A deliciously dark, salaciously subversive, mercurial tale of ambition,admonition and absolution,survival is not merely down to the fittest, but the lucky and the able
The Whistle Stop
The Toot Pop Last Stop cafe perched itself at the bottom of Frailfield avenue, at the junction where several roundabouts allowed commuters access to other bustling parts of the city. Some would describe the diner as well...clunkish, the only word fitting the way it's oversized features situated itself incongruously with the two flatter more aerodynamic buildings on both sides of it. With the self involved aplomb of an unwanted relative at the dinner table, Toot Pop jutted onto the street and invited all and yonder into its open arms. Purple drapes, red furniture, quality wood panelling, candles allotted in the walls, skittish yet friendly staff , a prevarication for sixties Motown, blues and melancholic ballads on the sound system and low lighting amalgamated to give the diner an almost kaleidoscopic ambiance, oscillating from kitschy to gently soporific. A functional tetherball to both the newly gentrified and the romantic old world- which after-all must be what diners in the modern day stood for, The Toot Pop Last Stop cafe enjoyed regular staple customers as well as a vigorous influx of seasonal clientele; passersby looking for somewhere to have dinner and the "I heard really good things about this place from friends and online" herd, who all jostled together to form an eclectic base of customers. "And the food's damn good too" Murda Christie told her friend just the other day as she was asked why she always goes there. Today Murda perched herself on a large seat near the front of the store, drank her ginger tea and contemplated life. Nina Simone's I love you Porgy started playing and Murda sank deeper into her chair; the tea percolated in her body and precipitated her thoughts. The little travel bag she placed next to her gave her an odd comfort, like the reassuring warmth of a pet, it almost acted as a guard dog in her defence that morning too. Murdisha ' Murda' Christie could never be described as docile or placid, least of all a fool; her above height, wide shoulders and hefty girth had made her susceptible to a crucible of contemptuous rudeness and a tableu of taunts for much of her juvenile life, under such an almost criminal cavalcade of castigation and a titanic trail of torment, many lesser people would have crumbled under the Gollum of social anxiety -but not Murda. She rose from the flames of cruel tongues and like a demon she armed herself with steely determination to show everyone what a "fat black bitch" can really do. A naturally bubbly disposition and a warm, open face often led people to wonder whether insecurities bubbled beneath because she wouldn't have been considered conventionally attractive, but even if such self doubt plagued her, nobody would know, Murdisha carried herself like a warrior princess, with an acerbic, mordant tongue at the ready to lacerate anybody at will who dared to cross her. Her suitcase trundled along the pavement behind her a little too loudly as she made her way about town that morning with so much on her mind; last night she posted a picture of herself in a dress she thought looked splendid on her and someone commented that she looked like the moon. Her mother had awoken her early that morning to run a long list of errands which suddenly had to be completed with utmost urgency, and after that she had to attend to some business of her own. Her long camel jacket, beige shearling lined boots, ochre hat and scarf, mahogany suitcase, and 'beautiful bronze' foundation all made for a seamless look which she felt proud of, big girls had to represent and show them how it's done she thought as she bustled her through the streams of people on the main road, so when she caught the eye of a handsome man she thought it was only expected. He maintained eye contact as she passed the bus stop, and she took in this tall drink of a man with plush pillow lips and a sturdy gait, the strong arms she liked and the arrogant smirk. Murdisha knew she may have been overweight, but she knew a lot of men liked larger women, her thighs rubbed together and clothes shopping was always a little bit more of a struggle but she thanked God everyday for her well proportioned hourglass figure, ample but well shaped and high sitting bosoms, mimicking her ample, well shaped and high sitting buttocks, both stretchmark and cellulite free. If Pablo Neruda were ever inclined to immortalise her in one of his poems she had an inkling he would depict her as some kind of prurient voluptuous force of nature; ample sandy mocha latte waves, undulating concave and convex shapes, mountains and valleys breathing hot, heavy and luxurious...complex and oh so enticing..oh so easy... "Fuck you looking at " Murdisha was pulled from her dance of stares with this man as those words, those harsh words hit her , she failed to notice the girl standing next to the man. Without skipping a breath, quick as a cat Murda replied "Your ugly face”. Two young black women having an altercation in the street was nothing new in that part of