Brother, Charity, Congo, Cowgate, Craigmillar, Drink, Edinburgh, Fight, Flatmates, Friendship, Ghosts, Grassmarket, Haunting, Horror, Humor, Loneliness, Love, Lovers, Melancholy., Orgy, Party, Princes Street, Prostitute, Pub, Pygmies, Pygmy, Sex, Vodka
Let me take you back several summers to when Marcin was fixated with the pygmies.
He had read about the pygmies in The Guardian. I cannot remember how we had come to possess a copy of The Guardian – I think that in those days we were both new to Britain and we had not yet learned to distinguish the socialist newspapers from the more sober ones. The article in question had described how these little people were kept as slaves and even eaten as game by the other Africans, and how at one particular Pan-African music festival, all of the visiting musicians had been put up in the grandest hotel, whilst the pygmies had been housed in a tent in the local zoo. Marcin had convinced himself that the pygmies needed a freedom fighter, and, because there appeared to be no other candidates in the field, he was at liberty to picture himself as the Che Guevara of the pygmy uprising.
He could not be talked out of this idiocy. I felt very cold and ominous, as if my boat was accelerating unexpectedly towards a gigantic rumbling ahead, and my fears were at last affirmed when Marcin told me that he would depart for the Congo in September to work for a charity which fought to “raise awareness” about the pygmy genocide. I first maintained a half-hearted running joke that Marcin wished to convert this charity into a private army, before finally pleading that the work was bound to be bureaucratic and that it would only leave him disenchanted with his people. He would nod in agreement and smile sadly.
The terror raised its dazzling face when I was making a cappuccino behind the bar at Pollock Halls, and it struck me that by the time the milk had reached its sell-by-date, Marcin would be in Africa. Yet we went through the various leave-taking ceremonies with a breezy regret. He was not going to be executed the next morning – indeed he would only be absent for a few weeks. I was left to wander about his apartment, forlorn and restless and angry at finding myself in such low spirits. Although to all appearances exactly the same, the apartment now seemed like a shell – the walls seemed to glare suspiciously at me – the sofa virtually growled to itself – the whole interior seemed to demand “where is he?” and to add under the same breath, “you do not belong here.”
It had never occurred to me to trespass inside his bedroom until one evening I brought home a whore and I suddenly found myself leading her into this murky sanctum and pretending that it was my own room. I was massively turned on by this outrage, and for once we kept the lights on and I fucked the whore on Marcin’s bed whilst the unfamiliar room span around me in fury.
I was dining in the Grassmarket when I heard the first scream – the whole world seemed to instantly shrink back from it – and I jumped in my seat, jolting all of the wine out of my glass with a clap.
A passing waitress confronted me with startled eyes. “Are you okay sir?”
I am still amazed to this day that I managed to smile at her and return to my omelette, savouring the taste whilst listening carefully to the voice in my head which had fallen to a soft weeping. When it screamed out for the second time, I did not jump.
The voice came and went, but I never managed to banish it from my thoughts. Sometimes it gasped and exclaimed, sometimes it wept softly to itself, and occasionally it screamed, absolutely unmanned and alone. Of course, it was Marcin’s voice. Once I tried to interrupt it, whispering Marcin’s name, but the voice appeared to be oblivious to my presence. I was superficially terrified by the possibility that it would start to bark out more than just the sporadic word, and that I would be forced to listen to the details of its suffering, but I had already sensed that this voice wept only because it had nobody to talk to.
I took to roaming the city, taking the voice with me like a dog. The superimposing of that desperate voice over Edinburgh’s handsome pageant of tenaments and villas seemed like an odd psychological error, in which the wrong thoughts had been fitted to the occasion. To my mild relief, the city’s granite seemed to remain unmoved under this emotional bombardment and the voice became gradually feeble and unreal, buzzing like a deranged insect which has declared war on the world.
I began to date Tori in the hope that the voice would simply boil away within this fresh experience. Tori was one of those people who always circulated at the parties which were held by Marcin’s friends and we had both become established as nodding acquaintances, as if we were extras without speaking parts in scenes from somebody else’s movie. At first I did not find this bony and disgruntled-looking teenager at all attractive, and I do not think that she really agreed with any of us, but somehow Tori always seemed to end up at the very heart of our parties, and one of her waspish remarks was invariably the first thing that anybody would recall about them once that they had ended.
