writing, short story, Fiction

A lurid Christmas dream

I see her every day across my desk. I mean, on the days I manage to sit at the desk reserved for Prakash. I like this seat, and it has got two widescreen monitors on the desk. It’s ideal for doing some work, but a bit NSFW while I spend my lunch hour browsing the internet. Everybody behind me could see that I’m on Facebook, or checking share prices or looking to see if I’ve got any new message on the dating site. I leave large colourful PowerPoint slides open in the background, so the colours on the browser are not clearly visible.

Ellie Careless does not have the stunning looks of a model. She is rather plain in her appearance. She’s short, heavily built, and has a plump round face. She doesn’t dress up much – mostly trousers and top, even during nights out with the team. She’s probably in her late twenties, about a couple of years younger than me. I gathered that she’s from the cold north, as her “kloob” sounded like Geoff Boycott’s. She is an average pommy girl in all sense and purposes. Despite all that, I remembered her the first day I moved here, because our paths had crossed a few times in the past, and it’s impossible to forget her fiery personality. We didn’t get on very well — the first time I came here to sort out some budget for my new contract, and we ended up disagreeing to every point during the meeting. Sometimes I felt like asking whose side she was defending, but she was just playing Devil’s advocate and she played it really well. Probably even the Devil himself would have been more lenient.

I don’t know if she took our disagreement personally, but since that first encounter she was rather cold towards me on most of the times I saw her. She tried hard not to make any eye contact, and when she failed, I was greeted with a “hi” as curt as it could be, and a smile that she could manage without stretching her lips. The only times we had a normal conversation is when we had someone else talking to us. And the chat died off the moment they had left. I’ve come to a conclusion that most possibly she doesn’t like me. Then again, neither do most of the people in this office. They are too reserved and engrossed in their little circle of friends. Aaron told me that some think I’m an arrogant know-it-all. That’s total bonkers. I just don’t have patience with wussy no-hopers.

I can’t say I like this new place. Brighton is a fabulous town to hang out, but it’s almost at the edge of the universe. I can’t really say that Croydon was the centre of the world as such, but at least it was closer to London. Brighton is a vibrant place, but you still feel the undertone of a small seaside town. To be honest I always feel out of place in this country, compared to Melbourne. I feel at ease inside the skyscrapers, in the fast-paced city life, looking at the world from the top of 20-30 storey apartments. When I was in Singapore or KL, I never missed Melbourne. Tokyo was even wilder and London wasn’t much different. Until Vicky changed her plans.

Vicky is my partner. Or should I say was? I don’t know. The problem is, nor does she. We’ve been together since late teens when we first met at the Uni. She was a wild girl then, and still is now, unlike me. I’m trying to slow down and be sensible. I wanted to earn and save enough by 40, then settle down either back in Oz, and buy a farm, or move to San Francisco. Vicky and I both loved it there when we went backpacking on Pacific coast trail. That’s before Vicky said she’s bisexual.

When she told me, I didn’t feel any different. In fact, it made me quite excited imagining Vicky with another woman. Two is, after all, better than one! Since the day we had that chat, we’ve engaged with other bisexual couples. At first, it was in seedy clubs, but as we came to know more people, it became easier. We could choose couples where our likes and dislikes are similar. Although Vicky always enjoyed it more than I did. And she wanted this permanently, rather than wild weekends.

That’s when she met Sharon. Sharon works in our HR and is based in this office in Brighton. Vicky was very fond of her, and last year, she had to spend quite some time with Sharon to sort her Visa out. Then one day Vicky introduced her to me and said they are going on a girls only date. Since that night, Sharon had come many times to our Croydon flat. After a few months, Vicky said that she wants to move to Brighton office to see Sharon more. It was a tough decision to make but we supported each other in everything so far and thus we moved to Brighton. I didn’t dislike Sharon to say no. Our flat is just above Sharon’s, the rent is cheap, and our office is ten minutes walk – so it worked out quite well. We could get rid of our car, as everything is close by, and Sharon lends us her Land Rover any time we ask for it. So it was great moving down here, but it felt as if Vicky and I are more distant than we ever were. We still loved each other, and had our times together but they became less frequent than the days Sharon would be around with us. I told Vicky last September that I hardly see her, to which she said that I was being jealous. And that she’s thinking of settling down here. We were in an awkward stage since then. I made it no secret of not wanting to settle down in this bloody freezing place, and as Vicky and Sharon started living in each other’s pockets, I felt that I was the third wheel among us. But I didn’t have the heart to tell it to Vicky. I thought once the Christmas is over, I’ll think about moving out.

I came back to the present, and looked at Ellie again. She’s wearing a black top, and her chestnut brown hair is tied up in a bun. She’ll probably be coming to our work Christmas-do tonight in the same outfit. A party would be an overstatement though; it’s a meal arranged by the big boss. But it was long planned so I couldn’t let it go. Vicky is not coming as she works in the logistics department and they are having theirs next week. She couldn’t have come anyway because this year’s budget is tight and partners aren’t invited to keep the numbers down. I wondered if Ellie is wearing trousers again, but the desk blocked my view. She’s talking to the old hag Christine sitting opposite her. They get along really well, but I wonder how. Perhaps because Christine has a sadistic sense of humour, and I can imagine Ellie’s would be the same. She looked quite pretty from this angle as she’s laughing to something Christine is saying.

At lunchtime I saw her again, in the kitchen. It was one of her one-word conversations; this time she said — “Alright?”. I just repeat what she says these days, so that was the sum total of our chat. It died off with my “Alright?”. I didn’t make any effort this time, as she never stops to actually talk. At least I got to find out what she’s wearing tonight. Her top has silvery threads through, and she’s wearing it with black trousers and black pumps. Surely she could dress up a bit more? But then, I thought, it’s all about having a good time in the end. I wanted to wear my party clothes before coming here, but it’s only Thursday so I couldn’t dress-down. I put all the clothes inside the disabled toilet. I found that it’s ideal to store small items because the toilet is massive.

The afternoon went by in a frenzy. One of the suppliers called about wrong sized materials and I spent almost the entire afternoon talking to my team trying to sort out a solution. We are late on this project and can’t drop the momentum because it’s Christmas three weeks away. Everybody is interested in squeezing every last penny we can earn extra this year. It was after 5 when Aaron tapped on my desk and asked if I’m coming with them for a drink or two before we went to the meal. I had enough for the day and asked for five minutes to get ready. I changed into my jeans and a Ralph Lauren shirt and a semi-formal jacket. I looked in the mirror, and I noticed that my stubble has grown long. I planned to try the hipster look, but got annoyed with the itchy beard, so I just trim it often to keep the stubble neat. I tied my bun neatly and left my formal clothes hung up in the toilet so I can take them back tomorrow.

We went to a pub on the seafront. There were five of us, with others planning to join in later on. Aaron offered the first round and he seemed a bit shocked as I asked for rum straight away. I don’t mind having a beer, but this is not summer, so I didn’t see the point. Days like this make me miss Christmas in Melbourne more. Needless to say, they started jabbering about bloody football. I was thinking Ashes will be on soon, we must wipe out the smirk from the Barmy Army. Bored, I picked up my phone and did a casual check in on Facebook. I bet I’ll get the usual 12 likes from friends who like everything. I’m sure if I said the fish died or the Titanic sank, I’ll still get those 12 likes. I looked at the time. Bloody hell! It’s already 5:45! It seemed I only sat down here five minutes.

My phone vibrated. Three likes already including Vicky’s and a strange message. “How long u guys be there?”. Who the hell is Ellishera CO? As I kept wondering, I saw Aaron commented back, “Til we go to the meal. We’ll grab a cab. Coming?”. So Aaron must know this person, not even sure if it’s a man or a woman. I looked at Aaron and asked, “Who the fuck is Ellishera?”. “Shh… Maddie, it’s Ellie”. Ellie! That’s a weird name, is it even her real name? “Maybe”. Her comments are as curt as her conversations. I soon stopped wondering about her funny name as the next round arrived. We are about 12 now, and this side of the pub looks really rammed. The drinks took my stress away. I’ll now probably be talking to people I usually don’t like. I looked around the group here. I can say I’m pretty friendly with Aaron. Apart from him, I get along well with three or four, but the rest are sulky moaners. On another day I’d put them in their place if they called me Maddie. It’s all Vicky’s fault. She shouldn’t have announced my nickname to every place we went. Especially here, where Maddie is often a girl!

Around 6.30 I went over to the counter to get the last rounds. I should have bought first, now there’s fifteen of them and nobody else offered to share the bill. The queue was horrendous, even though it’s only Thursday. As I finished ordering, I heard a familiar voice say, “Aand two G& T please”. It was Ellie. I looked at her as she added, “I’ll pay you, just saves time queuing”. “No, it’s my round”. “Fair enough. I’ll pay for one later then”. I handed her the two G&Ts and that’s the first time I looked at her this evening. She has transformed! She’s wearing an electric blue dress and a faux-leather jacket, her hair is now straightened and down, making her face look thinner. She did some makeup but it’s barely visible. “Do you need a hand, Damien?” She must have noticed that I was looking at her, as it seemed she forced herself to say something. “Ta, I’ll manage…Ellishera”! I chuckled a bit but controlled myself. After all, she’s my colleague and not a friend. As we were dodging our way back to the corner where our lot were, she stopped midway, and signed me to lean towards her. Then she brought her face close to mine, close enough that I could smell the perfume coming out of her cleavage, and she whispered quite clearly,” If you ever make a joke about my name again, I’ll tear your balls out and feed the dogs on the beach. Okay”? Ouch! Looks like she’s a bit touchy-feely about her name! Why did she go so fucking berserk about it? “Understood. Sorry”!

I carried the drinks to the table and was cheered by the rowdy mob there. This is the fifth round, I don’t know if this is appropriate to turn up drunk at a work party. I only had three shots of rum, just to get in the mood, then switched back to Coke and soda. There wasn’t much space now. Ellie and another girl Clara took up the last seats. “Guys…squeeze in a bit please?”. Her voice was heard over the raucous crowd, she likes to give orders! People sitting on the long bench squeezed in, leaving a tiny patch to perch my ass. I was almost sitting on her lap, our sides almost glued together to avoid me falling down. I felt a bit dejected that I made that gaffe about her name, perhaps we could have finally talked otherwise. It was different if I disliked her, but she seems quite funny; it’s just that perhaps we got on the wrong foot.

“So, do you live close by”? I tried to break the ice again as the guys across the table seem to crane their neck away from me to watch sissy boys kicking about. “I live in Hove, you”? “Not far. Only walking distance”. “Lucky you! Is it one of your Aussie mates sorting all this for you”? “No, I haven’t met many here. We used to go out in Croydon once a month or so, not here”. “Okay”. She’s gone back to one word again. I looked at the phone. 6:50. Shit, when is the meal? I thought it was 7:30. I don’t know where that place is, we must be getting ready soon. “Do you know how far we gotta go”? She looked at the phone, and said “Yeah, we should be getting ready. It’s not far but we’ll need taxi looking at the state of some”. “C’MON LADS, we’ll be late, leave by 7”. I think she’s so bossy at work that it worked outside as well. People rushed to finish their drink, coming back to senses.

I walked outside first. The air has turned nippy, but I know that it’s not going to snow here. It never does. The strand is decorated with Christmas lights, and all the pubs along this side are full now. The air is filled with the sound of the waves and a subtle hum of people chatting in the pubs, only to be disturbed by some raucous laughter or loud chants. I must say Christmas is something special here. I stood there, almost lost in thoughts about Vicky’s decision to settle down here. What would happen if I decide that as well? Would she still be with me? “Coming Damien? Or you’re not planning to?”. I looked around. Aaron, Ellie, and two others are waiting for me, I didn’t realise the rest of the lot has already picked up cabs and left! In the dim white light of the street lamps, I could see a smirk on Ellie’s face. I recognised that from before. Does she think I’m a bit weird? Or is it that she’s a bit amused that I stood there on my own, oblivious to everyone else? I hurried back to the taxi. Ellie got in first, and sat with her back to the driver. Then the other two and Aaron sat on the other side, leaving me no choice but to sit next to her. I thought Clara would sit next to her but she’s sitting opposite Ellie so they could talk. We just had mild banter about the ones already pissed, and whether our director will come to the party. The cab drove along the narrow streets of Brighton, often making last minute turns to avoid traffic. With every turn, either I’m falling on Ellie, or she lurched on to me; the strap to hold on to aren’t that effective. Especially when you’ve had a few drinks.

After a few times our shoulders brushed, which I didn’t really dislike, we reached the place. It’s a stately building, perhaps what they call a listed building, converted into a hotel. I wondered why on earth we are here, the meal isn’t cheap. In Croydon, we had about £20 budget. We paid £60 here, plus £30 to the drinks pot for the ones going out later on. I’ve been to a castle before to attend a wedding but not a hotel like this. It exudes opulence, from the marble floors to the crystal chandeliers to the carved oak doors. We went to the bar-cum-lounge area, it’s really crowded now with a lot of other people turning up. I ordered a cream soda, and looked around to see if there are any familiar faces to mingle with. I glided through the clusters of people, trying to find one to join in. All these fucking retards just talking about their job! Seriously?

I looked for Aaron, but couldn’t find him anywhere. He must have gone out smoking. I looked at my phone, there’s a message from Vicky, “How’s the party Maddie? Having fun babes? Who the fuck is Ellishera!!! X o x”. I replied to her straight away, “It’s Ellie Careless. Do you know her?”. “Of course I do! Posh twat”. “In what way? She sounds too common to me”, I asked. Seems like we are chatting through text now. “Does horse riding, I mean proper owned horses! Does diving with that fat ass, and filthy rich”. “How do you know all that”? “Oh I know everything about most of the girls there. And you know how ;)”. Sharon! So she tells Vicky all the gossip and their background. Of course! She can access all the details. “Tell me Sharon doesn’t tell you all these personal stuff from their HR file!”. “Don’t worry babes. I don’t tell this to everyone! But anyway, if you’re thinking of hitting on her, think twice Maddie. She’s way out of your league”. “You bitch! I wasn’t planning on, but now I might! You never fancied her then ;)?”. “No I don’t fancy pigs haha! Seriously, if you can fuck her tonight, I’ll give you 20 dollars”. She’ll never mature! I don’t know if that’s the problem between us, that I’m not that fun anymore? I looked at the glass of cream soda, it’s still full, it must have been 20 minutes and I’m still stood here in a corner. “Gotta go Vic, I feel like an alien here. Dinner will be served soon”. “Coz they’re normal ppl! Just chill and don’t worry if you don’t talk to them you can come back early”. “You offering a root?”. “Maybe;) !”. “Alright then, I’ll come back early if I can”. “Maddie don’t! I’m just having you on! You can smash my back tomorrow. Enjoy the party, I gotta start at the normal time unlike you lucky bastards!”. “Told you, you’re a sick bitch! I’m going now. You can go flog yourself”. “Oh I can just go downstairs for that! Have fun at the party! Love you x o x o”. And she’s gone. The messenger showed she’s offline.

The crowd has thinned a little now. Have they started to usher people to the room? Aaron just walked past me with an “Alright mate?”. At the far corner, Ellie and Clara are now joined by the rest of the girl gang. Looks like she’s got a Guinness. I don’t know how people drink that muck! She looked at me, but we were quite far to acknowledge. She was smiling, and then I realised that few others looked at me as well. The girls were laughing, and it might be something to do with me because Ellie was saying something with a lot of finger-pointing. As the large wall clock chimed 8 o’clock, a couple of neatly dressed staff came to the room, to inform that the meals are ready to be served. Despite the plush ambience, it’s been pretty shit for me so far, so I hoped the meal better be nice!

