Alla inlägg den 27 maj 2011

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:34

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

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

ANNONS
Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:30

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

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

ANNONS
Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:30

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

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

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:23

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

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

Av kaceyhanxu kaceyhanxu - 27 maj 2011 11:21

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

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

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