I can picture the perfect place myself, in the middle of a meadow, lying fallow, beyond the reach of ramblers and dog walkers. A green hill, far away, with easy access. I will lie still for three days. Water and aspirins. Starve it out of me and rise again, fit to press on. Like a tape worm crawling out of your anus, prepared to leave your body to infiltrate another, I will pass on my fever to the nearest living organism. It could work, for though I sleep most of the time I am exhausted beyond contemplation and I sense that I need to sleep deeply to recover. I need deep and enduring peace. It will fail if I am tormented and fitful when I need to rest. I think of Polk to ask him for guidance and I can hear myself saying, ‘Help me Polk. I need to recover. I need peace. I need to stop thinking,’ but I know he can’t, or won’t. He’s too far away now. The link has been broken.
There was something about the way the locks were opened, as if Sweet and Sour were trying to illustrate the measured propriety of his every action. The door swung open slowly and I sensed him standing back to allow someone else in ahead of him. I drew myself back, expecting that my day of reckoning had arrived. Sweet went to stand behind me, untied the blindfold, and with a staccato jolt of his head backwards the new man indicated to him to unfasten the handcuffs too.
I rubbed my wrists like they do in films as I took him in. A short man, moustache, good hair, wavy like Liberace’s, but sort of Brylcreemed back into a bouncy quiff that looked like a monument to someone he admired very much. Shopkeeper-cum-lowly clerk type. The doted upon smart young brother of many halfwit siblings.
He said nothing for a long time. It was disrespectful to remain sitting perhaps. I kneeled in front of him first, then stood. There was not a stick of furniture in the room. He was silent. Just looked. Had I disappointed him?
Eventually he said something very softly to Sweet and Sour, almost whispered it to him. I couldn’t tell whether it was in a foreign language, but as soon as he did, Sweet left to stand outside the door, closing it to a crack behind him as he did.
Then he spoke: ‘I should introduce myself. I am Marudeva. I am a deputy-commander in my organisation.’
There was no handshake. But there was a pause, maybe he stepped back a pace, as if he was waiting to be congratulated on his fabulous name. Something suggested military too, but I think that was an illusion created by the khaki slacks and shirt combo; and the forager cap tucked under the epaulette on his right shoulder that was made of that faux ermine which made it look like the lemon in a box of Fruit Gums. And the moustache. He fell into one of the twelve key physiological patterns – porcine; and so carried a hint of shyness based on self-knowledge of ugliness. But he didn’t have the dead eyes of my guard. His pig’s eyes looked clever enough to be cruel.
He waited like a bully for you first to work out how you’d disappointed him, then, once you had, to offer an explanation for your deviant behaviour. He looked down at his shoes then back at me. I repeated his question back at him
He made a gesture with his hands as if to give me the floor.
So… long, farewell, adieu, adieu, adieu. To yer, and yer and yer and yer and yer. I bowed my head at him, then described a theatrical circle around him, with a trailing right hand, as if to indicate that I had received classical ballet training.
He stood stock still, then as I retook my place continued as if nothing had happened. Then said, ‘I have given you my name, may I have yours?’ He scared me, but there was something in his manner that perhaps did not demand deference.
‘You mean you don’t know who you’ve abducted?’ Abducted? The unmeant haughtiness of the lonely and rejected.
Yes,’ he said, ‘but I would like to hear it from you.’
I felt emboldened by his impertinence. ‘You have my passport.’ It was inside my rucksack. ‘You’ll have read that. That’s who I am.’
‘And so, you prove it, what we know. I have seen a passport for Mr Richard White. I would like to know your name, please. For you to say it.’
‘OK, if you want. My name is Richard Delaheade White.’
He laughed then. I’d heard that before. Each new school year. A ponce’s name. But listen to this. He then walked around me, and when he returned to his starting point, he stood stock still, looking me in the eye, and without a trace of irony, he sang, Well Hello Dolly, all the way through. I went cold. Before Dickie, I’d been known as Doll’s Heed, after I was spotted (with Dolly) coming home with a particularly severe haircut. I’d been thinking about Dolly and the bedtime routine as I’d tried to sleep over the last few days and nights, she had adopted Hello Dolly as her signature tune and it had worked its way into our bedtime routine, just after the one about Charlie Chaplin, and before Oh, Oh Antonio, with which we always brought the curtain down, before turning to the God Blesses and Pity My epilogue.
