The untitled novel project is progressing quite well. I wrote another thousand words or so tonight, so chapter two is finished at about three-and-a-half thousand words and the project so far is at 9,059. Are they all going to stay? Almost certainly not. Hopefully there’s some more to be added and some gems to be polished from this raw material, but it’s a decent start and about 1/8th the way to novel length.
Brian has taken the job with Neville Coffey, a security guard position for a block of flats next to a park in Brunswick where there was a break-in and some racist graffiti. He has met some of the residents already, and it’s already been a bit of an eye-opener for him. He’s also seen from a distance a Muslim woman smoking on her balcony.
Now it’s midnight, his first night on the job, and he’s doing his hourly patrol (this is the last part of Chapter 2):
On my midnight patrol I’m getting pretty lax. I barely walk past the cleaners’ van any more. If someone’s coming through that fence they’ll need a cordless screwdriver or an axe and either way that’s noisy. So I figure no one’s going to make the effort and my patrols are more and more just for show and to relieve the boredom. I’ve finished a few packets of chips and the energy drinks already; made a start on the Coke.
I decide maybe the park needs a quick sweep. Maybe especially near that shrub where I can take a leak. If I hadn’t needed the leak I probably wouldn’t have gone into the park at all, and then I wouldn’t have heard it, so it’s kinda lucky I decided to get the Coke after-all.
I’m just about to get my fly down near the tree when I hear a shriek from deeper in the park. The zip’s back up in a second and I get my torch held high near my shoulder, flick it on and scan the little circle of light around the park. Trees and benches and swing-sets cast wavering shadows. Nothing. Nothing but night. I walk a little further. Cautious now without really knowing what I’m scared of.
In the back corner of the park, where the fence of the flats and the fence by the alleyway meet, there’s a big old gum tree, leaves waving gently in minimal wind. I scan the base and still there’s nothing and I’m about to shake this feeling loose and go back to my piss when for some bloody reason I can’t explain I lift the torch a little, shine the disc of light up into the branches…
and I near shit myself.
Suddenly I’m stumbling back, half-falling, half-fleeing. The torch-light careens wildly around, striking leaves and a glimpsing fence and shooting useless off into the sky a lot. When I finally get still my heart’s beating a mile a bloody minute and I can hear my own breath coming quick and noisy. I flash the torch-light back up into the trees looking for it again. I’m searching the tree for another glimpse of a dark face, near as black as the night, not quite human. Like some giant ape peering down at me with beady little brown eyes that shine with hate. Eyes like I’d sometimes seen before and always on guys who were about to do me some violence. I’m looking for an ape in a park in Brunswick, but it’s gone now and I’m left feeling a bit stupid. Everytime I say it to myself it sounds a little more ridiculous, and I know it can’t be what I’m looking for, but even as I’m telling myself it was nothing, or a possum, or a trick of the light, I’m not convinced. I don’t believe my own bullshit.
Then there’s another shriek behind me, but this one’s half giggle and I have heard it half-a-hundred times before. Teenage girl. Fleeing. Breathless. Stupid with adrenaline.
My torch-light picks them out straight away. Two couples running from me, ducking under the monkey-bars, blonde girls clutching each other’s hands and a boy on either side half-leading, half-dragging them by their other hand. I take about three steps in chase but it’s pretty obvious that even the girls are running quicker than me. Pain shoots up from my right knee, even decades after they rebuilt it the second time. I stumble to a stand-still and watch them run off. I figure there’s no point anyway. There’s nothing for me to do even if I somehow caught them. Can’t really tell them off for being in a public park at night. I’m only mean to be watching the flats and they’re far enough away from the fence that they’re no threat there.
I wander over to the picnic table where they must’ve been sitting. There’s a pizza box littered with uneaten crusts, some empty cans of pre-mix vodka on the ground, and a half-full bottle of bourbon on the table. It’s one of those little ones about half the size of a real bottle – probably just the right size to smuggle under a hoodie on your way out of the bottleshop. I don’t reckon they’re coming back for it so I take a swig and then tuck it into my belt. I take my piss right there and figure it’s worth another lap of the flats before I go back to the car.
At the back of the flats, up the driveway, past the cleaners’ van, there’s about a dozen cars parked. They’re all pretty old. None really even worth stealing. They’re mostly Japanese or Korean makes: Toyotas and Mitsubishis, a Kia, Daihatsus and Daewoos. It’s all quiet and I head back, but on the way I see that cigarette up on the balcony again and the silhouette of the Muslim woman.
I stop beneath her and back against the fence a bit so I can look up at her.
‘Hey there,’ I say. Not too loud. Not while there’s people sleeping.
‘Hello,’ she says. It’s not what I’m expecting. She’s soft but her voice carries right to me easily enough and it sounds kinda like a pommy bird I knew once.
‘I’m Brian,’ I say. ‘I’m…’ but she doesn’t let me finish.
‘You smoke Brian?’ Still softly. She sounds polite.
‘I used to. Quit it a while back though. I got a boy, you see. I missed seeing a bit of him growing up and I don’t want the ciggies to knock me off before I see him grow the rest of the way.’
‘I’ve got two boys,’ she says.
‘Sorry. Didn’t mean nothing by it. It’s a personal choice I reckon.’ The conversation stalls. I try to fill the silence. ‘I didn’t even know Muslims smoked,’ I say. It sounds stupid in my head even as I’m saying it.
‘Well, well. An expert on Islam?’ she said. I know when I’m being mocked, and for an instant it got my hackles up. ‘Actually you’re right,’ she said.
‘I am?’ Surprised.
‘Yes, in a way. There’s nothing in the Qur’an specifically that forbids it. Cigarettes weren’t around in the time of The Prophet, peace be upon him. But recently some scholars have been interpreting the Qur’an and making their own fatwa on cigarettes. They say The Prophet, peace be upon him, instructed us not to harm ourselves, and as cigarettes are undoubtedly self-harming they should be considered haraam.’ I didn’t really know what she was talking about. ‘Let not your own hands contribute to your destruction.’ Her voice rang out so I knew she was quoting.
‘Is that so?’
‘Indeed it is.’ She stubs out her cigarette on the balcony rail. ‘They sure are hard to quit though,’ she adds. ‘If you would like to know what’s going on around here come and see me in the morning,’ she says as she opens her door and she goes back inside while I stand there.