The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Countdown: 6 - Attitude with no History

I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?
- Hemmingway (attributed)
There is three things that contributed a lot to me ever starting out to be a thief. One is fighting. The other is reading. And the last is playing poker. But I guess I better explain that.
I never could get my temper under control. I hated myself for it but that didn’t help. According to my sister ‘Nessa I’ve always had it. The way she tells it I did little else as a baby than scream and toss matchbox cars at her and Lukas. I’m not quite convinced that there isn’t a second side to that story but unfortunately I was too young back then to still remember now.
But it is true that I have always been fighting, all my life, and with nobody as much as with Lukas. Lukas is seven years older than me and physically of course I never had a chance. But that didn’t seem to stop me. I don’t really know why we never got along. To tell you the truth I don’t even know what sort of a person he was when he was younger. Now he is a real arsehole, a total chav. He signed up for four years of voluntary military service after school. To him girls are just mobile life support systems for boobs and snatches. He talks about little but his latest conquest. His regard for his mates corresponds to how often they get laid. For the few girls he actually regards as human beings it’s the same, only the other way around. What of his free time isn’t spent on the pursuit of one night stands is spent on his abs, biceps, and tan. He talks with a pretend lower-class, migrant, wanna-be hip-hop patois. He is a walking cliché in almost every regard.
But he must have been different once, a long time ago. My earliest memories of him – he must have been 10 or 11 then – is of him reading to me how-and-why type children’s books of which he had dozens. There are still a few around, most of them torn and defaced with crayon scrawls. My work, I must assume. And when he was 12 he used to cook for our dad, my sisters and me, when mum was at work. I haven’t seen him cook in years. I think, when I arrived, for a while at least, he tried to be a good big brother. And I suppose, I never tried to be a good little brother in return. Whatever it was, eventually he gave up, on all of us.
So, almost from the beginning we have been fighting. And I do mean fighting: The slapping, punching, kicking, spitting, biting, pushing, clawing kind of fighting. Even before our dad left us, Lukas claimed I was a bastard, in that traditional illegitimate sense of the word. And when dad went, Lukas claimed I was the reason. And later, well, he blamed me for much of what followed as well. I suppose Lukas blamed me pretty much for everything that went wrong. And who knows, maybe he was on to something. Children are cruel, that’s a given. As a rule they are not stupid.
When ‘Nessa hit puberty my mum tried to put the four of us into a boys’s and a girls’s room, instead of the old’uns, young’uns pairing we’d had going until then. The experiment lasted for one week, leaving me blooded and wailing every night. Don’t get me wrong, Lukas would have needed the patience of a saint to put up with my incessant needling and obstinacy. And neither of us had a patience that was anything of the kind. So my mum put him back into one room with ‘Nessa and me into the other with ‘Nette.
(Our rents had named us Lukas, Vanessa, Anette, and Patrick, but only Lukas was actually called that by anyone but our mum. To everyone else Anette had always only been ‘Nette, Vanessa ‘Nessa, and I only answered to Rikki. And yes, if you are wondering, there is a reasons why I spell it with a double-k instead of the more traditional c-k-y, but this is neither the time nor the place to go into that.)
As for the rest of the world, it was a little bit like that as well: Every new group I’d become a part of, every new class, a football team, summer camp, anything, it wouldn’t take me long before somehow I would get into a fight with the biggest, meanest bully around.
I am not a big guy, never was. Maybe a tad on the stocky side when I’m well fed. And I really would pick the biggest, toughest bloke I could find. That meant I would lose almost all of those fights. But the psychopathic, all-out way I went about it usually meant that after this first fight people would pretty much leave me alone. Long after the bruises and the punishments those fights earned me were forgotten the fear – I dare not quite call it respect – of hair-trigger Rikki persisted. Rarely did anyone need a second demonstration.
Please, don’t think I was courageous. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Nor was I trying to be strategically clever. I never set out to do this. In fact, I dreaded these fights when I saw one coming up, I just couldn’t help myself. It was as if there was something in me, some force I did not understand myself, that demanded this of me, like a sacrifice, like a proof for I don’t know what.
Violence is a funny thing. Sure, it’s scary. I mean, it bloody hurts, you know. On the other hand there is something very liberating in just closing yourself off from all rational argument, in drawing a line around yourself and reducing all communication across it to the staccato Morse code of blows and kicks. Little can focus the entire world to such a fine and clear point as unbridled violence. How many angels can fight on the head of a pin? All of them, mate. All of them, forever. There is a little bit of paradise in an honest fight, when nothing remains of the world but me, the other bloke and that strange satisfaction when we connect.
And it got worse and worse. In the past years I’ve gotten into fights with more or less everyone: Kids, teachers, random strangers on the street, or on the bus, and with bus drivers kicking me off for fighting. Hell, even with a cashier at a supermarket for not selling me fags. And with rozzers of course. Always bad news when you kick a police officer. They take a dim view on that, let me tell you.
A very few times I even blacked out during a fight, switched to autopilot. I would come to afterwards, victorious or vanquished, but with no memory of what had happened. That scared me badly, when that last bit of self-control went up in a red haze, and left me entirely at the mercy at whatever demon I had allowed into my life.
I only managed to stop when I started stealing. Well, more or less.


