|This story was banned in China and translated into Russian…
STU ZSIBINSKY’S LOST CAUSE
from ‘New Writing 14′ – British Council/Granta
As Radical Activist Stu Zsibinsky wondered about the thirty years of political struggle that had led him to a peeling council flat in a tubeless suburb, he realised he had unwittingly circled an ad in the Women Seeking Men section of a reviled Saturday newspaper. His problem was that he had been involved with many causes but unfortunately not with many women. Looking back, he had campaigned against a range of isms and phobias, against animal experiments, genetically modified food, food additives, fox-hunting, hedgehog culling, the extinction of the tadpole shrimp, third world debt, first world complacency, and the second world generally (wherever it was), deforestation, motorways, ringroads, bypasses, banks, nuclear power, nuclear weapons, nuclear families, NATO, US military adventures, the community charge, police brutality, the closure of schools, hospitals, mines, shipyards and his own bank account, drug companies, pesticides, live exports, emissions from cars, trucks and aeroplanes, stockbrokers on horses, bailiffs with chainsaws, vivisectionists in Volvos and on and on and on. In the same period that he had campaigned so vigorously for such causes, he had known Jane. In other words, in his life, causes outweighed women by a ratio of 24:1. He knew this because he had worked out that, on average, he had to campaign for 24 different issues before he met a woman who liked him. In the old days, calculated over time, he could campaign for a dozen issues a year and get laid every two years, especially if Christmas was a factor.
The trouble was, he was 48. He hadn’t seen Jane for over four years and, in any case, the romance had only lasted three convoys of live sheep to France before she’d packed in both him and the sheep. Neither had a future, she’d told him. The struggle is forever, he’d replied. Not in your case, she’d said, pointing out that he’d lost the struggle with his three chins and two guts. He’d insisted that his body had successfully campaigned for freedom and who was he or anyone to stand in the way of the masses?
His physique, she’d said, was the least of his problems. He was also a terrible dresser, and being a Radical Activist didn’t mean you had to be either. This was the new millennium, the age of connectivity. Who’d want to connect with him? Radical Activists, she’d pointed out during a bypass protest, needed to be photogenic, telegenic, and have a cyber profile. They needed laptop computers, mobile phones, credit cards and the latest urban warrior fashion accessories, all of which added up to the modern campaign lifestyle, a lifestyle from which Stu was a lifetime away. After a frosty silence, Jane had carefully folded her designer pure wool balaclava, and cadged a lift back to London in a cycle campaigner’s Range Rover.
It was the very moment that Radical Activist Stu Zsibinsky stopped liking women (and cycle campaigners). It was not that he didn’t support women’s rights. Course he did. It was not that he didn’t listen to women. Course he did. It was not that they didn’t like him in their own way. Course they did.
But his souring looks, and the fact that new millennium single issue supporters generally insisted on total lifelong commitment to looking the part, meant that sex and relationships were not on the cards. They would, he thought, not even be listed in the index of his life. To change this, he couldn’t very well take to the streets: What do I want? A shag. When do I want it? Now…
It was clear to him that people would have willingly chained him to a railing and the fire brigade would have left him there. Anyway, it would have been like campaigning for himself, which was contrary to all his beliefs about campaigning for others. Answering an ad, therefore, was the only way left to meet a like-minded woman and, crucially, to improve his cause:women ratio.
The ad was looking for a non-smoking, non-beer-drinking, fashionable man with a political conscience. At least he was one of these. A list of campaigns, his phone number, and the line I’m badly dressed but I can change, brought a swift reply two days later. The woman’s name was Jane, a coincidence that did not escape Stu’s notice. She claimed to be an extremely young 40-something. She used to be in fashion but was currently in campaigns. In fact she was launching a new campaign that, she felt, was so ‘now’. It was a campaign against badly dressed campaigners.
A week later, they met in a non-smoking independent fair trade café over a soya decaff and a peppermint infusion. Jane was impressed that he had given up active smoking and was now a committed passive smoker. She was less impressed with his old brown Doc Martens, his black denim jacket and black jeans that he never washed in case the anarchist black faded to sit-on-the-fence grey. They say retro is never passé, she’d pointed out, but that’s one fashion that’s never coming back. However, he won her over with the following ingenious argument: I can be both a campaigner for your cause and the reason you undertook it in the first place.
Soon they began to relate on a regular basis. They even had sex. It wasn’t exactly the dirty socialist shags Stu had in mind but, with her extreme youthfulness and his faultless logic, they were a team. Enthusiastically, he helped her to campaign against himself. Although it did take some getting used to. You can’t take on the police wearing that, she would say. And: If you think you’re going out to reclaim the streets in those shoes you’ve got another thing coming. And: That banner doesn’t match your socks.
Little by little, the outmoded garb of a people’s revolutionary was modified. His DMs became hi-tech trainers, his black jeans became labelled combat trousers, his checked shirt was replaced with a clubber’s t-shirt, his denim jacket became a micro-fleece, zips and buttons became Velcro straps. He was fully accessorised with an underarm mobile phone pouch, personal organiser belt-bag and more pockets than he knew what to do with.
Barely three months into the campaign against badly dressed campaigners and the fashion industry was flocking to Jane and Stu – or ‘J-Zee™’, as they were known – with sponsorship deals. J told Zee when to speak, when not to speak, what to say and what not say. After the sponsors came the photoshoots for lifestyle magazines. J-Zee™ spearheaded sponsored rioters dressed in carefully vetted outfits, and fashion photographers were on hand to record the synchronised action.
After five months with J, there was no trace of Stu Zsibinsky, Radical Activist. He was no more. He had been reinvented. Women, from teenaged animal lovers to reborn ‘grey pound’ activists, would have given themselves to Zee without a second thought. His cause:women ratio would have been 1:9 if he’d bothered to work it out. But with the money rolling in, Zee had it all: the woman; the politics; the clothes. He even started to like the newspaper. Before long, he bought his peeling council flat, and turned it into a minimalist protest nerve centre, courtesy of a globally-aware interior design guru. Out went the bookshelves with their dusty anarcho-syndicalist manuals, rare second-hand Marxist contemplations, diaries of obscure proto-socialists, the memoirs of Trotskyite prisoners, situationist ramblings, and the collected maxims of martyred revolutionaries. In came wardrobe space, wooden hangers, high performance ‘intelligent’ washing powders, and a slim volume entitled ‘Pilates for Protestors’ by one of J’s Californian disciples.
J got a book commission of her own: ‘Riot Gear – a photographic journey’; Zee got a pedicure for a lifestyle magazine photoshoot: ‘Treat yourself to a pre-march buff and shine. Top protestor Zee says…’. But, while his Communist corns and anti-Fascist cuticles were being pumiced, Zee began to feel something he hadn’t felt in five months. He began to feel like a complete prick. It was not a feeling he wanted to share with lifestyle journalists, and especially not with J in case she agreed.
