Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (28)

Blake awoke to an otherwise empty bed. It was already after ten and as his mind clunked wearily into gear he suddenly recalled that Kate had not been at home when he returned in the early hours of the morning. Where the fuck is she? he thought, as he abruptly sat upright, his legs swung over the side of the bed. His head was pounding as usual, while his stomach sank as the only logical explanation for her absence registered in his mind. Just then, the clattering of pots rang out from the kitchen, at which Blake rose to investigate. She’s back. The mild euphoria he felt upon hearing this sound of domestic normality was tempered by the knowledge that his next conversation with Kate would need to strike a careful balance. On the one hand, he knew she was either cheating on him, or intending to, and wanted to have it out with her, get everything on the table. On the other, he desired to keep the conversation as civil as possible, lest she question his own whereabouts for most of the previous night. There was also the problem of revealing to her at some point the recent adverse developments in his carefully planned career. An unfortunate sequence of events that apparently led nowhere.

For her part, Kate had also decided that civility was the best approach. She had calmed down significantly since returning to the apartment at around six a.m. to find her husband snoring in bed. She had grabbed a few hours’ sleep herself, in Sophie’s room. Cuddling one of her daughter’s teddy bears, Kate had admitted to herself that Tommy was not a long-term prospect – he seemed over her already, in fact. Almost as quickly as he climaxes, she mentally added – spitefully, and without truth.

But her resolve to leave Blake and take Sophie back to England was unwavering, even after some deep soul searching. Naturally, she did not plan to discuss this with him, however. No: Kate would snatch her daughter away from school at the next opportunity and take her straight to the airport to catch the first available flight home. With her mind made up, she would curb her emotions in the meantime, suppressing the anger she felt towards her husband and to Sunny Cape life in general, so as to avoid any major incident, or scene. And although Kate had long ago resigned herself to the fact that a normal family weekend was no longer achievable, she was determined that this last one they were destined to spend together would produce no upsets – nothing that might threaten her intended course of action.

It was while she was mulling this over in her mind that Blake startled her from her thoughts with his sudden appearance at the kitchen door. “Sorry, Kate,” he quickly apologised, realising that he had made her jump. “It’s all right. You just surprised me, that’s all. Can I make you a cup of tea?” she replied, guilt-ridden in the knowledge of what she was planning. “That would be nice.” To Blake, she sounded conciliatory, which was a relief – if also something of a surprise. “Aren’t you going to the office today?” she then asked. “Look–” he began, wanting to tell her everything, to get it off his chest. But Kate cut across him. “It’s OK, I was only asking. I’ve no need for explanations. You need a break, anyway.” Blake raised his eyebrows at his last comment – Kate’s sudden empathy a one hundred and eighty degree about-turn from her previous position. Why’s she being so reasonable, all of a sudden? he thought, now a little suspicious. “Kate, I’ve been thinking. What…er, what are you doing for lunch? We could do something special…if you like?” “Oh. Sorry, Adam. I’m supposed to be meeting a few of the other Mums. We’re getting together before the school party returns this afternoon. A sort of last chance to relax before the terrors get back,” she informed him, manufacturing a chuckle. “Oh, OK then,” Blake replied, a little deflated and now growing weary of trying.

posted by Kirk at 9:27 pm  

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (47)

Adi knew that Sate Blora was the regular Sunday haunt of his quarry. He had observed Captain Farid visit the place at this time, like clockwork, during the weeks of surveillance he undertook while contemplating his first move. Stepping down from the car on to the red kerbside earth, the dusty ground now being patted down by raindrops that were falling in ever larger splashes, he mentally rehearsed the opening lines of his impending showdown with the evil low-life inside. Adi wanted to ensure that he gave no opportunity for comeback – that there were no flaws in his attack. No longer seeking to negotiate, he now sought closure, and a fresh start.

Leaving his car unlocked, he walked slowly towards the entrance door, acknowledging with a friendly nod the young newspaper vendor who was sitting at his stall just to the right of the restaurant. The boy held a plastic sheet above his head, in protection from the escalating downpour. Under normal circumstances, Adi would have stopped to chat and make a purchase – ‘done his bit’ to support the boy. But today he was in no mood for small talk; he had no time to spare. Instead, he walked on past before pushing through Sate Blora’s entrance door, entering from the rain into the bustling eatery.

