Sing like you know the w.., p.25

Sing Like You Know the Words, page 25


Sing Like You Know the Words

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  Since it was a direct question, Patricia had to admit that she was not working for a paper. She told him about her involvement in the inquiry, stressing that it was all in the past and he had nothing to worry about. She was following up for her own personal reasons. He could help her by just clearing up a few details.

  Moss demanded that she leave immediately. He said he had been tricked into seeing her. He would call the staff and have her thrown out. She backed off, but there was another card to play.

  -Derek, I really am not interested in making things difficult for you now. I know all about you being dismissed from the force. It’s like you said, ancient history. But I can see that you are enjoying the attention just now and maybe even thinking you can make something of it. Everyone´s on your side now and there’s no reason for me to spoil it for you. I’m only interested in John Obuswu, and you are the only one who can help me with that. If you couldn´t help me and word got out about your past...

  -I would still have nothing to say about that case and I don’t want to hear any more about it. Now or in the future. Understand. Now please go.

  He had called her bluff and Patricia had to leave, but at least now she was certain that she was on to something. She was sure that Derek had understood her veiled threat to reveal details about his sordid past, information that would extinguish in a moment the temporary fame that he seemed to enjoy so much.

  If they´d been in court and he´d been her witness, she would have asked a simple question. What is it that you know about events in the distant past that so disturbs you that you´d rather be exposed as a cheat than talk about it?

  Chapter Ten

  In David´s dream, there was an angel.

  He was a boy who left his father’s house, and walked into the desert.

  For three days he walked and on the third day the angel appeared to him, more beautiful than anything he had seen. And he lay with the angel.

  He gently turned her over, onto her belly. Her wings were of a whiteness that he could not have imagined, glowing not with an inner light but with the purity of absolute colour. It was white that held the beginnings of every colour that could be. As he stroked the wings she moaned quietly. He said nothing.

  -I could lose my job over this, she said.

  Then the boy spoke to her, continuing to stroke her soft wings.

  -Briony; I need to find more in my life. I’ve done some good, but only because I wanted to be good. I can only be virtuous through duty.

  -What more do you need? She murmured.

  Her pale skin was as flawless to the touch as her folded wings.

  -To get beyond the conflict between desire and reason. I´m sick of my head ruling my heart. Every day I see people who are kind and happy without thinking about it. They´re better than me; struggling all the time to know the right thing. I envy them.

  -You trust yourself too little; or else you think too much of your own part in the world. It doesn’t all depend on you. We could have enough with each other.

  When he shook his head, she left. He was alone in the desert. The boy wanted to stay, hoping she might return, but he knew that he had to move on. He began to walk towards the end of the desert.

  He boy walked until the end of that day and for two more days. He walked through the night and the day. The sand burned his feet, since he had forgotten to bring proper desert clothing.

  He knew that he was not walking in circles, because he could feel the pull of his destination, but he also knew that his journey was limited by time, not distance. When he had walked for long enough, he would arrive. The sand and rocks and sky scrolled out before him, and he knew without looking that behind him there was nothing at all. And so he walked on at a steady pace.

  Although the desert did not change at all, by the third day he had come to understand its beauty; that was a thing completely self-contained. The landscape had nothing at all to do with humanity. He picked up a handful of sand and examined the grains, individually. He could feel himself becoming smaller, equal to a single grain.

  As he continued to walk, the sand became dotted with sparse clumps of hard, dry grass. The scrub became thicker as he walked through it.

  A tall, black skinned man watched him approach through the haze of the sands. The man was old, supporting himself on a stick, or perhaps it was a spear, that was even taller than him. Beads of sweat glistened on the blackness of his shaven head. He was tending a herd of goats.

  He did not speak as the boy passed, but only pointed out the way with his stick.

  -I lost the sense of myself, the boy told him, whilst I was out there. I listened to so many stories, carried on the wind. Time and wind strip the stories bare. They only leave what is needful. In the end there was only one story.

  -But every grain of sand is necessary to make the desert exactly what it should be, a voice told him.

  He walked in the direction that the man had pointed, towards an area where the vegetation grew more densely. There were even a few trees; and further on the promise of water.

  He passed another man, similar in appearance to the first. This man was tending a herd of sheep. With his staff, the shepherd pointed towards a clump of trees.

  -You must be thirsty now, a voice said. She’s waiting for you.

  The boy suddenly realized that he was exhausted. He’d not eaten or drunk for days. He began to stagger. He felt so weak that he thought he would collapse before he reached the shade.

  When he came to the oasis, the trees held the sounds of leaves rustling in the breeze, though there was no wind. He heard the gentle cascade of a stream, though the only water was a flat, still pool. The lady was waiting for him, dressed in a long, hooded desert robe. She handed him a glass of cool water.

  -I thought I might see the angel again. She shook her head

  -Are we outside of time now, mother? He asked. She smiled and shook her head.

