Tag Archives: John

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.

The Inklings: Chapter 19

It was a boring Sunday morning and Syafika and Fanta were not doing much, just sitting around at Syafika’s place and wishing that something would happen. They were both looking forward to their Monday night meeting with John and D’arby. Both of them had already done their homework for the meeting, which was to write a list of things that they thought were wrong in the world and things they could do to make everything better. It was hard to resist discussing these lists before the meeting, but so far they had both managed to avoid the topic.

Then the phone rang. It was John. He said he needed Fanta and Syafika’s help urgently and that it had something to do with T-shirts. Then he said where to meet him and hung up.

Fortunately Syafika and Fanta were in the type of mood where they would volunteer for anything rather than stay at home doing nothing and so they left to meet John immediately. After a bit of walking Fanta and Syafika found John and D’arby right where they said they’d be – in the alley behind an old warehouse. Someone had left an enormous box of T-shirts out on the street, with a cardboard sign saying “Free to a good home”. John was sure that his place was as good a home as any. As soon as he and D’arby had come across the T-shirts they had thought of a way to use them. D’arby had once been a fan of screen printing and still had all the equipment. He and John were going to print T-shirts and give them away at the restaurant. They just had to get them home first.

Fanta and Syafika were assigned the task of convincing a taxi driver to come up the back alley and let them fill the taxi full of T-shirts. It was easy enough to stop a taxi on the busy road nearby but when the taxi driver got to where John and D’arby were sorting through the T-shirts he had to be offered double the fare to let them stuff them in the taxi.

“See you back at our place!” said D’arby as he left in the taxi. Fanta and Syafika were beginning to wish they were still sitting around doing nothing as they began the walk back with John. All three of them were carrying large piles of T-shirts that hadn’t fitted in the taxi.

“At least this pile is so high that nobody passing can see my face” said Syafika. She was embarrassed. She didn’t want to be seen scavenging.

“Yeah, the disadvantage is that I can’t see where I’m going” said Fanta and then walked straight into a post. After that, John insisted on carrying all of Fanta’s T-shirts, as well as his own. Fanta walked in front and guided John and Syafika past any obstacles on the footpath.

“Dog pooh coming up” said Fanta “At the third step, take an extra large one.” She was enjoying herself. There seemed to be a lot more dog poohs on the walk back than John or Syafika had ever remembered.


“So, what are you going to print on them?” asked Fanta when they were all back at John and D’arby’s place.

John and D’arby were arranging the T-shirts in piles on the floor of the lounge room.

“Something risqué” said D’arby. “The point is to see what ridiculous slogans we can make people wear by making them free.”

“Free to a good home?” asked Syafika

“I’m free, take me?” said Fanta

“Discarded” said John

“I was thinking about something to do with money” said D’arby. “Only I can’t think of a way to say what I want to say”

“Try” said Fanta

“Something distilling how I feel about the importance we give the economy not being justified – that it has become a beast that we are slaves to” said D’arby

“Why don’t you just say ‘Fuck the economy’” said John.

“Ha ha, won’t people get arrested for wearing something like that?” said Syafika

“I wonder” said Fanta. “Why don’t you ask Vincent?”

“Why don’t we just try it!” said John “Lets print some up now and I’ll give them away at the restaurant tonight.

The Inklings: Chapter 17

Fanta’s sisters Nancy and Ruby had been helping her cook since they came home from school. They were trying to make sushi. The rolls weren’t very round, the seaweed was probably too chewy and the sushi rice was probably too wet. Fanta could see that dinner wasn’t going to be perfect, but she didn’t know what to do about it so decided not to care.

Somehow D’arby managed to get John to Fanta’s house exactly on time. Neither of them was in a very good mood though because they had just had their first fight. It was over the iron, or the lack of an iron. D’arby had discreetly gotten rid of it. D’arby was already ready to leave when John began searching the flat for the iron. D’arby could see what was going on, but didn’t say anything. After John had looked everywhere that it was possible for the iron to have been put he began to get suspicious and turned to face D’arby.

“Where’s the iron?” asked John

“Not here” said D’arby. “I got rid of it because I hate irons.”

After swearing for a while John said to D’arby “Why didn’t you tell me? ….it wasn’t your iron! Now what am I going to wear?”

“Wear the same clothes, just don’t iron them” said D’arby.

John considered his options and despite wishing that he could avoid taking D’arby’s advice, he put on his wrinkled clothes and allowed D’arby to lead him out the door.

When John and D’arby arrived at Fanta’s place they both felt nervous. It wasn’t a big house, but it was pretty. It was the type of terrace house that was typical of the suburb. It had been painted white, but still had the original iron lacework balcony and arched windows. The small front garden was full of flowering plants and the front door had a stained glass panel.

“How does a uni student afford something so nice?” asked D’arby, but John was too busy being miserable over his wrinkly clothes to answer. He felt so inadequate that he wanted to run away and hide, but rang the polished brass bell anyway. John and D’arby heard footsteps in the corridor and then Fanta opened the door.

Fanta had obviously dressed up for the occasion. That made her seem even more grown up and D’arby and John became even more nervous. John wished he’d brought a bigger box of chocolates, but it was too late. Fortunately Fanta hadn’t seemed to notice how wrinkly his clothes looked.

Syafika was already there, sitting at the dining table. Ruby and Nancy were enjoying having visitors. They were pretending that they had a restaurant and that Fanta and her friends were the guests. They had set the dining table and put on some relaxing music. Ruby pulled out a chair for Fanta. “Take a seat” she said to John and D’arby. “We have a set menu tonight. The starter is a sushi platter for four. That will be followed by spaghetti bolognaise with garden salad, and for dessert we have a seasonal fruit salad with vanilla ice cream and your choice of tea or coffee. Would anyone like to order a drink?”

While Ruby was trying to impress John with her hospitality, Fanta and Syafika were trying not to laugh. Nancy wasn’t even trying though. Her giggling could be heard from the kitchen.

The sushi plate soon arrived, and it turned out to be edible, although poor John got the piece that Nancy had deliberately added too much wasabi to. It was looking like being a pleasant but unremarkable evening. Then Syafika and D’arby started talking to each other.

As soon as Syafika saw D’arby she decided that she didn’t really want to talk to him. She found him unattractive and thought he would probably just want to show her that he was smarter than her. D’arby wasn’t particularly interested in talking to Syafika either, but felt like he had to.

“How did you meet Fanta?” asked D’arby.

“We met in first year at uni, in a maths lecture” said Syafika.

“Are you still at uni?” asked D’arby.

“No, I have been working for almost two years” said Syafika.

“Where?” asked D’arby.

“In the city” replied Syafika.

“I mean, what do you do? Who do you work for?” said D’arby

“I try to do as little as possible, I live for the weekends” said Syafika “and I don’t really like talking about work when I’m not there”. She noticed that she was having no trouble saying what she meant and wanted, which was rare for Syafika. She decided it was probably because she didn’t really care what D’arby thought of her, and because she didn’t feel like she needed to impress him she wasn’t getting flustered and shy. “What about you?” Syafika asked D’arby. “What do you do?” Syafika already knew that D’arby was doing a PhD, but wanted to pretend she knew nothing about him. John had told Fanta that D’arby was a genius and the only other gifted person Syafika really knew was her cousin Ousman so she had had decided that D’arby must be like him.

“I’m struggling to finish my PhD thesis” said D’arby. “I often wonder why I even started the project, but now it is too late to stop so I just plod along.”

“Why don’t you like it? Is it too hard?” asked Syafika.

“Yeah, I guess so. It is hard for other reasons than I would have expected though. I think it is mostly because I don’t like my supervisor and he doesn’t like me” said D’arby.

