Friends

25 October 2015

2121

  
(A public domain picture from http://www.clker.com)

2121

My name is Dorothea. I did have a surname but it was forgotten long ago. In this place people are known by their forename. It seems like only yesterday since I came here. Reflecting back to those dreary rain filled days when the sun rarely shone I acknowledge that to go back would be a catastrophe, yet that is what my family did. They thought returning to live on war-torn Planet Earth would be an exciting adventure. Not me, I’m happy with the adventures I get here.

Space travel has its advantages. If it wasn’t for winning the pools and booking a trip in the space ferry I would never have discovered this tranquil place where age is no longer a worry and termination nothing more than a distant dream.

Young Quamlo was my salvation. He originated from the place where I had landed and where I now live, a place called Sol Vellow which is on the coast of Swentiva. I’d never heard of either until I encountered him on a rocky haven at the foot of Jungos Mount and he gave me a brief history of the place. That was at a time when I longed for the green fields I’d read about in my early years. Because of that the rocks were disappointing. It was my first experience of such terrain; I always imagined it to be tough on feet and heart but there was a surprising softness about the walkways and an agreeable ambience that seemed to wash over me like soothing dew. The humid air seemed permanently scented but since there are few flowers I have yet to discover the cause.

I refer to Quamlo as young but when I listened to his tales I realised he must be at least a hundred. The place, he said, was magical; youthful looks lasted for the rest of one’s natural life … however long that was. I used to laugh at the phrase eternal life, until I arrived here. Quamlo was quick to put me right. ‘It is not to be laughed at, Dorothea. Eternal life is something to be grateful for. Only souls filled with wickedness need have fear.’ 

Quamlo is an Independent, a term given to free spirits, although his feet are firmly on the ground at all times. He instructs the androids kindly but firmly to ensure his wishes are carried out with the minimum of fuss. I found that remarkable. When the cooling system failed he only had to raise a finger for Enrico to steer his great metal frame into the yard to get it fixed. 

My house is built in rock. On Planet Earth it would be known as a cave. It consists of six equal sized compartments, or rooms, if you prefer, in circular design. The kitchen is in the middle with five windows, each one picking up light from the adjoining rooms. Next to that is the feast room, the pool room, and three rooms designated as accommodation for guests, a bedroom for me and Quamlo, and a room designed specifically for gaming activities. The guest room is seldom used but it is always kept in pristine condition for visiting Nationals, they rarely give much notice and Quamlo believes in taking no chances.

The house once belonged to Umulo, once recognised as the Great Ruler of Swentiva until he was assassinated. The perpetrator of the monstrous crime was put to death in a painful manner.

It was about a year after the death that Quamlo approached me on the subject of us living together. He had been Umulo’s man, they had done everything together and the sudden loneliness did not sit well on his well shaped shoulders. I thought about it for a long time, weighed up all the consequences, taking into account the advancing years and the certain loss of youthful features. Since I was not born here I sensed that eternal life might not be mine. This belief, though, was kept from Quamlo lest it should arouse his wrath. Selfishly I decided that the prospect of living with him had its merits. Physically he was well endowed, his small stature complemented my lack of height, and I have evidence to verify the fact that he is a good provider. I want for nothing.

Over the years I grew stronger, more in control, able to give my own commands. I learned to stand up to the new Great Ruler so that his heavy handed behaviour meant little or nothing. Best of all I was able to protect the women who would otherwise have succumbed to his brutal ways. He thought nothing of shaving their heads if they dared to outwit him or cutting off fingers and toes for greater sins, betrayal being one of them. The Great Ruler possessed enough charm to lure the younger women to a marriage bed, but once there they were subjected to the most atrocious behaviour.

Whilst Quamlo worried about it there was little he could do to save the women from their fate if they fell for the false appeal. He was at a disadvantage because of his size.  In height he merely reached the Great Ruler’s hip. So at Quamlo’s behest, I became established on the council as Director of Women and Children. Consequently my battles with the Great Ruler were numerous. The fact that women turned to me for help immediately placed them as betrayers so I arranged a secret meeting place where they could not be seen discussing their affairs with me.

The location was on the far side of Jungos Mount, in a long forgotten cavern that had been occupied and then deserted by nomads. The entrance was almost concealed by unruly undergrowth; indeed I only discovered it when I tripped on a sturdy tree root. Qualmo agreed that it was a good place for the women to go if they needed help.

