Thursday, 25 June 2015


There are goblins outside,
They sit and stare.
They glare through the windows,
Mock me from the garden,
And leave the greasy imprints of wrinkled noses on the glass.

I know all their names;
Embarrassment dances on the lawn,
Fear hides in the bushes,
Despair dangles from the washing line,
Loneliness sit by himself in a flowerpot, weeping.

There comes a time when you realise
You can't let the goblins keep you inside,
Isolated from the world.
So, I open the door,
And set the cat on them.

Friday, 20 February 2015


“Once upon a time there was...” I began.

“A mean old witch,” Sophia interjected. It was going to be one of those bedtime stories, the audience dictating the course of the action and the author reduced to fan service.

“Are you sure? Mean old witches can be very scary.”

“I'm six now, I'm big and brave.”

“So you are.” And so she was. Six, I mean, I still had to share my bed when she had bad dreams or during thunderstorms. “And this witch lived in a spooky old house.”

“Was it made of gingerbread?”

“Don't be silly, who'd build a house out of gingerbread?” She looked a little crestfallen so I went on. “It was made out of a huge hollowed out sponge cake.”

“With jam and cream?”

“That's right, she had problems keeping the local cats away.”

“Did she have a broomstick?”

“Yes, she did, but she only used it for sweeping.” I considered it good parenting not to rely on tropes and clich├ęs, the world would never be predictable. “She had a jet-pack for flying about.” This was met with great approval, the week before she had expressed an interest in becoming an astronaut and meeting aliens.

“Whoosh!” Herbert, her teddy, flew about a bit. “Where did she fly to?”

“She flew off into the big, dark forest, to look for things to make a potion out of.”

“Was it a potion like Granny's?” The doctor had put my mother on some noxious concoction for her latest ailment, Sophia had been fascinated by it so I had warned her it was only for Granny and anyone else who drank it would be turning into a toad.

“It was, she needed it to cure her horrible witch breath.” I breathed my horrible garlic breathe over her and she shrank into the covers. I love garlic, but there would be no kiss goodnight.

“What did she need to make the potion?”

“Oh, toadstools and tree bark and the eyes of a little girl!” I loomed over her and wriggled my fingers menacingly, she gave a little shriek and a nervous giggle. Downstairs my wife would be having that essential second glass of wine, so I would escape the accusation that I was filling Sophia's mind with horrible stuff.

“Did she find them?”

“Well, toadstools and tree bark are easy to find in big, dark forests, but little girls stay away from such places.” This received a frown, quite rightly, I supposed, thinking it over. “”But there was this one little girl who loved going into the big, dark forest.”

“What was her name?”


“That's a silly name.”

“It wasn't her real name, but that's what everyone called her because when she ate she would nibble on her food until it was all gone, even the vegetables.” I suck at names, but my job has made me great at excuses.

“What was she doing in the forest?”

“Talking to squirrels.”

“Squirrels can't talk,” she told me with all the authority of a six year old.

“I didn't say they were talking back, but they were listening. She was telling them about all the things she had been learning at school and the squirrels were listening because squirrels don't go to school.” Squirrels had been a firm favourite story ingredient since one took up residence in the back garden. “Suddenly all the squirrels ran away because the mean old witch arrived.” I gave a witchly cackle and Sophia giggled.

“On her jet-pack.”

“On her jet-pack,” I agreed. “But the little girl didn't run away.”

“Because she was six and not afraid of mean old witches,” Sophia explained.

“Because she was six and not afraid of mean old witches,” and was possibly a little too trusting around strangers in this modern age. “The witch said 'Hello, little girl, I've come to take your eyes for my potion'.” The witch had a high-pitched voice that made her sound like a man pretending to be a woman, unconvincingly.

“And she said 'No, you can't have my eyes, I need them to see with!'

“Quite right, what else would you say if someone asked you for your eyes?” Nothing using words a six year old should know. “And so the witch said 'But I need them for my potion so I can cure my horrible witch breath'.”

“And she said 'No, you can't have them, smelly witch, I will shoot you with my laser gun!'” This was new, probably the product of playing with her older male cousins the previous weekend. “Pew, pew, pew!”

