run on. Caged by a once white metal fence that loomed large over his head, he grabbed the rusted bars of his cage, struggling against them. He pushed against them, pulled at them, tried to lift them off the ground, tried to climb over them to the other side ... anything to get to the other side ... anything to get away from the eyes in the dark.
Holding onto the bars he sank to the ground, broken. He wanted to go back home. Settling down on the dirty ground with his back to the bars he put his face between his legs, remembering who he was, remembering what he was, remembering where he came from. Holding desperately onto his identity lest the memory slip away from him into the black hole of the city.
The smell of spices as he stepped into the house after playing with his friends in the evening.
The sound of anger mixed with amusement when he came back from playing in the dirt.
The feel of strong arms holding him when the sound of anger drove him away.
The sensation of a large hand engulfing his own as he crossed the road.
The grooves of a wooden cane he held onto as he walked through the park so that he wouldn't get lost.
Wrinkled hands feeding him a sweet, brushing away the hair from his eyes as he ate.
He sat there with his head resting on his knees, his back against the fence, aching to go home, weeping for he used to be, weeping for who he wanted to be. His resolve weakened,
under attack by his sweet memories.
He remembered the angry voice that tore away the dirty clothes from his body.
He felt his cheek burning where those large hands had slapped him.
He felt the end of the wooden walking stick prodding him to move faster.
He felt those wrinkled forcing medicine into his mouth.
His resolve strengthened, quenched in his bitter memories, but it had developed cracks. Cracks through which doubt flowed ... he wanted to go back home. He wanted to see his parents and his grandparents. He wanted to be the apple of their eyes again, even if it meant having to hold the bitter seeds. He wished he'd never run away. The sounds of the city swallowed his sobs, the rattle of the trains, the sounds of traffic outside the station, the sound of footsteps coming closer.
Wolf's eyes stared at Nik from the darkness, shining with anticipation in the sparse illumination of the overhead lamps. The man walked slowly towards Nik, his designer shoes polished so that they gleamed in the shadows, the only other part of him that could be seen apart from his shimmering eyes. A grin spread across his face, baring his teeth in a rictus of anticipation as he stared at the little boy on the floor.
"What's wrong, son? Why are you crying?" he asked, stepping out of the shadows into circle of light.
The deep voice startled Nik back to the present.
"I'm not crying!" he said as he wiped away his tears.
Nik's eyes widened as he recognised the man standing before him. Once again he was fixed in place, staring at the man's eyes. He didn't even notice the bulldog shaped face or the grey suit that the man was wearing, the red silk tie or the or sparkling gold rings.
The man approached the boy slowly, as though expecting him to bolt at the slightest movement. Nik's eyes were fixed on the man, though, like a bird hypnotised by a snake. He didn't move a muscle, he didn't even think of moving a muscle. The somewhat heavyset man struggled to crouch ahead of Nik's knees and offered him a silk handkerchief.
"Here, wipe your tears. Big boys don't cry."
Nik made no movement to take the handkerchief. In fact, he made no movement at all.
The man reached out and wiped the boys tears himself. The touch of the silk against his cheek seemed startled Nik out of his trance.
"I'm not crying!" he said in a quivering voice.
"Of course not, you're a big boy. Big boys don't cry!" came the kind response.
"Yes!" said Nik with confidence that he didn't feel.
"Where are you from?" the man asked.
Nik shied away from him, pursing his lips as though to will them from not opening. 'Never talk to strangers', the phrase kept playing in his head.
The man sat down next to him and started to search his coat. Fishing out a lollipop from his breast pocket he handed it to the boy.
"Go ahead. Take it" the man urged.
Nik looked at the lollipop intently. Exactly like the ones his grandmother bought from him. He reached warily and grabbed the lollipop from the man's hand. The wrapping was off and the confectionery in his mouth in a flash. The smile on the man's face grew a little wider.
"Now, where are you from?" he asked again.
"My village. I'm going back on the next train." Nik said with false bravado.
"Ah, ok. Do you know when the next train is?" the man asked in all practicality.
"I'll find out from the man at the station. He wears a red coat. He knows everything about the trains. He even showed me the engine of the train before we left from my village."
Nik's eyes gleamed with the awe he felt seeing all of the levers and dials in the engine.
"And how are you going to pay for the ticket?"
Nik turned to his bag and carefully retrieved his piggy bank.
"Here, I have money. See!" he said shaking the clay pig, smiling at the sound the coins made. The man smiled right back at him.
"So you're going to break that open?" he asked with a mock sad expression on his face.
Nik put the pig in his lap and stared at it for a couple of seconds.
"Well .... I have to, don't I" he said sadly, looking up at the man.
"No, you don't. I'll pay for your ticket and you can come and stay with me tonight, I'll even drop you to the station in tomorrow" the man said. His hand found its way to Niks thigh and gently started massaging it.
"You'd do that?" Nik asked him delightfully, ignoring the goosebumps that had risen on his thigh.
"Of course" the man said, staring at the boy's thigh, feeling his skin pebble against his palm.
"Everybody always told me that the people in the city were not nice. But you're a very nice man."
"Oh, there are a lot of nice people in the city. This is the first time you've come to a city?" he probed.
"Yes. I've heard a lot of good things about it. And bad things too." Nik volunteered.
"Tell me what you know about it. But first, welcome to the city ...."
Where no one sees nothing, he thought to himself.
Approximately 30% of the populace under the age of 18 has suffered some form of sexual abuse.
World day for prevention of Child Abuse is on November 19th.