Confident that my plan would be kept secret I arranged secret sessions at the cavern.
There were many meetings with women who felt powerless to stand up to the Great Leader. One of them, Heliona, a rather handsome girl, tall and willow thin, was one of those to consult with us. Apart from a young son, she had no family and she was having a hard time brushing off the Great Ruler’s advances. She had already lost two fingers, both on the right hand, and she feared that more pain would be inflicted unless she succumbed to his evil desires. Her son was unable to help since on the nights she was sent for he was shackled to the wall of their home. 

After great discussion, amidst tears and tantrums and nowhere near finding a solution I suggested a consultation with the Wise Woman.

The Wise Woman was known as Mylha but hardly anyone used her name. She was a genius. Single handed she prepared potent and effective remedies for sickness and disease, healing lotions for the blistered feet of wretches who were forced to toil on stony ground, and aphrodisiacs for the Great Ruler. The latter were said to be concocted from thistle juice and frog spawn flown in from Planet Earth. Mylha kept a serpent in her stony yard.  She kept it for protection and that I could understand for who would dare to cross a serpent?

The plan was to remove the Great Leader by fair means or foul, with Quamlo’s help and that of the Wise Woman. Ordinarily I am not vindictive or even malicious but the plight of the women, and especially Heliona, was serious enough to take drastic action.

We met often in the cavern, which was considered a safe place. On those occasions ideas were submitted on how best to dispose of the Great Ruler. After many weeks of hard deliberation it was eventually agreed that only his demise could save the women of Sol Vellow. My idea was to use the serpent but Mylha disagreed. She decided that a tainted aphrodisiac would be a good idea. Since the pilot of the space craft was a relative she would have no difficulty getting the required items to mix into her brew, the brew that formed the basis of the formula.   

Together, Quamlo and I spent many hours devising a plan. We would invite the Great Leader and numerous other guests to dine with us to celebrate the legalisation of our union. We had lived together long enough to know that we were well suited so an exchange of rings at this time seemed not only appropriate but it provided an excuse for a feast.

The Great Leader would be guest of honour, and the women would act as hand maidens to his entourage. Mylha, the Wise Woman, would also sit at the feast table as the Chief Overseer was entitled to do.

The preparations took two months. Much effort was put into polishing the gold vessels which had once been in Umulo’s possession. It was thought they originated from Planet Earth but no-one was entirely sure. It was too long ago. As well as cleaning the house and making it pleasant for our guests, Mylha created a fashionable atmosphere to the main room.

Many ornaments were placed in strategic places. On a small marble bench she laid out trays of highly perfumed flower petals, where she acquired them a closely kept secret. In the centre of the table, opposite the place where the Great Leader would sit, she deposited a wooden carving of a bowing serf which she considered to be highly appropriate. She draped the ceiling with strings of colourful lights, the sight of which evoked an elusive memory. Familiar, yet unknown.

The room took on such a distinctive appearance I could barely recall what it was like before Mylha took over. She delighted in filling every space, a gap to her was unthinkable. And there was one, an opening right between two ornamental shelves. Spotting it, the Wise Woman cried in horror. ‘It is a bad omen,’ she cried. It cannot be allowed. A vacant space leaves room for hostile intrusions. That was how she came to change her mind about bringing the serpent to the gathering. The basket in which it lived would be ideal for filling the gap.  

On the day itself Mylha’s serpent was brought in. Its basket was tall with a tight fitting lid so that daylight and prying eyes were excluded. In its place between the shelves, behind the Great Leader’s chair, it looked exactly right though I did not care to think of the consequences should one of the serfs bump into it. Mylha laid a small pipe alongside, explaining that it was the pipe with which she would charm the snake.

Taking me to one side, she explained her change of mind. The potion she had so carefully prepared was not up to standard. A particular item had not arrived in the consignment from Planet Earth which meant that without it the other ingredients would not ferment. It was not clear to me since I do not possess the power of witches. However, seeing my growing agitation that our plan would be ruined she quickly assured me that the serpent would, in the end, play its part.

Since Mylha often states that she doesn’t expect to live long it crossed my mind that this might be the last occasion she charmed her pet from his basket. I remembered Quamlo’s theory that only souls filled with wickedness need have fear. It must mean that the Wise Woman and I should feel some apprehension for the malice in our hearts concerning the Great Leader.