'No, no, don't shoot me with your laser gun! I'm just a harmless old woman!'” With a man's voice, maybe she had been a heavy smoker in her youth.

“And then she shot the witch into little bits and took her jet-pack so she could fly home.”

“So, she did, but not before she gave the squirrels jet-pack rides.”

“The end.”

“So it is, sleep tight.” I leaned over her.

“No smelly garlic kisses!”

Well, maybe mean old witches are slightly scary, but I think we can all see who the real monster was in this story. I certainly know who keeps me awake at night.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A path less straight (pt 11)


My grandmother's old clock, sitting in the downstairs hallway chimed ten or eleven, I was not counting. It was late, but I did not care, I was in my own bed. Around me my room was doing nothing abnormal, all the furnishings were obeying the established rules of the universe. The only thing that could drag me from this bliss was the thought of a nice hot shower.

I had been home thirty-six hours, mostly doing laundry and melting myself in the shower. My mind was still far away, watching the light play through the trees of a magical glade or walking with Miranda, spying on wildlife and talking about anything. Egg had taken most of a week to recover his strength, but it had taken that long for Machwa to move the truck using a combination of rope and ants so we could get it out of where Egg wedged it.

Somehow it had only taken a day to drive back to Nairobi, but Egg said this was because it was on maps and so easy to find. Two flights had brought us home, we grabbed our luggage and left the airport into a land that somehow felt like a cardboard cut-out. A cardboard cut-out with a hot shower.

The clock was chiming again when I finally made it downstairs to discover that I really did have nothing edible in the fridge and the congealed mass that was left from last night's take away was distinctly unappetising. I decided I would go to the shops, buy myself an expensive coffee and a muffin and then get some supplies. After that I could slouch in front of the television and consider my options.

I sat, staring out through the plate glass window of the over-priced coffee shop, sipping steamed froth and reminding myself to nibble at the muffin and not just inhale the whole thing. People passed by, intent on their daily business, but I did not really see them, filling my mind was a camp fire burning in the African night and Machwa being forthcoming about her family.

Be careful,” she had said. “What you have experienced, the strangeness and subtle attacks, scheming and infighting, that is just normal life. If it too much for you, then walk away now, while you can, otherwise you'll be part of it and then you'll find it difficult to leave. All this business with Mother's disappearance is part of a deeper power struggle. Remember, for all the people not telling you everything, there is one person outright lying to you.”

I had put it down to the rum we had drunk, she had excused herself shortly after that and been snoring within minutes, but it has stuck with me. Although I had meant to ask her more, she had woken up with a grotty hangover and the moment had never arose again.

Finding myself sitting with a plate of crumbs and a tall glass adorned with a light covering of cold scum, I roused myself and spend half an hour drifting around the supermarket hypnotised by bright colours but indecisive. Eventually I filled my basket full of the unexciting things that would last the longest in my cupboards, paid for it and then cursed myself for buying slightly more than was comfortable to carry.

Still immersed in my own head I did not notice the sound of a car which had the misfortune of having an owner who would never be satisfied that it was loud or low enough. It was only when the window rolled down and muffled bass and thud noises turned into a full aural assault that I realised I had bumped into my ex-, Jason.

Cassie,” he called over the volume. “Need a lift home?” I was going to decline, but noticed the sky had gone an ominous colour and so acquiesced. It was another bad decision.

With the music turned down to something less than deafening we had the polite but awkward conversation about how we had been, had we heard about a mutual friend and did we remember that thing as he drove me home. I thought I had escaped the worst of it, but as I got out of the car and muttered my thanks he gave his heart-felt apology for the way he had treated me, told me how he had been thinking about me lately and asked if we could not go out for a drink sometime, just as friends.

Staring the barrel of the doomsday weapon in the face, I told him I was sorry, but I was with someone else now, but maybe I would see him at that party I had already resolved to avoid. He hid his disappointment well in the belch of smoke from his exhaust and the manoeuvre he had to take so that the speed hump at the end of Acacia Avenue would not take another chunk out of the front bumper. I told myself it was not a lie, even though I had already ignored two texts from Egg.

