Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Inner Man

Category: Issue 14

Words @ about 1700

The Inner Man

‘Whatcha doing?’ The voice was loud and clear and come out of nowhere. Alan, who had been balanced on one leg and about to pull on his pants, gave a short scream and fell backwards. He lay very still between the bed and the wall, wondering if the voice was some trick of wind whispering though a gap in the window frame.

‘Shit, don’t you ever dust down here, I’m choking. Get a grip and get off the friggin’ floor.’ The voice was sharp

Shards of light rotated behind Alan closed lids and swamped him in numb feeling of unreality. He pulled his body upright and looked around. Even though the room appeared to be empty he spoke aloud,. 

‘Okay. Let’s get this into perspective. That wasn’t a voice,’ he assured himself, ‘I’ve caught some sort of fever and hallucinating.’

‘Oh, congratulations, you’ve heard me at last, have you?’ said the voice.

Alan ran a shaky hand through his wiry, dark hair. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘Ours is not to reason why. Ours is just to do or die. Good quote that. Shouldn’t you be getting to work?’

The hands on Alan’s watch registered he was already late. He shook his head and struggled into his jacket ‘Must have had one too many in the pub last night, I’m hearing things,’ he muttered as he left the apartment and sprinted for the bus.

Alan’s hunched shoulders relaxed as the vehicle sped through the morning traffic. He was going over his intended speech for the board of directors. In the hope of impressing them enough to be given the position of manager at his local branch of finance brokers.

The brakes whined as the bus came to a stop. A young black girl stepped into the aisle, dressed in a tight tee shirt and blue jeans. Alan gave her curvaceous body a furtive glance and then quickly looked away.

The voice wafted up from his collar. ‘Great arse, wouldn’t you like to take a bite out of that? You might get to cop a feel as she squeezes past.’

Alan’s head swivelled, like someone watching a tennis tournament. He caught the eye of a young man, who regarded him with a grin and then flicked his eyebrows as if in agreement.

‘I didn’t say that,’ Alan said, his voice defensive.

Still grinning, the young man shrugged his shoulders. ‘Whatever,’ he replied and went back to his book.

Wouldn’t you just love to f…

Alan coughed loudly, blood rushed to his cheeks. The young man shifted slightly in his seat but didn’t look up. The girl stared at the passing traffic


The fight started at the point where Alan been strap hanging for most of the journey, crushed in the gangway between a large, young black man with an Afro hairstyle and a gold tooth, and a pasty Asian in a wool jumper pulled over the top of flowing robe.

‘If it wasn’t for all these bloody foreigners, real Brits might get a seat. Look at them all – bet most of them are claiming. There they are, waving their passes, not one of the fuckers has paid a fare’

Alan looked up at the man with the Afro towering over him. The man bared his teeth in what could have been a smile or a snarl.

‘I paid my fare, mon, and my taxes. I was born here. But I guess I know whatcha mean about freeloaders,’ he said in a queer mixture of cockney and Afro-Caribbean.

As it was useless to deny that the voice came from him, Alan replied. ‘I didn’t mean you.’

A young Asian stood up in his seat. ‘You must have meant us then.’

He aimed a punch in Alan’s direction, missed, and hit the black man in the ear. With a warrior-like roar the black man reached over, lifted his assailant in the air, and shook him like a dog.

Two young men with skinheads, and numerous tattoos that crawled out of their tee shirts and spread over bulging biceps like a blue rash, launched themselves at the nearest bodies. The fight that ensued was brief, but nonetheless vicious. Near strangling, and karate chops were interspersed with good old-fashioned head-butts, which sprayed blood and snot among the struggling passengers. The bus ground to a halt and the driver leapt to the pavement in search of safety.

Sirens screamed as police cars headed for the rocking bus. The fighting passengers melted into the gathered crowd, and left Alan with the black guy - whose name turned out to be Felix - standing defensively back-to-back.

The next hour passed like a horrible dream. Alan and Felix were taken to the station, and charged with several things, including inciting a racial riot. They were strip-searched and put in a holding cell.

Graffiti scratched walls revealed what the previous owners thought of their captors. Alan sat and stared at a primitive sketch of a pig with an enormous penis penetrating its rear end. The title, in case anyone was in doubt as to the meaning of the art, read. ‘Fuck all pigs.’