I discussed the matter with Quamlo but he, whilst understanding my state of mind, persuaded me that we were merely punishing the Great Leader for his cruelty to women. He added that to allow him to continue brutalising, torturing and raping the womenfolk would make us as evil as the man himself.

The ceremony of union was conducted by Junson, a young man of 50 years and the son of Heliona. Junson was dressed in loose, white clothes with an ornate sword hanging from his waist. The sword was a symbol of union, although I was unable to make the connection. He didn’t have to do much except to read lines from an old book, but the placing of hands was important so Quamlo kept an eagle eye on that part of the rite. Quamlo and I stood side by side and every time I turned towards him I could see his surreptitious gestures. It made me smile with affection. At the end of the reading Quamlo and I were declared truly bound in legal confluence.

And so the reception began. The Great Leader took charge of proceedings by inducing the guests to partake of wine and make merry with each other. Having such freedom was rare so the men took him at his word. The few women who did not join them sat around as if they were waiting for something to happen. Passive, silent and fearful.

Eventually the Great Leader moved among them, tweaking ears and pulling hair. One woman was pulled to her feet so that he could kiss her, another was forced to accept his caress, and yet another was taken by him to the games room. Her cries could be heard from where Quamlo and I were sitting. That was when Mylha decided to act.

She moved back to the banqueting table, picked up the Great Leader’s goblet and filled it with an intoxicating substance. Upon his return from the games room the man was invited to return to his place and enjoy the substance the Wise Woman held out to him. Quamlo and I moved to sit nearer and I saw that as he tipped the goblet back so the serpent’s head emerged from his basket. Mylha played a tuneless air to encourage the serpent to rise forth and attach itself to the man’s back. The Great Leader knew nothing about it until the creature slithered up his back and bit his neck. With one drawn-out scream his flailing body fell onto the table. 

Death was quick. And there was much rejoicing. My guilt is hard to bear, more especially since Mylha died at the same time. She was right about not living long and it was her own serpent that killed her. Once it tasted blood there was no stopping it.  The creature was slain by Junson’s single blade.

‘So be it,’ whispered Quamlo, as he led me away.

For several days the memory of that awful time when Umulo was killed was uppermost in my mind. The punishment was execution and I couldn’t help but wonder if the Wise Woman’s death was her punishment for the present crime. If that was the case, shouldn’t I and others have been punished given that we planned the killing.

It was a tragedy all round but because of it the women now have the freedom Quamlo wanted them to have, to speak their minds, to say No when they want to, and finally to enjoy their lives on Sol Vellow. The Great Leader’s shadow is no more and my mind is finally at rest. It had to be. For the sake of mankind.

Since that time the population has grown, we have new babies, and new families. Quamlo is our leader and although he got there by foul means the people have accepted him. He is kind hearted but firm. People live by his rules and are grateful. Heliona and I are good friends. We often visit the cave where Mylha’s body was placed. We go there to pray and to offer our thanks for the risks she took on behalf of womenfolk.


18 October 2015

MONEY MATTERS!


Almost hidden by a spreading crab-apple tree she watched as he selected another card from his wallet and inserted it into the dimly lit cash point. It was a red card, the one he used before was blue. Two accounts by the look of it.  He withdrew a wad of notes on the blue so it would be interesting to see how much he got on the red. Eve’s eyes widened when she saw the size of the second bundle. What she wouldn’t give to have some of that in her collecting box.

The bank was an old establishment one, built in the 1800’s in what was now a tree-lined esplanade. Elegant, if old buildings were your thing; and it smelled of money. The area was inhabited by a wealthy section of society, which is why she was here. If she couldn’t get a bit of that wealth here she wasn’t the girl she thought she was. Material things were important but unavailable without cash, that’s why she had two jobs. Fundraising was her main one, temping for the agency was just a fill-in. Not for her the impoverishment suffered by her parents and grandparents, or the persistent complaints that life treated them unfairly. Nor could she adopt her sister’s lifestyle of living off her friends which was the cause of the rift in their relationship.

