Wednesday 28 March 2012


Roger Noons

Red martini, with a cherry
‘Dez? Oh sorry, Desmond?’
‘Yes dear?’
‘Have you got any cotton?’
‘What colour dear?’
‘Any colour, it’s just to sew a button on …’
With a long suffering look, his head slightly tilted, Desmond held out his hand.
‘Thank you Desmond.’
‘Have you got the button?’
‘Sorry, no.’
After a deeply theatrical sigh, which had he been on stage, would have reached the back row of the upper circle, Desmond snatched the shirt from Sebastian’s hand and, head in the air, marched out of the dressing room.
Mark Olver giggled. ‘Is he always like that?’
‘Today’s a good day, he’s obviously too busy to deliver a lecture.’
As he made his way towards his workroom, passing Dressing Room Number 3, Desmond was hailed by Jonathan Tremlett. He put his head around the door.
‘Yes dear?’
‘Desmond, I need more fuzz, gingerish …’
‘Give me ten dear, I’ve only one pair of hands.’
‘I …’ Jon said no more, as he heard the heels clicking on the concrete floor.
Around the English speaking world, there were thousands of actors and other theatrical personnel to whom, if you said ‘Theatre Royal, Birmingham,’ would reply ‘Desmond’. Not one of them would know his surname, but each would have a story to tell. There appeared to be no-one alive who could recall a time when the short, slim, bespectacled man was not at the ‘Royal’. One notable director regularly advised that Desmond was not real, but the ghost of a member of the cast from the Theatre’s first production in 1820.
If that was the case, at least Desmond had updated his wardrobe. He was always to be seen freshly shaved, wearing a white shirt and a tie which would bear some or other insignia, black trousers and a short grey jacket. The latter was the type defined in the old days as a ‘bum-freezer’. His most idiosyncratic characteristic was his shoes, always ladies, black patent, with one and a half inch heels.
People outside the theatre would have scorned and ridiculed him, but inside he was respected, indeed admired, as there was nothing he did not know; nothing he could not do, and little he could not get, given enough time. He knew so many parts in so many plays that, during rehearsals, he would often prompt, without the book.
On a number of occasions, it had been suggested that he must live somewhere within the confines of the premises, as not a single person had ever seen him away from the theatre. He was apparently always first to arrive, and the last to depart. Apart from an occasional sniff during the pantomime season, he had never appeared to be unwell.
‘Who on earth is he?’ Moira asked, after the costumes had been delivered and hung on the rack.
‘That’s Desmond, don’t ever call him Dez, not even Lord Olivier got away with that.’ Amelia replied.
‘But who is he, what’s his job?’
‘I told you, he’s Desmond. If you need anything, anything at all, ask Desmond, and he’ll get it.’
Moira shook her head, believing her question to have remained unanswered. She stood and examined the costume which was intended for her character. She held the dress against her, turned from side to side and studied her reflection in the mirror.
‘This is going to be much too big,’ she pouted.
‘Ask Desmond, he’ll adjust it, render it as a glove.’
‘Believe me, he’s brilliant.’
‘Where will I find him?’
Amelia reached out and pulled a portable microphone towards her. ‘Will Desmond kindly come to DR 12 please, when it’s convenient.’
‘Do you have to grovel?’
‘It’s not compulsory, but it’s worth it, he will …’
Before she could finish the sentence, he put his head around the door. ‘Yes dear?’
‘Desmond, Moira needs a fitting please.’
‘Right you are, how do you do Miss Moira, we‘ve not met before, welcome to the Royal.’ He proffered his hand.
She took it in hers as she said quietly, ‘hello Desmond.’
‘Well?’ he challenged, his hands on his hips. The actress looked confused.
‘He won’t be able to fit you with the dress still on the hanger,’ Amelia chipped in.
‘Oh,’ Moira blushed.
‘I’ll be back in five,’ he said and walked out of the room.
He must have waited just outside the door, for as soon as Moira had stepped into the garment, he was back and pulling up the zip.
‘Right, lets have a look at you.’
For a small, slight man, he was strong, Moira thought, as he turned her this way and that. He said nothing, as he had a collection of pins between his teeth, but seemingly within seconds he had pinched and crimped, pleated and pinned, and she could feel the tightness of the dress. He studied her reflection in the mirror which occupied the whole of one wall.
‘How does that feel dear?’
She breathed in deeply, then exhaled. ‘Good, it feels good, it’s, I’m, a little …’
‘You need tits dear, just hold on there, two seconds.’
Moira was mesmerised.
‘I told you he was good.’ Amelia declared.
‘Do you think he could get me some slap?’
‘That’ll be no bother at all.’
It was just before midnight by the time Desmond had completed his rounds and satisfied himself that all was as it should be. He entered his workroom and made his regular phone call. He opened the single wardrobe door and scanned the contents. Smiling, he removed the chocolate brown two piece that augmented a cream blouse which hung beneath it. He kicked off his shoes and undressed. After he viewed himself in the old, worn mirror, satisfied with his re-dressed appearance, he selected a shoulder length hair piece, two shades lighter than the suit. Finally, the shoes; dark brown suede with flat heels. ‘You’re getting old dear,’ he said aloud, as he wriggled his feet into them.
Collecting his handbag, he extricated a set of keys and let himself out through a trompe l’oeil bordello door, which gave access to a stairway. Having carefully locked the door, he climbed the steps to the waiting taxi.
‘Good morning Miss Hall,’ the driver said, as Desmond opened the front passenger door. ‘How are you today?’
BIO - Roger Noons began writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay, for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts, then began short stories and poems. He occasionally produces non fiction, particularly memoirs from his long career in Environmental Health. 

