Book ONE - The Night Religion of Primitives
The Night Religion of Primitives
CHAPTER ONE EXTRACT
Making an oath to die and renew your intentions, shave excess hair from the body and wear cologne. Shower.
Final instruction # 3 found by the FBI in the luggage of Mohamed Atta, 9/11 hijacker.
Behind a police cordon and alongside the harbour wall where people used to watch for incomers, a North Sea haar stirred in a late summer wind which caressed and rocked the contents of a lobster creel that gasped when it was moved by police in white overalls. Some would say as if by osmosis, others would say it was the spirit that moved them, but Monas only knew it as the look of terror that you see on the face of stricken women when they begin to sense that this is the beginning of a nightmare as only they know. As with the women school parents of Dunblane who ran across playing fields past paramedics, to a school under siege, not knowing if their reason for living was alive or dead. The terror is in the uncertainty, and in the what if, as opposed to the reasons why, at least then.
There was one woman there at the harbour that day who carried that same expression on her face and it wasn’t long before word got round and the wailing soon started up. It spread like a shared horror only can, and could be heard as far away as a seal scream at night. It is a wailing that rose high above the flashing lights and demented sirens that frequently reminded the people of this small village that the sea air that they breath and the tide that laps at their feet is part of a liminal reality that is far from being otherworldly and transiently theirs, by some sort of God given right.
The screams did as they always did, pounding once more against the blood red sandstone cliffs that never forget those souls who are now lost, both the living and the dead. But you did not have to be raised in the herring culture of the silver darlings to realise that there would be one less person to stare out at the sea, from that moment onwards. Creels do not have hot blooded steam rising from their wooden rib cages on cold misty mornings like then, nor do creels travel though the rear windscreens of newly purchased Range Rovers, bearing human heads with rope tied around their necks.
From the steel mooring ring set in the harbour wall which he had fashioned himself that last week, he had attached to it the twenty metres of nylon braided twine (its B and Q receipt was found in the jacket inner pocket which once bore his wedding day speech). The other rope end was wrapped around his neck and tied securely with an anchor bend hitch, after which (the enquiry surmised) he seemingly forced his head up into the wooden framed and courlene netted creel he had spent weeks in the making, up through the enticing funnel entrance typically designed for an arthropod.
It is true that as Monas practiced his early morning liturgy that day at 5am, he was distracted, firstly by the kaleidoscopic show of shadows that danced across his white bedroom wall, and secondly by the sound of the cracking white sheets and shirts as they flayed around in the wind and light beyond his window. Maybe they were throwing their arms up in despair? He had also heard above the waves and screaming fulmars, the sound of what he thought was flat footed aggression against a gas pedal and the quick sound of breaking glass. In hindsight, he wondered if what he heard as the crack of the sheets in the wind was in fact the sound of the rope snapping or the neck torn from the body? Sounds tended to travel far and more readily in the Bay, which also maintained its own climate system distinct from that up the hill and out of the village. But the sound of the creel thrown out and through the rear windscreen stayed with him forever. Monas and Nargess found his body with a note to his wife and family in another pocket, the driver’s arms rested and relaxed down by his sides. Perversely, the safety belt was secured around his dark stained chest.
Like a snake that sheds its skin and climbs out through its one time mouth leaving a perfectly in piece skin, (or a lobster that cracks though its own exo-skeleton to reveal itself reborn in another form), or indeed a human being that offloads old skin as part of its own shedding process of ongoing regeneration, he and they, were capable of achieving transformation to a different life, so Monas said. There was no doubt, as the coroner would subsequently confirm (in making an attempt at irony), that it was , “an elaborate premeditated attempt to leave this life surrounded by what he loved doing the most.” For Monas and Nargess, this event was a message they were not to understand until they learnt from their beginning.
So let us start. The first time Monas consciously touched his father was when he gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation and Monas was just a bairn not long into this world. Having lost a mother the day he was born, he was not about to lose a father too (and so soon), a chronic and spectacularly abusive alcoholic, though his father was. You might call it the “kiss of life” but for the six month only child, it was more a temporary suspension of the inevitable and Monas knew that, even back then forty one years ago. As the Big Book said (Monas always used that expression for comic reference, not merely as if the Bible was in anyway comparable to the Maoist “red book”, but because the “Big Book” as used by Alcoholics Anonymous was the only book in the house when Monas grew up), “His ways may not be your ways”.
