They’re Not Like Us, Are They?

Wesley was a bigot, but he was a reasonable one. While most of his prejudices were handed down from his father, Wesley had never had the same zeal for zealotry and tried to apply an empirical model to justify his beliefs. This was fine as far as it went, but as he grew up and his experiences varied he found that his assertions were not as certain as he had once believed. He had spent the first twenty-two years of his life stating categorically that white people were mentally and physically superior to black people, but he had to let go of this notion after getting the shit beaten out of him by a Kenyan semiotics professor. As he tended his wounds, Wesley had no choice but to admit that he was wrong. He resigned from the Aryan Brotherhood and set about finding a new group of people to discriminate against.

Undeterred, he set about proving the inferiority of women, declaring himself to be an unrepentant misogynist and seeking at every turn to denigrate the female gender. Although his constant invective made him a social pariah, he nevertheless managed to convince a naïve young woman to marry him. This, he thought, would be a chance to really prove his point about the superiority of men, which he did with a constant barrage of physical and mental abuse. Finally, when she could take it no more, his wife responded by stabbing him with a carving knife. The wound almost killed Wesley, but when the chain of events leading up to it was read out in court, the judge (a man) declared the assault as justifiable self-defence and ruled that Wesley should pay damages. Wesley was forced to conclude that men were not superior and another avenue of hate was closed off to him.

He remained undaunted, however, and set out to find a new group of people to hate. He tried anti-Semitism, but found he had a real taste for matzo ball soup and thought Woody Allen and Jackie Mason were hilarious. Similarly, his attempt to wage war on Islam came undone when he actually read the Qu’ran in order to ‘know his enemy’ and actually found it to be rather beautiful.

It was depressing. It seemed all people, no matter what shape or hue, had their merits. Wesley was starting to think that maybe he wasn’t cut out for the prejudice game after all. It was then that a bright idea struck him. Rather than concentrate on a section of humanity to despise (and then have to revoke his prejudice when it was proved false) he should concentrate his efforts on creatures that were by their very nature sub-human. He would turn his bigoted eye on the animal kingdom and prove that he was at the top of the food chain.

Well, not at the top, exactly. He couldn’t claim superiority over the creatures larger than him. He wasn’t about to pick a fight with a lion. Or a bear. Or an elephant, shark, alligator, rhino, gorilla, tiger or octopus. In fact, he didn’t feel comfortable having a go at any animal larger than him, so that ruled out horses, cows and even some large pigs. And, if he was honest, he didn’t like the idea of antagonising anything poisonous, so he decided not to pick on snakes, squids, frogs or lizards. He had no great love for dogs, but had to concede that they helped blind people and were useful for finding drugs in airports. Cats were small enough to be picked on, but were too aloof to take any notice of his ranting and as such made frustratingly unsatisfying victims. And he really couldn’t be bothered chasing mice, voles and hamsters around.

That left insects. Those bastard insects, coming into our homes and gardens, eating our sugar and buzzing on our windows. They would have to pay.

Pleased that he’d finally found an indisputably inferior victim, he set about taking his prejudicial actions to new extremes. Having rounded up a collection of maggots, he created a small concentration camp to house them in. This, he decided, was the perfect way to show them the error of their ways. Wesley’s position as prison warden only lasted a few weeks, however, after which the maggots turned to flies and buzzed away over his carefully modelled guard towers.

Non-winged insects, then. They were the real problem. They were the ones coming here and ruining everything for us decent, two-legged mammals. Reworking his concentration camp into a work-farm, Wesley installed a colony of ants – racially inferior ants – to work as his slaves. Occasionally, he would fry one or two with sunlight and a magnifying glass, but found this lacked the visceral impact he was after. After a short period of experimentation, he created a small gallows using a bonsai tree and fishing wire, which he used to hang the occasional ant as a warning to the others.

Truth be told, however, it wasn’t that satisfying. Asserting yourself superior to ants didn’t seem that much of an accomplishment. Besides, Wesley had to admit a sneaking admiration for the way the ants worked together. It was like they were all striving for some greater good. Like communists.

That gave him a shock. His dad had always told him that communists were evil – the puppeteers of blacks and jews. His dad had been a great racist – never questioned his beliefs or thought about what he was saying. Wesley had never really been able to live up to his dad’s standards of bigotry and now that the old man was dead, he would never know if his own discrimination would have pleased his father. Perhaps, then, the best he could do was try to live a good life and be happy.  Perhaps it wasn’t necessary to express hatred of a group of people just to honour the memory of one dead racist. Perhaps, Wesley thought, he should just try to be nice to people. It sounded like a good deal to him.

