The Crowd

Cast out from lamps
of tinkering minds
shadow beings with leathery hides
are shuffling round, pressing buttocks
against unsuspecting skulls.
Green pearly feathers tickle
horns catch on chandeliers and
large-flippered beasts get stuck
in revolving doors.

Fresh-escaped from the cage of our ribs
a menagerie of unvoiced thoughts
have come to crowd polite events
house parties
Halloweens
board meetings
kitchen rota discussions
netball club
bad dates at Pizza Hut
– weddings border on stampedes –
or at mother-in-law high teas
shopping trolley skirmishes
the headmaster’s office
or gym class with
that pompous girl with perfect teeth
whose smug, corrected grin you cannot bear.

So bears emerge to scrape the chairs
and blow their noses, wheezing
in the jostling hairy void your
prim diplomacy creates.
Five tonnes of pink-feathered guilt,
a beaked embarrassment, some
supercilious wombats
huff and ruffle and frill
between us, clear as day to those
who won’t give in to nerves
and look away.

“Hello, meet Germaine here, he’s
my knowledge of your infidelity
enfleshed.”

“How very strange! This is Bonnie,
she’s my thought of you being a
jumped-up petty criminal
with appalling
taste in kipper ties
expressed in fur and claw.
So soft, but gracious!
The fleas are big as mice.”

Sometimes I see a man
surrounded by a murder of crows
dark thoughts wheel round
enclose the pillow of light
constricted in his heart.
Or it might be a woman
with a circus of monkeys
hanging from her fragile twigs
snatching lollipops and
pinching passersby
tugging her left and right
and all she’ll say is “Christ!
I’m feeling nervous.”

So thoughts leap out into
palpable blockages in our paths.
Amid this jungle I think
I’ll swim with swarms of
honeybees, flock with Monarchs
in buddleia thirst
or find a cloud
to pass the time wrapped in
and give the crowd the slip.

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Here is the News (That Never Happened)

Oh, the peculiar fears I carry around with me.

A black and green dirty rucksack, for example, deposited on the floor by an empty table where I sit to have my coffee that gets me thinking: who does it belong to? I ask around politely, and nobody knows. Could – and this is the very first possibility that springs to mind – someone have left it there with a bomb inside?

This is how my imagination works. Let´s just say I can get quite creative with my paranoias. So I begin calculating what kind of rucksack a terrorist would use to leave a bomb in this haven of depravity – I mean, cake shop – in Plaza Larga, Granada. Would it be a slightly grubby one, like this specimen? You´d think that such a decisive moment in the life of a hardcore extremist would warrant a bit of spit and polish. Isn´t there something in the suicide bomber´s handbook that regulates nice, neat backpacks in order to avoid raising suspicions? Or it is more suspicious to carry a brand spanking new rucksack?

 

Already exhausted with these worries – which have raced through my head in the time it takes to open a packet of sugar – I start to think, if it is an explosive device, I am the nearest person to it. I´ll be obliterated. Balls. I should´ve sat round the other side of the biscuit display.

I wonder at the irony of it, a Muslim woman being the first one obliterated by a supposedly Islamic poke in the eye of Western consumerism. Damn those walnut-embellished cookies! Just thinking about the decadence of this chocolate-encrusted institution would make the average al-Qaeda neophyte turn crimson with fury. The irony, of course, is that they would see me, with my long blonde locks shamelessly exposed and assorted prints and patterns and fringed knits, looking more like a walking circus act than the kind of subdued woman they expect Muslim women to be, and I would be lumped in with all the other infidels.

Yet I would rather run that (admittedly infinitessimally small) risk than to succumb to the fear of what might happen to me if I didn´t. What I fear most is to wear my fear as a cape, not in order to protect my precious body from the rapacious gazes of the barbarian hordes, but for fear of what might happen to me if I didn´t.

Whichever way I turn, fear stands with its steel toe-capped boots blocking the doorway, an amalgam of Hollywood psychopaths (as Wednesday Addams said to explain her lack of a Halloween costume, “I´ve come as a homicidal maniac. They look like everyone else”), a cartoon demon, a cardboard ghoul, a carjacking kidnapper, an ideological lunatic bent on purging the world of evil by, er, blowing it up, and, inexplicably, my high school P.E. teacher, Ms Haversham.

All of these fears are constantly bubbling, morphing, accreting new dimensions with every newspaper I read, evolving into a vaster and more powerful tyrant with every day I allow it to reign.

The craziest thing of all is that all of these fears are completely and utterly hypothetical. I have never personally been kidnapped, or murdered by a Samurai sword wielding teeange mob, or blown to smithereens by anti-Westernisation madmen. I have never even been verbally condemned by a Muslim man for my Western appearance; on the contrary, being an Anglo-American Muslim sometimes generates a little too much interest for my liking.

 All of my fears are completely illogical, but the subconscious does not respond to logic unless you pin it down and shine a 1,000 candlelight torch down its throat. Until I do that, my head will continue to be the most dangerous place in the world.

In the meantime, a stubbly, student-type young man comes out of the loo, picks up his rucksack and leaves. The safety of my immediate surroundings remain unviolated. A million tiny acts of disinterested generosity, kindness, and love take place undocumented all over the world, while I have spent twenty minutes running through a worst case scenario so improbable that I am more likely to be struck by lightning whilst playing a flute on a mountaintop. Dressed as a blueberry.

Psychological studies show that bad news is more memorable than good news. So the 99% of the time in which no violent theft is taking place, no verbal abuse being slung, no building blown up, no airplane hijacked, no child bullied, no alien invasion happening, are not documented in any way. It just isn´t as interesting. That 99% of events remains, like the 99% of people with 1% of the wealth, anonymous.

I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule of non-newsworthy events to read this article, in which no brains were devoured by zombies, no old ladies were killed in their homes by burglars, and absolutely no animals were harmed in any way. Thankyou. Feel free to carry on living your lives, a little bit happier, I hope, for them to be non-newsworthy.