Dreams of India

Featured

Blasting horns and angry shouts unnerve me; men are scratching their balls and hocking on the path where I walk in my flip flops. My feet are filthy from the grime. There are fast colourful movements in my periphery. Even the colours feel volatile. Lepers wiggle their deformities in my eye line. One of them sits, waving his misfortune at me, at the foot of the steps that lead to the golden M. That’s  where the privileged scoff their burgers. Another offers me a lucky charm.

‘No charge, No charge’, he cries in monotone as I speed up.

Keep your head down. Keep your head down. Don’t catch anyone’s eye.

This is beautiful India.

‘Oh you’ve been to India too’, someone once said to me.
‘Isn’t it just the most beautiful place on earth? I remember passing a tea plantation, during a train journey. I watched the beautiful saris blow with the breeze while the women picked tea. It was a sight to behold’

They hadn’t seen their hollow faces up close, nor their shadowed eyes.

Starving girls with other women’s sleepy babies on their hips; hands out with their ‘sad faces’ on as they call.

‘Please, madaaaam, my baybee milk’.

They gesture to their mouths with the tips of there fingers bunched together. What a paradox. They are hungry and they are sad, yet this automated act is for me to believe that they are hungry and sad. Later their owners will check in and count their takings.

*****

I had gotten to know two young girls on my first trip to Mumbai: Lakshmi and Pari. Every day I left the hostel and headed straight for the internet cafe, just minutes away from the Gate of India. After catching up with friends and letting my family know I was still OK, I usually took a stroll down to the gateway. That’s where I met the girls. They were sweet and I was very innocent. Pari was the eldest, maybe fourteen years old. Her hard eyes showed fear but she was street wise. I observed her when she thought I wasn’t looking later on. With her hand on her hip, flicking her scarf around her shoulders like a pro, she fluttered her eyelids at tourists like she meant it. Her light skin was clean and blemish free, and she had the smile of a beauty. Lakshmi was different. She was still a little girl. Her frock told me so. Her dark ponytail was messy and low at the nape of her neck. The wisps from the sides clung to her smiling lips. She followed Pari in an obedient manner, always watching from the sidelines, mimicking her.

‘My name is Lakshmi, Laki for short, but for the tourists I am Lucky’

This was always followed by a huge adorable grin. She told me this repeatedly, as if practicing the line. I was sure she had been given it by her teachers; she didn’t have much English. I met them for a few days in a row. I gave them some money, just once, and invited them to come on a trip with me over to Elephant Island, ten minutes away in a ferry. They smiled at each other. They thought I was a rich fool. I think I was too.

After a few days of not seeing them they showed up one morning outside the internet cafe. Pari walked towards me as I hit the stinking street from the door of the internet cafe.

‘Baby sister very sick. Please help.’

She gestured to her mouth.

‘She need milk’

She put her hand out for money. I shook my head firmly told and them I wasn’t giving them any cash. I continued to walk the daily route and the girls followed me imploring me, begging for help in such exaggerated tones I cringed.

‘You have money. My sister is sick. My sister needs milk’

What if it was true? What can I do? Say no for the sake of 300 rupees?

I offered to buy milk for the baby so they walked me to the shop of their preference. The doorway dripped with small plastic packets, each containing a mouthful of paan. They streamed down like a pretty beaded curtain. I stepped in and found myself in a dark little hovel. The girls spoke to the man behind the counter. He nodded without looking up, and then reached up to take a tin of baby food from a shelf on high.

‘No, no, theees one, pleeeease’

Pari was pointing to a bigger tin. The shopkeeper glared at me, his eyebrows tilted inwards, waiting for my response. I nodded. I heard Lakshmi giggle behind me, and then her groan after receiving a thump. As I handed over the money to him his lips narrowed as if he was holding back insults. I took the tin of food and handed it to Pari. Turning to walk out of the shop, I realised a small group had gathered at the door laughing, some scowling. Some were shaking their head in a disgust that I didn’t understand. Me , a silent stressed disgrace, marched out past them with my head down. I felt ashamed. I wasn’t ashamed that they had managed to trick me. I was ashamed that this was all they had. I never saw those girls again.

*****

Families are setting up homes around a tree on a pavement. Some have canvas and even a pot or pan. Toddlers with swollen bellies wander a little too far away. Their angry young mothers call them back from under their thick brows.