He took his concentration camp into the garden and let the ants run free. Staring out into the afternoon sun, he felt good about the world for the first time. So what if he turned out to be a communist, or a liberal or even a socialist? It wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.

It was at that moment that a bee stung Wesley. In and of itself, this would have been simply unfortunate (and slightly ironic given his reformed view of the world), but matters became decidedly worse when Wesley had an allergic reaction and went into anaphylactic shock. He was dead in seconds.

Freed from the mortal plain, Wesley’s spirit entered a state of awareness that the living can never experience. He was aware of the universe both as a whole and as each individual component and saw that each and every part was equally necessary. Every dimension became clear and Wesley’s consciousness was able to see how his life had touched those around him and how his actions had rippled out throughout the totality of space and time. Past, present and future were as one and formed the true holy trinity. Wesley’s consciousness reached out to his father and they stood together, finally able to see and share the breadth and beauty of all creation. In that moment, Wesley turned to his father and said that he got it now, that he could see that everything was connected and the idea was to harmonise and spread love throughout the universe.

His father turned to face him, his eyes shining with tears and in a wavering voice said:

“Fucking poof.”

Don Harris, Emotional Stunt Double

When Michael Potaskis’ relationship with his girlfriend went sour, he couldn’t face dealing with the whole messy breakup scene. Rather than man up and tell the truth, he called in Don Harris to do the deed for him. For twenty years, Don Harris has been standing in the firing line for people who can’t – or won’t – face an emotionally charged situation. He’s one of an increasing number of Emotional Stunt Doubles – brave men and women who insert themselves into the picture, take the brunt of a volatile situation and then exit stage right.

Once the details had been worked out, the scene was set. At dinner, Michael went into the kitchen “to open another bottle of wine”, but in reality he was making a seamless switch with Harris. Wearing Potatkis’ clothes and made up to resemble him, Harris entered the dining room, poured a glass of wine and told Jennifer that it was over. After a long conversation involving tears, shouting and repeated use of the phrase “it’s not you, it’s me”, Jennifer left and Michael emerged from the kitchen a free man.

“Clients often call on me for breakups,” Harris says. “I’d estimate that ending relationships makes up about 60 to 70 percent of my business. Breakups are my bread and butter.”

That may be, but some of the other dishes on Harris’s menu leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth. “There was a young man who’s parents both died on the same day,” he tells me. “For one reason or another, he wasn’t up to attending the funeral, so I went in his stead.  There was a bit of an age difference, but I made it work.” And what was the young man doing while Harris attended his parents’ funeral? “Smoking weed and playing videogames, as far as I know. What the client does off-stage is their business.”

I ask Harris if he ever worries that his work has a negative effect for those he doubles as and whether the stunting process might be two-fold. “I have thought about it,” he admits, “and I know there are people who don’t agree with the use of stunt doubles. But the way I see it, there are some people who just aren’t ready to face that sort of emotional peril. In a high-risk situation, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.”

With his bland everyman features and tough heart, Don Harris continues to take the hard knocks the rest of us can’t face. As I leave, he’s getting fitted for a wedding dress. “Gal’s going to jilt him at the altar,” he tells me. “It ain’t going to be pretty.” I still don’t know exactly how I feel about the idea of emotional ringers, but in the time I spent with him, I started to feel a real connection to Don as a person. Previously, I had imagined him to be made of teflon – a hard, non-stick surface to which allows no attachment.  Having seen him work, however,  I now know that he feels every word, every glance and every iota of pain that comes with his job. He is not an actor, pretending to be someone else, but instead he is a man who knows how to fall and get back up again. I asked him if it wouldn’t be better to teach people how to take the pain themselves, to learn his ways of taking the hit and bouncing back up. “I suppose I could do that,” he said, before winking at me and adding: “but then I’d be out of a job.”

Confessions of a Dangerous Mime

That facepaint I gave Pierre is lead-based.

I dumped a load of old newspapers in the back of our rehearsal space, in clear violation of the fire code.

I have given at least three members of my physical theatre group a staph infection from not properly cleaning the stage.

I spent the whole of last year’s Mimos Festival absolutely ripped to the tits on ketamine.

That bit I did at the school, where I pretended to almost drop the kid? Yeah, that wasn’t part of the shtick.  He. Wouldn’t. Stop. Talking.

I often fantasize about what I’d do if I had a time machine. Most of my scenarios involve travelling back to 1910 and killing Marcel Marceau.