“Do you have a reservation?” asked the pretty receptionist. “No… No,” he replied, a little absently. “I’m just looking for someone,” “Oh. You’re joining a friend?” the girl persisted. “Not exactly.”

Adi moved cautiously into the main dining area, glancing left and right. The room was larger than he had figured, based upon its outside appearance, and it was busy. Packed to the rafters, in fact. Shit! If this doesn’t go as planned, a lot of people could get hurt, he now worried. After a few nervy moments in which he almost resolved to abort the mission he located the Captain, who was sitting at a large, round table in one corner of the restaurant. A shiver ran through him as he once more weighed up his adversary. The bastard was grinning, while bending something metallic – a fork? – in his hands, releasing pent-up, nervous energy. As Adi’s view broadened to include the peripheral, he saw that there were more people sat at the table than he had anticipated – around ten, he guessed, including two young boys. Children… Damn! He had not bargained for that. But the show would go on, in any event. He had not come this far to turn back, a coward. His heart began to race and his breathing quickened. A wave of nausea swept over him as his stomach sank. His legs, now heavy as lead, only reluctantly obeyed his instructions to walk towards his target, the beast of a man he had grown to loathe. Falteringly he continued his approach, stopping suddenly when about three metres from the table, as the Captain caught him in the corner of an eye. The army man swivelled his head rapidly to the right, to look directly at him. Adi saw that his nemesis was once again seething in disbelief, reacting just as he had at the breakfast table, back in Parangtritis.

I can’t believe the audacity of this prick! thought the Captain, as he sucked in a lungful of air through clenched teeth. Every time he’s on my mind, he seems to suddenly appear, out of nowhere. What the fuck is he? Some kind of fucking phantom? Captain Farid rose stiffly, catching the edge of a plate on his belt and upsetting a glass of water in the process. Crash! – it toppled over, the water dripping over the table’s edge and on to the floor. “Darling, are you–” the Captain’s wife began to address him, but he was already moving away from the family table, slowly but deliberately crossing the space between him and the jerk who had the outrageous nerve to disturb him. Captain Farid’s body was now as rigid as forged steel, his neck taut as wire, arched, like a cobra ready to strike, not if but when, not just someday but very, very soon. It was time to end this torment. To get rid of this pebble from his shoe.

posted by Kirk at 2:35 am  

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (27)

An unusually brilliant dawn broke on the second and final morning of Sunny Cape International School’s Guilin excursion. The sun’s crystal rays, flashed eight minutes earlier from a distance of a hundred and fifty million kilometres, were now slamming into lush and verdant hills, bleaching the countryside.

Gavin Hewitt and his three staffers were confident they had prepared thoroughly for the morning’s visit to the city’s ancient market, taking the opportunity over breakfast to methodically run through the various precautions needed in this crowded locale: in particular those required to thwart the crafty pickpockets that infested the place. But no amount of meticulous planning could compensate for the fact that all four teachers were suffering acute hangovers, their having drunk the hotel’s stock of alcohol dry the previous evening. Once the tawdry bar’s supply of Black Label had been consumed, they had made the mistake of daring to imbibe in the local mao tai – a potato based liquor akin to poteen. Unwisely, they had chosen to engage in a drinking contest with the experienced bar manager, who essentially drank them under the table, whilst landing them with a hefty bill. Thereafter, two of their number had stayed up the rest of the night – abandoning the children under their watches to seek instead their pleasure between the sheets of her bed. And so Brad Taylor and Sally Henderson were two exhausted, hung-over lovers as they boarded the bus on this particular morning, each of them looking forward to reaching Liangjiang airport as soon as possible after the planned market detour. For them, it was time to return home to catch breath, and re-evaluate their relationship.

Towards the rear of the bus, Sophie and the other children were jabbering away excitedly as they waited for the last of the stragglers to board. These trainee adults had already assembled a junior hierarchy within the group, and while Sophie was not the most dominant, she nevertheless participated eagerly in the group discussions. “Are you going to buy a present for your Mummy?” one of her friends asked. “Course! Jewelly. Jade. It’s like, so cool and my Mummy’s gonna love it!”