A few weeks later, while having what J called ‘third way’ sex, part private, part public and a bit metrosexual, Zee experienced a nostalgic wave of proletarian discontent. He used to shag in the spirit of class war; now he was being used to mime lyrics to a pre-recorded pop song. Politics was just the soundtrack to a fashion parade; sex was a 12-step programme devoid of bump and grind, slip and slide, rock and roll. Out on the streets logotyped mass culture was being positioned by brand consultants, developed by personal fulfilment specialists and satisfied by customer experience directors. ‘Nostalgic waves of proletarian discontent’ could be bought on CD for £4.99. Free poster included. And the worst of it was, nobody felt insincere. Just the opposite. Words like ‘honest’, ‘real’, ‘committed’ and ‘passionate’ were used to describe ‘us’, and words like ‘wrong’, ‘immoral’, ‘hypocritical’ and ‘corrupt’ were used to describe ‘them’.
After sex, Zee slapped a Nicorette patch on his arm and imagined smoke rings drifting to the ceiling. Then he turned to J and said: ‘I feel like a complete prick.’ Her answer, as she dialled her publicist, shocked him: ‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said, then to her publicist: ‘Hi darling, just to let you know, the colour for today is saffron…’
It didn’t take Zee long to realise that this wasn’t the beginning of the end but the end itself. He told J he was going to Pilates. But he wandered the streets. Soon he was overwhelmed by an urge to sit in a stinking pub with a pint of bitter, a roll-up and a copy of ‘Socialist Worker’. But he couldn’t find such a pub. Instead, he sat in a glassy piney non-smokey gastro pubby over a goat cheese quiche with leafy salad, a white wine and the latest edition of ‘Protest’, the magazine for the lifestyle protestor, in which he was featured having a pedicure.
‘Top protestor Zee says: “I feel like a complete prick”…’ Only he wasn’t quoted saying that. ‘Top protestor Zee says: “If it’s gonna make you protest better, just go for it.”’ Above was a picture of him grinning and pointing at his left foot, a foot whose former address had been a DM boot which, in turn, had stomped on Nazi heads and kicked in scab doors.
I really am a prick, Zee thought. It’s just that it doesn’t matter. Maybe everyone felt that way about themselves but didn’t mind. In other words, maybe there were lots of totally self-aware pricks (and cunts) out there who didn’t mind being pricks (and cunts). Maybe it was time to protest against self-aware pricks (and cunts). And maybe the final battleground was right here: a fight to the death between a roll-up and a leafy salad.
And that, according to the various eyewitness accounts, is more or less what happened. Zee, screaming ‘Do you know who I am you pricks (and cunts)?’ apparently shed his clothes, ripped them off himself, then tried to smoke as many roll-ups as he could from his secret stash before the law arrived. When it did, two-headed and uniformed, he screamed: ‘It doesn’t matter everybody, it doesn’t fucking matter’.
But it did matter. It mattered to the other customers and to the quality of their dining experience; it mattered to their health, which had been damaged by the smoke, and to their emotions, which had been traumatised by the sight of Zee’s left-leaning penis. It mattered to the police, to the law in general, to the fashion industry sponsors, to the journalists and, most of all, it mattered to Zee’s cause:women ratio which he thought he had under control.
Some might have concluded that he’d reached the end of his tether. But Zee was not a horse or any other quadruped. He was an anarchist, he explained, and he did not like government in any of its forms. He did not like to be told what to do and when to do it nor what to say and when to say it. Is that so? asked J. Oh no, said Zee, you’re not dumping me, are you? In fact, J did not dump Zee although she did email him to point out that his role as a stakeholder in the partnership was terminated.
Shunned, lonely, desolate, and terminated, Stu Zsibinsky became a barely remembered relic of a bygone and best forgotten age. He wasn’t to know it then but, one day, while buying back a few of his donated socialist volumes from a charity shop, he would meet a new Jane. They would attract each other instantly with their vacant stares. Both would have protested against so many things that there was nothing left to protest against, including each other. And so they would live, with the occasional, shared, nostalgic wave of proletarian discontent, apathetically ever after.
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SMALL TALK – from Westside Storeys, an XPress anthology
The night I speak of is the night someone cleans out the safe in the office and leaves a tampon instead of the cash. The tampon is a Boots Super Plus with Applicator. It is clearly used, and the fact of it being used whatever its brand makes it a kind of calling card, a calling card that says: I bled here. It is also a personal insult to Bonsai, who is the owner of the safe, the office the safe is in and the club the office is in. It is a personal insult to him because Bonsai orders us girls never to work when we have our periods. He tells us many times that if he catches a girl working and bleeding at the same time she is most certainly fired. We call him Bonsai on account of him being very small, very manicured and a total pain to keep happy, not because he is Japanese, which he isn’t.
I do not care about women’s issues, he tells us many times in his high-pitched non-smoker’s voice. My clientele do not care about women’s issues. My clientele do not pay to see gummy knickers and tampon strings. What they pay to see is a bikini wax, big hair, big shoes, a big Hello Boys up front and twenty minutes sexy small talk. And that is all.
He has a long list of other rules such as no plasters on your toes, no chewing gum in the gob, no five o’clock shadow on the lip, no stretch marks. He is even known to make rules about teeth and check a girl’s teeth like she is a horse. But the rule about periods is without a doubt his favourite. So the fact of a tampon appearing in the safe instead of the whole week’s takings leads most people to get religious about certain ideas. But most people get religious about three ideas in particular. One, the thief is definitely a woman. Two, the thief is definitely a woman with a period. Three, the thief is definitely a woman with a period and inside knowledge. And all these three items, the woman, the period and the inside knowledge, obviously come together at the same small hour in the same small place. Namely, at about 3.30am in Bonsai’s safe. So if you are the type who goes around suspecting other people, you would suspect one or more and pretty much any of the women. In a nutshell, all of us girls have motive and opportunity shared out between us like equal rights.
But I am getting way way way ahead of myself. As per usual. Press pause, relax, rewind, soft cushion, glass of red, spliff, clear the mind, slow the heart, then press play, roll the credits, set the scene.
The events I speak of happen around the time when the new millennium is not so new. In fact it is getting on for old, and all the promises people make in the name of the new millennium are still at the warehouse waiting to be delivered. The cheque is in the post, the bus is due but meanwhile a lot of girls are having a hard time. Everyone talks big about making a wedge or stealing a wedge and getting out, and those like me who do not talk big about it think about it all the time. Because when you are debted up and cannot see a way out, nothing but nothing is sadder than a wig, a false name and a fake tan. At times like this a place like this makes everyone rub each other up the wrong way and gets everyone pressing the wrong buttons. In good times the rubbing is a laugh and even if you press the wrong button you still get a can of Pepsi.
But the millennium is growing leg hair like an ape and needs a full body wax and a good going over with a Remington Ladyshave because all the girls are waiting so long for Bonsai’s promises to be fulfilled. Instead of fulfilment all we get is Bonsai ordering us about, verballing us down, clipping his nails, filing his nails, inspecting his nails, making up new rules and getting tighter and meaner than ever. He is so tight he buys special energy-saving bulbs then keeps them locked in a money-saving cupboard. He is so mean he installs dummy cameras instead of proper CCTV. It is well known that Bonsai is the sort to be tight and mean even if the key to the land of plenty is firmly in his hand. As it is he has firmly in his hand two much lesser things: the key to a lapdancing club near Centrepoint and the fun-size brains of his favourite dancer.
