A Phoenician in America

So this tall blond haired woman walks into a bar in Atlanta, and sits down at a table opposite a brown haired young man. He looks up from the book he is reading and smiles at her. She ignores him and says to a waiter, ‘The usual, Sam.’

The brown haired man goes back to his reading, but flicks his eyebrows and smiles at her again when the waiter returns with her drink.

She ignores the brown haired man and runs her index finger up the tall smoked glass, and picks a cherry off from the top of a small decorative umbrella that is perched in the middle of a stick on the rims of the glass.

That is a colourful drink, what it is called?’ the man asks her.

She looks across at him, for a moment and pops the cherry into her mouth without replying.

The man goes back to reading and then looks up again and says to her, ‘I’m new in America, I don’t know anyone here.’

She nods her head and smiles.

I’m from Lebanon,’ he says.

The smile disappears and she asks, ‘You’re Muzlem, right?’

No, I am a Christian, actually,’ he replies. He leans over towards her and offers her his right hand saying, ‘My name is Rami, and I am a Phd student here.’

She  takes the umbrella off the top, takes a sip from her glass, and asks, ‘So  your country is near I-raq, right?’

No, not really, ’ he laughs nervously withdrawing his hand, ‘it is next to Syria,  but I am a Phoenictian.’ 

She looks puzzled and shakes her head.

He continues, ‘We trace ourselves back to Canaanites, even before 1200 B.C, and we created the alphabet, you know, and we helped to create modern day mathematics, Pythagoras, he  was from Tyre, and that’s in Lebanon, and as is the oldest continuous inhabited city on the planet, and…’

She stands up, glass in hand, looks down at him and says, ‘For a phonetician darling, you sure  as hell speak like  a fucking A-rab.’  

END

My new novel, Song Of Gulzaraina

A highly recommended novella by Dr. Steiner Shaeuinsland  The Maid, The Madam and The Minister

Writers, how not to behave with commissioning editors.

How Not To Kill A Character

song-of-gOn the way home, on the number 50 bus in Manchester, I was trying to find a way of killing Yasmin a character in my forthcoming novel, Song Of Gulzarina.

I had thought of all sorts of scenarios, and texted Peter Kalukovich, my co-writer friend, with what I thought was a good way of getting rid of the character.

She’s the lover who got betrayed, right?Peter texted back.

Me: Yes.

Peter:You can’t kill Yasmin off with cancer. Cliché, boring!!!,

He was clearly sitting in front of a computer, otherwise he would have just sent a one word message back, something along the lines of, crap.

I was a bit tired and didn’t want to get into a texting duel, especially as I was on my mobile, and rang him.

Peter is partially deaf, and over the years I have worked out which sounds to avoid and how to speak to him, especially on the telephone. To clarify this point, let me transgress. There is a pub on Oxford Road, the Ford Madox Brown, named after the famous painter. One day Peter texted me, Where are we meeting?

It was raining so I phoned him back and said, ‘Ford Madox Brown.’

Lord Mayduck Groan!’ the poor man replied, clearly finding it difficult working out what I was saying.

Ever since, we have referred to the pub, by this name.

Now, back to my story.

You are supposed to be a writer, Mister Mehmood,’ Peter snapped at me as soon as he answered. ‘Can’t you think of something more imaginative, like throwing her out of an aircraft?’

I have.’

Come on then, lets have it,’ Peter sniggered, ‘I have a deadline, don’t have all day.’

I knew he was procrastinating on the writing front, otherwise he would not have answered my call. I was about to tell him so, but instead, I raised my voice and said, ‘I thought of slitting her throat, but it would be too messy.’

Why?’

She has a daughter, who is really bitchy at times, and as you well know, there are too many implications for me, if I do this.’

Innit,’ he replied.

This is a particularly loaded phrase we northern writers use, when listening to each others problems. In this instance it means, You’re stuck, and you ain’t getting naff all out of me.

I continued, ‘I thought of throwing her in front of a bus, but around where she lives, there’s too much traffic. She would almost certainly live. And can you imagine the story, I would have to invent and the issues I would have to deal?’

‘Innit,’ he laughed. This time it meant, I don’t got no problems like that.

I thought of poisoning her…’ I said.

Cheap,’ he interrupted. I couldn’t work out whether he really thought this was the case, or maybe he was thinking of using it in his own novel, and as we had the same publisher for a series of connected novels we are publishing, one of us would in that case, have to have another scenario.

I thought of getting a sword and having her head chopped off…’

Too gruesome,’ Peter sighed, and then continued in know-it-all type of a tone, ‘besides, where would the sword come from?’ He went into a rubbing-salt-into-your-wounds sort of a silence and then continued in a voice pregnant with a self-righteous, but refrained laugh, ‘Of course, you can get a ceremonial one from the pawn shop in Levi,’ and then quickly added, ‘ now, hurry up, I got to get back to work.’