Inside, I stuffed food into cupboards and thought about filling the place with the noise from the television, but then the phone rang. I answered it without thinking and entered into a long drawn out conversation with my mother. Yes, I was back home. Yes, I had a wonderful time. No, I did not know what had happened to poor Jane at number seventy six.

In the end, I just managed to refuse an invitation to join her pottery class, because I had plans with Egg. That meant Egg and I were still a thing, strangeness or not, once I tell my mother something it is official.

Sorry, phone under bed. You busy? My thumbs typed.

Nothing that would not be improved greatly by presence of your beauty, my good lady. Came the reply, shortly follow by: Bracken stole my phone, but basically that.

When I got to Egg house, I pulled up on the drive in my little hatchback, blocking in a severe looking black German saloon. Bracken opened the door as I was about to knock on it.

Announcing the Lady Cass of Saint Bartholomew's Row, countess of the section between the roundabout and the shops and wielder of a wicked moonbeam,” he called. “Scandalously unaccompanied.”

Hi, Bracken,” I said. “Nice car, is it yours?”

No, it's my cousin Vermillion's company car,” he replied. “I kind of stole it after I sacked her.”

They let you have the power to sack people?” I asked.

Not really, but she needed to take the weekend off and was determined not to, by Monday morning she will have worked out that I couldn't do that,” he said. “Besides, wearing a tie restricts the blood-flow to my brain and I get a bit megalomaniacal.”

You've moved the furniture,” I told him redundantly as we walking into the living room.

Yes, it's been in one place for so long that slowly it will work its way back into the original positions,” he explained. “What I have done is added some potential energy to the room.”

At least you've not repainted it purple,” I said to hide my lack of understanding.

Egg came in from the kitchen bearing a tray of mugs of tea and some cookies that I vowed to eat without asking what was in them. Displaying a waiter-like skill, he placed the tray on the coffee table whilst giving me a kiss.

How's your dad?” I asked.

Weak,” he said. “They've been talking about surgery, but are not sure he would survive.”

Egg rescued me from not knowing how to respond by offering me a cookie, I filled a couple of minutes trying to eat it demurely and forget all I had eaten that day consisted of sugary baked goods. Bracken was poring over a blueprint of some description, the oversized sheet covered the coffee table underneath the tray and spilled out onto the carpet.

Building something?” I asked.

This is the proposed new company structure,” Egg explained. “If we can't find some reason to stall this until Mother reappears or Dad recovers the remaining board members could change the company into something else entirely.”

It's a family feud, except there's more business meeting and insincere handshakes than raised voices and snubbing Aunt Jemima,” Bracken clarified. “Although Aunt Jemima isn't going to be too happy at being moved to the hygiene department.”

Oh,” I said bending over to look closer at the diagram. “Surely if your acting head of finance is also head of internal audit and communications officer, then he or she can just hide any irregularities in the books and no-one ever need find out their secretly filling their Cayman Island retirement fund with the companies money?”

Brilliant!” Cried Bracken. I fended him off as he tried to kiss me. “I need to make a few phone calls and then I am going to vow to spend the rest of my days sleeping at your door in order to protect you from assassins in the night. And also order pizza.”

Cass,” said Egg as Bracken started mostly shouted phone conversation in the next room. “Would you like to spend a couple of days in New York? I have to do something over there really important, but it won't take long and I won't involve you. Except for that we'll just do touristy things and they'll be no car chases or spider fighting. It's a kind of thank you.”

Sure,” I said, half-convinced I was still making bad decisions, but at least I had dodged my mother's pottery class.

Friday, 21 November 2014

A path less straight (pt.10)

Somebody else's tuffet

I opened the truck door and poured myself out onto shaking legs. Egg turned the engine off and a stillness filled the air. I felt as if something was watching and waiting, rather than admonish myself for being stupid, I decided it was owls, owls were staring at me.

Egg climbed careful from his seat and leaned against the vehicle. He did not look well, as if the crazy drive had scared him more than it had me.

Cass, I'm sorry...” he started.