We had a drink together and throughout this date she stared at me with a hypnotic intensity, as if she was judging when to take a bite out of the side of my head, whilst talking to me with the clipped, vacant politeness of the Queen. “Such a brave thing to do – campaigning for the pygmies,” she told me at one point with great gusto.“If only he was a bit bigger himself – you know, over six foot – I’m sure the pygmies would come to view him as indispensable.”
I think that she was trying to make a joke. “Are you keeping in contact with him whilst he is away?” I demanded, wincing at the realisation that I was still raising my voice over the clamour in my head. But Tori just looked blank.
She told me that she was going to phone her friend and after twenty minutes, I had to conclude that she had fled my company. Several hours later, however, I bumped into her in the final stages of a party in Gorgie. She was stupefied with drink and I was able to capture her and confine her in a passing taxi.
Once we were at Marcin’s flat, I led her into his bedroom and sat her down on his bed, but my ears pricked up in annoyance as the weeping and moaning in my head seemed to give little skips and rattle up into a horrible, hoarse panting.
As I cupped a hand over Tori’s breast, a scream rose as shrilly as a cock crowing and I shuddered down to my bones.
Tori squinted at me through her daze. Perhaps her tit had emitted an electric charge. But desire lunged blindly in my head and I was now very hasty with my hands. With the prospect of being sober unpleasantly distinct in a corner of her mind, Tori suddenly found herself not knowing whether to give encouragement or to curtail my leaping passion. I was trying to kiss her mouth, but I was repelled and could not get a grip. I retreated and she allowed me to kiss her neck and shoulders. I buried myself into her to try and blot out a scream which was as deep and as black as a well.
My hand probed into the warmth between her legs and the scream was so loud that they should have heard it on the other side of the Forth Bridge. I pressed on, but these screams had the maddening, eerie quality of a baby’s thunder for milk. Tori impatiently pulled down my pants. Her hands were plucking at my cock, and the screams came so fast and frantic that for a moment I could not help thrashing my arms about to silence them.
“What is this?” Tori looked bored with this body which twitched and cringed and could not get an erection. We both laboured to rouse my penis, like a couple trying to a call down a cat from a tree. I finally concentrated with a grim sense of responsibility and climbed on top of Tori. Weeping broke over us like rain as we performed the barest simulation of two people making love.
“Are you okay?” Tori had found her serious, formal voice.
“I was thinking about Marcin…” I told her.
I said this only to irritate Tori, but perhaps I loved her in that brief moment when she was peering at me with an unexpected interest. “Marcin?” she marvelled. We were both silent for a minute, aside, for course, from that steady crying in my head. I glanced at Tori’s body with vexation, not remotely satisfied after all and itching to have another go. And then, please forgive me, I wished that the crying would end and that Marcin would finally expire, so that I could climb back on to Tori, freed from all further thought of him.
When I woke up a little later, the voice was gone. I supposed that Marcin must be dozing. I quickly trotted out of the apartment, into the fresh morning air, to dine solidly at the first restaurant to hand and to drink shot after shot of vodka.
In the late afternoon, the drink now wearing off, I was walking down Princes Street and the segment of the population which invariably collects around there was rolling messily forward, somewhat slower than I would have preferred and unconsciously obstructing my hundreds of little wiles to get around them. But then, in the twinkling of an eye, the crowds seemed to be unexpectedly quick and boisterous and I found myself longing for that little crying voice, to cherish like a flame within all of this massive carelessness.
Under a gloomy bridge in the gloomy Cowgate my brother’s sports car was upon me. A door opened and gobbled me up.
“We’re going to a party,” my brother said abruptly. “This one is important, so don’t embarrass me…”
He must have been stood up. He would have arranged for a girlfriend to be on his arm, for he would never arrive at a party by himself. “It’s an orgy,” he added with a frown. “But two crucial clients are there, so smile a lot, have fun, and drink whatever they give you. Look normal. Like a normal person.”
