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Wood I Lie To You?

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Lawrence described teaching as misinforming children for benevolent ends

The truth of the matter was that the cart had been left behind by Amish folk after their crops failed for a third consecutive year, but that seemed overly sad, and certainly not the kind of thing you explained to seven year olds. Alternative elucidations were called for..

‘At the end of an intergalactic war that stretched for aeons across the galaxy the robot warrioress was finally victorious, but her amorous husband wouldn’t let her rest, so she transformed herself into that rusty old thing where she hides to this day, waiting for his libido to subside.’

‘What’s a libido sir?’

‘It’s like an unreliable stick.’

‘What’s an aeon?’

‘It’s like the time it takes for Christmas to arrive.’

On another occasion he described the cart as a De-truancyfier.

‘You feed the naughty kids in at this end, and they come out the other side good.’

‘No way!’

‘Yes way. Just ask Stephen.’

‘Stephen moved to the coast when his folks split up.’

‘No,’ Lawrence shook his head and pointed into the haggard remains, ‘De-truancified.’

After many years of delighting children with his falsehoods one of the parents complained about Lawrence’s tall tales and he was encouraged to seek alternative employment. The cart was bought by a hipster who turned it into a boutique coffee stand.

Lawrence sold everything he owned and smuggled himself onto a slow-boat bound for Hong Kong. There he taught deliberately bad English and married a woman of high social standing…

At least that’s what everyone heard…

He may have made it all up…

 

Written for: Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

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Mercy Killing…

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I eavesdrop on the couple sitting next to me. Two things become apparent:

…They are planning the ultimate holiday.

…They hate each other.

It is the hatred of familiarity – barbed leaping impatience that turns what should be joyous into something tense and spiteful.

Their plight is fascinating to me and I begin typing out their story – small and discrete at first, but then, possessed of a curious desire to reveal my voyeurism, I increase the font size so that they cannot fail to see.

‘Why are you always going off on pointless tangents? Don’t close the itinerary! I hadn’t finished…that man’s writing down what we say…Look…I want you to do something about it…Because it’s creepy…God you’re so weak!’

In even larger font I type:

‘…THINK THEY’RE ONTO ME.

THEY SEEM SO SAD.’

My phone rings which has the effect of shielding me from conflict

‘Hey…Nothing much…Sure, I’ll pop around.’

As I chat the couple leave separately.

I have been immeasurably cruel.

Or I have done them a great kindness.

Or both.

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‘I’m Afraid To Get Used To This…’

This was going to be the light-hearted account of a long weekend in Istanbul. It certainly had all the initial hallmarks. There were the unintentional double-entendres of restaurateurs (‘Hello Bruce Willis. I look forward to receiving you later’), the T-shirt-worthy mantras a person needs in order to successful navigate a street vendor (‘No I’m not Russian, nor do I wish to buy a carpet’) and the lost-in-translation street signs (‘Place of Male Ablutions’).

Despite what later unfolded my lasting sense is of a culturally and historically rich city populated with warm, welcoming people.

‘The Blue Mosque’ was the obvious starting point for our adventure – huge, majestic and stunningly beautiful. In between prayers tourists are permitted to enter. Islamic design is based on symbols and patterns, and never on people or discernible objects so as not to venerate them as idols. With that in mind I experienced a strange washed-out sensation as hundreds of people took off their shoes, filed into a place of worship and immediately started taking copious photos of themselves.

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‘You know what would make that picture better? You not being in it.’

A glorious day was spent taking in the city’s fineries – an underground basilica containing the giant upside down head of Medusa, a church that had been burned down and rebuilt three times over the centuries and the grand bazaar marketplace filled his silk, spices and trinkets, Turkish coffee, Turkish street food, hecklers and bustle.

unnamed-2In the early evening we took a ferry across the Bosphorus and found our way to Taksim Square and to an underground eatery. Some people at the next table ordered an interesting looking drink. We asked them what it was and they offered us some. Introductions were made and a six-way conversation developed between my friend Romain (French), Sofia and Nora (Swedish and German), Fatih and Mustafa (Turkish and Kurdish-Turkish) and myself (English)…

At which point news broke that a bomb had gone off in the football stadium less than half a mile from where we were sitting.

Everyone in the restaurant started checking their phones and texting loved ones to say that they were OK. Shortly thereafter all access to phones and the internet were blocked by the government.

unnamed-3There then began the juxtaposing of six people from six different countries having an almost suspiciously convivial and multicultural night out against the unfolding of a horrific event and the locking down of a city.
I don’t want to create tension where there was none or inflate the sense of danger (that none of us felt!) As one of the Turkish men said: ‘It was more a feeling of creeping fascism and an erosion of rights.’ Everything was the same, but heavier somehow. Human nature being what it is we left together to witness people continuing with their shopping and drinking whilst nimbly avoiding armoured cars (and they witnessed us doing exactly the same).

At a cafe bar the waiter confirmed the current belief that 20 people had been slightly injured by the blast.

The European women attempted to lighten the mood by having a go at me over Brexit. After the obligatory apology I quickly disarmed them with a liberal quip (‘When your drinks arrive I will drink them, but I will expect you to pay.’)
Across the table things were a little more serious. Romain asked Fatih what he thought of what was happening.

‘I’m afraid to get used to this,’ he replied.

To my mind it eloquently summed up how it is to feel powerless in a maelstrom of changing and disintegrating events.

