The Inklings: Chapter 23

Monday night had finally come around. John, Fanta, D’arby and Syafika were all going to meet at Syafika’s place. All four of them had a lot on their minds.

John’s preparation for the meeting involved writing one sentence on a piece of paper, but this wasn’t a sign of indifference. John was full of enthusiasm to do something good, and knew what he wanted to do – that’s why he only needed to write one sentence. The only thing bothering him about the meeting was that he wondered how he could discuss his idea without making two dangerous confessions.

Fanta was a lot less certain of her ideas than John. She knew that there were some big things wrong in the world, but for some reason she couldn’t identify them, and so she had no chance of knowing what could be done about them. All she had written down were some (probably minor) things that regularly made her angry. She was looking forward to hearing what everyone else had come up with though.

Fanta was also a bit distracted by a couple of things. One was a pleasant distraction – her uncle and aunt were in town and would be staying until after Christmas. The other distraction was a secret project, and Fanta was feeling guilty that she had to keep it secret from John and Syafika.

D’arby had written pages of dot points, but they weren’t a list of problems and solutions. Instead they were points he wanted to discuss as he tried to describe what he had decided might be the biggest problem in the world. D’arby was also excited that his sister had given birth to a baby boy, and that she had done so in unexpected circumstances. D’arby was going to travel to see his sister and his new nephew the next day.

Syafika had written her list based on the things she found most awful about the world and although she’d decided on solutions, she hadn’t really thought them through. She had spent a lot more time thinking about more T-shirt slogans though. She’d even come up with a special one for D’arby.

Syafika was still busy tidying her room when John and D’arby arrived. John had brought some cold pizza. Syafika was keen to know how the T-shirt give away had gone the night before but John was more interested in heating up and serving his pizza than discussing that. Syafika decided she’d ask again when Fanta had arrived and everyone had settled down.

“Will we sit around the kitchen table?” asked John, as he started looking in the drawers and cupboards for cutlery and plates.

Syafika had been hoping to have the meeting in her room, so that her parents wouldn’t hear what they were talking about, but was now trying to decide whether it would be more embarrassing for her parents to listen to them or for her friends to see her messy room. Then Rose and Fanta arrived.

“Syafika, aren’t you going to introduce your friends?” asked Rose. After Rose was introduced to John and D’arby Rose went on to tell Syafika how Festus was bringing home takeaway and they were going to have dinner in front of the TV so Syafika could have her meeting in peace. Syafika sighed with relief and went to get some napkins from the linen cupboard.

“So, did people like the T-shirts?” asked Fanta as Syafika helped John set the table.

“There was a mixed response” answered John. “Only one person was enthusiastic, but a few people took them – probably just because they were free. Most people looked confused at being offered a T-shirt or were offended by the slogan, or by me asking what size T-shirt they wore. People are complicated!”

“Well, if I see someone wearing one one day I’ll be happy.” said Syafika. “You will keep trying to give them away, won’t you? I have some more ideas for slogans. Some might be more popular than others.”

“Of course, I haven’t given up yet” said John.

As the four friends ate their pizza D’arby told everyone how his sister had given birth at the side of the road after having run away from her husband. Then Fanta told how her uncle and aunt were going to be staying with her for the next month and apologized to John that this meant she couldn’t go to his family’s Christmas lunch with him. John didn’t seem very upset about this.

Finally there were no more excuses – it was time to get out their lists.

“Can I go first?” asked Fanta. “I don’t think my ideas are very good so I better read them out before hearing any of yours or I might not want to read them out at all anymore.”

“Don’t be silly! I’m sure you have great ideas” said John. “But you go first if you want.”

Syafika couldn’t help hoping that Fanta’s ideas were bad. She didn’t want to have the worst ones. She already felt that she was the stupidest person in the room.

“Ok” said Fanta. “I couldn’t work out what the really big problems in the world are so I came up with two things that often bother me. First, I don’t like cars and secondly I don’t like smokers. I guess what I mean is that I would like to see cities and towns that were designed for people not cars (I mean pedestrians mostly, I suppose, but bicycles are probably ok too – I might even ride one if I wasn’t scared of being hit by a car) and I’d like to be able to enjoy outdoor spaces without having to passive smoke. I mean, at cafes, in parks, at the bus stop, at the train station, while walking down the street….”

“I know! We could print T-shirts with the slogan “How much does your freedom cost others?” said Syafika.

