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The Inklings: Chapter 49

To read the story from the beginning go here.

John and D’arby were on bikes and trying to beat the storm to Jinabu’s place when the chain came off D’arby’s bike and he crashed into a shrub.

The brakes on John’s bike squeaked as he stopped. He dismounted inelegantly, nearly tripping over the back wheel as he tried to get to D’arby as quickly as possible.

D’arby was bleeding from some scratches on his arms but otherwise ok.

“Sorry” said John. He felt he was to blame because he’d bought the bikes. They were secondhand and had been ‘reconditioned’, but perhaps not very well.

“Don’t worry” said D’arby. He started to laugh. “I don’t think it is fair to blame a bike for my lack of coordination. I should have practiced riding before we decided to take a trip this far.”

John bent down and was looking at D’arby’s bike. The chain went back on easily but seemed a bit loose.

“Maybe we can tighten the chain at Jinabu’s place so it is safe for the ride home.” suggested John. “Is it far? Can we walk the bikes?”

D’arby pulled a map out of his back pocket and unfolded it. “It’s only about one kilometre more so we may as well walk” he said. “That would be safer. I don’t think we should ride home tonight though.” said D’arby as he looked up. “See – there are hardly any street lights around here so it will be pretty dark and we don’t have lights on our bikes.”

“So much for the carefree life I was imagining when I bought the bikes!” said John. “How are we going to get home instead then? We can’t take the bikes on a bus and there’s no train station near here.”

“I’ll see if we can stay at Jinabu’s instead.” answered D’arby.

John didn’t like the sound of that. He hadn’t brought a change of clothes or his deodorant, but before he could say anything it started to rain. The rain was so heavy that it took John’s breath away.

When John and D’arby arrived at Jinabu’s house a little while later they were soaking wet but feeling exhilarated.

Jinabu answered the door, which D’arby thought was just as well. They were so un-presentable that D’arby expected Andrew would want to shoo them away. Jinabu just laughed when she saw them though. They left the bikes on the front verandah and came inside, leaving wet footprints as they went.

Andrew then appeared. He had the baby asleep in a carrier on his front and a drink in each hand. He hurriedly handed John and D’arby a glass each before hurrying off.

“That’s iced tea” explained Jinabu and she hurried after Andrew. Jinabu and Andrew soon came back with towels and some of Andrew’s clothes.

“I’ve made two beds in the spare room” announced Andrew. “You can go and get changed there.” And he pointed down the hallway.

“Are we staying the night?” John whispered to D’arby but D’arby didn’t answer because he’d just noticed that one of his scratches was bleeding and blood had dripped onto the carpet. Unfortunately Andrew had also seen the blood.

“Quick Jinabu” said Andrew. D’arby needs a bandage. I’ll clean the carpet.

So John went to the spare room and got changed. He contemplated climbing out the window, sneaking around the front and escaping on his bike, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to find his way home so instead John dried his hair and put on Andrew’s old tracksuit. At least it was comfortable, thought John.

The rest of the evening went more smoothly. D’arby and John were on their best behavior. The baby cried for about an hour just as they were about to sit down for dinner but otherwise it was pleasant. D’arby thought it was suspiciously pleasant.

Andrew was a different person – almost. He was still Andrew but seemed to have more confidence, as if he’d finally stopped worrying what other people think. Jinabu seemed happy and that made D’arby happy.

Still, D’arby was happy when it was finally bedtime.

“There are towels in the bathroom. Will you be ok?” asked Jinabu as she headed to bed. Andrew had gone ahead to check on the baby.

“Yeah, don’t worry about me!” said D’arby.

The house was so quiet that when John and D’arby got to the spare room they were almost too scared to say anything in case Jinabu or Andrew could hear them.

“I thought you said Andrew was awful” whispered John, cautiously.

“He used to be” answered D’arby and then he couldn’t’ help adding “But then I gave him some of my special pills.” John smiled thoughtfully for a couple of minutes then said “I wish I could clean my teeth.”