Shhh,” I admonished. “You'll disturb the owls.”

It isn't owls,” he said as if he knew what I was talking about.

I took his clammy hand and we stood side-by-side while we watched the light change as the moon rose. Shadows moved and twisted, trees appeared to move as different details were reveals and it must have been an optical illusion but I felt like the whole glade rotated around us. I have no idea how long we just stood there watching as the clearing changed from a dim and vaguely threatening forest to a magical grove full of shafts of moonlight and sentinel flora, a scent of greenery and flowers on the air.

It struck me that I could stand a short period of mad driving if it took me places like this,I could maybe even think about forgiving Egg.

You're a long way from home.” The voice was deep, yet feminine, the English only carrying the faintest of local accents. “Turn around and go back there.”

My hand tightened around Egg's. A glance told me it would take a small miracle to shift our vehicle from where it was hemmed in by tree trunks, so there was no obeying the voice.

We just need to ask a question,” Egg said.

There are no answers here,” replied the voice. I strained my eyes to see who was speaking but they were too well hidden in shadow. “Go away, or face me.”

The figure that stepped into the clearing was statuesque, in that she looked as if someone had carved an eight foot statue of a naked woman from jet without the legs and then mounted her onto something my mind did not want to process. Her hair was cut just long enough for the start of a curl, her face was set into an unbecoming snarl but it did not hide her strong, bold features. Her figure was that of a mother, full and powerful. My eyes skated across that which my brain did not want to see, her waist ended in the body of a spider, no abdomen, just the sternum and those long, hairy, horrid legs.

I shrunk back against the truck, but Egg performed some kind of escapologist's trick and slipped free of my grip, he stepped forwards and squared up to the monster in an unequal stand off.

Egg, you used to be such a timid little boy,” the creature said.

Machwa, why do you always make things so difficult?” Egg asked.

Think of it as a lesson on how life is,” she replied, advancing on Egg.

Egg stood his ground until his horrible half-sister lunged forwards with her fore legs, he flung himself backwards and avoided the strike. In response she scuttled with alarming speed, forcing him to dive out of the way. He rolled back to his feet, grabbed a shaft of moonlight, broke off a piece and swung it against her hindmost leg. She recoiled in pain and moved away from Egg in order to turn and face him.

Egg used his shard of moonbeam to parry her next few strikes, but he was breathing heavily. Sensing a weakness she pushed forwards, he backed off, but lost his balance on uneven ground. Seeing Egg lying on the ground making no attempt to get back up with that monstrosity towering over him, my common sense fled and I dashed to his defence.

Before I knew it I had a moonbeam of my own in my hands and was waving it at a giant spider-lady. It was not what I had in mind when Egg first suggested I came away with him, but sometimes you just get caught up in the moment. In a movie someone in this position will utter something to show how much of a badass they are; I think I just gave a nervous laugh and swore.

Once someone had told me that sometimes the best way to deal with a potential attacker was to just go completely mad and make them think twice about your availability as an easy target. When she lifted a leg to prod at me I took this advice to heart and swung my moonbeam at it. The blow vibrated up my arms, and I swung again before I could take stock of my situation and chicken out.

Before I knew it I was raining blow after blow on the monster. My eyes closed, I was pouring every minor inconvenience, disappointment, confusion and the fact I had not had a shower for days into every strike. It did not register at first when my wild swinging was just whistling through the air.

Stop! You've made your point!” Her voice had lost some of its booming quality, but was still deep and commanding.

I opened my eyes and found I was standing over a lightly bruised woman somewhere in her forties. Without the spider legs and towering stature she was much less threatening. Her skin was no longer jet black but a rich brown. She was still naked. I muttered an embarrassed apology.

You're dangerous with that thing, but I suppose I deserved that.” I dropped my weapon and it dissolved or became a normal shaft of moonlight, it was hard to tell which.

With my aid she regained her feet. We looked over at Egg, but he had not stirred, something turned over in my stomach. Machwa knelt down beside him and put a hand on his brow.

Miranda!” She called. “Fetch my medical bag and my clothes.”