Perhaps I’d externalised, and he was taunting me? Why should he pick that song so close to my recalling it for the first time in years? I knew then, as I’d never known before, that this meant something. Time was not up for me yet. Something, someone, far away, was telling me that there was an explanation waiting for me. The riddle of my life had a solution.
‘Your real name.’ There was little point in repeating it again.
‘Look at the photograph. It’s me.’
He waved his hand, ‘
Pah! Ten years old!’ A fat man in transition. A glass of tea and lemon. Enforced diet and plenty of walking.
‘It is. It’s me. It’s all I’ve got to prove who I am.’
‘It is a forgery as are you,’ he shouted.
What was I to do? What is worse than being told you are not who you are by someone who does not know who you are? Like Wesley. The same arrogance. He knew better than me what I’d been thinking. You were trying to copy off me and Deadbeat. The sheer offensiveness to presume. To fail to acknowledge that I had been waited for; prepared for life; and he’d been left under a hedge.
I was dying to hear this:
‘Because,’ he said, ‘there has not been one newspaper report, nothing on the television. No announcements from the police. Nothing. Do you think this would happen to, shall we say, an ordinary person?’
He should have said normal person. Then he would have been guaranteed to win the argument. Reason is on my side because I declare my view to be normal. I am a normal person, and only hold the views that a normal person could hold. You on the other hand, with your mad ideas… I mean, I can see how, one day, someone else, a figure of stature, a captain of industry, someone that played for England, then became Managing Director of Heinz Baked Beans, yes, someone like that, someone even more normal than me, he might make exactly the same point as you are now and then, of course, it would then be normalised.
Until then you are an idiot who holds unsupportable views, and I say that as a scientist! You’d think I’d know something about the objective interpretation of data, wouldn’t you? Well, I’ve got news for you, I am so normal, I already know what the right results are supposed to look like before they happen.
He raised his hand to prevent me from suggesting why this should be so, and continued, ‘Only a person, Mr Ackerman, with your connections may keep this story from the press. That is why we know.’
‘I’m not an ordinary person,’ I said. I said it to myself really, but he pounced on it and demanded an explanation. ‘There is no one who’ll miss me,’ I told him.
‘I think myself that you will be missed. And that we can afford to be patient.’
I bowed my head. I wasn’t going to contradict a prick like this who knew that he was right about everything. I projected my father’s face onto his. ‘I’m a realist, Richard. There’s no one with no one.‘
Then I worked out a song. It was to the tune of ‘Four and Twenty Virgins’, and to be honest, it was pretty rude about Marudeva. I suppressed it, more because I didn’t have a good rhyming last line more than anything else. It was funny though. And look at him, strutting about like a turkey cock. I share the thought with Dolly and we laugh our heads off for a bit.
‘So, we must treat you well until then.’
Treat me well? Have you ever tried eating a hardboiled egg with middle eastern bread? In a blindfold? It’s an infringement of me human rights. How come he doesn’t know what an idiotic meal it is? He probably juices his up with a sheep’s eyeball or something. I can’t remember how much of this I said out loud.
He made concessions then. Blindfold, handcuffs. But I didn’t have the nerve to tell him about the healing powers of Vicks Vapour Rub. I decided to pick that up offline with Sweet and Sour so instead I made a hand gesture to suggest an exchange of dialogue with the idiot standing on the other side of the door. Thinking about it now, it was less of an emailing gesture and more of the sort of thing a football manager would do from the touchline to make it look like he’s in charge.
I got a fresh fried egg for tea too, but no roast potato and I couldn’t persuade Sweet and Sour to read out the classified football results out to me, let alone a verse of The sun shines bright on Charlie Chaplin.
Please bear with me. I’ve just read this back. I’m not mad, just lonely.