Friday 23 March 2012

A Pick-me-up

Paul Warnes
Espresso with a hint of chocolate
Derek’s upstairs having a kip, bless him. He’s never going to desert me  because he needs me as much as I need him. How did we get together? Well, I  suppose looking back, it’s Dr. Richards I’ve got to thank.  Dr. Richards was a real treasure. I swear he used to look forward to our  weekly chats and there was never any fuss about prescribing my pills. 'So, Mrs Jones, some more of your little pick-me-ups then?' That’s what he used to call them, my little pick-me-ups. One of the old school  he was, beautifully turned out, always wore a suit with a red handkerchief  poking out of the top pocket. He lent me it one time when I got a little  tearful. It was silky soft and smelt of roses. He never failed to ask after my boy even though Terry hadn’t been to visit  him for a good ten years. He’d say, 'And how’s young Terence, Mrs Jones? Keeping out of trouble is he?' Terence! Nobody else called him that. As I said, quality, that was Dr.  Richards. And then he went and retired didn’t he. Didn’t even tell me, his best  customer! I just turned up one week as normal and one of those witches on  reception said,'I’m afraid Dr. Richards won’t be seeing you today.' 'Why not? Is he ill?' He’d never been away before and you don’t expect a doctor to get poorly do  you? 'He’s retired,' she said, not even looking at me. 'He didn’t say anything to me about it.' 'A sudden decision. Were you expecting him to consult you?' She said this with a tight little smile from her perfectly made up lips. I knew  she was being cruel but I haven’t got the words to fight back, never have had.  I couldn’t get angry because I still needed my pills. 'I’ve booked you in with the new doctor, Dr. Chatterjee.' 'Who?' 'Dr. Chatterjee. Is that a problem for you?' I’m not stupid, I knew she was trying to needle me but I didn’t take the bait.  I was panicking inside though when I was called through. I told him straight away that Dr. Richards always gave me a repeat  prescription but he said he wouldn’t do it. I explained about my breathlessness  and my chest pains and my depression but I don’t know how much he understood.  He said I needed to lose weight! The cheek of it, just a boy from god knows  where and he thinks he can make personal comments like that! No respect, that’s  the problem.  'I’m going to send you to the gym Mrs Jones.' 'I’d rather just have my pills.' 'I’m sure you would but you’ve been taking them for, how long is it, eight  years and they don’t seem to have made you any better do they?' 'Better than I would’ve been without them,' I mumbled. 'What’s that you say?' he asked, leaning towards me from his chair. I reeled  back. 'Nothing.' Anyway, he said I had to go to the gym for three month before he’d give me any  more pills. So that was that. The week before my first appointment was a nightmare. Without my pick-me-ups  I couldn’t settle to anything and it was all I could do just to get out of bed.  I couldn’t sit in front of the telly, couldn’t read my magazines, couldn’t make  my little greetings cards. And I was terrified about going to the gym. I phoned  Terry. He was always ‘pumping iron’, as he called it, when he was inside. 'I won’t know what to do son. How do you work them machines?' 'For God’s sake Mum. I’ve told you there’ll be someone there to show you  what to do.' 'Well I’ve got nothing to wear either.' 'It don’t matter what you wear. Big t-shirt, your old tracky bottoms and a  pair of trainers. No problem. Look, you’ve only gotta do this for a few months  and everything’ll be back to normal. Sorry, gotta go now.' He wasn’t much help. You’d think I’d deserve a bit of sympathy but he doesn’ t care. Can’t wait to get off the phone and back to his ‘bird’. After all the  sacrifices I’ve made for him, bringing him up on my own and then as soon as  some little hussy shows an interest he’s off. Deserted me he has, just like his  father. Story of my life. As it turned out the gym wasn’t too bad once I’d plucked up the courage to  go in. There was loud music thumping out, same sort of stuff Terry used to fill  the flat with every night. Made it feel a bit like home! The room was full of  all these machines that looked more like instruments of torture than anything  else. But Ryan came to my rescue. Ryan was my instructor. He said he was a bodybuilder and I reckon he’s got  muscles in places I haven’t even got places. A lovely young man and if I’d been  twenty years younger and ten stone lighter…No, who am I kidding, he still  wouldn’t have given me a second glance. Anyway, he put me on the running machine first, just starting at what he  called a very gentle walking pace. Well after a couple of minutes I’d had it, I  was exhausted and sweating like a pig. I had to press the emergency stop  button. Ryan came over. 'Had enough already Jean?' 'I’m sorry but me legs have turned to jelly!' 'It doesn’t matter, just take it as slow as you want to start with and you’ ll improve each time you come I promise you.' As he said that he took my arm to help me off the machine and I went weak at  the knees once again! I couldn’t wait to go back. It was nice to have something to look forward to  and leave the house for. I felt important, having an appointment to attend  three times a week. I didn’t even miss going to the surgery. Ryan left me to  follow my own programme after a while, said I should do less chatting and more  exercising, said he had other people to look after. I didn’t know why he  bothered, none of them looked as if they needed much help to me. I think he was  just making excuses. After I’d been a few times I started to recognise some of the other  regulars. I didn’t speak to any of them of course. Keep myself to myself I do  and anyway I’ve never had the confidence to just start talking to somebody. I  wish I did. There was one bloke who was always there, though he never seemed to  spend much time actually exercising. He seemed very popular, always chatting  with the receptionists and the instructors and the other exercisers. He was dressed for action -- white jogging bottoms, trendy trainers, well  pressed t-shirt and a white towelling head band. The head band was a bit naff  but I had to admit he was well turned out. He walked awkwardly, lifting his  right leg as if he was climbing a step and he held his right arm at a strange  angle. Maybe he’d had some sort of stroke. I was on the exercise bike when he  first spoke to me. 