I didn’t learn how to improvise at L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq.  I learned how to improvise in prison.

I got my “man in a box” routine from watching my little brother climb into the tumble dryer when I was eight.

Whenever we warm up by throwing the invisible ball around, I always imagine I’m throwing Celine the severed head of her idiotic boyfriend.

Most of the routines I’ve been working on in the past six months are based around breaking into people’s houses and standing over them while they sleep.

I always tell people that my contributions to the Political Artists’ Picnic are completely nut-and-gluten free.  I have never once checked to make sure this is true.

Lubya’s Story

Lubya came to the UK from Cechnya, smuggled illegally in a freight container. Like many immigrants from the east, she found herself beholden to those that had brought her here and told that she must work off her debt. She was placed in a massage parlour, where she worked as a prostitute. Horrific enough, one might think, but from here Lubya’s story takes an altogether more sinister turn.

“They told me I wasn’t making enough money,” Lubya tells us, “and in order to get more, they want me to have surgery. I don’t like the idea, am scared about it, but what could I do? At first I thought they wanted me to have boob job, but then they tell me what it is really about. They want to turn me into an animal.”

In this case, Lubya is not speaking metaphorically. For some time, police and academics studying the sex industry have become gradually aware of a new trend in the sex industry – prostitutes transformed into other species by means of surgery. The transformations go beyond simple roleplay or dress-up fetishes and alter the physiology of the women at a core level.

“At first I thought it was a joke, like it was some sort slang word, but then they showed me other girls they had done this to. One of them was an ostrich, another one had been turned into a donkey. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but they tell me that this is what I must do if I want to stay here in the UK.”

Lubya never had a choice. The people she was working for intimidated her and threatened her family. Held hostage in a foreign country, Lubya submitted to the will of her captors and agreed the surgery.

“The place they took me to, it was not a hospital. It was dirty, more like a butcher’s shop than a place of medicine. The man they called doctor looked like a mechanic. He didn’t really talk to me. No-one did. They just looked at me like I was a piece of meat. I suppose that’s all I was.”

The surgery took eight hours. Lubya was conscious for most of it, apart from when the pain became too much to bear and she blacked out. The pain did not end with the surgery. For months afterwards, Lubya suffered the after effects of the haphazard procedure – debilitating pain in her arms, legs and body, severe headaches, nausea and blackouts. None of this, though, compares to the psychological trauma she suffered.

“After the surgery, I was in so much pain that I could hardly move. Even to lift my arm was agony, but I had to see myself in the mirror. I had to know what I had become.”

With the bandages removed from her eyes, Lubya was confronted with a reflection that she did not recognise. Lubya, a petite and attractive young woman, had been transformed into a bear. Her slim, 5’2” frame had been stretched beyond its natural limits and fur had been crudely grafted onto her skin. Her face had been extensively remodelled and she found herself unable to stand on two feet for more than a minute at a time.

“I hated it,” Lubya says now, still visibly shaken by the memory. “Every time I think of that first time, seeing what they had done to me, I want to cry all over again. They robbed me of myself and I hate the fact that I let them do it.”

Eager to capitalise on their investment, Lubya’s handlers gave her little time to recover. Within days she was moved from the massage parlour she had previously worked in to a specialist site outside the city, where transformed prostitutes are available to high-paying clients. These ‘sex zoos’ (Сексуальный зоопарк in Russian) are a growing problem, but no-one seems willing to act against them. One officer who wished to remain anonymous stated that the authorities were well aware of the problem, but that a territorial dispute between agencies meant nothing was done.

“It’s basically an issue of jurisdiction between the police and the RSPCA. Neither of them is wants to do anything about the problem, but they don’t want the other one taking charge, either. It’s a political mess and the real problem carries on unabated.”

Not, however, for Lubya. She escaped her captors and is now undergoing a programme of physical and psychological recovery. Slowly, she is learning to cope with the after effects of her ordeal and is undergoing physical therapy to reverse some of the damage caused by her bizarre and unnecessary surgery.

“I’ll never be the same,” she says now, “but if I only do one thing with the rest of my life, it’s got to be telling my story to the world. There are other women out there, just girls really, who may find themselves in this situation and I won’t let the world ignore them. If I can prevent it happening to others, then it will not have been in vain. I hope that we can end this stupid, barbaric thing. No woman should have to be turned into an animal.”

Q

“Welcome back, 007.  How did it go?”

Bond said nothing.  On the long haul back from the Sudan he had spent hours – days even – imagining this conversation.  He had turned over the options in his mind, mentally rehearsing all the things he wanted to say to Q.  His relationship with the weapons expert had been fractious over the years, but where previously he had always been made to feel like a naughty schoolboy, now he was bristling with justified rage.