The Sound of Silence

This is a prologue to 'The Post War Dream' and so doesn't answer any of the questions that people had asked me.
I will write one more piece based on these characters which will answer most if not all of those questions. Furibundo, rest easy till then. :-)

The bottom of the polished metal door scraped the pitted concrete floor as it swung open with a creak. The silhouette of a bald man made itself apparent against the bright light of the bulb outside flooding into the dank gray room through the wide doorway.
Garbed in a black dress uniform the colonel strolled to the record player in the far corner of the room paying no attention to the prisoner bound to one of the two metal chairs in the room. Retrieving a large record from its jacket he examined it carefully, blew away some of the dust that coated the old record and put it onto the waiting turntable. The record player started with a loud click as he turned the switch, the whirring sounding suspiciously loud. He carefully placed the needle on the turning record so as not to break it. A brief burst of static to be replaced by the violins of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
The colonels swift movements were being weighed and measured by the attentive eyes of the other occupant of the room, a prisoner of war. A short man in dirty, ragged clothes, the defiance in his eyes made him seem larger ... made him seem beyond the mere chains and conditions holding him there. A metallic screech permeated the room as the colonel dragged the empty metal chair closer to the prisoner and deposited himself in it. The two men sat face to face, staring at each other, neither of them blinking, like they had all the time in the world. Teacup sized, calm eyes confronted deep set, defiant eyes.
The colonel sighed and shook his head, looked at the prisoner again and pushed himself out of the chair. The sound of his boots almost in time with the music as he paced around the chair, staring at the prisoner once more. Two pairs of eyes, one calm, the other defiant never left each other.
The mutual scrutiny was interrupted by a knock on the door. The creak of the hinges registering its protest, it opened to admit two soldiers, one wheeling in a small metal cart who and another carrying a pair of buckets. Depositing their burdens the soldiers left with a nod to their superior officer.
The colonel slowly walked from the corner of the room to the cart. The two men stared at each other all the while. Calm eyes now had wrinkles at their edges with a slight smile below them. Defiant eyes, now hard as stone with a quivering lip below. The eye contact was broken when the colonel turned his back on the prisoner to busy himself with the paraphernalia on the cart.
The colonel hummed in time with the music ... Tchaikovsky. He broke a blade in half and stuck it in the razor that was on the cart. Losing himself in the valleys and peaks of the piano he directed an imaginary orchestra using the now sharp razor as a baton. A deep sigh and a shake of the head as the piece reached its end. Bending over his prisoner the colonel began cutting his pants just below the knees with flicks of his wrist, leaving the calves exposed. He picked up a large black rag, frayed at the edges with small holes in the material, smelling of petrol. The prisoner kept his eyes open in spite of the petrol stinging his eyes as the colonel folded the rag and lowered it over the prisoners eyes. He could still see through a hole in the rag partially exposing his left eye.
The colonel dragged the two buckets to the prisoners chair. One filled with boiling water and the with cold water, large pieces of ice floating on the surface. Lifting the prisoners legs he dropped them in the hot water with a splash. Picking himself up the colonel walked over to his own chair and lit a cigarette, closed his eyes and enjoyed the music, Bach's "Cantata No. 147". The orchestra played in the large dimly lit hall. Gold cornicing reflecting the light to make it seem brighter. The red carpets and blinds soaking up just enough of the sound to make the acoustics perfect. If only ....
The prisoner stared at his legs, his calves submerged in boiling water. He set his jaw and shifted to look at his captor through his limited viewport. He wondered why he was here. The guards had just picked him up from the field. His friend had tried to stop them, ask them why they were taking him. One of the guards had hit him with the butt of his rifle. Hopefully, he hadn't been hurt too badly. They'd been talking about going back home, about looking at the stars from the roof of their houses. If only ...
The colonel stared at the prisoner over his waning cigarette.