Whilst the son rescued the father on many subsequent occasions, Monas tried to breath into his father then and to the day he died, a breath of sobriety but it just had too much of a hold on him. Monas left things in God’s hands and knew that he was gifted for other things. So even then, Monas was aware that he was different from the others, and those he eventually tolerated at school. But for his father, being a fourth generation drunk was imbedded in his DNA in a culture that was sympathetic to his plight, if not serious about dealing with the problem. Monas carried this mark of Cain too and he was bullied for it, which is why he never drank from that particular chalice.
Monas always had his own way of doing things. You might say he was unconventional, for reasons that became increasingly apparent as he progressed through life. As an adult now in his early forties but even way back then, he looked out of the ordinary – someone that would stand out in a crowd you might say. Emile Zola would have enjoyed portraying him in a crowd scene which he was particularly good at. He stood out, and to some could be shocking in his otherness. Just over six feet tall, slim for middle age and fashionably balding with freckled skin and glimpses of fair red hair around emerald eyes spoke no doubt to a distant Celtic ancestry capable of startling many who were also witnesses to a seriousness which he put down to his father and an upbringing shrouded in melancholy. It would however, be a mistake to read a Calvinist streak in the Scottish shoulders of this man. His skin was so pail that some thought him albino, or plain ill. The paediatricians who rushed him away from his screaming mother blamed it on all the brandy she put away. In retrospect, maybe it’s not the life that he would have chosen if given a premature free will whilst buried away in the fractured womb, but rather it was inherited and tolerated like his nightmares, leaving a part pained and tortured soul, and part a resultant gifted individual who could unleash great things from bad, you might say.
So Monas never did experience or at least recall (and he would have), his father’s hand squeezed lovingly around his pinky, but then until that moment when his father nearly died, they were never that close, in a tactile way or otherwise. But then he was made to be different. We, (that is those of us in the Room back in the day and before we moved to Cambridge Circus in London), told him when he came into this world, that there would be moments like that. Oh yes, he could hear us even then.
His soul forgot all that it had seen and learnt and entered the world crying, having just lost a place of shelter, rest and security. Do not fool yourself, it is not of the womb that I speak. It is so very different from that. It is what it was like for you, before you were placed inside your mother. From that moment, he could now crush you in a whirlwind, which was something that, whilst he could do it, it would never have occurred to him until he was needed by people like us. The ability to do what he did then, unleashing life into a dying body (just as Ezekiel did in the valley of dry bones), would repeat itself with other people at different times and in different ways, but looking back, Monas still remembered that first time as being natural rather than anything particularly special or even supernatural in any way.
He was seven years old before we spoke to him in any depth and like any boy of his age, maturity took its time to evolve. He certainly didn’t think there was anything particularly divine or holy about it or him, but he guessed it was pretty unusual for someone who was six months old to have saved the life of another. I was going to add “human being”, but that would not be entirely accurate. That is for you to decide in the fullness of what you call “time”.
And now, it is raining hard outside, the perfect weather for being inside, waiting, and drinking his eleventh cup of decent coffee that day. The petrichor scent of rain on Aberdeen granite was lost in the aroma of an Italian expresso. It was only 10am and he was beginning to wish he was outside, where the mounting sweat on his hands would cool and vanish.
There was a clock which always drew his attention in that tax dodging café which nevertheless sold good beans for nice refreshment, and he could smell and hear the sea over and above the grinding machine and barista banter. He lived over an hour’s drive away from the ashen forest of stone that is Aberdeen, where the vapours of the sea, though salty and bitter, soon turned into the sweet rain of the clouds over Pennan. Monas sighed at the production line that was passing by through the windows out into the rain, and felt lucky he had escaped that predicament earlier in his career. The commuters and cars testified to the money that had flowed in from the local gold, which was oil. The granite city was straining under its new found prosperity, gridlocked roads, lack of parking facilities and fat cats in heaving executive offices overlooking consumerism on an evolving par with that of Manhattan.