I wanted to reply with something infinitely cutting, but I was suddenly too exhausted to bother.
We were at the orgy before I had time to settle comfortably into my seat and enjoy the passing city, rinsing out my brain with its eternal beauty. We were outside a council house in Craigmiller, hammering forlornly on the front door, and then we were conducted into a dingy interior, and finally into a back room where the orgy had erupted like a monstrous human fungus, ripe and throbbing in discombobulated jolts and spasms.
We both stepped out of our clothes, immediately sporting large, relaxed erections. My brother was full of beans and after biting down a couple of cocktails, he threw himself at the orgy, bounced off, and then threw himself at it again. He was eventually sucked half in, to be trapped like an insect in a cobweb, twitching frantically.
I peered at the orgy. I remembered my brother’s words – “don’t embarrass me” – and pondered them carefully, before putting them aside.
“There are no women at this orgy,” I pointed out brightly.
The orgy stopped.
There were a few grunts and snorts of annoyance. “Hey Jasper, I can’t see from here. Is it true?”
A Mexican voice laughed from the corner. “Hey I met some chicks in Tesco this morning… I invited them… they’ll be here soon.”
“I’m a woman,” a girl remarked quietly. She was sitting wrapped up in a boy’s arms, like an owl resting in ivy.
“Sonia,” the boy warned her as if for the umpteenth time. He turned upon the orgy with a vicious look. “She’s mine. Nobody touch her.”
The orgy resumed, a little warily and rather less lively than before. I sidled up to Sonia and smiled at her, eyeing her bare breasts with a grin.
The boyfriend was virtually spitting poison at me. “You can’t cling to her forever pal,” I told him. “At some point your drink will run out or you’ll need to visit the toilet.” I flicked his balls playfully and the girl chirruped with laughter, before looking extremely serious.
For a moment I thought that I had been hit by a tennis ball, and then I realised that he had punched me in the face. Blood had sprayed across the white backs and buttocks pumping around me.
I flicked his balls stubbornly and he punched me again. I made another flick at his balls and missed, almost falling over.
“Pierre,” Sonia complained. “This is not a turn on. It is not free love.”
“You shut your cake,” Pierre growled.
I snatched the glass out of his hand and threw it at the wall, where it broke with a pop. “Go and get another drink,” I told him. “I’ll look after your girlfriend.”
The orgy convulsed, almost disgorging him, but hands pulled him back. “You’re creeping me out,” Sonia insisted, looking up at me urgently.
“You’re a freak,” the boyfriend bellowed. I pushed the palm of my hand right into his face as I climbed on to Sonia. My spare hand was already on her breasts and down exploring her underneath. I kissed her lips and she gave a daring little kiss back.
But there was suddenly a whooping in my ears as unrelenting as a fire alarm. I was trying to fuck Sonia, but I slipped out of her uselessly and perhaps I drained away like a knocked over drink. Then Pierre and I were both naked and fighting in the centre of the room, and I was throwing tired punches, the screams ringing in my head like a mad bell, until he finally tripped me over neatly, to find himself surprised to be kicking me in the head with his bare feet. He yelped like a child who has at last dipped a foot into the sea.
They were beating me with a chain and it was very fast and amazing. Then my brother was trying to drag me to his car but he had given up. I was lying naked in the front garden of the council house whilst there were cackles of laughter around me. I think that somebody tried to urinate on my chest, but my brother danced enraged and they were tumbling strategically back to regroup. My brother’s face was black and he was gnashing furiously to himself, like a dog frustrated behind a fence. And all the time, overhead, that screaming like a desert sun, and I with no shade and no water and nowhere to hide.
A few days later, the screaming stopped. When I became certain that Tori was really sitting beside my bed, she had news, and she was more than a little proud of herself. She recounted that she had emailed the Polish ambassador in Kinshasa and that he had sent an official into the jungle to find Marcin. The official had eventually come across and inspected a collection of concrete huts, in a clearing where men sat about in despondent silence, and in one of the huts he had found poor Marcin, groggy with medication, reviving from a bout of malaria.