Can I Join You?


I knew something was up, she’d been looking at me funny all day. I could tell she was watching me, staring at me, noting my every movement, and then looking away crisply as soon as I looked in her direction. It was more than just a little disconcerting; I spent the day checking my flies were done up or looking in the mirror to check I’d not got newspaper ink smudged across my face. But as far as I could tell nothing was wrong, I looked like I did every other day of the year. I tried to ignore her, she was probably just playing some sort of childish game with her mate Lizzie; those girls were always up to no good. I just hoped this one would not land me in any trouble. I just wanted a quiet life, do the job I was paid for and piss off home. 
The clock ticked around to 3pm, tea break time. I stood up, put my jacket on and quietly left the open plan office, well aware that people would moan that I never said hello or goodbye. The afternoon cup of tea was my oasis in the barren desert of the long afternoon, a welcome respite from the stuffy office, the tinny radio and the office politics. The canteen was exactly 72 strides away; I started counting down the paces 71, 70, 69. But I could hear footsteps behind me, light footsteps, she was following me. 
‘Tea Charl?’ Beryl said with a grin. I nodded returning the smile. She was about the only person in the whole place who I could be bothered to raise a smile for. Can you really judge a woman’s suitability on the way she makes a cup of tea? If so, I should probably propose to Beryl. 
‘No Bob today?’ I sometimes had my afternoon tea with Bob from HR, on a Monday we’d chat, but by the end of the week we’d just be sitting enjoying the brew in silence, knowing by sitting together other people would leave us alone. We were the lesser of many evils for each other. 
‘Meeting,’ I said, taking my tea and handing over the 75 pence. I could smell rose scent behind me, meaning the footsteps I’d heard earlier had caught up. I didn’t look back; I just took my tea and went to sit in my usual seat, wishing Bob was there.
I slurped my tea, I never slurp my tea at home but I do in public, it ensures people give you a weird berth. 
‘Can I join you?’ I didn’t look up from my steaming mug. I knew Bethan was standing over me. I didn’t want her to join me but that is not really a question you can say no to.  
‘Of course,’ I said with my voice, while saying fuck off with my intonation. 
‘No, I mean can I join you?’ she said sitting down.  I looked at her now. ‘I know who you are, I know what you do.’ Her voice was above a whisper but not loud enough for anyone else to hear. ‘and I want to join.’ 
I looked at her, my face not moving a muscle, not giving anything away. I looked down at my tea again, blew on it and took a big slurp hoping my vulgar behaviour would scare the girl away. But she sat there staring at me, waiting for an answer.  
This was a trap, this had to be a trap. The powers that be obviously had suspicions about me and wanted me to confess to something, anything. This was how it happened wasn’t it? Quirky middle-aged man seduced by pretty young thing, tries to impress her with tales of his undercover exploits and then bosh there it is, enough evidence to send him to the gallows. 
I stared at her, assessing her, my eyes steely, my face passive. She was young, pretty, and a good actress. 
‘There’s nothing to join.’ I said. I stood up and left the canteen feeling aggrieved that my tea break had been so rudely interrupted. 



‘Wait,’ I heard her say, but I was in no mood to wait. 