His coffee drained and pending a refill, whilst in waiting mode and without something to read, Monas counted the number of four by four vehicles passing the café which bore some concoction of OIL Y3 or other such monstrosity by way of a number plate. “All is vanity” he thought, and how those that take from nature, should return something a little more fundamental than higher taxes. But with a refill on its way, he put away thoughts of vanity bonfires laden with gas guzzling BMWs and flame spewing oil rigs because this was where he was happy when not with her, Nargess that is, looking out at the enormity of the ocean and feeding his own addiction, the sea timely and rhythmic like the noise emanating from the second hand of the clock.
He mulled over the sounds around him as someone who worked with and cherished the quietness would, and in the knowledge that it would soon be broken. For months, at seminary in Italy, he was alone in the peace that came with the quiet where the only sound would be that of a cow bell in the valley below his cell in which he spent his period of solitary life. He removed his clerical collar which had remained after the early morning Mass at the Cathedral and laid it around his empty coffee mug, like at a hoopla stall at a fair ground. He adjusted his neck and clothing as if to let out the establishment and create his own identity. From his trouser pocket he fumbled round for the fish shaped silver earing which he placed on his left lobe and swung it with a finger tip touch, tick tock as it danced forwards and backwards under his ear, or so he thought. He was smiling at the face of the young girl who was carefully observing every move he made, until he stopped when he realised that her parents presumably, were drawn to what he has doing. Focus, Monas said to himself, just focus. He knew it no longer meant gay or not when you wore a single earing, but it was a deference to an old ritual which at least the church would not raise quite such an objection. He had been lucky in the past, part time cleric or not. But for the intervention of the Room, his priestly days would have ended long ago.
The interval between the tock and tick from the old wooden grandfather clock grew stretched and longer in his mind, each sound and pendulum swing increasingly representing a moment in time capable of being controlled, or owned. In anticipation of what was to come, Monas thought, Tick was about to become the humble genesis, and tock, the feeble apocalypse on the horizon coming ever closer. When a catastrophe happens, like it will soon, it can stop time like that on the cracked watch face worn by the victim in a bomb blast. Tick and Tock no longer apply, like when people are caught in the wrong pub or cafe at the wrong moment and they end up like locusts on the ground scavenging for life amongst devastation, crawling when there time is up, at least in this life. Caffein was bringing to life his thoughts of such things. Like how his father was nearly taken by this sea he now watched, how he was drowning and being watched by the young Monas left abandoned on the shore at six months. Monas remembered every moment of what was required of him, and that was the first time he heard them speak to him.
The sea had that capability for war and peace, with each ebb and flow of its grip on the world. It reminded him of himself, clinging to the world, teasing it and then withdrawing with gasps of pain and pleasure. That gap of time reminds him of that between the movements of the clock he now hears with growing intensity, looking forward to a silence between the sounds, the end of a word and its waiting until the next is read, or spoken. A gap that can be now or forever. But the fear of a child can be life-long, not least when abandoned. Later, when his father had to die at his right time, he remembers him falling like a dead child would fall, like a boy collapsing to the ground with strong emotions, stubborn and unwilling. But that is how it was meant to be, back then.
Monas looked at the advertisements and posters that adorned the café walls. Just as MacDonalds employed a psychologist to advise on colour schemes that deterred customers from staying too long, these were pure “sell me a dream”. He thought to himself “It’s all so fake, these days. Nothing’s real anymore. It’s just one big bloody Disney Land.” He thought of Yates and his Easter poem that referred to meaningless words that are so often uttered, now more than ever. Such were his thoughts as he drank and contemplated the surroundings – that of jackdaws in peacock feathers, and hidden demons that enticed and extract monetary payment. And in all this, the Room had told him as he knew fine well, how the coffee beans would soon be percolated by the warm blood spilt, that day.