His favourite dancer is Tara Ya-Ya. She is twice as tall and half as old as Bonsai and has a day job as Bonsai’s ever-clinging girlfriend. It is often suggested that Bonsai should find a sex partner more his size, like a Honda Civic. But Bonsai feels he is trading up and Tara Ya-Ya thinks she is too. One of them is certainly wrong but it is very true that being Bonsai’s ever-clinging girlfriend gives Tara Ya-Ya more airs than she arrives in the world with. And Tara Ya-Ya arrives in this world with more airs than is average on account of the hyphen in her last name. This is why she is all ya ya and quickly learns to live up to the hyphen by being a snooty ya ya bitch.
Of course neither her long legs nor her mock croc accessories nor her airs encourage Bonsai to cough up any quicker. In other words he is as tight and mean with his ever-clinging girlfriend as anyone else and she always has to beg hard for a biscuit. The thing is though, everyone is still jealous of her because of course Tara Ya-Ya is the only one with begging rights.
Before the pecking order reaches me (I am advised not to mention my working name for legal reasons) there are three other girls. Mostly what we have in common is no trust for each other, although everyone gets a big ego free when they start work. After Tara Ya-Ya, the runner-up for the ego prize goes to Xana. She is a flashy Italian dominatrix with a pvc wardrobe, a dungeon in Paddington and Engleesh that is not very well. But her Engleesh is never a problem because Mistress Xana speaks the international language of domination. She invites me one time to watch her work in her dungeon. She says many things I do not understand, including things like: you eslave batard, you edirty devil, like my boats, I say like my boats now. Mistress Xana hates Tara Ya-Ya and to get back at her she is trying for months to make Bonsai her slave. She says Bonsai is already a dirty eslave ina his emind. Maybe. But Bonsai is not a slave in his wallet and since that is mostly where his mind is, it stands to reason that he is not ready to part with a hundred pounds for a half hour session. For that money he is only prepared to be Mistress Xana’s slave for fifteen minutes and that, she complains, is not nearly long enough to train him properly.
Then there is Gold, who is an oiled up bodybuilder who tells everyone she is from California and speaks to everyone, especially men, in an American accent. She is actually from a place more east than California called East Ham. But everyone knows she is famous because she is once on the shortlist for the tv show Gladiators. Physically speaking she is the toughest of all of us but the condition of her triceps is out of synch with the condition of her ideas. She is always confessing to some terrible thing, like being an addict of some sort, a drug addict, a sex addict, a food addict, a chocaholic, an alcoholic, a kleptoholic, a paramaniac obsessive or whatever. You run into her in the changing room between dances and she starts chatting at you in the following way: I think I’m addicted to knives… Or something. But mainly what she is addicted to is confessing what she is addicted to. Some people say she should never be on the shortlist for Gladiators at all but for Jerry Springer instead.
After her is Aleesha, who is what some people are apt to call a bint. But she is not a bint just a ditsy blonde who is naturally gorgeous and healthy and will naturally go through life fit as fuck. In fact one day she will make the most fit as fuck corpse ever. She is also open-minded. She has to be on account of her dad. One day her absentee dad Tony turns up at the club with his mates. They are celebrating Tony’s unexpected release after five years in max security. So what does Tony pop his eyeballs at first thing? Only his baby in nothing but a g-string upside down on a pole. So he sees her pole-dancing and what does he do? Instead of dragging her down and beating the fit-as-fuck out of her, daddy pays for the apple of his eye to lapdance for him. And after that for all his mates. One by one. He and all his mates are regulars now and they, Tony and Aleesha, become best friends. Of course Tony is no mug and he sees straight off the business opportunities from this Kleenex-sponsored reunion. He starts to supply Aleesha with coke to sell in the club, obviously on a strictly fifty-fifty basis.
Several of us ask Tony from time to time if he and his mates can muller Bonsai and then maybe charge him protection money. But Tony says he must keep a low profile for a while yet before he makes any big moves. The truth is we think Tony fears Bonsai’s bouncer/cleaner who is known as Steve the Sikh and is generally humungus. Steve the Sikh is not an easy man to reason with because he is an emotional person with only four emotions: chuffed, gutted, well chuffed and well gutted. He also has scars all over his head from bottlings and chair-leggings and weekly divings through windows. But of course you should see the other guys.
Most of these other guys are like Tony and also fear Steve the Sikh. They know that Steve the Sikh is once a real Sikh, maybe around the time he is born. They also know that as a Sikh he has the five holy K’s on his side. I forget the other four K’s but the one to remember is the Kirpan which is a long silver dagger that Steve the Sikh keeps with him at all times for spiritual reasons. Steve the Sikh and his Kirpan are very loyal to Bonsai because, according to Steve the Sikh and his Kirpan, Bonsai is the only one who really understands them. What Bonsai understands is that Steve the Sikh is as unemployable as a fully grown man can be in this town. And, even if Steve the Sikh dreams of striking out alone in bouncing or cleaning, the truth is he needs the little cash in hand that Bonsai gives him even more than he needs his Kirpan.
All this is above the heads of the many law-abiding hostesses who also come and go, such as Thai, Dutch and Spanish students scrimping and saving their way through college, like Kiki, Mandi and Lola. Of course there are also hard Northern girls like Shaz and Kirsty who prefer other people scrimping and saving and usually go looking for these other people in distant places. So if you hear of a mugging in Mill Hill and Shaz and Kirsty are in Mill Hill or anywhere near Mill Hill you would not need a college degree to list the suspects.
So anyway, there we all are this one busy night, me, Tara Ya-Ya, Mistress Xana, Gold, Aleesha, Tony and his mates, Steve the Sikh and his Kirpan, with the house band playing Purple Rain very loud and the place full of hostesses and men, over-priced champagne and under-the-table cocaine. Now, the needle between the girls and especially the top girls starts with Bonsai’s system. The more he likes you the higher up you are and the more he intros you to the Big Wheels, the Big Wheels being the men with the Big Money. A night in the company of a Big Wheel is worth a week of tourists, two weeks of lads on stag nights and over a month of odds and sods trying to get buzzed on a budget.
The only drawback is that nine out of ten Big Wheels are ugly. I do not know why this is so but in the end it does not bother nine out of ten girls because of course the more a man spends the prettier he gets. The Big Wheels could be anyone from telecom executives, investment brokers and Ferrari importers to gangsters, dealers and undercover Vice Squad sleazebags (like Desmond McGeolighan who should definitely be named many times for legal reasons although with a name like that it is difficult to name him at all).