'Going anywhere nice?' he said. 'Sorry?' 'I said are you off anywhere nice!' he shouted, rather embarrassingly. 'I’m not deaf you know and I’m not going anywhere!' I replied. 'Well I’m sorry I disturbed you.' And with that he went away. I could have kicked meself, only I’d probably miss.  I must have sounded very rude and he did look a bit shocked but, as I’ve said,  I’m no good with words. And it didn’t help that I hadn’t got my little pick-me- ups. I’d have been a lot less stressed if I’d had them. Bloody doctor!  I was glad I’d frightened him off in a way ’cos I was knackered and I didn’t  want to stop cycling while he was there. But I could have done with a bit of  company, it was getting pretty lonely down there what with Ryan having deserted  me and all. I mean I’m used to being on my own but a bit of male attention  wouldn’t have gone amiss. For my next visit I decided to spruce myself up. Put a bit of lippy on for  the first time in years, bought a lovely pink t-shirt down the market and even  picked up a pair of leggings! Bit revealing they are, but what the heck. He was lying down on a narrow bench when I arrived, there weren’t many other  people about. He was pushing a weightlifting bar up from his chest and then  lowering it again and I could see the sweat glistening on his skin. He spoke as  I passed. 'Hey love you couldn’t just support this bar for me could you? I get a bit  shaky on the last few reps.' 'Reps?' 'Repetitions. I need someone just to support it when I straighten my arms  and I reckon you look more than capable.' I was gonna get annoyed again. Did he think I looked like a weightlifter then?  But I remembered last time and I stopped myself. 'Alright, where do I stand?' He told me, so I got into position behind his head and shadowed the path of the  bar for him. 'Cheers,' he said, getting up 'well that’s done me in! Thanks, the name’s  Derek by the way.' We got into a routine where he’d ask me to hold the bar for him while he did  his thirty reps. I remember the first time he asked me to have a drink with  him. 'You finished as well Carol? Fancy a coffee?' 'I don’t like coffee,' I said. 'Oh, alright then not to bother.' 'I like tea though, love a cup of tea.' 'Tea it is then young lady!' He had all the chat did Derek. He was very easy to talk to, even if he was a bit mutton jeff. I didn’t mind  repeating things for him. He told me he was a widower, wife died five years ago  on their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Bad car crash it was, left him pretty  smashed up as well, meant he couldn’t work any more. They hadn’t had any kids.  I felt very sorry for him and I don’t think he liked talking about himself  much. He was good though, he let me prattle on about myself for ages. Reminded  me of Dr. Richards he did. We didn’t have a lot in common but we did share the same hobby- making  cards. We both watched that shopping channel on telly and ordered our sequins  and ribbons and all the other bits and bobs from them over the phone. saves  having to struggle out to the shops. Turned out that Derek didn’t just make  cards, he sold them as well at craft fairs of a weekend.  I’d never even been to a craft fair before but, to cut a long story short, I  was soon making cards for Derek to sell and then I got to going along with him  to help with the shifting and selling. He used to pick me up from the end of my  road in his big, silver estate car. I felt like Lady Muck I did and I used to  love it if I noticed the neighbour’s nets twitching. I never invited Derek in  though and he never asked me round to his. So life was pretty good what with the gym and the fairs. I was seeing a lot  of Derek and people we came across began to see us as a couple. If only! I’d  have been up for it like a shot but Derek didn’t see me like that. He was kind  and funny and clever, everything Terry’s father had never been and yet he didn’ t give me what I wanted. I tried to get him to say something at a Xmas fair in  early December. We’d set the stall up together and were sitting on his canvas  chairs waiting for customers. 'This is nice isn’t it,' I said. 'I wish we were selling a bit more.' 'Don’t you think it’s nice anyway? Sitting together like this side-by-side.  We’re like an old married couple we are. Partners!' I couldn’t have been much  more obvious could I! 'Less of the old thank you,' he laughed. But I didn’t mean it in a jokey  way. 'No, but we are like partners aren’t we Derek,' I said. 'Partners in crime more like!' He was annoying me now. I decided to be bold. 'I love you Derek and I want us to be together always. There I’ve said it.  What do you say?' What did he say? He backed out didn’t he, told me he’d never thought of us in  that way. Then why did he lead me on like that? Happy to use me as his training  partner, happy to use me to flog his poxy cards but…nothing more. Deserted  again! That was our last fair together. But that, of course, wasn’t the end of the affair. I met up with him again  at the gym. I played it cool, pretended nothing had happened and took up my  usual station at the head of the bench. I could tell he was surprised to see me  but he didn’t say anything, just continued lifting. And on his last repetition,  when his strength was ebbing and he was relying on me to support the bar, I’m  not sure what happened but the weights slipped through my fingers. The bar fell straight onto Derek’s neck. The hospital did what it could but  his neck was broken and his voice box crushed. He was left paralysed and  voiceless but he was lucky in a way. He’s got me to look after him now;  everyone thought I was very good to volunteer to be his carer but what fiancee  would give up on her intended? There’d be no desertion this time.