‘And then we went on a cruise, the boat had a glass floor. The service was exceptional and the food was to die for’

The food, to die for.

GettyImages-521825626-5961d8963df78cdc68ba888c

 

 

 

Supply & Demand

The car rolled up the gravel path. Wiping his hands in his leather apron, Dak sauntered over to the stove and put a pan of water on. He poured white spirits over his stained hands at the basin, and rubbed and old rag into the deep crevices.

‘Mornin Dak, a fine one it is too’

Dak nodded at him as he walked in to his usual spot at the back of the cave, out of the sun. He put a parcel and a letter on the desk and sat down.

‘There’s a few more orders for ya today. These things are gettin quite popular with folk, ya know’

Dak brought the tea to the table and sat down opposite to Jo. He didn’t look up as he poured the tea.

‘I’m running out of stock’

Jo tilted his head upward and took a deep breath in.

‘Well, ya know, supply and demand, and all that. There’s three more orders today, and that makes seven orders outstanding, isn’t it?’

Dak nodded.

‘I want you to know that I never kill any living creature to make these pieces. I respect the life that lived in every skull and every bone I find on this land’

Jo cleared his throat.

‘Oh sure, but- supply and demand Dak. There’s money to be made here and –

He snorted and omitted a jarring laugh that made Dak grimace. It faded once he realised he was the only one amused. He slurped his tea and put it down, looking sideways in thought before starting to talk again.

‘See, these rich folk don’t know what to be doing with their money Dak. It’s the new in- thing, if ya hear me. They want them on their mantles, they want to gift them to their friends on their birthdays, you know? They want them’

Dak stared passed Jo’s head at the wall behind him. He continued.

‘The mayor’s wife was looking for a nice big one. She’ll pay big bucks’

‘Big bucks: Big skull?’

‘Exactly’, Jo guffawed

’How big? As big as her husbands fat belly?’

‘Aw come on now Dak. I’m givin you an opportunity to make some money here! And you know, I earn a pittance with the National Post. Jenny’s wedding is coming up. It’s not easy to reach the level of affair she’s aspirin to’

Dak got up from the table and walked to his bench.

‘I’ll see what I can do. I’ll finish these two by tomorrow, and I’ll have a scout around today. It’s not the right season for roadkill or hawk prey, but I’ll look.

Jo stood up and wriggled his National Postal cap back on his fat head.

‘What about catching a few rabbits in a snare, Dak? Or even a deer for the mayor’s wife?’

Dak turned and walked towards Jo quickly. He stopped abruptly when their noses almost touched.

‘What did I just say?’

He walked back to his bench and stared at the wall until Jo walked out of the cave, past him and down the path to the van. That night Dak dreamed of the Stag. He had met him several times when running in the forest as a child. Each time, the stag had stopped in his tracks and stared into his eyes, penetrating him with an intense love that he’d never experienced again.

The following morning, he lay in bed and watched the sun slide further into the front of his cave before he jumped up and set to work. It didn’t take long as he’d seen his father do it time after time. As he raised the net and tested the ropes, he recalled the morning he had stood with the village looking up into the trees, watching the stag struggling hysterically in the net. A dart pierced his neck. Even once he had given up the stag kept his gaze until the life drained out of him.

Later, Dak stood at his bench and prepared his paints. A tiny skull of a bird sat in a delicate clamp in front of him. He heard the crackling stones under the tyres of the postal van. The van door shut loudly and Dak jumped. A few steps crunched on the gravel before he heard a howl.

‘Dak, what the fuck is this? Get me down right now you fucking weirdo’

Dak’s smile slowly widened.

‘Dak? Dak are you there? Oh come on!!!

A nice big skull.

He turned. There stood the Stag, staring into Dak’s eyes.

46868

Book Review: Small Island by Andrea Levy

Small IslandSmall Island by Andrea Levy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in 1948, both Hortense and Gilbert’s desire for living the dream in the ‘mother Country’ land them together in their struggle to make their way in a new World. This World is not the one they thought it was and it takes time to make sense of it all. Their lives intertwine with an English couple who are also stumbling blindly through the war and the aftermath, reassessing their own moral compasses
This is, quite frankly, the best novel I’ve read in some time. Insightful and full of revelations, Levy teaches us a lessons in misconceptions of identity. Along with learning some valuable British and Jamaican history, I rejoiced in such well written characters and was immersed in the evoking plot from start to finish.
Structurally, the novel was not ordered in a traditional way. Each chapter represented the perspective of one character. They were not divided equally nor in chronological order. No, they were strategically ordered in a way to reveal each characters past and how it effected their present circumstances.
I miss this book and would love to read about these characters further on in their lives.