What is at stake is more than what the Big Wheel spends in the club because the club gets most of that anyway. What is at stake is the chat money (twenty pounds for twenty minutes of sexy small talk) and of course the possibility of a buy-out. A Big Wheel often buys a girl out and you can bargain the price (say a hundred pounds) and you can cashpoint that off them the moment you step outside with them. Then they take you to a club that you suggest like Stars because of course you know the bar or the door and always get a taste of the business you bring. Then they buy you drinks all night, an E or two, and all the time they think they will sex you up or at least get a thorough caressing out of it, even though you clarify ASAP one or both of two things: this may be the sex industry but sex is not on the menu; you have a boyfriend who is a judo master. Of course men are men and the more you say you won’t give it up the more they want you to give it up and the more they spend trying to make you give it up. The trick is to pace yourself for a long stint on the tiles and to avoid bouncing off walls on account of peaking too early. In a nutshell, Big Wheel equals Big Night.
And this is where the needle is. Because this one heaving night, with the house band finishing Purple Rain and starting on Black Magic Woman, Bonsai tells us his new strategy for the future, his visualising for the whole of the new millennium, which of course takes a fair amount of visualising. As it turns out, his visualising does not require any of us to live for a thousand years because it is mainly about skinning us tonight and every night for as long as we work for him. And what Bonsai wants to skin us for is twenty-five per cent of the buy-out money in return for doing an intro, and even another fifteen per cent of the chat money for doing the same. Of course it does not need me to point out that all this is like asking Americans to give up guns or Steve the Sikh to hand over his Kirpan. But unlike Americans or Steve the Sikh there is little we can do.
Then, to rub salt in the wound, Bonsai gets the ever-clinging Tara Ya-Ya to bend our ears about how to make it in this business, about how to get ahead in lapdancing, about how we should always respect the owner, and especially his millennium visualising, because of course there are plenty of other girls out there, plenty of other wannabes out there in times like these, plenty who would just love to step right in and take over at a moment’s notice if not sooner so we better watch our step all of us.
Bonsai thinks all this talking down of the girls is well timed because nobody is going to argue when the place is rammed and there is money to be made. So, with the air of someone who is just revealed to be the world’s smartest man, Bonsai goes back up to the VIP gallery overlooking the stage to file his nails and keep an eye on everyone, although of course in a place like this you cannot keep an eye on everyone all the time. Tara Ya-Ya is someone most people do keep an eye on, a green eye, as she swans off to her Big Wheel intro. Tonight her intro is none other than the Vice Squad sleazebag Desmond McGeolighan, a man so close to Bonsai that one or the other surely requires a strawberry Jiffy.
And here we all are, the rest of us, lumping more than liking it and very minded to scheme anything that can be schemed by way of revenge. All the Kikis, Lolas, Lalas, Lilis and Lulus in the place act the herd and follow orders. Them aside, there is much seething and gnashing of teeth. Tony and his mates are usually ready to sit out disputes but all this is apt to arouse the king kong chest-thumping alpha male in them. Tony’s mates (who have confusing names like Nazza, Chazza, Dazza etc) nurse their beers and keep an eye on Tony for a signal. Meanwhile, Mistress Xana entertains them with her plans for Bonsai, such as tying him in her donjon in order to weep ina his bolls. Aleesha wants a more permanent solution which includes her dad getting a contract out on her boss before dawn. These ideas are lost on Gold who wonders out loud several times why she is addicted to abusive men. And who knows what hard skulking Northern girls like Shaz and Kirsty are thinking, especially after slim pickings in Alperton.
Between dances we are all chirping in the changing room among our bras, g-strings, glitter and six-inch gift from god mules, with the aroma of Obsession and Wrigley’s Airwaves and the sound of mobiles in the background. The chirping we are doing mainly consists of everyone cussing off the world, the boss and his girlfriend and thinking up ways of leaving big marks on all three. We are all doing lines off the toilet seats and wishing we could make easier money erotic dancing on the internet. Gold says that after her boyfriend gets out of rehab he is setting up a live webcam site, so all of us can make a hundred pounds an hour for getting messy with our favourite vibrators. Aleesha is more concerned that the coke she is selling should go further and asks us whether to cut it with Vit C powder or baby lax.
But the basic problem is that while all the sharks are moaning in the changing room, the prawns are cleaning up in the club. Lolas, Lulus and Lalas are being booked and double booked and bought out like there is soon to be a national shortage of them. Worse, the house band is playing a Madonna medley. They start with Material Girl which everyone old enough to remember hates, and only the really young Lolas, Lulus and Lalas love because it is what their magazines tell them is retro chic. Retro chic or no, all this amounts to a very sorry state in the here and now.
So mostly we are left in two minds about what to do. But luckily we have only one instinct. Which is to say we do the inevitable and go back to work. Although if you ever see a girl pole or lap dancing when she is pissed off you will know it does not make for a pleasant evening. Me myself I am dancing for two blubber buddies in suits, one of whom just keeps on eating his spaghetti dinner in a very disrespectful way. So he is the one whose lap I sit on and I make sure to give his crotch a good grind until bolognese sauce starts to form around his mouth and his eyes start to water because of course he is choking. Before his blubber buddy steps in to referee or he swallows enough spaghetti to save his own life, a commotion begins at one of the other tables.
The commotion becomes a ruction in no time at all and this development comes as no surprise for it is none other than Shaz and Kirsty who are working this table. Whatever the argument, Shaz has a broken champagne glass ready in her hand and there are slaps flying from Kirsty and a certain member of the clientele is very much on the receiving end. From the VIP gallery Bonsai is waving his polished cuticles at Steve the Sikh in what you might call a frantic manner. Steve the Sikh is well chuffed and hardly needs much waving at to get him to wade into the thick of a ruction. In fact, with his five K’s and a sixth sense he is already so near the ruction he is the ruction, which is really a skill he shares with the cream of bouncers.
Most people who are not bouncers are inclined to give Steve the Sikh the benefit of the doubt in such a situation, even when there is no doubt. The clientele in question does just that, hands up, backing off and hoping to walk away from this with his suit and face in the same condition his suit and face are normally in. But Shaz and Kirsty are not the kind of girls to give a person a break until that person gives up what he or she can towards their good cause. The rest hover around and about keeping away from the trouble. Tara Ya-Ya is safe in the gaze of the Vice Squad, Gold is dancing, Aleesha is by the bar, Xana is on another table and me myself I get well clear of all of them into the shadows.
In a ruction it is management policy to side with girls until the situation is taken care of and then fire them or, worse, reduce their hours to zero, which is the terrible condition of being neither hired nor fired. But Shaz and Kirsty are not types to be put off by zero hours and carry on accusing the slapped up clientele of touching where they have no right to touch. One well gutted look from Steve the Sikh and the clientele is leaving his car and house keys, watch and wallet, as security while he goes to the cashpoint to settle his bill, a bill which as per usual is revealing many hidden extras.