There was a rush to go and sit down at the table. The rowdy lot were the first to go in, then the older ones, some girls went in after them and some headed for the toilet. I stayed back until the queue dwindled. It’s not that I dislike crowd, but I wanted to finish my soda first. There was a teenage boy waiting at the door with a list, “What’s your surname, Sir?”. “Kruger”. “Thank you, Sir…Table six on the left, Sir”. “Thanks, bud”. I wasn’t very flattered by all the Sirs and pompous etiquettes. A waitress stood by each table, to attend that table only it seems. The girl showed me the seat I’m expected to sit in. I looked around the room, it’s a huge dining room, with large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling high enough to fit two storeys. On one side of the wall, there are large windows but they have curtains drawn in. The wall opposite is adorned with paintings, plaques, artefacts encased in glass containers. At the far end of the wall, there is a large fireplace, with log fires. I looked around our table. It sits eight but there are only seven of us now. I was pleased that Russell is sitting next to me. He’s okay, at least not pretentious like most of the lot here. They were serving wine bottles to the other tables, but not ours. Maybe because they are waiting for the person on my right to sit down? Most around this table are the older lot. I wonder why they sat me here. I started chatting with Russell about the wines when I smelled the perfume around me that seemed very familiar. Ellie! She’s the mystery person in the empty seat.

“Hi”. “Hiya”. Gosh! Not again this one word game for the entire meal! I was saved by John, the guy opposite me who started telling some jokes. We finally got our wine. It’s full-bodied red. She had the same as well. As the wine began to flow, the conversation became easier. Now I don’t really regret sitting at this table, some of the guys I’ve never spoken to, they are really cool and they have some interesting stories to tell! I started getting hungry and wondered when the food is going to be served. Miss tight ass next to me is the only one who’s just gulping down wine and smiling at odd intervals. Our eyes met a few times but we looked away immediately. I looked at Russell, he’s busy talking to the guy on his left about mortgages, something I don’t understand.

This is great! £60 spent on posh shit and that’s it. Even that seems to be taking forever to arrive. I thought that this can’t get any worse, and perhaps I should ask Ellie what the matter was. “Alright Ellie?”. “Alright”. “Nice wine, huh?”. “Nah, cheap crap from Calais. You can get a crate for 10-15 quid for this”. “Really!”. “Yeah”. “I hate this fixed seating arrangements”. “I know! I can tell, you couldn’t wait to get as far away from me as possible!”. Ouch! That wasn’t necessary. “That’s not true! I thought you weren’t talking to me”. “Oh, you’re not sulking for that still! That was meant to be a joke!”. “Didn’t seem a joke to me!”. “Oh for F…Damien, I need to have a word with you, outside”. “Yeah, I think so too!”.

We walked out of the room, down the hallway and into the lounge, where we were greeted on arrival. I let her walk ahead of me, and she preferred that way. We went into the courtyard, where there is a giant Christmas tree covered with chains of LED lights. She stopped and faced me, and said, “WHATS YOU FUCKING PROBLEM DAMIEN?”. “My problem? Nothing! Except that you couldn’t do any more to avoid me at work. Look, I get it that you don’t like me, but as colleagues, we could be a bit more civil don’t you think?”. “Oh is it then? The last time I checked my contract, it didn’t say anything about smiling and being nice to tight arsed idiots”. “Oh thanks! At least you’re clear about what think of me!”. “What! You’re gonna moan about that as well? Just get a life for fuck’s sake, Damien!”. “Fair enough! I won’t be talking to you If I don’t have to, but you better stop smirking at me”. “I SMIRK AT YOU! You must be joking!”. “You just do! You did it outside the pub when we were coming here!”. “That wasn’t a smirk!…”. She suddenly lost her words and looked away. I can’t believe this! Having a fight with a colleague on Christmas-do! “Damien”, her tone changed, it’s more reconciliatory now than a few moments ago, “Now, don’t be over-dramatic, you’re a decent guy, and you work hard and don’t piss about like the most here. I just feel that you don’t wanna talk to me, as if you’re holding some grudge on me”. “Exactly how I feel about you, Ellie. Especially after that bloody row in Rugby. But to be clear, I don’t hold any grudges against you. I don’t know what it is. How you look at me sometimes, it seems as if I am…anyway leave it!”. “I’m not leaving it, Damien! But listen. We both were thinking about the meeting in Rugby. Can we just forget about it and treat each other as colleagues, not enemies?”. “I’m all for it, apology accepted”. “WHAT! When did I say that?”. “Chill! It’s only a joke. We better go in now, Steve might be here”. “Yeah, you carry on, I’ll have a quick fag. You haven’t got a light, have you?”. “Here”. I handed over my lighter. Then on a second thought, I lit one as well. “Oh well, Steve can wait then!”.

I made a ring in the air and watched it disperse circling the stars above. Then I realised that Ellie was standing in front of me and I was again distracted looking at the sky. “So how long you’ve been with us? It was 2014 I guess?”. “13. You?”. “11. I feel old saying that!”. “Before that?”. “I’ve worked at a construction company in Singapore, before that in Beijing, and KL”. “Interesting! You have travelled around a bit then!”. “A fair bit. We travelled a lot, Far East and all over the world after coming here. Do you travel much?”. “Yes and no. I did a lot of work with charities in Africa during college and uni. Travelled a few countries down that way”. “Wow! Which ones?”. “I’ll tell you later Mad…err, Damien. It’ll be shorter to tell the names I haven’t been in sub-Saharan states”. “Phew! I must hear about your experiences. I wish to go there sometime myself!”. “Sure thing. I can give you a few tips. Shall we go in?”. “Let’s go”. We finished our cigarettes and started walking back to the dining hall. It was relieving that we had the chat. And finding out that there’s something we can talk in common. As we went in, I noticed that our director Steve was giving his speech. And then someone started clapping. Not to Steve’s speech, but I guess to mock us. Aaron even did a wolf whistle. Once we sat down, Steve carried on with his speech thanking everyone.

The food arrived amid a loud cheering. It took bloody 45 minutes to serve the starters. And then they got everything mixed up as people can’t remember what they pre-ordered three months back! I knew exactly what I wanted and got it straight away. Ellie had the salmon terrine as well. I thought of waiting for the rest in our table, but she started eating already, and I excused myself and followed suit. Rest of the guys didn’t have to wait much longer either. Russell briefly spoke about how fed up he is with everything but I wasn’t in the mood for the doom and gloom stories, so when he went back to eating, I whispered to Ellie, “Why are people so miserable here? You’d think being the head office, you’ll see the opposite!”. “Because…”, she leant towards me, “we get a lot of rumours as well, and mostly the bad ones!”. I was listening but my mind drifted as the smell of her floral perfume wafted through. I couldn’t help but look at her cleavage where the smell was coming from, but then I looked around. I noticed a couple of guys ogling her as well. So I’m not the only pervert here! “I think John is perving on you”, I whispered to her. “What’s that got to do with you?”. “Nothing! I thought you could have a laugh”. “Oh I will!”. She sat up, sitting straight again, and looked at John. “What’s that you’re having there John?”. As it turned out, he was sort of ignoring the main course trying to look at Ellie, and he had to do a lot of ums and ahs. I hurried myself to concentrate on my beef wellington to keep a straight face. That was hilarious. I must tell Aaron this. I texted him. He replied back saying he is a known “lech”.

I think that incident has lifted any uneasiness left after our talk outside. We spoke a lot during the meal and nibbling through my cheese board. She told me about her time in Africa, amazing things she’d seen there especially the sulphur flats, about her horse-riding hobby, that her dad is an ex-diplomat, and about her partner Ken, that he’s mostly on tours playing tennis. “Is it awkward staying away most of the time?”, I asked, remembering nights when Vicky was with Sharon. “Well I tend to go wherever he is every couple of weeks”. What! She travels around with his boyfriend every other weekend? How does she get the time? “Wow! You mean in Europe I suppose?”. “No even in the US, or the Middle East. As long as it’s not too much travelling”. “You must be minted, to spend all that money”. “It costs quite a bit but not an arm and a leg! He gets the tour calendar well ahead and I have spent £300 once on a return flight, and that to the US! Most of the times it’s £50-60. And no hotel bills as I stay with him”. I was listening to her, amazed. We tend to travel a lot, and thought we were frugal but she seemed to have made our efforts look bloody amateurish. “I must say your bloke is a lucky man!”. She shrugged her shoulders, and asked about my life.

It got a bit awkward when I told about Vicky. “Vicky at operations is your partner! I didn’t know that”. “Why? What’s wrong with her?”. “Nothing. Don’t take me otherwise Damien, I haven’t spoken to her but what I heard is she wears her heart on her sleeve. You seem to be an opposite!”. “Yes, I know. I’ve heard it many times”. “I’m sorry, I was just passing what others said”. “No that’s totally cool. Hey, maybe you can tell me if she’s got any gossip in your girls’ circle”. “What is girls’ circle?”. “I don’t know. When all you girls go to the toilet at the same time”. “So you want to find out gossips on your girlfriend! That’s a bit underhanded, no?”. “Well true, but aren’t most gossips?”. “Are you gonna tell her?”. “Depends on how bad it is! If we can laugh at it, I will. If it’s spiteful I probably won’t”. “Well she’s got a name, Sticky Vicky”. I burst out laughing, “What!”. People on our table stopped talking and looked at us. I apologised and carried on talking. “Sticky Vicky! What does it even mean?”. “Well it’s a character from a TV show. I can’t say any more. You’ll have to Google it. The show’s called Benidorm”. I went on google to look for it, and I didn’t like what I was reading at all. Ellie must have seen my ears turn red, “I’m sorry Damien, I shouldn’t have said that to you”. “Well…it’s not very nice, is it?”. “No. But I don’t think whoever came up with the name didn’t mean it like that. It was a bit of banter—”. “Yes, a bit of banter, always at the expense of someone”. I think I touched some raw nerve there. She looked stern and said, “Well you shouldn’t have asked what people talk about you behind your back. Nobody is interested to know how good you are! I’m sure people call me things, fat arse and all…but I’m not interested unless they tell it on my face. I can then put them in their place!”. “You’re right. By the way, I wasn’t saying it was you”. “No I know you didn’t. Coz if you did, I’d have punched you in the face”. She smiled at me, but I guess she meant it. “You don’t hold back your words do you?”. “Why should I? Fag break?”. “Ya let’s go”.

I looked at the time. It’s already 10 o’clock! We haven’t gone anywhere yet. People are finishing their coffee and mince pies. But it looks like the meal is almost over – people looking at the time, conversations getting louder, empty plates on the tables and the nice linen now smudged with gravy and wine marks – a sign that it’s time to go back to Brighton. The meal dragged on a bit long. We walked down the corridor outside. It’s quite nippy now, I should have had my jacket on. She offered her lighter this time, our hands touched and I felt how warm her hand was. “Crikey you’re freezing Damien!”. “Ta. I’m always like this, what do you expect in this bloody climate?”. “You don’t like it here do you?”. “I mean, people are nice enough, but you must admit it’s pretty shit weather! Bleurgh!”. “You bloody people, coming here, making a living and still moaning,”. She smiled as she was exhaling the smoke, and the web of smoke created a veil in from of her face, making it look mystical in the dim light filtering through the large windows. “Your friends giving you a cold shoulder today?”. I noticed during the meal some went out for a break but didn’t ask her. “Yeah, I guess jealous cuz I’m talking to you”. “What’s there to be jealous about?”. “Because at least three amongst the girls here tonight fancy you”. “What! I have hardly spoken to them!”. “That’s why”. “Oh thanks!”. “Nooo…I meant they think you spend a lot of time on your own, working, and that’s odd. They think it’s kind of mysterious, keeping a distance from everyone”. “You don’t?”. “No, you just try to avoid them because you don’t like them”. “That’s not really the reason why I haven’t got along with the lot here. I’ve had other things going in my mind”. “See, now you sound like everyone else, whinging about life. There’s no mystery in you”. “You’re right! The magic’s gone”.

As I said the last sentence, I was thinking about Vicky. I think I am right in guessing that the magic between us is truly gone. All that’s left is the friendship as we were best friends from teenage. Ever since we moved down here, the thought has clouded my mind all the time. And I’ve been trying to talk to somebody, but all I could think of was Vicky. I spoke to my mate Jono a few times, but not about our lives. Uttering those words to Ellie made me realise that it’s probably time. Time to have a candid tête-à-tête with Vicky. “Hey, Damien, are you alright?”. My stupor broke by her words. I don’t remember how long I stood there, but it can’t be too long, the cigarettes in our hands are still glowing. “Ya, I’m fine. Sorry”. “If you feel like crying, let me go first. Especially if you’re going to sob”. “Oh ya! Some great friend you’re turning out to be! Not even wanting to listen when someone is in distress!”. “No point mocking me, even if I did, you wouldn’t tell me. We are only on speaking terms since this afternoon”. “Keep it to yourself will ya Ellie?”. “No worries. I’m not in the gossiping group! I was worried for a second…look, we all have issues in our lives to deal with”. “No, you’re right. Fuck it, I need some shots”. “Well c’mon then!”.

On our way back we walked in silence, probably either of us thinking about what happened outside. I didn’t walk behind her like before, our arms brushed. As we were about to go in the dining hall, we noticed some people were already coming out. I picked my jacket up, and waited until she finished off the wine she was drinking and picked her bag up. “Are you coming back to town for your shots?”. “You betcha I am!”. “Okay I might see you there sometime tonight then. Are you going with Aaron?”. “I don’t mind. I’d go wherever they serve the cheapest booze”. “Then I’ll definitely see you tonight, I think we’re all going there. Well it was nice finally talking to you Damien, see, I don’t bite! “. “I always tried to say hi to you! But ya, it was nice talking to you too”. We headed off for the lounge. I don’t even know if somebody called a taxi or who I’m going with. I felt a hand slapped my back outside. It was Aaron. “I can see you pulled Ellie, are you coming with us or going somewhere else?”. He said “else” with a wink. I wanted to say something funny but couldn’t think of anything, and she spoke before me, “Shut up Aaron. Somewhere else with him! I’m not blind!”. “Too right. Pull her? I might pull a lamppost! Have we got a cab?”. “It’s on the way. You’re coming with me. Stay here”. And he disappeared in the waiting crowd. “That wasn’t really necessary was it Damien?”. “You know the moment I said it I thought FUCK! I am—!”. “No wonder Vicky wants to leave you. Excuse me”. And she squeezed her way past through the crowd towards the girls, leaving me alone.

I resented the minute I said it, but perhaps that was me trying to deny something I might have been wishing for. I’m not the most sensitive person and I call Vicky a slag all the time, she doesn’t mind and rather enjoys it. If I said that joke to her, she’d probably have said to try sticking my dick in a lamppost instead! I texted Vicky that I’m going to the town. She replied saying if the bet is still on sleeping with Ellie. “NO Vicky! She fucks a tennis pro! I’m just going to get pissed”! “Ah ha. You don’t know what’s been happening. They broke up!”. “But she said they are together!”. “Her bloke posted pictures on Facebook with a girl in the bikini by the pool. A sexy one, not like the pig. Your flame commented who’s she and he said just a fan. Yeah mate, you’re not Andre Agassi that people chase you for a selfie!”. “So, what happened then?”. “Right, don’t repeat it to anyone, they had a showdown. He didn’t want to piss off an ex-diplomat’s daughter, and she couldn’t see that he’s been a dickhead so they got back together. Then someone saw another piccie on the other girl’s profile and told Ellie. She had enough and threw him out”. “What a dick!”. “Feeling sorry for her Maddie? If you’re fucking a hippo every night, you’d want the same!”. “If I get a fuck every night I don’t mind a hippo. A bird in hand ;)…btw, since when are you so interested in gossip?”.

