[The Story So Far...]
“In the beginning was the word.” the ancient Hebrew yelled.
“Take the word and stick it up your Kike arse.” I yelled back. “It all started with a smell.”
“What in heaven's name are you talking about Potash?”
“Listen here John,” I said to him as I lit up my third cigarette of the hour blowing smoke into his face. “It don't mean a thing to me that you have sold over a hundred million and I do not even have a bloody book yet, but you got to let me tell my story...”
We were seated at the terrace of a bar on the seedier side of heaven.
“Keep it down, out there,” shouted the barman his voice following his scraggy beard and screwed up face out of the window, “I am not licensed.” He looked the type that had started out as a bootlegger in Vanity Fair and through an oversight of Divine Bureaucracy or using a forged visa on Pilgrim's stolen passport had got into the Celestial City. John made a victory sign at him which in my newly enlightened state I knew to be the 60 AD equivalent of showing someone the finger. The barman jumped onto the window sill and pulling out an upstart penis wagged it at John. That I assumed to be a Masonic sign because, their type not being allowed here, I had no way of interpreting it.
The terrace faced a slow moving body of water that was, to my Nairobian's eyes, too clean to be a river. Nairobi River must have looked like that once long ago before even the do-gooders at UNEP gave up on it and decided to spend their money on duty free Hummers, I mused. Then my eyes were drawn to something on the river's west bank: Hyacinth? Detritus? Before I could figure out what it was I heard a series of loud bangs coming from that side of the river. The kind of loud bangs that you quickly learn to sleep through if, like me, you have lived in Kiambu or certain areas of Nairobi.
The sound of gunfire.
“They just delivered a fresh bunch of virgins to that side”
“If I had known that there was more than one way to heaven do you think I would have bothered to give up fishing?” John lamented. “I mean, look at fuckers like you, for all his vengeance who would have known God could give out guilt-free-passes?”
“Wacha I pee.” I dismissed his rant.
The toilets were at the back of the building. Down a dimly lit corridor. NAPOLEON WAS HERE! A squiggle, in dark coloured shit, on the wall informed me. HITLER TOO! Another, in a sloppy hand that was trying so hard to steal my attention from the other, insisted. “Who would have known?” I mumbled at the wall and reminded myself to sign this guest book on my way out. (Unfortunately, hard as I tried, a shit was not forthcoming so those of you that pass by that way in future might feel inclined to call me a liar but that is yours.)
As I walked back through the bar, a couple of medieval Popes beckoned me over to their table. “Hey moor,” one of them extended an avuncular smile at me, “you are new here no?”
“How about a glass of Roodeberg for two old hands who need it?”said the other.
“If you fuckers had bothered to store your treasures up here,” I said leaning against their table with all the weight of Sunday School behind me, “You would be drinking vintage Lachrymal Christi up in here instead of trying to cadge some cheap South African crud.”
“If we had known they would let Caliban in here we would have signed up for the other side.” one Pope yelled.
“Devil's dam, if you know your Shakespeare, Leo,” the other said to his friend, “every one of these bloody moors. I am so glad that in our time there was a sea between us and them. These days an honest to God man cannot afford decent neighbours for a lifetime of trying.”
Leo, returning to fiddling with the TV in an attempt to catch an illegal channel: “They even make the world turn now...” The TV screen stopped flickering to reveal one of porno's greatest moments: Bobbi Bliss deep-throating Mandingo. “... and just look at what the world has come to- a hot babe like this can only find fame by deep-throating that horse sized savage? Like who is this Mandingo anyway- Othello or something?”
“Fuck Othello,” Leo's friend retorted, “that son of Caligula ravished Maria, my youngest Venice mistress... caught the bastard negro jumping out of the window as I stepped into my lady's chamber and as I...”
I never heard the rest of that Pope's story because having shaken hands around the bar and stopping to show Kapuscinski where his arse was so he would know where to shove his Africa stories, I stepped out into the terrace.
“You know, “ I said to John, “those losers in there... the Popes... they remind me of some crafty Kenyans in America. Fuckers who hang around and wait for new kids to arrive from home with harambee money and welcome them with hearty smiles and before the kids can tell a quarter from a dime, it is all gone.”