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Onto another bar where the pervading rumour was that things were much worse than had been reported before the blackout – at least a few people dead – maybe as many as 40 injured. ‘They were targeting the police,’ someone informed us. ‘They will blame the Kurds,’ said the Kurd. ‘They always do.’ They discussed the new far-right leader and talked of how the land was changing for the worse. We also did the duplicitous dance of holding conflicting emotions in our heads at the same time. Nora invited us to Berlin. Fatih spoke of opening a bar in Barcelona, and I told a story of going to Frankfurt zoo drunk and talking to the gorillas (which I considered to be top banter, but which caused Sofia to literally and figuratively fall asleep as I was talking).

That the two Turkish men were from different backgrounds was important. They joked that each was to blame for the current (and past) troubles. One of them became momentarily annoyed with the other for his insinuations before returning to ribbing and mild mockery.

At our last stop we learned that the death toll had risen yet again (the final count was 38 dead and 166 injured). It was a little after 2am. Outside people were still laughing and haggling. It was suggested that we go to a place that stayed open till dawn. To my English body clock it was still relative early, but places that usually stayed open were now closed.

We said goodbye to our new friends and took a taxi to Sultanhamet – a district that was eerily silent. A few hours later we were awoken by the morning call to prayer.

At the airport security was noticeably more stringent than on arrival. In the departure lounge we met two people who’d been on the outbound flight – a child psychologist and a PA escorting her Turkish father-in-law to a wedding. We did the thing people do in moments of heightened reality – felt around the edges of the horror, talked of how close we were to it (The psychologist had jogged past the stadium an hour beforehand) and spoke with exaggerated fondness of pedestrian matters back home.

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…In Which Raconteur Skills Abandon the Ageing Lothario

The man sitting next to me is on a date. I know this by the way he answers his phone. He has that higher-pitched air of non-threatening concern so essential in the initial wooing process  (You know, the one that gets abandoned forever after a few weeks)…

‘That’s alright. I was a little late myself…No, it’s the independent one next to Starbucks… OK, see you in a few minutes.’

His date arrives and greets him with a warm smile. The man, eager to impress, steps up to the plate and unleashes the conversational mother-load: ‘Sorry for the terrible directions. Maybe we should have just met at Starbucks…but…I like to drink in places where they pay their tax.’

Even the delivery is a little strange – Kind of passive aggressive – Like: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

‘Oh,’ the woman replies, a little taken-aback. ‘Well, it’s a nice choice.’

‘Yeah…lots of companies seeking to avoid…tax…at the moment…there’s…’

He glances around the room in desperation. Our eyes lock and we share a telepathic moment.

Help me brother!

Hey man – You did this to you – Pull your shit together.

‘Facebook…and…’

‘I think maybe some of the banks,’ his date tries to assist.

‘Yes, probably – goodgood

I hate to see brethren stumble, but what am I supposed to do? Lean across and say: Tell her she looks great you douche? And besides, my date has just arrives and so I’m like: Watch and learn my young apprentice. Listen to the Surgical Sensei work his lyrical mastery…

…And within less than a minute we’re talking about Supply-Chain-Management.

How the hell did this happen?

I fall back on my training. It tells my to show interest and ask questions, so I dredge up: ‘What’s the best supply chain you’ve ever managed?’ Her face relays so many complex messages – a mixture of I’m sorry for bringing this up / Stop asking questions / You’re only making it worse, whilst also answering the question (Multi-tasking! Women are amazing!)

Over on the next table the other guy’s date is performing the coup de grace. ‘I think maybe Google don’t pay tax as well?’ They leave soon afterwards. I appreciate their honesty (put it down to experience and move on).

But I’m still there, trapped in a rictus. I don’t think it’s the women’s fault or mine – Nothing in common – that’s all. Time and time again I’m bottling lightning and laughing at my own jokes (always a good sign), but no amount of electricity can reanimate a corpse.

Forty minutes in fate cocks the weapon and places it against my temple.

A comment about TV prompts her to say ‘I’ve just finished watching the Nordic crime drama – ‘The Killing.”

‘What a coincidence – I also enjoy killing…’

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Benevolence & Balzac

God westerners suck! Greedy, whining little brats banging on about their first-world problems. If our forefathers could see us skulking around posting trolly reviews about how our i-phones won’t pick up Wi-Fi or how the local coffee emporium used full-fat by mistake they’ve give us the hiding we so richly deserve.

Never has this been brought home to me so clearly than by the conversation I had with a work colleague yesterday.

That he’s Indian is relevant.

We were talking about the process of testing software. We meandered.  I asked what he did in his spare time.

‘My father left me some land. I get back whenever I can to check on the crops and oversee the harvest.’

‘How much land?’

’40 acres.’

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’40 acres! If you owned 40 acres in England you’d be king.’ (I’m pretty sure that’s how it works).

‘In India it is not so big – We produce maybe 60,000 bags of rice per year – 50KG apiece – enough to support the 40 families who work for me.’

‘But you make a healthy profit?’

‘No, no profit, a small loss actually, but it is good to give back. When I am older I will travel home and become a farmer full-time. It is a divine trade. A doctor you need maybe once a year, but a farmer you need every day.’

I have two thoughts: 1. What a profound thing he is doing for his fellow man. 2. I want to beat him up. I am a whiny westerner and he’s making me feel bad. I must go and blog about my hurty tummy and have total strangers reassure me. (‘Cheer up! You are only part-turd’ MARTIN LIKES THIS).

‘You own land?’ he asks.

‘Yes,’ I reply, ‘not 40 acres, but a nice house, on a hill.’

‘And you live in this house with your wife and kids?’

‘No, I’m divorced – Not a pleasant experience – Gonna take a decade or so off.’

To do his response justice you need to imagine it spoken in a Punjabi accent: ‘That would be a mistake. You need to get a move on before the sperm shrivel up in your scrotum…’

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