What's wrong?” I asked, again out of my depth.

Fever,” she turned his head to the side and revealed an insect bite. “As I suspected.”

Malaria?” I asked, recalling the medicine we had been taking.

Unlikely,” she replied. “I'll need to examine him closer, but my guess is someone is trying to slow him down. Trust me, I'm a doctor. A medical doctor, not some cartoon witch doctor.”

Miranda turned out to be a slim, serious girl a couple of years younger and a couple of inches taller than myself. When I saw her hand the requested items to Machwa it was obvious I was looking at mother and daughter by the likeness in their faces. Miranda placed a shawl around her mother's shoulders after she had donned a simple flower-patterned dress.

The medical examination was swift and mostly mundane, except when she trapped his exhaled breathe in a bag and then squeezed it out over a lit candle; the flame turned green briefly. Machwa nodded to herself and then without strain lifted Egg over her shoulder and carried him the short distance to where a small cabin sat, previously unseen to me on the other side of the clearing.

Miranda helped me move some of our stuff out of the truck and helped me settle in the cabin which had been used by Egg's family for years while Machwa administered to Egg. She explained that she was staying with her mother over the summer learning some tricks of the doctor's trade before joining her father in Capetown to begin formal training at the medical college. I told her the nature of our visit and she told me that she had not heard from her grandmother since her last birthday, four months ago.

He's sleeping now, it's nothing to worry about, but he'll have to rest for a few days,” Machwa told me as Miranda busied herself making us some coffee.

Why did you attack us like ... that?” I nearly said used the words 'like a giant evil spider-lady'.

Poor little Egg, he's still my much resented baby brother, someone needs to teach him what a nasty bunch his family can be,” she replied. “I've always tried to teach him to be tough. This is probably the first time he's been out of the nest without someone holding his hand and look what's happened.”

Have you heard from your mother?” I asked.

Not for months,” she said.

We thought she came out here after she visited her friend Giorgio,” I said.

Sorry, you've had a wasted journey, she hasn't been here,” she said, shaking her head.

Egg will be crushed. It's Egg's dad, he's in a bad way, it's his heart,” I told her. “Apparently she might be able to do something about it.”

I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do that any other doctor would not already have done. I'm sure he's in the best care,” she said. “But, mother? I'm sure she'd have some sort of trick up her sleeve.”

Do you have any idea where she might have gone instead?” I asked her.

I really can't help you there,” she replied, sighing. “We don't get on. She always wanted me to join the family business and I always wanted anything but that. We're both very stubborn.”

Oh, I'm sorry we intruded on you, then.” I said.

Don't worry about it, it'll give Miranda a chance to practise her English.” She said accepting a mug of coffee off Miranda.

I don't suppose you have a shower?” I asked.

Not really,” she replied. “But we do have a waterfall.”

Thursday, 16 October 2014

A path less straight (pt. 9)

Ein Kleine Nachtfahr

“So what is Amani Na Miti? Is it a village or somewhere with a proper hotel?” I asked.

“It’s a spot in a forest,” Egg replied. “The punchline to a joke that was not funny even before it was translated through three different languages.”

“Oh, no shower, then.” I sighed.

From the time we had landing in Nairobi I had realised that my perceptions of Africa were too much swayed by wildlife documentaries from the Serengeti to be anything approaching realistic. The city had scared me, too busy, too foreign, too far away from home for my sensibilities that were seeming more provincial by the day. Outside the city things were worse, people stared because we were different and it had taken me a while to work out it was nothing approaching racism, just curiosity.

“How come you never mentioned Machwa?” I asked.

“She’s my half-sister from Mother’s wild days, I’ve only actually met her a handful of times,” Egg explained. “I last saw her about ten years ago, she got into a fight with Aphelia, but we managed to separate them before the lightning and meteors hit.”

Conversely, Egg had taken it all in his stride, drinking in the differences and thriving on them. He had borrowed the four-wheel drive truck from one of Bracken’s business contacts, filled it with supplies from local stores and we had set out as though it were a quick trip to the seaside. It had taken us one day to leave the paved roads behind. When I objected to setting out into the wilds he had offered to turn around and take me back to the city, so I had steeled myself and told myself it was an adventure, something to make Janet’s much vaunted visit to Florida seem tame.