It felt like the walls of this dingy, little flat were closing in on me, the room getting smaller and smaller, damper and damper, with more and more cockroaches climbing the walls. I could feel the tiredness in my joints, achingly stiff, impossible to get comfortable. But being physically tired couldn’t override the mental turmoil that crashed around my brain like waves in a storm. Sleep was like a long lost friend, gone but not forgotten. 
The net was closing in; I was a marked man. Every time I shut my eyes I saw Bethan standing there, uttering those words, ‘can I join you?’ It was as if I could smell her rose scented perfume in my flat. Her words echoed around my head, her innocent brown eyes staring at me intently, her lips moving, ‘can I join you?’ ‘can I join you?’  I knew it was just a memory; a playback on loop but that didn’t stop it from disturbing my equilibrium. 
I gave up the charade of trying to sleep, I sat on the end of my bed and lit a ciggie, coughing out a lungful of smoke and watching the patterns form in the half-light. 
Who was Bethan? What did she want from me? Did she really want to join me? Did she know what I was up to? I thought I’d been careful, covered my tracks but, if a young gun like her had seen through me, then surely everyone one would know what I was up to.  The Clash song ran through my head, I always knew this day would come but knowing that didn’t make it any easier. Was I over reacting? After all it was just one girl, an innocent question, she might really be one of us, or she might be just playing games. But I couldn’t rule out that she was working for them.
I stood up and peered out of the window looking for my demons in the shadows. If they were there, then they were well hidden. The new moon was tentatively poking through the clouds like a learner driver at a busy T-junction. The night was still, quiet, a perfect night for a feline prowl, but even the cats were sleeping. The clock on the church tower opposite showed 2.37 - town was sleeping peacefully. I stubbed out my ciggie and yawned, stretching my tired body as I did. I considered getting back into bed but I knew I wouldn’t sleep so I lit another cigarette and continued my observation of the silent night out of my window. 
The doorbell made me jump out of my skin; no one ever rang my door bell at godly hours let alone at this ungodly one. Did the police ring the bell before breaking down the door? Did it lull you into a false sense of security? I decided to ignore it, if they wanted me, they’d no doubt let themselves in. But the second ring was more persistent. I had to answer it. 
I moved carefully to the door trying to be as soft footed as possible. Then I peeked through the spy hole. I suppose I was expected the police, or perhaps Bethan, what I wasn’t expecting was Beryl, the tea lady. 





 I opened my front door and Beryl almost fell into my arms, I held her for a moment, my nose in her peroxide hair.  She smelt of cigarettes and gin, a combination I could relate to. Her body felt good next to mine but I had the feeling she hadn’t come here for that.
‘She’s gone,’ she said into my chest. ‘She’s gone,’ she repeated. I pushed her away from me holding her at the shoulders. Her eyes were red and puffy, tear-smudged make up on her face. 
‘Who?’ I said. 
‘My daughter, she didn’t come home tonight. She always comes home. She goes for a drink with the girls from work but she’s always home for her dinner. She told me if she ever disappeared, I should come to you.’ She collapsed into my chest again and sobbed. I held her in my arms wondering what she was talking about, who was her daughter? Why would the kid tell her to come to me? Nothing made sense.  
‘Can I make you some tea?’ I asked her. She nodded her head and I managed to manoeuvre her into the living room and lower her onto the sofa before going to the kitchen and putting the kettle on, then I lit two cigarettes and handed one to Beryl. She took a long drag, her eyes closed and her face pale. I went back to the kitchen and made the tea, I was suddenly very aware that I wanted the tea to be as good as the tea she made me. 
She cupped her mug in her hands, looking at me silently, begging me to say something that would calm her fears. But my problem was, I had no idea what was causing her fears. 
‘Tell me the story again.’ I said. 
‘My daughter, she’s been acting strangely, said it was time to make a difference. She told me she had found out you were working for people who she wanted to work for too. She swore me to secrecy.’
‘You’re Bethan’s mother?’ The penny finally dropped, I’d been thinking she was talking about a 12 year old, but I gradually saw a resemblance as she spoke. But surely Beryl wasn’t old enough.
‘Yes, I was young when I had her,’ she said.
I was trying to do the maths, Beryl was about my age, Bethan about 24 / 25. That would have made Beryl 17/18 when she had Bethan. I supposehat could make sense.
‘17’. She’d read my mind. ‘Why do you think I’m a tea woman?’ Her voice was defensive. I shrugged, I was obviously judging her with my eyes without meaning to.  Or maybe she was just paranoid from years of explaining. 
‘Who are you?’ she asked. ‘And what have they done with Bethan?’ I shrugged again and looked around for my ciggies, they were in the kitchen. I got up to get them, we both needed the comfort of nicotine. 
I wandered over to the window, the night was still quiet, the demons still hidden. I was deciding how much to tell the woman sobbing on my sofa, she deserved an explanation but I had to be careful. Maybe this was the trap. It didn’t feel like a trap, but then traps rarely do. 
I looked at the reflection of Beryl, I’d often wondered about getting her back here, never thought it would come true and now it had I wished it hadn’t. I decided to pay dumb. I could tell her nothing, but still help her find out what had happened to Bethan.