Paul Warnes lives in Kent where he teaches and writes. He has written a  novel called The Society of Unexampled Brilliance and is looking for a publisher. He watches The Big Bang Theory every evening between 6 and 7. Today he was wondering why people who hitch rids carry numberplates. He has one follower on twitter and five friends on facebook. He would like more. He hopes this bio is not too flippant. 

Friday 16 March 2012

Good Luck, Bad Luck Cat

Rose Kelland

Black coffee and a little biscuit
 There’s a small park just around the corner from my house; a small piece of green among the dark brick suburban houses. The trees home numerous birds and squirrels, and the lush grass is a soft carpet to many pooch’s running paws!  On a dry morning I enjoy stepping across this small piece of paradise. My pace slows and my spirit absorbs the peaceful cooing of the doves, my whole being is cheered by the breakfast chatterings of the blackbirds and the scampering squirrels bring a smile to my face. Too soon this morning paradise is left behind, but it’s been enough to prepare my soul for a busy office day.
        On Thursday I looked up to the skies which had over the last few days rained its blessings all over the city, and decided that the next half hour would be clear and sunny and so I hastened across the busy road, past the sad, cramped houses, to the green and slightly muddy path which winds through the park. With the path just in sight, a skittish black cat almost tripped me as it ran from under a parked car to an open gateway. It stopped and looked back at the human who had made it run, before scampering to the cat flap, and, no doubt, a bowl of kitty breakfast.
Black cat, I thought, now is that good luck or bad luck?! With only a few paces to the park, my mind raced over what might be considered bad luck in the hours ahead. I am not seriously superstitious and I love animals, especially cats, so this thought was merely an early morning brain exercise.
 There were no mongrels playing games with the squirrels this morning, but there was a lady sitting on the park bench. I looked around expecting to see a scrappy puppy looking like a contented dirty little boy come bounding toward her – but there were no four-legged creatures in the park at all.
  As I drew closer to the bench, the lady stood up, straightened her skirt and started walking across the rain-wet grass away from the path.  But as I drew level I heard her hesitantly call, ‘’Scuse me.’ At 7.30 in the morning there are few commuters walking to work and I turned to the lady who now seemed to be a little distressed.
 ‘Can you tell me please, the way to High Street?’ 
 ‘Yes, certainly,’ I said, ‘Do you want to go by bus or walk?’ I was walking to the High Street, and I was quite happy to have a companion, but the bus stop was outside my front door.
 ‘I will walk,’ she said with very little hesitation.
 There was something in this lady that caught at my heart. While being wary of scammers, my gut feeling was that maybe I could be an angel for someone one day. Or was that black cat watching me?
 As we walked out of the park and away from the wildlife’s morning preparations, I noticed that she looked more dishevelled than I had at first noticed. Not wanting to sound rude I had to find a way of drawing this stranger to me, so if she’d let me, I could maybe offer help.  The black cat was maybe the stranger-lady’s good luck charm, maybe it wasn’t my bad luck!
 ‘Are you visiting this area?’ I asked tentatively.
 ‘Yes,’ but at this point her eyes welled up with tears and she sniffed openly.