“So you need to improve on your people skills then?” said Syafika. It was not a very nice thing to say, but she didn’t seem to notice that. D’arby felt a bit upset by it but more because Syafika didn’t seem to care if she upset him than because it did upset him. D’arby knew he had put all his eggs in one basket. He was a nerdy type of person and didn’t expect to be Mr Charming as well. He decided to change the topic.

“If you don’t like work, what do you like to do when you aren’t at work?” asked D’arby.

Syafika was beginning to soften to D’arby. She still didn’t like him but had decided he probably wasn’t as full of himself as she had expected.

“Probably my favourite thing is eating” admitted Syafika.

“Cooking too?” asked D’arby.

“No, just the eating part really” said Syafika.

“What do you do when you aren’t at uni?” asked Syafika.

“I’m almost always at uni, really. I guess I don’t really have a chance to do anything else, not for fun anyway…” answered D’arby.

“Well, what would you like to do if you weren’t always at uni?” asked Syafika. She was beginning to be interested in the conversation.

“What would I like to do?” D’arby asked himself. Then he started thinking out loud. “That’s an interesting question. I don’t really have an answer. There are lots of things I’d like to achieve, but I’m not sure what I need to do to achieve them. There isn’t anything I’d really like to do just for fun either. It is all about getting something done.”

“Oh” said Syafika. She was disappointed with that answer. D’arby might be humble about his brilliance but he was full of himself in other ways. Here was someone who wanted to get something done but would probably never get further than talking about wanting to.

“What’s this ‘something’?” asked Syafika. She was challenging D’arby. D’arby wasn’t offended though. He was really very happy that Syafika was making him think. She made him realize that not only did he not have a plan, but he didn’t even know what he wanted the plan to achieve. Without knowing it, D’arby was thinking the same thing as Syafika – that he wasn’t going to get anything done at this rate. Until recently D’arby had supposed that getting his research (official or secret) out into the world was what he wanted to get “done”. But what was that going to achieve, really? What was the underlying purpose of that? D’arby couldn’t articulate one. Fortunately Syafika had tuned into the conversation between John and Fanta, so D’arby was free to sit quietly and think for a while.

Fanta was talking about her part time job as a real estate agent. She’d become a real estate agent while working for her uncle, who was also a real estate agent, but she said that country real estate agents like her uncle were so much nicer than city ones.

“In the town I grew up in being a real estate agent is one of the most respectable jobs. You can’t rip people off or trick them because the place is so small that everyone will know about it. I haven’t found it to be the same here though!” complained Fanta.

“My current boss Lenny can be so awful to people. Finding yourself a house is such an emotional thing and I think Lenny enjoys making it a miserable experience. He is especially unkind to renters. He makes them jump through hoops to get a place. He gets them to fill in the same forms twice (to check that they give the same answers the second time), demands more proof of identification than you’d need to get a loan, never returns calls and always pretends there have been more applications than there have been. Then the lucky ones who get the place are rewarded with delayed repairs and if they decide to leave Lenny will try to charge at least a few days extra rent (which he keeps for himself) and never lets anyone get their entire bond back if they leave, not without a fight anyway. He can’t be the only one doing this though. Surely everyone would go elsewhere if there was a better alternative.”

“I’ve never really understood why Lenny gets you to do the selling while he deals with the rentals. I thought everyone wanted to do sales not rentals” said Syafika. “But it must be because he gets pleasure from being awful!”

“Maybe, or maybe he is just trying to maximise his income. He gets a slice of sales commissions, of course, and I am better at making sales than he is – I don’t really understand why though. I don’t have any tricks.”

“It is probably because you don’t have any tricks” said John. “I bet people can trust you to be fair”.

“Perhaps” said Fanta. “At least I try to be fair. I try to find buyers something they will like and can afford, and I try to get the seller a fair price, which isn’t hard in this market. Prices just keep going up! Everyone thinks I must have predicted that when I bought this place cheap, but I didn’t know. I just liked this house and was so pleasantly surprised to be able to afford it that I bought it without much thought. The only downside was that having a mortgage means I’ve had to continue working for Lenny, even when I’ve been tempted to quit. I can’t wait to find a real job now that I’ve finished uni.”

Syafika was looking at John while Fanta was talking. She could tell he thought Fanta was the most amazing person in the world. Syafika realized that John was a pretty nice person and felt bad about having tried to discourage Fanta from seeing him. Still, there was something about John that worried Syafika. Something she hadn’t been able to completely work out yet. He seemed familiar somehow, but where had Syafika seen him before? She strained her mind (something she rarely did) and a few minutes later she was rewarded with the realization that John was the grotty man who had rubbed a dog’s pooh into its owner’s hair all those months ago (on the day that Syafika had walked to work in the rain carrying a cake for Anthony). If this memory hadn’t made Syafika start thinking about Anthony (she had to admit to herself that she still missed him) she might have asked John about that episode, but instead she kept quiet and started comparing Anthony to Vincent and this meant that D’arby had a chance to speak.

“I’ve had an idea” said D’arby. Everyone turned to listen to him. Even Nancy and Ruby stopped preparing dessert and looked out of the kitchen door. “There’s a lot about this world that I would like to change and I’ve always wanted to do something about that. I’ve always expected that I would do something. But now, thanks to Syafika, I realise that the way I’m going I’m never going to get anything good done. I can’t because I don’t have a plan or even an aim. But I still HAVE to do something. Not doing something is the same as agreeing with the things I don’t like! So I have to do something, but I can’t do anything on my own. I’m just not capable. Not yet anyway. What I think is that if we all worked together, the four of us, maybe together we could come up with an aim and then a plan and then….” Suddenly D’arby felt that his idea was pretty lame. He didn’t even know whether these people wanted the same world as he did (and suspected that they didn’t). All he knew was that they seemed to have complementary talents.

“Yes!” said John “Let’s do it!” John was sure D’arby would think of something good for them to do and he was always keen to do something (he conveniently forgot that he had his own problems plus a busy restaurant to look after).

Fanta felt strange. She wanted to hug D’arby. Despite a hard childhood she’d managed to build herself a comfortable life but lately she had started to wonder whether there was meant to be more to life than comfort. Then here was D’arby offering her something more. Just at the right time.

Syafika would have been completely against such a flimsy idea if she hadn’t been given some credit for it. She liked to know that she had made D’arby realise something about himself. She decided to go along with the idea because she’d win either way. Either D’arby wouldn’t go through with his plan to change the world, in which case Syafika wouldn’t have to do anything to help. Or D’arby would change the world and she would know that it was all because of her.


The Inklings: Chapter 16

John had a roller coaster of a week. On Tuesday morning he and his father organized the transfer of the pizza restaurant over to John. Then on Tuesday evening, while working at the restaurant, John realized what that really meant, and it frightened him. Now the future of the restaurant was in his hands. There was nobody watching over him to catch his mistakes. All the people working there now depended on him to get things right. He could understand why his parents had decided to give the restaurant to him though. Now it was him who had to worry about his competence, not them. They’d given away a lot of money but also a source of worry.

John’s father had given him something else on Tuesday too – an invitation to Christmas lunch. It was the first time since he was a teenager that John wasn’t being excluded from a family event. This was another opportunity that placed enormous pressure on John. He was happy to have earned back some trust, but also aware that he did not yet deserve forgiveness. He hadn’t even asked for it yet. Then he realized he’d be expected to bring Christmas presents for all his relatives, but which relatives would be there? Which ones had gotten married or had kids since he last saw them? He’d need his sister Emily’s help!

On Wednesday John was feeling exhausted. He met Fanta for a coffee before heading off to work. She invited him to her place for dinner on Monday night. D’arby was invited too. John was going to meet Fanta’s sisters and her best friend Syafika. John knew this meant a lot. Fanta must really trust him now. More trust placed in him! John felt like he was carrying even more weight. He didn’t even have the energy to tell Fanta that he’d been given the pizza restaurant. He also realized that he should probably invite Fanta to come with him to his family’s Christmas lunch, but how could he expose her to that? How could he cope with her seeing him spend the day asking his relatives for forgiveness?