The bench wasn’t designed for comfort, Alan perched on the edge, and Felix sat beside him, wrists on his thighs, tapping out a rhythm with the flat of his hands.

Alan glanced sideways. ‘I really didn’t say that, you know - the bit about foreigners.’

‘No sweat, everyone is prejudiced in some way. All to do with territorial genes, I guess.’

‘I’m not prejudiced – there’s this voice and it say’s things - but I expect you won’t believe it,’ Alan blurted.

Felix turned soft brown eyes in his direction. ‘Sure I believe you, mon. Someone‘s put a curse on you. My granddaddy was a witchdoctor. You best find yourself one of those, he’ll know what to do.’

‘I was thinking more down the lines of finding a physiatrist.’

Felix twitched a meaty shoulder. ‘Same difference.’

After an uncomfortable night the charges were dropped. Felix and Alan bid each other farewell with a handshake and a promise to meet up for a drink in the near future. Alan hailed a taxi, he’d had his fill of public transport, and his only thought was to get home and ease his bruised body.


Once in the comfort of his ultra modern flat, Alan made his way to the shower and let hot water stream down his body. He wrapped a towel around his waist and padded across the polished floorboards of the sitting room.

He felt an urgent need to have a man-to-man talk with his other self. ‘Er - are you there? I want to speak to you.’

‘Okay, let’s have the lecture and get it over with,’ the voice said.

A wave of hopelessness curled in Alan’s chest. How was he to appeal to the conscience of something that was a figment of his imagination and had gained a voice?

His shoulders slumped. ‘Forget it – I suppose you know I will have lost my chance at promotion. What’s more, I’ll probably get put in a mental hospital if you don’t stop talking out loud. . Can’t you just let off steam when we’re alone?’

‘I’d go along with that if I could, but you’re such a sanctimonious prick and I think you’ve suppressed me long enough.’

Alan squeezed his eyes together and clenched his fists. ‘Who are you?’

‘Who am I? Hmmm, well how about - your other half, your dark side, the voice of things not to say in public,  or maybe a shrink would call me your alter-ego. Whatever you want to call me, I’m sick of your mealy mouthed platitudes.’

‘What platitudes?’

You ever intend to give Felix a bell? Go for a drink with him maybe? Huh?’

‘Of course not. We have absolutely nothing in common.’

‘Well there ya go, ya mother-kisser. Why tell him ya would?’

‘I don’t know, I guess I was being polite.’

‘There ya go again, you even lie to yourself. Truth is ya don’t want to be seen with a black guy with a gold tooth and an afro haircut.’

Blood rushed to Alan’s cheeks. ‘Listen, here, you arsehole. If I want analysis I’ll go to a fuckin’ shrink. And when I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it. Now piss off and leave me alone.’

There was a hint of admiration in the voice as it replied ‘Atta boy, Alan, go for it.’


The following morning the bus was full once more. The black girl with the curvaceous figure boarded the bus at the same stop and slid her hand through the vacant strap next to Alan.

She glanced sideways. ‘I hope you didn’t get into a lot of trouble yesterday?’

Alan turned and looked into a pair of large, dark eyes. ‘No - well not too much anyway,’ he replied

A faint ‘Harrumph’ sounded from somewhere around his neck.

He squeezed his knees together and said hurriedly. ‘I – Er - I noticed you yesterday.’

The girl’s face lit up with a smile. ‘You did?’

‘Yes, I remember thinking how pretty you looked.’

‘Thank you, that’s a lovely thing to say.’ Her café latte toned skin took on a faint pink glow.

Better,’ the voice whispered in his ear.

The girl put her free hand lightly on Alan’s arm. ‘Did you get hurt much, yesterday?’

Adrenalin rushed through Alan’s body and his heart pumped. ‘No, I can handle myself in a fight.’

‘I’m glad.  I was worried when the police took you away.’

He looked into her exotic, dark eyes and saw the dullness of his straight-laced existence. Cultures he didn’t know, food he’d never tried, and chances he’d never taken.

‘Wasn’t that bad, I met this cool guy named Felix whose granddaddy was a witchdoctor. I don’t suppose you’d like to meet me for coffee after work? I could tell you all about it then.’ He held his breath.

A smile came to her eyes as well as her lips. ‘That’d be nice. I’d love to.’

Mmmm, dark meat - way to go!’ came a far away voice in Alan’s head.

‘Fuck off,’ Alan replied under his breath



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