Their suitcases had already been stowed on the bus, waiting patiently like terracotta soldiers in the dark confines of the luggage hold. The clapped-out belcher would sit roasting in the dusty car park while the children browsed in the market, before it took them on the last leg of their China adventure: the return trip to the airport for the flight home to Hong Kong. Its brakes squealed as it halted in the historic town centre, the eager children alighting to form into their three designated groups. For the stroll through the market blue group would lead, with Abigail Newton joined at its head by Gavin Hewitt. The Deputy Principal’s experience would be useful in spotting the signs of any potential problems.

It was intended that red group would be situated in the middle, with white taking up the rear. But as they began to move through the narrow lanes that led into the ancient marketplace, the children began to intermingle, as the hands of the leaders of these latter two groups also took the opportunity to entwine. Their thoughts elsewhere, Brad and Sally were unaware that they had drifted towards the middle of the pack, with a fair number of children dawdling behind. The girl with the white-blonde ringlets made up the very rear.

Sophie fell even further behind the rest when an attractive jade pendant nestling atop the counter of a roadside stall caught her eye. Pausing to consider whether to make her purchase now, or wait until they reached the marketplace proper, she could not understand what the wizened old stallholder suddenly began yelling at her. The toothless crone was gesticulating animatedly while bawling something in the local dialect, but all Sophie wanted to know was whether she could afford the item. Confused, she looked around to gain the support of her friends, when suddenly she realised that she had become separated from the rest of her group, causing her to panic a little. Turning away from the stall, she moved off in pursuit of them, pushing at the wall of bodies ahead as the distance between her and the safety of numbers grew by the second. In her mild terror, she did not notice the black Toyota Alphard draw up soundlessly behind her, the side door of which now slid back to reveal two unkempt Chinese hoods inside the rear compartment of the vehicle.

No-one in this bustling, cacophonous hell-hole had noticed what was happening, as the hawkers shrieked at their would-be customers while the blinkered bargain hunters pushed and pulled at each other in selfish determination. Not one potential witness registered the menacing black vehicle with its reflective glass as it crept stealthily along, or had the presence of mind to reflect that its licence plates indicated that it emanated from somewhere other than Guilin. No-one, that is, except one old and wizened hag.

And as the car drew alongside Sophie, it was she alone who saw the arm that was suddenly thrust out from within, to snatch roughly at the young girl’s dress before taking a firmer hold and violently hauling its quarry inside. The old woman continued to look on as the sliding door was quickly slammed shut, the whole incident over in a matter of seconds. Honking his way aggressively through the crowds, the driver of the vehicle then began picking up speed, while the startled schoolgirl sat whimpering in the rear, pressed forcibly between the two burly thugs.

Next, one of them produced a handkerchief, which he forced roughly on to her face. The smell made her jerk, but while she desperately wanted to pull free, Sophie was paralysed by fear. Two big tears fell down on to her cheeks as she realised that the man had knocked her wobbly tooth, which now felt as if it would fall out any minute. They streaked their way down her cheeks in a race, to drip into her lap, where another patch was already forming. Seven-year-old Sophie Blake was wetting herself in terror. She wanted to scream but no sound would come out. And then it suddenly went dark.

posted by Kirk at 12:23 am  

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (46)

It was at a little before two in the afternoon that Ramani finally found herself sitting on the idling bus, fidgeting as she awaited its departure from the terminus. Despite her best efforts she had narrowly missed the one o’clock service, forcing her to spend a frustrating three-quarters of an hour purposelessly fingering the bric-a-brac offered by the busy stalls of a nearby bazaar. Attractive in a loose headscarf of her favourite – lucky – colour, the mother of one harboured mixed emotions as she impatiently tapped on the ledge running along the base of the window through which she gazed. Naturally excited at the prospect of seeing her only son’s face again, she was also a little worried that he might not take kindly to the surprise her unexpected appearance would deliver. Don’t be silly! Of course he’ll be happy to see you, she corrected herself, as her mood swung once again.