“Do you really know where Amani Na Miti is?” I asked.

“Yes, I spent the summer holidays there once,” Egg replied. “I think Mother was on the run from Interpol, but I was too young to understand that completely.”

Using snippets of different languages, hand signals and occasionally outright bribes, Egg had obtained fuel, services, accommodation and directions. I asked him why he did not just use a map, but he had explained that Amani Na Miti was not on the map and so we needed to get as far off it as we could. Which made as much sense as ever.

“I thought we’d see more animals,” I commented.

“There’s some chickens and a cow,” Egg said.

“I meant exotic animals, that’s just someone’s farm,” I told him.

“That cow’s pretty odd looking,” he said.

Egg had told me that we might have to rough it and had given me the option of flying straight home from Florence, but it was not until I was several days without a proper shower that I worked out the prospect of seeing wild elephants did not really balance out the hardships. Bumping along rutted dirt roads all day was not living up to the romantic level set by our Italian jaunt and I still had not seen an elephant.

“Look! Gazelles,” said Egg. “Or at least some sort of deer with funny head spikes.”

“You're no Attenborough,” I told him.

“And here, in their natural surroundings, we have the lesser mottled, pointy-headed, bouncing deer, ever alert for tourists and spontaneous photo opportunities.” Egg gave his best, but poor attempt at nature documentary voice-over.

On the forth day he pulled off the main track and took us down something that was more of an impression that someone had been along this way once before than an actual path. We stopped early and he cooked a meal of rice and local vegetables under a mosquito net hung between the truck and a tree. He lit a single candle and we watched the sun go down through the gauze. Even though the air was cooling quickly, he was sweating.

We're nearly there,” he said. “When the sun goes below the horizon we should have about quarter of an hour before the full moon rises and we need to make the most of it.”

Make the most of what?” I asked.

The near complete darkness,” he said. “Let's pack up.”

We quickly dismantled out makeshift dining area and got back into the truck. It was then I realised I had no idea what he was planning. He started the engine.

Shouldn't you put the lights on?” I asked. “Come to think of it, why not wait until the moon is up, it would be easier to see.”

The idea is that you can't see anything.” He released the handbrake and we set off.

That's not a good idea,” I told him.

If you don't know something's there then you can't run into it” We were picking up speed alarmingly, there were no outside visual clues, but I could tell by the engine noise and the way the truck was shaking on the rough surface.

That's nonsense.” My voice rose in pitch as my terror increased. “If I turn the lights off at home I still walk into the sofa.”

But you know that's there, think of all the things you manage to walk through,” he said.

Egg, this is madness! You're going to kill us!” I cried, on the edge of a scream.

I hung onto the seat, fearing that every lurch would mean a fatal collision. Egg had a look of total concentration, sweat beading on his wrinkled forehead.

Nearly, nearly...” he chanted to himself.

I closed my eyes. It changed nothing but it allowed me to get a grip on my breathing and then my hysteria. I still had enough wits to notice we were not dead, the ground felt smoother under the wheels, smoother than any track we had driven in the last couple of days. I could almost fool myself into thinking we were just travelling along a normal road. I kept my eyes closed.

Suddenly Egg slammed on the brakes, the truck slewed slightly as it came to a halt. I opened my eyes. Egg was leaning back in his seat, panting. Gradually a combination of increasing light and my vision adapting brought me an awareness of our surroundings.

Right in front of us was a huge tree. We were on the edge of a forest clearing. Behind us were more trees and undergrowth. Somehow we had carved a path through the woods without leaving a trail

Thursday, 9 October 2014

A path less straight (pt. 8)

Refusing the Italian job

“I think we’re being followed,” I said, overwhelmed with the feeling that somehow I had ended up in a gangster movie.

A long, low, black car had pulled out of the gate behind us, when I had taken Egg’s short cut along the farm track it had made the same short cut. It had then follow us back onto the road and was looming large and menacing in the mirror.