 More quietly now I ventured to ask, ‘Did you sleep in the park last night?’
 The faintest of nods accompanied the screwed up face, the biting lip and the glistening tears now falling off the wrinkles of her cheeks. That black cat was definitely her good luck cat. It had nothing to do with me!
'Let’s go back to my house, and I’ll make you a cup of tea.’ I had to say it with more of a command than a suggestion, and gently held my hand out as I stopped to turn around. There was no hesitation in the dear lady at all, she turned and walked back the way we had come. Throughout the park the squirrels had woken up and were rushing around trying to find where they’d stored their breakfast, and a spaniel was sniffing the wet grass trying to find an unused spot near a tree!
 As we left the park where I had first entered, the black cat was sitting at the gate elegantly cleaning his bib. He meowed gently as we passed by. I smiled and winked at the cat – a knowing little look between us.
 Anka sat in our conservatory as it warmed up in the morning’s sun. We’d found her some clothes and hers were whirring quietly in the washing machine. She was on her second cup of tea and had gratefully accepted the muesli and toast with marmalade.  I had called the office to say I would be in later, and we sat, in frequent puddles of silence as she told me her story.
 Anka had left her husband in Poland. Her children had all left home for the city and good jobs and this was her chance to start a new life. She hadn’t seen her sister for many years, but knew she had moved to London about five years previously. I listened to the sad story of unhappiness, emotional abuse and subsequent low self-esteem.  As she spoke of her childhood with her sister, her marriage and leaving home, she slipped in her sister’s name and the man she had married. My brain had been lulled by the sad story, but suddenly clicked as I recognised the pure pronunciation of ‘Dyta’ and ‘Wojtek’. I backtracked my thoughts a little, and carefully asked her to repeat their names.
 ‘Dyta and Wojtek,’ she said again.
 Was it just a coincidence that these were the names of the Polish couple right next door to me who said they had been in the UK for nearly five years? Or were these perhaps common Polish names?  Anka continued with her story, unaware of the huge butterflies suddenly flying into a frenzy within me.
 At the next tearful interlude, I made Anka another cup of tea, added a biscuit, and excused myself as I sneaked out of the front door and knocked on my neighbour’s door.  Very unsure of how to approach the issue, I simply asked Dyta if she had a sister.
 ‘Yes!’ Her face lit up! Good! That shows there’s still good feelings there, I thought.
 ‘I think your sister may be sitting in my kitchen!’ I still wondered if I was doing the right thing.
 ‘Anka?! Anka is here?’ Dyta nearly knocked me over as she tumbled down the steps from her doorway.
 There were squeals and cries and ‘Ooh’s’ and ‘Aah’s’ coming from the back of my house. I stayed back, with tears welling in my own eyes.
             That black cat was certainly good luck for someone – in fact for some two! 

Bio:  Rose has been writing short stories and poetry for about five years since buying a writing mag for her daughter - who is now studying creative writing! She has had a couple of pieces published in Carillon Magazine, and was the December 2011 winner of an online creative writing competition, and also wrote 'Neighbours' for Cafe Lit in 2011. Rose uses every-day life situations and expands them into stories!