D’arby raised an eyebrow at Syafika’s suggestion, which made her feel foolish. She realized she wasn’t really concentrating on the task at hand – she was still obsessed with T-shirts. But D’arby wasn’t thinking that Syafika was a fool. He was actually impressed because he thought Syafika had very quickly compressed what Fanta had been saying into a single sentence. He didn’t know that Syafika was just using what Fanta said as an excuse to talk about T-shirt slogans.

Then everyone turned back to Fanta and she realized that they were waiting for her solutions. “I don’t know how to fix these problems though” said Fanta. “I was hoping one of you would have some ideas”.

“Can I go next?” asked John. “I think my idea goes well with Fanta’s. I think the solution to my problem might also be part of the solution to hers.”

And so John explained how he thought that the worst problem in the world was addiction, but not just to drugs. He included extreme behaviour like eating too much, or starving yourself, or accumulating too much money or too many shoes or gambling all your money away. “There are some things people become addicted to that you can’t remove from your life (like food) so I think that to avoid suffering and disasters people need to look for balance rather than seeking extremes and I think D’arby may have already found part of the solution to this.”

Suddenly Fanta and Syafika were looking at D’arby, waiting for an explanation, but before D’arby could work out what he was supposed to say John said “I need to confess something – two things” and Fanta and Syafika turned their attention back to John.

“Fanta, I only gave up drugs because D’arby gave me some pills and they fixed me. I didn’t want to give up before that and I’d never tried. I should have told you this but I thought it would have made you think less of me” said John as he looked pleadingly at Fanta.

“What’s the other thing?” asked Fanta. She didn’t really care how John gave up his addiction but was worried that the second thing was worse.

John looked at D’arby this time and said “I’ve been putting the same pills into pizzas at the restaurant.”

“I thought I told you not to do that!” said D’arby angrily, and he wished he was at home so he could check the state of his stash of special pills. D’arby had been so distracted by his thesis lately that he’d almost forgotten that John had intended setting a lab up for him at the back of the restaurant. Suddenly he had lots of questions.

“Where did you get the pills you used? You haven’t been trying to make any of your own have you?” asked D’arby.

“Nope, I just took the big jar of them that you had in the laundry. I don’t know if putting them in the cupboard behind the washing detergent was meant to be your way of hiding them, but if it was it didn’t work” said John.

D’arby wanted to ask what had happened to the people who’d eaten the special pizzas, but didn’t think it was appropriate for him to show that much interest while he was still trying to be angry. Fortunately Fanta asked for him.

“Have you been curing your customers?” asked Fanta.

“I wish I knew!” said John. “People come in and eat the pizza, pay and leave and I can’t really see any change, but I don’t know what I should be looking for. I don’t know who is an addict and who isn’t. I don’t know if the pills will work instantly if they are taken as part of a large meal. Does drinking alcohol with them stop them from working? I don’t know anything really. I just hope I’m doing some good and I’d like to be able to do more.”

Syafika had just eaten a bite of her fourth slice of pizza when she froze. “Were there any of these pills in this pizza?” she asked, with wide eyes.

“No, I wouldn’t waste them on us” said John.

“Good” said Syafika and was about to take another bite of pizza when from the corner of her eye she noticed something move in the doorway of the kitchen. Vincent was standing there. He was looking very angry. Everyone at the kitchen table turned to look at him and all of them were thinking the same thing – how long had he been standing there?

Vincent wouldn’t have needed his experience as a police detective to know that he’d interrupted a discussion about something criminal. The four very guilty looking faces around the kitchen table told him that.

John, D’arby and Fanta left immediately, leaving Syafika and Vincent alone.

“Who were those men?” asked Vincent. Syafika explained that John was Fanta’s boyfriend and D’arby was John’s flatmate. Next Vincent wanted to know what they’d been talking about. Syafika felt like a small child as she explained that they were thinking of ways to make the world a better place, but at least Vincent seemed to believe her.

“I think you should stay away from John and D’arby” said Vincent and then changed the topic. Vincent had come over as a surprise to give Syafika a CD that he’d been enjoying. He didn’t stay long. Syafika could tell that he was disappointed with her. As she closed the door behind Vincent tears welled in her eyes. Syafika turned and ran to her bedroom, where she sat on her bed looking at her list of T-shirt slogans and ways to fix the world while she cried.

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