town, but Murdisha could have spared herself the embarrassment of appearing to be fighting over a man, however when the girl snapped back at her and made for Murdisha with a snarl; "come say that to my face you fat bitch", everybody knew what kind of situation it was about to be. Murdisha's hands were on her suitcase handle by the time the girl walked the few feet and lifted her hands to reach for her face, speed was always an advantage in fights and people were often surprised as to how agile this big girl could actually be. The girl swung for Murdisha ' s face only to meet air as Murda swung her head back, lifted the suitcase with one hand and pushed the girl back with the other. The girl felt something heavy collide into her side as the suitcase hit her and something heavier pile over her as Murda pounced. The girl was shorter and much slimmer than Murdisha but fought with a commendable viciousness clearly matching her personality, but when a punch connected with the bigger girl's elbow, she lost her footing on the suitcase she had the misfortune to be violently introduced to earlier and went careening into the pavement. Murdisha was breathing heavily when several hands pulled her off the other girl. She was turned around and found herself nose to nose with the man that had started all this, in the mêlée his hand squeezed hard on her breast and sent an electric bolt straight to her vagina. He grunted as he helped shift her away from his female companion and their cheeks even touched, 'damn we coulda been fucking, instead we have all this'. The adrenaline from the fight mixed with the pheromones of sexual desire as she retrieved her suitcase and ex hanged exhaled the gratuitous fighting words with the other girl, at this point it was just perfunctory. The last time her vagina was soaking wet she was at a house party, she had found herself in one of the upstairs bedroom with the doors closed, in someone's walk in closet she spent the best part of thirty minutes having both her breasts simultaneously sucked on by two waspish Asian boys who may or may not have even been 18 yet, good night that was. "Anyways bitch where you at?" She texted as her crab cakes arrived. Her bite was interrupted by the loud cry of the friend she'd been waiting for. "Muurddiiiiishaaaa " one of her closest friends walked through the door and gave her a warm hug. They both faced each other and recited their ritual greeting; "I think the reign is calling Muurrdeerrrr"!!! "Murder reign murder reign"!!! They both sang and giggled. He strutted in all legs and confident swagger, with a leather holdall in one hand and a phone balanced in the other and sat opposite her. "Excuse me waiter can I get an Ice Tea please", he took of his onyx trench coat and Murdisha saw he had the Hermès Colliers de Chien adorning his firm wrist, and several rings on his other hand which seemed to match the piercing in his ear; just one complete jigsaw he was. Murdisha met Ralph Keon Ambrose some years back when they both worked together in semi tiring retail job, quickly bonding over their mutual affinity for soulful singers, their preference for a certain country's jellof rice, their love of spicy foods, sexy men, black feminist ideals and of course what binds any friendship between two slightly catty and just more than a little bit nosy people; the hottest gossip. They spent the weekends helping customers look their best, juggling education and employment, and mutually wondering why slow moving people were always in their way. The incunabula of their friendship passed by like a ship on a calm ocean, but if there was any doubt as to the likely longevity of their friendship it was rapidly eradicated almost as fast as Ralph rolled his eyes when people commented on how they had never met a black man named Ralph. "Well take it up with my mother and English Imperialism". A few months in, rumours swarmed the store about inter-employee relationships and such, one heartthrob; Jackson was seen kissing a girl; Annaleise in the locker room area. They confirmed a light relationship soon after and some co-workers were privy to the occurrences, histrionics and dramatic episodes of their relationship, but the real emprise was when Ralph confided in his salacious dallying with Jackson. Murdisha's naturally acute powers of discernment had tuned her suspicions weeks before Ralph confessed but the revelation which came about accidentally confirmed instincts. Naturally as with most work dramas, word got out and soon enough most of the staff had heard rumours of the unholy love triangle - to varying capacities though, some thought Annaleise was seeing the both of them. Murdisha knew the whole truth, and had never been so entertained. The Christmas party ended in Annaleise consuming too much alcohol and deciding to address her issues with Ralph. Murdisha had the prescience to manoeuvre them outside before everybody saw what was going on. "Please don't come around talking about how you love him or anything "Ralph told her firmly as she started rambling about the betrayal and the embarrassment.”Fuck you! You knew he was with me! You smiled in my face day in day out and you knew