For audio click here

I woke up with a start, there was a dull ache in my head and my eyes felt like I’d slept in my contact lenses. I panicked,  I was late for work, but then I realised it was Saturday. Then I remembered last night, the insomnia, the doorbell, the tea lady, the tears. I padded into the living room and looked at the middle-aged woman under a blanked on my sofa. She looked so beautiful, so lovely, so serene despite the panda eyes. I gently picked up the mugs and took them into the kitchen. I’d make us a cup of tea and then shoo the woman home. 
'Good morning,’ a sleepy voice said just as the kettle clicked. 
‘Hello,’ I said, trying to keep my voice neutral. ‘How are you?’
‘Fine,’ she said, but I could tell she wasn’t. ‘ Thanks for making me stay last night.’
I’d insisted that she’d stayed, she’d already broken the curfew coming to me. She didn’t want to risk it again going home. I’d offered to take the sofa but she’d insisted on that. 
Beryl took her tea and curled up on the sofa again lighting a cigarette. 
‘She’s always known,’ Beryl said from nowhere. She took a lungful of smoke before continuing. ‘I told her her dad had run off with another woman, but she never believed me, I guess I just wasn’t a good liar.’
‘So where is your husband?’ I regretted asking the question, the less I knew, the better, but I had a feeling she was going to tell me anyway. 
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘It was 3 days after the 2020 elections when they came for him. Three days, that’s all they took. It didn’t matter that he had papers, he was entitled to be here. What mattered was that he was Romanian, that he had swarthy skin and a heavy accent. He was an immigrant and he had to be returned home.’ 
I nodded my head. It was a familiar story. The UK had left the EU in 2018 and by 2020 the Tories and UKIP ran a joint campaign promising to send them all home. All immigrants who had come into the country since 2010 were to be sent home. 
’15 years and nothing,’ Tears were welling in her eyes again. ‘I called his family back in Romania but they had not heard from him either. I can only guess that they had killed him. But…’ Her voice trailed off into sniffs and snivels. 
‘Go home,’ I said to her, ‘Bethan might be there waiting. Let’s meet for coffee at 3.’
‘Will you know anything by then?’ 
I shrugged, I didn’t know what I would know by then, probably nothing, but this woman didn’t need to hear that. 
When she was gone I took a shower, got dressed and left the flat, carefully watching around me for someone following me. I wouldn’t go directly to my destination, instead I would meander around, window shop, have coffee, look innocent. 
I looked at the faces of the people passing by; they weren’t people anymore they were Games of Thrones drones.  What had those bastards done to this country? Gradually since 2015 our freedoms had been etched away. It may have started before that but 2015 with a catalyst in my mind. Apparently before then we’d been too passively tolerant as a nation; we’d left people alone as long as they didn’t break the law and although that seemed perfectly reasonable to me, to them it was a crime. So they took away our human rights and locked up those who complained. They fed the masses on a diet of football and HBO blockbusters, while scaring them with stories of Sharia Law coming to a street near you. Europeans were skivers, Muslims terrorists and Jews thieves. British values for a British race. Britain for the Brits. After 2020 and the Progressive Alliance landslide things got worse, immigrants were rounded up and sent home. We were told it was too dangerous to go out at night. the curfews were for our own good. And who needed to go out when Ant and Dec could entertain you in hologram form in your own living room.  But amazingly taxes were low, the streets clean and thanks to our new government providing free dental care Britain was smiling again. When the 2025 elections were cancelled, no one cared. Okay our internet was controlled, as was our freedom to travel, but people could still get their hands on porn, could still watch Big Brother and global warming made the British beaches the best in the world, so who needed to go abroad? Who needed to vote? 
I sat drinking my coffee waiting for the all clear. But before anyone could give me the signal, a figure slipped into the seat opposite me. 
‘Bethan!’ I said. She didn’t look like she’d been detained overnight or had slept rough.  
‘I had to make you help me,’ she said. ‘I knew you had eyes for my mother.’  Another figure appeared. 
‘I’m sorry,’ Beryl said, she looked like she’d just had a good shower. ‘It was the only way to get you to admit who you were.’
‘So can we join you?’ Bethan said.
I hadn’t admitted anything to anyone I thought. But these women had tricked me. Beryl was wasted as a tea lady; she should have been a actress. I nodded ever so slightly. 
‘Let’s go to my place.’ I said.