Our taxi arrived finally. I got in the front seat to avoid any more prying questions from Aaron. The other two are pissed already. They smell of wine, and their shirts bear the evidence that they drank red. I looked on the phone. Vicky replied. “I’m not but Sharon pisses me off with all her bitchy gossiping!…you’d get a root every night babes when I get Sharon ready to come with us;)!”. So she got the hint! She stays away from me because Sharon doesn’t want to share the room with us. “Like that’s ever gonna happen! I’m fed up not being with you Vic. You want both of us at the same time, it’s not working, so you need to decide—”. I looked at the message again and deleted it. It’s not worth having this discussion at this state. Then another message flashed on the screen. “So the bet’s off then?”. “What bet?”. “Sleep with the elliephant haha ;)!”. “Ya. Like I had any chance! I’m gonna get stoned”. “Be careful Maddie. Don’t call me unless it’s urgent, but if you need me, give a bell anytime”. “I will. Night night x o x o x”. The lot behind me seem to have gone to sleep. We are back in Brighton now. The taxi stopped at the Esplanade. I looked around but it was only our cab here.

I looked at the time. 11:30. Still, plenty of nightlife is left. But the lot with us is already pissed, we aren’t even sure if they’d let us in. “Mate, I can’t let these pissheads come with us. I’ll take them to my flat then come back”. Aaron’s idea seems to make sense. “I’ll come with you. You can’t handle these two!”. Anthony, one of our surveyors suggested he wants to go home and needs a cab. We put him on his cab, and Aaron asked me to stay here and look out for the other people back from the hotel. I waited for 15-20 minutes waiting on the pavement. It’s getting colder, and the wind is getting stronger. I got a few wolf whistles from a group of pissed girls. I looked at the time again, neither Aaron nor the other lot is here yet. I decided to go indoors somewhere and wait for them instead.

I walked across the road to West street. This is a familiar place for me, especially the walkabout. When we fancy some real Fosters or Bundy rum, we come here. Vicky likes this one, but I think Macko, the manager is a bit snotty. I never really felt welcome here, and some of the other Aussies I spoke at different times seem to think the same. I still went in, to kill some time rather than strolling along the cold esplanade. I sat next to the bar and ordered a shot of rum to Gina, the girl from NSW who serves weeknights. The rum didn’t last long, and I started to feel edgy, sitting all on my own. I don’t dislike my company in most places, but bar and nightclubs are an exception. Because of Christmas, the bar is still busy, so I can’t even have a chat with the bar crew. Besides, Macko doesn’t like that. I went for a cigarette outside, to clear my head and look on the phone if Aaron is coming back soon. I got no bars on my phone inside. The pavement is quite crowded, and there I noticed Chantelle. She was walking past me as I called her, “Chantelle!”. “Oh hi Damien, alright?”. “Ya, where are you heading?”. “Just here, to Revolution”. “Do you know where the rest of the crowd is?”. “No idea mate. The girls are here”. “I thought we put down money for a booze fund? Are we all not going to the same place?”. “So nobody told you?”. “Told me what?”. “Well, people thought it’s a bad idea and took their money back”. “When did that happen?”. “This evening”. “Fuck, when was somebody going to tell me!”. “I don’t know Damien. Ellie had the money for everyone. She still has mine, but she’s here so it doesn’t matter. I don’t know about lads, a few were here with us, but someone else must be giving the money back. Maybe ask Aaron?”. “So Ellie won’t have it?”. “You can ask yourself. Come in”.

I followed her in the queue. It didn’t take too long to get to the gate. I was lucky that Chantelle was with me, we went in without any problem. I wonder how, but the girls managed a cosy corner with leather sofas. I guess the people who are working tomorrow, have left, and it’s only students and merrymakers who are still here. Ellie noticed me as we entered the room, and she looked away chatting with the others. I went and sat next to her, hoping to ask about the money. Before I could ask, Chantelle said. “Ellie, Damien was looking for his money, I thought you might be having it”. I think she didn’t want me there, and wished I took the money and go out. “Yes, I got your money, sorry Damien I thought we’d all come back at the same time”. “No worries. Have you got the cash?”. She stood up, picking up her coat. “I’ll come with you, I gave out all the cash I had. Need to go to the cashpoint”. While we were talking, I kept wondering which three girls here fancy me, because all I’m getting is dagger looks. I bet she blurted all that lamppost joke, they are bezzie mates again.

In the bar area, I spoke to her, “Ellie, I’m really sorry, and I felt awful since I said it”. “Must be something you always thought then!”. “Ellie look I’m sorry and there’s no other way to put it. I know it must have upset you. Look I’ll be off if you want me to”. “It’s up to you. You came here for the money anyway”. “Actually, I thought we all are going to the same place! Nobody told me what the bloody plan was”. “It was at the last minute, after I went away outside”. She sighed, “It probably wasn’t you at all Damien, maybe it’s just me, perhaps I overreacted…cmon let’s go outside I need a fag. I’m bored sick”. We went to the open area at the back. A halogen heater is keeping the outside of the canopy warm, even in this cold. We smoked our cigarettes in silence for a while. I couldn’t think what to say to her, do I pretend that moment never happened? “The more I think about it”, she spoke finally, “it had nothing to do with what you said. I mean it’s no point pretending, my boyfriend and I broke up six weeks back. He was cheating on me”. I don’t really know what to say in these situations. Should I appear surprised, shocked or sad? “Oh, sorry to hear that”. “It’s okay. In fact, I was telling you as if we were still together, it’s pretty sad”. “Well it’s your way of dealing with it, that’s all that matters”. She lit another cigarette. I haven’t smoked back to back fags for a long time, but I did the same. She looked out towards the dark facades of the buildings around us, smoking in silence. In the light filtering through the canopy and the heater, I could see tears trickling down her cheeks. Fuck! She’s crying! And she’s neither my date nor even a friend that I’d try to console her. Should I give her a hug? Touch her arm? I just stood there, repeating her staring vacantly into the darkness and smoking. I can now see why she was hurt. She must be thinking that she can’t keep a boyfriend. I offered her my pack of tissues. She took it in silence, wiped her cheeks and blew her nose before she spoke again, “Thanks a lot, Damien, the strangest thing is almost everyone here knows about it, but I haven’t told it to anybody”. “Yes, you can’t maintain a private life without people prying”. “You’re right. I’ve been quite naive. Let’s get you your money. I’ve kept you waiting long enough”. “It can wait, more we wait less likely it is that I’ll spend them!”

We went inside the lounge. There was a cash machine. Ellie said it charges about £3 and we should go to the cash point. She suggested we went to a bank and have a cigarette on the way. “Do you think you might need a trip to the ladies before?”. Her eyes squinted, “Why?…oh I see, is it that bad?”. “All over your face. You might get a few comments about Hallowe’en”. “Blimey! Thanks”. She went to the toilet to fix her makeup. I doubted whether it was a good decision to let her do that. I might be waiting here for another half an hour. It’s already 1:15. Where’s the time gone! I wondered why Aaron didn’t contact me, and the wifi here is shit. I managed to get one bar in the end, and received a text from Aaron sent about 12:30 that he’s staying in because Tim, the drunk guy he took in had been sick and he was cleaning the floor and carpet for last half an hour. He said whether I managed to get my money from Ellie and the rest of the guys are in Coalition. I made up my mind to go to Aaron’s, once I got the money from Ellie. But it depends when she comes back.

To my surprise, she didn’t take much time at all! Less than 10 minutes! That must be a record! She put some mascara on, to match with the blue of her dress. She’s got a darker shade of lipstick, and as she came closer, I could smell the perfume. She looks pretty when she dresses up rather than wheel about in her baggy trousers, I wonder why she wears them! “That was quick!”. “Oh well…Let’s go Damien”. And we were out in the streets. People now are rowdier, but there is only a few. “Are you feeling better now?”. “Yes, better. That’s the word. Thanks, Damien”. We walked towards the nearest cash point along West street. After walking in silence for a bit, she said, “I think I know why you said what you said”. “Why?”. “I can’t answer it for you. But let’s not dwell on that now”. We found a cash point but when I pointed it to her, she said this one was cloned a few weeks ago. I suddenly thought, is she dragging her feet to spend time with me? Her excuses seemed pretty deliberate. And the change of makeup. But then, I don’t mind doing this rather than getting pissed with people I don’t particularly like. After walking for another five minutes, we found a bank. She took out £300 and asked if I can do the same. “But you only owe me £30!”. “Yes, I paid everybody else’s than the girls and some others, who I don’t know where they are. I thought I’ll pay by card”. “But they can pay by card, no?”. “Damien, do as I say. Not everyone likes paying by card on a night out. Too easy to lose it or get cloned”. “You’re the boss!”. On our way back we spoke about her childhood being grown up in the Far East. I thought international schools are for snobbish people, but she turned out to be a nice person! “So why did you become an engineer Ellie?”. “What do you mean? Being a woman and an engineer?”. “Fuck no! I mean your lot tend to go in law and all that sort of shit before following the family business”. “And what’s MY LOT?”. “I mean the rich people”. She laughed out for a moment. I guess she laughed first time while talking to me, ever. She looked radiant then, and as she laughed, she slapped my shoulder. If felt her touch is still there, although she moved her hand away! “You see Damien, I guess I’m beginning to understand you. I’d be pretty offended by that, but I can see that you meant no malice, it’s just how you talk!”. “Sorry! So you’re not offended? I’m used to people swearing at me if I offended them, so you see, hard to guess if you don’t tell me”. “Okay, I’ll swear at you next time!”.

We didn’t realise that we reached Revolution while we spoke. We were engaged in a lively debate about Nando’s chicken and what’s best to eat them, hand or knife and fork. “Oh, we are here!”. “Oh yes!”. I stood there for a moment. She looked at me and said nothing. “Well thanks for the money Ellie. And showing me the cloned ATMs!”. “That’s alright! And thanks for listening to me whine about petty things”. “You mean not offering to leave before the tears?”. She forced out a smile, “Something like that Damien. I guess you’re going to where the other guys are? Will you get to go in?”. I looked at the time. It’s gone past 2 AM. I suddenly felt no desire to go there. “No, I guess I’ll go to Aaron’s and have a few drinks with him, I’m not bothered to go clubbing this late. And…I don’t mind if you’d rather want to roam around, showing me streets of Brighton where there are uncloned ATMs”. She looked away as I looked at her. I could tell that my guess was correct. It’s hard to tell in this light if she blushed, but I’m pretty sure she did. “Oh! I see. You don’t?”. “No…”.

We stood there in silence again. It’s like the times in the office, when we’d say nothing and walk past, but it felt different this time. Much was probably said without actually saying anything. “Would Aaron mind if I came over as well?”. “As long as you don’t mind women referred as sex objects. To him, everyone keeps a dildo in their lingerie drawer…To be honest, I’d better ask him”. I sent Aaron a text if he was asleep, while I watched the look of disbelief and hilarity on Ellie’s face. He said he’s watching some trash film on HBO and we are free to come in. “You two can fit into my other room, it’s got a comfy bed ;)”. I told him that we’ll bring some drink. “Yes, we could go there, he’s awake. I said we’ll get some drink. You sure you wouldn’t become unpopular in the bitch club?”. She laughed out, and said in a low tone, “How do you know if I’m not gonna tell it to them inside?”. “I just do. If you still wanna do it, be my guest!”. “Even if I go back, people would still say tomorrow that I threw myself at you. So I don’t give a fuck what they think or say”. “Just don’t let them speculate. Do a check in from Aaron’s”. “Wait here Damien”, she put her hand over mine and squeezed it, “I’ll just be back, let me give the money to the people inside”. And she went in.

I waited outside. The streets look deserted now. All the clubbers are either in the nightclubs or went home. The empty streets with store facades decorated with Christmas lights made the night seem somewhat magical yet eerie. I heard the footsteps on the tiled entrance, the sound I remembered when she went inside. “Fucking bastards, the lot of em!”. She was fuming. “What’s up?”. “They’re not there! Where the fuck am I gonna find them and now I’ll have to carry around all this cash!”. “Look, let’s check Coalition. Aaron said some went there”. We walked across to Coalition. She was busy texting as we walked. As we crossed the esplanade, the chilling sea breeze broke through the layers of warm clothing and made me shiver right through to my bones. I looked at Ellie, busy trying to keep the unruly hair off her face. I thought if I was a photographer, that would make an amazing picture. It’s not just that she looked beautiful at that instant, but it’s the whole combination of the sea breeze rustling her hair, the Christmas lights behind, the empty esplanade that gave that moment a magical feeling. It was a long walk down the ramp to Coalition, Ellie held onto my shoulder to keep the balance. At the entrance, she said, “I’ve texted Chantelle. She just replied she’s there and thought I went away with you”. It is freezing at the sea level. Chantelle came out about five minutes later, Ellie gave her the cash and explained who owes how much. She said she knows the bouncer and could get us in but we said we are off to Aaron’s. On our way up the ramp, it was worse. Ellie definitely had more to drink than I did, and she struggled with her heels. She grabbed hold of my arm tightly so she didn’t slip.

We took a taxi to the Asda that stays open 24hours. I’m pretty disappointed in a way that I still feel alright rather than feeling at least a little tipsy. On the other hand, I made up with Ellie. I still don’t fancy her, but I thought she is a nice girl just to talk to. And I can’t say I can turn up to too many to talk to. But just tonight within a span of last 8-9 hours, I’ve told her things I probably wouldn’t otherwise. And so did she. We asked if the taxi would wait for us for an extra £10. We needed a lot of wine but we didn’t have an awful lot to choose from. We had a crate of beer, six bottles of wine and a bottle of Smirnoff and plenty of nuts and Pringles. And a box of Alka Seltzer. Back in the cab, I put down the bag on the floor, so we had to sit next to each other. “Do you think we had enough for three?”. “Haha well, if we had a bit more time, I’d say no, Damien!”. “Well, we got the hangover medicine”. Every time we went around a roundabout or the taxi took a turn, we lurched one side to another, and I suddenly felt different sitting next to her. I sort of waited for the next turn. And I kept telling myself that it’s just the alcohol.

“So what’s the deal with Maddie? I can see you sort of cringe when anyone calls you that”. “Well I blame Vicky for that. She calls my name in front of pretty much everyone”. “What’s wrong with that?”. “Nothing. But I got the name in school, people used to call me Damo, then Maddo and then one day it’s changed to Maddie and it stayed on. I don’t dislike it, and as I grew up, all my friends called me Maddie, but I don’t like it when people I’m not so familiar with calls me that”. “Why? It’s kind of cute!”. “I think it’s only for friends. I don’t mind Aaron calling me that, but when other ones call me Maddie I feel like punching them in the nose”. “Haha. You’re funny Damien…so…would you feel like punching me if I called you Maddie?”. “Shit, no…I guess I can treat you as friend. Can I?”. “Ya, why not?”. “Cool”.

Aaron was waiting for us in his flat. I think finally it’s time for the booze to flow. We sat down in his hastily tidied up lounge. He wouldn’t have bothered if it was just me. Tim was asleep on the other sofa and I could smell a lot of air freshener to overcome the stench. Ellie sat down on the corner and put the recliner on. I thought it’s not great for three of us sitting next to each other when we want to have a chat. I grabbed a few cushions and sat on the rug. “Come up here mate, plenty of space on the sofa”. “You see Aaron, he doesn’t want to sit next to me, isn’t that right Damien?”. I was going to say something silly but then realised what happened last time. I think Ellie noticed my hesitation and she tried to look away from me. “Go on then, I won’t mind if you compare me to something else”. I thought I found a neutral judge in Aaron, “You see Aaron, ever since I joked about lamppost, I’m being reminded every fifteen minutes. As if I mean anything when I joke!”. “Yeah, he doesn’t Ellie, he’s a nutter!”. “Oi! Watch it! You don’t want me to spill the beans, do you?”. It was an empty threat, I don’t know anything much about Aaron’s personal life, but he said “Anyway, what’s wrong about this lamppost lark? Look at him”, he was pointing at me, “He looks like a bloody lamppost”. “You’re right Aaron! He does look a bit…haha”. We all laughed at the silly jokes before Ellie said, “I wouldn’t mind looking like a lamppost though. I might pull a few more blokes”. “Oh come off it Ellie. What’s wrong with the one you already have?”. I kept quiet, and watched her. Her face was unfazed; eyes stuck to the tele, perhaps deliberately. Then she said casually “He’s fucking a bimbo in Florida where he trains”. “Oh what a dick!”. “Yeah, sorry to hear that Ellie!”. “I just told you an hour ago!”. Shit, what’s she’s playing at? Or is it that she’s enjoying pulling my leg with things I won’t make a joke at? “Well then, sorry to hear that again!”.