“That’s what I was thinking” said D’arby. “Let’s see what Jinabu has in the garden” said D’arby and he opened the window and climbed out. John followed, but he wasn’t hopeful of finding a toothbrush plant in the garden.

“What are we looking for?” whispered John

“Not sure” replied D’arby. “A veggie patch with celery hopefully. Or a eucalypt.”

The neighbours still had their lights on so the garden wasn’t very dark. There were snails about though and John trod on one. The crunch under his bare foot made shivers run down his spine but he stayed quiet. He wiped his foot on the lawn while D’arby bent over the veggie patch. After a bit of rustling around D’arby straightened up with two celery sticks in his hand. Then D’arby snapped two twigs off a small tree and they headed back to the spare room on tip toe. As they passed the window to Jinabu and Andrew’s room they could hear snoring.

When they got back inside John sighed with relief, but he was still unsure how he was going to clean his teeth so D’arby demonstrated by rubbing the celery all over his teeth as he ate it and then chewing on the twig to make the end brush-like before rubbing it all over his teeth. John wasn’t impressed but gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised because afterwards his mouth felt quite clean. “Now all I need is a shower and some deodorant and I’ll be able to sleep” said John.

While John was having a shower, D’arby went to the kitchen and tried to quietly look through the kitchen cupboards. When John emerged from the bathroom in some of Andrew’s old pyjamas D’arby handed him a bowl of white powder.

“What’s that?” asked John, sounding a bit worried. “I made you some deodorant” answered D’arby.

The first thing John did in the morning was sniff his armpits and then he smiled. As he and D’arby cycled home John discreetly sniffed his armpits every time he wiped sweat from his forehead. D’arby noticed but didn’t say anything.

As they rode through the park near home, John and D’arby noticed a crowd of people so they rode over to have a look. In the centre of the crowd was Guitar Man. He was standing on a milk crate and preaching to the crowd. John looked around and saw that although a few people were giggling quietly, most people were listening eagerly and nodding occasionally.

“Who really needs the most money? Is it the most charming person who can get people to do whatever they want without paying anyone? Is it the most competent person who can do things for themselves? Is it the person who enjoys hard work? Or is it the lazy incompetent who nobody wants to do favours for?”

A few people cheered. Guitar Man paused for a moment before continuing.

“Think about who most feels the need to drive an expensive car or have a flashy house. Who worries the most about what they look like? Is it the person who knows that deep down they are a good and worthwhile person? Or is it the person who is forever insecure and no matter how much they manage to accumulate, still worries that someone will one day expose them as a fraud?”

The crowd was quiet this time. The people who’d had their teeth whitened deliberately kept their mouths closed. A few people looked down at their shoes uncomfortably.

“Have another look at the world with fresh eyes. That CEO earning millions of dollars a year – if they aren’t happy unless they earn more than everyone else, what does that say about them and their inner strength? If you can choose your own salary and you choose to make it higher and higher what does it really mean? That you are worth more and more? Or that you need more and more in order to feel as adequate as the person who manages to get by on below average wages? Who is more genuine?”

“The brain plays a funny trick on you when you get more than other people – you start to think you deserve it because you are somehow better. That’s what needy people really crave – this feeling – to make up for the way they naturally feel inferior.

“But I’m not here to make you hate these needy people. I want to help them, and I want to help you so you never become them.”

“Yes, people will judge you by what you’ve done in the past but in reality we live our life one day at a time. It is what we do right now that matters right now. You could build up the perfect life being the perfect person and then ruin it all by doing something really dreadful. We can’t guarantee anything. If we think we can build up something now and then enjoy taking it easy later we are wrong. Our bodies and minds need to be used or they fade. To really feel pleasure we need to sometimes feel pain. Starving yourself when you are young doesn’t mean you can be a glutton in middle age and not get fat. Of course we need to do what is going to be best in the future, but we also need to do what is best today. No, it isn’t easy to do both. It requires thinking and effort and not doing the first thing that jumps into your mind. Easy things don’t make you happy!”

