By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Leonard Cohen
‘What does paradise look like?’ the little boy wondered.
‘Nothing like this,’ his older brother promised. They both looked down their noses to soak up the surroundings. A land that lay flat as a torn roti on a bed of soggy spinach. It didn’t matter much to them.
‘It’s a magical place,’ the older boy continued, his audience rapt. ‘The stairways rise by themselves, you only have to step in front of a door and it slides opens…’
‘Like Star Trek.’
‘Like in Star Trek. And the fruits are so plentiful and juicy. Apples and apricots and strawberries…’
‘Strawberries,’ the little boy echoed, eyeing the scratchy bit of mango in his hand with disdain.
‘When you slice them in half they look like love hearts.’
The small boy pictured fields upon fields of blazing red love hearts, like poppies, only without the men standing guard with machine guns.
‘I’ll take you down there one day,’ he said and they both lived in that dream, with eyes closed.
‘Nothing is real,’ the older one finally said, ruffling his brother’s hair. The boy wondered about that for years to come. Did he mean to have nothing was their reality? Or that it meant that the opposite was true and everything was make-believe?
The memory had started to crackle. He couldn’t tune in anymore but it was all right. It was finally getting easier to be someone. It all works out.
He read the advert one last time: ‘Easy pickings and high earnings! All fruit covered by tunnels – stay dry! All fruit is grown on table tops… no more bad backs! Excellent training provided!’
He wondered what his brother back home would make of this field of dreams, whether he’d think any of it worth getting hung about.
‘Paradise Pickers’, he smiled aloud, clocking in. The day ahead would feel like it went on forever, but it was something. And it was real.
‘It’s all right,’ he reminded himself, shrugging off the uncertainty.
‘That is I think it’s not too bad.’
For Bhaiya (born 23rd June). By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: John Lennon/ Paul McCartney
Subject: Re: I’m Your Man
Wow! You certainly know how to get a girl’s attention.
Well, I have to admit the sound of another kind of love sounds pretty appealing, considering what’s been on offer lately…
So you’re a man who’ll fight for me, look after me and take me home? Only I don’t date boxers, doctors or taxi drivers! Just kidding. You didn’t say what it is you actually do, but will you really do anything I ask you to?
I wonder. It’s easy to promise the moon and the stars when all you have to do is look up, but how much poetry will you find for us in the cold light of our lives? Will you still look for the flowers when taking out our garbage? Work for my smile doing the dishes when you could be out letting your Johnny Walker wisdom run high? How long before the permission you give me to strike you down in anger leaves you broken looking like your dog just died?
And after it all, would you really crawl on your knees and fall at my feet begging please?
Lucky for you, I’m not that needy. I live my life as if it’s real (even if my friends call me half-crazy), try in my way to be free, and don’t rely on a man to make me feel beautiful… although I’d rather you didn’t actually howl when you see me!
I don’t know if I’m looking for a father for my child (ask me again when the moon’s too bright), but I like the idea of having someone to walk a while with across the sand. Maybe leave the mask at home though. At least for the first date…
So if you’re the knight in some old-fashioned book I’ve been searching for, and can deliver on even a quarter of your promises, then, well, hallelujah! It might just turn out that I’m Your Woman.
Subject: Re: re: I’m Your Man
In a hotel in Chelsea. Fancy a fuck?
By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Leonard Cohen
Du wardst nicht umsonst geboren!
Hast nicht umsonst gelebt, gelitten!
You got it.
To me it sounded a bit gay.
Your bloody Bukowski got this, you grunted. He wasn’t a bit gay.
Bit long, isn’t it? I know you like taking your time over a Number Two, but this is taking the piss…
It’s got everything your wanky beat novelists bang on about, you insisted, then suffered this fool gladly by explaining why. The search for the meaning, forgotten pleasures, light and shadows, the greatest suffering of man, something about andante, were we talking about pasta now? … I never did pay much attention to your pop-up, split-second messaging, so I’ll never know for sure what you were on about.
But I remember the bit about shadows. You didn’t say light and shade. That I’d have forgotten. You said shadows.
So basically your shadow is with you whenever you see the light, is what I said, fishing for clever. The opposite of what Neil Young said about the setting sun, yeah?
Dick, you said, and we left it at that.
Yesterday I was at a festival and I did not like the music. But the need to dance crept up on me and I found myself borrowing sounds from the wind, the shuffle of bodies and the wheels of the security truck to create my own imaginary instruments to add to the cacophony, making my body move in a way that made me look all alone.
Only I had my shadows with me. Plural. For a second or so the light hit me in a way that left me with two shadows. The umbras and penumbras they’re called. It sounds right up there with your andante and allegro, but it terrified me. One, a lifelong comforting friend, but the second appeared uninvited, creeping and lurking. Has it always walked with me unseen?