I saw a look of disbelief in her eyes. Did it sound like a sneer? I looked at her and she’s looking at the TV again. Aaron probably sensed the uneasiness and said, “Whatever, forget about the slag. It’s his loss Ellie”. “Probably it is, but that doesn’t fill me up with great joy seeing someone I love falling for other women…obviously more good-looking than me!”. “Oh come off it! I’d date you if I was single. Won’t you Maddie?”. Oh that bastard dropped me in it again! Does he want that we hook up or sleep together? I don’t understand what his game was. “Oh…yes, of course…I’d date you as well”. “Don’t lie, Damien, I’ve seen your girlfriend! Gosh, you are patronising!”. “I think the question was…if I’d date you if I were single”. I saw something change in her face, as if a light went off somewhere that made the glow on her face disappear. “Oh yes of course Damien!”. We sat there in silence before Aaron got up and went to toilet. Ellie already drank a bottle of wine and now halfway through the second. “Is it me again? I’m sorry if I upset you”. “No Damien it’s just how things are at the minute. I’m a bit messed up that’s all. Sorry to let you in it”. “Look I’ve only really known you for last few hours. But I can say without being silly or anything that you are really a nice person, you’ve done amazing things in your life, don’t forget all that because some prick thought otherwise”. “Thanks, Damien, you’re very kind but that’s not enough, being a nice person, is it?”. “It is in fact. And to be honest you are attractive, you got sexy curves, nice tits, and a really pretty face, where do you look in the mirror that you don’t like?”.

If the light in the lounge was bright enough, I could probably have seen her face go bright red. And she could see the same on my face. “Your description of being attractive made me feel so cheap now! And you’ve been perving on me as well!”. “No I wasn’t, and what’s wrong thinking nice ass when I saw one?”. “In many ways Damien, but let’s not spend the rest of the night on that. It’s easy for you to say those things but you didn’t have to mean it—”. I don’t know what came over me. I crawled on my knees towards Ellie and took her hand, and said, “No I did mean it, all of it”. She snatched her hand away as Aaron’s shout from the toilet broken the intensity of the situation. He said he’s looking for some spirit he hid in the kitchen. “Come outside Ellie, the balcony is nice! Need a fag?”. “Ya, let’s go”. I opened the sliding door into the steel balcony. It’s a tiny square area, but gives an amazing view of the esplanade. It was chilly and the sea breeze blasted our face. I wanted to get her away from lounge so Aaron doesn’t hear what we were talking about. She sighed and said “Look, I don’t want to be a house wrecker, just because it happened to me. Vicky seems to be a nice girl—”. I thought she’d try to lecture me as if I didn’t know what I meant. “Nor do I Ellie. There’s more to us than meets the eye. Okay I’ll tell you but you must promise not to say this to anyone. I know I can trust you but please, it’s sensitive”. “Don’t tell if it’s that sensitive”. But I told her all, about us, about Vicky and Sharon. Her face didn’t give it away that she was surprised but it she kept looking away when I looked at her. “So you’re offering me to be your bit on the side because your partner doesn’t sleep with you anymore?”. I could sense the sneer in her voice. It does always work when you make the other person feel that they are better off than me. “For fuck’s sake no! I meant things look perfect when they may or may not be in reality. You thought I was patronising but I meant I found you attractive. It doesn’t mean that I want to sleep with you”. “What’s with holding the hand then? You nearly freaked me out. One moment you were saying I got nice tits, then grabbing my hand and you’re drunk as well. I thought I’d have to pepper spray you!”. “Get out! I just held your hand to make you understand that I actually meant it”. “That makes you an almost boyfriend, which means nothing to me”. “Good. Now you see the point of being on your own than being with crap men”. She laughed out and stubbed her fag out in the ashtray. I lit up another cigarette but she said she’s cold and is going inside soon.

I stared into the sea far away, and thought about Melbourne and how this stretch of water is connected to my home, like an umbilical cord. A bloody long one though! I thought about the situation between Vicky and me. Was it a good idea telling Ellie all about it? She might blabber it out to her mates at work, who knows! But it felt good confiding in someone. The question is at what cost though! I’d soon know. I felt her hand on my shoulder. She hasn’t gone inside then! “Damien, I’m really sorry about you and Vicky. Don’t worry, I’ll tell no one”. “Thanks”. “Come here you!”. She pulled me towards her, and gave me a hug. I didn’t know what that hug was for and what I should do with my hands, should I hold her or just leave them dangling, with a burning cigarette in one, which I cupped inside my palm to stop burning a hole in her dress. She steadied herself and said, “Thanks for everything tonight Damien, wish we spoke before. You’re coming in now aren’t you?”. “Ya, lemme finish my fag”. She went inside and I wondered what that hug was about, or whether it was just a nice gesture.

After I went in, I noticed that Aaron has already set the scene with his famous chess board shot glasses for truth or dare. We had the Smirnoff open and he found his sambuca and tequila. He poured all in each glass, then said he’s going to ask the first question to me. I’ve played this quite a few times with small or large number of crowd in Aaron’s flat. “Can’t you think of anything else Aaron? We’ll soon run out of secrets!”. “Yeah, but I’m setting this up for you two, so you can know as much as you want about each other!”. “What are you, a hookup agent?”. “No, but even I can sense the tension between you two”. “Now you two LISTEN! I don’t know what you’re talking about, but if this carries on, I’m going to leave. I came here to avoid these sort of cheap shit!”. I had to tell Aaron off as well, “Aaron, cut it mate. Let’s just drink”. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t play Damien, but don’t need these constant innuendos. That’s more like your bitch club!”. “Ignore him Ellie, I warned you before, he’s a perv! He said he’d fuck anything that’s got a fanny, didn’t you Aaron?”. “I did mate, anyway are we playing?”. “Yes of course!”.

I chose dare knowing it’ll be drinking shots. “Hey that’s not fair! What’s the point of playing if you’d just choose to dare and drink all the shots!”. “Well, you know what to do. Dare me something else to do!”. I regret saying that. None of them were in their full sense to suggest that. But now that I gave them the idea, I wonder what weird plans they’ll come up with. “Sniff your socks for 15 seconds”. It wasn’t too bad, considering my feet don’t sweat much. But it was not very pleasant either, and I missed my drink. Aaron chose truth and so did Ellie but seems like this will go on forever. I chose to dare again, and was told to record on YouTube that Steve Coogan is a shitface. I wonder if that would be a good idea to slander our director but I did that anyway. I left it there for 2 minutes then took it off. Aaron chose truth again and I asked him if he wanked off at work and describe how he did it. He was bloody embarrassed to say that all in detail but Ellie seemed to be amused by the idea. When it was my turn, I said, “Look I’ll choose double dare, for double drink otherwise these shots will still be lying here tomorrow evening!”. “Okay, deal Damien. So strip off and stand in the balcony for a minute”. I don’t know where she gets these ideas from but I guess next time I’ll choose truth. “Ow! Ow! Hold on, I’m still here, I’m gonna get evicted if someone sees him. I don’t want to see your dangling cock, thank you! You can carry on your sexual stuff later, I’m gonna go to bed in half an hour”. “It wasn’t sexual, anyway I take standing up and starting taking your trousers off as dare so you can have your shots”.

It went downhill pretty soon. Aaron chose dare and I asked him to take five shots in a minute, so did Ellie and for a change, she dared me to do the same. That was a mistake! I felt my throat was on fire. I can’t remember how many drinks I had throughout the night, maybe 20 or so, but the shots tipped the balance and it hit me hard. We all thought that it was too much and stick to truth questions but it went all bizarre when Aaron asked Ellie if she fancied anyone at work. I looked at her and she just said yes. But she won’t tell the name. We said it’s not fair but she insisted that it’ll have to wait for next turn and she kept choosing dare. And she kept asking me awkward questions. Aaron tried to stop but I said it’s fine. So they now know that I was in attended orgies, been dogging and where! But I guess they won’t remember tomorrow. Just to keep things vague I asked the same questions to Aaron, which all ended up in a no. I counted that there are still 12 shots and Aaron took 2 and said he’s had enough. He showed where Ellie will be sleeping and said once we finished having sex I could come back to the other sofa. I said, “Don’t be daft!”. Ellie didn’t say anything. I don’t know if it was the drink or intentional. Aaron reminded us not to be silly at the balcony and went to bed. I suggested we had the fag then think about going to sleep.

We sat down in the balcony this time, not taking any risks. “So you don’t want to finish the drinks?”, She asked. “It’s too many really. I thought Aaron would drink a couple more!”. “We’re pissed anyway Damien. Few more won’t make any difference”. “True, true. By the way, I liked your ideas of dares, they’re wicked!”. “Would you like to continue?”. Looked at the phone. It’s 4:55. I wish I booked the day off today. “Yes, why not? But not too long maybe wrap up in half an hour?”. “Yes that’s fine. I can’t believe you were that honest. People would make up things—”. “Depends on the crowd. I told you things about Vicky and me, so telling the rest isn’t a big deal!”. “It’s an eye-opener for me. I haven’t been very adventurous”. Her voice is a bit slurred. I don’t know if mine has changed, being drunk means you think you’re normal and in control, while everyone else thinks otherwise. I laughed out. She looked at me through the screen of smoke between us and said what’s so funny about her admitting that. “It’s wasn’t you, sorry Ellie. I was thinking we talked about all this in truth and dare but can you imagine asking a random colleague if they’ve been out dogging?”. She giggled. “Yeah I can think what their face would be like. Excuse me!”. She went inside as I continued to smoke. The sky is still dark and I don’t think it’ll start to get lighter for a while. She came back after five minutes, bringing four shots with her. “I like it here, can we sit here for a bit? I need a few more fags to clear my head. I’m too pissed now”. “If you admit you’re pissed then you’re probably not. Or beyond care haha”. “Probably the latter”. “Probably”. We picked up two shots, “Prost”. “Prost!”. “Damien, you know when you first came here, I thought you’re an arsehole”. “You’re probably right. What matters is what you think of me now. I wouldn’t mind if you still think the same”. “Well that feeling has changed”. “Great. What happened to your legs aren’t you cold?”. I just noticed she had taken the tights off before she came back. “My legs are hurting”.

“Ellie, I was dying to ask you this all evening”. “Go on then!”, she looked surprised. “It’s your name, do you like it? Do you feel uncomfortable telling it to the others?”. “Oh that!”. She seemed visibly disappointed, perhaps expected something else. “No, that’s my full name Ellishera Careless-Oosthuizen. I don’t know how my mum came up with the name, but she heard that name when she was in Namibia. I don’t love it, but I won’t be too bothered to change it either. And yes, before you can ask, you can call me that if you wish to, without fear of losing your balls!”. She lit another cigarette and said, “Damien, without playing truth or dare, would you answer honestly if I asked you something?”. “I will, but it’s my turn first”. “Fine”. “Are you a princess type or the tomboy type?”. “What do you mean?”. “Well you have ideas about life. The girls I’ve met they either think life’s a fairytale and they are princesses. Then there are the types who are tomboys who give a fuck to anything and does what they want”. “Well, Damien, I’ve done a lot of things like riding, diving, roughing up when I was in Africa…so you can call I was a tomboy, but I want a happily ever after as well”. “Oh you had to be bloody difficult!”. “I like it being difficult! What’s Vicky then?”. “Oh, she is a combination of tomboy and a bitch”. “Erm…We haven’t had this conversation. What’s this have to do with my question anyway?”. “Nothing, it was just a random thought. But you didn’t get me about the bitch comment. I tell her every day! She doesn’t get offended. Okay your turn. Ask away!”. Her voice is really slurred now. “Tell me, do you like me?”. I kept quiet a minute. My mind is all fuddled now with so many shots. And now I’ve got a great sense of conscience under the influence of booze. “Of course I like you. I spent the whole evening and night with you Ellie. Would I have done that otherwise?”. “Not what I asked you Damien”.

She stood up and put out her cigarette. She walked over to me and half sat on my stretched legs and wrapped her arms around my neck and said, “Look straight into my eyes and tell me, do you fancy me?”. “I do a bit Ellie. But you are a princess girl, I have nothing to offer you. I still love Vicky”. “What’s the princess girl nonsense?”. “I love Vicky. And perhaps I’d like to be a bit closer with you than how we’ve been, I live in a relationship where it is like that. But I guess that’s not all that you want…and what you want is a stable relationship, all on your own, and I don’t want to waste your time. I genuinely like you, and perhaps in another parallel universe in a different dimension, we’d take this forward, but stuck in reality, it’s all going to end in broken hearts”.

I could see the pain in her eyes. I’m pretty sure that it’s not me she wanted, but to be in a relationship like she was before. My legs are aching because of the way she’s sitting on them. Her legs look very pale, almost translucent, just like her arms and face. I could kiss her, she was that close, and the moment was just right. But I watched her get off my legs, and pull the door open. “I don’t know what you’re talking about Damien. You’re totally pissed…It’s late Damien. And I’ve grovelled enough, it’s getting me down. I’m gonna go lie down”. “Okay Ellie, will you speak to me later or are we back to being strangers?”. “Of course I’ll talk to you. Night night Damien”. “See ya later alligator”. She walked along the long corridor that joins the lounge to the main bedroom where Aaron’s sleeping. She went into the spare room on the door and shut the door.

Fuck! Would it have hurt to play along with her, at least for tonight? Would she have remembered this chat tomorrow when she’s sober? I felt like an asshole, left alone, abandoned by my puritanical righteousness. Rather Right-ass-ness, I thought. Driven by the same urge of doing the right thing, I started cleaning Aaron’s lounge, drained away leftover shots, put all the snacks away in the kitchen, picked crumbs off the carpet, then turned off the light and lay down on the sofa. I stared at the ceiling where the street lamps below threw some light, and I couldn’t shut my eyes. The entire evening started to unfurl in front of my open eyes, like a collage of snapshots, and it was only about Ellie — how she caught my eyes watching her, her smiles and laughter, her hair blowing in the sea breeze, her shiny brown eyes through a fog of smoke looking at me asking for answers. And the reel of images finished with her sitting on my leg, her arms around my neck, and her legs…and those eyes that told me a lot tonight, yet all I did was to break her heart. Filled with resentment and disappointment, I closed my eyes. The party is over.


I woke up with a terrible thirst. And a banging headache. I felt relieved remembering that there’s Alka Seltzer. I looked at the ceiling half-asleep and the moment I closed my eyes, I saw Ellie. She stood in the corridor between the lounge and the toilet. She’s stark naked, standing with her hands on the walls, as if trying to prevent me going past her. The spotlights along the corridor made her look like a mannequin in a display window, so real, yet so impeccable that she couldn’t be. She may not be very tall but with her hair falling on her bare shoulders, her massive breasts that defied gravity, and her strong legs joined at the groin with triangularly shaped pubes, she was more surreal than how I remembered her. The only colour on her was a shiny deep red stone on the ring of her navel, As I walked up to her, she undid my shirt buttons, and ran her fingers along my chest. Without saying any word, I bent down and kissed her, and then looked at her. The big shiny brown eyes looked at me, and possibly looked through me, as I saw her face transform into Cyrielle’s, the French woman we went camping with, then to other women we slept with before, and it was Ellie again in the end. She took my hand and took me into her room.

I opened my eyes again! Shit! It was only a dream! It was so real and I was about to sleep with her! I tried to focus and looked around. This space looks like a small room and I’m lying on a single bed. What! That must be the room Ellie slept in last night. I looked around again. She was nowhere to be seen. But then, just like a long forgotten memory, I smelled Ellie’s scent. The perfume she was wearing last night. Nah, it can’t be true! I must be dreaming, this is just a dream inside a dream. But in the first dream, I was going to have sex with her. It felt pretty horny. I decided to close my eyes again, possibly inside my second dream, where trace of Ellie’s scent is still lingering.