“What you can build up are memories. You remember when you do something awful. You remember when you made someone happy. If you lift yourself up by bringing others down that becomes part of you. You remember how much effort went into your achievements. And in your subconscious you keep a running total of good minus bad, of effort minus luck, of treating people well minus using them to get what you want, of giving minus taking. It is when things go really wrong in your life that you become aware of this running total. Imagine how the greedy, needy billionaire who, by living a life of luxury has not only deprived millions of a dignified life but has set the consumption bar so high that billions of other people who have all they need are left feeling like they’ve missed out – imagine how you’d feel to be hit by that negative running total as you lay on your death bed. To realize that you’d had the power to really change the world and you’d squandered it and to know that there was no time left to do anything about it.”

“Because NOT becoming a billionaire is how you become something genuinely great. If you give more than you get you can’t end up with lots of money. You’ll never know whether you could have been a billionaire, just like you’ll never know so many things, but not needing to know is where you show your strength.”

John was so mesmerized that D’arby had to jab him in the ribs to get him to notice that he was whispering “I’ve had enough. Let’s go home”.

The Inklings: Chapter 44

To read the story from the beginning go here.

“What an amazing orator!” said John after the strange robed man walked off. D’arby just grunted and said nothing. He hardly said anything for the rest of the day, no matter how hard John tried to prompt him. At first John managed to remain good humoured, but by night time he’d had enough.

“What is friggin wrong with you?” John demanded after 20 minutes of watching D’arby spin a pen around on the table.

D’arby rubbed his eyes and sighed. “That man we saw at the café this morning who was wearing a white robe and preaching is the same man who sat next to me when I went to visit Jinabu and who stole my draft plan for saving the world. And the notebook he had was red, just like the one I lost on the train yesterday. The things he was saying yesterday were not really part of my plans, but it is as if he is able to imagine what I am thinking, only he is better able to articulate my thoughts than I am, and he is a much better speaker. Imagine how you would feel if you came across a more effective version of yourself.”

“Ha, I get you” said John, thinking of his brother Tim, although John hadn’t fully understood the significance of the robed man having a red notebook that looked like D’arby’s. “But isn’t it good to find that someone else has the same ideas as you?” asked John.

“Don’t you understand? Or do you think I’m just being paranoid?” asked D’arby. “That man doesn’t have the same ideas as me, he STEALS my ideas! But then he does better with them than I do. He goes out and tells people things, while I just sit around stewing.”

John found what D’arby said a bit disturbing, and did start to think that D’arby might be a bit paranoid. Afterall, it is possible for two people to have the same opinion, and to have the same colour notebook. But John decided to humour D’arby and see if D’arby’s mood would pass on its own. “That’s good though, isn’t it?” said John. “I mean, if he is going around and preaching your ideas then you don’t need to do it yourself and have more time to think. Besides, I don’t think you’d really enjoy doing what he is doing.”

“I guess so” said D’arby, after thinking about it for a while. “But it is a bit creepy. I can’t help imagining that if I look out the window I’ll see him peeping in at us”

John couldn’t help himself and found himself turning to look out of the window, but he could see nothing worth noting except the last remnants of sunset.

The Inklings: Chapter 24

On Tuesday morning D’arby was in a rush to catch his train but John was taking ages in the bathroom. “Hurry up!” yelled D’arby and he banged on the bathroom door. There was no answer and ten minutes later John was still in the shower so D’arby decided he’d have to leave without having a shower or cleaning his teeth. It also meant that he couldn’t pack his toothbrush. D’arby left an angry goodbye note on the table for John and walked to the station. He was going to go and stay with his sister for a few days. She was staying with Ark, who happened to live in what sounded like a hippie commune – it was a community owned farm next to a river. Jinabu said it was a beautiful place, but had also mentioned that only two of the houses there had electricity (and Ark’s house wasn’t one of them). To get there D’arby had to take an eight hour train trip and then catch a bus to the closest town, where Ark would pick him up.