“Forget those small timers, Potash,” John said shaking his head. “I have seen Kenyans here in heaven who make me think I am in the wrong place.” He paused and beckoning a waitress, ordered another drink for himself. On my tab. (It is surprising how much wealth a guy like me who cannot tell God from Adam has got stored up here. For those who like a moral with their story all I can say is that there is no rhyme or reason to God. God, like I have said before, works in mysterious ways his blunders to perform.)
“There are, er...” John stammered when I caught him staring at the retreating backside of the waitress. “There are Kenyans living up on Kingdom Hill and playing golf with God that have been damned by millions on earth. It is easy to be down there and see someone rob an entire country blind and say: 'That one is going to hell' but then you get here and you marvel at how much stock they bought up here.” He paused to commend the waitress, as she brought him his drink, on her good looks. “Potash, man, it is like there is some insider trading going on here.. it is as though the Nairobi Stock Exchange is the eye of the needle that you have to pass through to see the kingdom of heaven.”
“So how did I get in,” I asked him, “if as you say blessed are not the poor”
“Potash, have you seen the records office here?” He spat. “It is worse than a court registry down in Nairobi; even Jesus cannot find his own file if he tried to.”
“Ah, well... talking of Jesus,” I segued, “I am sure he is a spoilt brat... the type I know how to pull drinks out of...”
“He is a regular kid, I must say,” John said with a smile, “You know me and him go way back from when he was setting up his hustle down there...”
“I know man,” I responded, “I read your book a thousand times... it is one of my favourite books of all time...”
“Thanks, Potash.” John said raising his glass and clinking it against mine. “But you know I have had some people come up to me here and say I didn't write it. That I was just a fisherman who couldn't know better...”
“Hehehehe! Some people say Timi wrote the early posts on my blog; that Potash was a character N.M. created and formed a committee- the so called Potashian Book Club- to write fictional memoirs... and I am not saying that you and me are on the same level, but all I am saying is that once your work is out there then people are bound to say all manner of crass things.”
“But I wrote that book, Potash,” John said and I could fell a tide of tears assail him, “I want you to know that.”
“John, I am your number one fan.” I put my hand over his and he turned towards me. I looked him straight in the eye and said: “Forget Jane Austen and Tolstoy, you have my favourite first line of all time: In the beginning was the word...”
He rubbed a wee tear of his left eye and stared across the river as yet another salvo was fired to celebrate the arrival of more virgins. A rocket propelled grenade flew through the air and landed dangerously close to our terrace. As it exploded I wondered what happened to the virgins when they were virgins no more. Did God have a recall system and a warehouse full of 'virginity' creams or did the men just use the virgins and toss them into the river to float their useless way, alongside the spent mortar shells, towards hell?
“But Potash, if you liked that line so why were you disputing it?”
“I like it because of the metaphysical punch it packs... I am told that it has something to do with that gnostic stuff you were up to that almost had the Popes showing you where to get off... But, let us not miss the point, which is, that was your first line; your story, but it is not mine. All I was saying is that my story begins with the smells.”
“But which story, Potash?” John wondered. “The one about your death in a dingy strip club or the one about your resurrection?”
“Look here Hebrew,” I glared at him, “I am not dead. All I know is that for some weird reason I am stuck in this gaudy looking city listening to you bore me to death and wondering how the hell I got here.”
“You broke your neck, Potash.” John explained. “Well, sort of.”
“When...? where...? how...? What do you mean sort off?”
“Luke is the doctor not me.” He laughed. “Don't you know your bible, Potash.” I did not even humour him with a rude retort.
“So,” John started, “it was about 0230hrs East African Time and Jesus, some angel called Dino and I were on duty at The Panopticon...?”
“Hey, hey... easy on the jargon old man,” I interjected. “Panowhassat?”
“Oh, The Panopticon,” John explained, “a newfangled observatory this Frenchie faggot Foucault built for God in exchange for a visa into the Celestial City. Turns out later this Foucault guy had stolen the idea from some long dead English dude so visa got revoked.” John paused, cackled. “You should have seen the amount of water- straight out of this here river, I tell you- that Jesus turned into wine that day to celebrate and spite a bunch of his detractors here who say like to say that he, and the rest of us boys that hang with him, is queer.”
“Be easy on the faggots man,” I said to John, “God sure must have made them in his own image, no?”
“What shit you talking man?” John yelled at me.
“I am not talking,” I replied. “It is you who is telling me about being on duty at this Panopticon thingum.”