Monas knew that as he did with his drowning father, so he would do with the boy colouring in a picture at the next table. He will bend down over him and breathe into his gaping, terrified gasping face with the only arm he had left outstretched and still gripping onto her dress as he attempted to hide under its protection, the dress she bought for his birthday outing and the pictures that would be taken. Too shocked to scream the words his lungs were trying to force out. Then the boy’s flesh will become warm again and Monas will breathe seven times more, opening the boys eyes to him. The boy would look at him then, something in him telling of the birth pangs of death that had snaked their way towards him before being narrowly cut short and diverted elsewhere in the café.
Monas is a name that means “person of the desert”, but not necessarily as you would know it. It is the desert or wilderness that is within us all, the place of the inner being. The place where the unconscious dwells. He was thinking of Nargess before the light escaped that day. Of her first time of contact with the Room, when she knew that she too, was different. Monas says she is “double cool”, in appearance he says, like a favourite woman he could never know, that being Amy Winehouse. A victim too. Nargess loved to drink from the neck of a Frappuccino and black coffee in Tehran, the place she was born and where she was found by the Room.
Monas stirred the brown sugar into his fresh coffee and peered into the liquid abyss with Proustian agility, a treasured moment that would last a lifetime of the memories it evoked, as it did then whilst he waited in that typically rainy day in Aberdeen. Like the first time she lifted her veil (literally and metaphorically). She wears the hijab, you see, befitting the najeeb that she is – a well bread and honourable Iranian woman.
He would tease her about how she would know when her end was near, as her veil (like ours, but less spiritual) would become very thin as it draws close to the next journey, or death. Behind the hijab, she made much of her hair, very luxuriant and never cut. Nargess proudly declared herself as a feminist and the hijab was a feminist statement of freedom by her, a matter of choice as she chose to follow her religion and wear the hijab. A solitary concession to the West in all of this was arguably the slight fringe that was revealed to the world peaking out from underneath the garment, at the top of her forehead. Whilst long, straight and raven blue black, she would frequently dye her hair red, or with indigo to a blue-black tinge. Her eyes were hazel brown and her full moon equine face had that distinctive chiselled nose with an overall dark complexion (called Namak), which meant “of the highest beauty”. And that was true, even with the marks above the broken bone left by the stones that were intended to kill her.
The coffee imagery worked again its magic as he stirred its dark treasure, now with a touch of milk like water in scotch, painting pictures of impish cirrus clouds, bending and curling into the eeriness of stratus in all their coloured indifference. Through the Scottish sky- like wisps, darting this way and that, the spoon now found itself in a vanilla cafe glace (vanilla ice cream soaked in mocca coffee), like a little cloud rising out of the sea, and suddenly within it, a great downpour of rain. The clouds shrank into the life they had discovered together, he and Nargess, storm clouds emitting thunders of impatience and flashes of anger along the way.
He thought of her own story, from a land where the sirocco blew as a blast from a fiery furnace, the ordeal of fire of which Amos speaks and which dries up even the subterranean waters. She would like this reminiscence; the whirlwind would come from what we call the empty quarter of the Ophite world, the dark blindness associated with the best of sirocco dust storm, thanks to the atmosphere that becomes so heavily charged with fine particles of dust, fresh from the desert table. It is in such a darkness that both the heavenly bodies and the everyday innocents work on spending and banking their hard earned money, laughing, crying and conversing like the sun and moon, transforming themselves into blood red throughout human history and ending up as locusts.
In that place where she took her first touch from the Room and discovered her own gifts, her own difference, you would find in reality and as a mental state, the prolonged visitation of the sirocco, (called the Hamsin), that would bring drought, famine, and plague. You would call it hell, or the broken peace of a September day in New York, 2001. The likeness to Amy Winehouse was not also missed by her student friends at Tehran University. But for others she carries the name in this life, of Nargess Behbahani. In Persian, Nargess means “a flower that blooms in winter”. She was indeed, as her parents said at her graduation in Women’s Studies, like a gracious cloud that would turn bitterness into sweet.