After pocketing the money in his rather gaudy jacket the young man glanced round before moving away from the machine.  Seeing his face startled Eve, convincing her that she knew him from somewhere. She racked her brains trying to remember. Perhaps he frequented her usual coffee bar, or maybe the wine bar where she and Hazel spent Friday nights? Apart from the weekly visits to the laundrette she didn’t go anywhere else, only work, and he definitely wasn’t an employee at March and McDonalds.

Eve switched the collection box to her left hand to relieve the numbness in her fingers. Colleagues had warned that the coins would weigh heavy after a while but she thought leather gloves would ease that. Only she hadn’t realised how difficult it would be handling tiny charity pins with gloves on. She could call it a day but was eager to win the contest for the one who collected the most for the city’s deprived children. She didn’t win many things; she simply wasn’t the competitive type, or hadn’t been until her sister Flossie announced her engagement to someone called Fred and asked for support with the wedding arrangements. Now she was all out making those arrangements, or rather finding the money to pay for it all. The parents weren’t in a position to fork out willy-nilly for all Flossie’s fancy ideas and Fred wasn’t much help. According to Flossie he ignored hints like he’d gone deaf. He was regarded as a well-respected member of the community, albeit a community at the far end of the land; Scotland, to be precise, which couldn’t be further away from their family’s Cornish home town. Even so, he didn’t seem to have much money.
 
None of the family had known she was courting, let alone soon to be wed. Their mother naturally came to the conclusion her daughter was pregnant but the next few months revealed no sign of ensuing parenthood. Eve could only assume that Florence and Frederick were truly and simply in love. It was such a pity he didn’t earn enough to pay for their wedding.

By seven o’clock Eve had had enough. She was cold and miserable. Her feet throbbed and she longed for a cup of hot coffee and something warm to eat. Since the workers and shoppers had gone home the walkway seemed deserted, there was just her to watch the activity of the shopkeepers shutting their shops. She had thought of waiting for the evening cinema goers but the bitter cold was making her head ache. Somewhat reluctantly she moved towards the bus stop, stopping only to adjust the chiffon scarf around her neck and search for her gloves. In one of her rare moments of self pity she wondered why she had volunteered to sell charity pins on such a foul day. Eve suddenly thought about the good-looking guy at the cash machine. And all that money. The charity would really like that. And the children would benefit.

A bout of shivering decided Eve that enough was enough. A drink was called for to warm her. The Royal Oak wasn’t far away; maybe she could pop in for a coffee.  All day opening was in her favour, before that the pubs wouldn’t dream of serving coffee. She might even get to sell a few more pins.

~~~

More bravely than she felt, Eve walked into the pub. The warmth hit her, but the smell of ale almost choked her. The place was packed out with office workers, suited men with ties and high heeled well-dressed women. She glanced round, looking for a table and quickly realising the futility of such a thing. Instead she pushed through the crowd, heading towards the bar, catching her scarf as it slid from her neck.

It was only after bumping into a woman with a glass in her hand that she noticed the guy at the far end of the bar, the one she’d seen at the cash machine. He had his back to her but she’d know that jacket anywhere. It wasn’t everyone who wore such a colourful coat, green stripes on a yellow base. Eve pushed past a party of noisy drinkers to get a better view.

The move enabled her to see his reflection in the long mirror behind the bar. He was very handsome but now she realised she didn’t know him at all. That could be remedied, she thought, fully intending to head over to where he was leaning on the bar, nonchalant, like he hadn’t a care in the world, talking to a skinny jean-clad youth. Eve pushed closer. She had no idea what she would say to him but, hey, this was a pub... anything goes in a pub.
         
‘Yes, miss?’

Although she wasn’t looking in his direction the barman obviously thought Eve wanted a drink. And why not? After all she’d come in here with that in mind, though she couldn’t see anyone else drinking coffee. Without too much hesitation she decided to order a glass of Sauvignon and waited while a new bottle was opened. It made a lovely sound as the liquid flowed into a stemmed glass; it quite made her mouth water. It was at that point she heard a commotion behind her. Glass in hand she turned to look, heard someone say ‘Well, it must be here somewhere.’

A group of people were searching for something on the floor. Eve looked down wondering if she would spot anything. And there it was. It had been kicked under the bar’s foot rail, unseen in the crush, and only inches away from her right foot.

Taking a quick sip of wine, Eve replaced the glass on the bar, the movement causing the scarf to slither, as chiffon does, right off her neck. It shimmered as it landed in a small heap by her left foot. She bent to retrieve it.