“Yes,” agreed Egg. “Sorry, I thought we could avoid something like this if we popped in unannounced.”

“You knew something like this would happen and you didn’t bother to tell me?” I was quickly throwing off the lethargy lunch had tried to induce. “And now we’re being tailed by the mob?”

“I misjudged,” he said. “He knew I would turn up and had prepared for it, that’s not good news. We’ll have to lose them.”

“How?” I asked.

“Our car is much smaller, we’ll find someplace they can’t follow,” he said. “Just drive like Bracken was teaching you.”

“Randomly and rely on hope to get out of this?” I felt a seed of panic start to germinate in my stomach. “What if they have guns?”

“Guns would turn this from a cheeky infraction to a major incident, he wouldn’t risk offending my family that much,” he explained. “Turn right when we get to the village.”

I increased my speed as much as I dared on the narrow twisting road, but habit made me slow down as we passed by houses and people. Turning right took us onto a road that lead straight back out into fields and farms. The black car was still behind us, I could see it on the short straights between bends.

“Left here,” Egg called.

I only just saw the turning in time and nearly put the car into a wall. The road descended, crossed over a stream on a little stone bridge and then climbed back up. Egg directed my through a farmyard and along a short, dusty farm track and then, on reaching another road right and into a village.

If this was a different village, then it appeared to be laid out very similar to the one we had already driven through. There were no satellite dishes or solar panels on the houses, and none of the few cars parked by the side of the road looked to have been made any later than the sixties. We rattled through the cobbled square and Egg directed me onto a narrow street that lead back out into farmland.

“Are they still behind us?” I asked, unwilling to take my eyes from the fences and stone walls as they rushed past us.

“Yes, but they’ve dropped back a bit,” Egg replied. “Take this right.”

Again we bounced along a farm track, grape vines lining our passage. I hoped the dust that the car was raising would obscure the view of our pursuers and then realised it was as good as leaving a trail for them to follow. Egg pointed out an opening on the right and we joined another track of hard-packed earth.

Oddly this led into another village, a rather grubby affair, the street became paved with stone only as we approached the inevitable square. A woman paused in tipping a bucket of dirty water into the street, a donkey hitched up to a cart gave me a wary eye as I skirted around it and a nun crossed herself at our presence. I noticed the lack of telephone wires and television aerials. I was about to comment on this when something struck me.

“Egg, it’s the same village,” I said.

“How can you tell?” He asked. “They all look the same to me.”

“It’s the same village, but as it was a hundred years ago,” I insisted.

We left the village square by another road which rapidly became a dirt track as the houses receded. A glance in the mirror showed me that the black car was now closer. I looked across at Egg for an answer.

“Get ready to turn left,” he said.

“I don’t see anywhere to turn,” I replied.

“You don’t see anywhere now,” he said.

“That’s what I said,” I replied, panic rising a little.

“Nearly, nearly,” he said.

“There’s nowhere to turn,” I told him.

“There’s nowhere yet,” he confirmed.

“Then how can I turn?” I asked, flustered.

“Turn now!” He said with such force I nearly heeling the car over into a ditch at his say-so.

But then I saw it, I spun the wheel as hard as I dared and the sound of tyres screeching on Tarmac greeted me. Suddenly we were travelling along a modern road, a sliproad, in fact, for a multi-lane highway. I merged behind a large truck with French plates and looked in the mirror for signs of pursuit. There was nothing but a gaily coloured hatchback filled with a quartet of chattering Italian women and a white van whose driver was leering at them.

My heart rate slowed and I let the traffic carry us along. Inside of me I started building up the ball of invective that I wanted to launch at Egg.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you’re a fantastic getaway driver?” He asked.

I glanced across at him. The tension burst like a bubble and I started to laugh so hard that I could hardly see where I was driving. When sanity made it slow way back into my body I relayed to him what Isabella had told me.

“Pull over so that I can kiss you,” he said.

“You’ve been drinking,” I told him.

“I have,” he admitted, pulling out his phone and starting to fiddle with it.

“Now what are you doing?” I asked.

Booking tickets,” he said. “I believe I promised to take you to the opera.”

