min jiqy jgu jiqu
(Translation: conquer your mind and conquer the World)
Old Punjabi saying
10:01 Friday 30th September 2005, Maya
I was crouching on the grit-covered floor. I began to feel the trickle of blood on my forehead. Worse were the small stones that cut into my palms like shards of glass. I rocked backwards to rest on my legs and then slowly rose to my feet. There was absolute desolation. Peering through the thick strand of hair that covered my face, I could barely take in the previously grand Primrose Hill that now was laden in thick black smog. There were sparks of igniting flames covering the floor. As I walked a few hundred yards I looked around at the consummate destruction and the many walking wounded. Stumbling forward I tripped over a shoe with flesh still in it. I closed my eyes and held my breath – this wasn’t real, this couldn’t be real. With a deep breath in, I opened my eyes and ended the nightmare. I was in my bed, awake.
The exact details of the night that had passed were blurry at best. Mixing potions is never a good idea, especially when the concoction created is more than 70% alcohol. I freshened up and made my way down to the hotel restaurant. The only brew I know to cure less than five hours sleep is an extra shot of morning opium. I took a seat in the overcrowded restaurant, sipped my latte and poured over my laptop. My brain was taking a little longer than usual to kick into gear this morning. After a good ten minutes of vigorous typing, I eventually managed to hack into the e-mail account of our next client. The magic words tend not to come to me as easily as they do to Riley.
‘Morning, sugar. Usually you’re sneaking in first thing in the morning. Sneaking out –now that’s a new trick,’ Walter calmly spoke, as he sat at my table. Walter proved that con artists come in all shapes and sizes – with his oiled white hair, sharp suit and waistcoat you would more easily believe him to be a company director than the man who cons the director.
‘Good to mix things up every now and then,’ I replied, glimpsing up from laptop screen.
‘Dare I ask what time you all came in this morning?’ Walter asked.
‘Past five I think. It all got a bit crazy. You cleaned up alright at the poker game.’
‘We all need our vices to make life bearable. I take it those aren’t you’re e-mails that you’re so intently scanning?’ he asked.
‘What can I say. I found a new client last night,’ I replied, strangely proud that my alcohol addled mind had managed to achieve something.
‘Sugar, you have to learn to take life easy sometimes. Take some time off. Learn to see people as more than potential next mark,’ Walter replied.
‘Maybe you’re right,’ I answered, closing my laptop and setting my phone to bluesnarf instead.
‘Always working, right?’ Walter sarcastically asked, not having missed the prestidigitation. It was difficult to get anything passed him.
‘I need another cup of coffee. Can I get you anything?’ I asked. My phone needed time to hijack bluetooth enabled phones and dial out a high rate call to my own company from the hijacked phone. The overcrowded restaurant provided a goldmine of bluetooth enabled phones – in thirty minutes I could easily make a couple of hundred quid. That gave me plenty of time for breakfast.
‘I’ve already ordered you another coffee and a bacon butty. The waiter will bring it over as soon as it’s ready,’ Walter said smugly.
I sometimes forget how well Walter knows me. He’s certainly spent more time with me than my father ever wanted to. Then he lost his chance – alcoholic wife-beater who walked out on my mum, leaving a string debts behind. Showed up some years later to see mum, screaming and shouting in the middle of the night. Wanted to teach her a lesson for believing she could make it in this world without him. Things got nasty and he ended up six feet under. I can barely even remember what he looks like.
‘You ever wonder how you ended up here?’ I asked.
‘Somedays. It’s best to avoid the big questions – they have a way of messing with your head.’
‘How do you do it? How do you stay sane?’ I questioned, feeling the weight of my past heavy on my shoulders.
‘It’s a skill. Knowing when to lie and when to tell the truth,’ he answered with a sigh.
‘Guess you’re not talking about the marks?’
‘Marks are easy. It’s your head you have to learn to con. At night you go to bed, knowing this isn’t a life you would choose,’ he said softly.
‘The lie’s the next morning?’ I pre-emptively asked.
‘Always – you wake believing the new sun can change everything. Hope you can re-claim what you lost, undo your mistakes,’ he paused, ‘and when the night comes bringing the truth back with it, you’re playing poker with a glass of single malt in your hand knowing you achieved something truly remarkable. You made it through another day.’
‘And if you’re really lucky you’re drawing live.’
‘Sugar, winning the game has nothing to do with luck,’ Walter smiled, ’your winning streak comes from what’s up your sleeve’. He winked, interrupted by the waiter.
Silence fell as we both tucked into our breakfast. The silence, like the food, didn’t last long. Walter had asked the waiter to bring over the latest copy of Cosmo and a classic car mag, which we reviewed over a cup of coffee.
‘Morning guys. Hey pretty girl, I’d put that away,’ said a friendly voice. Riley had joined the table, ‘Matt’s just behind me and you know he’ll give us the speech about morality and stealing, and my head really can’t take it.’
‘Awww, did we drink too much last night? While you guys were drinking, I was working and might have a lead,’ I replied disconnecting my phone, seeing Matt walking toward the table.
‘Walter looked like you did ok at that game,’ Riley said, changing the subject.
‘Last night was rough,’ Matt grunted joining Riley’s orchestra of self-pity, ‘are you actually cohesively reading anything?’ he asked gesturing at the magazine and pecking me on the cheek.
‘Yeah, it’s a fairly good read. You should try it some time, maybe when you’re less hungover,’ I recommended.
‘I believe a good old British fry up is called for,’ Walter advised, ‘might help with that pounding headache. The only other cure I know is good old hair of the dog.’
‘More alcohol is definitely the last thing that I need! Fry up it is then,’ Matt deduced.
‘Good plan, Matt when you up there could you order me a fry up’ Riley instructed.
‘Not your slave and the waiter’s on his way,’ Matt retorted.
We ordered our second round. We must have been in the restaurant for at least a few more hours, recounting the events of the night before. As the hours passed my mind slowly regained it’s momentum. Riley, as always, bragged about his latest conquest, to which Matt scoffed. Walter continued to peruse his car mag, followed by the morning paper, intermittently intervening to mediate a brewing argument. This may not be the perfect life, but it wasn’t bad.