  -How could you be outside of time and still be?

  -But I know this is a dream. How will I remember any of it?

  -What you remember is not as important as what you know. Later you may remember differently. Don´t blush: that is your nature.

  -Am I doing wrong?

  -With the girl? I suppose so.

  -Will I be punished?

  -That depends on you. You are in time, where nothing is lost, provided you still know your direction and the place you started from.

  The boy did not understand the message, but somehow when he left the spring behind he knew the direction that he must take. He was restored in strength, his thirst was satisfied and his torn scraps of clothing were renewed. And so he came back to his father’s house, where there was great rejoicing to celebrate the return of the boy who had been lost.

  Later in the night, David dreamed that he was standing in a queue at a shop or market. Some people were being served but his turn never came. The same people kept appearing again in front of him, though he didn´t see how they could have got there. His impressions of the first dream faded a little.

  But when he awoke he was thinking again about the girl, his angel. He had to talk to someone about her. It was a problem he had to bring to a resolution, somehow.


  It had not been so much of a surprise when David finally announced that he was stepping down as chairman and chief executive of Cromwell Industries for the second time. He´d turned the company around once more. The business was stable and growing, and the top job had become more about dealing with shareholders and the Board of Directors than what David thought of as running the business. Now it really was time for the professional managers to take over.

  Matthew was invited to Cromwell to hear the news. David was proud of the plant and enjoyed showing Matthew round from time to time. Afterwards, they retired to the boardroom, just the two of them and a bottle of whisky that David opened to toast the occasion. Really it was Foster´s boardroom still: David had not altered the office accommodation since that time, and somehow there were just as m
any pen pushers filling the space as there had been in Foster´s day. Each drained a small glass to honour the business and then David declared that he was giving Matthew an exclusive story. The Examiner could be the first to know that he was quitting. But it was what he told Matthew next, about what he planned to do in the future, that was surprising. He was stepping down from the business, he said, because he intended to devote time to politics.

  So far as Matthew could remember, David had never shown the slightest interest in party politics

  -I’ve been a party member since 1993.

  Matthew frowned

  -That´s two years then. And which party? Don’t look at me like that. I don´t know of many millionaire industrialists who vote socialist.

  -You might hear of a few more in future. Times are changing.

  -I suppose you know what you are talking about. Next you’ll be telling me the Sun is going to back Labour. I wouldn’t know whether to cheer or organize a wake.

  David laughed.

  -Don’t worry it won’t come to that. As for me, I’m only just a millionaire, and having a little money changes you less than you might think. You know that I have only ever been interested in money for what I could do with it. I´d hope you´d be above that petty prejudice Matt. That nonsense about the rich man and the camel passing through the eye of a needle.

  -I’m sure it suits the rich for the poor to imagine that there is some kind of virtue in their poverty. I don´t buy that. I just think that maybe ordinary people should have their own kind to speak for them.

  -But the way they speak. It lets the public school crowd who still rule us run rings round the poor buggers every time they open their mouths.

  -There are a lot of working people without much formal education who have good brains.

  -True, but unfortunately the other working people don’t believe that anymore. The media treat working class politicians and union men as figures of fun and the voters laugh along. All those hilarious lower class vowels and that twisted grammar. Who cares if they can think? The presumption of holding a public office when they´re no better than us. You and I see ordinary people are laughing at themselves, mocking the idea that their own kind might have opinions might be worth hearing. So much for democracy. Working people don´t have the belief of their parents that they deserve to be treated better than cattle. They find their parents embarrassing as well. What they want is not to be working people any more. I´m am good at making people believe if nothing else. Maybe I can get some of that old belief back.

  It didn´t sound convincing to Matthew.

  -You told me that politics was over in nineteen eighty two. Remember what we said: voting Thatcher in once was a mistake, but no one knew what she stood for. Voting her in twice showed that the world was changed and greed was the winner.

  -How old were we then Matt? Do you feel you need to stand by every important sounding phrase you ever spoke? I remember I also said that the Labour leaders were more to blame than Thatcher. You were the one who blamed the people; as if they had let you down personally. Anyway, you were the one who was sure in ninety two that Labour would win.

  -And you said it wouldn’t happen. So what’s changed?

  -Leadership, in a word. Maybe Kinnock was a good man: bright enough, could see what needed to be done. Kept the party together, stood up to the dilettante tendency. Everyone was going to vote Labour, until they didn’t. He just wasn’t electable: balding, red hair, Welsh; and when he spoke, you had the impression that he meant what he said. He was a good speaker, but he sounded impassioned, and he tried to say too much, which meant that he could sound clumsy. The modern English don´t trust a man like that. They’ll think him a socialist, or that he has some principles at least, however smooth he tries to sound.

  -What kind of person will they vote for?