He was lying. I heard his kettle click and then water being poured into a cup.

I was about to continue with my next idea, when I felt a little hot tingle on the tips of my ears, like someone close by was watching me. I was sitting on the lower deck of the bus. I turned around. Every one in the bus was staring at me. No one was talking. A woman clutched her baby. Her unblinking eyes fixed on me.

I told Peter to hold on and looked out of the window. The Birchfields Park was on my left. I pressed the stop button and stood up, still holding the phone next to my ear, with Peter repeating his question, ‘What was the last word of her dialogue?’

I thought for a moment, and remembered, ‘Allah,’ I replied loudly walking towards the front of the bus.

Bella!’ Pete exclaimed.’

No,’ I said.

I went to the front of the bus. The driver pulled over at the next bus stop, which was at the corner of Birch Fields Road and Dickinson Road. He checked the safety screen, which protects drivers from the public, to see if it was locked, but didn’t open the exit doors.

This is my stop,’ I said said to the driver.

He stared at me, whilst fidgeting with something with his right hand.

Then it dawned on me why he was not opening the door.

It’s not what you think, mate,’ I said apologetically, ‘I’m a writer. I was talking to a deaf writer.’

He was a big man, with a reddening face. He pursed his lips and nodded. His unblinking eyes fixed on me.

I thought quickly. I really didn’t want to spend a day, or maybe more in a police station.

Someone screamed at the back of the bus. I turned around. All the passengers were huddled together at the furthest end of the bus.

I pulled on the doors. They hissed open. I stepped off the bus. As it went past me, everyone in it was on their mobile phones, looking at me.

Writers! London Book Fair Is White

As this year’s London Book Fair approaches, let me share an experience.

Last year, Peter Kalu and I were invited to a panel at the London Book Fair. We had produced leaflets, with the aim of selling some of our about-to-be best sellers, but ditched the idea when we saw the suits, snoots and high heels, and instead decided to see if we could have a good time.

In the evenings, publishers and distributors host lots of parties. Rich ones, lay out expensive champagne, not so rich are also generous. Alas, we were a little depressed as neither Peter or I had any invitation for any party.

‘Gate crash,’ advised Susan-Dolorous Smithfield [REAL NAME WITHHELD], as she is well respected literary agent.

Peter and I perked up.

‘No one will know,’ she added.

Apart from the cleaners and other staff, we were the only two non-white faces. When we pointed this out to Susan-Dolorous Smithfield, she said, ‘I never thought of that,’ and then asked, ‘do you always notice this?’

Not keen on engaging in this line of discussion, I thank her, and while Peter talked to her about getting a seven digit advance for his next sure to god best best seller, I ran off for a quick recky.

There were loads of parties; there was one in a music specialist book store – not a single cover had a black face on it, and there were no black faces among the suits; There was a huge party in the center, not a single black face on any book cover, but there was a black face in the crowd.

I went back to Peter and Susan-Dolorous Smithfield. Peter was still making his impassioned pitch, but he had reduced his asking amount to six digits. When I gave my report, he ignored me and said to Susan-Dolorous Smithfield, ‘OK. I’ll accept any offer.’

She smiled, a smile at Peter that said, there is no offer, and said to me, ‘They will be too busy praising each other, they won’t notice you. Do not act like a gatecrasher and nervous. Just drink. ’ She turned to Peter, pointed to his ID badge and said, ‘But don’t you talk to any editor, Peter,’ then turning to me and she added, ‘but you’re OK.’

Before we could ask the obvious question she explained, ‘Because Tariq’s badge says Speaker, but yours, Peter, says, Author, and no editor wants to meet a writer.

My new novel, out now: Song Of Gulzarina

Curse Of The Syrian Shadows

I was on my way home. It was night.  I had just turned down hill off  Hamra Street in Beirut.  I saw a 50 odd year old man inappropriately touching a girl. She stood stiffly. Her fists clenched in front of her. She could have been 10, or maybe younger. Two women stood close by, in the shadows, silently watching the man and the girl.  They were both dressed in black. One of them looked like she could be the girl’s mother, and the other, an elder sister.  They were Syrian refugees. I had seen them before.

‘What are you doing?’ I challenged the man.

He was standing under a street light. He looked at me, went red in the face and ran off.

The women started shouting and swearing at me for the loss of their customer

The girl stood stiffly. Her fists clenched in front of her

END STORY

Read a related short  story to above: Shadows From Syria

My New Novel: Song of Gulzarina, Out Now