“Could have been better, could have been better,” Bond said, emptying out his pockets.  “A few bumps in the road.  One or two sticky situations.”

“I’m sure,” Q said, surveying the equipment as 007 laid it out in front of him.  “I see you’ve managed to bring back your equipment back in one piece.  For once.”

“Yes.  As it turns out, all this was about as much use as a chocolate teapot.”

There was an awkward pause.   “Excuse me?” Q said, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Absolutely.  Bloody.  Useless.  All of it.”

Q scratched his temple and looked a little nervous.  “Really?”

Bond picked up the Parker pen from the assorted gadgets strewn on the workbench.  “Tell me about this… thing,” he said, handing the pen to Q.

“It’s quite simple, really.  Just click the top and the pen shoots a high intensity laser from the barrel, deadly to a range of 50 metres.”

“All well and good, but what’s the problem with it?”

Q stared at the pen.  Stared at Bond.  Stared at the pen.

“I wasn’t aware there was one,” he said.

“Well, let’s say an agent in the field is perhaps wanting to pay for something using Her Majesty’s Credit card.  Imagine this agent is going to sign the check at a restaurant and then burns the table in half.  Do you think that’s a problem?”

“007, I can’t be held responsible for your forgetfulness.  If you can’t keep track of your equipment, then that’s your own lookout.”

“Oh I can keep track of it.  I just thought that if you were building a weapon into a pen, it might also function as a pen, you know?”

Q shrugged his shoulders.  “It’s not that simple.  The laser fuses the ink, you see…”

“Well, I’m going to need a new chequebook as well.”

“You’ll have to talk to finances. Not my department, you see.”

Bond waved away his excuses.  “Never mind that, what about the suitcase?”

“Ah yes, the suitcase,” Q said, his chest swelling with pride.  “Contains a parachute that will deploy within two seconds of being activated.  Perfect for those impromptu skydives that you seem to be so fond of.”

“That’s as maybe, but there’s no room to put anything in it.  Like my clothes.”

“Sacrifices have to be made, 007.  And if you’re falling out of a plane, which would you rather have – a parachute or your pyjamas.”

“A parachute.  But when I’m travelling across the desert, I’d rather carry my belongings than a parachute I’m not going to use.”

“You say that now…”

“I say that always.”

“So… you didn’t fly to the enemy base?”

“I rode a Camel.”

“I see.”  There was an awkward pause and Q felt rather embarassed.  Trying to save a little dignity, he said: “What about the watch?  Surely you found a use for the watch.”

“The watch did tell the time,” Bond conceded.  “As for the grappling hook that shoots out the front, that did me no good whatsoever.”

“How about the umbrella with the speargun?”

“I was in the desert, Q.”

“Hm.  The shoes with the ice-skates in the bottom?”

“Ditto.”

“What about the cigarettes filled with cyanide?”

“Gave them to a beggar.  Still feel guilty about that, but it was hot and I was forgetful.”

Q walked around to the other side of the workbench, his hand trailing over the equipment he had so lovingly crafted.  “So what you’re saying is that none of this was of any use to you whatsoever?”

“That’s it exactly,” Bond said, his eyes hardened like steel.  “But you know what would have been handy while I was facing down a dozen enemy agents?  You know what might have come in useful while I was grappling with the henchman and in mortal combat with the evil mastermind behind it all?”

“What?”

“A gun.  A gun that shoots bullets from the end.  A gun that doesn’t pretend to be anything else.  Not concealed inside some salad tongs, not made out of rubber to fool the enemy.  Nothing clever.  Nothing fancy.  Just a gun.”

There was an awkward silence before Q erupted in gales of laughter.

“Oh, 007!” he cried, wiping the tears from his eyes. “You’re so old-fashioned!”

Bond shook his head.  “Fuck off, Q,” he said, before walking away to find someone to flirt with.

Squatter

The police officer and the council official looked at each other. This wasn’t going according to plan and they sensed that it wasn’t going to get better any time soon.

“Listen,” the council official said, “we’ve got an eviction notice signed by the magistrate. This is an illegal obstruction and I’m ordering you to move, or I will ask the officer here to move you forcibly.”

The old man raised an eyebrow, amused at something beyond the narrow comprehension of the council official.

“Forcibly?” he said. “Now what does that mean?”

The police officer supplied the definition. “It means that if you don’t hoppit, quick-sharp, I’m going to haul you into the cells.”