But Ramani still carried with her the feeling of dread that remained lying in the pit of her stomach, like a heavy pudding. A feeling that had continued to grow in its intensity ever since she first felt it a couple of hours ago. Deep down, she remained convinced that she would be confronting something terrible upon her arrival in the capital. Something she could not quite imagine, but which made her shiver, nonetheless. Closing her eyes, she tried to relax. At least I have acted, she mused, as a stray ray of sunlight painted her eyelids red. There’s nothing more I can do right now, except get off this bus at the other end and go straight to him. She settled herself, eyes still closed, as she heard the hiss of the bus’s pneumatic doors. The engine was revved before the driver slipped the clutch and accelerated unevenly away from the bus stand. If the rain were to ease off, as it now seemed to promise, they would reach the big city in something over four hours.

Poor Ramani had every right to feel apprehensive. For events outside Sate Blora had already unfolded, were in process even as she had frantically dialled the number of the public telephone from the old bakelite set in the home of her friendly neighbour. And had she known the circumstances that would be greeting her upon her arrival in Jakarta, she would now be climbing up the walls in frustration that there was no quicker way of getting there.

posted by Kirk at 10:30 pm  

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (26)

Kate was in a filthy mood as she stomped back through the piazza, on her way home. Feeling hurt and a little cheap, she barely noticed that the first light of day was just beginning to reveal itself behind heavy overhead clouds. One or two of the previous evening’s revellers were still sitting at the square’s wooden bench tables, resolutely drinking their way through the remainder of the strong Danish lager they had purchased earlier from Twenty-Four Seven. Dishevelled and slumped at random angles, they had the appearance of a pack of somnolent hyenas, resting after a particularly exhausting hunt.

“Whorr… look a’ dat!” one of them managed to call out, raising his head as he noticed her shapely legs glide past. It was some balding gwailo lech, whom she did not recognise. Before his accomplices had had the opportunity to chip in with their own lewd comments, Kate rounded on them. “Fuck the lot of you, you pathetic specimens. Try getting jobs. Do something useful. Like real men. Remember what they look like? You lazy bunch of bastards!”

She gave them the bird finger as the men exchanged glances, their heavy eyebrows raised in surprise at the edge her verbal assault had contained. And it was true: Kate’s invective was certainly over the top. But while her outburst had allowed her to expunge some of her frustrations, she was still reflecting with disappointment the way Tommy had kicked her out of his bed, and most likely his life, just a few minutes earlier. Dismissed her. Sent her away, bored. So I wasn’t special, then, after all. Kate felt a mixture of anger and shame that she had been so foolish to think otherwise.

“Ooooooh!” one of the drunks now bravely piped up, with extreme affectation. Waiting until she was at a distance that meant she was unlikely to return, despite whatever was said, he then added: “One… is not… amused!” in a parody of the Queen. The man’s body was swaying, in slow motion. The dance of the drunk. The others sniggered as Kate’s back slowly disappeared off into the distance. Moments later, having returned to their slurps, they had largely forgotten the entire episode.

As she continued to march her way back to the apartment, it was not an excuse for her nocturnal absence that Kate was mentally searching for, nor did she fear how her husband might react to it. There was no panic in her mind. No: there was instead a feeling that events of the past forty-eight hours or so were bringing matters to a head, forcing her to make some kind of decision, one way or the other. But something else, too. It was the sudden realisation that she herself had no job. Had not worked for some considerable time, in fact. Was in no position then, to take the moral high ground over the drunks she had just condemned, back there in the piazza.

This is a shit life, Kate now reflected, her pace slowing. A dreadful fucking bore. I’ve lost my independence here. Become a glorified housemaid. And it was in this moment that she determined to leave Blake, to take Sophie back to the firmer reality that was England. Back home to get a job, and some kind of life of her own again. As soon as her daughter returned from that shit-hole to the north.

China.

posted by Kirk at 3:12 am  

Monday, April 14, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (45)

It was after dinner on a peaceful night in the family home when ’Pak Bambang wearily pulled up his aching legs one after the other, to rest them on the footstool. He could hear the clatter of crockery being washed up by the pembantu as he leaned back into the cushions of the sofa, folding his arms in a way that had become habitual when preparing for his customary after-dinner nap. But the pain he felt in his chest this evening was tormenting him more than usual, causing him to abruptly slip his feet back off and on to the floor, while pushing himself upright, once more. He leant forward slightly, easing the pain. Damn thing can’t leave me alone for a minute, he thought.

