Shipping Forecast And Gale Warnings (short story)

Humber, Thames.

Southeast veering southwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later.

Thundery showers.

Moderate or good, occasionally poor.

Let me fill your glass, and make it level with mine my dear friend. Here we go. Come on drink up. This is a forty-year-old whisky. A waiter gave me a blanket and poured me some. He said it’s to warm the passengers standing outside and it’s a Glen-something. I couldn’t say no and I asked for the bottle.

Right now as we drink there must be other Iranians in some corner of the world having a drink with us.

Some could be in a Californian Hotel drinking to some newlyweds wondering how their kids grew up so fast and so American.

Some would drink in a German village in a refugee camp wondering how to get out of their limbo and how much cash they can get for the golf balls they fish from mosquito infested ponds.

Some would visit their secret jars of moonshine hidden in their cellar in Tehran, or they could be drinking from a confiscated bottle that they bought from the Morality Police; you know the sellers top the bottles up with tea and carefully put the cap back and seal it, and who is going to argue with them?

With every sip our drinking friends would be wondering how long this mad regime that is strangling us would last; how long we have to carry that bat-shaped mark in our passports; the mark that casts us from the rest of humanity as if we carry the mark of Cain; as if our God is a monster that rejoices only with the scent of burnt Middle eastern flesh; as if we killed our brother and we are not worthy of redemption.

Free drinks or not I plan to warm up and see an old flame tonight, and I should stay sober.

So with you my friend as my witness I hereby screw this cap on, and launch this bottle overboard as an important message for future posterity. Let those brats figure out their own meaning when they find a half empty bottle floating their way. Perhaps they will have a sip with us when our bones are white and dry. I’ll give them my glass too. Here you are future. Take it; take it. I don’t want it; you can have it.

That was a big drop though- I reckon it would be a drop of hundred and eighty feet from here to the propeller. I bet that propeller with those good blades would drag and slice a man before he has a chance to drown or even get salt water up his nostrils. If a man overboard doesn’t get chopped, or the fall doesn’t kill him he would die of hypothermia and disappear in the dark water in no time. I suppose the bottle made it. What do you think?

Yes, those propellers would get a man. Blades like them would turn without causing viscous friction and don’t get cavitation scars. I used to fix them you know. I was thirteen when I worked in a British workshop in Abadan. This is before the Iranian oil was nationalized.

It was a fourteen-hour a day shift. Sometimes I had a quick nap on the hot concrete floor and went back to work. One day I saw one of the old men crouched in a corner burning a cigarette, and staring at nothing. I went and talked to him. The old man was becoming retired and after a lifetime of service had nothing to show for it but he still had young daughters. That day I said I wouldn’t end up like him, and from then I joined a weekend adult education class. For each lost year I did three grades. I even did my math homework behind a lathe, cutting machine parts.

Now I am older than that old man, and today I called my solicitor to ask about the progress of my divorce. This is my second divorce. It’s like you complete a marathon but when you reach the finishing line they’ve moved it for a second marathon and you have to run another twenty-five miles.

My friend, the woman has been bleeding my pocket dry and tormenting me for forty-five years. She has left me with nothing; I’m just like that old man.

Would you believe at first she was a domestic goddess? She made this fantastic spicy Fish and Herb stew with dissolved tamarind pulps and served it with saffron Basmati rice. I wouldn’t have married the second time but my sister kept insisting and didn’t take no for an answer. I explained to her my reservations and she sneered then raised her shoulders and dropped her lower lip:

‘Are you still a man? You are not waiting for your ex to leave her lover and come back to you, or are you? Look at this widow. She is a peach…has her own kids too so she could be a good mother for your three. Don’t you want to sleep in a warm bed’, she said.

So I sat with my future second wife in a friend’s house and all we talked about were pomegranates. I took her to the cinema and she was flirty and I thought that was nice. I couldn’t figure her out. That is all I knew of her when we married.