Puffing on the stub of the cigarette the colonel walked over to his victim. He lifted the now beet red legs out of the bucket to examine them. They were scalded. He gently touched the part that seemed to be the most affected and watched the prisoner's face. It seemed to have been set in stone. The colonel could see only the eye moving through the hole in the blindfold. Even an increase in pressure did not seem to make any difference to the expression on the idol's face.
The colonel shrugged and puffed on his cigarette stub. Holding the stub carefully between his forefinger and thumb so as not to burn himself he pulled it out of his mouth and put it out on the prisoners calf, at the exact spot where he had been pressing it. The reluctant embers went out with sizzle. A circle of crimson stood out against a background of red. The only acknowledgment was a soft grunt from the prisoner.
The colonel lifted the prisoner's legs once more and dropped them in the ice water. A stifled yell as the extreme change in temperature assaulted his legs. The fresh wound seemed to be on fire and bathed in snow at the same time.
Bach's third Orchestral Suite seemed a fitting accompaniment to the conflict of sensations.
A softer sound ... a humming, barely audible over the organ could be heard but the prisoner didn't pay attention. The humming became louder and turned into a whistle as the colonel directed the music, his fingers moving following the rhythm, he stood on the tips of his toes with the rise in tempo. He looked down at the brass and string orchestra behind closed eyes.
An extraneous sound interrupted his tryst with the destiny of his choosing ... a repetitive sound, almost regular, but not quite. The prisoner's teeth, chattering. The colonel stared at the man in the chair with a mixed look of respect and disdain. The starch in his uniform made his sleeve crinkle as he folded the one sheltering his right arm. The sound of his boots seemed at odds against the soft notes of Mozart's Piano Concerto.
After pulling his charges legs from the bucket, he put his arm into the freezing water. Gritting his teeth against the bitter cold he fished from the bottom a bottle of wine. He glanced at the label, raised his eyebrows and nodded his approval.
The colonel dried his hand on the blindfold. The rusted corkscrew squeaked in protest as it was inserted into the bottle. A pop as the cork was rudely pulled from the place it had rested in for almost a decade. A metal clothespin found its way to the prisoners nose, forcing him to breathe through his mouth. He walked behind the prisoner's chair and grabbed his neck below the chin, roughly pulling his head back.
The colonel forced the bottle into the prisoners mouth despite muffled protests. The red fluid began to flow. A gurgling sound as he tried to close his mouth enough to spit it out, only to be replaced by the sound of him swallowing as much of the wine as he could. The intensity of his thrashing against the chair dropped until it stopped altogether.
The colonel took the bottle out of his mouth, almost all of the wine gone, some of it on the prisoners already stained clothes.
The record player finally finished its run filling the room with static. The colonel walked to the door and dragged it open, the scraping of metal against concrete mingling with the already jarring sounds. The two sentries posted outside filed into the room as the colonel walked over to the record player, waving his hand towards the prisoner, gesturing that he be taken back. One of the sentries untied and lifted the prisoner over his shoulder and walked out the open door. The colonel lifted the needle of the record player, leaving the room in a sudden vacuum.
"Sir, may I ask a question?" the remaining sentry asked in a voice that seemed too young for a soldier fighting in a war.
"Of course, son. Of course." the colonel replied in a deep voice that making the young man's voice sound all the more out of place.
"The man that was in here earlier, sir, he's never spoken a word in all of the interrogations. I've heard you say that he probably doesn't know anything. And .... and he didn't even steal that bottle of wine this time...." the young man's voice trailed off.
"Your point being?"
"Sir, if he didn't do anything, why was he in here?"
"Oh." A deep throated chuckle. "I just wanted to have some fun."

Who am I?

I speak. I listen. I imagine. I dream.
These define who I am ... define all the irregularities and the imperfections that are me.
I am the sum of my experiences and opinions, of my victories and mistakes.
I am the realisation of my wants and losses,
of my hopes and prejudices.
I am the whole of my affections and affectations, of my perceptions and inabilities.
I just am.