Seeing this, his alarmed wife moved across to him from her chair, to lay a hand on his shoulder. “Indigestion again, sayangku?” she enquired, to which he silently nodded a false affirmation, his upper body now slumped forward, arms dangling down towards his feet. Unsteadily, the pensive old woman then retreated to the kitchen to fetch his usual antacid, after swallowing which ’Pak Bambang would, as always, feign complete recovery. Kasihan. He’ll be all right after he takes this, she thought, unknowing.

Back in the drawing room, the old palm industrialist had begun another series of black, wheezing coughs. A sequence that always started with a sharp intake of breath and ended with a spluttering of wet mucus and red, bulging eyes. The kind of cough that leads to the grave, he sighed inwardly, while dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief. After a brief respite, another convulsion followed. Every hacking compression of his chest felt like a knife going in. He prayed the pain would stop. Kenapa saya, Tuhan? Why me? Hearing his wife’s shuffling return, he looked up to cast her his usual loving smile, before placing a hand on top of hers as she once again patted him gently on the shoulder, while passing him the magic potion. A remedy which, she convinced herself, would instantly restore him to complete health. And everything will be all right. He thanked her and dutifully downed the pills, quietly praying to whatever God might be listening, for time. Just give me a little more, he begged…

Most of us are content to swim unquestioning, through a sea of blind acceptance. Swallowing everything around us, effortlessly happy. But Anath was different. A gifted boy, he just happened to be the victim of circumstances that were cast before he emerged into the world. For whilst the hex that had been thrown his pregnant mother’s way failed to make any impact upon his physicality, it had perhaps somehow permeated his soul. Poor Anath had never known true happiness. From an early age, he was haunted by a profound awareness of everything around him, never able to gloss over the facts, or airbrush out any of the detail. It was as if he possessed an extra sense, some additional equipment that intruded, forcing him to receive signals that others could not detect. A kind of crystal clarity that crackled in his own airspace, to the exclusion of others. But to a large extent, this constant state of wakefulness was not wanted.

So when the sense of some incoming message hit him shortly after noon, despite his irritation at its intrusion, he knew it was real. Something urgent and filled with… love. And concern. But this particular signal was weak, it was distorted. Coming from way off. From the place of his past, perhaps. He struggled to break its code as it began to fizzle out, dissipating back into the aether. Anath cocked his head slightly, while squinting an eye. Sitting quite still, he waited for more; but there was nothing. Maybe I was wrong, he mulled, now disappointed. But I’m sure I felt something then. He passed off the fleeting sensation as a kind of aftershock from his encounter with the Captain, accepting that he was spooked and, now forcing a stilted grin, scared. But he remained troubled enough by the experience to continue his meditation, urging the message to return.

Overhead the sky had darkened, in preparation for the afternoon’s shower. It was that precise moment when a stillness descends: when the birds quieten and desist from taking flight, sitting instead to await a free bath. Shaking their feathers excitedly, in the certain knowledge of events shortly to come. Anath knew it, too, and began covering his newspapers with the plastic sheet he had tucked behind the stall in preparation. And as the first drops of rain pitter-pattered on to its plastic surface, an old red Toyota pulled up at the roadside in front, its engine halted with the turn of a key.

For a second, all was still and eerily quiet, but for the water that fell, from a generous sky.

posted by Kirk at 9:25 am  

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (25)

Elle woke with a start, her head pounding. It had been an unusual day, the previous one. Rare for her to write off an afternoon like that. And there was something else, too. It had been a day that heralded the moment she let another man touch her. When she had finally admitted that she would never be able to patch it up with her estranged husband. The day that the exclusive club of men who had known her intimately was swelled by one. There were still only a handful of members, but she had waited long enough, she felt.

Shit! she suddenly thought, as she surveyed her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The memory of her slightly awkward tryst with Blake had crystallised in her mind, causing her to wince. What must he think I’m like? Elle popped two Panadol Extra into her mouth before swilling them down with a large glass of water, almost gagging as the acrid pills struggled to swim down her throat. Cupping her hand, she then sniffed in a lungful of her cigarette and wine breath. That’s disgusting! Retching, she spat out the bile that had crept up from somewhere into the back of her mouth, before cleaning her teeth twice in rapid succession.