Monas stopped in his tracks as he felt the moment closer now. Soon enough, the Aberdeen mackerel tinted skyscape would blow from the east and weave its clouds into the thick, heavy-dark darkness, and the day would become red. From the ground to the stratosphere, the clouds would rain down on bloodied granite stone. But of course, one need not be out in the desert, inwardly or outwardly, to experience a complete halt in the normal activity of a metropolitan centre merely because the sun has turned its face away from the world, and the air becomes too thick to breathe as it heads east, homeward bound.
Through the domestic chaos of that Friday morning in a busy City, our man or target as we call them, now enters, on time. Monas knows that just as in the desert, the room would shortly become full of those crippled bugs, bodies crawling on the ground, heaving and writhing with twisted screaming mouths and limbs. The target had arrived and taken his place in a linear history, not far from Monas. The silver grey face of the granite city, perched on the north east coast of Scotland, would see out part of a final act of the war over oil. This part of the Scottish coast bathed in new found black gold laced with American dollars and Trump money, was running out of time. It had been bled dry.
The clock stops. Monas could stroke a finger on its hand, slowing it and then gripping it fast in his palm so that time stood in a good place. Like a roman candle burning out each turn of its life, Monas wants the time to end, dead, now. The clock quietens and Monas knew that the man that had entered had done this.
The newcomer starts up a conversation with a waitress and she looks concerned. She employs that nervous response she uses, running her right hand through her hair, gripping the top of her head. Monas can sense she is squeezing the back of her head, microscopic hair grease oozing, undetected and flowing through the fingers of a pianist, a music student, long and skeletal. She’s not worried necessarily, just concerned for a wayward soul, lost in a strange place. She cares but is shy, and the grimace on her face and in her hands is as much for his benefit as hers. She is showing him she cares but is not sure where it is that he seeks directions, expressing her compassion. She invites him to sit down and she will ask around. She’s pointing to the selection of sugars and he waits for his tea to be prepared. Something fast and sweet is what he asks for. Tea, Monas thinks. Who comes in here and drinks tea? He must be on a short fuse, Monas thinks. Maybe he’s English.
She walks him to a table and he looks around the cafe whilst seating himself, taking it all in. He does not see Monas, or at least does not notice that Monas eyeballed him. Monas wonders if there is some sort of burning rage inside of him. He is undoubtedly on edge, the adrenaline pumping through every last flicker of his life, preparing himself and yet full of last doubt, full of the last breath of humanity before he will cry out, as if on the cross, to his own God. Monas had heard this many times before of course, the rattle cry of the suicide bomber, and then it is finished.
The tea drinker appears to demand rather than ask, seems agitated, and confused. He slides a chair that she has pointed to, it grates over the stone floor and he shuffles himself onto the seat, conspicuous to nobody and yet to everyone if they had the time to notice, on this sodden morning. He surveys the men and women with their children, with everything they have ever wanted for their special treats, their birthdays or those precious few hours of access that the Court had awarded.
The piano player waitress will be interviewed by the world’s media and she will say:
“I thought there was something strange about him…”
“What did he look like?”
“Just like any other customer, perhaps tanned like back from holidays, no different really from you and me”
“Did he have a beard?”
“I don’t remember him having a beard” she would say, apologetically. “I tried to help him as he didn’t know where the sugar was.” Her comments will be published two days later. She gave radio interviews, television interviews and wondered about ever going back to work in the cafe. She was tracked down by the press to her one bedroom flat she always used to hide herself away in, even before her celebrity. She wouldn’t elaborate further and became scared to even go out let alone talk about it. She just said she was too upset to return. During her conversation with journalists she stated that there “were a few tense moments” when she asked him to pay, before he placed the money in the palm of her hand, he’s eyes fixed on hers.
In fact he said “Tea, give me a tea, quick!’” and the young man, early twenties, in a green camping coat demanded to know where the sugar was. She adds “He was tense, his eyes darting back and forth with worry. He looked strange to me. I suspected him a bit.” Ah, the greatness of hindsight, Monas thought. She gave the media what they wanted. The truth, was that she cared for him.