he was making a fool out of me! How could you!!" She heaved, tears streaming, hair frayed, eyes wild and furious. Ralph collected himself and calmly replied "look I wasn't dating him, I was just fucking him, be upset with him not me" "Well at least he wanted to be seen with me in public!" Murda saw Ralph’s mouth tighten at Annaleise's words. "At least I didn’t have to crawl through some toilets and alleys like a rat in the dark, and at least I had him first!" "Well I had him last"! Everyone stopped when Ralph blurted that out, "yeah even after you left him he came back to me, but I didn't want him like that, I mean we still had sex-the dick was too good to turn down-but you know what girl I'm not about fight over a man". Murda gave Annaleise some tissue and tried to console her a little; they all returned to the work Christmas party and even sat at the table, as if nothing had happened. The party was really rather enjoyable after. Jazz sounds turned to disco as MacArthur Park played on the sound system as the duo enjoyed each other's company. "So what's been going on Murda " "Well you know, same old same old, looking sexy, plotting to take over the world, regular everyday things " The tide of their conversation ebbed and flowed, it grew effluent, emanating from events that transpired in the not too far past, through to their hopes and fears for the feature, it coursed through the arbitrary and mundane to the stellar and the crucial between these two friends. An hour passed like the flap of a butterfly wing as Murdisha and her very close friend built an orchestra of conversation and a tapestry of confabulation which only reached a rallentado when Ralph needed to address what was happening in the present time. In the now. "Would you ever sleep with a married man Murdisha? “he looked a little to her left as the question left his mouth and crinkled his forehead. "What kind of question is that?..... Of course I would" they both smiled at each other. "But ..." Murdisha continued, coyly eyeing Ralph. "I think for myself I would have to be getting a lot of out of it. I mean I'm not saying for shoes and bags cos I would fuck a married man without money but what would really be the point of that, it would be like being Jewish and not highly educated, or being an Arab and poor, what exactly is the point". Ralph looked at something in the far distance as she replied and she noticed his hands began rapping on the table. "But I mean everybody is different, there's love but I don't think I could ever be the type to ever let my feelings for somebody override the feelings of somebody else who was there first you know, I couldn't try to pursue something real with somebody formally attached to someone else" Ralph was quivering at this point and finally looked at Murda, smiled sadly and finished her sentence; "because it would always hang over the relationship right" "Exactly"-Murdisha knocked back her drink and added "but don't get me wrong I would fuck for some money or something I want, I mean it's hot - a fantasy - but a real relationship? Na" Murdisha took Ralph ‘s hands in hers and sighed because she knew her friend so very well. "What's his name" "Well..." Ralph cleared his throat. "HI GUYSSSSS" before Ralph could finish ,the two looked up to find a tall striking girl somewhere along the lines of beautiful, slender, wide eyed, skin smooth and glowing like a luxurious chocolate ganache, soft brown curls adorning her like a well deserved crown, she even carried herself in an aristocratic manner too with her poise and grace - her self-assuredness. Tia Ronke Wallis surprised her two friends seated at the table in what she knew was one of Murdisha's favourite hangouts in town, huddled in conversation the two looked perfectly adorable, Tia had to sidestep a twinge of jealousy at the exclusion anybody would feel stumbling across the two; because Murdisha had casually invited her, well she told her where she would be that afternoon. "Hey guys let me squeeze in” Tia removed her evergreen wax jacket and carefully placed it on the back of her chair which somehow materialised between Murda and Ralph. "So anyways guys what a day I had at work”. Tia barrelled into the conversation; Murda gave Ralph a consoling smile as they both listened to Tia's expatatiation. "We were having debates today at work, the project managers and editors and they were talking about how black girls were in treated in the music industry” , she looked at both of them and as Ralph motioned as if to add something she continued " and the Nigerian in me just had to get my say you know" . Tia gave her two friends what had now become an impassioned monologue centred on the particular brand of injustice felt when white music artist sing in the same style and indulge in the genres historically and traditionally popularised by black people, but where black artists past and present have been pushed to the irrelevant wayside, the Caucasian artist gets lauded and gets all the backing, popularity and success. "Thereby underlining the fundamental paradigms of white supremacy, they know black culture is highly demanded so they use their power to extract the vessel, i.e. the