First month or two she quietly cut a bit from our savings and then she would spend it on her family but I thought that was all right and didn’t say anything. After the revolution she turned religious and it was then that she became a master thief. Just like those Ayatollahs she had convinced herself that she had a license from God to steal my money. She would prey on my bank account and then go and pray five times a day. If I were God I would open my pants and piss on that prayer.

I also had a call from my son. This is my boy from the first marriage. I thought he called to make an apology but no – he answers me in his usual deadpan voice:

‘Dad I’m sick and tired of seeing you turning a blind eye and ruining yourself.’

Last time I had a drink with my boy I said the best drink is the one you have with those you love. His eyes turned red and he went quiet and started niggling:

‘Dad, why did you leave me like a cat with food in the house when I was four?’

I told him that wasn’t my fault; that, my friend, was his mother’s wrongdoing. She left me with three kids on my hands. I had to go to work and keep my job. In a city of strangers, and no family there was no one to help. Then he said:

‘Why leave the house? Why leave my sisters and I in care of that evil woman? She groomed my sisters for her dirty father; she called them whores and tore up their diaries.’

I said lucky they were smart enough to protect themselves from your stepmother. I thought we were going to have a pleasant drink and for once forget the past. I kept away from the house because of my job. This was the job that put food on the table, and when I said that he went completely berserk.

Then I said at least he is not alone, his sisters are batty too. He moaned again:

‘I scrubbed floors and built my life on my own. I don’t owe you anything’, he said.

Thanks I said; good for you. Look at you, the big professional. Earning a living was character building. Besides you know damn well your stepmother took control of my finances, and you are forgetting a little thing called a revolution, war followed by poverty?

Ok I admit that I was like a piece of clay in her hand but I can’t change things now can I? So can we drink please?

Both my wives are in my black book of retribution. Mind you, after Fariba my first ex was betrayed by her lover-turned-husband, when she stood in my daughter’s living room one day and right in front of our grandchildren dowsed her dress in kerosene, lit a match and turned aflame, I crossed her name out. She paid with her blood.

Fariba was a beautiful woman, but when I saw her in that hospital I didn’t recognise her. When they called me to go over I still had the picture of her as a young woman that I once loved. I then remembered the breakup, and the way she tore her pearl necklace in front of my elderly uncle shouting: ‘nobody gave me a choice. They forced me to marry you.’

She said that with such scorn. It was as if we never shared a life and three beautiful children; as if I never kissed her tummy when it grew to the size of a melon or smiled at her adoringly when she passed wind or threw up; it was as if we were never two young lovers embracing under a thin summer sheet. When I saw her like that I thought did she not know the sweet scent of charred flesh was not just hers?

She died a day later and I mourned her for two days, but no more.

My boy doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand my childhood. I had to stand outside my mother’s house waiting for a plate of food like a beggar. Her husband would chase me and call me a bastard like I was a stray dog.

This is what happens to orphans.

My grandfather the diplomat was shot by a sniper’s bullet and then they poisoned my poor father. Whoever did this was doing it out of a grudge, but we never found out who could carry such hate.

I would still have been all right if it hadn’t been for my bad relatives. I’m not going to tell you what they did to me. That is locked away and I’ve thrown away the key. All I say is that they left me with this lopped off earlobe.

I put my mother’s husband’s name in my black book too. The bastard used to chase me with a stick and when he was old and had cancer he came to me for help. I couldn’t stand outside his house. He didn’t call his children; he called me in his time of sickness. If I die and there is a God asking me questions I’ll throw him my black book and say: Here you are, you deal with it. Go and do your checks and balances before you judge me, but God I judge you. I judge you God.

I’ve talked a lot – so why are we here on this ship? It isn’t every day that you and I sail on this extraordinary ship. You – my other self, you the man I should had been.

Here I was watching TV in my room. You know there is only so much of watching juvenile bad singers and lunatics locked in a house on TV I could take. The singing was almost as bad as my second wife’s singing. She sang like a housefly trapped in a toilet. I told her that once but she couldn’t take a joke.

I had a Kebab take-away and a walk down Kensington, and I tried to calm the pain in my legs but couldn’t sleep. So one minute I was sleepless, and the next I am here with you on this ship and catching up where we left off.