“Easy tiger!”. She muffled through her heavy breathing as I pushed her on the wall. Our bodies thrashing and twisting like two mating cobras, and Ellie completely drained me out of strength. We seem to be going on forever! It’s just like how we smoked on the way to the cash point this evening – one after another after another. It started gently and as we explored each other’s bodies, the levels were pushed further out. After we finished yet another climax, and I felt burnt and bruised by her scratches and bites, I asked, “C’mon Ellie, let’s lie down now and get some sleep”. “Not yet! I’ve waited for this for months!”. “What do you mean?”. “I didn’t tell who I fancied at work did I?”. “Who is it?…Me! Of all the other blokes?”. “You, always! And I was right on another thing as well”. She winked at me. “What’s that?”. “Let’s say room had been half empty before!”. “Sounds like you’ve been deprived”. “Yes, long time!”.

The scene changed. She’s lying on her back, and I’m lying down with my face on her stomach, pulling her ring while trying to make eye contact looking past her large breasts that even lying down, remained upright. “Ellie, I think I got a few confessions to make”. “Really, what’s that?”. “Last night I reacted clumsily making the lamppost joke. I guess because Aaron had said something that was at the back of my mind!”. “I know! Didn’t I tell you? What are the others then?”. “I have been perving on you since I’d been here. It’s like scanning your body every day, getting the details finer and finer in your mind. You turned up just how I imagined you to be”. “Hmm…then I got one as well. I’ve been having sex with you in my mind for quite some time now!”. “And how do you rate me compared to the virtual one?”. “Much better. You can only imagine up to a point. I can see why Vicky is stringing you along. So what’s your other confession then?”. “Well, I have never seen tits like yours before!”. “Then why are you ignoring them?”. And she pulled my hand to her breasts. “Here you go!”.


I woke up again. Fuck! I feel really horny now! And I missed the sex again in my dream! This must have been the best erotic dream of my life, and the worst one by how much frustrated it left me. I blinked my eyes. Yes, they are open. And I’m definitely lying on the small bed, not the sofa in the lounge. Ellie’s perfume is still lingering but she can’t be seen in this room. I got out of the bed, wondering what I was doing in this room. Did she go out this morning and I came in later on? As I stood on my feet, barely keeping my balance, I realised that I haven’t got any clothes on. Did I undress after I came inside this room? This all must have been a big dream. I’ll soon wake up and see Aaron and Tim and Ellie. I put clothes on and stepped outside the room. I must wake up in the lounge, to be sure that it’s a dream! But Aaron is nowhere, nor is Tim. I called their names, no answer. There’s no one in this flat, nor any note for me. I decided to pull the curtains.

That’s when the reality lunged back at me, just as the bright sunny day dazzled my eyes. The curtain opened to a busy Friday Brighton that is far from my imagination. My head is pounding, and so are my eyes. I felt crestfallen. That dream was so vivid. Yet I can’t imagine any of that happened in reality. I tried hard to remember what happened last night and the last thing I could recall was her going into her room. I took an Alka seltzer drink and sat down on Aaron’s sofa. I sat there and closed my eyes again so they stop hurting. I also hoped if I could find out some clue on what exactly went on this morning since the time I remember. Trying to remember didn’t result in anything, but closing my eyes seems to bring out a lot of images that actually happened last night.


This time it took a while to dream Ellie. The bright room made it impossible to fall asleep, so I had to draw the curtains again. I tried to think of the time the last dream ended, with my hand in Ellie’s tits. But it didn’t continue like that. I tried to force the dream to move forward, but I was awake, so all I could see was a continuous repeat of the same instance. Until I went back to sleep properly, and the images changed.

We are lying half sat next to each other, my arm around her. Her hand still wrapped around my cock, and I don’t think she’s going to let it go. “Oh, it was amazing! How about you, Ellie?”. “Same here! It was fab”. “Hey, we both agreed on something!”. We both laughed. Then she spoke again in her slurred voice, “Damien, I’ve wasted many years trying to be satisfied with a mean prick and a tiny cock. But ya, listen carefully!”. “What is it?”. “Let’s be blunt, would you just want to have sex sometimes? None of us disliked it, it’ll be no strings attached til me or you move on with our lives and situations?”. I wondered what Vicky would think. But she can’t say much, she’s already with Sharon, well partly. She can’t be jealous of us. “Why not?”, I thought. Friends with benefits, hmm…”You won’t be those psycho bitches, will ya? Stalking and chasing me, or worse?”. “What do you think? You said you don’t give a fuck to anybody! What is it? Vicky?”. “No, she would be fine with it”. I couldn’t see her face clearly but I could sense her eyes are watching all my reactions closely. “But…?”. “Nothing…Tell you what Ellie, fuck it, if you want me in, I’m in!”. “Like you had any choice, I control this gear anyway”. And squeezed that fist that was wrapped around me. We laughed out loud again, the gloomy cloud that hovered over us during the early morning has lifted. “There might be a little treat for you every day, Damien!”. “What do you mean?”. “If you want, you can touch my tits every day!”. “”You’re a sicko. How can we do that?”. “At the front stairwell, while leaving”. “Are you crazy?”. “Nope. Everybody uses the back one to get to the car park. So what say?”. “Well…I hope there isn’t CCTV on the stairwell!”. “Get ready then. Let’s get ready for work. You can have your first treat today!”.


I woke up much calmer this time. I exactly knew where I was, but none the wiser on this morning. This has been a dream indeed! Everybody else must have gone to work! I’m glad the dream ended with a happy note, but now the sad feeling engulfed me, thinking how I remember, it didn’t end like this with Ellie.

Suddenly, it dawned on me! Shit! It was always supposed to be that way! The dream was just happening inside my head to tell me how it could have ended. I thought I must see Ellie today and tell her what I feel about her. I doubt Vicky would be annoyed, especially when she knows Ellie as much as she knows all the gossip about her! She’ll probably be taunting me all the time! I had a hot shower and put on the same clothes I was wearing, with the intention to get changed inside the disabled toilets. I found my phone under the sofa. It’s 2:10PM! We were supposed to be back at 11. There are 30 missed called from Vicky and Aaron, and many texts from Vicky. I just read the last one that said “Aaron told me that you slept at his. Can we go home together tonight Maddie?”. I didn’t understand the tone of that text. What did Aaron tell Vicky? Was there anything to tell?

I almost ran the 1km stretch from Aaron’s flat to our office. It was 2:30 by the time I got changed. As I walked through the corridor, there was a loud cheer and wild whistles. Lots of claps. Except Ellie. Of course! I sat down on Prakash’s seat again. I could not do anything today, but wanting to speak to Ellie. She looked at me a few times as well. I noticed something changed in her. She looked different. She smiled at me, but I don’t know what to make of it. Does she not remember what happened last night? I must find a moment to speak to her alone about my feelings.

About 3:30 she got up from her seat and went past the end door that leads to the toilet block. I went behind her and decided to stay there until she came back. This was the longest 5 minutes in my entire life. I’ve been rehearsing what I’m gonna say to her, but I wasn’t pleased with any of them. Then I heard the latch, and the door opened. It was her.

Suddenly all my courage and carefully chosen words have all vanished and I just stood there, in front of her. “Hi Ellie”. “Damien”. “I…I got something to tell you”. “Okay, go ahead!”. “About last night, I’ve been really stupid. A total asshole”. “What are you talking about?”. “When I was telling you about meeting you in a different dimension and all…—”. “Ah yes, and I remember how your dimensions changed very quickly”, she said as she took a couple of steps forward to stand right against me. She ran her index finger on my chest just like she did in the dreams. I looked at her in shock and surprise! And the word just came to me. Yes! She looks radiant. The dimples on her cheek are permanently pronounced as if she’s constantly trying to stop smiling. Did the last night really happen then? “See you in the stairwell then in half an hour!”. She walked past me, leaving the door swinging. The lines between reality and dreams blurred away. Suddenly Brighton doesn’t feel that terrible place anymore!

I still don’t believe it. This better not be another bloody dream! I’m gonna kill Christopher Nolan otherwise.

Sexism, Social Media

Rose McGowan’s Twitter suspension is entirely in keeping with their existing (awful) policy

Grow up Tw@tter!

Another angry woman

Content note: This post discusses sexual violence and rape threats

Actor Rose McGowan has been suspended from Twitter, for speaking out against sexual violence in Hollywood. It’s likely that what got her kicked was telling Ben Affleck to fuck off for his role in covering for a sexual abuser.

I know a fair amount about Twitter suspensions. While I’ve only ever been on the wrong end of one, once–if I remember rightly, I told a man to fuck off, too–many of my friends have been suspended. There’s two ways in which it goes down: swearing at a verified account, or being mass-reported by people in an orchestrated silencing attempt. These mass-reports happen, usually, when a man is offended–or a transmisogynistic bigot, who, as we know, borrow all their tactics from the Nazi playbook.

The problem is becoming so prevalent, I’ve set up a back-up account for when the fash…

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Bengali, Cuisine

ফিশ কবিরাজি আর মিষ্টি দই হ্যাক

এবার দুটো চটজলদি রান্নার পদ্ধতি লিখছি। প্রথমটা আমার আবিষ্কার, দ্বিতীয়টি আমার কলেজের এক বন্ধুর, আমি টুকে শেয়ার করছি।

ফিশ কবিরাজি

ফিশ কবিরাজির অনেক রেসিপি ইন্টারনেট ঘাঁটলে পাওয়া যাবে। সেগুলো আমার এই কবিরাজির চেয়ে ঢের ঢের ভালোও হবে আশা করা যায়। তবু এই পদটা শেয়ার করলাম কারণ প্রথম থেকে শেষ পর্যন্ত এটা রান্না করতে ১০-১৫ মিনিট সময় লাগবে। এতো তাড়াতাড়ি আর কোনো হাঙ্গামা ছাড়া কবিরাজি রেসিপি হয়তো খুঁজে পাওয়া দুষ্কর।

ফেসবুকের দৌলতে অনেক নতুন ব্যাপার-স্যাপার ই চোখে পড়ে, সেরকমই কলকাতার এক গ্রুপ আছে যেখানে রকমারি বাঙালি ও অবাঙালি খাবারের খোঁজ পাওয়া যায়। বিদেশে আসার পর থেকে অনেক খাবারের জন্যই হাপিত্যেশ করতাম কিন্তু আস্তে আস্তে বেশিরভাগ খাবারই দেখলাম কিনতে পাওয়া যায় অথবা হুবহু এক না হলেও অন্য দেশের খাবার পাওয়া যায় যা আমাদের খাবারের মতোই। যেমন মোমো খাবার ইচ্ছে করলো তো পোলিশ দোকানে গিয়ে কিনে নিলাম পিয়েরোগি, ভাজলে ফ্রাইড মোমোর মতন স্বাদ। যাহোক, তা নিয়ে অন্য একদিন লেখা যাবেখন। দু-তিনটে খাবার তবে পাওয়া দুষ্কর আর তাদের জন্যে সেইজন্য হাপিত্যেশও বেশি। সে সব খাবারের মধ্যে এক হলো ফিশ বা চিকেন কবিরাজি। এছাড়াও আছে ঢাকাই পরোটা, ইলিশ মাছের ডিম্, ইলিশ শুঁটকি ইত্যাদি।

যাক ফিশ কবিরাজিতে ফেরা যাক। হ্যাঁ, রান্নার উপায় পড়ে আমাকে গালি দিতে শুরু করবেননা যেন, আগেই বলেছি এটা শর্টকাট রান্না। বিশেষ করে প্রবাসীদের জন্যে। টাটকা ভেটকি মাছের ফিলে দরকার নেই এই কবিরাজির জন্যে। বাজার থেকে কিনুন Breaded Fish যেগুলো সাধারণত ওভেনে বেক করতে হয়। Basa , Hake, Haddock অনেক প্রকারের মাছই পাওয়া যায়। মাছ গুলোকে ওভেনে বেক করে নিন বা তাওয়াতে অল্প তেল দিয়ে ভেজে নিন। প্যাকেটে যতক্ষণ রান্না করতে বলা আছে তার চেয়ে ৫ মিনিট কম রান্না করুন, কারণ কবিরাজি বানানোর সময় আর একবার ভাজা হবে। এবার খানিক লেবুর রস, কাঁচালঙ্কা আর রসুন বাটা-র একটা কাই তৈরী করে মাছের অল্প ভাজা টুকরোগুলোর ওপর আলতো করে মাখিয়ে নিন। এবার একটা চওড়া পাত্রে বেশ কিছু ডিম্ ফেটিয়ে নিন। তাতে অল্প নুন, গুঁড়ো মরিচ দিতে পারেন। এবার কড়াই বা ফ্রাইং প্যানে অনেকটা তেল দিয়ে ফেটানো ডিম্ অল্প অল্প করে ছিটিয়ে দিতে হবে। একসাথে অনেকটা দিলে কবিরাজির জায়গায় ওমলেট হয়ে যাবে, তাই খেয়াল রাখতে হবে খুব ছোটো ছোট ফোঁটার আকারে দিতে। whisk ব্যবহার করতে পারেন, নাহলে হাত ডিমের মিশ্রনে ডুবিয়ে কড়াইতে হাতটা ঝেড়ে নিন। তেল বেশ গরম হওয়া দরকার। এবারে বেশ কিছুটা ডিম্ দেয়ার পর আস্তে আস্তে খাস্তা হয়ে ভেজে ওঠা ডিমগুলো যখন একসাথে জুড়ে জুড়ে একটা bedding তৈরী করেছে তখন তার ওপর একটা মাছের টুকরো দিয়ে দিন। তারপর আবার এক প্রস্থ ডিম্ ছড়িয়ে দিন মাছের টুকরোর ওপর। সাথে সাথে না উল্টে প্রথমে হাতায় করে গরম তেল ডিমের ওপরে দিয়ে দিন যাতে ওল্টানোর আগেই ডিমের ঝুরি তৈরী হয়ে যায়। এবার উল্টে আর এক-দেড় মিনিট রেখে তুলে নিন। সাথে কাঁচা পেয়াঁজ, শসা আর সর্ষের কাসুন্দি দিয়ে গরম গরম পরিবেশন করুন।

ফিশ কবিরাজি সাথে কাসুন্দি আর শসাকুচি

ফিশ কবিরাজি সাথে কাসুন্দি আর শসাকুচি

আর চিকেন কবিরাজি? মাছের বদলে কিনে আনুন চিকেন বা টার্কি escalope। বাকিটা কপি পেস্ট।

মিষ্টি দই

আমি যে সময় বড় হয়েছি তখন ঘরে ঘরে ফ্রিজ ছিলোনা। গরমকালে তাই মিষ্টির দোকান থেকে কিনে আনা ঠান্ডা মিষ্টি দইয়ের মাহাত্ম্যই ছিল আলাদা। সেই মিষ্টি দইয়ের পাশাপাশি আর একটা প্রথারও চল ছিল খুব, ঘরে পাতা দই। দইয়ের ভাঁড়ে থেকে এক চিলতে দই তুলে নিয়ে তাতে হালকা গরম দুধ দিয়ে সারা রাত রেখে দিলেই হয়ে যেত এই ঘরে পাতা দই। তারপর আবার সেই দইয়ের থেকে খানিকটা সাজা তুলে রেখে আবার পরের দিনের দই পাতা হতো। এভাবে চলতো বেশ কয় দিন, তারপর দইটা কেমন জল জল হয়ে আসতো আর স্বাদটাও হয়ে যেত কেমন ঝাঁঝালো। কলকাতার বাইরে মিষ্টি দই পাইনি, তাই তেমন খাওয়াও হয়নি এতদিন। এখানে সুপারমার্কেটে একটা বস্তু পাওয়া যায়, Creme Caramel. খেলে মনে হবে যেন লাল দই খাচ্ছি। আর এখানে yogurt বলে যেটা পাওয়া যায় তা আমাদের টক দইয়ের সমান। তাও আবার বেশ জোলো।