It danced at my feet, in harmony with my familiar contour, but was gone before I could accept it.
I think I get it now.
For Rob Bell (23 Dec 1975-29 May 2015) By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Gustav Mahler
You want to know where I’m from.
Can I first tell you where I’ve been? Not everywhere. I’m yet to crunch on fries at the Ganymed in Berlin like Bowie or wash down a No 209 Gin at the Riot House in Sunset Boulevard like all the rest, but I’ve been somewhere. I’ve toted my pack, travelled many roads, man.
I’ve seen the sun rise like a Monet in Paris and set with the madness of Zeus in Athens. I’ve beheld the moon like a ghee-kissed roti in Jaisalmer and a disco ball in Koh Samui. Looked down on the world from where no one can ever look on again in New York, looked up with the awe of an ant beneath a human at the foot of Kanchenjunga. I’ve drunk in a bar carved into the side of a cliff in Croatia, slid down sugar walls in Switzerland. I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.
I followed Allah in Dhaka, got drunk with God in Florence, and then killed them both in a fit of ecstasy in a field in Bury St Edmonds. I’ve had my fill of stars in the sky and hotels to match in Marrakech, Sharm-el Sheikh and Langkawi. I’ve compared the cathedrals of Germany and Spain to the mosques in Turkey and Spain. I’ve been in more Jewish Quarters than there are Jewish countries and partied in them all.
I’ve seen attack ships on fire off the shoulders of Orion. I haven’t really, but you’re not listening. You don’t care where I’ve been, just where I come from. And not just now, but originally, you want to know where my mum and dad lived when they were little. And all this before you even know my name.
Let me assure you I don’t mean to be facetious in my response, I realise you only ask so that you can place me, relate to me better, maybe take this opportunity to share the tale about the time you rode an elephant in Hyderabad, man. But before I answer, let me, if I may be so bold, first ask you where your mum and dad are from.
Pontefract, you say? My, how fascinating. I must add that to my list.
By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Geoff Mack/Johnny Cash
A man who claimed to have seen twin shooting stars last night was forced to admit they were satellites.
The claim by William MacColl, 22, had initially excited asteroid specialists, who have been seeking an explanation for the puzzling twinned lines on shooting stars, a rare occurrence even during a meteor shower, with the traditional thinking being that the twin streaks are part of a single tube of hot, glowing gas made as a meteor barrels through the atmosphere.
Professor Andrew Kershaw, of New England Meteoritical Services, told Barking Gazette: “We’ve been looking for an opportunity to prove that the double trains are the result of a separation between glowing gas, created as a meteor speeds through the upper atmosphere, and a sprinkling of bright space dust settling through the air like mud grains. We were sure studying this phenomenon would change the world but then it turned out they were just satellites he saw.”
“He’s an idiot, to be honest,” added a flustered Professor Kershaw. “Meteors, or shooting stars, move in less than a fraction of a second across the sky, whereas satellites move in a straight line and take several minutes to cross the sky.”
In a press conference held earlier today, a deeply ashamed William MacColl admitted he was “wrong to wish on space hardware”, adding: “I’m just sorry for letting you know.”
A close pal of MacColl, who asked not to be named, said: “He’s been weird since his girlfriend left him. He was 21 when it happened. It won’t be long before he’s 23.”
He added: “Frankly, I think it’s time he moved on and found another girl.”
By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Billy Bragg
The paper doesn’t mention any of their names. It never will. All they will ever amount to is a number, and not an exact one at that.
Almost 700 feared drowned…
The photo that goes with the story shows some of them, or others like them, (they’re all the same as far as the paper cares), and you’re drawn to the only girl peering out from the deck not wearing a headscarf, in defiance of wind and criticism. The strange life she leaves behind has left her looking rough, but you sense her dreams are polished, can almost taste the prayers on her lips. She’s cast her plans and she’s on the run. But there’s no denying it. Her time has come.
In the photograph, she will always stay that way. You don’t see the moment the vessel overturns in the unforgiving sea, or hear the shrieks weave into the wind, a sea of arms and legs flailing on a liquid dance floor, a death disco.
Inside, a woman who claims to be the voice of your people says it’s good she’s dead, they should all be dead, that the dreams of cockroaches are of no concern to real people like you.
‘Liar!’ You scream at her. But you know that’s what she wants. Making you angry is how she wins. You have to let go.
You take one last look at the girl in the photo, beg for her forgiveness, hoping her last moments went fast and didn’t end too slow. Then you tear the paper into shreds and make a vow to yourself.
Don’t look back into The Sun.
By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Pete Doherty/ Carl Barat