by Saira Viola
art by Unitas
(read chapters 1-9)
What a bastard awakening! No safety of the radio today because the fuse had gone.
The familiar sounds of urban beats: Hip-hop tunes denouncing war and rough justice were not there to distract her racing mind. She had to face change. Today was a God-awful day and it was going to get heavier.
The air was like molten lead with the stale sharpness of a small town funeral. There was cold, unadulterated fear in her eyes, the blunt realism of no money—no cash, no checkbook, no credit, simply no way to get any food today. She would starve quietly, gently with dignity and a lying smile on her face. Her throat would be dry all day and slightly hoarse, her breath sweet. Her middle class defiance pushing her on.
She began making frantic telephone calls from her mobile phone, her hands trembling slightly, in a last ditch effort to rustle up some cash, but then frustration kicked in like a mocking school friend who had already discovered the truth about Father Christmas.
She looked away from random passers-by, office people, and hotel staff fresh from their two weeks in the sun, munching sandwiches and scoffing daytime trivia. She sat alone with her thoughts, alone with her pain. Her isolation was shielding her from the shame of it all. She was in her fifth decade and resolute in her conviction to carry on.
Her head hurt; she felt light, giddy, and weak. Gentrified poverty was a bind. Desperate to taste the numbing sweetness of a Fry’s chocolate cream or the temporary kindness wrapped up in a Marks & Spencer’s Cherry Jam Slice. That would sooth her anxiety; allow her two short minutes from her broken existence. Damn, she was unable to find the lousy £2.50 she needed to change her sullen mood.
What would she do all day, now that she was bereft of purpose? How would she cope? She continued watching those around her, those with jobs, and those who had a reason to get by and get along, those who had a daily rhythm. She was missing the beat of life. How she envied the dulling frequency of normality. Mrs. Calibresi had a tough existence but braved it through as best as she could. She only knew how to work.
Now, with the collapse of the family business and being overloaded with debt, she was lost without it. She could do nothing else; all she ever did was work. Without work, her soul was empty and her mind bleeding for hope. She thought back to easier times. She had missed so many opportunities: a promising film career and a string of affluent admirers all thrown to the wayside. If only she had married a real man, someone she could depend on, someone she wouldn’t regret. Someone, who was worthy of her love.
Instead, she was lumbered with a no-no man. He was spineless, afraid of getting his hands dirty, and content to play the female role. He was just a filthy excuse for a “man.” It was up to her now to make things work and save the rest of the business for her family. She hoped that she would be able to stay in the game long enough to make everything all right. As she turned her gaze away from the crowds in front of her, she saw her grown up son approach her.
He made her believe in fairytale endings and new tomorrows. She worried about him all the time. Even though he was in his third decade, she felt for him as you would a six-year-old child. Seeing his beaming face made her think back to happier times when she was young and fresh faced with a fragile vulnerability; now her silent beauty was etched with grey, the grey you find in the lost eyes of sacrifice. He moved closer, his warm smile lighting the shadows behind her. He had won £100 at Corals, a local Bookie’s, and so, another little miracle guided her through the day.
A serial womanizer and brilliant architect of self-induced misfortune and neglect, Scoot had spent the last twelve months of his life living like an overindulged South London Street pimp. He was searching for that elusive “something,” that hidden factor to life. He loathed his existence and felt as if the world owed him big time or at least the world owed him a house in St. John’s Wood, a modest flat in Puerto Banus and a Ducati 900.
His body hurt. It was overloaded with toxins: alcohol, drugs, and over-processed food. He looked every bit a wasted man. Scoot was always making excuses about his predilection for easy lays, cheap takeaways, and hazy Mondays. He always saw everything in Matisse shades of blue and nothing was ever clear, nothing ever simple. He claimed to have a “highly addictive” nature and it was in his genes that he would always succumb to temptation.
He continued to search for that unobtainable “high” yet was already approaching thirty-three years of age. It took him a while to work out where he was.
He felt so tired. He could hardly breathe. He sighed; it drained him of all his energy. He needed to make it back home, where he felt wanted, back where he belonged. He would try again tomorrow; he just had to get through today. He cast his mind back to the night before and laughed out loud.
He had taken one of his “straight gimpy” friends Tom, a young twenty-something recruitment consultant, to spend time with Tony and the guys at Tantra. They ended up taking Tom back to Tony’s. Janet Ebowe, a fifty-five-year-old Nigerian prostitute, was there, with a bright yellow weave on her head. Janet was all sass and no style, though her crazy Butlins Cabaret, moves were definitely worth seeing. She would herald her arrival to all and everyone, by singing that old Shirley Bassey classic “Hey Big Spender.” She sang it very loudly in a harsh West African accent with an exaggerated hip swivel and flutter of her false eyelashes.
In his naivety, Tom truly believed that Janet was a former glamour model and now a “consultant” for an American Adult Entertainment Company. Scoot had left Tom with Janet while he and Tony had gone to The Sanderson Hotel on a coke run.
Four hours later, he returned to find Tom in the warm embrace of Janet, clutching the garish yellow hairpiece and wrestling with Tony’s white kitten. It was a Dali moment. Janet tried to straighten herself up; she was skimpily clad in a leopard print bra with matching knickers. Her short, coarse hair was tied back and one of her bright red fingernails had snapped off and ricocheted off the bed onto the table next to a half drunk, bottle of Sancerre.
Scoot was rooted to the spot. He looked at Janet, then back again at Tom, and then fixed his gaze on the ugly, chipped fingernail. Janet was smiling coyly; Scoot, still staring in utter disbelief at the image before him, tried uncomfortably to exit the room. The closest Tom had ever been to a real life black woman was watching the Notting Hill Carnival on television and ogling Halle Berry in Swordfish.