It tasted a little better, but her head continued to throb and she was fast becoming nauseous. “Never again, do you hear?” she chastised her reflection in the mirror. But her reprimand was related to the previous day’s alcohol intake, rather than any prohibition to link up again with Blake. A smile flashed quickly across her captivating features, just like the one that had attracted the many suitors she had rejected while keeping a candle burning for her absent husband. Then, at the sudden memory of his infidelity, she became melancholy for a second, her eyes staring off absently, through the mirror. But she rejected this uninvited mood swing and returned her thoughts to Blake. What was it about him that had attracted her when she first laid eyes on him in Bar George?

Elle thought about what he had done to her, blushing at how quickly she climaxed before rolling away from him, shyly, needing to curl into a ball after coming with such intensity. She reflected upon how the whole episode had come about. His initial helplessness in Bar George, where he had fallen from his stool in a drunken stupor: her surreptitiously slipping a name card into his jacket pocket. Accepting his subsequent invitation to lunch, while shutting down her business for the day, irresponsibly. Unusual for her. Then drinking with him all afternoon, before virtually dragging him into her bed. I positively laid out a red carpet, she mentally confessed. Why? Why him? But Elle had no reasons for her decision, after years of abstinence, to choose this particular man to break the spell of her celibacy.

“He’s honest,” she blurted, out of nowhere. “Different to the rest.” I hope, her mind chimed in, nagging at her fears that Blake, too, had the potential to betray her. “Well he’s good at it, anyway.” She chuckled, despite the hammers that banged away in her head. “So I’m going to have some fun along the way, even if it does all end in tears. Right, girl?”

And while neither she nor Blake could predict the circumstances that were about to unfold, the instant connection between them would come to form the anchorage that would help Blake survive the worst storm he would ever experience in his life.

posted by Kirk at 11:10 pm  

Friday, April 11, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (44)

Adi lay atop his bed, fully clothed. A myriad emotions lined up to walk through his mind: anger, hate and love among them. But it was self-loathing that was winning the day. Why did I lead that poor sucker to his death? Didn’t I realise that he would end up as some kind of sacrificial lamb? A macabre signal from the faggot Captain, indicating that I was out of my depth? And did I really care what happened to the poor bastard? He tried to think of Lulu, but failed – making a pact with himself, however, to return to that topic as soon as he could. For a flame had begun to burn there, and this was something he had subconsciously determined would not be snuffed out. Right now, though, he had urgent work to conclude. The business of revenge: that of righting a wrong. And moreover, of preventing further repetition. Captain Farid had to be exposed, eliminated, whatever. In the half-light of dawn, Adi then hatched his plan.

As was habitual, he moved through into the bathroom to speak to his reflection in the mirror. “You have to make a move before he does,” he told himself. “Because he will. He’s already upped the stakes – he’ll try and do it again. Soon.” You’ve always been lucky. Stay lucky, my boy, he then thought, seeking to reassure himself, while pumping out his chest. There had been a time when Adi visualised his interaction with the Captain in black-or-white terms. But now there was a third option, and its colour was red. He knew that he must act, lest his ruthless adversary come instead to make his own kill.

Adi entered the shower compartment and set the temperature to high. The scalding water stung as he scraped himself a new skin with the loofa. He wanted to punish himself, to feel some pain. For today was going to be a new start. Today, I’m going to do something that I will cherish for the rest of my life, that will set me on a new and better path, he thought, naïvely visualising the simple execution of his campaign. Today, I’m going to change the world. My world. In his mind, he saw an image of his hands around the Captain’s neck, throttling the life from the bastard’s limp body, while a group of enthusiastic onlookers cheered him on. He was no longer looking to negotiate with this monster, to gain a share of the illicit gains he had once lusted after. No. He was simply going to crush him. To put him out of sight – for ever.

Adi rubbed firmly as he then towelled himself down, ensuring that no dampness remained in any crevice of his muscular torso. Inserting a new blade into his razor, he then carefully drew it across his chin in the same manner as always, leaving none of the foam or the rough bristles behind. As he then rubbed the scented gel into the shiny skin of his freshly shaved face, he suddenly felt at the very peak of his game – supercharged, even – and ready to go out and do battle.

