house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Babytoes Butch

A month ago, waiting in the Islamabad office of Emirates Airlines, to change our tickets (no luck, Emirates bamboozled us with small script and a huge price.  We gave up and put them on a black list, and dash the inflight entertainment.)
The office has all the accoutrements of smooth efficiency and comfort – carpets, water dispenser, tissues, air-conditioning, a machine that spews numbered tickets, colour-coded for business class clients or economy.
I take mine and wait. An age goes by, very slowly. Young people in Emirates uniforms sit behind their clerical fortresses – desks and screens and telephones. They use a lot of makeup, but clearly haven’t learned how to use a smile. I start to wish our travel plans hadn’t brought us to this office.
Then three men walk in and one word forms in my mind: ‘impeccable’. They are spotless, shiny, almost synthetic: starched long robes, close shaves, clear eyes, perfect haircuts. Some people, by their very presence, make you instantly aware of ALL your imperfections.
And then I see the one, the great, the truly, spooky thing about them: their feet. They all have perfect, pink, soft feet – the type you might associate with babies, supermodels, milk baths, Thai pedicures, daily seaweed scrubs, slaves and hot towels . If Dr. Lecter walked into the Emirates office right now, I'd shiver just the same.
P.S. The facts that these are young men, that their sandals are made of white plastic, that they may have been raised in rich Arab households, are incidental and secondary to the confirmed fact that they are all foot fetish freaks. They also have top-flyer golden business class tickets so they are instantly whisked away to a secret and selective Emirates heaven on the first floor. There, I imagine, the elite-customer lounge rolls plush carpets under their toes, may they stay soft and pink a hundred years.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Wedding Ring

Dzzzzing-dzzzng-dzzz. Then silence.
‘What was that?’
‘No.’ I look at my hand. ‘NO’. The wedding ring is gone.
I am in the toilet, at Mocca, and the wedding ring is not on my finger anymore.  ‘Dzzzz’, a buzzing echo sings inside my head.
It’s not even MY wedding ring, it’s yours. ‘Dzzzz’ - like a swarm of scarabs through my veins. Where is the bloody thing? I can’t believe it.
‘You’ll lose it’, I’d said earlier, and you gave it to me for safe keeping – because what with the morning climbing trips and the hand infection, your wedding ring has been lying in a jacket pocket for over a week..  I took it and slid it next to mine. We joked (‘I’m married to myself now’) I thought it felt a bit loose. More jokes (‘what big hands you have, grampa’) ha-ha, etc.  
Twenty minutes later, dzzzzing – and the ring is gone. I can’t believe it. I must find it.
I can’t see it. I look around my feet, behind the toilet, under my bag. Nothing.  I look inside the toilet. My head feels like the inside of a church bell during a wedding. A wedding. Oh God. What do I say to you, tonight?
You’ve had it since 1994. Twenty years, then you give it to me for twenty minutes and DZZZING.
The cubicle is hot and smells of air freshener. I can’t breathe. I’m on my knees, looking behind the toilet again, and down a truly dreadful drain. Oh. Oh. OH.
I’m gagging not because this is potentially too disgusting – yes I would plunge my hand down the toilet if I detected a splash, a glint, anything - but because it was such a nice day and now it’s scary, hot, smelly and huge.
Don’t panic. Breathe. Wait, there must be an explanation. It’s only a small room, a smooth floor, a shiny ring, nowhere to go. I heard it fall (how lucky was THAT?) – I felt it slide off my middle finger and hit the floor then bounce, twice. Then what? Did it jump into my bag? Did it slide under the door and out? I open and check, nothing and thankfully, no one waiting. I twirl about and – OH, what was that? A small metallic noise under my boot? Or still the echo in my head?
I pat the floor with my hands (it’s nothing, really, compared to the horror of losing your wedding ring!) and something cuts into my palm. I cup my hand above it and wait for the heart to stop flinging itself inside my chest. I crouch there, like a batty entomologist who just captured the last three-legged golden cricket of Guadelupe – dying to open her hand, weary that it may hop off into the jungle.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Oh News

Back in Portugal, I sometimes parked the car against a wall covered in graffiti. One message said: 'I watch the news on TV and get very, very scared'. It made me nod and glance away to a mustard-green meadow that engulfed the ruins of a house. We didn't have television but I thought I knew what they meant.

It's different here. The daily paper waits on the car bonnet in the morning and there's no meadow where the gaze might hide. The news is a relentless march of horrors.

There's a story about a family in Lahore and their maid. They accused her of theft, made a huge fuss. Her mother arrived from some faraway village, trying to sort things out, or just to see her. The masters did not permit this and the woman waited - for news, for her daughter, for mercy, who knows? - she just waited for things to calm down. And while the mother was waiting, the family tied the maid up and beat her with a plastic hose - why? who knows why? - until her cries stopped and her eyes closed and she moved no more. Then they took the maid to the hospital. Again, why? She was already dead. She was ten years old.

And today there's a story about a 15-year old schoolboy who was late from school one morning.. Assembly had started and, at the school gate, this boy met a young man with a belt of explosives, walking purposefully towards the gathered students and teachers. The boy stepped forward and hugged the bomber. Seconds later the explosion, birds fluttering in panic, two thousand young faces turning from assembly to see the cloud at their school gates - smoke and sorrow, fear and frustration, martyr and murderer, and no, and yes, and gone.

What do I do with these stories? What do we do with the memory of these children? The world changes, but so very, very slowly. I wonder if the graffiti in Portugal has faded out by now.