Thursday 15 March 2012

Diamond, Mine

Melissa Kay

Sparkling Water
It was a visual treat, in a place where nothing ever happens. The vehicles collided and tipped in opposite directions; Coke bottles spilling from the back of the commercial truck, whilst the raised safari truck roof crumpled in on itself under the impact. It was all in slow motion. It was all in fast forward. She had never seen anything like it.
Maisha hated this journey. Every day it was the same: morning and evening, twenty minutes in the blazing sun, or sometimes in torrential rain that always seemed to her to be an awful waste of water, but that was Africa - always extremes, too much or too little. Feeling the water sloshing as she swayed her hips, trying to emulate her mother, she reached a hand up to the yellow plastic bucket and adjusted its position. She knew this job needed to be done, but it was still so boring.
She had got much stronger. When she was just five and had first begun trailing behind her brother, Abel, it had seemed desperately far and she had only managed to carry a few sticks, leaving the water to him.
He didn't come with her any more. He had just graduated from school. His grades were high enough to get him to secondary school and her mother was so proud. He wouldn't go of course. They could never afford to send him all that way, let alone buy the uniform and books he'd need. Besides, who would earn the money? Since her sister had married and moved out there was no income at all and they were still repaying favours from when her small brother had died. Maisha had been learning to weave but there wasn't time to take what she'd made to the market.
She'd heard about houses with running water, she reflected dully on what that must be like as she lifted the bucket off her head and stretched her neck, before nestling it back onto to the little fold of cloth positioned to cushion the bucket.
As she did so, there was a roaring crash and the ground rumbled. She jerked in surprise, sloshing precious water down her face. “Mungu” she cursed guiltily, before freezing, enthralled by the action that was suddenly unravelling in front of her. Two vehicles, one corner, and not enough space. She was in time to see them roll onto their sides and watch a tinkling mass of brightly coloured, sweet cola bottles tumble around the corner.
* * *
Charlotte and Gerry were having the time of their lives. After their beautiful wedding: the dress, the rings, the church, the huge dinner, champagne, first dance, spectacular cake, quirky cover band and billions of photographs (faces aching from the smiles), they had melted into their African-dream honeymoon and had spent the last ten days 'oohing' and pointing their cameras at stunning coastlines, rugged landscapes and hunting for the Big Five.
"I'd forgotten about this one!" grinned Gerry. He was on the iPad flicking through photos they'd taken so far and laughing at himself hanging out of the open roof of the safari vehicle to get closer to the grumpy looking buffalo which had been standing sullenly in the bush by the road.
"Yes, I think you thought you were being tough or something," she teased mildly, pulling him towards her for another kiss.
Charlotte's busy PR world was suspended momentarily and she was luxuriating in the pleasure of it all. Yes, the lead up to the wedding had been stressful; virtually everyone had squabbled with someone, she had not been able to find the favours she wanted and she had been so busy at work. The day itself had cost a small fortune of course, but she smiled in satisfaction as she revisited details of it. She considered it all very much worth it.
Turning back to the front of the safari truck, she basked in the feeling of the afternoon sun on her whilst also looking forward to a shower at the hotel to wash away the dust and refresh her before another fantastic meal under the stars.
They approached another bush-masked corner and she opened her mouth to ask their driver about the clothing she had noticed the local women wearing, but she never actually uttered the question, or remembered she had intended to ask it.
It was a baby goat that stepped out into the dirt road, though neither Charlotte nor Gerry ever knew that. The driver only swerved a little but, on a road where there was barely any traffic, they were unlucky enough to pull directly into the path of a truck full of sodas.
Charlotte remembered only the sounds. Screaming breaks; crunching metal; an endless pouring of bottles released from the protection of their crates. And she remembers the red ground, which had looked so soft from the comfort of the vehicle, coming up hard and fast to meet them as they rolled.
* * *
Her first thought had simply been to help herself to a Coca Cola. She knew how sweet that magical taste was and the thought of enjoying a whole one to herself was just too thrilling to walk away from. But as Maisha had approached the truck she had been drawn into the scene of total devastation and awkward stillness.
She crept up to the accident with trepidation, curious more than anything else. She knew she couldn't really help, she was a long way from any doctor or hospital and the concept of a phone was too alien to even occur to her (although some of the men in the village did have them).
It wasn't until she leaned forward for a closer look that she realised she had automatically placed her water bucket back on her head. She nearly spilled the whole thing before she snatched it down and placed it beside her.
The open sided safari truck lay like a wounded animal. As Maisha studied it she became aware of a perfectly smooth, white hand; a human hand reaching from the inhuman wreckage. She cocked her head and crouched at a slight distance, wondering at its beauty and forgetting that there must be a person connected to it within that scrunched up metal belly.
The chattering of Vervet monkeys in the bush behind finally roused her from her musings and she found that she was brave, and curious, enough now to creep forward a little. That was when she saw it. It just caught the sun once, a sparkle that captured her absolutely; she would never forget it.