For audio click here
Bringing two women into my flat made me aware of how stale the air was in there. It smelt of damp and smoke and BO. I cracked a window a little to air the room while putting the kettle on and tidying a few things away.
We sat in silence for a while. I eyed the two women with suspicion. I still couldn’t get it out of my mind that they might be a trap, that they might be tricking me in to revealing my true self.  That was the beauty of the system, it created distrust, mild paranoia in everyone. Everything was black and white, no shades of grey. The Alliance had made everything about being British, being loyal. Everything for King and Country, by questioning anything you were attacking Britain. You were a traitor.
As I smoked my cigarette, I thought about the first time I’d noticed it. It was 2016, and the army were brought onto the pitch at a rugby match for some ceremony or other. As they marched around the field every man, woman and boy stood to applaud, except of course for one, me. I remained seated, I remained still.  I was a pacifist, I didn’t believe in the glorification of the uniform. The uniforms I would applaud were those worn by nurses, firemen, teachers, I had nothing against servicemen, I knew they did a fine job but I didn’t like they way they were being politicised, so I stood up for my right to think by sitting down. But I didn’t remain seated for long. Soon an angry fan was dragging to my feet and pointing a nicotined stained finger into my face. I won’t repeat what he said but suffice to say it was full of foul-mouthed rancour. According to his logic by not standing up, I was supporting the Taliban, being anti-British, and thus insulting him personally.  So I stood shame-faced and applauded. Not shame-faced because I was a traitor but shame-faced because I was not standing up for what I believed in but standing up out of fear. At that moment as those soldiers paraded, I saw the past and I saw the future. I understood how peer-pressure brings dictators to power and I understood how it was history was repeating itself. As I watched those soldiers circle the field, I had a moment of crystal clarity that shaped who I am today, I learnt I had to keep my head down by my mind open. I learnt to eye everyone with suspicion while looking for signs that people were not drones.
I was looking at these two women now trying to make up my mind. The trick was to decide and then banish all doubts. You had to have the courage of your conviction, if you didn’t, you lived in fear, you could never build a relationship with anyone. So once you’d accepted someone was on your side, you had to trust them.
I wanted to trust these two, but was that my loins speaking and not my brain? They’d already tricked me; tricked me out of desperation because they knew I could help them find their husband / father, or tricked me because they wanted to infiltrate the movement.
‘Tell me the story again,’ I said and lit another cigarette.  Beryl spoke; she told me a little more about the night the police came to take her husband away. Her eyes ebbed and flowed with tears. The story had an organic feel of a true story. She didn’t recite it parrot style like a memorised speech but told it with details it would be hard to make up.
‘Why didn’t you believe your mother?’ I said to Bethan.
‘I did to begin with,’ She said, ‘but there wasn’t the heartbreak of a spurned soul but more the mourning of a faithful wife.  She should have been bitter, angry, hateful but she still spoke about my dad in such soft tones. I knew he’d not run off with another.’
I nodded.
‘When was the last time you saw a street cleaner?’ I asked.
They looked at each other and then at me, confused by the question.
‘What’s a street cleaner?’ Bethan asked.
‘When I was young,’ I said, there were people who swept the streets, picked up litter, but they don’t exist anymore. But the streets nowadays are cleaner than they were when I was your age.’ I nodded at Bethan.
‘That’s true,’ Beryl added.
‘So who cleans the bloody streets?’ I said in my best Michael Caine voice, a reference that was lost on both my guests.
The women shrugged.
‘How well do you sleep?’ I said. Again they looked a bit freaked out from my flip-flopping around.
‘So?’
‘Pretty good’ Beryl said.
‘Like a log,’ said Bethan.
‘So you have no idea what happens after curfew?’ I asked. The women shook their heads.
‘Go home, sleep, set your alarms for 3 am, then without switching on your lights, sit and watch the world outside your windows.’
I got up and took their mugs into the kitchen signally I wanted them to leave. They looked uneasy but took the hint.
‘I’ll see you in work on Monday. Okay?’
They nodded.
Bethan gave me a little smile as she went.
‘Thank you,’ she said.