On Thursday morning John was feeling lighter. He’d started to get used to the idea of holding responsibility and it made him feel important. That was until D’arby asked him when he was planning to do his Christmas shopping and what he was going to get for Fanta. D’arby hadn’t meant to make John stressed. In fact D’arby was hoping that John might be able to help him choose a suitable Christmas present for his sister, who was expecting a baby around Christmas time. D’arby didn’t know much about babies and wasn’t very happy that his sister was having one anyway, because D’arby really didn’t like his sister’s husband and couldn’t bear the thought of that man’s genes being passed onto a child, especially not his sister’s child. If John would agree to choose a present for the baby then D’arby knew it would save him a lot of angst.

Sweat began to pour from John’s temples as he contemplated choosing a suitable Christmas present for Fanta. Being able to afford something nice was not much consolation. It just meant fewer constraints on what he could buy. More options meant more stress.

“Hey, don’t worry” said D’arby. I just thought you’d make a better choice than me”. He was surprised by John’s reaction, but also relieved that he wasn’t the only person scared by the thought of Christmas shopping.

“No, I can buy the baby a present. That will be easy compared to choosing one for Fanta” said John

“Why don’t you just ask Fanta what she would like?” asked D’arby.

“You have no idea!” said John, shaking his head. If only things were that simple.

“I can choose a present for Fanta, if you like” offered D’arby. For a few seconds John was tempted to accept D’arby’s offer.

On Friday John called his sister Emily and caught up on all the family gossip. At the end of the conversation he had a list of people to buy Christmas presents for as well as Emily’s hints on what they would like (even what she would like). Emily also gave John a strong direction to buy jewellery for Fanta. “Take note of what she wears and choose something similar, but nicer” suggested Emily. “Similar, but nicer… what does that mean?” wondered John, but he did appreciate the advice.

John’s weekend was full of despair. He remembered something he’d pushed to the back of his mind. “I’m so stupid!” John thought. “Here I am running a restaurant and planning my Christmas shopping like a respectable person when I’m the man the local police most want to catch! How did I forget that?”

On Sunday morning John discussed the possibility of his arrest with D’arby. “I know how you feel” said D’arby. “It is when my life is going well that I’m most likely to remember that everyone has to die.”

John stared at D’arby as he took in what D’arby had just said. “You mean that it is inevitable that one day I will be arrested and charged over all the things I’ve done wrong and that I’ll go to gaol and lose everything?” he asked.

“I was talking more about the contrast of good and bad things becoming more apparent when things are going well” said D’arby “But you do have a point. Perhaps you should make a list of all the crimes you’ve committed and we can estimate how long they’ll want to lock you up for. Do you know any good defense lawyers? We should put some money aside to pay one”.

The mention of money made John realize that he hadn’t given D’arby his allowance that week yet. John opened his wallet and counted out some money, which gave him a few seconds rest from thinking about his future. D’arby reluctantly took the money. He wished he didn’t have to rely on John that way and planned to pay John back (with interest) when he finally finished his thesis and got a job.

On Monday John couldn’t help feeling happy again. That evening he was going to see Fanta, and meet her sisters.


The Inklings: Chapter 15

It had been more than a month since John’s father had checked up on him. John had spent most of it with his head in the clouds and D’arby claimed John was even whistling in his sleep. The more time John spent with Fanta, the more perfect she seemed. The only downside was that John often wondered what Fanta could see in him. He tried not to dwell on those thoughts and was determined to enjoy his relationship with Fanta while it lasted.

Fanta was also happy. John had told her what he’d been through but she really believed that he had reformed. What John hadn’t told Fanta about was how he’d had some help when he gave up.

Fanta’s last exam was on John’s day off (the restaurant was closed on Mondays) and he’d promised to cook her a special dinner. Fanta hadn’t been to John and D’arby’s place before so John was pretty nervous. He got up extra early and spent the whole day cleaning and cooking.

When D’arby got home that afternoon the flat was sparkling clean, a dining table had appeared (covered in a crisply ironed table cloth) and there were little vases of fresh flowers spread around the place. John had even hung some curtains on the kitchen window. There was a roast cooking in the oven and a bowl of salad on the table.

“I feel jealous” said D’arby. “You never do this for me!”

“Well, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you aren’t as pretty as Fanta” said John. He was lying on the sofa, trying to recover some energy before Fanta arrived. “I’m exhausted though. I wouldn’t want to have to do this every day.”

“Ha ha. Hopefully Fanta won’t want you to do anything too energetic tonight then.” said D’arby

“Don’t laugh too hard. You are the one who should be hoping Fanta doesn’t want to do anything energetic. If I keep you awake at night when I’m here on my own, imagine…..” said John

“No thanks!” said D’arby. “Don’t worry, as soon as I’ve said hello I’m going back to uni to work on my thesis and then I’ll sleep under my desk” said D’arby.

When Fanta arrived John sat her down on his folded-up sofa bed and got her a drink of home-made lemonade. D’arby was putting books into his uni bag and asked Fanta how her exams had gone.

“Ok, I think” said Fanta. “I’m just happy that they are over” but as she said it she wasn’t thinking about what she was saying. Fanta was looking around the flat. She noticed that it only had one bedroom.

“That’s good” said D’arby. “I better get back to uni now. I’ve got lots of thesis to write. It was nice to see you again Fanta.”

“Save some dessert for me” said D’arby to John as he left.

When D’arby had gone the first thing Fanta asked was what was for dessert. She just wanted to make sure that there was some because she thought she’d seen D’arby wink.

“Pavlova” said John, wondering why there was such a strong interest in dessert and hoping that he’d made enough.

When Fanta had gone home John reflected that dinner had gone well, apart from when he briefly fell asleep at the table during dessert. John unfolded the sofa bed and lay down, enjoying the feeling of knowing that he could finally have some sleep. Then the phone rang.

John struggled to get up and answer the phone. Ignoring it was not a choice. If John didn’t answer he knew he’d get less sleep than if he did answer because if he didn’t answer he’d lie there for hours wondering who had called and keep imagining that it had been someone in an emergency.

“Hello” said John

“Hello John” said John’s father. “Your Mother and I have decided to give you an early Christmas present…… we would like to hand over the restaurant to you. We’ll have to meet with my lawyer to sort this out. Will you have time tomorrow morning?”

John pinched himself after he’d hung up the phone, but that didn’t help convince him that he’d been awake during the phone call. “I might be awake now, but how do I know I didn’t just wake up from a dream about a phone call?” thought John. Fortunately the morning wasn’t far away. John finally drifted off to sleep wondering whether his Father would turn up in the morning or not.


The Inklings: Chapter 14

The next three days were the longest in John’s life. Each morning he woke up and remembered that Fanta had his phone number and might call him that day. Then John spent the days waiting for her to call. Finally, each night he went to bed feeling miserable because she hadn’t called. On the third night of this misery, John walked home from the Pizza restaurant without any spring in his step and without even thinking about whistling. Although he knew there was a chance that when he got home he would find a message from Fanta waiting for him on the answering machine John didn’t believe there would be one. He was beginning to think that D’arby was right. Fanta had just taken his number to be polite and had then thrown it in the first rubbish bin she came across.

When John got home he could tell that D’arby hadn’t come home yet because D’arby’s uni bag wasn’t hung up behind the front door and there were no dinner dishes in the sink.

“The perfect end to a perfect day” thought John, when he realized that there was no bread left for him to make toast with. D’arby’s absence meant that there would be no leftovers around for him to eat either. John went to bed hungry and lonely.

In the morning things began to look up for John. He awoke to the smell of coffee and fried eggs. D’arby had been shopping and was making a special breakfast to celebrate because the night before he had finished writing the most difficult chapter of his thesis.