Tom felt awkward, a minority player in a bigger drama; he made his excuses and retreated to the comfort of his family home in Godaliming Surrey. As he left, Scoot signalled he would call him later.
There was nothing like the feel and taste of “real” money in your hands. A tight wad of filthy lucre in your pocket felt beautifully corrupt. When you’d done without it for so long, it was infinitely better than a line of coke and twice as sweet as virgin pussy.
Today, Scoot had some cash to play with. Today, he would live a little, kick back, and enjoy the easy debauchery of the night. Accompanying him into the pleasure dome were two hardened street thugs. They had an attractive and pleasing gentlemanly way about them but were London gangsters nonetheless. Scoot affectionately referred to them as “Dipsy” and “La La,” who were two characters from a popular children’s television show.
Dipsy was around six-foot-two, with tufts of platinum blonde hair arranged in a wavy setting along his crown and forehead. He had weak blue eyes that became strangely distant and vacuous when he attacked you or when he became angry. He was well built with a sturdy girth and natural muscle tone. When preparing to smash someone’s head in, he would grin sheepishly and exclaim, “I’m going to give you a potato head.” With that, his big fat fist would come crashing down on the hapless victim and all else would fade to grey.
La La was exceptionally well dressed, with a definite sartorial air about him that made people stop and stare. He enjoyed the attention and didn’t have to work too hard at getting what he wanted. With his cinematic good looks, boyish smile, and “Sauf” London charm, he exuded a roguish grace that made people warm to him. He was an expert knifeman and a good conversationalist.
Dipsy and La La enjoyed the sumptuous luxury of the exclusive Home House on Portman Street. They entered it with awe but soon settled down to the cosy celebrity of it all. Their money was good here and they would get their worth tonight. Hundreds of pounds later, in high spirits and laughing like two school oiks they ran amok in the men’s bathroom:
“Ere, watch out,” cried Dipsy as La La pushed and shoved him around.
“Nah, leave it out. C’mon, La, don’t do that, leave that alone.” It was too late. Smash, crash! The boys were on the lash, cooking up a right storm as they teased fellow patrons of the club and jumped about, horsing around. Then, with one feisty blow and a duck to his head, Dipsy managed to shatter an original French Artisan mirror, the frame thudding to the ground and shards of glass lying strewn all over the expensive, mosaic floor tiles.
They stared blankly at each other for around three seconds in a South Park moment.
“Only proper t’ pay for it,” remarked Dipsy.
“What’s right is right,” agreed La La.
“And what’s wrong is no man’s right,” chimed Dipsy. They were a “class” act. The sound of falling glass had attracted the attention of the immaculately dressed Club Manager. He had an exclusive title in an exclusive location, and dealt strictly with “exclusive” people. Everything about him was exclusive, everything, that is, except the embarrassing rash at the base of his balls. He reminded Dipsy of an Irish Pall Bearer he knew from Kensal Rise. He threw a look of disdain their way and beckoned Scoot over. Visibly wincing, he demanded that he remove his “guests” before they went “too far.” Scoot apologized for his friends’ behaviour and tried to reassure the Club Manager that there would be no further trouble. Dipsy and La La agreed to leave after a spot of impromptu karaoke.
Anyway, they’d just coughed up seventy-five “squiddleys” for a round. Two seats away, the former members of an eighties girl band were enjoying some light conversation and a few drinks with friends. In “tribute” to them, Dipsy started singing his own rendition of one of the group’s most famous tunes: Robert De Niro’s Waiting.
He was off key, out of synch, and kept burping and hiccupping in between mouthfuls of San Miguel beer. Several onlookers and patrons of the club, though grossly irritated by this yobbish spectacle, didn’t dare raise an eyebrow. The warbling continued for another two verses until one over drunk and irate Throne Ranger pleaded, “for God’s sake and for the sake of everything that is alive from here to Lake Como, please shut the fuck up!”
Being sworn at like that by a proper “plum” girl was “well cool” to Dipsy. She sounded like Princess Diana, he thought, and then he pondered over the whereabouts of Lake Como. He asked her politely if she fancied a drink and obediently stopped his caterwauling. She acquiesced with a smile and an order for a Rose’s Vodka Lime and Soda, the favourite tipple for girls on the go. Georgie was typical of that crowd, a Harvey Nicks chick with throwaway morals and a Trust Fund appetite.
Dressed in faded blue denim, with obligatory Saint Bart’s tan on her long, lean legs sporting a seductively ripped angora knit that hung delicately off her burnished shoulders, she was unlike any of the women Dipsy knew. Her soft, Navaho suede boots and her creamy pink lip-gloss said everything is comfort; everything is where it should be. With her, another “Throne Ranger,” Kamilla (Kami for short) slinky and kissable, in cowboy boots and tight skinny jeans. Her hair expertly arranged in a high ponytail, her tan fading a little, and her Harry Winston watch making a tinny bleeping sound to remind her to take her new herbal veggie caps. She had a bored, distracted look to her upper crust face. Slowly, she took a drag on her Marlboro light to boost her confidence. She wondered why she was even there tonight. Her boyfriend was shooting a perfume ad in New York and she wondered if he’d think about her at all, wondered if he’d be shagging someone else instead of her, someone better than her, someone with a real name perhaps?
As they stumbled out of the “A listed” security of Home House, Dipsy and La La decided it was time to head back to the baked bean reality of East London and get themselves a Donor Kebab and some chips. First, though, they’d swing by Tony’s and say hello. Scoot, meanwhile, felt he must pay his aging mother a visit. He was consumed with guilt; he knew she was crippled financially and he knew he should have given her some of the money he had scored that night, but Scoot lived in the moment. The moment was all he had.