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy

His footsteps were muffled by the red, moth-eaten carpet ... his shallow breathing lost in the music ... his dark pupils masked by the reflection of the screen in his eyes ... the light played across his face, contorting it, turning it into masks of pain, masks of anguish, masks of despair ... masks of sadness. Chaplin tumbled onto the ground in his usual tramp style. The million times he's done it before and it's funny every time. The black and white poster was put up at the end of the row of chairs -

Charlie Chaplin Film Festival
Final shows of the Plaza

'The Kid' - the movie they'd opened with all those years ago. A fitting tribute. And what a way to go out ... with a bang!
The music picked up tempo, a pivotal scene. He didn't laugh though ... the cramps were getting worse, pain seared his brain, his vision ... but he had made a promise, one that he was going to keep. The consequences of not keeping it were bad, but he was beginning to feel that the effects of keeping it were worse.
He doubled over, keeping his head low .... the sounds of laughter from the audience mingled with the music. He tried to concentrate on the irregular screeching sounds coming from the speakers. The place really had gotten too old.
Sweat soaked the surface of his palms as beads of sweat meandered down his face through the day old stubble. He started to scratch his arms ... it seemed like the flesh beneath his skin was itching ... like the blood coursing through his veins was burning, growing worse with each beat of his heart. Mind over matter, he tried to keep his thoughts focussed on the movie. He'd loved Chaplin when he was a kid ...
He bent over as a wave of nausea washed over him. He picked up his backpack and headed for the exit to the restrooms. The padded door creaked as he pushed against it using all of the strength he had remaining. The narrow crack that opened was enough for his slight frame to get through.
He felt the cracks in the walls against his palm as he stumbled to the rest room at the end of the darkening corridor, the tube light flickering on and off. Faltering, irregular steps closed the distance to the outline of the door. He fell to his knees ... unable to hold himself up, his legs felt like they were made of water. The journey continued in a crawl, toward a goal ... mind over matter. The carpet on the floor felt coarse under his hands.
The wave of nausea finally reached the tipping point as he reached the door. He lifted himself up using the sink as support. The foul odour of his vomit blended with the comparable essence of the old restroom. The nausea had passed leaving emptiness in its place ... emptiness that he'd felt before ... all too many times. Emptiness that craved to be filled ... filling it meant everything. No more ....
He walked into the closest stall and sat on the floor ... the moldy smell overpowering his senses ... threatening to bring the nausea back .... no more! He pulled open the zipper on his back pack with one hand while scratching his neck with the other. Emptying the contents on the floor he leaned back against the wall of the booth ... he was going to break his promise ... the promise he'd made just that morning, standing at the train station. He closed his eyes ... her face ... he saw it light up as he said 'I promise' ... he remembered her lingering touch as she boarded the train ... he remembered the whispered, almost hallowed 'thank you'. The tears mingled with the sweat flowing down his cheeks. He opened his eyes to stare at graffiti scrawled on the booth wall in permanent marker ... a heart with an arrow through it, "R+N" written inside it, the entire work of modern art scratched across as though with someone's fingernails.
He picked out two small brown paper packets, one marked 'H' and the other 'C' and a bottle of Sprite from the stuff on the floor. The bottle fizzed as he opened he opened it and dumped half its content down the toilet. He opened the first packet and stared into it. Stared at the one thing that could provide relief ... stared at his health and his sickness ... stared at the object of his addiction.
Slowly, he poured some of the brown powder into the waiting bottle ... a little of the powder at a time. He'd spent ... lost way too much getting it. He had nothing left to sell except his soul ... and maybe that was already damned. He opened the other packet and poured some of the white powder into the bottle, a little more than the brown stuff.
Taking a lighter out of his pocket he held it under the bottle holding it at the neck. The turbid liquid began to clear as the smell of burning plastic filled the booth. He stared at the bottle, at the tepid liquid inside it ... and after a while through it. Sorting through the stuff on the floor he started to put things back in his bag ... until he found what he was looking for. He tore open the sterilised paper packing exposing the syringe to the elements.
Tilting the bottle to one side he put the syringe in and filled it. Licking the tip of the syringe he tore open the plastic wrapping on the needle ... He had to try twice before he could steady his hands enough to push it onto the syringe.
Holding the syringe in his left hand, he tapped his arm to find a vein. His heart was pumping a mile a minute ... his vein stood out, bluish against the colour of flesh. He winced as he injected himself.
Almost immediately his heart slowed, sounds became distant, the horrible odour of the rest room went away. The face from his memory smiled and faded away. He felt ... lighter, like he was about to float away. His vision swayed with each beat of his heart ... with each movement of the seconds hand of his watch. He could hear his heart ... the soft ticking of his watch ... the drip of a leaky faucet ... the wind blowing his problems away. The graffiti on the wall began to move, began to flow, began to fade.
Pushing himself up against the ground his palm stuck on the floor on the booth ... he stared at it in bewilderment. Stumbling out of the booth, he headed back to his seat ... past the crumbling corridor, through the padded door ... into darkness. Suddenly the screen lit up in blacks and grays startling him into movement.
He got to his seat and stared at the screen ... the tinniness from the speakers was gone, but he didn't notice. He watched the myriad of images formed by the shades of gray on the screen without registering any of them. All he saw were vague shapes that played across his eyes. Sounds that he could see, colours that he could hear ... none of it made sense, but then none of it mattered. The tramp was crying on screen. The music slowed to just over the pace of a dirge. The audience was quiet and tense at the same time. They'd seen Chaplin way too often. This was the calm before the storm. The Sprite bottle found its way to his lips.
All of a sudden he gasped for breath ... the grays turned to white as the cocaine kicked in. He kicked against the seat in front of him, holding his throat. The music reached a crescendo ... the trumpets and violins timed to the movements on the screen, out of sync with the arms that reached out to grab hold of some support, to get the attention of someone ... anyone.
The screen went black.