Bonsai is moving around the tables reassuring people and ordering the house band to play something less likely to provoke people than Madonna. After this we expect him to call Shaz and Kirsty to his office in order to reduce them. But on this twisty old night, with the house band playing Sex Machine, Bonsai goes to his office only to get severely heart-attacked. In fact he is more severely heart-attacked than ever before in his short life. Of course this is because his safe is totally open and his money is totally stolen to the point of no longer being there. On the other hand what is totally there in place of the stolen money is a used Boots Tampon Super Plus with Applicator.
Most people, if their safe is open and their money is gone, shout THIEF or POLICE. But when the thief and the police are very much in the vicinity it makes more sense to shout other words altogether. What Bonsai shouts is not easy to make out above the din but his eyes are glaring and his well-kept little hands are well clenched into little fists. It is the Vice Squad who first gets to hear the words Bonsai is shouting, him and Tara Ya-Ya together on their table. The reaction of the Vice Squad is to make a chopping movement across his throat, either because he believes in the death penalty or because he is advising Bonsai to shut up shop for the night. Closing before closing time is not something Bonsai can bring himself to do even when he is the victim of crime. But the Vice Squad is very persuasive because of course it is also the Vice Squad’s money that is usually in Bonsai’s safe. So very soon Steve the Sikh and his Kirpan are enforcing an unnaturally early licence.
Ten minutes later the clientele is dispersed and there is a full lock-in, not in a nice drinks-on-the-house kind of way but in a nasty nobody-leaves-till-someone-confesses kind of way. This is because it is clear to both Bonsai and the Vice Squad that, since stealing from a safe requires inside knowledge, it is best to keep such knowledge inside. The Vice Squad rounds up all us girls in a very small space, which is what the Vice Squad is mainly trained to do. The only one who is not rounded up in a small space is of course the ever-clinging Tara Ya-Ya. Lady Twat, as Shaz and Kirsty are more apt to call her, has a large space all to herself at a table and sits there with her typical ya ya expression on her typical ya ya face.
Also, nobody tries to round up Tony and his mates even though some people might say that Tony and his mates are the criminal fraternity and ought to be rounded up on principle. In return for not being rounded up, the criminal fraternity behaves very well, innocently choosing to sit out the dispute until proven guilty. The Vice Squad then takes charge of the investigation and Steve the Sikh is instructed to take charge of the searching of the changing room.
Mistress Xana, who is not used to being dominated in this way, is the first to protest. Who know fucky money where beetch Tayaya no? Which means the bitch Tara Ya-Ya is the thief because nobody else knows where to find the fucking money. But the truth is everyone knows where to find Bonsai’s fucking money. Not only that, everyone knows Bonsai’s safe is dodgy because of course Bonsai is too tight and mean to fix it or replace it. The question is how to get even a dodgy safe to open. And that is the kind of knowledge that truly is inside knowledge.
Steve the Sikh is meanwhile turning handbags and clutchbags and bumbags and shoulderbags inside out looking for signs of illegal activity. It does not take him long to find thirteen cashpoint cards, four credit cards and six Blockbusters video cards all crusty with coke. Then he finds five straws with traces of the same, as well as eight wraps, three razor blades, unidentified pills, tablets and powders. Then he finds two dole cards and a dole cheque that do not match any known names, twenty-four bottles of Obsession clearly for retail, and two binliners stuffed with more glamour-wear than is reasonable for personal use. All of us girls are connected to one thing or another, and the only new discovery is Gold’s fix kit because it is not widely known before that Gold is a brownhead or that she uses Rimmel No. 5 to cover her needle marks.
Still, all this only tells Bonsai and the Vice Squad what they already assume. In fact, the Vice Squad says he would be quite stunned not to find evidence of such wrongful lifestyle in such a wrongful place. But him and Bonsai know that any attempt to use this evidence to threaten one or any of the girls into confession is sure to result in generally bad publicity for those making the threats. Then the Vice Squad hits on what is very likely the first policeman-like idea of his long career: a DNA test on the tampon and a fingerprint analysis of the crime scene. He has an old mate in Robbery who is well used to unusual requests and could oblige on a ‘no win no fee’ basis. Of course nobody needs to be a big fan of courtroom drama to realise that all this testing must be carried out in accordance with the sort of rules that big fans of rules like Bonsai really hate.
So Bonsai hits on a much simpler idea. He asks Steve the Sikh what evidence he finds in the changing room by way of women’s monthly affairs. What he actually says is more like: What I want to know is, is any of them girls on the blob? Steve the Sikh of course finds too much evidence of girls on the blob. He finds Lillets, Tampax, Illusions, Always, Bodyform, with wings and without, with applicators and without, all of which amounts to flagrant abuse of Bonsai’s favourite rule. In Bonsai’s mind, which is very neglected when compared to his nails, all this points to one thing and only one thing: conspiracy. Of course you do not need to be a big fan of detective thrillers to see the totally absorbent hole in this conspiracy theory: none of the evidence is a Boots Tampon Super Plus with Applicator. This is because of course most girls would not be seen dead wearing a Boots Tampon Super Plus with Applicator.
Except perhaps the one person yet to be rounded up, searched or robbed of her dignity. Tony’s mates are quite vocal on this subject and one of them, Nazza or Chazza or possibly Dazza, points out that Tara Ya-Ya is now due for the same treatment. But the Vice Squad and Bonsai decide that it is Tony and his mates who are now due for the same treatment if they fail to leave the premises immediately. Of course Tony is not the sort to leave his naturally gorgeous fit as fuck baby Aleesha in a bind and refuses to leave without her. So Bonsai glares and clenches the way he glares and clenches when he is angry and tells Aleesha that she is reduced to zero. And then while he is on a roll he tells me I am also reduced. And then he tells the same to Gold and then Shaz and Kirsty and then any of the Lulus and Lalas in sight. And he would say exactly the same to Mistress Xana but luckily for her she is temporarily out of sight.
This is the cue for the house band to pack up their instruments in a well-rehearsed hurry, suck the dregs out of their complimentary beer and leg it to the exit before they too become part of the reduced workforce. The reduced workforce is just as keen by now to leave but Bonsai says everyone stays until he says everyone goes. Until could be a long time off, especially if Bonsai starts to give himself a full manicure.
Steve the Sikh obviously twigs that if a night fails to die of natural causes one must stab it to death because this is the very sudden moment he chooses to astonish everyone present. Stepping forward, he holds up a mock croc shoulder bag and produces from it the sort of magic rabbit that closely resembles a pack of Boots Tampon Super Plus with Applicator. It is well known that mock croc and Tara Ya-Ya go together like two names with a hyphen in the middle and it does not need me to describe the general surprise and delicious malicious cocktail of joy when the snooty ya ya bitch is revealed to be the thief. Everyone waits for Bonsai to speak. When he does, he complains bitterly that his ever-clinging girlfriend has the period, the inside knowledge and the most opportunity of all to steal from him and that no girl ever betrays him like this before and that she will never work again if he can help it which he certainly can.