“Have a coffee” said D’arby when he realized that John was sitting up and watching him cook.

John was pleased to see that the coffee D’arby handed him had milk froth on top. That meant D’arby had filled the cups at the nearby café, not made his own. D’arby’s method for making coffee was to boil ground coffee in a saucepan (for a not very carefully measured amount of time) and then slop in some milk. Sometimes he remembered to strain out the coffee grounds and sometimes he didn’t.

“Has she called you yet?” asked D’arby and he turned the frying pan around with one hand while taking a sip of coffee from the cup in his other hand.

“I thought you said she wouldn’t call” said John

“I was just pissed off with you because you woke me up” said D’arby.

“Well, you were right anyway” said John and he stared into his coffee cup.

“Sorry” said D’arby and he also seemed to find his coffee very interesting to look at.

“Yeah, well…” said John

“Have some eggs” said D’arby and tilted the frying pan so that two eggs slid out onto two pieces of toast on a plate next to the stove.

“Thanks” said John as D’arby handed him the plate. He was glad to be able to eat because it gave him an excuse for not talking. The eggs were also very tasty and John was very hungry. He was enjoying his second mouthful when the phone rang. John looked at D’arby to see if he was going to answer the phone but D’arby also had a mouth full of eggs. John chewed a couple of times, swallowed the eggs and then picked up the phone.

“Hhhllllo” said John

“Is John there please?” said a strange voice.

John coughed to clear his throat and then said “This is John. Who is that?”

“Wait…” said the strange voice. There was a clunking sound as the phone was put down on a table and John heard the strange voice say “He’s on the line. Come and talk to him. Come on! Hurry up or he’ll hang up.”

Then John heard some rustling sounds and some angry whispering that prompted some muffled laughter. Finally the phone was picked up again.

“Hello” said another voice. “Sorry about that. My sisters found your number and decided I should call you”

“Oh” said John. “It’s nice to hear from you but I’d rather you were talking to me because YOU wanted to.” He knew that wasn’t a good way to endear Fanta to him, but he was upset.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to call you. I was just scared to” said Fanta

“Scared? Why?” asked John, conveniently forgetting that he still wasn’t the most approachable young man.

“You look sort of rough” said Fanta. “Are you a criminal?”

John didn’t know how to answer. He stood there with his mouth open, thinking, until D’arby started laughing because John looked so stupid.

“Oh, you have someone there. I’ll let you go” said Fanta

“No! Don’t hang up. When can I see you? What are you doing tonight – I mean today – I have to work tonight?” said John, while feeling like a complete loser.

“I’m going to uni” said Fanta

“Oh” said John, feeling like even more of an idiot as he remembered that most people had stuff to do during week days.

“We could meet for lunch though” said Fanta.

When John hung up the phone he started to panic because he had no idea where the place that he’d agreed to meet Fanta at was. Fortunately D’arby was in no hurry to get to uni and agreed to show him where it was. This calmed John down enough for him to be able to decide what to wear. He laid out his outfit on the floor and plugged in the iron.

“Oh no…you aren’t going to make me watch you iron, are you?” complained D’arby

“You don’t have to watch” said John “but you might learn something if you do. I’m a master ironer”

“No, you’re just a neurotic ironer” said D’arby and he decided that next time he was home alone he’d get rid of the iron.

John carefully ironed the clothes he was going to wear (even his socks and undies), despite the withering glare of D’arby who was sitting impatiently, with his arms crossed in front of him. Somehow D’arby managed to control his annoyance as John then had his longest ever shower (shampooing his hair three times). Finally John and D’arby were on their way to the café at uni.

“Do I look rough?” asked John as he and D’arby walked along

“Well, a little bit” answered D’arby

“Why? What makes me look rough?” asked John

“Probably all the wrinkles in the back of your shirt” said D’arby

“What!” said John and tried to twist his shirt around so he could examine it for wrinkles until he realized that D’arby was laughing at him.

John swore at D’arby, but D’arby didn’t care. They were approaching the café and D’arby was looking at the people sitting at the outdoor tables, trying to guess which girl was Fanta.

“Is this it?” asked John

“Yeah” said D’arby. “Can you see her?”

John had a look around. “There she is!” he said and pointed to the furthest away table. “She hasn’t seen us yet. Look! Isn’t she lovely?”

D’arby strained to see Fanta. He had been spending too much time at the computer and couldn’t make out much detail from so far away.

“Come and meet her” said John, and walked over to Fanta without even checking that D’arby was following.

When John got to Fanta’s table she still hadn’t looked up from the book she was reading and it was only when D’arby’s shadow fell across the page that she realized someone was there.

“She is so calm” thought John

“She’s pretty ordinary” thought D’arby. He couldn’t see anything remarkable about this girl.

“Hello” said Fanta, standing up

“Hello” said John “This is my friend D’arby”

“Hello. I just had to help John find his way here, I’ll be off now” said D’arby

“Ok, bye, nice to meet you” said Fanta

“She is so cool” thought John

He sat down at the table with Fanta. She was smiling at him. It seemed to John that Fanta had stopped worrying about him being a dangerous criminal. Maybe it was because he arrived with the nerdy and respectable-looking D’arby or maybe it was just because of his nicely ironed clothes.

John could smell some of the gardenias that grew almost everywhere on the campus. There was a light breeze and the sun was warm. John had a feeling that this might be one of the best moments of his life but was distracted from that thought when he realized that his eyes had been following an old instinct and counting the number of wallets and bags that had been left in easy-to-steal positions. The people in this café were so relaxed that they were being careless. John wondered how he’d never found this place when he needed some cash, until he started to worry that he had been silent too long and didn’t want Fanta to start trying to read his mind.

“It’s lovely here” said John

“Very” said Fanta


The Inklings: Chapter 12

Feeding an addiction had been hard work. John only realized how hard it had been now that he didn’t need to do it anymore. So, an unexpected bonus of those awful years was that now he was a really hard worker, and not just a hard worker but a determined one. This meant that the rest of his month at the Pizza restaurant went really smoothly. The problems John faced there were nothing compared to those he’d faced in his previous life. He turned out to be a calm and fair manager. The staff loved him and the customers were always satisfied. It was only when it came time for his father to decide whether he could stay on as manager that John felt any stress.

John and D’arby were still busily calculating the profit for the month when John’s father parked his car outside. He’d come an hour early to catch John unawares, and because he was curious to see how things had been going. He walked into the restaurant and saw D’arby and John with a calculator, various pieces of paper and strained expressions.

“Hello” said John’s father. “So what was the profit?”

John was too scared by the unexpected presence of his father to be able to do anything except give him the piece of paper that he and D’arby had been writing on. John wasn’t sure whether the profit was up or down. John’s father looked at the paper briefly and then asked John who D’arby was.

“He’s my friend D’arby. He is better at maths than me” explained John.

“Ok. How’s everything been going then?” said John’s father.

“Ok” said John. He didn’t want to chat. He wanted to know if he’d passed the test. “Well?” he asked

“Mmmm, I suppose you can stay, but don’t get too comfortable. You have to keep this up” said John’s father. Then he looked at D’arby and asked “Has John really been keeping out of trouble?”

“Well, he keeps doing the ironing, but apart from that he’s been very well behaved” answered D’arby.

John’s father didn’t understand this joke and decided it was time to leave. “I’ll leave you to it” he said

“How’s Mum?” asked John

“She’s well” said John’s father, and he left.

D’arby and John discreetly watched John’s father through a gap in the restaurant curtains as he got into his car and drove off. Then they started running around the restaurant laughing, until D’arby tripped on a chair and fell over.

D’arby limped off to uni, leaving John to get ready for the lunchtime shift. John couldn’t wipe the smile off his face and he decided that he would sell his first special pizzas that night.