View all my reviews

Save

Memories from my balcony

City noises wail
like distant winds.
A washing machine spins
ferociously somewhere.
Birds are chirping
in the warm air.
As the breeze takes up
and takes hold,
the clothes are edgier now.
They are dancing
more erratically
Flying, Flitting, Flatting
in the high air.
A siren bleats far away;
there is nothing for me to do
except close my eyes
and be, in my tower,
on my balcony
in the City.

Closing my eyes
to be back.
Honking buses
The metro vibrates
under me.
Sun burning
my arms and nose,
free of clothes and rain.
Angry barks and cries
A dog is left alone
Smoke wanders up
Lovers talk on the phone
A toilet flushes.
Living close together
in pens, in the tower
But nothing gives me
pleasure like being
on my balconyBlacony
in the City.

Book Review: The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

The Crooked HouseThe Crooked House by Christobel Kent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An old murder case is dug up despite nobody wanting to relive it. Alison goes back to her old hometown with a longing for the truth. A guilt ridden detective, and old friend with secrets and lots of locals intertwined in this mysterious past. Thirteen years previously, Esme’s family was gruesomely murdered while she hid in her attic room in the crooked house. The story dealt with her memories and the piecing together of what really happened.
It was haunting, tense and atmospheric from the start. Suspense hung at every corner, and the reader was left hanging throughout with new potential suspects.
From page 210 I began to get frustrated with the number of characters still involved in the main plot. The three brothers, old friends, the locals from the pub, friends back in London, and that didn’t even include her boyfriend Paul or the family of the wedding Alison was attending. I think the plot should have been narrower at this stage.
While Paul was involved in dark and suspect scenes and dialogue, my favourite character was Morgan. Despite being in the background she played a huge role in the story. There was always a desire to know more about her. The main characters were all believable and highly visual.
The flashbacks and dreams were written well. The reader was brought back in time and forward with ease and the story emerged in this fractured style of writing.
I would recommend this book to those who like to read crime and mystery. There are lots of hooks and intertwining subplots to keep the readers interest. I found the first half much more gripping. However, for me, over halfway through the book I found myself rushing through to get to the finish. I needed more suspense and less characters involved at that stage.

View all my reviews

The Gap by Ira Glass: some wise and inspiring words


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/85040589″>THE GAP by Ira Glass</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/frohlocke”>Daniel Sax</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Letting Go

let-go

As he shuffled through the dank hall, the smell of mould invaded his lungs on every tired breath. A dim bulb hung under a seventies lampshade and illuminated the years of peeling paint. The swelling carpet spillages made a sucking noise on each step he made. Through the grease-skinned kitchen he went, averting his eyes from the colonies of bacteria that were thriving in coffee mugs and old take away cartons, strewn on counter tops. Carrying on into the living room, he stepped over stacks of free newspapers from several years ago, that sat on a small sagging stool. Past a set of pots and pans, he reached the three legged coffee table that hopelessly sat on its side, protected by pristine wads of dust, anticipating a once promised makeover. The air was stagnant and silent.

He switched on the small TV in front of him that sat on a veneered bed table with wheels. His mother had used it during her last months. Sensing the afternoon temperatures coming down, he shivered and reached for his cardigan. It was a deep mustard with those sturdy rounded wooden buttons. Where the cuffs were turned up many years ago, right on the fold, it had frayed. The loose wool was wound into a little ball and pushed up the sleeve. There were, of course, hundreds of warmer cardigans and sweaters that he had picked up in one place or another. This one was different though, because it hugged him with memories of finer times. Times when his mother still lived and there were still chances of prospering and making a go of his young life. Times when he was like everyone else, with a decent job and friends, when possibilities of having a family still hung in the air. These were the days before the first depression set in, and since then, there only was before and after.