Running on Empty

A citrine night sky. Ironic, or may be fitting, that a city with a soul so dark would have such a bright night sky. The colour of the sky, a reflection of her cataract ridden eyes, hidden behind the spectacles whose thick lenses haven't been cleaned in days. Callused hands smudge the soot caked over the lens as she takes them off and carefully wipes them on her clothes. Trembling fingers unsteadily perch the cleaned yet now dirtier spectacles on the bridge of her nose. Uncertain eyes focus on the blurry image of dirty fingernails reduced to jagged stubs. They find their way to waiting mouth that hasn't tasted sweet or sour in too long. The gritty texture of the dirt beneath her fingernails hurts her sensitive teeth as she bites into it. Her exploring tongue feels the shard that's broken off into her mouth, pushes it against the back of her teeth trying to delay swallowing it. She finds the gap that was once occupied by a tooth made of solid gold. The tooth that her son had pulled out.
Her heart jumps at the metallic taste of blood that floods her mouth. Her nails tearing her tender gums, adrenaline pumping, making her tongue seem swollen and numb. Suddenly being bathed in the red of the traffic light shocks her back into the present ... time to go to work. The once straight walking stick creaks under her weight as she hauls herself up and limps to the nearest car, hoping that she'll get enough money to sleep with something in her stomach. To sleep ... to dream ... to wake the next morning.
She watches her reflection reaching towards her, hears the soft chime of coins held her in her precious cloth bag. She mouths her plea to her own reflection in the window of the car, unable to see her hopeful benefactor. The window is unmoved, the reflection is unmoved. Onto the next soul. A few people make her richer by a few pennies, a few spurn her for what she has become, oblivious to see what she has been ... a mother spurned ... a wife widowed, her identity lost leaving a fragile shell behind.
The signal turns a shady amber, telling her to start moving back to the sidewalk. Limping slowly towards a destination that seems to be retreating from her, she holds her wrinkled hand up against the rearing monsters facing the starting line hoping that they'll heed her prayer. The light turns, the monsters charge, she hears a screech, all she can make out is a blur ... something large coming towards her.
"Out of the way, you hag!!"
She moves, fast as she can to the safety of the sidewalk. Too old. She's too old for this. Panting, she leans on her walking stick hoping that it won't break under the weight of her feeble frame. She makes peace with the thought that she'll go to bed hungry. A little more money and she might just be able to eat the next day ... the cloth bag jingles in agreement. Just a few minutes ... a little rest. She feels her stick being kicked out from under her.
"Am so sorry! Was in my own world. Didn't see your walking stick. Am so sorry!"
A deep voice from a blur that moved.
"It's alright, son. No harm done ... Could you spare some change? I haven't had anything to eat in days. Please ... "
Maybe he's sorry enough to give her some money.
"Um ... I don't have any change ..."
The genuine sound of regret in his voice.
"Oh, alright. It's just that I haven't had anything to eat ... Thanks, anyway"
The sound of soft footsteps walking away. She settles back down on the sidewalk. Just a few minutes ... just a little rest.
"I'm sorry. But I've had enough bad luck to know that you sometimes need a helping hand. How about I get you something to eat?"
That deep voice again ... Her smile takes in all of him ... the stubble on his face, the large crumpled envelope under his arm, the rumpled coat, the dirty sneakers ... all of it. She tries to get a good look at him ... tries to remember the way he looks ... one of the few kind people she's met, like the woman who had given her the coat she was wearing.
They move towards the closest restaurant ... she limping, he shuffling along. She tells him about her son, her husband who passed away, the street urchins who throw stones at her and call her a hag ... her life.
The shady establishment is identified only by the sign above the olive green door saying 'Restarant'. The greyish paint on the walls peeling, the dingy interiors lit by four bulbs spreading barely enough light to read by.
"So, what would you like?"
She names dishes that she's eaten ... that she's cooked ... that she's heard of but never seen.
"Can I get a sweet too?" in the most innocent voice she can manage.
"Ha Sure, why not."
"And could you please have it packed ... I'd like to eat at home ..."
"Are you sure? It looks like it's going to rain."
"It's ok. I live close by."
He just nods and places the order. They wait and watch the drizzle turn into a downpour. He listens as she rambles about the time she was accused of stealing, about a grandchild she can't remember anymore, about the streets and how they treat her ... about her life.
A child dressed in a dirty vest and even dirtier shorts brings him a white plastic packet and runs off towards the dim outline of a door in the back of the small hall.
"Are you sure you don't want to stay here until the rain stops?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I live close by. Don't worry."
He offers her the parcel. Her trembling hands slowly reach for the parcel as though scared that it might disappear if she touches it. She seems genuinely surprised by the warmth that escapes through the plastic.
"Thank you, son! Thank you so much! May God have mercy on me and give my remaining age to you!"
A sharp intake of breath followed by a sigh.
"Thank you. You don't know how much that means to me."
They pass through the olive green door once more and turn to face different directions. They part ways with a nod and a smile ... one limping, the other shuffling along.
She limps under the awnings of shops, under the cover of trees, clutching the white packet to her chest. She enjoys the contrast in temperatures, the warmth of the packet against the cold of the rain.
A turn into a narrow dark alley puts her in front of a large concrete pipe, its mouth partly covered by a large blue plastic sheet. She moves the rock on the pipe firmly anchoring the sheet in place so that it covers the whole mouth. Home sweet home.
She lights a candle to make out the blurs before her, unpacks the still warm parcel and stares at the food, still unable to believe that she's about to eat, still expecting it to disappear in a puff of smoke at a touch. The lack of a spoon doesn't bother her. She sticks her hands out in the rain but thinks twice about wiping them on her clothes. The contrast in temperatures becomes conspicuous as she puts her wet fingers in the warm rice. She savours each morsel of her supper ... the sweet, the sour, the pungent, the bitter, she tastes it all ... she feasts.
She stares at the empty dishes trying to remember what they looked like when they were full. Hoping that the memory of a feast will sustain her until her next meal. She blows out the candle. To sleep ... to dream. The cold of the night seeps into her bones.
The young man lived for a year longer than the doctors said he would.