black artist, give their art to the other and hey presto suddenly the art is accessible to everybody" "....ermm" Ralph peeped but was shut down by a now vigorous Tia; heated and intent on finishing her point. "They're basically allowing black art to be consumed without the pesky adage of the black person" "they're saying black people can't have anything when they put a white artist doing the same thing as a black artist, oftentimes not even as well, and the white artist, gets the go ahead, it’s saying there is something intrinsically wrong with the negro and it is so hurtful". "James! His name is James, James Grace. “Ralph blurted out a little too loudly, he knew it too as he looked about in a shirty manner. "Grace? Nice, Well at least it's not Bond" Murdisha chuckled. "Excuse me I was talking “Tia looked at them sternly and raised her hand in the petulantly pedagogical manner her friends had long become accustomed to "rude". "Anyways I'm saying that nobody says white people can't sing soul or rap or whatever but when a person of colour who may be just as good or better is pushed to the side everybody is just continuing the cycle of black suffering as white supremacy pushes us deeper into the quicksand; like must we be ashamed to have something that is ours? I almost cried today explaining that to people, that shit pissed me off so much" "Guys, I just had a thought "Murda interjected, "have you noticed it's very hard for a dark skinned black woman to be a pop star?..." Everybody thought about this heavy statement a little "Like there aren't really any dark skinned black female pop stars, it's almost as if when someone who looks like that wants to song it must always be soul or RnB or neo - soul. When they do they don't really last long do they, I mean as solo artist they aren't very popular." "You're right " Tia continued, "other cultures get to be as diverse as they want to in representation, but black people come with the luggage of skin pigment gradient differentiation and it's like every shade must be subcategorised. Music is supposed to be all about self expression but the industry is coming like a neo - caste system." Murda spoke now “like in films how light skinned slender women are feminised and darker women are brutalised and hardened, always toiling suffering and never getting the glamour shots, I guess the parallel is in music too, because a female pop star above all has to be sexy and fun and vivacious right? And this isn't disco anymore so the darker girls must be thrown to the more lachrymose sides of the music spectrum and sing about bad breakup after bad breakup." The two women sighed. "What are we going to do" one of them said. "What you said got me thinking about women's bodies in general too, how black women were formerly and historically and unfairly hyper sexualised whilst white women were bathed in angelic lights; so curvaceous features became associated with blackness as black women became associated with sex but not femininity or propriety or innocence. “Murdisha hadn't even realised how strongly she felt about the topic until the words were tumbling freely from her mouth.”So the Western standard of beauty is the slender woman, she is normalised and feminised and attributed to the white woman, And other physical features like a big bum are associated with ethnic women and deemed lesser unless they are in an overtly sexual context". "Yes!" Tia continued, "but now you have the paradigm shifting and the curvy woman with big breasts and big bums is starting to be seen as attractive but only when the woman is not black, and that is cultural appropriation. Once again blacks can't have anything”. They went on to discuss the tangential subject of female body politics and how overweight women of all ethnicities to be policed by societies, particularly in Western society where being fat is likened to laziness, sloppiness and general unattractiveness; they discussed as Ralph sat almost stoic between the two. "I mean all women have a right to feel good about their bodies but fat women don' have the luxury of tuning into any media platform and having their bodies normalised embraced, a fat woman says she feels attractive she is met with disdain, pity and incredulity" Murda argued how unfair this was and Tia agreed to an extent. "But on the other hand, I mean why not encourage and socialise people in general to be as healthy as possible, body policing is also enforced on men and I won't think different until I see a leading man in a Hollywood film without a six pack who isn't playing an oddball, a goof or someone we are generally not supposed to find attractive”. Tia continued with "I mean maybe on this account social pressures have positive effects in the sense that it encourages people to strive for healthier bodies and lifestyle, now that the gym - juicing - running wave is in vogue and associated with trendy young professionals" "I mean sure more female body types should be represented in the media but I don't think being overweight should in any way be glorified or that women who are slender and healthy be vilified. I mean after all if people see a severely overweight 4 year old