His mother had given him the cardigan one Christmas. It was the day the pottery factory closed for the holidays. After work, he’d had a few pints with the other office clerks in The Tyne. He recalled leaving the pub festively tipsy, watching people scurry from one shop to another for last minute bits. He had floated home, to his dinner set on the table before him. She had eagerly listened to tales of the evening, throwing her head back in laughter and clapping her hands in delight. A gift wrapped in red tissue caught his eye sitting on the sideboard. Ripping it open, his face and nose scrunched and he pursed his lips into a thoughtful smile.

However did she know he had been eyeing it up in the window of O’ Sullivan’s Drapery?

He had worn it to the dance on St. Stephen’s night where he met Mary, his mousy little bride to be. That was thirty years ago and now both woman had left his life.

Suddenly there was a hammering on the back window. He jumped. The loose panes of glass vibrated in their rotting frames. He stayed still, listening to his heart beat in his ears. He didn’t want to see anyone. He didn’t want to talk to any do-gooders pretending they cared. He waited tensely, without moving a muscle hoping they would go away, but the hammering continued . He scowled and raised himself up in a exasperation.

Why doesn’t everyone just mind their own bloody business,’ he roared loudly as he shuffled out of the living room.

He made his way to the kitchen where he could see an auburn nest with two big eyes peering through the dirty window of the back door.

‘Coo-eey, I know you’re in there Myles. I can smell you’

There was a chuckle and then the hammering continued.

‘Come on Pet, time for a sprinkle of Sonia goodness. I’ve brought the bleach today!’

Myles’ jaw tightened.

Aw shit! It’s that cursed woman again

His sister had insisted she hire a woman to come over every Thursday, after an emotional visit a few months earlier. Susan was one of those annoying ‘fixers’ who vowed to get Myles back on track. She meant well, he knew, but he didn’t want anyone in the house. He had conceded though, because she had wailed on about their mother wanting better for him, how she would turn in the grave if she saw the state of the family home. He scanned the kitchen. Guilt lay heavy like a rock on his already hunched shoulders. Everything hung and dripped from Myles; his fringe was long and greasy and his clothes sagged around his bowed body. His down-turned mouth said it all.

I have a key and I’m not afraid to use it. It’s bloody freezin’ out here, Pet.’

Myles opened the door and let it swing back so Sonia could enter. He bowed his head as he waited for her entrance to come crashing down upon him.

‘Right love,’ she announced, marching in with her jacket half off already.

‘I have more time today so I want to get the kitchen done.’

She swung around and faced him with a big soft smile, looking directly into his eyes. She was a tall woman in her early sixties. Despite the unruly lipstick and eyeliner, which insisted on pushing their boundaries outside the lines of conformity, she had a gentle face. She wore a pencil skirt and a black polo accompanied by shiny stilettos. Her ginger beehive sat in a coiffured arrangement, smoothed and upright. If she had shook her head vigorously it wouldn’t have budged an inch.

Myles mouth had dried up. He licked his lips and cleared his throat.

‘I don’t want you touching anything, or changing anything. Do you hear me?’

She nodded eagerly, still smiling.

‘This is my house and I don’t want you re-arranging anything. Do you understand me?’

There’s nothing for you to worry about,’ she soothed ‘Go back to what you were doing and I’ll get started in here. Have you eaten?’

No, not yet.’

Fingers pushing through his fringe, Myles made his way back through the path to his chair. His lips were pursed tightly and his forehead was wrinkled. He sat picking at his thumbnails, staring into space.

After two hours of crashing and banging and some terrible singing, the living room door swung open. Myles jumped out of his skin for the second time that day. In walked Sonia with a table cloth in hand. She stopped abruptly and scanned the room around her, jaw dropping slightly. Then she continued as if untroubled through the path, past Myles in his armchair, and over to the far corner where a forgotten oak dining table was trapped. It was between a two foot garden cherub and a king-size foam mattress bent into a U shape, somehow.

‘Now then Pet, I’ve made a bit of something to keep you going. I see there’s not much food in, and you don’t want another take away, do you?’

He didn’t look up.

Sonia wiped the table down, took two chairs out of hiding and threw on the tablecloth with one hand like a pro. She turned to face him, hand on hip, cocking her head to one side with a raised eyebrow.

No answer was forthcoming.