On The Turning Away

What scares you?
What do you hate?
What makes you wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night?
What's the stuff your nightmares are made of?
Our nightmares are greater than the sum of their parts. What's more, the parts have changed with time, with stimuli, with circumstances ... with ideas. The only thing that's constant is change, right? I was exposed to a rude reminder of this when talking to a couple of gentlemen from the generation preceding mine. Their ideas and mine didn't quite meet, in fact they clashed in manners similar to soldiers armed with words ... strong words. I chalked it up to the all engulfing generation gap. Fuming at how racism had corrupted people whose opinions I respect in most things, I didn't see what was staring me in the face - their experiences are different from mine. Their prejudices are different from mine.
I didn't live through two wars with neighbouring countries. I didn't huddle up in a small room in the middle of the night when the air raid siren went off. I didn't see a man being shot because he lit a cigarette at night. I didn't live through an emergency declared by a dictatorial prime minister. I didn't see the man with smoldering eyes running around with a sickle in his hand hacking up people. I didn't see riots on the street when a dictatorial politician was assassinated. I didn't see blood flowing in the drains next to my house.
Experiences, sights ... waking nightmares like these have caused them to wear scarlet coloured glasses, to see everything as though through the haze of a war, to react to everything in the most common way they were reacted to, with violence, with hatred, with a strange mix of tolerance and racism that I don't quite get. Love the individuals that you know but hate the race that they belong to. Hate the millions of faceless people who belong to it. 'As long as I don't know them, I hate them.'
What I've seen for most of my life is peace, uncertain and shaky, but peace nonetheless. There are a few times it was threatened. Spiced up and exploited by the media, its splashed across every magazine and TV screen in the world. Images, horrifying and inspiring ... words, to inform and subvert. Information.
This brings me to the topic of the conversation I was referring to earlier. Hatred, racism, bigotry and whatever else fits under that umbrella - how its being spread through the education system. I know what most people reading this are going to say now. 'There are so many Islamic schools that teach the Koran'. You're absolutely right. There are thousands, many of them teaching a somewhat misguided view of it. But that's not the whole truth.
What follows is a quote from the Old Testament, the book on which Judaism, Christianity and Islam are based