For her part, Tara Ya-Ya acts the most surprised and least joyful of anyone. She tries to cling to Bonsai and to protest her innocence by saying she is clearly framed. She says she is never in her life cheap enough to go to Boots to buy cheap necessaries to put inside expensive accessories. Furthermore, she says, there is no sign of Bonsai’s money anywhere. This, as anyone with public school on their CV can confirm, is the only proof that counts. She also spells out the words facile est inventis addere or something, which she says anyone with Latin on their CV would take to mean: it is easy to add to things that are already invented. Or to put it another way: it is a stitch up. Whatever it means it cuts no ice with anyone who does not have public school or Latin on their CV, which if truth be told is most of the reduced workforce. In fact, the stuff old Tara Ya-Ya comes out with is the sort of stuff that would Fedex a saint to max security and keep that saint there with no hope of parole. As it is, it convinces everyone, especially Bonsai, that she is just a smart skinny bitch. And a totally guilty smart skinny bitch at that.
The Vice Squad tells her to accompany him outside to his motor for formal questioning. The generally satisfied rest of us are generally free to leave. So me myself, Tony and his mates, Aleesha, Gold, Lalas and Lulus, Shaz and Kirsty all start to go in our own directions. Mistress Xana is still nowhere to be seen but Steve says he will find her since he is staying to clean up the place.
So with my wig in my bag and the dawn coming up I trot down Tottenham Court Road to take my place on a stool in Stars, my favourite bar. I guess if I am way ahead of myself earlier I am now almost fully caught up. Actually I feel I should celebrate because with Tara Ya-Ya branded a thief, Gold revealed as a brownhead, Aleesha and her dad out of favour and Xana nutty as a bag of dry roasted, I am in with a very good chance of being number one as soon as Bonsai increases everyone’s hours from zero.
But of course some people might say there are still one or two loose ends to tie. Maybe there are. Because as I sip my Bloody Mary and chat with the barman I am waiting for Shaz and Kirsty. Because it is quite possible that me myself and Shaz and Kirsty have arrangements to meet here. It is quite possible that me myself and Shaz and Kirsty have arrangements to meet here for certain purposes. Because although I cannot say for sure it is always quite possible that Tara Ya-Ya is never the thief. Maybe her eye strays that way from time to time but she is not the type to think a thing like this through. For instance she would not know how to get girls like Shaz and Kirsty to start ructions and create diversions. Because although Shaz and Kirsty are types who often start ructions and create diversions, they will only actually organise these things for the right person and for the right price, which is usually a big laugh and two drinks. In this case it is for the same plus twenty per cent of the safe.
Of course if Tara Ya-Ya is not the thief with inside knowledge then it is most likely someone else. And the someone else is quite possibly none other than the ever-loyal Steve the Sikh, a man of not many emotions but capable of visualising the millennium as good as anyone. And what he visualises as good as anyone is nothing if not the good life. And the means of getting a piece of this good life is busting in to a dodgy safe with a Kirpan while a ruction kicks off. And the means of getting clean away with the same piece of good life is to make sure Someone Else gets rumbled instead for the whole thing. It is also quite possible that it takes a certain other party to bring Shaz and Kirsty and Steve the Sikh together as well as to place tampons where tampons need placing. But of course even if I know for certain of such a certain other party I cannot reveal them for legal reasons.
All this may be the loose ends finally tied but unfortunately it is not because of what Shaz and Kirsty say when they arrive. After their two drinks each, they have their one big laugh: it seems Mistress Xana is not missing after all. In fact, says Shaz, while everyone is being reduced, it seems that Mistress Xana is just hiding. And the place she is just hiding, says Kirsty, is Bonsai’s office. And when Bonsai goes in there to wait for the Vice Squad to come back with a confession and the money from Tara Ya-Ya, Xana closes the office door and locks it. Then what she does, says Shaz, is well serious by anyone’s standards. Because, says Kirsty, after locking the door, Mistress Xana throws the key out of the window.
Sure the Vice Squad is planning to return to the scene but, as everyone knows and Shaz and Kirsty remind me, formal questioning in a Vice Squad motor takes at the very least half an hour. And half an hour is easily enough for Mistress Xana to work up a head of steam in the international language of domination and make edirty edevil Bonsai her edirty eslave once and for all.
Shaz and Kirsty find this very very funny but of course it means that in half an hour me myself I will have no chance of being number one at all. Well this too could be the gloomy loose ends really and truly tied up. But the night I speak of carries on and does not end here. In fact it continues not to end because Steve the Sikh, who is supposed to be arriving to divvy up with Shaz and Kirsty and a certain other party, does not arrive at all. In fact he continues not to arrive at all well past the night I speak of and well into what most people call morning.
By this time me myself and Shaz and Kirsty are too bladdered to think straight. Eventually they stop laughing and stop retailing the story over and over to the barman and get as gloomy as me. This is because it dawns on them like it dawns already on me that Steve the Sikh will in fact never arrive to divvy up. This is because of course he is gone for good. Most likely he is setting up a cleaning business in a place far away from this place and even in a town far away from this town.
And this all means that the night I speak of amounts to just another night of heaps of big talk swept clean by commuter time like so much waste. And it means that most of us, like most of us people, are left in the daylight with what we should most likely stick to all along: a false name, a wig, a fake tan and twenty minutes of sexy small talk.
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From ‘New Writing 12’ – British Council – Picador
‘A virtuoso modern love triptych’ New Writing editors
‘verve and energy’ The Independent
Does one stand at the exploded window following the lines of jagged shards with a knowing eye, with sixteenth-floor gusts flapping the curtains and driving dust and loose papers towards the back wall; does one stand there scraping clots off the sill, along with ancient pigeon shit, and say: this is where it happened? Or does one crouch over a cracked skull on the pavement, in among the murmuring crowd, and say instead: no, it must have happened down here actually?
Well the bruises have come up. Submerged, they appear as purple anemone decorating a strange fish, too large in the bath to move meaningfully. The sudsy efflux from an apricot bath bombe clings to the contours of my breasts. The water is long cold. I thought they’d be here by now. I thought they’d have made it long before the water got cold. Someone should have put two and two together, glanced up, seen the broken pane, counted the floors, made the necessary arrangements or exclaimed, simply: look.
And they would have been up in a jiffy, well within their response perameters. But every second after it happened, whether it happened up here or down there, is an infinity too late. They’ll still come of course. I suppose they just got held up in traffic. Because they’ll get here. And head after head will poke through the hole to imagine a body spreading its wings in semblance of flight. For a second they’ll wonder about the aerodynamics, the defying of gravity, before turning to the facts. Now then miss… And I would tell them what? Say what? He’s dead? My God. No. I can’t believe it. It cannot be true. Yes yes I thought I heard something. But then again one hears lots of things. And the bath was running.
Or did I run it later, after finishing my replies? I was deep in thought. Too deep to hear a thing quite frankly. I get so wrapped up. Don’t hear the phone sometimes. Friends say I’m a bit mad. Goes with the territory, I tell them. But all this doesn’t help to unravel it, does it officer?