  -Someone who looks like an American president, with a solid jaw and a firm handshake. I don’t mean a real president mind; I mean a Hollywood version of a president. We’ve all seen too many movies. And now reality has to try to match our illusions. A leader like that can safely say that he believes in socialism, or the free market, or anything else. The people like to hear his firm declarations of belief, and no one takes them seriously. The public words are only understood as something he has to say to get his own party behind him on his way to power. And the commentators all describe it in those terms. As well he should be tall, or at least look tall when he’s on television, and dress like he works in a merchant bank.

  -Why a banker?

  -Now bankers are admired. They make more money than anyone else and they clearly don’t give a shit about other people. Also, so far as anyone can see, they are paid lots for doing nothing. It’s an aspirational thing – a banker is what women want to marry or see their son become, and men believe they would most like to be if they can´t win the lottery or play professional football – that’s how low we’ve sunk. Bankers are seen as smart and unscrupulous, and that makes people think they are fit to govern.

  David paused, shrugged his shoulders.

  -It´s nothing to do with reality. I´ve met enough bankers; unscrupulous, yes; but smart? Anyway that’s how it is. We admire men who want power, who can pretend to be everyone’s friend, and get their own way without anyone seeing it coming. And there won’t be discussion in the new politics. Everything has to be staged, like in a film. The media reduce the narrative of politics to a few key scenes, and it´s all one take so don´t run any risks. Dramatic impact is what matters. If you want to know what has changed and why we shall win next time, it’s because we have understood these lessons and now we have the kind of leader who looks and talks the part. And after him, the party will need someone like him to carry the work on.

  Matthew was astounded.

  -You sound as if you have it all worked out. But if that´s what you think of Blair and his friends, why do you want to be any part of the circus? That I don’t understand.

  Of course you understand. It’s what I was meant to do. It’s a duty, almost. You think it would be better to leave the real merchant bankers and their idiot sons to rule us; the same people who´ve been running the show for the last few decades for their own benefit? Look where it’s got us. I´ve been trying to help a few hundred people by keeping a factory open. Don’t you think I had to wade through enough shit just to achieve that much? But I see now that it was no good. You have to make the change right across the board.

  Now Matthew understood. Destiny again. His friend was prepared to wear a mask and play to the gallery if it meant that he was the one at the centre of things, because that was what his fate decreed. David had that strange look and that enthusiastic tone in his voice, like something religious. Further discussion would be pointless. He tried to imagine David among politicians, at a party conference, crowded into a hall in some out of date seaside town pretending to share solidarity and tradition.

  -You don´t even know the words to the song I expect.

  -What song?

  -The People´s Flag. You´ll have to sing it at conference.

  -I´ll just hum along like I suppose everyone does.

  So it was the people’s party for David, but being David, he wasn’t thinking about spending his time fund raising or canvassing for others, maybe hoping for a seat on the council one day. Westminster was only the start of his ambition. It wasn´t long before he was asking Matthew for advice about his plans to take office. The house at Oakland Ridge was again filled with guests of an evening.

  -Parliament is a place where people go to lose their sense of direction, Matthew warned him.

  -If that´s true Matthew, then it’s a good thing I’ve always got you around to be my moral compass

  -I’m serious

  -So am I. Don’t worry about it Matt; you´ll keep your precious integrity intact, even if it means you doing nothing useful with your life. Can’t get involved in business because it´s corrupting; can’t get involved in politics because it’s dirty. I just hope, when you lo
ok back, that staying true to your ideas will be a sufficient consolation for all the things you only could have done.

  -Maybe I’m temperamentally inclined to do nothing. At least looking back I shall be horribly smug and self-satisfied. But I don´t know why you call me an idealist.

  -You’re the worst kind Matt, a cynical idealist. You see the world for what it is, but you won´t risk getting your hands dirty to change it. But let´s not talk any more about that or you’ll get angry. We know that politics is a dirty business full of compromise and fudge. People who start off good lose themselves in the maze of it. If you go there, you need to somehow hold on to yourself and keep in mind why you started off into it. But you know me: I’m a fairly straightforward guy. If something is wrong, I’m the first to say it. I might make some bad calls down the line, but I can live with getting something wrong for the right reasons. The main thing is for me to stay grounded, and for that I depend on friends and family. Good friends like you, Matt.

  With all the ambition and energy that David possessed, his first difficulty was still to find a constituency prepared to adopt him as a candidate. He was in too much of a hurry to waste time growing a new network of relationships through years of local activism, or even to earn his stripes by managing someone else’s campaign. In any case he had imagined that, given his prominence in the area as a local benefactor and provider of employment, he would only need to announce his availability in order to be presented with a choice of seats. As it turned out, his first enquiries and applications were sidestepped or declined, always with politeness and often with a request for endorsements or donations.

  David had not anticipated the level of resentment that his emergence might raise in the council bosses and local party bigwigs, many of whom had their own expectations. Having worked their ways up through the ranks, these men (they were all men) regarded parliamentary seats that might fall vacant as their entitlement, by law of succession.

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