I wrote the first version of this story five years ago, when it was mostly a comment on the abusive practices inflicted by humans around the world on their own kind (including their loved ones). Today it’s perhaps more a reminder of why people flee their own homes, and of all those silent voices who find themselves on the street.
Caught in the traffic, in a jam, going underground. Above on the South Bank, the big wheel keeps on turning. The world spins a massive attack, as the killing goes on softly…
‘The red lights of London’ (Joy Muldoon, BindingTheBroken blog)
CAUGHT IN A TRAFFIC JAM
Extra Strong mints won’t cut it, and Polos don’t even take that starchy potato smell away. A friend of a fisherman is the best thing to suck furiously, then swallow repeatedly just to get rid of the taste. A lurid pink taxi sign behind the man read “XI’s”, the apostrophe as redundant as her numbed lips. “Ready or not,” she whispered.
A printed sign hung in the window:
COURIER AND CHAUFFEUR SERVICE
PRIVATE MEDICAL CARE
LOVE IS LOVE
The bottom line written in black and blue. A child wouldn’t understand. The accident was Sioux’s fault. Customers like going bareback. Should have taken the pills.
Inside smelled of spiritual herbs, and two old ladies, like Ron Mueck sculptures, just slightly too small to be fully real, sat humming tunes in a corner. A white man with dark dreadlocks parted a tatty curtain, like a Rasta Wizard of Oz. He beckoned Sioux into the room behind him. “Welcome to my home. I is Xi.”
The pose was familiar from so many strangers’ beds: legs spread as she looked down at a clenched fist between them. The old ladies outside were singing, “Come into this room / Come into this gloom / See the red light rinsing / Another shutter slut wincing…”
“It’s an old tradition,” Xi said, his tones deep in his throat, a cocktail of nomadic Irish and Jamaican. “They sing or chant to herald the passing of a life.” He looked up between her knees. “I’ve been asked to do two things today. I don’t say why, I just do what’s asked, make deliveries and get paid. I ain’t been many places but I read a lot.
“Human nature, I find that shit fascinating. Fashion, culture and tradition. That’s how I got into piercing and tattoos. I’ve travelled around the world in seas of ink, and I get to see a whole load of shit as it passes through here. I need you to give me a push.”
Xi looked up as he placed a baby’s arm in a silver dish.
“The body modification was a logical progression. As I explored, I saw some of the tribal practices. I taught me the techniques, and I can apply them here. Some ain’t legal in this country, but I don’t dig no religious debate. If someone wants something done, I do what asked. Some can be undone, and people come to me to put shit right. But some of it’s permanent, like an injury go change your life. I don’t like that shit.”
Another push and two legs splashed in the bowl.
“The Dinka Tribe of South Sudan, man: gratuitous self-harm, harm inflicted by elders on those too young to think it anything other than normal. But I’m paid to not have an opinion. Most Dinka boys and girls? They don’t cry when the local sorcerer takes a red-hot knife to their dark faces. If they wince or cry or react to the pain, they will lose face in the community, so it’s best to sit through the process in peace. Facial scarification in tribesmen give identity to the tribe, and beauty to its women. Man.”
A squelch, and another arm.
“When it came to the children, that shit wrestled with my conscience. I won’t impose my will upon no child, but I have to respect cultures which do, see? Was my respect for the parents’ culture greater than the welfare of the child? I have to conclude that I is doing my job. The ‘No children’ thing was exclusive anyway. I don’t like that discrimination: children get raped too. I see so much shit, others just close they eyes.
“The Kayan Giraffe women in Northern Thailand? They wear brass rings around their necks, make them look all long. But that’s an illusion: more coils is added? The weight of them necklaces presses down, and that clavicle shit is lowered. With each additional ring it falls further, compressing the rib cage as well. The shoulders eventually fall away to get that long neck shit going on.
“They’ve been known to wear up to twenty five coils. And it ain’t true their necks break if them rings removed. No, I know because I removed twenty rings from this one girl? She looked like one of them extraterrestrials.
“They give them kids their first coils aged around five. The first set weighs around two kilos, then they add new rings. Cruelty for vanity’s sake, maybe, but that alien girl was beautiful.
“How is any of this shit any worse than cutting open a woman’s chest and putting silicone bags in her titties? Or cutting off someone’s nose and re-modelling it with putty?”
The head was next, no first scream of breath. It looked at Sioux, and a shrunken version of herself looked back. She saw nothing of the father.
“Just this last bit,” Xi said. It was a boy. In some parts of the world, a second or female child is unwanted.
“We all done with that first part. You know what? You ain’t cried, you ain’t spoke, you ain’t done nothing.” Xi wiped up and laid a newspaper over the silver dish. “They do births, marriages and deaths. I do hatches, matches, dispatches and snatches. I ain’t doin’ no damage which can’t be undone. The only Ska I do is the music. Take these and come with me. They’s pills, and run.”
Xi locked up the shop. The two ladies were singing as they left: “My night shift sisters / With your nightly visitor / A new vocation in life / My love with a knife…”
Sioux and Xi walked, and diesel fumes signalled a London taxi.
“Where to guv?”
“Wherever it’s happening.”
Sioux blinked at the bright city lights speeding past. On the radio, The Fugees.
“Ready or not, here I come.”
© Steve Laker, 2018