~~~

In the privacy of the ladies cloakroom she examined the wallet, shiny brown leather, small enough to slip into a pocket.  Without opening it she could see that it bulged with notes. The boss at the charity base would be pleased to have so much money for the children, she thought, as she moved towards the door. Or even her sister! But her aim was not to steal; instead she would use it as an introduction to that exceedingly handsome young man who need never know how tempted she was!


11 October 2015

THE END OF PLASTIC BAGS


So, the UK is now fully committed to providing fewer plastic bags to shoppers. Of course we can still have one if we pay for it. 5p in English money ... not exactly a break the bank figure, is it? I wonder how many will pay up rather than carry their own bag(s) to the store? 

The fracas has started already. One guy refused to pay his 5p which forced the assistance to transfer everything from plastic bag to wire basket. Guy wanted to take the basket out to his car but his request demand wasn’t met. There wasn’t exactly a punch-up but things were heated enough to be televised. Now I’m wondering why the cameras were there in the first place?! 

Does anyone remember the days when paper carriers were used, you know, those recyclable things ousted for the sake of plastic. We used to carry groceries home in paper bags, ones without handles, hugging them tight in fear of dropping something, all the time fancying ourselves as being American. Yes, we had a Safeways and loved it. Then came Walmart, quickly followed by ASDA. I can’t remember who introduced the plastic bag but I seem to remember ASDA were first to have personalised carriers. My illusion of carrying ‘American’ paper bags like the people in films was quickly dashed.

Before that there were baskets. Oh boy, was I proud to use my pretty basket (which I still have, by the way) but that was pre-housewife days when not much shopping was done. I couldn’t imagine carrying grocery in a basket these days. Far too heavy! No, these days I get stuff delivered.

So now, when shopping I take fold-up bags which are permanently kept in handbag, purse, or car. They weigh nothing and open easily. The only thing about not having plastic bags is that there’s nothing to put the rubbish in. Still, we have wheelie bins for that. 

04 October 2015

TRACING THE FAMILY NAME

(picture by irishcentral.com)
A few years ago I decided to trace the paternal side of the family name. Little did I know that two other family members were doing the same. They got a lot further than me but they kept me informed of discoveries. However, I use the word discoveries loosely since everyone came to a dead end. They were using the internet and everything was going well until the name disappeared. At the time I blamed the Net, little realising that our family name was non-existent before a certain decade.

Quite literally ... non-existent. 
(picture by www.ooh-er.com)
When investigation revealed that the name had a starting point but no history, my Aunt Florence claimed that she didn’t really know who she was. She wasn’t joking, either... deep down she was quite upset. Anyway, we got as far as tracing her aunt who, she already knew, had four children all with the family name as we know it now. However, the children’s mother never married and bore a completely different name to them.  

Family members had their own ideas and came up with various invented stories of what happened. My favourite was that the relative in question was a lady’s maid who courted the son of the family she worked for.

Whoever the father was there was no record and he definitely did not bear the family name that we know. No, the name started with the four children, their mother having a completely different surname. Was it invented? I guess we’ll never know.

The more romantic of us dreamed up the tale that great-great-aunt courted a man who refused or was unable to marry the mother of his children. I visualise her waiting patiently while her lover lived the life of a toff, never letting on how he spent those furtive hours in the company of what would then be called a ‘slut’.

Perhaps he came from a wealthy family, with servants, one that looked down on relationships such as the one he entered and kept going for several years. Perhaps they were wealthy and of some standing in society. Think of the shame if they knew of their son’s behaviour and the fact that he had four bastard children. Perhaps they did know, perhaps his grandparents forbade marriage, threatening to cut him off from the family without funds to live on. What a tragedy that would be. But, no, my feeling is that the whole affair was kept secret in order that great-great aunt could continue working for the family. I mean, she did end up with four children needing to be clothed and fed.  

Another suggestion was that he was a criminal but I didn’t go along with that idea. If that was the case it would be his name that needed to be changed, not his kids. The main question in my mind is: why not name the children after their mother?

I remember meeting my four great-aunts, very respectable, nice people who, like their mother, never married. I wonder why?  How I would like to go back and question them but of course it’s too late. And to think this all came about because of a desire to trace ancestors, a task made more difficult because the name came out of nowhere and there’s nobody left to question.