Not wanting the situation to escalate any further – there were several members of the press lurking around – the council official said, in his most reasonable tone of voice: “Look, you’ve made your point. We know how you feel about the site, but this has gone on long enough. The judge signed the order. You have to move. We don’t want a scene.”

“Oh, we wouldn’t want a ssscene,” the old man hissed. “Of course not. Anything can happen in this land, so long as nobody creates a scene!” His arm pointed to the triptychs, his robe flapping in the breeze. “This monument has stood here for thousands of years longer than you, me or your silly council. No-one has the right to deny access to the spiritual power of these stones. I have been appointed by the Council of British Druids to protect this sacred site and protect it I shall.”

“All right, I think we’ve heard enough,” the council official said and gave the nod to the police officer.

The police officer stepped forward. He had served in the Wiltshire constabulary for more than fifteen years and nothing gave him greater pleasure that roughing up the weirdos that congregated around these bloody stones. He figured that this would win him a promotion and while he was keen to impress his superiors, the old man in front of him had closed his eyes and was muttering something weird.

“Daminus, Ramilan, Sorinum, Lankin-Lan…”

The police officer looked at the council official, who just shrugged his shoulders.

“Saminor, Ashlkilar, Poorus, Charnog…”

“Right, me old china,” the police officer said, making a move towards the mad old druid. Before he could lay a hand on him, however, he stopped.  The policeman could feel a strange tension in his back, as if his spine was compressing due to some huge invisible weight.  With a mounting sense of horror, the police officer realised that the ground appeared to be rising up to meet him, and this mounting horror turned to blind panic when it became clear that the ground wasn’t moving, but he was shrinking.  He tried to cry out in pain – the invisible pressure from above was agonising – but all that emerged was a strangled gargle.

“Good god!” the council official exclaimed, watching the policeman curdle downwards from a 6 footman, to a midget, to a lumpen mass of flesh and bones that stood no more than four inches off the ground.  The council official tried to turn and flee, but found himself rooted to the spot.  He could feel the bones in his legs splinter and shatter as his body forced its way into the ground.  He looked to the press corps, standing only twenty feet away from him, but it was as if they didn’t see him.  In fact, it looked like they were packing up and going home, somehow having been convinced that there was no story here.  The council official, still holding his clipboard, looked up at the now-looming figure of the druid. In less than a minute, the council official’s entire body occupied a space no bigger than a large Dundee cake.

“Karka-dun, Salararder, Civimus, Tauton Rundar.”   The druid opened his eyes and finished his incantation with one final word.

“Busybodies.”

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/may/03/stonehenge-king-arthur-protest

Arcticacton

Inook stared out across the tundra, looking for any small movement that might indicate life. If he felt the blizzard stinging his eyes, he didn’t show it and kept his vision fixed firmly on the horizon, checking for any discrepancy in the sea of white before him. Inook knew the snow intimately and he couldn’t remember a life without it. The tribal elders had spoken of the before times, but Inook wasn’t sure he believed them – suspecting that it was nothing more than myth. He missed the elders. They had gone long ago and now it was just him and the snow. Every hour of every day, he scoured the blasted ice for some sign of life, some indicator that he was not alone in this frozen hell.

Amidst this flurry of wind and ice, a shape emerged. Inook had seen visions in the storm before and knew better than to chase after them without proper confirmation. Too many of his brothers had succumbed to the madness of the storm, chasing after visions that were nothing more than wishes dancing on the wind. Inook knew better than that and stayed where he was, steadfast against bitter frost and cruel hope. He pulled his husky pelt tighter around him, remembering the day that he slaughtered his faithful companion just to drink the hot blood and regain some semblance of warmth. His last friend died so that he might live and Inook wrestled with the consequences of that deed every single day.

But perhaps he didn’t have to be alone any more. The shape in front of him was coming closer, gaining definition and becoming increasingly man-like. Grasping the handle of his jawbone axe, Inook readied himself for the possibility that this stranger might not be glad to see him. He found himself growling in a low, gutteral voice – indecipherable to anyone else above the howling wind, but a reassurance to himself that he was poised and ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

The shape came closer and Inook could see that it was definitely a man, albeit one dressed in a manner that seemed alien to him. His pelts were unnaturally coloured in a lurid yellow and red and on his head he wore some kind of face protector made of a substance Inook could not comprehend.

Frightened and angry, Inook leapt at the stranger, his jawbone axe held aloft.

“Wrrraaargh!” he roared, his mighty battle-cry loud enough to be heard over the screaming winds. “Wanagoona maka rata!”