Shit. I crumpled the letter. I can see it through the open bathroom door lying under the Himalayan wind-chime on the £17.99 per square yard basket-weave matting recommended to me at a party by a psycho-spiritual counsellor. Stimulates healthy blood-flow from feet to scalp, she said. Invigorate your sex life, she said, not that you need it. You’re so amazingly sorted out. Friends say I’m a bit mad actually, I said.
I crumpled the last of the letters. That was silly. Thoughtless. Not very sorted out of me. Not really what you’d call skilful life management. Could end up as evidence. Of sorts. But of what? It’s odd the way both the guilty and the innocent have to cover inconvenient tracks, one to hide the truth, the other to prove it. That letter should have remained in its pile, read, thumbed, even blurry as if cried on, but uncrumpled, ready for the publication file complete with my reply. Only I have yet to write it. The other half dozen might as well have been on a loop with just the initials altered for authenticity. Mrs. D.K. Ms L.T. Mrs. F.F. Dear Ella, I’ve got an eating disorder. I love it when they self-diagnose. Eating disorder? I should be so lucky I write. So many problems but eating’s never been one of them. It’s the throwing up…
Dear Ella, I just can’t seem to shake my cellulite. Well then you’re a sad loser. Dear Ella, all my friends died in a horrendous fireball. Bathe in aromatic oils; treat yourself to a facial. Dear Ella, I think my husband is abusing our teenage daughter. Has he tried a loofah brush?
Of course they’ll look around, wonder why the water’s cold. Sergeant Plook’ll scratch a pimple: You say you were in the bath when it happened? When it happened, officer? When what happened? When he masturbated himself to sleep last week? No, I wasn’t in the bath then. I was in the bed right next to him. Asleep, supposedly.
Dear Ella, thank you so much for your advice. I feel so much better now. Bitch. Yes, well, where was I? He often goes to the window, officer. He was probably trying to save a spider. They hang from the ceiling sometimes. Abseil down to the incense sticks. Right there in front of the window. He’d save them alright. He was like that. He’d do that. He drank his tea like a pint and saved spiders. That’s the sort he was. I’m shocked. Devastated. Didn’t hear a thing. The bruises you say? Mysterious, aren’t they? No of course we didn’t argue. We don’t. Do you know who I am?
Do I know? My toes are like prunes; my nipples like potato roots. Two cupboards full of herbal remedies, balms, cream cleansers, sauna packs and a couple of loofahs. But nothing beats a cold bath, officer. Dear Ella, what’s the best way to hide a love bite? Hide it? Ella says rejoice you moron. He bit me alright but it was never love, so goes the joke. And now the only tell-tale marks are clots on a sill and oedimal bits on a shard, separated finally from relentless happening, from urgent problems naively posted first class to a monthly.
Dear Ella, he burps. Dear Ella, he farts. Dear Ella, he snores. Yes, it’s a rich tapestry. Ella says try hypno-regression to discover the horrors that make you unique. At least it’ll put all his percolating airs into perspective. Worked for me. Alternatively, a three-month stint in the eating disorders unit. Hell yes. Bit of bulimic company makes you love him more. Worked for me, officer. Until, that is, I remembered he came from a pre-clitoral age in which there was no mystery about bruising. You didn’t have to make excuses back then.
Would I really say all that? Could I? The water’s freezing. But I’ve become quite attached to my alibi, necessary or not. By the time they get here I’ll be cryogenically suspended. No, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not what you think, it’s not at all a Siberian behemoth. Here we have an example of fin de siècle female, frozen in time, perfectly preserved… bung a coin in the slot and it lights up. Sergeant Plook’ll just have to piss on me to save my life. So what’s new?
Do I hear them? I can almost see them checking their partings in the mirrored lift. I’ve left the front door open to save them breaking it down. But I should do something about the letter. Which is worse: to mean to do but not do or not to mean but do, inadvertently, as it were? Dear Ella, I accidentally poisoned, bludgeoned, scalded him. Dear Ella, the stab wounds in his back were unintentional. Dear Ella, I fired a warning shot into his head…
My nerves went, I admit. Briefly. On occasion. Once. Twice, perhaps. Friends say I’m a bit, well, mad. But at least I woke up. I remember my first time. Dear Ella, what was it like? The first time I felt revulsion during sex? Wonderful. I knew I’d woken up. Je suis femme, I thought. From then on, I could hate him with abandon. That was a happening. Not like my mother spilling cocoa in bed most of her life and never noticing. Just got cold, I suppose, like a bath. Just got cold and the bruises came up.
There: a definite shudder in the lift shaft, I believe. A ripple in the water touches skin that is warmer. You can feel that officer, you see, feel it in your bones because it sort of creeps up on you, moment after moment. Not sudden. It wasn’t that I could smell the cat’s fanny perfume of some mutant whore. God no. Nothing like that. It wasn’t that I came to despise his sock-shoe combo. Although some might say he should have been put down on humanitarian grounds for that alone.
But no, seriously. I could tell you stories, officer. I could write a book. Or a collection: Ella’s Top Selection. Sometimes I don’t even hear a knock at the door. Or a window shattering. Or a scream or a storm. If such there was.
Footsteps? A shuffle, yes. Almost certainly something. A grunt, a fart: the boys are on the case. Snooping about. Rubber-shoeing. It’s one big adventure playground. One whirly merry-go-round of clues. Ah, the spotting of the exploded window, the defining of the defining moment, then the exchanging of looks as they spy Woman in Bath. Dead? No, she’s bloody waving.
Alright, miss? they’d surely ask. Why shouldn’t I be? What’s the meaning of this… this invasion? Hm? Why now, right when I’m taking a soak? How dare- Do you know who-
But things move on, happening even as thinking. Sergeant Plook searches, absently scratches his crotch, hoists his pantaloons by the belt: Ah, now then, what’s this here crumpled piece of paper doing on the floor beneath the Himalayan wind-chime? It was an accident. That’s all. I shouldn’t have crumpled it I know. I mean I wouldn’t, not usually. We all make mistakes even me. But why make excuses? Do you know who I am? Sometimes it’s just nice to say shit to the world and take a bath. Crazy aren’t I?
But of course we’re leading ourselves down the same path, the boys and me. Putting it all together we are, the bits, reconstructing the chronology, the route from A to B and back, from Above to Below but not back. Pondering deeply we are, whether it was not down there, after all, where it happened, but here, right up here, in the bloodless corridor, beneath the wind-chime. Conjecture is sublime. Peps you right up. Better than Zesty Zing herbal infusion. Better than Happy Pill. Better than my best advice. Yes, let the imagination take to the air. Don’t hold back for a second. Delay the diet; throw your weight. And take a sodding good run at it, says Ella. Worked for me.
Would you like a woman officer? Christ no. May I? says the top of Plook’s head, his body already half bent. Already reaching, picking, fingering, uncrumpling. For at last, sure as landing follows flight, there is the painstaking unravelling of the evidence. Plook, reading: Dear Ella, what would you do if your man…?
God, I know what I’d do. Says Ella.
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Control, listen, listen to what I am sayin. I am tryin to… It happen… It happen like this… She get in loose an dangerous with ha chest all slippin an slidin an ha big twisty hair like a Saturday Night Loretta.