If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following. You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God. . . .(Deuteronomy 13:7–11)

This is taught in Sunday school and most of the Christian institutions. A "God" asking the people that follow him to kill other people. The same "God" that said "Thou shalt not kill."
One might think this is the end of it. This point illustrates that the interpretation of words, of information can kill the meaning behind it. We already know, courtesy of the media, that there are militant camps that are promoting a somewhat skewed interpretation of scripture.
Here's something you don't know. There are schools like this right under your nose! I'm not just talking about those that I've mentioned above. The Hindutva brigade started schools soon after Indian independence that promotes their own brand of "Hindu" values.
Here's the militant school that you don't know about.
These are the "facts" that children in these schools are taught -

  • Homer adapted Valmiki’s Ramayana into an epic called Iliad

  • The language of the Native American Indians evolved from ancient Indian languages

  • a map of India which includes not only Pakistan and Bangladesh but also the entire region of Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet and even parts of Myanmar.

If anybody's read the Iliad and has even a brief idea of what the Ramayana is about the first point should be enough to convince you.
The second would kill any cultural anthropologist, either because he had a heart attack while laughing or because of a brain aneurysm he developed trying to figure out how this could be true. We can't even begin to decipher the ancient Indian languages from the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation. I'm guessing that making tall claims is first lesson in hypocrisy, something that the Hindutva brigade is more than comfortable with.
The third is just plain bloody wrong. Any person who passed geography would know that (including me).
The Hindutva brigade shames any "True Hindu" (read this) but this is insulting the intelligence of the entire human race.
These schools are a breeding ground for automatons that take orders, that can't think for themselves, that are taught, no, not taught, force fed lies. How is this any different from the militant cells set up in Islamic countries? How is this any different from that basis of the Inquisition?
This was the topic of conversation that I was referring to earlier. Education is about facts. Its about learning. Its about preparing a child for the life that he/she has to face.
This is about creating an army.
This is the point that the two gentlemen and I disagreed on. They believe that an army is required. I don't. You can't fight a forest fire by starting another forest fire. There'll be nothing left to burn.
This is the stuff my nightmares are made of. This is what keeps me awake at night. The next generation will be a silent people, unable to think for themselves, harbouring a skewed sense of morality fueled and led by a nameless faceless fascist ass dressed in saffron robes or a white caftan or a black suit.
I don't know what to do about it. I just know that if enough people know about it, it might stop. Information, unadulterated, is power. It allows you make a decision on how things should be. It puts the future in your hands. I only hope that its not my nightmare.
If what we sow is what we reap, then we're in deep shit.
We're sowing the fields with bullets.
We're soaking the fields in blood.