‘I’ve made enough for meself,’ she continued as she arranged the table, ‘so you’ll have the pleasure of my company’

She bent forward with a huge grin that was impossible to ignore, and trotted off to fetch the tea, muttering about how it would save her cooking later.

After Sonia had spent some time coaxing Myles out of his chair, they both sat eating a big bowl of stew washed down with a bottle of fine Northern ale. She had talked nonstop about herself, her sad stories of love, her daughter living down South who never called, and how she had stormed out of a call centre job last March and never looked back. Myles had not quite managed to relax but he had enjoyed listening to Sonia’s tales. He was shocked by some of them and intrigued by others. She had gone back to school to complete her A levels at fifty-five years of age – three years older than he was! With responses like ‘I see’ and ‘Oh right’ along with profuse head nodding and shaking, he had somehow made it made it through the meal. It had been some time since he had this type of interaction. He rubbed his eyes, willing himself to keep them open.

Later, swinging her coat on and checking the contents of her bag she prepared to leave. She gazed into a tiny silver compact as she applied her lipstick. She snapped it closed and looked up at him.

‘I’ll give that living room a good going over next week, Pet.’

Myles clenched his fists.

No, no you won’t be doing anything in here. Thanks, but this room is a bit more complicated’

Yes, I can see that.’ She rolled her eyes and smirked.

His lungs expanded quickly and on exhaling, his shoulders collapsed like a beaten dog accepting his fate. He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disturbed to have Sonia bound into his life like this.

‘Ciao Myles,’ she shouted from the kitchen and he jumped for the third time that day. The back door slammed and the glass shuddered for seconds afterwards.

The work Sonia had done in the kitchen was impressive. Not only was everything sparkling but it had been arranged in a way that he thought he might just be able to work with. All his trinkets and curiosities were still there; some were nicely displayed on the dresser and others were categorised and put in boxes in cupboards. He let out a sigh and his mouth broadened into a smile. It was reassuring that Sonia shared his vision for the house. All the work he had done over the years, browsing, scavenging, even jumping into skips to search, and he had found some fantastic treasures. They all could be used he assured himself. They all have a use and the ones that don’t are collectibles, or just good looking, deserving a place on a shelf. Would she be able to do this without taking his things away from him? That was the worry. He didn’t want her taking anything away from him, violating him like that.

By the time the following Thursday arrived Myles had worked himself up to such a state of anxiety that when the door battering moment arrived he did not know what to do. So he allowed the banging and the cooing to continue until he heard the key in the lock.

‘Well, that’s not very nice,’ he heard her exclaim from the kitchen. Her voice was getting louder, and heavy plods were approaching.

‘Are you ill or summat?’ She now stood at the door of the living room with her hand on her hip, she peered at him for a few seconds.

‘You look like boiled shite. What’s wrong? Have you eaten?’

He stood up and turned towards Sonia, staying at the armchair.

What use is a clean house for me? I have no one. I have nothing. There’s no point. Don’t bother trying to help. Please, just go’

Shocked by his rush of anguish, he gasped. His shoulders began to shake until they were jerking up and down vigorously. The sobs grew louder and louder in his ears. Like a valve being released, he sobbed in grief, in fear and in desperation, drained of all hope. A drip of sweat fell from his forehead down his ashen face. Glancing down, she withdrew. The door closed softly after her.

His head dropped and he sank into his armchair. When there were no tears left he curled up, smothered in his cardigan. He stayed like that for hours until his swollen eyes had given way, and he nodded off into a heavy sleep.

When he woke, he shook his head and peered around the room. Gentle crooning from the radio filled his ears and there was a smell of warm dough wafting through the house. The fire was burning for the first time in years. The flaming logs behind the spark guard were crackling and the table in the corner was set. He shuffled over and uncovered the plate to find a home baked pot pie still warm, and a bottle of fine ale beside it. Opening a note left folded on the table, he read;

Myles Pet,

I’ve changed your bed sheets and shampooed the upstairs carpets.

See you next Thursday. Maybe we’ll get into the living room for a look.

It was signed ‘Sonia’ with a kiss.

He sat down at the table and ate. Feeling the glow on his face from the fire and the love in his tummy, Myles realised that he would have liked nothing more than for Sonia to be there with him eating and recalling stories of her past.

Yes, we’ll tackle the living room next time’

Save