  1. i think, after some consideration, it's probably best not to kick the police. or bite them.

    i haven't read everything here yet but fighting can be stupidly hot & your voice is intriguing me some. like there is some - I don't know - slightly antique and not quite - right - uh quality like you inherited yr english from some out of work actor in the 1950s, pretending he knew the Krays
    i like it
    - tell me what yr mother tongue is


  2. My mum's tongue is sorta pink, I think, unless she's got a cold. But I haven't really studied her tongue that hard, since doing so would give me the creeps. She's my mum for christ's sake. ;)
    My mum speaks German. My dad spoke English, but I hope I didn't learn too much from him in the few years he was with us.
    If you say there is a "not quite right" quality to my english, that sounds a bit like a literary death sentence. Please say that it is not so?
    What makes you think of the bad 50s actor? The rozzers? I hate the word cops. I always feel like I'm in an American TV show. And the Heat or the Fuzz, I dunno. Maybe I just don't like the police. Haha, that could be it.
    But I learned a lot of English from trying to understand stuff like William Golding or Denton Welch. Or The Catch Trap by Zimmer Bradley, that wasn't written that early but was set around the 50s (if in America).
    I don't really have "my" language. Mostly it is English, but the English of a non-native. It's been ages since I spoke German to anyone, but I still do numbers in my head in German (if I must do them at all.) There is some Arabic in my life, and there have been other languages, but none of them were mine.
    Who are they Krays?

  3. well, as a non-native speaker of english to another, i think changeling meant this sort of not right quality to be good? I think? I like it, because it gives the telling a voice and a quality of sth more polite and antique and structured and it could be like u know,a Joseph Conrad kind of thing? I think sometimes non-native speakers can come up with a language that is pleasantly...arcane-sounding, or sth. do i make any sense? Hmmm...

  4. OMG. Did you just compare me to Joseph Conrad. I shall faint. ^_^

    It is the only voice I have. I never could express myself worth shit in German. German is the tongue of my voicelessness. Of me having to hit peeps bc I can't talk to them.

    But I take this as a big encouragement to keep mangling English and trying to have my say.


  5. um - yeah - listen to nerstes. i meant good - you know? quirky,uncanny,unheimlich ;)

  6. I like an eclectic voice, much less pedantic. Writers who over focus on generationally appropriate idiom often become less convincing (how's that for irony?). By the way, you can still here the police referred to as rozzers in certain parts of the country.

    I have a tendency to scatter bits of Latin & French throughout my writing, partly because I used to do it when I was a snotty kid but partly to break things up a little.


  7. Because you mention quite early that your mom's not in England, I think there are hints that prepare your reader a little for the "non-standard-English style". I didn't really think much of it until seeing the other comments here.

    But come to think of it, there are some places that do feel inconsistent in tone. Again, that's style, or can be, as long as it is conscious and it is a choice (and as long as you don't lose reader-attachment because of it).

    This section reminded me of a day when I was a teacher. Three boys out in the yard were throwing each other around a little. More rough than it had to be.The school had the usual no-touch-policy. All three in turn made eye-contact with me, smiled the biggest smile they could and went back to scrapping. I couldn't find it in my heart to stop them. Some people just live physically. (Didn't exactly help that I was reading Gates of Fire at the time, about Thermopylae. And yea, I didn't last long as a teacher... :-) )