D’arby had only just found his seat on the train when the guard announced that the train was about to depart and that only “intending passengers” should remain on the train. D’arby took a red pen and some reading material out of his backpack (a draft of a thesis chapter, some scientific papers on psychopaths and the notes he hadn’t been able to read out at the meeting the night before) then put his back-pack on the luggage rack above his head and started thinking about what had happened the night before.

As soon as John had seen Vincent he’d wanted to leave Syafika’s place. John walked home at such a pace that D’arby couldn’t keep up. Not long after John and D’arby got home Fanta rang John to tell him what Syafika had just called to tell her – that Vincent had seemed more jealous than suspicious. Fanta didn’t pass on that Vincent had also ordered Syafika to keep away from John and D’arby though. John was relieved by this news, but had still had trouble sleeping, which was why he’d needed to have an incredibly long “wake-up shower” in the morning.

Although D’arby resented Vincent for having broken up their meeting he wasn’t upset that he hadn’t been able to talk about his ideas for saving the world because he thought they needed more polishing. He hoped that on the long train trip he’d be able to write something for the next meeting that he’d be proud of.

At the first stop D’arby’s plans for a productive journey were destroyed when the person who’d booked the seat next to him got on the train. At first things didn’t look too bad – the young man smiled and then sat down next to D’arby and got out a book. The book turned out to be just a prop though. The man pretended to be reading it, but was really trying to read over D’arby’s shoulder. This made D’arby uncomfortable. He put his plans for saving the world away and tried to read through his thesis chapter instead, but his neighbour seemed just as interested in his thesis – he didn’t speak though.

When the buffet car opened D’arby decided to go and see whether they sold toothbrushes or anything else that might take away his bad breath. When he came back with chewing gum, toast (John would be proud) and a very strange tasting coffee D’arby noticed that his neighbour was now wearing headphones and had a sheepish look on his face.

D’arby ate his breakfast and enjoyed looking out the window. He decided it might be better to spend the trip thinking rather than reading and writing, but his neighbour had other plans. He walked off somewhere and when he came back he had a guitar with him. D’arby and anyone else in the carriage who had seen this hoped in vain that this didn’t mean they were about to be treated to some music.

D’arby’s neighbour folded up the arm rest that separated their seats to make room for the guitar and began to play. First it was just some quiet strumming. D’arby would have been able to find this amusing if he wasn’t embarrassed that everyone in the carriage was looking at him as well as his neighbour. D’arby wished he was wearing a T-shirt that had an arrow pointing towards the seat next to him with the writing “I’m not with him” and thought about making a sign. Then the guitar man began to sing, quietly at first, but as he became more and more entranced by the music his singing got louder and louder. People started muttering – telling him to shut up. Some even complained to D’arby that he should ask his neighbour to shut up. Then a woman walked off in a huff towards the buffet car and not long after one of the train conductors came along and asked the guitar man to be quiet. This worked for about five minutes, but then the man started gently strumming his guitar again, and the music eventually escalated as it had done before.

The next time the conductor came back he brought with him the largest member of the train staff (the man who had made D’arby’s strange coffee). The guitar man was made to put his guitar back on the luggage rack at the end of the carriage. He tried to sit still and be good but it seemed to be making him itchy. He began to scratch his scalp, then his face, shoulders, arms and hands. The itchiness must have spread to his back because he spent a while writhing around trying to reach the middle of his back. Then his feet became itchy and he had to take off his shoes and socks. Watching the guitar man scratch himself made D’arby feel itchy too, and he wasn’t the only one. He noticed that other passengers were beginning to scratch itches too. The couple sitting behind D’arby started to discuss whether someone might have let loose some fleas. The guitar man must have had enough. He let out a scream “Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!” and got up, then came back with his guitar and the music soon started again. At the next stop two police officers forced guitar man off the train.

As the train pulled away from the station where the guitar man was arguing with the police, D’arby assembled his pile of reading material again and found that one of his papers on psychopaths and his plans for saving the world were missing.

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