THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Five

9 Feb

THE POLICEMAN’S LOT

It was a lovely summer’s day, the sun was shining from a glorious blue sky and the world seemed to be at peace though, of course, there was bound to be conflict somewhere or other.

But picture this:

A young police-constable holding a grossly bewhiskered man dressed in a black hooded top and sporting almost obscenely a tartan mini-skirt by one arm, and propelling him into the front office of Brumpton Police Station with a scowl on his face and feeling the need of a peg for his nose because his prisoner was giving off the worst pong that had ever searched out and found his olfactory senses. The Monk in a tiny skirt was giving off a bouquet of rather unpleasant aromas, urine not being the least among them, and constable Jones wondered why this unpleasant duty had fallen to him when he might have been smiling at visitors to the cricket ground as the first over of the day was being bowled.

For this is what happened shortly before noon of the first day of Brother Imageous’s search for the Blasted Desert (as per written instructions from a huge black bird with a hooked bill). He was being dragged, some might have said at a distance but nevertheless unmercifully, by Constable Jones to the police station where he would no doubt be charged with such offences as indecent exposure and anything else that might lead to his removal from the streets for as long as possible.

It was clear to the good officer that his prisoner was an environmental hazard who might harbour enough diseases to reduce a bustling town to tumble-weeds and old skin.

The grossly bewhiskered and unwholesome prisoner was one Brother Imageous who hadn’t the faintest idea what was going on, just that he was being forced to walk a great deal more quickly than he’d ever walked before, moving at what was a terrifying pace along a pathway that was smoother even than the stone floor of his cell back at the Monastery, which was well worn and chipped and cracked.

Once inside the police station constable Jones (a pleasant young man who much preferred giving a good ticking-off to wrong-doers rather than propelling them into the legal system, where they might be ruined for ever as ever less decent influences came to bear on them) released his hold on Brother Imageous and shook his head in the direction of his sergeant, who was nursing a cup of something that steamed behind an open hatchway in the wall opposite.

We’ve got a right one here, Sarge,” he said, shaking his head with a great deal of disbelief. “Pissing in public, indecent exposure with the most indecent willy you ever did see, and dressed like a tart whilst smelling like a urinal that’s not seen disinfectant in a generation.”

The stink’s hit me already,” growled the sergeant, pulling a face to inicate nauseum. “Best get the hose on him before we do anything else”

By the hose he meant the shower, a utility shared by those prisoners who spent more than a night in the cells and needed hygiene. It supposedly sprayed warm water, but the usual complaint was that the water was never anything more humid than cold. There were occasionally reprobates who were in need of a hosing down, usually at night with vomit and even diarrhoea being involved, and it was they who usually complained at great volume and length about the temperature of the water.

I’ll need help, Sarge,” growled the constable, and a second officer was called to help him.

The most obvious thing to both officers, once they’d forcibly stripped the quivering Brother of his black upper-garment, was the state of his skin. He had abrasions and pustules all over the place, and some of the latter were weeping what looked like a most unsavoury yellow substance.

Then they noticed the way his hair and beard seemed to move of its own accord and knew with a sickening certainty that the man before them was host to a huge number of lice and maybe even fleas. It made them both start itching in sympathy.

You’re in a state, fellow,” growled the Constable, “you need the doc. And loads of stuff.”

And the police doctor was called for. Doctor Mallory was normally jovial, seeing light in the darkest of places, and yet he was a fierce defender of the Hippocratic oath that he’d sworn at the start of his career. Normally, he took even broken bones and torn flesh well in his stride, but when he saw what lay beneath Brother Imageous’s black hooded upper garment he went pale, and the eccentric movement of the man’s huge beard made him take a good step back..

Where are you from?” he asked, spraying a large dose of antiseptic from an aerosol onto his patient’s entire upper body and excessive hair whilst the bewildered Brother howled and writhed at every contact with anything that wasn’t filthy.

I’m a Monk,” he said shortly, “from the Monastery,” he added helpfully, “where the lovely prostitutes visit,” he further added, as though that might instantly identify his home.

The doctor looked up at the Constable, who was almost rigid with shock as he surveyed the scene.

You mean the place down the road?” asked the doctor. “The old Monastery that was condemned decades ago? That pile of old stones?”

That’s what he said when I arrested him,” put in Constable Jones.

Imageous didn’t know what he meant when he sued the word condemned so he remained silent, frowning.

There was a small outbreak of this kind of skin complaint amongst a handful of ladies when I first started my work in Brumpton,” murmured Doctor Mallory. “I remember it well because it afflicted only ladies who might be identified as ladies of the night. It all happened, what, thirty years ago, and we never traced it to its source. Of course, the ladies concerned were as reluctant as ever to explain where they’d been, and I don’t recall that pile of old stones being mentioned…”

It’s my home!” yelped Imageous, outraged at the notion that his sacred Monastery was being referred to as a pile of old stones. “And I’m on a pilgrimage,” he added. “For glory and a place in the hereafter.”

You’re on a pilgrimage to hospital,” agreed the doctor, “that’s your next port of call, and if you don’t go voluntarily you’ll be sectioned! Yes, to hospital, old fellow, where these sores and abrasions and arachnoid zoo can be dealt with properly.”

Don’t all men have them?” sighed Imageous, frowning, “is it not part of the necessary suffering of men, the bleeding and the pus and the little creepy-crawlies that kiss us in the night?”

It’s disgusting,” growled the constable.

It’s a wonder you’ve not fallen down dead of septicaemia,” Mallory said, less cheerfully than he’d been for years. “This is the worst infestation of skin complaints that I’ve ever seen! How long is it since you had a proper bath?”

Imageous was near to tears, and he shook his head. “What’s a bath?” he asked.

© Peter Rogerson 29.01.17

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