OUT OF SPACE

‘So let me get this straight,’ I said, the irony of the word neither lost nor found on me. ‘You’re me and I’m you.’ I thought about this again. Then again. Roughly the same words but reaching a different confusion every time.

‘But then, how can we be in the same place?’

‘You’re not paying attention,’ I snapped. ‘At the expense of giving away the ending—you and I are one and the same.’

‘But you’re fat and bald,’ more observation than discourteous for the sake of being a prick, I hoped. ‘And old.’

‘Let me say it again,’ I said, determined this would be the last time I needed to. ‘I am from a different space and time, but I am you and you are me. Only I have never been you and you have never been me.’

I spun right off whatever axis I thought I was on.

‘Sorry,’ I said, because I was. ‘Who are you again?’

I kicked myself.

‘I am someone who knows who he is,’ I said slowly. Gloves off, time to give myself a good talking to. ‘I do not need to pretend because I do not stray from my purpose in life. My head is never musty for being in the clouds, not sandy through burial. I know that uncaged dreams lead to broken spirit, and to bring them to fruition requires dedication, self-discipline, restraint. That the road of excess leads to the palace of disgrace.’

Really? A lecture? In this state?

‘Look at you,’ I continued. ‘Why are you not content with your own people, where is your racial pride? Why do you feel this need to play this shameful charade for the sake of being tolerated in a world you do not belong in, unbound by morality, free of dogma like the uncouth white man, dancing like a black?’

Really.

‘I’d like you to leave please,’ I said in a small voice, wishing it didn’t ring with that quiver of uncertainty.

‘Do you not think I would if I could? Do you for one second imagine I would choose to be here in this degenerate little hole that passes for your mind?’ I was shouting now. ‘You brought me down here. You send me back up!’

I didn’t understand, and admitted so, too readily for my liking.

‘Of course you don’t you retard. But considering I have never ingested anything stronger than a Lemsip Plus and you are currently orbiting around Planet Mongoloid, I think it is safe to deduce that you are the one responsible for this aberration and I am an involuntary captive, a figment of your putrid imagination.’

I thought about this, clearly this time.

‘I don’t mean to be rude,’ my voice firm despite the lie. ‘But I’d sure hate to be a figment of yours.’

For Dave Brabin. By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
The Prodigy

BENGALI IN PLATFORMS

From Rampura bazaar to the concrete jungle of Motijheel, whether a man is shirt and tied or begging for paisa, everyone looks you in the eye. A stranger to being stared at I am not.

It is different here. Until today, nobody looked at me in any way that I might enjoy. Down upon me, through me, never up to me. Oh I do miss the looks of adoration that bloom so readily on Baba and Ma’s faces. I try not to miss Bhaiya. His letter still crisp in my pocket teases me saying Ma has been telling everyone that I am friends with Queen Elizabeth, that next time I come home I will be wearing a crown!

Had this been yesterday, stood here at Piccadilly Station trying to blend in with the back wall, I might have wondered: would they still be so proud if they knew I was not a playback singer on the rise, soon to perform at the Pyramid & Par Hall with perhaps KC & The Sunshine Band, that I had lied about such things, as one would surely expect of a lowly shelf stacker in Barton Moss, lurking in the shadows, catching nobody’s eye?

I told Bhaiya about Biddu. Brown as mud on leather yet writing songs for Tina Charles! One day, he will write me my very own Kung-Fu Fighting. Bhaiya believes this absolutely.

As do I. Look at me! Dazzling in white, silver-studded glasses like Elton John, stars on my feet and lemon soles so very high. The women at Tiffany’s will mistake me for John Travolta I should think! I can almost smell the love in the air, the winds of change.

I feel his eyes on me from across the platform. A strange looking fellow. His hair is neither skin nor suede, more like a dollop of brown ice cream on a deathly pale cone. Thick spectacles. Yellow flowers by his side. Gay I think. I cannot read what it says on his t-shirt but I see the word MURDER. He looks like he has problems.

I like to think he feels like he belongs to something too.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Steven Morrissey/ Stephen Street

THAT WOMAN’S GOT ME DRINKING

You’ve got a name for people who talk about poetry like it’s something pretty. You call them: women. Am I right or am I right?

You know there’s nothing tender about pouring out your heart like pulp hacked out of a pumpkin, a Jack o’ Lantern puking up its inside for all to see. That really it’s a dirty thing to cling onto rhyme, unloading empty verses at ungodly hours into your dark, lonely corners.

Seven years and she gets the itch? Oh man! No self-respecting poet (okay, so there’s no such thing) would buy into a cliché like that, but the woman, she says that’s the vogue, baby.

Go ahead hate her for this. Spit in the air she breathes and on the ground beneath her feet, but enough with your talk of long goodbye. A poet without a woman is like Mithridate without the plague, you know? You don’t know. How about… a dock leaf in a world with no stinging nettles? Hell, even the Green Fairy, the Queen of your Everything, she’s nothing but an eel next to the hold a real woman has over you, I’m right as rain, aren’t I?

Your stars, what did they say? You will meet a beautiful stranger and wake up tomorrow never thinking about her again! Ha! And the shrink? Bet he doesn’t think you will. Wake up tomorrow, that is. I don’t mean no offence.

Wait. You believed her when she said you were The One? Christ, fool, that’s the first thing they teach you, even before A is for Apple and B is for Butterfly. After one comes two. Then three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten…

Now, if you was to ask me, I’d tell you straight: there’s nothing that’s poetic about letting someone use you, rinse you out and leave you high and, well, not so dry. That there’s a harp on the side of a glass for every poet that walks in here humming that same song, baby. But you didn’t ask me and I’ve got no business talking straight in a place like this.

So what’ll it be? Same again? Yeah, I remember. Go easy on the tonic.

For Rob Joiner. By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Shane MacGowan