It was also going to be a special night for Fanta too. She and Syafika had decided to go out for dinner together. Ever since Syafika had met Vincent Fanta hadn’t seen much of Syafika. Fanta had actually been missing Syafika’s company, and she was looking forward to hearing the latest about Vincent.

As Fanta approached Syafika’s place she could see that the front door was open, and Amanda was trying to fit a wardrobe through it. Fanta hardly recognized Amanda, but that was normal. She was always changing the way she looked. This time Amanda was wearing nothing but a short lace nightie that had been dyed purple. Her eye sockets were filled with matching purple eyeshadow and her shoulder length hair was so blonde it was white, apart from some purple streaks. Fanta was wondering how Amanda managed to have such a dark tan when she never went outside during the day, when her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Festus.

Festus slammed the car door angrily and yelled at Amanda “What do you think you are doing!” He was so loud that the neighbours opened their blinds to look out.

Amanda was still busy trying to manoeuvre the wardrobe through the door and didn’t pay any attention to her father so he walked closer and yelled the question again. Amanda had managed to get the wardrobe stuck in the doorway and because of this barrier between her and her father she wasn’t scared and said “Why don’t you help me, you lazy arse”

Festus gave the wardrobe a kick and yelled “Just you wait until I get my hands on you” before heading off towards the back door.

“Thanks Dad” said Amanda as the wardrobe came loose. She gave it one final push and it slid out across the front verandah and onto the front steps before falling sideways onto Rose’s gardenia bushes.

Then Amanda ran upstairs to lock herself in her room before her father got to her, not that he would have done anything except yell some more.

Fanta was wondering whether she should enter the house when there was about to be fireworks, but she didn’t have to make the decision because Syafika came outside in a hurry.

“Let’s go before Dad sees what else Amanda has done” said Syafika. She took Fanta’s arm in hers and they hurried off.

“What was Amanda doing?” asked Fanta

“She decided to throw out all of her furniture” said Syafika. “She moved the wardrobe downstairs by herself and it was so heavy she couldn’t control it. It slipped down the stairs and when it got to the bottom it knocked a hole in the wall between the kitchen and the living room.”

Fanta didn’t bother asking why Amanda would do that. Nobody could give an answer except Amanda, and she never bothered to answer questions.

“Where are we going for dinner?” asked Fanta

“I want pizza” said Syafika. “Let’s try that funny little place with red and white checked table cloths that we saw from the bus on the way to the beach that day”

Fanta remembered the place and said “Ok”. She didn’t really like pizza but she thought she could bear it if that’s what Syafika wanted.

It was a particularly busy night at John’s pizza place, and he was disappointed that he hadn’t been able to use any of the special pizza dough yet. He had left it too late to make it and it hadn’t risen properly yet. “At least it will be ready in the second half of the evening” he thought and scanned the restaurant, trying to work out how many addicts were missing out on their cure that evening. John didn’t only count illicit drug addicts as addicts. That was only a small portion of the addicts in the world. It was the legal drugs that affected the most people. He could see three alcoholics and no doubt there were a few smokers there that evening too. Then there would have been at least one person who was addicted to prescription drugs (and probably didn’t even know it). John was wondering whether the special ingredient would also cure people who were addicted to other things, like shopping, when the restaurant door opened and Fanta and Syafika walked in.

It was fortunate that John wasn’t carrying any plates at that moment.

Fanta and Syafika sat down at one of the small tables near the front window and John hurried over to give them menus. He wanted to say something clever, but couldn’t think of anything and so he came out with the standard “Would you like to order any drinks first?”

Syafika ordered sparkling mineral water for them both while Fanta just stared at John. She remembered him. He was the strange man who had stared at her the other day. Fanta remembered John because people usually didn’t pay her much attention.

When John left the table Fanta asked Syafika “Do you think the waiter is handsome?”

“No way!” said Syafika “But I’m fussy now I have Vincent so maybe you better not listen to my opinion”

Fanta didn’t want to appear too interested in the waiter and so she returned to the topic of Vincent. “So, are you in love with Vincent?”

Syafika needed a few seconds to consider her answer. Fanta didn’t think that meant good things for Vincent.

“If I had written down all the qualities I wanted in a man and had put little check boxes next to each item on the list, then when Vincent came along I’d have been able to tick almost all of the boxes” said Syafika

“Almost all?” asked Fanta

“Yeah, I’ve always wanted a man with a six pack, and Vincent doesn’t have one” said Syafika “Although he does have nice arms and shoulders. He likes exercising, but for some reason he doesn’t spend enough time on his abs”

“What about his personality?” asked Fanta. She didn’t know why Syafika was so worried about a six pack. Couldn’t anyone get one of those if they really wanted?

“Yeah, he looks grumpy but he isn’t. He’s really nice. He tries very hard to make me happy. He gives me presents all the time and calls me at least twice a day” said Syafika

“And?” said Fanta

“And what?” asked Syafika

“Nothing” said Fanta. “I just thought you’d have more to say after having spent all your spare time with Vincent for so many weeks”

Syafika was going to say something about it sounding like Fanta was getting jealous of Vincent, but she stopped because John was back at their table.

“Are you ready to order?” asked John

“Ahhh, sorry. Not yet” said Fanta, realizing that she and Syafika hadn’t even looked at the menu yet.

“Take your time” said John and he left the table, wishing again that he’d been able to think of something clever to say.

“So what do you want?” asked Fanta

“Let’s share pizza number three and a salad” said Syafika. Food made her happy so she forgot she had been about to say something nasty to Fanta.

“Good” said Fanta. She wasn’t even paying attention to what Syafika chose though. Fanta was too busy watching John as he took the order of the people at another table. She could see that he was trying to concentrate on his job while also looking at her out of the corner of his eye.

“You like the waiter, don’t you?” said Syafika

“Yeah” replied Fanta

“He looks like a drug addict” said Syafika “He is so jumpy and scrawny. You have bad taste”

“He looks interesting” said Fanta, and then she couldn’t help adding “Which is more than can be said for Vincent, if I can only go on what you have said tonight”

“Well, you don’t know Vincent” said Syafika

“So tell me about him!” said Fanta. “Why are you so reluctant? I thought you’d be hard to stop!”

“Well… I guess it isn’t what I expected. I’ve never felt any heart racing excitement over Vincent. It is just nice to be with him. Maybe this is what love is really like. I just thought it would be so much more like in movies and books. There was no struggle for us to get together. There was no build up of tension. We just met and liked each other and get on well” said Syafika

“Pooh. That does sound boring” said Fanta “It’s like you went straight from being strangers to being a married couple”

“Yeah, well, that is the only thing that might be exciting. I’m wondering if he will propose soon and how he will do it” said Syafika

“So will you say yes if he asks?” asked Fanta

“Of course” said Syafika

Fanta was unhappy. Something wasn’t right. If Syafika was happy, why wasn’t she behaving that way?

“Hey, your favourite waiter is coming back to take the order. Sit up straight and smile” said Syafika

Fanta sat up straight and looked over her shoulder. John was already there. Fanta smiled and John smiled back. He forgot what he was standing there for.

“Can I order yet?” complained Syafika.

“If you could wait another few minutes it would be nice” thought John but Fanta had already looked away.

Syafika smirked as she ordered. Fanta was busy examining her napkin and wondering why she was feeling so nervous. She wasn’t normally like that. Fanta was used to being level headed at all times. She should say something before John left the table, but what could she say? Then she realized that there was something she could say.

“I saw you the other day, didn’t I?” asked Fanta

“Yeah, I saw you too” answered John, with a bigger smile than before and he took their order into the kitchen.

“Where did you see each other?” asked Syafika. “Or was that just your bad attempt at a pick-up line?”