then they will be looking at words like neglect and abuse for the parents so maybe people should tolerate but not embrace obesity in adults because overall humanity should be striving towards self improvement ,am I right or am I right?". Ralph left the table on the pretence that he was going to visit the lavatory; he slipped into a quiet corner not too far from the actual toilets and a member of staff was compelled to ask this tall handsome young black man if he was okay because she rarely saw young black men wiping tears from their eyes under the feeble shade of the indoor spider plants. Ralph returned to the table to find his two female friends still on topics regarding the hegemonic forces in society propelling pejorative messages onto the masses. "I can't believe they had the temerity to put a topless man in yoghurt commercial!" Ralph heard Tia's commanding voice raise several octaves as she began yet another litany. "As if sex isn't used to sell so many things unnecessarily; like shower gel, perfumes, hair shampoo, cars and shaving cream!" "Yoghurt! Fucking yoghurt!" Murdisha nodded in agreement and added "have you noticed yoghurt is always marketed to women, the ones that aren't specifically for children; yoghurt from the fat free ones to the ones that help you go to the toilet, I mean don't need to poo too?, I've always noticed that, as if dairy is feminine" Tia gave a quick glance to Ralph and looked like she was about to say something when her phone began to ring. She looked at her screen and gave a sly smile, but didn't answer the phone as it continued to vibrate in her hand. "This boy is blowing me up" "Who?" Murdisha asked when the phone stopped ringing and she put it away. "This boy I've been talking to, well he's been trying to talk anyways, this mixed race boy who models for Asos" "The one we saw that time in the street?" "No the other mixed race boy who models for Asos" Tia replied "This one?" Murdisha had already pulled up the Asos website on her phone and had her finger pointing to one of the models "No the other mixed race boy" Tia replied urging her to scroll down a little "This one?" Murdisha pointed to another "No the other one" "This one?" "No" "Him? " "No go down" "Him?" "No another mixed race boy " "Him?" "Yes! That's him" finally they both saw the mixed race boy who was indeed modelling for Asos.
Murdisha smiled “Oh girl he’s cute, he looks a mixed version of my neighbour’s son, you know the one that was telling me her new monkfish recipes she learnt at cooking class”
“You took food advice from a white person?!” Tia raised an eyebrow
“Well I listened to what she had to say at least, she’s friendly but she’s always asking me questions about my life my goodness” Murda replied
“Well they don’t season their food so they have all that extra time to be nosy” Tia snorted
They both began laughing until Ralph exploded. "I'm sleeping with a married man called James Grace!" Ralph finally was able to finish what he wanted to say and both girls greeted his outburst with ten seconds of silence and a concerned stare. "Elaborate, elucidate" Tia finally broke the silence. Ralph told them the tale of how he met the man on a mild fair-weathered Thursday just over a month ago. “You know he approached me right” he told them as if it said something about his character and the nature of things. The two girls listened as Ralph told them how fast things went from the meeting on the street to the dates, the dinners, the topics, the discussions they would have and how when they were together, time and senses would amalgamate, transmutate and interosculate until they were each other’s endings, beginnings, length, breath and blood.
“Damn and it’s only been about a month” Murda chimed in.
Ralph shuddered as he recalled how incandescent his spirit became around the man, iridescent with passion and yearning. “it was like I was a square, of four sides, content in my flat, two dimensional existence, then he came and opened me up and showed me entirely new planes of myself I couldn’t believe were there all this time”
“”I’m guessing he’s old and white right; he’s not ugly is he” Tia-ever flippant- clipped in.
“Tia if I wanted to entertain ugly white men I would have reinstalled my Grindr or stood outside a bathhouse”.
He wasn’t so old, Ralph explained, not by the contemporary standards, he was 38, French and Dutch, silver hair, pale eyes, full lips and always in a business suit. Ralph said he reminded him of a swordfish; sleek, streamlined, quirky, with an undercurrent of danger. “I had no desire to go to his house just yet or him to mine, we always went to hotels but we only started to have sex after two weeks of seeing each other.” Ralph told them when he found the picture in James’ wallet, it wasn’t as shocking to him as he would have thought-or liked. “It’s like I had a premonition of it from the moment I saw him, or maybe I knew something was off-so off...or maybe it was because he always skirted around the deeply domestic aspects of his life...anyways” ., “as awkward as I am-”
“Please don’t describe yourself as awkward, I hate when people do that, I might just hit you with my bag” Murdisha interrupted.