By the way, do you remember the last time we spoke? On that occasion we had an exchange; as far as I’m concerned that’s all forgiven and in the past. The truth is I enjoy talking to you and I have always admired you. You did well for yourself. You did well with the life you stole from me. No grudges though friend.

On my last Kebab night I watched you in your world with your wife and your great granddaughter. You were standing by the Hafiz Mausoleum eating that wonderful ice cream. The one sprinkled with almonds and frosty clotted cream. I followed you as your son drove you to your state. Lovely mansion you inherited. With those apple, cherry and pomegranate trees all heavy with fruit and the roses in full bloom it looks quite a place; it was very picturesque.

Then your wife -your childhood sweetheart if I remember – yes the two of you walked along a stone path next to the evergreens.

That was a colourful feast you had with all your family present. I kept watching. Just like you I like drinking tea in a slim waist glass cup and slurping sugar cubes from the side of my cheek. You laughed to tease your daughter.

Was it the best-of-five backgammon? She almost had you. I do the same with my daughter when I fly over to Sweden.

Your wife found an old pearl necklace in a box and decided that this is one of the many wedding gifts for your granddaughter, and I think she also found old letters. She had tied them with a red ribbon.

Then your son impressed me. Your son seems like a fine boy. I saw him put large pillows and a Kelim on a wooden bed under the shade in the garden for you.

You always sleep with the SW radio broadcasting the British shipping forecast.

So… given all that…it was a shame my friend.

It was a real pity that in your sleep you had a stroke. Trust me when I say this; nothing would have saddened me more. I’m not sure how you would have taken your locked-in syndrome, so here you are for once immobilized and speechless and listening to me, to me who would not shut up. Here we both are, and once again aboard this ship. Just like when we were young. You and I, the doubles from different worlds once again meeting in the forecasting ship.

I think this is going to be a fair exchange; this will be our last exchange, and the last trip.

What do you get I this exchange? I give you these workingman’s hands, old legs and an old heart, it’s a good ticker. The right eye, not the left because that’s my lazy eye and it is still in good use. You can do as you please with the rest. Everything is as you left it but a lot older. This body can be left in an oven when it is done; who knows perhaps the eyes would finally see the light!

Why do I want this exchange? Why would I want to be motionless and just manage to shake my head for the rest of my life? That’s my business. But I’ll tell you this for free: this is not an exchange for anyone else, and I won’t pretend that it is out of compassion. No my friend, dear as you are this one is for me.

I’m sure you’ll find our world amusing. It was your world once but you were then a mere child. Apart from people riding hornless unicorns, you might laugh when you find that Ronald Reagan the B movie actor was president, or that we had a revolution in Iran and the last people on Earth became our first people, or that unlike your world the Shiraz wine is made everywhere but in Shiraz. We have TVs that show a lot of nothing, and these shiny tablets of all sizes that steal people’s glance from the beauty of the world.

If it gets cold in the apartment turn the dial on the heater anticlockwise and click the igniter twice.

Before we go just answer me this- please blink once for no and twice for yes. Does she – does your Fariba after years of marriage look at you like she still loves you?

Ok – come on; let’s not get too emotional. I don’t want to see your eyes wet. Please let us part well. I know I’ve talked a lot. Let me help you finish your drink. I shake your hand. I’m sure you have the same sentiment if you could move your arm.

The choices are just like the last time that you described it to me when we were very young boys. When this ship has circled the British Isles and it sets anchor I’ll become you, and you’ll be me and the only way to stop that is for one of us to drop the other on that propeller.  I didn’t have the guts to jump and hold on to what was mine then, but this time I’ll be damned if I stop our final swap.

Ramin Tork 2nd Sept 2013

copyrights Ramin Tork

One thought on “Shipping Forecast And Gale Warnings (short story)

  1. Some insomniacs listen to the British Shipping forecasts because it often has a poetic rhythm and acts like a bedtime story.
    One such person once told me that she imagined being cruised across every port and in that dream-awake state she had lucid dreams of the life that troubled her.
    This became the basis of the story of this old Iranian man living in diaspora.

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