Oi Fola, stop fuckin broadcastin. It’s a busy circuit.
Control, just listen. Please listen. They warn me before about ha. They warn me she come quick an disappear like a flash into tha night. They say: Fola Bulubayo, maybe you are SuperFly to all tha chicks but you will end your days in your radio control cab with a knife in tha back an your big mouth still talkin boosh.
My sister Rosie she said she look in ha cup an that is what she saw. An of course ha number one Cherry she always say what Rosie say an do what she do.
Fola, for fuck’s sake get off of the airwave.
But what do they know? They wah sittin pickin over chicken bone an watchin Eddie Murphy video like Queen Tikkitakki an Princess Pullipulli. Both of them wah drinkin gin an smokin king-size an smellin like tha downtown fruit market. They wah readin tea leaves an signs that don’t make no sense an sayin: No money no honey: Fola Bulubayo: this is the story of your life.
Then they wah rollin an laughin with their gold mouths bright like headlights. An their laughin soundin like windscreen wipers on high-speed. So I say to them: look if I go die some day it will surely be at tha wheel of my cab. But I will have gin drippin from my fozzy chin an boosh comin from my big mouth because I am Fola Freedom Lifetime SuperFly an I will be livin large on tha power of my natural high. They laugh at me more an more an more. An then Cherry she say: A big mouth lead to tha grave sure as a cab take you to tha railway station. An in future don’t talk when Eddie is talkin.
God but tha rain fall hard this night. Of course Saturday Night Loretta is lookin for Saturday night action. I am drivin AD, which mean as directed. This-
AD? I told you point to point, you silly muff. I got cash jobs stackin up. Fol-
This is ok by me. So Loretta she is directin me this way an that through tha steamin dark. Tha wipers are on with red blue rain washin over my face. My life is flashin at me from tha pavement an yellin with a thousan voice. People-
People are fightin to get into tha clubs an restaurants an tha panic is settin in. Like everyone must find their place in tha world before tha end of tha night. Which is not easy because of tha parkin restriction.
But Loretta she don’t look like she care. She tell me she is not early not late just right on time. She say to me she say it is just good to be out of tha rain an off tha street an that is that. Loretta ha voice sing to me an fill tha whole cab.
But me I tell Loretta I don’t mind if she stay a while goin nowhere. Tha day has gone an I am not inspire to skank more fare like Driver SlickDick from Paradise Car across tha High Street.
Loretta she begin to like my attitude very much. My eyes an ha eyes they meet in tha mirror as yellow shadow fall on tha back seat. If ha voice sing then ha black eyes dance. I must say Fola SuperSmooth resist charms from anyone, especially on Saturday night. But Fola Bulubayo he is fallin in love, that is sure, an soon Loretta she has tha exact same feelin back. That is what Rosie should be readin in ha tea cup. Outside some dirty place they are fightin like there will be no tomorrow. Already blood mess tha pavement an still they go on an on. Two gangster boys are scrappin an fightin an everyone is climbin over each other to get through tha blood.
But nothin move backward or forward at all. Tha traffic was slow tonight. More slower than ever.
The traffic’s slow he says. I’m givin yours to Jimbo. I’m warnin you…
Rosie she warn me I know. She an ha number one Cherry wah entertainin two fly-by-night men: Casual Johnson an his number one Polycarp. They wah wearin silk shirt an gold watch an crocodile shoes that require no sock.
Rosie say they are importin tha goods from all over tha world. All of them they wah drinkin whiskey cola an watchin tha latest Eddie Murphy video. When they see me Rosie she say: Look, Mommaboy Bulubayo is home.
Casual Johnson he laugh an he say: No, it is Eddie’s idiot lovechild. Polycarp he laugh an he say: Ahar har. Rosie she also laugh an she say: Ahee hee. An Cherry point an she say: No money no honey.
Soon they are all foolin an applaudin theirself. An as I am drivin I am still hearin their laughin. Even Loretta’s voice is like nothin compare to their laughin. But I see ha in tha mirror, ha big lips sayin somethin I cannot hear but I know she is tellin tha story of ha life. Then Loretta she is pointin with ha long gentle finger at four persons on a street corner. First I think she want to introduce ha friends. It is important to meet the friends of your lover. But tha four persons they are comin straight at tha-
Fola, you been told. You understand?
They are comin straight at tha car wild from angry drinkin. Loretta she roll down tha window an show tha fourface night a toothbrush razor. A beer bottle strike on tha roof. That is when Fola Freedom push tha pedal to tha metal an drive away FormulaOneStyle.
Loretta she say she only do what she do to save me an that she do not normally act this way from windows. Maybe she do not say it in words but from ha honey smile Fola SuperFly can tell. Now it is just me an ha.
Loretta she say to keep drivin nowhere. Sometime we cannot drive because tha lights will not change. She could be late for the last airplane. But she do not mind. Cash jobs are stackin up. But I do not mind. We do not mind just driftin drivin together. Or just stoppin still. Love is like that. An it prove our love for each other not mindin tha very same thing. Rosie she warn me. Control he warn me. They all warn me before. She an ha number one Cherry an Casual Johnson an his number one Polycarp wah eatin special rice behind my back. I break shift one time an find them stuffin their face lookin bigeye at each other like it wah all secret from me. Casual Johnson he say: Maybe it is a secret us eatin tha special rice. But what secret are you keepin from us?
They laugh more harder than before. Then even more harder than ever. An when I tell them my true secret eight eyes are lookin at me like snakes are comin out from my ears. YOU ARE IN LOVE?
That is what they ask with one voice. I reply: yes, it is tha real thing. Casual Johnson he shake his head an he hold up two finger: Only two real thing: coca cola… an ‘moi’…
Rosie an Cherry scream with laughin: Prove it to us SuperFly Bulubayo. Prove your real thing. Give us ha name. We want ha name. Tell us ha name…
Tha rain fall hard tonight. So hard. Then even harder than ever as tha night begin to fade. Loretta an me we are stop at tha light. We are dreamin tha same dream. That is tha proof of everythin, the proof of our love to dream tha same dream. After a whole traffic light silence I say to Rosie an ha number one Cherry an to Casual Johnson an his number one Polycarp, I say: Loretta… Loretta is ha name. Liar they say. Liar…
My head begin to feel heavy. Like I am rememberin so many-
Fola, for the last time: where the fuck are you?
…so many things sudden as rain. I am rememberin all tha things I have said to Loretta. All tha things they have warn me. All tha Eddie Murphy movie I have ever seen. An now with cash jobs stackin up on a busy circuit tha back door is open, tha back door is open wide an Loretta is gone an I am sittin still as tha death, control, listen, still as the death I am sittin at tha red. I am holdin my face. I am sittin an bleedin. Control listen, listen to me. I am bleedin an I am wonderin how to take a hold on my love or how to take a hold on any love when all love slip away so fast, so so fast, more faster than tha night, more faster than the fastest traffic, more faster even than-
Oi Fola, you know what? You’re fuckin history.