“ERRMM can I finish –pleassseee”
“Sure carry on”
“Yeah I didn’t confront him for a few days, but when I told him I saw the picture of him and a lady that was clearly is wife...I mean he just told me outright”. Ralph continued, he told them how the nature of the relationship changed; from something so effortless it was sectile, to something more treacherous, something dark and retrograde-yet it continued. Ralph felt himself becoming hypnotised by the very presence of James, morality and integrity were never the highest on his agenda, and he wasn’t too ashamed that this wasn’t the first man he was sexual with that was involved with somebody else-a female no less, but the difficult part of the new relationship was that it wasn’t on Ralph’s terms.
“He changed me, I was always the hunter-now I was a prey, a feeble thing, but I was also a hunter-of his essence, chasing through some nubilous forest like a handicapped phantasm, seeking him”. Ralph sighed and seemed suddenly weary. “I couldn’t stop, I began to crave him-and the danger-I wanted him and I wanted the danger of it, the inappropriateness of it, just hearing him lie to his wife on the phone about where he was would turn me on. I once sucked him off whilst he was discussing the tax returns with her- it was the so sexy and dirty”
“oooh I like this story” Murda giggled, she looked to Tia for some agreement but Tia remained poised and concerned, her face sternly towards Ralph.
“The thing is, it started getting to the point where all I wanted was him, I thought about sneaking through his phone and getting his wife’s number, so when he wasn’t with me I could call to see if he was with her”.
“Oooh you started to fall for him right”
“This was just last week” Ralph said quietly, almost shyly. “I started feeling this unfamiliar feeling when we just finished having amazing sex, I mean we were looking into each other’s eyes the whole time and we bouncing from the ceiling to the bed to the window –to the wall!-it was insane, then he left me to go home straight after”
“Oh dear hun” Murdisha said
“Yeah I wanted to follow him home but I ended up dry heaving and hyperventilating in the corner store as I went to buy some water to wash the taste of sex out of my mouth-it went from me getting kicks of being the secret lover to me wanting him for myself-and he’s just the same-happy to continue everything like normal, all on his terms and it’s too much, it’s too much”
“Oh no love” Murdisha quipped in again, so sincere and warm that Ralph was pushed even more to the brink of tears. “My ex and I used to spend entire days looking into each other’s eyes on the bed-”
“He didn’t have a job??” – Tia interrupted
“Well....neither of us did at that point”
“But he was so quirky –he swore he could hear salt” Murdisha grinned
“uhhh ...huhhhh okay Murdisha” Tia snorted and turned to Ralph and said with a flat emotionless voice “one time I was in Mexico, sitting under this shack-cum cafe, drinking a bottle of coke, minding my own business, when a rat fell from the roof, slid down the metal ceiling and landed right into my lap-this is worse than that time. I mean this is sad, I’m sad for you”
“We’ve never seen any man make you so...vulnerable...so weak” Murdisha added
“Okay I wouldn’t say weak because feeling emotion doesn’t make you weak” Tia retorted “but we know you- you aren’t somebody that can have this playing field not on your arena, you need to do something fast- before you end up an emotional wreck”
Murdisha nodded in agreement and said “My mother gave everything she had to my father for so many years, then when he left, she realised she barely existed outside of an appliance to serve him and her children- I watched my mother drown in tears for a long time-she had to reconnect and get to know herself all over again and it nearly broke her, but she did it and knew always to have something of herself in a relationship because it belongs to both parties in it you know, both people have to be and feel like they are worth something”
Ralph looked at both of them “I have to end it don’t I”
“Well you have to do something” Tia said, in solidarity.
Ralph and his two girlfriends sat together at the table and spoke some more for the next twenty minutes, they all left the cafe then and promised to met up again very soon, he would keep them informed as to the plan of action and the outcome.
“I hope he is going to be okay” Tia said as Ralph walked away from them
“Yeah” Murdisha replied...she was silent for a moment then turned to Tia and said “say Tia do you know anyone who has ever been raped?”