চটজলদি দই বানানোর এই পদ্ধতির কৃতীত্ব আমার ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং কলেজের এক সহপাঠিনীর। সংসার, ছেলেপুলে, ডক্টরেট এসব সামলেও বিভিন্ন জিনিস রান্না এবং তৈরির চেষ্টা করে। তার দইয়ের রেসিপি দেখে বিশ্বাসই হয়নি ব্যাপারটা এতো সহজ। অনেকটা আর্কিমিডিসের ইউরেকা বলার মতো, ছাগল এরকম একটা সহজ ব্যাপার এতদিন Zানতি পারনির মতো। এখানে বিলকুল কপি মারলাম রান্নাটা। তবে শেষে একটা সংযোজন রইলো যেটা আমার নিজের, খানিকটা ভুলক্রমেই আবিষ্কৃত।

যাক, মিষ্টি দই বানানোর জন্যে লাগবে খানিক Plain Yogurt আর কনডেন্সড মিল্ক। দুটোই সহজলভ্য, যেকোনো সুপারমার্কেটে পাওয়া যায়। এবার একটা মাইক্রোওয়েভ প্রুফ পাত্রে সমান পরিমান Yogurt আর কনডেন্সড মিল্ক নিতে হবে। মিষ্টি যদি একটু কম পছন্দ করেন তাহলে সামান্য কম কনডেন্সড মিল্ক, মোটামুটি ৬:৪ অনুপাতে মেশাতে হবে। হাতা বা চামচ দিয়ে পুরো মিশ্রণটাকে আলতো করে বেশ খানিকক্ষণ মিশিয়ে নিন। এরপর পুরো পাত্রটা মাইক্রোওভেয়ে দিয়ে, Medium পাওয়ারে কিছুক্ষন গরম করতে হবে। (আমার মাইক্রোওয়েভ ৭৫০W, আমি ৩০০ এ বেক করেছি) । কতক্ষন রান্না করতে হবে সেটা পরিমানের ওপর নির্ভর করছে। এক ছোট বাটি করতে ১ মিনিট, ১ কেজি করতে প্রায় ১৫ মিনিট কিন্তু এক বারে ২ মিনিটের বেশি রাখবেননা। ওভেন থেকে বার করলে মিশ্রণটা তখনও একটা নরম থাকা দরকার, অনেকটা জেলির মতো, নাহলে দই জমাট হয়ে যাবে। ব্যাস, খানিকক্ষণ ঠান্ডা হতে দিয়ে সোজা পেটে চালান করে দিন, নাহয় ফ্রিজে রেখে খান ঠান্ডা মিষ্টি দই। গ্যারান্টি দিলাম দোকানের Yogurt বা Creme Caramel এর চেয়ে সম্পূর্ণ আলাদা স্বাদ পাবেন।

তাছাড়া অন্যান্য স্বাদও চেষ্টা করে দেখা যেতে পারে। যেমন কনডেন্সড মিল্ক পরিমানের আদ্ধেক দিয়ে, বাকিটা দিন mango pulp, আম দই হয়ে যাবে। আমি নলেন গুড় দিয়েও চেষ্টা করেছিলাম কিন্তু পরিমান ঠিক হয়নি, তাই দইটা কেটে গিয়েছিল।

মিষ্টি দই মাইক্রোওয়েভ থেকে বার করার পর

মাইক্রোওয়েভে মিষ্টি দই বানানোর পদ্ধতি। ভিডিওতে দেখুন।
(সূত্র: ঈশান টিউব )

এ তো গেলো চোথা মারা পার্ট। শেষটুকু ও বলে দি। বেশ খাচ্ছিলাম দই বাটি বাটি তৈরী করে, হঠাৎ শখ হলো এক গামলা দই বানাবো। ৫০০গ্রাম Yogurt আর ৩৯০গ্রাম কনডেন্সড মিল্ক দিয়ে দই বানাতে গিয়ে এতক্ষন লাগলো যে শেষে দইটা একদম জমাট বেঁধে গেলো। সেই মিষ্টির দোকানের হালকা নরম, চামচ চালালেই পরত পরত উঠে আসবে সেই ভাবটা আর নেই। কিন্তু খেতে গিয়ে মনে হলো আরে এ তো অনেকটা শ্রীখণ্ড। তাই বলি, যদি শ্রীখণ্ড বানাতে যান এই উপায়ে, একটু বেশিক্ষন মাইক্রোওভেয়ে রাখবেন আর শেষের ২ মিনিট ফুল পাওয়ারে। শ্রীখণ্ড বানানোর সময় এলাচ, জাফরান, পেস্তা কুচি এসবও অল্প দিয়ে দেবেন। তারপর ফ্রিজে রেখে দিন। জমে যাবে। পাক্কা।
nationalism, Politics, Racism, Terrorism

Charlottesville: Wake up call to the terrorism we’ve been silent about

I watched Imperium a few weeks back. I was interested in seeing the transformation of Daniel Radcliffe from the Harry Potter stereotype, as much as I was interested in the theme of the film. An FBI agent infiltrates white supremacist gangs and factions to foil a plot to use dirty bombs in a rally. It was a difficult film to watch, almost cringing at the actors portraying the faction members. And it was difficult to watch knowing the fact that it’s not just a film but a true reflection of the society. These groups exist and these ideologies exist — knowing that was revolting enough. But assuming in reality, the clans must be behaving like this as well made the feeling much worse. I knew that somewhere, this must be happening already, as we are sitting on a ticking time bomb, and it’s just a matter of time when it all blows up. The Charlottesville incidents just proved my fears; not the first instance, but certainly the most broadcasted event in the recent times. It’s time to wake up to racism, and terrorism. And more importantly, to rid off the media bias and call a spade a spade. Charlottesville attacks were terrorist attacks and the governments must gear up to quash such extremist views.

9/11 had permanently changed the world. It made the world polarised. On one side, 9/11 meant more woes to the Middle East because that would just let Uncle Sam interfere in the region in the name of national safety, something that it had been doing for a long time anyway. For the Middle East, American intervention is seen as a symbol of West’s imposition of supposedly higher moral values in the region. This resulted in spreading of Islamist extremism like a wildfire since 9/11 that didn’t stay localised in the Middle East but spread across the globe. Disgusting is the ideology — of killing people of different faiths and race, and disgusting are the people who preach this and carry out the attacks. This is straightforward geopolitics so far.

The infographic here shows how the extremist attacks happened across the world.
(Source: YouTube)

Yet the less talked about change about 9/11 is equally sinister, and it’s not easily perceived. 9/11 brought the fear into the minds of the people — especially in the west. That these extremists can run their killing spree in the west, and that it’s not an issue of mad people killing each other in a faraway land — it blew the bubble of security people were living in. Growing up in the subcontinent where India had been constantly battered by terrorist attacks, we never had that safety bubble that it wouldn’t happen to us. In a day, that absurdity suddenly seemed quite possible.

Fear brings the worst out of us humans. We lose our sense of reasoning and stop trusting people. We look at everyone with suspicion. The heightened fear of a Muslim extremist attack became so apparent that overnight anyone with a Muslim name or appearance was subjected to scrutinies, hate crimes and proving their allegiance to the state. I’d like to mention another brilliant film that captured the transition of mentalities about Muslims during this epoch — The Reluctant Fundamentalist. People felt threatened and wanted to do something to feel safe again. And that paved the path for white supremacy and neo-Nazism.


Poster from The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Source: Covering Media

White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi rhetoric is not new. They have always been around but never reached a critical mass since WWII, because most people didn’t believe in their threats, nor did the groups have issues to preach their hatred against. 9/11 gave them an enemy. And with people losing their sense of judgement, the white supremacist doomsday threats started to appear credible.

Extremism alone didn’t pave the path for these extremist right wing voices. Over last few decades, the world had become more mobile than it has ever been. With an increased level of business and exposure to education, geographical barriers seemed to be disappearing. That facilitated greater global mobility and it’s evident that the net immigration has increased in the West, especially if in G20 states. Also, apart from the skilled migrants, a number of unskilled immigrants had been on the rise as well, caused by heightened social, political and religious unrest in countries. More people in those conflict torn countries were forced to flee in fear of their life. Not only did these new immigrants raise fear of the increased risk of extremist attacks (“who can say they weren’t terrorist disguised as normal people” etc.), but businesses employed immigrants more to pay less for the same work.

And thus, migrants are linked to joblessness, social unrest, their inability to integrate into the society and imbibe ethos of the state. People started to have a feeling that the minorities have better privileges than the non-migrant population of the country. A feeling that they are losing control of the stronghold they had over the local communities. The situation has worsened with the global economic downturn, and the working class was hit by the housing bubble, unemployment, relocation, poverty. In desperate times, people look for either something to salvage themselves or blame someone for their misery. Immigrants were an easy target. And thus the majority of the large economies with a high net positive migration has witnessed a growing sense of nationalism.

I don’t see any difference between nationalism and racism. Nationalism is a concept to differentiate people who belong to the land, pledge their allegiance no matter if the state is right or wrong, and dissuade diversity. The plague of nationalism is on the surge across the world, but it’s particularly noticeable in the US and Europe. There are docile ones, such as outfits like organisers of #whitelivesmatter, and there are the Neo-Nazi clans. It is even horrific to find that the right-wing nationalist outfits are finding their feet as legitimate set-ups. Recent elections in France, Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland – nationalists have not only found their foothold in the legislative system but also were close to winning the elections in some cases. That was scary.

It was scary seeing nationalist parties gather so much support, with their politics of hate, but two biggest events last year completely upstaged the notion that common sense will prevail. The UK left the European Union, spurred by the campaign full of lies and scaremongering about immigration. And on the other side of the pond, Donald Trump has become the most powerful man on earth. Different countries, same rhetoric. The UK, despite its receding importance in the global political landscape, delivered a boost to all nationalist voices around the world. The aftermath of Brexit is, of course, the election of Donald Trump. Desperate working-class people, trying to change their living conditions, have fallen prey to the opportunist vultures, supported by expensive campaigns, sourced from the donors who benefit most from the election results.

It’s a long prelude to the Charlottesville attacks. The conflict was always due coming. The signs were all there. Brexit wasn’t that much of a threat on a global scale, although the heightened levels of hate and race crimes since the Brexit results show that a lot of people wore a mask before, of being open-minded, liberal – and suddenly, their true self is out in the open. But the biggest threat is the orange clown sitting at the White House. A complete moron with immense power is never a good combination and seeing all nationalist people across the world hailing him a hero, it spells danger. This may sound controversial, but Donald Trump, with all his shockingly horrific views on Americanism, being elected to the White House is equally cringeworthy as was the declaration of Al-Baghdadi his Caliphate. One’s vile, the other’s evil, both morons, both have thousands of moron followers who hails them and acts to their orders without thinking…you get the picture, right?

Charlottesville is scary for another reason. For the nationalists, the common demographic happened to be white working class – disenfranchised, marginalised public. However, many of the Charlottesville alt-right protesters were university students, a segment typically seen to be left wing. It is worrying that the sphere of influence has grown in size. The anti-immigrant nationalist rhetoric has reached beyond its grassroots support base. People are more prejudiced and eager to show their racial bias under the helm of the new leaders. Yet the situation observed in Charlottesville was more disturbing, seeing the alt-right drop its reformist mask and show their white supremacist face. They gave Nazi salutes, bore the Confederate cross, chanted anti-Semitic slogans, and then stooped to another low by planning to use murdered Heather Heyer’s funeral. This is the real face of America’s alt-right. If their agenda of nationalism is desperate, their white supremacist ideology is pure evil. And if you think that’s an American problem, you’re making the same mistake as done while branding Muslim extremism a Middle East problem. Just look at the anti-immigrant sentiment that swept through Britain post-Brexit. Then there are anti-Islam Britain First and EDL, who want to portray every Muslim in the UK as terrorists. But there’s a larger hidden threat, from lesser known outfits, such as National Action.

Terrorist. That’s a term I consciously avoided so far because media semantics is another area that needs immediate rethinking. Okay. Imagine a terrorist. What do you see? A Muslim man, long beard, possibly carrying a rucksack? Was it far off my guess? What about hate preacher? Middle age Muslim man with long beards and even better if he wore a cap? Well, as far as Islamist terrorist or hate preaching goes, these images probably match the profiles of the most notorious ones. How do the following people fit in the profile of a terrorist? Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, KKK, hundreds of killers involved in school shootings, IRA, ETA. They are all white, perhaps Christians as well. And that’s just one demographic section. There are examples from all corners of the world. There are governments carrying out organised ethnic cleansing – directly or indirectly. The new addition to that list of terrorists is James Fields. Yet, we seem to be too frivolous to use the term terrorist with Muslim attacks and try our best not to use the term for any other community. What about hate preachers? What about The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Britain First, EDL, Nigel Farage and UKIP, Front National, Jobbik, Geert Wilders, Golden Dawn? What about Katie Hopkins? And above all, the Donald Trump, spending more time posting halfwit tweets slagging off half the world’s population? Do you see these people as hate preachers? I guess not, but they no doubt are. The jihadi extremists do it in the name of their religion, and the other bunch does it from a moral high ground. They think they represent liberal western civilisation. They are wrong. Their views are as primitive as is the Islamist terrorists they are directing their hatred.

And this is what is worrying. That these opportunist people are given a platform – by the media, by the public, by the system – to spread their hatred. There was a speculation whether Charlottesville spelled the end of the alt-right in America. On the contrary, it was found that its supporters became bolder and flew Swastikas on their house in the open. It was all there in Charlottesville – Confederate flag, Swastikas, Nazi salute, chants like “Blood and soil” and “Jews won’t replace us”. It was a shameless display of blatant racism and equally shameful silence from a waste of a space president. He stayed silent as long as possible – which already emboldened the Neo-Nazis, and then a meek criticism that seemed completely unlike Donald Trump speech. His vocabulary does not stretch to repugnant. Then he made a U-turn by calling the protesters alt-left and tried to blame both parties of intolerance. And then he defended keeping the Confederate statues that caused the clash. The president spoke of bigotry, yet he turned out to be the biggest bigot during this crisis.

The killing of Heather Heyer and the two police officers are abhorrent. It was unfortunate that it took the death of three people to get the condemnation of the rally it deserved at the very first place. But it’s not all gloomy. The resistance and the counter-protests have gathered more supporters than the white supremacist militias did. It is a consolation that the picture is the same in most of the places, wherever the fascists held a rally, they either give up or outnumbered and overshadowed by the anti-racism supporters. There was a stream of photos that went viral where one Neo-Nazi is seen to be punched in the face after he did a Nazi salute. Now, the judgement is divided whether the use of violence was justified. Probably not. But let’s draw a parallel here. During an Islamist terrorist attack, the entire Muslim community is expected to prove their allegiance to the government, criticising the attack. If they don’t do it, it is expected that they discretely support terrorism. The white supremacists, on the other hand, adhere to the views of America’s dark racist past. If the Muslim terror suspects and sympathisers can be kept under surveillance and arrested, why couldn’t their counterparts? And lastly, it’s crazy how a Muslim terrorist is shot dead within seconds whilst Anders Breiviks and James Fields are safely led away by police, despite their crime was equally despicable. And supporting a movement that committed the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century, the neo-Nazis show that essentially there is no difference in them and the supporters of Islamist extremism. Their objective is no different. But there is not attempt to criticise them as terrorist sympathisers.

From that perspective, the best work is probably done by an anonymous twitter user @YesYoureRacist, by identifying all alt-right supporters on the rally. In a group, people do awful things, but when they realise that they are singled out, that might put an end to their little adventure with the big boys. It’s sort of vigilantism, which is a questionable trend, but it should have been the police and intelligence to identify them and monitor of their movements. They failed, so somebody had to bring it out in the daylight. The little escapades of these tin soldiers had to be made public. Some might end up losing jobs, being socially outcast in the community, rethink their mistakes and follow a normal course of life. The few others, let’s call them terrorist material, should then have to be kept under surveillance by the police as potential terror suspects.