The Post War Dream

I know this letter must come to you out of the blue considering that you've had no communication regarding your son for almost two years. I served, I suppose would be the best term, with your son for the better part of a year and half. We met at a POW camp in June the year before last and came to be pretty close during our stay there. As you can imagine, our somewhat sorry situation put us in a position in which we had to rely on each for support.
I know that you did not approve of him joining the army. I also know that he used to write to you every week. I can only imagine what it must have felt like when the letters stopped coming. He always wished that you had written back, though. I'm sure that you'd wanted to. I could just never figure out why you didn't. He believed knew that you loved him even though you never did write back. I think he was right. I hope he was right. Was he?
He always talked about you in a sort of larger than life sense - his mom, the woman who could handle anything, thrifty vendors or gigantic hurricanes, Scrapes and bruises or Air Raids and Wars. He inherited his patriotism from you, I believe. He used to talk about how you'd make him stay up till midnight every independence day to salute the flag. I wonder if you realise how big an influence you were on him. There were some things he just had to do for himself. Some things that you couldn't influence him on.
His biggest fear was that he would disappoint you in some way. I think that is what got him through some of the rougher treatment we were subjected to by our less than congenial hosts. He felt that he would fail his country and you, in some sense, if he broke under the pressure. Knife points or needles, ropes or shackles, he never seemed to break. Of course, this only made our hosts try even harder. They'd never come across a man they couldn't break ... until they came up against your son. Who knew the little twerp had it in him.
Your son had a pretty mischievous streak, though, but then I guess you already know that. We used to steal some of the booze from our captors every couple of weeks. You can't imagine how much fun it used to be. "Like stealing from mom's kitchen", he would say with a grin on his face after we'd gotten back to our bunks. He'd talk about all the sweets he'd steal, all the times he'd get away with it even though the dish was right under your nose. Did he really manage to get away with it or did you just let him go? (From what I've heard of you, I'd think it was the latter. I can just imagine you watching him skulking around from the corner of your eye.) We'd crawl between the huts to the building where they'd keep it, sneak in and steal a couple of bottles for everyone who bunked with us.
It used to be great fun, like an adventure. We were men of fortune, intrepid explorers searching for a lost treasure ... searching for hope. This was the stuff that made the rest of it bearable. We'd always think we were hitting them where it hurt. I suppose it was a fool's hope, but it was a hope nonetheless. The problem is that they weren't like you. They didn't turn a blind eye the couple of times that they caught us. We were forced to drink all that we had stolen. We'd always go through it together, the two of us ... made it easier somehow.
We'd always talk about it as though we'd been out to a bar the previous night and couldn't remember what happened. Oh, he came up with some pretty wild stories for the bruises we'd have in the morning! One of them involved a tight rope act, except that the role of the rope was played by him. Another involved a bar fight in which the two of us were defending the honour of a lady. Faced by a host of foes with guns and knives, chains and daggers. As you can see, we tried to make our life as light as possible. There was way too much to pull us the other way.
He'd tell me about how he used to stay up with his father and stare at the night sky. The stars "like holes in a blindfold someone tied around my head." He said he'd like to look up at those stars with his son someday, with a telescope hopefully. He'd teach his son about the constellations, just Libra and trustworthy Capricorn and all the others. He tried to teach me these but I just couldn't follow. Being brought up in a city, I never got to see too many stars. I should have tried harder to learn. I don't know when he'll tell me about them again.
There's something I think I should tell you, because I'm sure he never will and maybe because you're in a position to do something about it. Before he shipped off for the army, his affections were reserved for a girl he knew, XXXXXX, he met her in college, I'm hoping that you know her or at least of her. He never told her how he felt and I'm sure he'll kill me for telling you about it. I'm a bit of hopeless romantic, but I hope she's waiting for him and I hope she will till he comes back.
We always talked about what we would do when we got back home. All the people we would see, all the places we would go, all the things we would do. He always said that he would take you to the city, just to get you out of the town. To show you all that was missing in the little towns. How he'd buy a car and drive through the countryside with its crisp, clean air. How he'd lie down in the fields and stare up at the clouds and try to see his friend's faces in their shapes. His enthusiasm was contagious, some of his dreams became mine.
I know that I've rambled on quite a bit without answering the question that's burning in your mind. The truth is, I don't know where your son is. We were shipped off to different camps about four months ago. The camp I was in was found by our allies and we were shipped back home a few weeks ago. I've been trying to find out about your son since I got back. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't wish he was here with me.
I know that you knew the boy that your son was. I felt that you should know the man he is.

Yours Sincerely

Gathering Storm

The cold winter wind through the trees
Closing windows and slamming doors
Try to shut out the voices in my head
I just wish they weren't all yours

Flickering street lamps fight flashes of lighting
Though, on this they seem to agree
Raindrops roll like the pearls of my wits
That you'd strung up and now set free

Ripples spread like your smile used to be
Like the dark lanes holding onto their mystery
Staring at the opposing poles of time
Standing at the corner of Memory and Misery

Rocks glisten in the pale moonlight
Shards of broken dreams we once shared
Flowers and leaves float on the water
A story of forbidden love that endured

To the pulse of lightning, the beat of thunder
In the rain the trees dance and sway
My eyes were filled with water
How did your picture burn away?

Furbundo, Sketcher, as you can see, it's done. So, whenever you boys are ready.


The rattle of chains, the shuffling of pages
Freedom struggles in silent mutiny
The surety of change, the twisting of fate as it ages
I see in the garden of Destiny

The sob of an old mother, the scream of a new
In her womb I hold my breath
The waning of a candle, the birth of a flame
I see in the arms of Death

What will never be, what could have been
A sleeper mutely mouths a scream
The spark of what will be, have I seen
Floating in the realm of Dream

The face of a hammer, the point of a chisel
An artist taking pride in his creation
The edge of a sword, the nib of a pen
I see in the wake of Destruction

The beat of a glass heart, the rush of blood
Hate and revulsion forged in a slow fire
Quenched in fickle consequence
At the Threshold of Desire

A hook carving flesh, a noose of silken rope
Through the looking glasses I see them prepare,
A promise of torture, A glimmer of hope
Swirling in the fog of Despair

Colours sing, planets dance, time breaks
Insane minds fancy and take flight
Seeking refuge from their pains and aches
In Delirium's eyes they seek Delight

Thank you, Mr Gaiman, for paving the yellow brick road leading me home.
Thank you, Wren, for showing me that I can still click my heels together.