On the second finger of the protruding hand was a ring with five diamonds, the centre one a little larger than the others. Maisha was unconcerned that they were diamonds, or that this was an engagement ring, she was simply drawn to it. She had seen diamonds before, her neighbours occasionally found them in the ground. Finding them was called “mining” she whispered the foreign word out loud. But the diamonds they found were tiny chips of filthy stone, they did not thrill the way this did. There barely seemed any connection.
She moved in, stretching towards the enchanting ring. Her hand made contact with Charlotte's. It was warm. Why had she not expected that? She struggled closer, and all of a sudden Maisha found herself staring down into one swimming blue eye. The other was swollen and shut, but the eye that looked at her with cloudy pleading that would be imprinted on her memory forever.
Then, quick as a flash, her decision was made. She slipped the ring from Charlotte's hand and ran, forgetting the water bucket altogether.
* * *
"You're off to Tanzania?" Charlotte turned to the well-dressed man next to her at the table. "Gosh it was dreadful. Did you hear about what happened to Gerry and I? Honestly, we were so lucky to get out alive."
"How awful," replied the young man politely. "Well, we're not going anywhere dangerous, just a nice safari."
"Huh!" exclaimed Charlotte sarcastically. "That's what we thought. It was our honeymoon. We were in a car accident and we were robbed as we lay there. Can you imagine? I watched a little girl take my engagement ring as I was trapped in the vehicle, barely conscious."
"My goodness. Terrifying," he exclaimed, clearly intrigued, but also enjoying the self-assurance of youth that this was someone else's story.
With his full attention secured, Charlotte resumed her story. "Of course we were insured, but that's hardly the point. It was almost a full half an hour before another vehicle found us, and we were two hours from the nearest hospital. And, seriously, you should have seen the hospital. I was so relieved when the Medevac came. Especially as Gerry was in a terrible state: broken bones, concussion. I really thought we'd die there," she shuddered. "I'd never go back to Africa."
"Well, I'm not sure you can tar the whole of Africa with the same brush." The young man grinned but his body language betrayed the beginnings of discomfort as he shifted in his chair.
"You weren't there. The police never even came and getting official statements about the accident took literally weeks. I've heard this is the case in most African countries; all the police are corrupt and victims of crimes actually have to pay the police for petrol to attend the scene! That's if they even have access to a car. I mean, really - it's ridiculous..."
By now she was ranting and the young man was beginning to squirm as her voice rose in pitch, and volume.
"Perhaps you're right, I'm sure you know more than I do," he mumbled non-commitally before blurting "My glass is empty I'll just find a top up," and making quickly for the kitchen.
* * *
When her mother had finally found the ring she had been furious. Maisha would never forget the beating she received. But, realising they couldn't find the rightful owners and suspecting it may be of significant - even life-changing - value, she had taken it to an expert in the city. She had chatted in her head with God for the entire duration of the journey in the hot bus, with it's squeaking plastic covered seats and boiling bodies stuffed as close as hippos in a dry season river.
By the time she arrived she was convinced that they were meant to have the ring. It was a gift, a blessing from God and she was determined that she would make the most of it. They would build a brick house, Abel would go to school, maybe even university. They would have a future.
When she had discovered the actual value she had almost collapsed in the store. Then she had alternated between hysterical laughter and paranoia at losing the ring all the way home. There wasn't just a house and secondary school for Abel, there was school for Masiha, a house for her eldest daughter and savings as well!
As Abel and Maisha had grown up and progressed through secondary school, achieving scholarships for international schools as they reached the higher years, the opportunities unfolded and it was soon apparent that Abel would become a politician; one who had the potential to change a great deal in his area and perhaps the whole country in years to come. But for Maisha things were not as clear.
She battled for many years with her guilt and that single blue eye haunted her dreams. She often wondered if the woman had survived, or if she was being followed by the woman’s spirit which was surely waiting to pounce and destroy all that the family had built.
It was careers week at school before she really began to consider making a choice for her future. She was just beginning to believe that perhaps the spirits would allow her to fulfil her dreams. And when she started to think seriously she realized she had known the answer all along.
Her most fervent wish had been that she might have helped the woman in the truck in the first place. She had a fantasy scene that she replayed in her head frequently; she would drag the woman from the vehicle and tend her wounds at the side of the road, saving her life. “Take this,” the woman would whisper gratefully, handing Maisha the ring, “Thank you for saving my life.” Like something out of a cheesey Nollywood film. That had not been the reality. But now she could repay her misdeed.
She would become a doctor.
Melissa Kay was in PR and journalism in the UK before she trained as a teacher in order to fulfill her dream of living in Africa. As an English teacher in Kenya she began writing articles and her first novel. Now she writes full-time from Tanzania and is currently working on her second novel (the first is about to go out to literary agents!).