The stranger stopped walking and looked at the savage for a moment. “Ian?” it said, lowering the face protector and revealing a clean shaven chin. “Is that you, mate?”

Inook jabbed his axe at the stranger warily, unsure of what he had said. That first word had sounded familiar, like a song heard in childhood that echoes on the wind. “Rana!” Inook shouted, but without the same force as before. “Tata maneeka do-wo?”

The stranger reached into his ears and removed two small buds on strings.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that. What did you say?”

“I said: ‘Do you want to go to the pub for a livener?'” Inook stated, finding himself strangely at ease with the colorful stranger.

“Yeah, alright.”

The two trudged off to the west and it was some time before either of them spoke.

“How long’s it been snowing now?” Inook asked. “I can’t seem to remember.”

His companion tilted his head and thought for a moment.

“About three hours.”

Ian Oak nodded.

“Seems like longer.”

Waking Up

It was all a dream.

Wait… what was? 

The sweat on the sheets is cold and my heart is beating at twice its usual rate, but for the life of me I can’t remember the nightmare.  (That is sweat on the sheets, isn’t it?  They’re wet through.  I check my crotch and it appears that I haven’t pissed myself, but from my extreme agitation it seems that’s more down to chance than anything else.)

I swing my legs off my side of the bed and breathe deeply, burying my head in my hands and feeling the warm reassurance of the bedroom carpet under my naked toes.  This is all right.  This is stuff I recognise.  Not like that – whatever that was.   I pull my dressing gown on  and amble over to the en-suite bathroom – the tiled inner sanctum that protects me from the rest of the house.

At the doorway, I look back at the bed and study the contours of the sheets and duvet.  There’s something amiss that I can’t quite place, but whether that’s by presence or absence I’m not sure.  Either way, nature calls and will not be denied, so I enter the bathroom and close the door behind me, glad to have a barrier between myself and the bedroom.

I manage to complete my ablutions with the bare minimum of eye contact between me and my reflection.  I use the toilet toilet, wash, shave and dress without the aid of a mirror.   The hint of a memory, dancing just outside my consciousness, makes it impossible for me to look myself in the eye. This probably leads to a somewhat strange appearance, but I don’t care – I just don’t want to see myself.

Away from the rooms of bath and bed I had hoped to feel better, but the morning ritual of toast and coffee does nothing to assuage the gnawing feeling that my stomach is trying to eat itself.  Leaving the toast uneaten and the cup half empty, I go to the front room to say my goodbyes and it’s then that I remember.

The blood.  Oh god, the blood.

Everywhere.  On every surface.  The walls, the ceilings, their faces.  Their little faces.

I close my eyes and pray it was all a dream.

Please.

It was all a dream.

Anonymous Anonymous

The man with the black bar over his eyes said: “My name’s [deleted] and I’m anonymous.”

“Hi [deleted],” the group chorused, sitting around him on foldaway chairs arranged in a semi-circle.

“I suppose I’ve always had a tendency to be non-descript,” the man said in his quiet, unassuming voice.  “For the most part, I didn’t think it was a problem.  As a child, I was left to do my own thing and to be honest that’s kind of how I liked it.  I remember going to birthday parties and just sort of being there while every one else around me played games and stuff and somehow I’d just get… overlooked.  They’d sit in a circle for the pass the parcel and somehow I was just kind of hung around outside the ring and the parcel… well, it passed right by.  And perhaps it was coincidence that the mums always mis-counted when cutting the cake, but I never got a piece to take home.   After one party, my parents forgot to come and pick me up.  It got to about ten o’clock and Sam Jessop’s mum found me reading comics in the larder and had to call my mum and dad.  When they got there, they looked kind of embarrassed, but… I don’t know… there was something about the way Mrs Jessop said ‘we just forgot he was there’ and the way my mum nodded and looked at me… I don’t know…”

[deleted] took a sip of water to clear his throat.

“It was the same at school.  I wasn’t the brightest kid in the class, but I wasn’t stupid either.  I suppose I did just enough not to be noticed, either as a problem or a prospect.  The thing was that there was always someone shouting or throwing pens across the classroom, so why would they notice me, sat at the back with my head down?  They wouldn’t.  And they didn’t.  Sometimes my form tutor sometimes forgot to call my name out in the register.  For a while, they thought I was bunking off, until I proved to them that I was there and had done all the work.  Then it was all forgotten about.