Stay lucky, he once more reminded himself.

posted by Kirk at 10:06 pm  

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (24)

Kate was not there when he arrived back at their Sunny Cape apartment, which should have worried him. But strangely her absence did not fully register, Blake glad in any event that he did not have to confront her, or explain his lengthy departure. He collapsed on to the bed, no longer with the need to wake at a certain time, the reason for his presence in Hong Kong now ended. The shutters of his eyelids slammed his brain into darkness. There was not a thought for his daughter: he did not even recall that she was elsewhere. Falling instantly into a deep slumber, Blake was in denial of a world that was slowly unravelling, all around him.

His wife was also fast asleep, in Tommy’s bed. Alone. For at five-thirty in the morning, the Australian tennis pro had already risen, moving directly from the warmth of her bosom to the kitchen, to prepare a high-energy milkshake before his dawn workout. The buzz of the blender had somehow failed to rouse Kate, much to the Aussie’s annoyance. For since waking up next to the forty-something, he had been wondering how long it would take to get her out of his apartment, without causing a scene. Tommy had now sucked everything he wanted from her: it was time for him to move on, to explore fresh territory.

But Kate was not quite ready to stir. Lying unconscious on a cocktail of wine and spirits, her mind continued to pursue the thrill she had felt when he penetrated her. A steel-hard ram raid of unforgettable substance. And the excitement of extramarital sex. She sighed unwittingly, before turning on one side, her eyes still closed. Kate was the other half of a parent combo that did not deserve the offspring with which they had been blessed. The girl with the white-blonde ringlets. And the wobbly tooth, as yet undiscovered. This latest episode in the mother’s straying had begun in Hemingway’s, where Jack had kicked off his nightshift by supplying her with a free glass of Moet, Kate being a regular customer for whom he harboured a quiet fantasy.

It was as she was sitting at the popular bar, looking out over the pretty beach from its unique vantage point on the Cape, that Tommy had walked past, right on cue. Just as she had known he would. Despite not having showered after completing the last of his evening lessons, the fit young Aussie had been quick to accept her invitation to join her for a drink. The conversation had been flowing as easily as the bubbles, when their ‘nightcap’ had turned into drinking contest; then ultimately an energetic session in his bed, after which they had both made the mistake of falling asleep. But now in the cold light of a new morning, Tommy wanted her out of his apartment, so that he could get on with his life. For although she had a great body and he enjoyed their sex, she was at least ten years older than him, the signs of which were much more visible than they had been the previous night. And she’s married. With a kid, he now reminded himself, while gulping down some more of the blended mixture.

Moving briskly back into his bedroom, Tommy shook her awake, impatiently. “Kate. Babe. Hey. It’s time to go. Come on, wake up.” “Mnnnmmmmgggg…” was the sound of her half-conscious reply. A satisfied murmur that was about to be jolted. Rudely. “Come on, let’s move it!” he urged, more aggressively this time. Tommy wanted to get to the gym and nobody was allowed the privilege of being alone in his apartment. No one. He shook her again; a little too roughly, this time. Reluctantly, Kate rose to sit on the edge of the bed, where she promptly burst into tears. “What’s up?” he asked, irritated. For this was Tommy’s worst nightmare, the thing he hated the most. Like the hair that would sometimes clog his plug hole. But it was something he could have predicted would happen, for he had experienced it countless times before. Because Tommy the hard man was essentially a heartbreaker. A man with no real feelings: someone with no love in his soul. “You’re all the same, you men… You take what you want and then go…” Kate muttered, essentially to herself, while rubbing the sleep from her mascara-smudged eyes. Oh dear. Tommy had heard this speech before.

“Look,” he said, abruptly. “We had a shag, all right? That’s all. For fuck’s sake.” Tommy ran his fingers through his hair. What he actually wanted to say was: Fuck off – now! But even his hardened heart could not muster the gall to do so. Instead, he devised another tactic. “I’m sorry, babe. That’s not really what I meant. We have a good thing going here. Don’t spoil it with tears.” “Are you sure?” came her pathetic response. “Sure I’m sure.” Another one from Tommy’s private lexicon of love. And relationships. It was the default answer to her question. Page sixty-nine. For use when things were not happening quickly enough, or in situations such as this, when the girl simply did not get it. “OK, thank you. I’m sorry. I’ll go now. Sorry,” she finally obliged.