“When I told him he had to pay now rather than later, he held out money. I said, ‘Come on, it’s okay, come and sit down and I’ll get you your sugar.’ As soon as he sat down inside, I stopped paying attention to him. I don’t know whether he drank the tea or not. Only half an hour later did I realize what had happened and who he was.” She told them she recognized many of the people who come into her cafe. The nervous man was not a familiar face. In 1905, Thomas Hardy once said of Aberdeen:
I looked and thought, ‘All is too grey and cold
To wake my place-enthusiasms of old!’
Till a voice passed: ‘Behind that granite mien
Lurks the imposing beauty of a Queen.’
I looked anew; and saw the radiant form
Of Her who soothes in stress, who steers in storm,
On the grave influence of whose eyes sublime
Men count for the stability of the time.
The mien which he was referring to was Marischal College, a cut glass glittering granite tomb of a building opposite the café, that will house many a sunken body when the work of the tea drinker is done. Dante would see the face of an angel in that historic place, with its spire towering between its silvery arms. As our man sips at his tea, Monas’ thoughts hover over this would be battlefield of history, as they did for her and him, in the desert of Iran.
The man closed his eyes which many saw as a tiredness and respite from the gathering storm, but Monas knew he was praying. Monas knew the time had come. He had seen this apocalypse passing many times, for some as they walk their way to worship or play. It prowls in the desert wind. It has always been there, but few can feel it against their salty, windswept skin. It says in its terror, as Monas does now, waiting for the moment of pain, “I love you, I loved you and I will always love you – can you not see it?” Every mote of dust is laden with it. The utterance impregnates all, the leaves of Aberdeenshire trees, the coats of Scottish beasts and animals and the tea you drink, my friend. Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, I hear your heart beating to the rhythm of the clock and its sister tide. God is indeed great!, as you sup on your tea and the drum of the death rattle beats ever closer. It is that spirit which we share, which hovers over candles and dances on the lips of mothers. It is the coffee bean that will lie soaking in the red blood and the seagulls will scream, and their trace will fill the cracks of granite, and the sea will then miss a heartbeat. And then the clock will stop on each of you as you fold into the creases of the nearest wall. For some, there will be no hiding place in this life.
So this is Monas, the man who waits for her. Through the glass of the cafe in which he now waits, a cafe which typically was once a church, Monas could see what he fears more than anything. Instead of a church there is a cafe and opposite the cafe a silvery granite building with Gothic pretensions filled with civil servants, and next to that, a supermarket. People now attend supermarkets and worship the products they are told they need. Now, ever closer, the man who drinks tea that we seek, is restless. Yet he has prepared himself well. He has followed the instructions we found in the suitcase afterwards,
Make an oath to die and renew your intentions. Shave excess hair from the body and wear cologne. Shower.
The target has spent many years collecting the flowers of other men’s lives. These things he has done well. Monas knows the scent only too well, the perfume for his body and the “hot cross bun” smell of the explosive. That is irony. We wonder if he slept well last night. For people that work the Room, we know that great things can begin with sleeping, the thinnest edge of life. All of these that will be lost, Monas loved them well before they were born. He will always love them well after the end of time. He loves them in all the eternities. Monas bathes in this utterance, for all those who may pass soon. Can the tea drinker not feel this?
The target shuffles his seating, to place the bag under his table. He has a shoelace undone. In a moment he will lower his hand to tie it, and then the colours will start as he triggers the bomb and before then he will pray out loud. Then the screaming will commence, before his shoelace has been touched. Then. Black, red and white – the colours of an explosion nearby. And time will change too, moments of madness choreographed in adrenalized slow motion. No sounds, just a silent movie bearing witness to unimaginable horror. Monas has a strange take on what he sees as the contemporary zeitgeist, frequently assuming that he is in some way connected to it. The child looks at him, almost knowingly and innocently yet all good, as only a child can do. Again, shortly, there will be that which Ezekiel speaks of in the Big Book. There will be a whirlwind coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing back and forth and a brilliant light all around it. She will then come in human form, like burning coals of fire and torches. The sky will cry and the tears will roll down the streets that once carried Scottish revolutionaries to the Spanish shores of civil war. Scotland, and the world, changed that day and would never be the same again.
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