“I thought it would be different once I got out of school and into work.  I thought it was a chance to leave it all behind and start fresh, but it was just the same stuff all over again.  Worse, in fact, because I was working for a big company with thousands of employees and amongst all those people it’s easy to get lost.  And that’s what I did.  I lost myself.

“I remember going to a Christmas party one year and looking round at all these people having a good time, talking to each other, flirting with each other, dancing badly and getting pissed and I wondered what it was that made them special.  Why could they all do that and I couldn’t?  It wasn’t for want of trying. I’d try to strike up conversations and people would just look blankly at me and walk off.  I tried making friends and it would be OK for a while, but then people would just sort of drift away. If I ever tried to ring them up there would be that five second pause after I said my name where they’d just be wracking their brains trying to work out who I was and where they knew me from.

“So I just stopped trying.  I just couldn’t make the effort any more, so I figured ‘why bother?’.  For a while,  I thought that if they couldn’t see me, then I was free to do what I wanted.  I’d confused being forgettable with being invisible, so I stopped going to work and thought that I’d be able to live off the salary at my leisure.  That didn’t work out, obviously, and I learned the hard way that while you might as well not be there, someone always notices when you really aren’t. I had to make up some excuses about an aunt dying and being called away to tend to her estate.  All lies, but nobody really cared that much.  They just wanted that empty seat filled.

“But it was at that point that I met someone.  Someone that I worked with every day, but never really noticed before.” [deleted] said, smiling at the memory.  “He recognised in me the same condition that he dealt with every day and he was the one who first told me about this fellowship.  He said that there was a place where I wouldn’t be ignored, where I could meet others who share my condition and with whom I could speak openly about my struggle.  A place where I could be recognised.

“I thank God that I met that man when I did, because I honestly don’t know how much longer I could have gone on like that.  Since coming to my first meeting, I’ve learned how to manage my disease and with the tools this programme has given me, I’m able to live with my anonymity.  It’s not perfect, not by a long shot.  I still get ignored and forgotten.  On the way to the meeting tonight a bus drove straight past me as I stood at the stop with my arm out.  It wasn’t full.  The driver just didn’t see me.  Before I came in, something like that would have eaten me alive.  Now I can laugh at it and wait for the next one.  Or walk.  Either way, I’m happy to be here.  Thanks.”

“Thanks, [deleted].”

And the others shared their experiences, sometimes with laughter and sometimes with pain.  Mary (not her real name) spoke from the shadows about how difficult she found it to show herself after being abused by a teenage sweetheart, while Mr X shared his memories of being perpetually passed over when football teams were picked at playtime.  Electronically disguised voices spoke up about their struggles with anonymity and the comfort they found from sharing their experience with people who understood, people who had been there and experienced those same struggles first-hand.

And little by little, their masks fell away.  The tone of the voices shifted from synthetic disguise to natural timbre and pixellated faces regained their resolution.  Pseudonyms were dropped as people gained confidence in their true identities.  Mary’s real name was revealed to be Sue, Mr X was John and the name of the first speaker was unerased from the record as he closed the meeting, his blue eyes gleaming where a black bar had once been.

“Thank you all for helping me be identifiable,” he said, “and try to remember that anonymity isn’t an end – it’s a beginning.

“My name’s Peter and I’m anonymous.”

Psycho Biker & The Whinge of Change

>

I’d gone out to get fags and was deciding whether I could justify the purchase of a caramel Dairy Milk when I heard the man by the till say:
“What, so I’m just supposed to pick it up off the floor?!”

I turned to see a tall guy in a crash helmet and motorcycle leathers glaring through his visor at the cashier.

“You’re supposed to put the change in my hand, not drop it!”

The cashier – a nice guy who I have amiable chats with now and again – smiled, shrugged and apologised. “Sorry, my friend. It’s a mistake, innit?”

“If you knew how to do your job properly, this wouldn’t have happened. Place the change in my hand, don’t just fling it! God!”

The biker stooped to pick up the 5p piece and spent ages putting his change back into his wallet. I stayed back. I didn’t want to get near him and pretended to be considering the relative merits of Toffos and Tooty-Frooties. Having gathered his change, the guy in the crash helmet needed something else to draw his ire, so pointed to the copy of The Morning Star alongside the other newspapers on the counter.

“That’s what’s wrong with this country – all the bloody communists! That’s why this country is in the state it’s in!”

Uh-oh. Biker man was was veering from irascible to insane and I half-expected him to pull out a shotgun and start killing all us ‘communists’. But settling for one last tirade against the innocent shopkeep, he headed out of the door.

I watched him cross the street. “What a dick,” I mumbled to myself and the shopkeeper shrugged his shoulders.