Kate wiped away her tears and got up to dress. In the uneasy silence, she put on her clothes before straightening herself out in his full-length bedroom mirror. Tommy watched her, dispassionately – a little bored and somewhat anxious to get on with the day. The moment she left, after a forced and awkward embrace on his welcome mat, he was sprinting off in the opposite direction, pounding the pavement slabs on his way to the gym. His particular place of worship. Where his temple of a body gained its own particular form of sustenance.

posted by Kirk at 1:37 am  

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (43)

The storm clouds were heavy enough to create the appearance of dusk as Ramani’s neighbours returned from their trip to the market, a visit cut short in anticipation of the impending storm. Somewhat alarmed to see her pathetic figure curled up in a ball on their front doorstep, the husband rushed towards her, almost tripping in the process. “Kenapa, Ramani? What’s up?” Mournfully, the kampung beauty looked up at him and swallowed, before sobbing: “I don’t know… I just have this awful feeling that something’s wrong with my boy.” Her eyes were wetter than the sky. “I would really like to try and reach him by phone, just to check that he’s OK… If you don’t mind, of course.” A tear rolled down the velvet skin of her cheek. “Of course not. Come. Come on in,” the wife insisted, taking control of the situation. “Here.” She ushered Ramani to a small table just inside the door, atop which sat an old bakelite telephone receiver. Rushing to fetch a towel for Ramani to dry herself with, she gave her neighbour a brief smile of encouragement as she disappeared inside the house. Ramani’s hand shook as she struggled to retrieve a small scrap of paper from her purse, on which the number was written. It seemed to take an age for the old dial to return to zero after each digit was swept around, but eventually the sequence was complete. Then, after a brief silence, she could hear the telephone she knew was fixed to the wall beside her son’s newsstand purring in the earpiece. “It’s ringing,” she whispered to herself, in confirmation.

With quickening breaths, Ramani pictured the scene at the other end of the line as the phone continued to ring. Her thoughtful son had, in his letters to her, faithfully painted every detail of his workplace and described the people with whom he commonly interacted. She knew about the portly Tukang Warung, the man who had first given him a break, and the garrulous driver with whom he would strike up conversation whenever the man’s boss – an army Captain, apparently – chose to dine at Sate Blora, the restaurant that abutted Anath’s stall. He had mentioned the infirm old lady to whom he provided a free daily read and a host of other, bit part players that formed the fabric of his daily existence in the capital. But Anath had kept from her the darker side of some of his experiences – in particular those involving the uniformed man. Ramani knew nothing of his growing fear that the regular encounters he was obliged to have with the Captain would one day, perhaps soon, descend into a violent clash, when he could no longer control the anger that welled up inside him every time he was taunted by the heartless army man.

In the earpiece, the phone continued to ring. “No answer. There’s no one picking it up,” she said miserably to herself. Panic was now beginning to grip her, clutching at her throat. Her words were barely audible, scratched out through constricted vocal chords. Hands trembling, Ramani dialled again, in the vain hope that by expending the extra effort, a different outcome would somehow result. Anath… come on… answer, please! she begged, inwardly. But still there was only a ringing tone in her ear. Slowly, she began to lower the receiver back into its cradle, only to quickly lift it again. She was sure she had heard a crackle, something. But sadly, there it was again: the monotonous sound of a telephone ringing. Of no one bothering to answer it. Ramani put her hands to her face and wiped away her tears. Taking a deep breath, her eyes staring absently into the distance, she resolved to act. “I must go to him,” she said, as her neighbour then returned with a towel for her. She took it without expression before wiping around her face and neck. “Something’s wrong. I know it. Why didn’t he answer the phone? It’s supposed to be just beside his newsstand, attached to the wall. He must have heard it.” The woman attempted to calm her with an obvious platitude: maybe he was taking a break – could that be it? “Why not try again in a few minutes, after you’ve had a glass of hot tea?” she then offered, kindly. But Ramani was gone, calling out her thanks as she pelted through the door, rushing back to her modest dwelling in order to pack something simple in an overnight bag before making her way to the terminus to take the next available bus to the city, and her boy.

posted by Kirk at 12:50 am  
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