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A path less straight (pt. 7)

Statue limitations

Lunch was a succession of many small courses. A chef would have exclaimed over the elegant simplicity and the flavoursome local ingredients, I was too busy cramming it into my mouth. I was drinking water, a taste of the wine during the tour had been a delight, but I knew wine at lunchtime would only make me want to sleep all afternoon, besides, someone had to drive.

Egg had brought up the matter of his mother’s visit during a miniature but delightfully dressed green salad, but Giorgio had denied seeing her at all this year. Giorgio then regaled us with the story of how he and Egg’s mother had retrieved a statue from Talamone harbour without local officials, fishermen or the mob having a clue what they were doing. It was a ridiculous and convoluted tale of cleverness and daring with many grand hand gestures and interludes for refills of wineglasses.

“But when we found out the elephant was afraid of snow we knew we would never get the statue over the Alps, so we sat down and drank a bottle of wine each,” Giorgio explained over a tiny but perfectly delicious tiramisu. “That was a mistake, the elephant was a mean drunk. So we left the statue there and gave up the whole caper, which is how she got to be where she is today.”

He gestured out of the window. I turned my head to see the statue stood at the end of the driveway, smiling at me. The smile was earnest, maybe a little sad and not the same expression as I recalled her having when we arrived. As I stared she gestured her fingers in a ‘come here’ sort of motion, I put my spoon down slow and deliberately.

“I just have to powder my nose,” I said. “Excuse me.”

I let myself out of the dining room and along the corridor, but instead of going into the bathroom I tip-toed through the entrance hall out slipped out of the front door. Standing on the step and feeling a little foolish, I stared at the statue daring it to move again. Just as I had convinced myself that it had been my imagination she beckoned me over with her fingers.

Gingerly, I shuffled closer to statue. I swallowed, cleared my throat and was just about to ask her what she wanted when I heard the front door close behind me. Shocked, I whirled around, Isabella was standing on the step, observing me.

“She wants to warn you,” Isabella said. “ Giorgio has lied to you.”

“He has?” My heart hammered as though I had been caught pocketing the silverware.

“You boyfriend’s mother, she was here,” she explained. “I think she came not to see Giorgio but to talk to Rosamundi. That’s what I call her.” She gestured at the statue.

“What did they talk about?” I asked.

“Oh, Rosamundi never says anything, but Diana was talking about a man she no longer loved, she then asked Giorgio where her daughter was.” Diana, it was the first time I had ever heard her called anything but Mother.

“Her daughter, Aphelia?” My eyes flicked towards the dining room window, but the men were still talking and drinking, unaware of our conversation.

“No, she called her Machwa,” she replied. “He said she was in Amani Na Miti, but I don’t know where that is. There is one more thing, the wine they are drinking, it is special. Soon Giorgio will make your boyfriend an offer and he will be unable to refuse. You must take him away from here quickly.”

“Is that how you...? “ I could not resist asking.

“Oh, no. It is me that keeps him here,” she said. “I do my best to keep his business from hurting people, but some days I fear for his soul. Now, quickly before hands are shook.”

“Thank you, Isabella.” I turned to the statue. “Thank you, too, Rosamundi.” She did not respond.

As I re-entered the dining room Giorgio was offering Egg a cigar and Egg was accepting.

“You, know, a man with your talents could go along way over here,” Giorgio said. “In fact, what would you say if I offered you a position in my organisation?”

Egg was about to open his mouth so I got in quickly.

“Sorry, no business decisions while we’re on holiday, you know the rule,” I pulled an unresisting Egg to his feet and started to usher him out of the door. “It’s been lovely, thank you for the lunch, but I just noticed the time and Egg promised to take me to the opera this evening. If we don’t set off now I’ll never have time to do my hair properly.”

Despite protestations from our host I managed to manoeuvre Egg out of the font door and into the car. As we pulled away Isabella waved and I waved back. Giorgio has a suspicious look on his face and I hoped that Isabella had not done anything to put herself in danger, but she seemed unconcerned.

Rosamundi appeared to be nonplussed by the entire affair.