“No!” said Fanta and started laughing. “I just saw him in the street, on my way home from uni”

“Yeah I can imagine him hanging out in the street. I hope he isn’t the one making the pizzas. You don’t know what he might put in them” said Syafika.

Fanta didn’t know if the pizza really was good or if she was just in a good enough mood to enjoy eating anything. When it was time to leave Fanta insisted on paying the bill, and Syafika smirked again as she watched Fanta go over to the cash register, which was conveniently being operated by John.

“Did he ask for your phone number?” said Syafika as soon as she and Fanta were outside.

“Yeah, but I didn’t give it to him” replied Fanta

“What!” said Syafika and she stopped walking to stare at Fanta

“I asked for his instead” said Fanta and she held up a piece of paper with “John” and a phone number written on it.

“You are naughty” said Syafika

“No, I’m just cautious” said Fanta

“What do you mean?” asked Syafika

“Well, you did say he looked a bit dodgy. I want to make sure he is normal before I let him know my phone number or where I live” said Fanta, and although she said it like she was joking, she wasn’t. Fanta had also decided that John had probably had a colourful past and she wouldn’t be letting him meet her sisters or know where she lived until he had told her about it.

It wasn’t until Fanta and Syafika had left the restaurant that John remembered the special pizza dough. He wasn’t sure he should use it anymore, but that was just because he didn’t know if it would be healthy for him to have any more excitement that night. That was only a passing thought though and he went into the kitchen to make sure the special dough was used for the rest of the evening.

There were three people working in the kitchen and they were so busy that evening that they were only just coping. Ellen made the pizzas five nights of the week and she was fussy about the dough. If it wasn’t made properly she was likely to throw it at someone in anger and storm out. When John appeared with some alternative pizza dough that he’d claimed to have made Ellen didn’t hide her disgust. “Do you have to try it out when it is so busy? What if it is crap? We won’t have time to make new pizzas!”

“I’ve already tested it and its great” said John. “Try it! You’ll like it”

“Don’t bother looking for a job in advertising” said Ellen, but she took the pizza dough anyway. Ellen thought that if she did John a favour he might do her one back and she asked “How’s your friend D’arby these days? Is he going to be coming in to the restaurant soon?”

“Probably not. He’s too busy writing up his thesis” said John. “Why?”

“He’s my type. I like a younger man, especially one who looks so serious. Is he single?” asked Ellen

“Yeah, he’s single” said John, and he wondered whether Ellen was D’arby’s type. They hadn’t talked about women much yet. There always seemed to be something more pressing to talk about. Ellen was right though, D’arby really was pretty serious. “I’ll tell him you asked about him” said John with a wink, and then he went back to the dining room.

The rest of the evening was an anticlimax, except that Ellen mentioned to John that his pizza dough was a little bit better than the normal one. The customers all ate their pizzas like there was nothing unusual about them, then they all paid their bills and left. Nobody seemed to have undergone a life-changing event. Perhaps the secret ingredient didn’t work when it was mixed with pizza dough. Or maybe none of the customers in the second half of the evening had been addicted to anything. Or maybe everything had gone to plan but anyone who had been cured had just thought that the relaxing feeling they were experiencing was just because of food and good conversation.

After the restaurant closed John whistled all the way home, and thought about Fanta. He hoped she would call him soon.

John was still whistling when he got home, and continued to whistle while he made some toast. D’arby soon appeared in the kitchen, looking annoyed because John had woken him up.

“Why are you whistling? I’m trying to sleep” said D’arby

“Want some toast?” asked John

“You were trying to wake me up, weren’t you?” said D’arby

“Yep” answered John and crunched into his toast.

“What happened then?” said D’arby and sighed.

“She came to the restaurant” said John

“Is that all?” asked D’arby “Will you let me sleep now?”

“No, it isn’t all. She took my phone number” said John, with a satisfied smile

“Why didn’t you get hers?” asked D’arby

“She didn’t want to give it to me” said John

“That’s not good. She probably only took your number to be polite and then threw it in the bin” said D’arby.

“Oh” said John. D’arby went back to bed.

John unfolded his sofa bed and sat on it, while staring at the floor and trying to work out whether Fanta really had seemed interested in him or was just being polite.

The Inklings: Chapter 10

John met his father at the pizza place in the morning. John had hoped that his father would quickly show him where things were and leave, so he could call D’arby to come and help, but strangely John’s father seemed to want to give John as much help as he could and by the time John could call D’arby to tell him that the coast was clear, John’s father had already explained everything. There were good systems in place for ordering ingredients, preparing food, cleaning, staffing and even washing the table cloths. John didn’t think there was much for him to do after all. He could hardly believe that things were going so well. The only problem he could see was that the turnover was already so high. John didn’t see how the restaurant had capacity to make and sell any more pizzas.

That night, while John and D’arby watched over the restaurant, John asked D’arby “How are we going to make more money than the restaurant already does?”

D’arby laughed. “Did your Dad say it had to be a statistically significant increase in profits? Did he say that profits had to increase above the average monthly profit, last month’s profit, or the profit for the same month last year? Did he say the profit had to increase through increased sales? As long as we make five cents more than whatever he was expecting then you can say you have met the challenge” answered D’arby. “If we don’t sell more pizza, we can just decrease your salary.”

“Fair enough” said John, while thinking that he’d better ask D’arby to write down what he had just said.

The next day as John walked to the pizza place, something strange happened to him, something that would make him high all night.

When he got back to D’arby’s flat after work John knew that D’arby would be asleep but he didn’t care. He had to tell D’arby what had happened to him that day, so he shook D’arby until he woke up.

“What is it?” said D’arby. He thought that something terrible must have happened. “Have the police come to get you? Did you burn the restaurant down?”

“Ha ha. No! Something WONDERFUL happened. I have to tell you about it” said John and he started to dance around the room with his arms floating up and down.

“What have you taken? Are you drunk?” asked D’arby. He was really disappointed.

“No! I just saw something wonderful on the way to work”

“What?” asked D’arby, although he still didn’t believe that John was sober.

“A beautiful woman” said John

“Haven’t you ever seen one before?” asked D’arby. He was really annoyed, but still not sure what was going on.

“Not like this…but that’s not the important part” said John

“What is the important part then?” asked D’arby, and he sighed.

“She looked at me. She looked at me like I was a normal person, and she smiled!” said John

“Great!” said D’arby sarcastically. “Good for you. Now go to sleep. I’m tired” and he turned off the light.

The next morning John still hadn’t calmed down. When D’arby got up he found that John had cleaned the kitchen and was ironing clothes on the carpet.

“Why are you doing that?” asked D’arby. D’arby had a thing against ironing and he hadn’t even known that there was an iron in the flat.

“You don’t have an ironing board, so I have to use the carpet” said John, but when he saw D’arby’s expression he realized he’d given the wrong answer and quickly added “I’m trying to fill in time until the medical centre opens”

“Why are you going there?” asked D’arby

“I want to check that I haven’t got any STDs before I bump into that woman again” said John. Although John tried to sound casual as he said this, he was very worried. The thought of a relationship with someone had made him consider what he’d been up to while he was an addict.

D’arby knew that this was a very serious topic, but he couldn’t help laughing.

“What?” asked John

“Have you talked to her yet?” asked D’arby

“Not yet” said John, “But I might today if I see her on the way to work again”

“Good luck then, with her and at the medical centre” said D’arby and he left for uni, rolling his eyes.


The Inklings: Chapter 8

As much as D’arby respected maths, he had to admit that sometimes one plus one did not equal two. He and John were one example.

D’arby always had ideas, but rarely bothered to do much with them. John was always wanting to do something but never knowing what to do. John was amazed with the things D’arby said. D’arby was amazed with the things John did. The things D’arby said triggered John to act and the things that John did made D’arby think and say more. They were like a runaway reaction.

