THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-four

5 Mar


It took the best part of a day for Fanny to take Digory to the airport and contrive to escape the country without him having a passport or any kind of identification. Most people might consider that a tall order, but she was quite happy to set herself the task and remarkably achieve her end with little trouble.

In addition to that, they must have looked a suspicious duo as they had no discernible luggage and only an apparently vague idea of what they were doing. They were even short of spare underwear, and that hit Digory hard as he’d only just got into the habit of changing his loose woven boxers on a daily basis and quite enjoyed the sense of cleanliness round his more precious parts. Life in the Monastery had hardly provided him with fragrant cotton and little buttons on the fly. No, back then it had been a leather codpiece, and he’d rarely changed it. It was the way things had been.

However, with the aid of a little clandestine metamorphosis (though a huge black bird with a nervous elderly gentleman on its back was a difficult thing to conceal in a crowded establishment like an International Airport, but it could go where foot passengers couldn’t and do it with ease). In remarkably little time considering the obstacles they both managed to find unoccupied seats on a jumbo jet going South.

“We’ll be on our way soon,” sighed Fanny. “Then you’ll see what a blasted desert can look like, in spring when the sun’s shining. And, of course, meet your ever-loving daddy.”

“It’s nearly the end of summer,” pointed out Digory moodily. Besides virtually terminal confusion he was getting the start of a migraine, the first in his entire life, but then it was hardly surprising that recent events had conspired to wreak havoc to the inside of his head.

Fanny, on the other hand, was quite calm. After all, she had a recharged pacemaker keeping her heart pounding and the psychological impact of knowing that your batteries won’t be likely to let you down can do wonders to a very old lady’s morale and peace of mind. So she sat in a seat next to her rediscovered son, who himself was next to the window, and smiled broadly at the rest of the passengers.

A stewardess, with a sheaf of papers falling out of her hands, asked where their documents were and why they were occupying seats that were supposed to be empty, but Fanny had a long history of confusing officialdom whilst seeming as innocent as the day is long, and after a bit of paper-shuffling the stewardess left them in peace, only slightly troubled by the presence of two passengers who shouldn’t be there, a fact that she found it easier to dismiss from her mind.

Had Digory been aware of where he was and what he was doing he might have been apprehensive, but it never crossed his mind that he was actually on an aeroplane about to take off and fly half way across the world, not that he had a clear idea of what half way across the world really meant. Indeed, his concept of what the world was would have sounded silly to an average five year-old because his notion of existence was bound up with archaic prayers he’d had to repeat ad nauseam and tales of derring-do amongst mysterious spirits in a place called Heaven, which was the same place as where he was quite certain he didn’t want to go to when it was his turn to join the Hereafter, a concept that in itself was almost beyond his understanding. So in a state of absolute confusion he sat in his seat and received the shock of his life when a roaring sound was followed and accompanied considerable vibration of a troubling nature together with an apparent movement of his entire universe, and when he peeped out of the nearby window the world was hurtling past at a speed almost beyond comprehension.

And then it was below them. The whole darned world was below them, and receding as if by magic, going much higher than the helicopter had. It was aiming for the few fluffy clouds that decorated the blue skies of summer, and Digory felt sick.

He whimpered and Fanny glared at him, her ninety-year old features a further threat beyond his comprehension. He’d never liked being glared at. The Father Superior had done it straight at him when he was in a bad mood, and it had usually been followed by physical punishment of a painful nature.

So he closed his eyes and muttered one of the prayers he’d been taught, a chant about death and hope and the spilling of unworthy blood by the copious bucket-full, and would have continued along the same line, but his mother nudged him.

“Shut up!” she hissed, “if the rest of the passengers hear that nonsense they’ll be convinced that something is wrong, and that could start a riot!”

But what’s a passenger, and am I one if the other people around me are the rest, his brain asked.

But he said nothing other than a feeble “what’s a passenger?” and merely slumped into himself with, and he would have been ashamed if anyone had noticed, a tear forming in the corner of one eye and beginning to trickle down his drawn face. By all definitions of sufficiency, he’d had enough.

“Is he frightened of flying, dear?” asked a jolly woman the other side of the aisle from Fanny.

“He’s not been well,” replied his mother, winking at the woman. “He’s had a man’s complaint, and you know how dreadful they can be?”

The woman nodded sagely. “That I do, and no mistake,” she replied. “Now my old man, the Lord bless him, he was taken from me of a man’s complaint! Alive and kicking one day and dead as a dodo the next! It can’t be that good, to be born a man when a woman’s got more about her. I used to tell my old man that, and he never believed me, even though it was clear as day. But he was taken, that he was, before his time. I had plans for the two of us and no mistake, and now there’s just me enjoying the plans we came up with together…”

Digory was on the brink of a breakdown and the talk of a man just being taken from the woman was enough to make him weep aloud. He knew all about men being taken, hadn’t just about the entire community of the Monastery been taken leaving just a skeletal tribe of monks behind, but he knew where they’d gone, they’d been taken to Heaven, so it was all right. Or some of them might have made the easier journey to Hell, which was where he wanted to go, he told himself, when his time came. Away from the singing and the flowers and to an eternity by a nice hot fire and forget the psalms..

But not yet. By no means not yet.

He sat and hugged himself next to the window, and watched a cloud surround his nightmare like a sudden descent of fog.

And he wept even louder while his mother dug him in the ribs and said, loud enough to be heard by just about everyone, “Shut up, Digory … I always said I should have had a daughter…”


© Peter Rogerson 17.02.17


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