“Yes,” John continued. “so The Panopticon is not useful really, we just sit and watch the live feed from earth but there is not much we can do about it. Not much we are meant to do but watch; put the scient into omniscient; the presence into omnipresence and such things seeing that God caught the Outsourcing bug long before everyone else and men do the creation and the killing for him. Men know who to thank for small mercies: God; who to blame when they receive no mercy: The Devil.”
“Cut to the chase, old man,” I complained, “God played you, so what do I care, I have a story to write”
“So,” John carried on with his exposition on heavenly politics which, as far as I was concerned, was not only wasting my time but also messing up my word count, “there we were and I was the only one watching the live feed.
See, things have been very slack in heaven these days. Global warming means that God cannot grow his weed out in his garden any more so he spends most of his time in Hell- where The Devil has a massive grow operation going on- trying to bum a joint or two. The way I see it is that someone needs to tell God that if you give a man a joint he will get high for a day, but if you teach a man how to grow his own shit he will stay high, every day.”
“Word!” I said because I am the kind of person that will credit a good point when I see it. Even when it is standing in the way of my story.
“Anyway, God being absent more often than not has meant that no one is bothered to earn their Celestial digs. Most beings- the junior staff who need his signature to as much as sneeze, especially- cannot even get their work done even if they tried to. Jesus on the other hand has become more than a bit jaded. I mean, since people down there were able to split the atom, no one has remained impressed by some hippie who once upon a time split a few loaves between thousands of people. Who has heard of the miracle at some wedding in Canaan since men discovered 'bottomless' beer? So Jesus was on sms chat with Mary Magdalene while he should have been watching the live feed with me and Dino. (Which wouldn't be a problem if only Jesus had not been using the prayer Hotline.) Dino? Dino had fallen asleep, for the tenth night in a row, trying to read Ngugi wa Thiongo's Wizard of the Crow.
So, there I am, watching you. You had just done an impressive job with that Lolita in the 'Presidential Sweet' and were back at the bar.” John continued. I had a vague memory of being the fuckee rather than the fucker but I could not be bothered to interrupt John with small details. “Your friend Dinda and that mercenary cunt of a writer, ...N.M?”
“Yeah. N.M.” I confirmed. “More cunt than writer, I dare say...”
“Indeed. Dinda and N.M had gone off to handle business in other sections of the club so you perched your arse on a stool by the counter and ordered a yellow drink.”
“Damn, a yellow drink that soon? Yellow means I do not want to get it up again...”
John: “And you didn't. One of the girls dancing on the counter crawled over to you after a signal from the hostess.”
“I'll be damned,” I whistled the events of the previous night coming back to me, “the ones on the counter were ugly!”
“Sure was ugly...” John agreed. “The one that crawled over to you was uglier that Celie in The Color Purple. She whispered in your ear and you nodded your approval.”
“Inebriation.” I shout thumping my fist on the table and spilling our drinks. “Mitigation, sir!”
“The girl spun round and with her hands resting firmly on the counter she curled her legs around your neck...”
“Woah...” I exclaimed remembering that moment.
“Ditto.” John said. “'Check this shit out,' I said to Jesus. He glared at me and asked: 'What?' I pointed at the screen. Jesus switched off the phone- the prayer hotline mind you- and pulled a seat closer to the screen.”
“I see labia like an elephants ears lunging at me and then my mind goes blank.”
“That is when you ended up here.” John explained. “The table was wet, the girl's hands slid off it. The girl's legs were curled around your neck- Twist!”
“I have seen people die in the freakiest of ways,” John laughed, “but yours Potash, yours was intolerable. An anti-climax, even.”
“By the time your neck snapped every one had been watching the show on their Panopticon Portable 2000s. Suddenly, phones went buzzing with blame games and buck-passing. The Fates insisted they didn't do it. Both God and The Devil were adamant they didn't do it, either- and they were each other's alibi.”
“So what the hell happened, man?”
“Baku.” John said shaking his head in exasperation.
“Your guardian angel.” Said John. “He is a faggot. He has the hots for you.”
“Jesus F. Christ!”
“It is Baku that pushed the girl off the slippery table.”
“But, er... come on now,” I stammered. “What did you all do when I broke my neck? You, them, someone... Jesus... what did Jesus do?”
“Jesus,” John said a tangible solemnity taking over his voice. “Jesus did what Jesus does when bad things happen to good people.”
“Yeah, and what's that?”