John insisted that now that D’arby had developed his special pills and done some testing (on him and John) it was time for him to use them for something good. D’arby had been thinking of finding a job where he could continue this research. He hoped to start real trials and eventually (maybe in 15 years) his new cure for addiction would be manufactured legally by some big drug company and sold in chemists. However, this plan was full of obstacles. First D’arby would have to finish his PhD and then the examiners would have to pass him. Then he would have to find a suitable research position, then he’d have to find funding for his project and only then would the real work start! And what if after all that the pills didn’t really work or made people sick? Why was it that such a huge discovery could make D’arby’s life so much harder?

John laughed at D’arby’s idea for the pills and came up with a much simpler plan, a plan that would get results faster, but was probably not a good idea in the long term. John’s father owned a pizza restaurant, and John had recently been walking past it in the hope of bumping into his Dad. While doing this he had noticed that there was an ad in the window for a manager. John hoped that now he wasn’t using drugs anymore his father might be convinced to let him run the pizza restaurant. Then John would just add the pills to the pizza dough (they were fizzy so they might help make the dough rise). Then anyone who bought pizza would have all their addictions cured. John and D’arby could watch what happened and wouldn’t have to tell anyone anything. They could also make their living this way, as long as the pizza was nice enough for people to want to buy it. John reckoned that the hardest part of his plan would be convincing his father to let him have the restaurant. Then the second hardest part would be running the restaurant. Making the special ingredient would be easy because D’arby knew how. D’arby could have a special lab at the back of the restaurant. The pills were mostly made of really common things and needed only a couple of chemicals that you couldn’t easily buy. D’arby had already mentioned that he had enough of the hard-to-get chemicals left over from his legitimate experiments to make millions of the pills. John didn’t think it would be too hard for D’arby to sneak these chemicals home – they’d probably only be thrown out after D’arby left uni anyway.

At first, D’arby was horrified by John’s idea. It was a week since they’d first met. John was still off the drugs and not even tempted to go back. D’arby expected that John wouldn’t need a second dose. The pills were meant to work on the brain in a permanent way and D’arby couldn’t see how the change could be reversed, but he wanted to wait and see a bit longer until he was completely satisfied of that. D’arby wished he’d known John better before he’d taken the pills so he could see if there had been any other changes. He was particularly interested to know if John would have made such ridiculous suggestions before, because D’arby was worried that since he had also taken the pills he might also start thinking that it was a good idea to lace pizza with the special ingredient. D’arby worried about this because, despite his initial horror, after considering John’s plan for a couple of hours, D’arby had begun to find certain aspects of the plan appealing. Managing a restaurant would solve their money problems. John had moved in with D’arby but the rent would soon be due and D’arby didn’t have any money left. The other thing that appealed to D’arby was being able to set up his own lab. It was hard to make his pills at uni. People were so nosy. He had to be very careful not to leave anything lying around that might lead the other people working in the lab to ask questions about what he was doing. It was getting particularly difficult now that his official experiments were finished. D’arby was supposed to be spending all his time working at his computer now, not down in the lab.

So, D’arby ended up agreeing with John that they should at least try to get John’s father to let them run the pizza restaurant. Then when they had some money they could decide what to do next. Putting his special pills in the pizzas was still horrific to D’arby. That was a very unethical thing to do and not very scientific either. How would they even know if anyone was cured? They wouldn’t be able to give the customers questionnaires to fill out before and after.

So John called his father, but not before he got his sister Emily to mention to his parents that John wasn’t a drug addict anymore. Perhaps it would have been better if Emily had really believed this first. She had only seen John once since he’d taken the special pills, and although John did seem different, it was not enough to convince Emily. She was worried that John was just playing a trick on her and her parents in order to get some money out of them, although she couldn’t really see how running a pizza restaurant would get John money in a way that was quick enough to satisfy a drug craving.

“Hello Dad!” said John

“What do you want?” asked his father.

“I want to be the manager of your pizza place” said John

“No way!” said John’s father

“But I need a job!” whined John. “Nobody else will give me one and I need something to do all day, otherwise I’ll end up in trouble again.”

“That’s your problem!” said John’s father. “Don’t try to make me feel guilty. I’ve tried to help you many times and each time you just used me. I’ve given up trying to help you now.”

John knew his father hadn’t given up yet though, because his father would have hung up by now if it was true.

“Just give me one month! Let me show you? Please?” said John.

There was a long pause. Just when John was starting to think his father had walked away from the phone he said “Ok then. One month. If profits are up after a month you can stay.”

“Woo hoo!” said John after he hung up the phone. Then he did a victory lap of the flat and wondered whether D’arby would mind that they started work tomorrow. It was meant to be John’s job, but he needed D’arby’s help to get him organized. Once they had established a routine, John would do all the work (apart from making the pills) and D’arby could go back to uni. John had already been experimenting with his special pizza dough. Even with the fizz of the pills, it still needed yeast to rise, but John thought the pills made the dough taste a bit better, or at least they didn’t make the dough taste funny.

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The Inklings: Chapter 5

D’arby was used to being called a dreamer. It was usually said in a condescending tone, but it never really annoyed him. What did annoy D’arby was when someone told him that he was dreaming if he thought one person could change things. D’arby was disgusted with people who gave up without even trying and even more disgusted with those who thought that discouraging comments were wise advice. He considered these people to be free-riders. He knew that they must have benefited at one time or another because of the actions of someone who did try to do good things despite being only one person and despite knowing that almost everybody thought that what they were attempting couldn’t be done. D’arby thought that people who said that things couldn’t be done were just making excuses for their own reluctance to do anything. Carrying on as usual and letting other people do all the important things and make all the important decisions was the lazy way out.

Despite his belief that he should be trying to do something good, D’arby often found that he wasn’t doing much at all. To decide what he was going to do about his PhD D’arby had bought a train ticket home to his parent’s house. While he was there he did a lot of walking in the bush around the house. That gave him time to think and he realized that at uni he’d been made ashamed of his view that he could make a difference. People accused him of being arrogant. Perhaps this being ashamed was what had gone wrong. D’arby decided he wasn’t going to let himself be ashamed of it anymore.

This renewed belief, that everybody could do something and that it was their responsibility to do so, was what gave D’arby the strength to think about his PhD in a new light.

First, he went over the past few years and remembered everything he had thought and felt. He remembered how when his supervisor had first complained that D’arby’s work wasn’t progressing well he’d thought himself lazy and then as more time passed D’arby had thought himself stupid. D’arby now realized that his laziness and inability to achieve what his supervisor wanted weren’t the problems but symptoms of the problem.

The real problem was that D’arby didn’t think his research was worth doing. He’d chosen the project because it sounded interesting (his supervisor would have been equally good at a sales career). D’arby wanted to be able to understand this complicated chemical reaction, but he didn’t think it would make much difference whether the answers were known or not – the industry had existed for years by trial and error and would keep on going without knowing D’arby’s answers (and D’arby wasn’t even sure that he wanted the industry to keep going at all – why hadn’t he considered that before!).

It was not until now, nearly three years later, that D’arby realized what he had gotten himself into. D’arby looked up at the cold blue sky and asked why he hadn’t been able to work out what was wrong until now when it was so clear. Now that D’arby could finally see the problem, he knew what he had to do about it.

“Less worrying and more action” said D’arby to himself. He’d decided to just get on and finish his thesis. He’d do whatever he had to do to get out of that awful place. If he stopped thinking about how awful it was and just concentrated, surely that would help him! But to help him get through the awful stuff he needed something else. This something else was D’arby’s secret project. It was only a few months after he started his PhD that he became interested in other research. When he should have been looking up papers relating to his project he couldn’t help looking at publications on other topics. His secret project was the research that he really wanted to do. D’arby’s deal with himself was that for every week he was productive at uni he could spend the weekend on his secret project. If he made his supervisor smile he could work four days in the next week on his PhD project and three on his secret project.