Nazism didn’t happen in Germany overnight. It started with the election of an overzealous maniac by popular mandate. And the history repeated itself again last year. Unless uprooted at its nascent stage, it will be too late. The right-wing already are in the motion. They are given more voice in the media for some reason anyway. The popularity of the right-wing press is mind-boggling. Perhaps the media watchdog wanted to observe the freedom of speech a little more. But what is freedom of speech for rabid dogs? That’s what these fanatics are. It’s a pity that many feel marginalised in the new ethical world but joining a fanatical movement is not going to solve the problem. Brexit happened last year. Trump was elected eight months back. Where did all the promises go? Apart from the failed attempts to implement racist Muslim ban and the Mexico wall, Trump managed to do fuck all. Either people are already beginning to realise that it was all lies and empty boasts, or they are brainwashed enough not to see that nothing’s happening. They have become right-wing automatons. They can’t see that religion, culture, social cohesion — none of it is the root of the problem. It’s the wealth, and its distribution. This sentence might make you brand me as a Commie, but I don’t mind, just as I think that if you support this then you are a racist, and you are trying to sugar coat it with patriotism and culture and all other nonsense.

This is why, it is absolutely paramount that we do everything to prevent this wildfire of hatred. And for that, people will need to speak up. Disagreeing in silence will not give a clear message that you are opposed to the horrific ideas of the neo-Nazis. We need to square up to them. Protest can be as cynical as by brave Saffiyah Khan, smirking on the face of the Britain First scum, or literally punching them. You have to match them strength to strength. Violence cannot be the solution, but where the far-right form militias, hold camps on how to attack/fight the enemy (who is the enemy anyway?), or to the least, resort to intimidation and a racial slur, repeating lines of Das Kapital or Beatles is not going to make much difference, will it? There is no space for debate yet because that’s not what the Neo-Nazis are after. They have the pseudo alt-right mouthpieces like Milo Yannopoulos and Tommy Robinson but they are just red herrings, the agent provocateurs. They are dangerous as their reach spans the furthest, in terms of brainwashing the confused and misrepresented youth, but it’s the lesser known direct action groups that people need to watch out for. They are possibly hard to identify, and their whereabouts, therefore, stay unknown to the authorities and protestors. Take a parallel with the Islamist extremism. You have hate preachers like Anjem Chaudhury, who provokes the youth, and perhaps preaches them about carrying out attacks, but is never found to be linked directly to any of the terrorist attacks. Then you have/had the notorious terrorists like Bin Laden, Al-Baghdadi, the Samantha Lewthwaite…they are masterminds but are so heavily monitored that it’s unlikely that they’ll be involved in the attacks themselves. But it’s the unknown brainwashed misguided marginalised people, working in little sleeper cells, who are carrying out the majority of the terrorist attacks. London, Nice, Barcelona, Paris — it’s the less known or unknown faces that are involved in the attacks. Just like James Fields. An unknown and unsuspecting individual. It is important to gather and pass information so these terrorists are identified. Identified so police track their whereabouts and also identified amongst the anti-racism and other protest groups. Outnumbering the opposition is a great tactic and so far, it worked great in the UK where the protesters relentlessly outnumbered the right-wing demonstrators in every rally. And when the threat of white-supremacist zealots have calmed down, and people see the emptiness of their propaganda, then it’s the time to engage in talks. Talks to the vulnerable, underprivileged section of the population who have been continuously exploited and given false hope of a brighter future. It’s only by education, and by forming a truly inclusive society can we rid of the evils of racism and religious hatred.

Going back to where I started, talking about Daniel Radcliffe, I am a big fan of Harry Potter books. They drew inspiration from many modern day events and that’s why the significance of the books never fade away from the memory. You just keep on identifying incidents with the book, and you get a new meaning of the series. The reign of terror ran by Voldemort and his death eaters were reminiscent of the Nazi Germany. The persecution of the muggles and witches born in non-wizarding family reminded of the atrocities of the Third Reich. Apart from the historical accounts of the WWII, Harry Potter books showed how the reign of terror actually started. A sudden appearance of the dark mark in the sky. March of past by the death eaters. Death of an individual. The government’s attempt to play it down. Persecution of the ones who asked for tougher measures. Failures of the government to protect the vulnerable. Until it’s beyond control. This is how just things unfold in Harry Potter. And this is how the first signs have started appearing. Terrorism is evil for humankind. The governments are doing enough to curb Islamist terrorism, but not enough to eliminate the threats posed by the Neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, the alt-right. The threat should have been taken seriously for a long time, but the movement is nigh on getting its critical mass. It’s time to act fast. It’s not the time to be philosophical about the problem but quash it brutally, before it turns into a raging wildfire of communal hatred that will engulf our entire society irrespective of colour, race, religion.

I am an alarmist. And I see patterns. And the patterns like above do not bode well. At the end of Harry Potter, everybody fought together to defeat the evil forces of Voldemort. Battle of Hogwarts gave us hope. That in the end, the Good wins. Yet, the reality is far more complicated than the book. We don’t always get the happy ending. Can we fight together shoulder to shoulder forgetting our petty differences? Because that’s what is needed to achieve that goal. To give Donald Trump and his “fine people” alt-right a kick up their backside. Let’s hope that the history doesn’t repeat itself, and we keep on hoping that the threats of white-supremacist and far-right extremisms are uprooted at its nascent stage.

As I write this, 16 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Barcelona, two were killed in Finland, and there were a number of attempts including in Buckingham Palace, Paris and Brussels. So the threat of Islamist terrorism is very real, and it’s not going to be resolved in our lifetime. But creating another monster to eliminate that threat is suicidal. Killing terrorists or even surveillance are reactive measures, which is necessary, but not sustainable. The threat of homegrown terrorism can only be countered through the social inclusion of the youth. And it is essential to change the perception of the public on terrorism. All the events above are well covered in the media. What unfortunately didn’t get so much public attention is the fact that the death toll is much higher in a number of attacks carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Nigeria. Most of these are carried out by Islamist terrorists. The public apathy towards extremism outside Europe and North America is one of the main reasons how the dangers of religious/nationalist extremism have spread across the world. And the proliferation of the nationalism and racism. Islamist and Right-wing extremism aren’t even the two sides of the coin; they are absolutely identical in nature. They rely on hate, they are divisive and wants to destroy the fabric of the modern multicultural society. It’s reassuring that the threat of Islamist terrorism is well identified, but it’s also essential that we don’t turn a blind eye to the other. Wikipedia shows there are 199 terrorist attacks in August across the world. But Heather Heyer does not feature in that list of victims. She damn well should.
Bengali, east bengal, Sourav Ganguly

দাদাগিরি এবং ঘটি বাঙালের রেষারেষি

দাদাগিরি ১৯শে আগস্টের শো। সম্পূর্ণ এপিসোড।
(সূত্র: BDUpload )

আমি ইস্টবেঙ্গলের সমর্থক একদম ছোটবেলা থেকেই। উদ্বাস্তু পরিবারে জন্ম, বাঙাল আচার বিচার জীবনধারায় বড় হয়েছি, তাই ইস্টবেঙ্গল ছাড়া যে অন্য কাউকে সমর্থন করা যায় সেকথা কখনও মাথায়ই আসেনি। তারপর যত বড় হয়েছি যুক্তি তথ্য ইত্যাদি দিয়ে নিজের সব পছন্দ অপছন্দ গুলোকে আবার ঝালিয়ে নিতে হয়েছে। সেই নিক্তিতে পছন্দ অপছন্দের লিস্টিটারও অনেক অদলবদল হয়েছে। কিন্তু ইস্টবেঙ্গল ক্লাবের থেকে সমর্থন তুলে নেবার কথা কখনও মাথায়ই আসেনি, যতই সে ইপিএল বুন্দেসলিগা ইউএফা কাপের তাবড় তাবড় খেলুড়েরা টিভির পর্দায় কেত মারুক না কেন। ইস্টবেঙ্গল ক্লাব হলো ঘুরে দাঁড়ানোর নাম। ইস্টবেঙ্গলের সাথে জুড়ে আছে লক্ষ লক্ষ উদ্বাস্তু মানুষের লড়াই করার ইতিহাস। যদিও এখন যুগের ধর্ম মেনে আদ্ধেক খেলোয়াড়ই বিদেশী, তার মানেই যে দলের আদর্শ পাল্টে গেছে তা তো নয়। তার ওপর বন্ধুর দাদু ছিলেন ইস্টবেঙ্গলের ডাকসাইটে খেলোয়াড়, পাড়ার আরেক বন্ধুও খেলেছে ইস্টবেঙ্গলে, সেই সূত্রে ইস্টবেঙ্গলের সাথে একটা আত্মিক সম্পর্ক তৈরী হয়ে গেছিলো অনেক দিনের। এখন বহুদিন মাঠে গিয়ে খেলা দেখিনা, তবু মোহনবাগানের ইস্টবেঙ্গলের সাথে খেলা থাকলেই আবার ফিরে যাই কুড়ি পঁচিশ বছর আগে। তা কদিন আগেই দেখলাম দাদাগিরি নামের অনুষ্ঠানে নাকি কেউ একজন বাঙালদের নিয়ে অনেক কুরুচিকর মন্তব্য করেছে আর সৌরভ গাঙ্গুলী তাতে বাধা না দিয়ে আরো হাসাহাসি করেছে। এই নিয়ে ইস্টবেঙ্গলের ফেসবুক তোলপাড়। কেউ দাদার মুণ্ডপাত করছে তো কেউ সেসব ইস্টবেঙ্গল সমর্থকদের যারা ওই শোতে উপস্থিত ছিল। তোলপাড় হচ্ছে ইন্টারনেট, হওয়াটা দরকার, কিন্তু এপার বাঙলা ওপার বাঙলার রেষারেষির ভূমিকাটা জানা প্রয়োজন।

একশ বছর আগে বাঙালদের প্রতি বিদ্বেষমূলক ব্যবহার ছিল হয়তো দৈনন্দিন ঘটনা। আর সেভাবেই সৃষ্টি ইস্টবেঙ্গল দলের। ১৯২০ সাল থেকেই ইস্টবেঙ্গল মোহনবাগান ম্যাচ তাই ঘটি বাঙালের দ্বন্দ্ব হয়ে দাঁড়ালো। আওয়াজ টিটকারি ব্যঙ্গ বিদ্রুপ, বেশিরভাগ ক্ষেত্রেই এসবের লক্ষ্য ছিল বাঙালরা। দেশভাগের পর ভিটেমাটিছাড়া মানুষরা যখন পশ্চিমবঙ্গে এলো, তখন তাদের বেশিরভাগেরই এসেছে খালি হাতে। সরকার থেকে পুনর্বাসন মেলে কলকাতার শহরতলিতে যেখানে তখন জলাজমি ছাড়া আর কিছুই ছিলোনা। এক চিলতে জমি, সেখানে রোদ ঝড় জল মাথায় করে, দিন আনি দিন খাই করে শুরু হয়েছিল সেই মানুষগুলোর ঘুরে দাঁড়ানোর লড়াই। কোনোদিন কেউ কিছু পাইয়ে দেয়নি তাদের। নিজের সামর্থ্য আর একরাশ স্বপ্ন ছাড়া আর কিছুই সহায় ছিলোনা তাদের। বাকিটা ইতিহাস। বাঙাল মানেই টিঁকে থাকার লড়াই, উদ্যম অধ্যবসায়, পায়ের তলায় জমি খুঁজে নেয়ার উদগ্র প্রচেষ্টা।

কিন্তু সেই অসম্ভব একরোখা মনোভাবের মানুষেরা যখন পশ্চিমবঙ্গে বসবাস করা শুরু করলো, তখন প্রথম প্রথম সম্পর্কটা আদায় কাঁচকলায় হলেও এপার বাঙলার মানুষরা মেনে নিয়েছে বাঙালদের। আস্তে আস্তে ঘটি হেঁশেলঘরেও ঢুকে পড়েছে কচুর লতি, পুইঁশাক আবার তেমনি বাঙালরাও রান্নায় জুড়তে শিখেছে খানিক চিনি। ঘটি বাঙাল বাড়ির মধ্যে বিয়েও আজ হামেশাই হয়, কেউ সেটা ধর্তব্যের মধ্যেই আনেনা। ইস্টবেঙ্গলে ঘটি খেলোয়াড় খেলে যেমন মোহনবাগানে খেলে বাঙাল প্লেয়ার। নিমরাজি হয়েও, খানিক চাঁদ সদাগরের মনসা পুজোর মতো ঘটিরা জায়গা করে দিয়েছে বাঙালদের তাদের দৈনন্দিন জীবনে। উড়ে এসে জুড়ে বসা মানুষগুলোর ওপর তারা চড়াও হয়নি রাজাকারদের মতো। আমার আগের প্রজন্ম দুই তরফেই বাঙাল, তাদের জীবনে প্রথম স্থায়িত্ব আসে পশ্চিমবঙ্গে আসার পর। তাদের বাকি জীবন পশ্চিমবঙ্গে নির্ভয়ে নির্দ্বিধায় কাটাতে পারার জন্যে এই ঘটিদের কাছে আমি কৃতজ্ঞ। কৃতিত্ব তৎকালীন সরকারের অবশ্যই, কিন্তু যার যতটুকু যোগ্য কৃতজ্ঞতা সেটা স্বীকার করাটাই যথার্থ।

তাই এই রেষারেষি, ঠারেঠোরে বুঝিয়ে দেয়া ঘটি বড় না বাঙাল, এ সবই খানিকটা খুনসুটি। ঘটিরা সেটা যেমন উপভোগ করে, বাঙালরাও তাই। ওদের গেঁড়িগুগলি তো আমাদের কচু ঘেঁচু , ওদের নুচি নেবু নঙ্কা তো আমাদের বেঙ আর ভ্যাক। ওরা বলে ওরে লোটা, আমরা ডাকি ওরে মাচা। আমাদের পূর্ব প্রজন্ম যারা প্রথম এখানে বসবাস করা শুরু করে তাদের লড়াই আজ শেষ। তাদের একমাত্র আশা ছিল “আমার সন্তান যেন থাকে দুধে ভাতে”। দুধে ভাতে না থাকলেও, প্রতিদিন প্রাণের ভয় আজ আর নেই। আমাদের প্রজন্ম বড় হয়েছে ঘটি বাঙালের মিলমিশে। কিন্তু নিজের পরিচয় দিতে গেলে বাঙাল পরিচয়টা আপনা থেকেই চলে আসে। আমাদের সেটুকু দায়বদ্ধতা রয়ে গেছে আগের প্রজন্মের প্রতি। তাই শুঁটকি খাই বললে লোকে যখন নাক কুঁচকে জিজ্ঞেস করে কোথাকার বাঙাল, বুক ফুলিয়ে বলতে পারি চাটগাঁ। ছোটবেলায় পিসি জোর করে নিয়ে যেত চট্টগ্রাম পরিষদের অনুষ্ঠানে। তখন মনে হতো এসব কিম্ভূত ব্যাপারে আবার কেন, কোথায় বন্ধুদের সাথে আড্ডা দেব না এখানে হ্যাজাচ্ছি। কিন্তু আজ ভাবলে মনে হয় সেটা আসলে ছিল অনেকটা রীলে দৌড়ের মতো, আগের প্রজন্মের হাত থেকে আমাদের হাতে মশালটা ধরিয়ে দেয়া।

