Sometimes the old ones are the best.
The sun was going down over the hills around Nuova Lazio, the small town in a valley in New Zealand.
It was a Friday and the Empire bar was doing good business. Wall to wall the locals were having a good old time, jugs and handles (a quaint name for a pint mug amongst the colonials) of beer were being poured and consumed with, if not quite gay abandon, then at least testosterone-challenged abandon.
The noise of good blokes having a good time was filling the large room and everywhere the feeling was of an end to a successful working week (or in the case of Waccy-Baccy Williams, another successful week of dodging the coppers).
Except in the far corner of the extraordinarily long bar.
In that corner, illuminated by a solitary 40 watt bulb, dangling on an ancient and spiderweb-encrusted flex, was a hunched and solitary figure.
He seemed to radiate waves of negativity, and while not being completely ignored by his jovially drinking neighbours, was being left outside the atmosphere of bonhomie and alcohol-fuelled boisterousness.
The solitary figure was a bloke.
A bloke dressed in an ancient Tweed jacket, with leather or possibly vinyl patches on elbows and cuffs.
He was sitting, hunched over his handle of Speights Old Dark, staring into a nameless space, his semi-focussed gaze seemed to penetrate every possible variation of the space-time continuum, and his scowling visage implied that what he saw did not please him.
His hunched shoulders were covered in a scattering of dandruff flakes and his hair, mostly gray. was on the other side of unruly.
The happy drinkers closest to him, could just make out an almost sub-audible muttering, emanating from the tragic figure, but no individual words could really be distinguished.
It was almost a chant.
It was almost a mantra, as uttered by the most sacred, wise and probably completely f*cking insane of the highest of the Tibetan monks.
Those monks who, with every breath, using both the inhalation and the exhalation, chant the mantra begging Chthulu to return to this degraded, sinful and lowly plane of existence, and to remove the slime inhabiting the surface of this orb we call Terra; the slime they refer to as mankind.
A youngish incomer was standing nearby. He was from Auckland, but his kindly new mates didn't even call him a Jafa. He looked questioningly at the solitary hunched figure under the dangling 40 watt and his curiosity was aroused.
What was it about this bloke that left him separate from his fellows.
Did he have some sort of ancient curse hanging over him, as well as the solitary 40 watt bulb?
Did he have some lingering yet still infectious disease, which caused his fellow-man to shun him?
Was he one of those notorious perverts? An evil and twisted soul who had experimented with every perversion and variation thereof. Who had read and added to the infamous La Philosophie dans le boudoir by Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade?
|Old Spanker, himself|
The Jafa sidled closer to the figure, unaware of the sudden frowns from his drinking buddies who had noticed his interest.
Before anyone could intervene, the young Jafa prodded the muttering bloke on the shoulder.
Just as he did so, silence filled the bar.
It was not an instant thing.
It was not like the instant flash of white as produced by MSgt. Adolphus T. Schwartz when he threw the switch to detonate Trinity at Alamagordo, New Mexico, July 16, 1945 at 5:29:45 A.M. (Mountain War Time).
It was not like the random yet complete silence which suddenly filled the auditorium of the Yorkhill Hospital complex in Glasgow, when a (very) young TSB uttered the infamous words directed at the rather voluptuous lead singer of the band performing on the stage.
The words were "I bet she goes like a rabbit".
For the record, it should be noted that the lead singer (a slightly hirsute red-head yclept "Gloria") marched down from the stage and clipped the (very) young TSB on the ear. She also clipped him on the nose, chin, nose again and whilst his attention was being so distracted, his crotch.
So it was not an instant thing. It spread. Not slowly, but it was not instant.
The silence spread like a ripple in a pool when a rock had been dropped into the centre.
It spread like the belief in the assassination conspiracies regarding John Fitzgerald Kennedy. (I still believe Elvis did it)
Anyway it got quiet.
The young Jafa saw the ancient head on the hunched shoulders slowly rotate towards him. The head rotated slowly but smoothly.
It rotated like the 3 gun 16"/50 calibre turret of the USS Missouri.
It implied an immense weight, a solidity, a gravitas beyond anything the young Jafa had seen before.
By now the silence was absolute.
The young Jafa took a slug from his handle of Tui (quite a representative modern beer, somewhat like an Indian Pale Ale, but with most of the taste removed and extra C02 added. Popular with the Rugby viewing masses.), licked his lips and asked:
"What do you do?"
Eyes which had seen horrors uncountable gazed into the young Jafa's face.
Those eyes were filled with a terrible pain.
Pain much worse than the trifling pain of childbirth.
Pain much, much worse than a hemorrhoid rupturing under the pressure of a Vindaloo-laden methanogenic explosion.
Pain worse even than the time the bloody French knocked the All Blacks out of the World Bloody Cup in Cardiff in 2007, and it was only a f*cking Quarter-Final, and all because of a bloody useless and blind English bloody referee. But we're not bitter.
The young Jafa could see the pain, the anguish, the hidden terrors in the old bloke's eyes, but he could also see that the old bugger was going to speak.
"I'm a teacher" he said.
And it was like hearing a piece of broken chalk being dragged over a field, a battlefield, of broken glass.
There was a sharp intake of breath from everyone around the bar.
The temperature dropped by about 20 degrees.
The young Jafa felt a terrible compulsion.
It was a demanding, insisting, expletive-laden compulsion.
He had to do it.
He had to ask, he did not have enough willpower to resist.
"What do you teach?" he whispered against clenched teeth.
The hunched and solitary figure began to turn fully to look at him.
For the first time the young Jafa had the full and exclusive attention of those eyes.
Those eyes, those eyes;
they bored through his skin,
through his brain,
through his heart and finally through his soul.
Those old eyes had power, held authority and (he was suddenly aware) held absolute knowledge. There was nothing those eyes didn't know.
They knew if he'd done his homework.
They knew if he was trying to smuggle a lollie out of his pocket into his mouth.
The really knew when he tried to flip a paper pellet off of Budgie McLean's oddly shaped head with an elastic band and two rulers held together by duct tape.
The hunched and solitary figure began to turn away from him now.
The young Jafa had been dismissed.
He had been spurned.
Spurned like a rabid dog.
Spurned like Hitler had with Mussolini.
Like Stalin had with Mao.
Like Abbot had with Costello.
He said it again.
"What do you teach?"
The hunched and solitary figure didn't even twitch, didn't even seem to be about to respond in any way, just kept turning back to his original position.
But there was something.
The young Jafa suddenly knew that he would be getting an answer.
He didn't know how he knew, but he knew.
The hunched and solitary figure lifted the handle clenched in his white-knuckled fingers, and for an instant the young Jafa knew real fear.
He felt the very core of his being shrink away. His guts began to turn to liquid, and he suddenly wished he was wearing a panty liner at least.
But the hunched and solitary figure just raised the handle to his laps and drank.
He drank deeply; he drank like the dark brown foaming liquid was the elixir of life itself.
He returned the handle to the beer-streaked surface of the bar, and he began to resume his semi-focused search for the meaning of life.
But then he spoke.
He spoke a truth so self-evident that the young Jafa was struck dumb by its magnificent simplicity and immediately obvious sincerity and rightness.
He spoke thus: "Bastards"