However, D’arby found that the best way to make his supervisor smile was not to try to do what his supervisor wanted. Like so many problems that are difficult to solve, D’arby’s PhD problem had a solution that was the opposite of what you would think it would be. Instead of trying to make his supervisor happy, what D’arby had to do was to ignore his supervisor completely and do what he thought should be done. This was what got him results, and the results made his supervisor happy. Every week or so, when D’arby bothered to go to see his supervisor (there were no more regular meetings since D’arby had stopped going to them) he would show him new and exciting results and they both knew that they would soon have enough for a very good thesis.

D’arby’s only problem was that his scholarship had just run out and so he’d have to get a job soon, but he was too busy already! D’arby was very excited by both his projects, but became quite stressed when he looked at his bank balance. He was frustrated that as soon as he climbed over one barrier, a new one appeared. D’arby’s supervisor assumed that D’arby had saved money in anticipation of this, or that D’arby’s family could help him out.

Maybe D’arby was too good at hiding his distress and behaving “normally” because nobody noticed that something was wrong with D’arby – not even his friends, even though D’arby mentioned to them that he’d soon run out of money and didn’t know what to do. They found it easy to assume that he’d be ok since he still managed to smile and laugh. The truth was probably that D’arby’s friends were too absorbed in their own problems to be able to donate any thought to his. And what problems!

“Cate and Suzy hate each other but both of them are my friends (although I prefer Cate). Should I invite both of them to my party, or just Cate?”

“My computer monitor has broken and I want a flat one but my supervisor doesn’t agree and says I should use his old boxy one, but that will leave me no space on my desk.”

“I’m going to Nepal for six weeks. Should I go to India after Nepal, or should I go to Thailand and lie on the beach for two weeks?”

“I can’t afford the house I want. I want three bedrooms on a quiet street in a nice suburb, within walking distance to a train station and restaurants, but I don’t want a terrace house and there must be off-street parking for the car because of the insurance and a garden because what’s the point of a house if not to have a garden?”

And so on. D’arby noticed that the more a person thought they knew, the more they had to analyse the minor things – as if each decision they made was a competition – a chance to display their superior intelligence. But spending time analysing minor things took up so much time that there was none left for action. D’arby wondered if the most important thing he’d learnt at uni was that if you take long enough trying to make a decision you will find you no longer have to make a decision because your options will have all evaporated. Not that D’arby minded discussing things with his friends at uni. He had learnt a lot from them, but he just hadn’t done much.

D’arby hated applying for jobs, but it taught him another important lesson. It seemed that the longer you spent at uni, the less employable you became outside universities. To be fair, he’d been a bit fussy in the jobs he’d applied for and hadn’t spent much time looking, but after sending out applications for two months, he hadn’t been offered a single interview. He was lacking experience and there were no part time jobs where his qualifications were essential. He knew his approach to job seeking was wrong but he didn’t know what to do about it. As usual, D’arby would find that when what he was doing felt wrong, it was because it was the wrong thing to be doing.

Afternoon was turning into evening on a Friday in spring, and D’arby was walking up the street to get a Thai takeaway. The sunlight was amazing. It was so golden that it made everything it hit look beautiful. The street normally looked shabby and rundown, but in that light it was the perfect street – where perfect, smiley people lived their happy lives and never worried about anything.

John wasn’t happy though. He was standing in the lane way, waiting. He peeped around the corner saw D’arby coming along the street, not paying attention to anything but his own thoughts. D’arby was confused when he found himself being dragged by the neck into the lane way. He thought it must be some sort of joke until he realized that there was a knife against his throat. John was expertly going through D’arby’s pockets with his left hand, while keeping half an eye on D’arby and half an eye on the knife. John soon discovered that D’arby hadn’t brought his wallet (not that there was any money in it) and had just enough money in his pocket to pay for a Thai takeaway. John started swearing in frustration but continued to search D’arby’s other pockets. “Bingo” said John when he found a little snap-lock bag with some pills in it. He wasn’t sure what they were but they looked homemade and so were probably illegal. John let go of D’arby, dexterously opened the little bag and popped a pill into his mouth.

John felt the pill start fizzing as it got to his stomach. It reminded him of the time he’d swallowed the kind of aspirin tablets that are supposed to be dissolved in water before you take them. Then John realized that D’arby hadn’t run away – he was still there, watching John.

”Why is he watching me?” thought John. Then he began to panic. What had he just eaten? Was this man a murderer who had just poisoned him? John could imagine that there were plenty of people who thought it would be funny to kill a drug addict. The police would probably be grateful for a drop in theft. John fell to his knees and stuck his finger down his throat, but he was in too much of a panic to be able to vomit.

D’arby could see that John was panicking and began to panic too.

“Calm down” said D’arby. “It wasn’t poison” said D’arby, but his tone was more hopeful than convincing.

The fizzing had stopped. John sat down on the footpath and began to feel better. He was actually beginning to feel pretty good. He wasn’t experiencing anything euphoric, but he felt calmer than he had for a long time.

For years John had been racing through life, living from craving to craving. Now, for some strange reason, he felt like he didn’t have to do that anymore. No more rushing. He had plenty of time to change things.

John could have spent hours sitting there, reflecting on who he was and where he’d gone wrong. D’arby was getting bored and hungry though. He cautiously tweaked the $10 note from John’s hand (John paid no attention) and tried to decide what to do next. D’arby wanted to go and get his Thai takeaway, but he was scared that John would be gone by the time he got back so he encouraged John to stand up and come with him. John was so caught up in his own thoughts that, although he was aware of D’arby, he didn’t care where he was taking him.

John remembered how he and his father had seen an alcoholic sitting drunk in the gutter when John was about 6 years old. John had asked his father what the man was doing and his father had said “I’m sure that man was born without problems, so he made them for himself”. John hadn’t taken that warning from his father. As a teenager John had never appreciated how lucky he was to have a bright mind and everything he needed. Instead John had decided to make his own problems. He didn’t talk to his parents anymore – they didn’t want to talk to him.

D’arby and John sat in the park. D’arby had one takeaway meal and two forks. John was drawn out of his deep thoughts by the smell of food. Like D’arby, John was very hungry.

Now that it looked like John wasn’t going to die D’arby felt very excited. He would have got up and jumped up and down a few times if he didn’t think that John would take the opportunity to eat all the food. Perhaps it was too soon to tell, but it looked like his pills had cured a drug addict. He was amazed and how calm and normal John seemed now. He’d been so scary before.

“How do you feel?” asked D’arby

“What’s your name?” asked John. He had never been very comfortable talking about how he was feeling, and asked the question in an annoyed tone.

“D’arby” said D’arby. “So how do you feel?”

“Well, I’m John, thanks for asking” replied John, but D’arby didn’t care that John thought he was being rude. D’arby never paid much attention to names and he didn’t think that remembering a person’s name was very important. It was just something people did to trick you into thinking that they cared about you.

“I thought you were trying to kill me” said John

“Well, I could say the same about you” said D’arby,

“What did you give me then?” asked John. He still wasn’t sure he could trust D’arby, or that he was going to be alright.

“I didn’t give you anything. You stole my pills” complained D’arby.

“You know what I mean!” said John “What was it?”

“Something I came up with in the lab” said D’arby. “I’ve been trying to make something to cure addiction.”

“So you’re a doctor then?” asked John, feeling relieved

“No, an engineer” replied D’arby

John scratched his head, with a pained expression on his face. Everything had seemed to clear a few minutes ago, but now nothing was making sense.

“Have you tested the pills? What’s going to happen to me?” asked John.

“Not really, but I’ve eaten heaps of them and nothing’s happened to me” said D’arby.

Then John started laughing at himself for caring about what he’d taken.  After everything else, what difference would it make? He was happy that he felt like caring again.

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