তাই ঘটি আর বাঙাল যে ভাই ভাই এক ঠাইঁ তা নয় এখনো। খেলার মাঠে গালিগালাজ ইঁট পাটকেল এখনো পড়ে, কিন্তু ইস্টবেঙ্গল বনাম মোহনবাগান এখন আর ঘটি বাঙালদের যুদ্ধ নয়। অনেক বাঙালই মোহনবাগানকে সমর্থন করে, আবার অনেক ঘটি ইস্টবেঙ্গলকে। আর সেই লড়াইটা এখন খানিকটা প্রতীকী। তবু অনেক সময় অতি উৎসাহে মাত্রা ছাড়িয়ে যায় শালীনতা। অনেক সময়ই ঘটি বাঙাল বাগবিতণ্ডায় গা জ্বলে উঠেছে অপমানে, যোগ্য জবাব দিয়ে তবেই মন হয়েছে শান্ত। তারপর মাথা ঠান্ডা হলে ভেবে দেখছি যে গোটা ব্যাপারটাই কি অপ্রয়োজনীয়। আর ঠিক সেই অনুভূতিই হলো যখন দাদাগিরির খবরটা পেলাম।

প্রথমে ফেসবুকে পড়ে কিছুই বোঝা গেলোনা কি হয়েছে। আস্তে আস্তে পুরো ব্যাপারটা বিস্তারে বোঝা গেলো যে শোতে গোটা বাঙালদের অপমান করা হয়েছে। অনেক খুঁজেপেতে ইউটিউবে একটা ছোট ক্লিপ পেলাম যেখানে দাদা বলছে (বাঙালরা) পাঁচিল টপকে টপকে এসেছে? আর বৈদ্যুতিন মাধ্যমে চলেছে রাগ দুঃখ অভিমানের পালা। খুঁজতে খুঁজতে পেয়ে গেলাম একটা সম্পূর্ণ ক্লিপ গোটা অনুষ্ঠানটার। অবশেষে দেখলাম কি সেই অতি কুরুচিকর প্রোগ্র্যাম।

কিন্তু যা দেখলাম তা তো যা পড়লাম বিভিন্ন জায়গায় তার সাথে খুব একটা মিললনা! হ্যাঁ ওই সৌগত ঘোষ লোকটা খুব গা জ্বালানো ভঙ্গিতে বাঙালদের নিয়ে কটূক্তি করেছে বটে, কিন্তু তার সাথে সৌরভকে টানার খুব একটা যুক্তি চোখে পড়লোনা। বরং দেখলাম অনুষ্ঠানের শুরুতেই দাদা বলছে ইস্টবেঙ্গল ঢুকলো ভালোভাবে কিন্তু মোহনবাগান হোঁচট খেলো কেন? আর ওই পাঁচিল টপকে এসেছে মুহূর্তটায় গিয়ে দেখলেও চোখে পড়বে যে ইস্টবেঙ্গলের অনিন্দ্যবাবু যথার্থ জবাবই দিয়েছেন। গোটা অনুষ্ঠানে তিনি দারুন টেম্পেরামেন্ট দেখিয়েছেন, নিচু রুচির খেউড় করে লোক হাসানোর চেষ্টা করেননি। মোহনবাগানকে স্বাধীনতা আন্দোলনের অগ্রণী ভূমিকার জন্যে ধন্যবাদ দিয়েছেন, তেমনি মনে করিয়ে দিতে ভোলেননি যে ১৯১১ সালের ইস্ট ইয়র্কশায়ার রেজিমেন্টকে হারানো দলের সাত জনই বাঙাল ছিল। পাঁচিল টপকে আসার কমেন্টে সৌরভ মোহনবাগান প্রার্থীর কথা বলার ভঙ্গিতে হেসেছে ঠিকই কিন্তু সেটাকে সব ইস্টবেঙ্গল সমর্থকরা যেভাবে বাঙালদের অপমান করার সমর্থন হিসেবে দেখানোর চেষ্টা করছে, ব্যাপারটা আদপে সেরকম কিছুই নয়। সৌরভকে ক্ষমা চাইবার দাবি তো যথাযথ নয় একদমই। সৌরভ গাঙ্গুলী যথেষ্ট দক্ষ ভাবে গোটা অনুষ্ঠানটা সঞ্চালন করেছে। আর বাঙালরা হার না মানার আরেক নাম। এই সব ঠুনকো সমালোচনাতে যদি গায়ে ফোস্কা পড়ে এখন, তাহলে বলতেই হয় সেটা খুব একটা বাঙাল সুলভ আচরণ নয়। নানা অজুহাতে কাঁদুনি গায় তো মোহনবাগান। আমরা ওদের দলে কবে থেকে ভিড়লাম?

তবে যদি ধরে নেন এ লেখা পরে যে সৌরভের অন্ধ ভক্ত আমি, তাই তার সাতখুন মাফ, সেটা বিন্দুমাত্রও সত্যি না। খেলোয়াড় সৌরভকে যথেষ্টই ভালো লাগতো, কিন্তু তার সাথে মানুষ সৌরভের যে অনেকটাই ফারাক সেটা বহুদিন আগে থেকেই খেয়াল করেছি। সৌরভ যে আদপে ক্ষমতার দাস সেটা বিগত কয়েক বছরে মাঠের বাইরে সৌরভের কীর্তিকলাপ দেখলেই নজরে পড়ে। পুরসভা নির্বাচন, সিএবি সচিব নির্বাচন, ডালমিয়াকে সরানো, আবার তার ছেলের হাত ধরেই সিএবিতে ফেরা, ক্রিকেট একাডেমির জমি, পার্ক স্ট্রিটে রেস্তোরাঁ – অর্থনৈতিক উদ্দেশ্য আর ক্ষমতার অলিন্দের হাতছানি যে সৌরভকে চিরকাল প্রভাবিত করে এসেছে তা নিয়ে কোনো দ্বিধা নেই। খেলোয়াড় এবং ভারতের অধিনায়ক সৌরভ যতটাই অনুপ্রেরণা জাগায়, মাঠের বাইরের সৌরভের এই অন্যরূপ দেখে মনে হয় যে সেই অন্য সৌরভের ব্যক্তিত্বের বিন্দুমাত্রও এই মানুষটার মধ্যে নেই। তাই পাঁচিল টপকে আসার বিষয়ে সৌরভকে অকারণে সমর্থন করার কোনো কারণ আমার নেই।

আমার বক্তব্য হলো ইস্টবেঙ্গল বনাম মোহনবাগান স্পেশাল এপিসোডে দু পক্ষই যে একে উভয়কে নিয়ে কিছু না কিছু বলবে সেটাই প্রত্যাশিত। ক্ষমা যদি চাইতেই হয়, সেটা চাইবার কথা যে ওই মন্তব্য করেছে সেই সৌগত ঘোষের। অনিন্দ্যবাবু শালীন ভাবে জবাব দিয়েছেন যে সীমান্তে পাঁচিল কোনোকালে ছিলোনা যে পাঁচিল টপকে আসতে হবে। বাঙালরা এসেছে ভারত সরকারের তত্ত্বাবধানে। সৌরভকে কাঠগড়ায় তোলার মতো অপরাধ হয়নি কিছু। তার মানে কি জবাব নেই বাঙালদের খোঁচা মারা টিপ্পনীর? আছে বৈকি। কিন্তু সে জবাব হবে মাঠে। তার চেয়ে বড় জবাব আর কিছু হয়না। কারন যতবার ডার্বি, মাচা তোরা হারবি। এ তো কথায়ই আছে।

পুনঃশ্চ: এই লেখাটা কিন্তু ঘটি বাঙাল নির্বিশেষে লেখা। ইস্টবেঙ্গল মানে আর ওপার বাংলা নয়, যেমন মোহনবাগানও আর কেবল ঘটিদের ক্লাব নয়। এই গোটা ঘটনাটার সূত্রপাত বাঙালদের নিয়ে। তাই লেখার মূল উদ্দেশ্য কিছু বাঙাল ইস্টবেঙ্গল সমর্থকের সৌরভকে লক্ষ্য করে মুন্ডপাতের দাবির যথার্থতা নিয়ে। অনেক জোগাড়যন্ত্র করে ভিডিওটা জোগাড় করেছি। লিঙ্কটা দেয়া রইলো, অনুগ্রহ করে দেখুন, আর তারপর বিচার করুন সৌরভ অনুষ্ঠানে মোহনবাগানের হয়ে পক্ষপাতিত্ত্ব করেছে কিনা।
Frau im Bahnhof
Fremdsprache, Kurze Geschichte, Nostalgie

Eine Frau im Bahnhof: Erinnerungen an eine Vergangenheit

Ich erinnere mich noch an die zeit bei Göthe Institut. Es gab ein Bild in unserem deutschen Kursbuch, Tangram Aktuell. Eine Frau steht an einem Bahnhof und trägt ein schwarze Kleider. Unser Klassenlehrer wollte, dass wir das Bild beschreiben. Ich erinnere mich, was ich geschrieben hatte. Und ich habe seit sieben Jahren nach dem Text gesucht. Letzte Woche ich habe mein Arbeitsbuch und Aufzeichnungen gefunden. Ich schreibe nicht gut deutsch wie im Jahr 2008. Aber der Text ließ mich fühlen, dass ich es wünschte. Es gibt drei Texte, erster von unserer Gruppe und zwei letzten sind von anderen…

Einen Winterabend auf dem Bahnhof. Der Zug war spät und es war kalt. Dort steht alleine eine hübsche Frau. Sie sieht traurig aus. Wer ist sie? Wie heißt sie? Und woher kommt sie? Wir wissen nichts. Vielleicht sie heißt Maria, Julia oder Pina? Ist sie verheiratet? Nein, mit allein schwarzen Kleidern, sie ist vielleicht verwitwet. Kommt sie aus Spanien oder Deutschland? Sie wartet auf den Zug. Wozu? Vielleicht für einen neuen Beruf oder ein neues Leben. Wir wissen das nicht. Geht sie nach Frankfurt, wie alle anderen? Wir können das nie wissen. Wir erinnern uns nur an die traurige Dame auf den Bahnhof an einen Winterabend.

Pedra wartet auf den Zug. Sie ist 24 Jahre alt. Vielleicht kommt sie aus Russland. Sie ist ledig und studiert Medizin. Ich glaube dass früher hatte sie viele Tagträume. Alle haben gebrochen. Jetzt hat sie keine Tagträume. Sie will von hier weggehen, irgendwohin sehr weit, wo niemand sie finden kann.

Sie ist India. Sie ist 24. sie wohnt in Deutschland und ist ledig. Vielleicht ist sie jetzt arbeitslos. Vielleicht hat sie sich von ihren Fremd getrennten. Deshalb wartet sie auf den Zug und möchte zu Eltern fahren. Sie hat Angst von ihrer Zukunft und wünscht sie in ihren Leben Erfolg hätte.

Horror, short story

Tales from Disturbia – 13 days of horror

Not sure how I ended up writing grotesque horror and gore stories. This is an experimental writing project, trying out new formats of flash fiction, and a new genre. It was inspired by a few two-line horror stories I read a long time ago. I had other stories in mind, but I’ve stopped at 13, keeping it ominous, as well as maintaining my sanity to avoid nightmares. I’d say they are like the Evil Dead/Final Destination series, some find them hilarious, some terrifying. Depending on which side you belong to, I’d warn that contents are pretty creepy and not suitable for children or weak-hearted adults.


They said that I was always good in geometry. I never denied it. Geometry is everywhere; it’s about how every line, arc and angle fitted into a perfect symmetry. I could always sense that. Except for the time I failed to notice the parabolic trajectory of a shard of glass that sliced my throat.


Shawn came home hungry after a long day at work. He wanted to cook a korma. He opened the freezer and took out a box of frozen meat. He looked at the label and smiled. That was Brian’s thighs, the guy Shawn last dated.


Monica pressed the brake hard, the traffic is queuing ahead. She looked outside, to see what’s lying on the verge. Packets of chips, pieces of tyre, the skin of foxes and badgers run over. She crawled forward a bit and looked again. On the grassy land covered with trees lay what looked like a hand. She focussed hard, that was a hand! And what’s that big bin bag doing there? Monica could feel her heartbeat rising. But the traffic eased off suddenly and she drove on home.


Tinku thinks he has special powers. Not just the sights and sounds, he can remember the smell and the taste as well. He remembers the aroma of the egg curry with butter he had fifteen years back in his friend’s flat. And he remembers the putrid smell of the corpse of a woman at the crematorium — her body swollen from the Post-mortem, and the smell of cheap perfume her family was pouring on her to douse the smell.


I was on my way to the Chinese class on an auto rickshaw. The traffic slowed down in the railway over-bridge and people were looking down. So did I. There was a man, sitting on the track. Not all of him though. It was his torso, wrapped in a jute bag, sat up. His head was missing. Why did I look!


Arshad saw the bicycle thief. Being mauled by the mob. He grabbed his daddy’s hand a bit tighter. And they went to the market. Arshad couldn’t understand why they were beating that guy. Or the human form lying inside the waste bin on their way back. Thirty years on, he still wonders if the mob set fire on him or it was just mud.


There was a stale stench hung in the air. It seemed to come from Mr. Vargese’s flat on the first floor. When the smell was so strong in the stairwell, the neighbours decided to break in his flat. The moment the front door was burst open, it was clear what it was. They found his body hanging from the ceiling in the toilet. And the flies. As John cut the rope, Stan tried to hold on to the dangling legs to lower the corpse. But his hand sank through the decomposed flesh. Rotten flesh all over his hand. And the flies sat back on them.


“Sam, are you home?”. Abbey called from outside Sam’s window. Sam looked at the watch. 1:57. What the hell? Should he get up? He stayed in his bed. “Sam?”. She called again. “Coming”, Sam got out of the bed and put his top on. The next morning, people found Sam’s door wide open. He was never found. Sam didn’t wait for the third call. The devil claimed his soul.


Adewale looked up from the ground floor landing and his heart skipped. Is there a man watching over them from the top of the stairwell? He looked again, the head was still there. With three or four classmates he climbed up to the fourth floor and realised that it was a bulkhead lamp hanging from the ceiling. Nevertheless, Ade looked up every day. Except for one night, when he was slightly drunk, and there was a head instead of the lamp, watching over him. He had a sickle in his hand.


It was my idea. Imran opposite the toilet was a sissy. We made a scarecrow for Imran, using the travel kits people borrowed from the university mountaineering society. Then we hung it from the ceiling of the toilet, so if Imran ever wanted a toilet at night, he’d see the man hanging. We also took out a lamp from the toilet. Imran didn’t go to the toilet that night. I did. And I forgot about the prank. They are sending me for post-mortem today.


Parimal is into palmistry. When Malay came to show his hands, Parimal told him to be careful, but he wouldn’t say what of. During summer, they went to the hills in a group of 15. On the first night they found themselves surrounded by tribal people wielding machetes and torches. They set fire to the house. Some of Malay’s mates chose to be burnt alive. Some tried to flee but were hacked to death. That’s what Parimal saw on Malay’s hand. A violent death. Malay was hacked.


When Stefan went to the uni to study engineering, he was met by a bunch of sophomores. They dragged him to the field, down to the loco sheds. Stefan knew about ragging, but this was going a bit far. They tied his hands behind his back, laid him on one of the tracks, and bound him to the track. Stefan could hear the vibrations of a coming train. He knew about this prank before. This must be the disused track, he kept telling himself. It was, or so thought by the sophomores as well. But the loco was sent for shunting. It dragged Stefan about fifty yards, at a slow speed, shredding his body in pieces for over two minutes.


Harriet wanted to be a nurse. Yet her parents forced her to be a doctor. She never liked autopsy much, and it almost pushed her off the edge. During her time as an intern, her friends took her to the hospital morgue and slammed the door behind her. They thought about leaving her for a few minutes and let her out. They forgot as the pagers went off for a major accident emergency. Samantha came back to unlock her three hours later. She found Harriet chewing an arm, ripped off from a corpse.

***The reaper’s thirteen***

Debra always slept with her pet python. Its girth reminded her of her last boyfriend. The python stopped eating one day. She took it to the vet, but the vet couldn’t find anything wrong. She tried to change its diet but nothing happened. Then one night Debra found herself constricted by the giant snake. As her head slowly started to disappear into its mouth, Debra realised why the python stopped eating. It was getting ready to eat her.