Wednesday 14 March 2012

The Dawning

 Marie Fullerton 

Single Americano - hold the cream

Jan looked around the Bistro; little vases of white and yellow flowers in the centre of each table stood out against the pristine, green tablecloths. She had seen the same cream walls and dark wood beams in a small bar she had visited in France. The canopy above the window outside sheltered most of the diners from the glaring sun but on one small table in the window corner, the sunshine streamed in. Jan took her cup and sat down there. She allowed the sun to play on her face as she watched tiny particles of dust dancing in the light through the window. Her mind wandered aimlessly. Enjoying the break, she sipped her coffee slowly.
“Hello Jan, this is a surprise.”
Jan jumped at the familiar voice and looked up to see Mark standing in the doorway; he held his arms wide as if to welcome her. She stood up and smiled weakly. He hadn’t changed, the same old Mark.
“Mmm, not forgiven me yet I see?”
“What do you expect?” She allowed her coldness to confirm his suspicions but her hands trembled as she watched him saunter across the floor and join her at the table.
“Let me buy you a fresh coffee; this place is new, I’ve not seen it before?”
“Yes, fairly new,” she smiled as she added, “ I hear the food’s good.”
A family with two small children came in noisily and joined another couple already seated at a large table at the back of the room.
“Excuse me,” Mark twisted round on his chair and called the waitress without seeming not to notice them.
“Two coffees and two Welsh Rarebits, please love.”
As she came across to take the order, Jan widened her eyes and looked directly at her over Mark’s shoulder, shaking her head with the smallest of movements, she fleetingly touched her lips with a forefinger.
Mark turned back round to face her.
“I can’t eat alone, you must eat with me.”
Jan checked her watch,
“I only have half an hour. I’m not hungry, a coffee will do fine.” 
Ignoring her statement, he asked, “Now, what have you been up to?”
“Since you walked out on me you mean?” she cut in coldly.
“Ah, come on Jan, we agreed to a trial separation.”
He leaned across and picked a hair from her lapel and watched as it drifted to the floor. She was beginning to get irritable as she relived all the emotions that Mark had unleashed in her on his leaving. But then, she had done all right for herself. OK, she was still single but she liked it that way and she’d done a lot that she wouldn’t otherwise have done; she’d gone to college for instance.
“So where did you go?” she asked.
“I was in Australia for two and a half years and then…”
“You mean you went … on your own!” Realising she had raised her voice, she dropped it again and whispered, “Why, after all our plans, why?”
“I’m sorry, please forgive me?”
Mark looked down and brushed imaginary dust from the tablecloth.
“I dunno, I guess it had all been getting too much, I, I really don’t know. I nearly wrote to you several times but, you know how it is!”
“I do?”
“Two Welsh Rarebit and two coffees.”
Jan smiled and nodded her head at the waitress. “ Thanks, Emma.”
“Ah,” said Mark triumphantly, “still eating out I see, not learnt to cook yet then?”
“Meaning precisely what?” His assumptions tangled in her stomach.
“Well, you were always pretty hopeless at cooking, you have to admit it. Even that dog wouldn’t eat it, remember?”
Jan recalled the picnic; how the sun played on the river’s surface. A small dog that she had thrown a stick for had jumped in and scattered the sparkling water. They’d fed it a sandwich and Mark had given it some of her quiche. He’d cut a small piece and, unknown to her until they’d got back home, had smothered it in pepper before throwing it for the dog to catch. How he’d laughed as it ran away sneezing. He’d laughed for days afterward every time it came to mind, ‘it’s only a joke about your cooking.’ he’d said.
“Long time ago now, come on, eat up.”
He picked up his knife and sliced the toast in half, in half again and again until he had eight little slices on his plate, he then picked each piece up with his finger and thumb before eating them noisily. Jan watched and sipped her coffee in silence.
“Eat up,” he repeated.
“I did say I didn’t want anything.”
“You didn’t mean it, come on, eat with me.”
Mark was insistent.
“If you want it you have it, I’m not hungry.” She watched as he slid her slice onto his plate and proceeded with the cutting ritual as before.
“I went through Italy, had some really good food there. Mmm, love this.” He added and stuffed another slice into his mouth.
The mocking voices of insufferable people echoed through Jan’s thoughts. The warm smell of toast materialized the tiny kitchen of their flat, friends sat around chatting, Mark’s friends. Geoff had said something and she turned to listen. The toast she was making for everyone caught fire under the grill. Someone laughed and from that point on it had been a standing joke. ‘Visiting Mark and Jan, we’d better bring a take-away.’ Mark had laughed too.
“Pity you never learned to cook, you never know, I might not have had to go so far for a decent meal.” Mark was laughing at his insinuation.
His voice scattered the images.
“Mark, look, I have to go, I’m sorry, I’m working.”
He finished the last slice of Jan’s Rarebit and felt in his coat for his wallet.
“Oh damn! I’ve left my wallet…”
“It’s OK, have this one on me, I owe you that much.” Jan got up and walked across to Emma, she whispered something and they laughed. As she turned to leave, Mark held his arm out for her but she brushed him aside and chose instead to walk before him. Outside the door she turned.
“When will we meet again?”
His arrogant, self assured face smiled at her and the knot in her stomach untied. Jan leant across, gently kissed his cheek and smiled back at him.
“Actually we won’t; I won’t, and by the way, I’m OK and doing very nicely, thank you for asking”.
Mark opened his mouth to speak. Jan gestured with her eyes to the sign above the door, held up her hands in front of her, winked, and walked back into her Bistro.

Marie Fullerton writes short stories, children’s stories and poetry and has had poetry and short stories published in anthologies and e-zines. Since gaining an English degree six years ago she has been working on her first novel.
Marie has painted since she was a child; it wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she began to sell her watercolour paintings. Marie has edited and illustrated school magazines as well as designing the artwork for the school badge and headed notepaper. Since retiring from teaching, Marie now sells her acrylic and watercolour paintings and her illustrations have been published in children’s books written by Trevor Forest.