“He’s not right in the head.”

I glanced back at the biker, who was now crossing back over and back towards the shop.

Double uh-oh. Staff and customers had assembled to see what the biker was going to do next. I wondered what I would do if he started attacking the guy behind the till. I like the guy – he always calls me ‘boss’ – but was that grounds for jumping into harm’s way?

The biker stood in the doorway and pointed at the man behind the till. We all waited to see what he was going to say. I expected some promise of vengeance, a sacred vow that come hell or high water, the shop clerk would rue the day he ever served the motorcycle maniac.

“By the way,” the biker said, his voice raised in unimaginable fury, “it’s isn’t it, not innit. ISN’T. IT. Consider that your lesson for the day.”

And with that, he turned and left.

Lubya’s Story

Lubya came to the UK from Cechnya, smuggled illegally in a freight container. Like many immigrants from the east, she found herself beholden to those that had brought her here and told that she must work off her debt. She was placed in a massage parlour, where she worked as a prostitute. Horrific enough, one might think, but from here Lubya’s story takes an altogether more sinister turn.
“They told me I wasn’t making enough money,” Lubya tells us, “and in order to get more, they want me to have surgery. I don’t like the idea, am scared about it, but what could I do? At first I thought they wanted me to have boob job, but then they tell me what it is really about. They want to turn me into an animal.”

In this case, Lubya is not speaking metaphorically. For some time, police and academics studying the sex industry have become gradually aware of a new trend in the sex industry – prostitutes transformed into other species by means of surgery. The transformations go beyond simple roleplay or dress-up fetishes and alter the physiology of the women at a core level.

“At first I thought it was a joke, like it was some sort slang word, but then they showed me other girls they had done this to. One of them was an ostrich, another one had been turned into a donkey. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but they tell me that this is what I must do if I want to stay here in the UK.”

Lubya never had a choice. The people she was working for intimidated her and threatened her family. Held hostage in a foreign country, Lubya submitted to the will of her captors and agreed the surgery.

“The place they took me to, it was not a hospital. It was dirty, more like a butcher’s shop than a place of medicine. The man they called doctor looked like a mechanic. He didn’t really talk to me. No-one did. They just looked at me like I was a piece of meat. I suppose that’s all I was.”

The surgery took eight hours. Lubya was conscious for most of it, apart from when the pain became too much to bear and she blacked out. The pain did not end with the surgery. For months afterwards, Lubya suffered the after effects of the haphazard procedure – debilitating pain in her arms, legs and body, severe headaches, nausea and blackouts. None of this, though, compares to the psychological trauma she suffered.

“After the surgery, I was in so much pain that I could hardly move. Even to lift my arm was agony, but I had to see myself in the mirror. I had to know what I had become.”

With the bandages removed from her eyes, Lubya was confronted with a reflection that she did not recognise. Lubya, a petite and attractive young woman, had been transformed into a bear. Her slim, 5’2” frame had been stretched beyond its natural limits and fur had been crudely grafted onto her skin. Her face had been extensively remodelled and she found herself unable to stand on two feet for more than a minute at a time.

“I hated it,” Lubya says now, still visibly shaken by the memory. “Every time I think of that first time, seeing what they had done to me, I want to cry all over again. They robbed me of myself and I hate the fact that I let them do it.”

Eager to capitalise on their investment, Lubya’s handlers gave her little time to recover. Within days she was moved from the massage parlour she had previously worked in to a specialist site outside the city, where transformed prostitutes are available to high-paying clients. These ‘sex zoos’ (Сексуальный зоопарк in Russian) are a growing problem, but no-one seems willing to act against them. One officer who wished to remain anonymous stated that the authorities were well aware of the problem, but that a territorial dispute between agencies meant nothing was done.

“It’s basically an issue of jurisdiction between the police and the RSPCA. Neither of them is wants to do anything about the problem, but they don’t want the other one taking charge, either. It’s a political mess and the real problem carries on unabated.”

Not, however, for Lubya. She escaped her captors and is now undergoing a programme of physical and psychological recovery. Slowly, she is learning to cope with the after effects of her ordeal and is undergoing physical therapy to reverse some of the damage caused by her bizarre and unnecessary surgery.

“I’ll never be the same,” she says now, “but if I only do one thing with the rest of my life, it’s got to be telling my story to the world. There are other women out there, just girls really, who may find themselves in this situation and I won’t let the world ignore them. If I can prevent it happening to others, then it will not have been in vain. I hope that we can end this stupid, barbaric thing. No woman should have to be turned into an animal.”