I hadn’t done anything to be thankful of yet, so I just nodded passively and eased the door closed.

Part 6
For Audio click here 
Alone in my flat I realised how tired I was. I wanted to lie down but first I needed to meet Bob. The rain had just started to fall when I headed back out on to the streets. Again I was in no hurry to get to my final destination. I meandered and dillied and dallied, checking behind me now and again to make sure there were no obvious tails. Bob was in the café waiting for me, a sour look on his face. One thing Bob didn’t like was someone being late. He also didn’t really like me smoking but that never stopped me from doing both. He had the newspaper open on the table, a contestant had been knocked out of Big Brother causing a fuss on social media.
‘You reading that?’ I said, knowing full well that he wasn’t. He might have been looking at it, but his mind was elsewhere.
We sat in silence, watching the rainfall.
‘Was that the tea lady I saw you with?’ Bob said to me.
‘She wants in.’ I replied.
Bob stared straight ahead not flinching a muscle.
‘Did you see the game last night?’ He said.
‘Nah, missed it. Good game?’
‘Not bad, great goal from Williams.’
‘Good stuff. Did Petrescu score.’ I said, we sat in silence for a while, while he glanced down his newspaper, I knew hidden in there he had a list of all the prisoners we knew about.
‘Missing husband?’ He said, I nodded.
‘Yes 38th minute.’ he said.
This was how we talked, banal chit-chat dotted with the important stuff, dotted with our semi code that just seemed to come organically. Sometimes I wasn’t quite sure if I’d got the gist, so I am sure anyone listening in would be none the wiser, but this time I got the message.  I nodded. The 38th camp was one of mine. It was up to me to get a message in.
‘Where are you going for holidays this year?’ He asked.
‘Maybe Dorset, maybe Barry, depends on Igor.’
‘Don’t count on Igor,’ Bob said. In our last conversation he’d told me that Igor was under suspicion, this just told me that he gone rogue. I looked at my watch.
‘I’ve got to go.’ I said.
‘Do what you have to do. I’ll let them know.’
‘Okay will do, See you Monday.’ I said. Bob ignored me, but I didn’t take offence, he was like that.
I walked home and as I did I folded the piece of paper that I’d been dawdling on in the café in half and in half again, I then unfolded it and refolded it and dropped it in a litter bin. Only I didn’t, subtle slight of hand meant I dropped a different piece in the bin. The piece that had the words Petrescu, 38th, Wife, Whereabouts was still in my pocket.
Just outside my flat I bent down to tie my shoelace, here I managed to fit the folded paper between paving slabs before standing up again and getting inside the flat. Finally I could sleep.

For the first time in ages I had slept well, but now as my clock shone three, I was up and wide awake. As I looked out into the dark streets I wondered if Beryl and Bethan were watching from their windows too. If they were, then they would begin to see an army of figures emerge from the shadows and start to quietly clean the streets. I observed these ninja types going about their business, skilfully cleaning up the things that the everyday folk leave behind. Yes they were like Wombles, never seen, never heard but always there tidying up behind the humans. Except these were humans too, slaves made to do our dirty work under the cover of darkness. Anyone of them could have been Georgi Petrescu, or maybe all of them were.
I watched as a ninja bent down at the exact spot that I had stooped to tie a lace earlier in the day, then he/ she  straighten and then looked up at my window and nod. The message had been received. The same figure then leant into the shrubs that lined my block. I knew he or she was depositing the package with news from the camp. Tomorrow a girl would pick it up, hand it to Stan and then eventually it would make its way back to Bob. Next week the package would contain information about Beryl’s husband, but would it be good news? Experience told us that men like Georgi were dead, the strong were sent to the factories, factories where health and safety regulations had been repealed years before. Health and safety was expensive and who needed to protect the lives of slaves? If he wasn’t dead, he probably had a new family; prisoners were regularly told that their spouses were dead, then they were encouraged to breed in the camps, to make new slaves to service the needs of Britain. Bethan could easily have half a dozen half brothers or sister just becoming old enough to sweep our streets, work in factories or fields doing the work that the Brits didn’t want to do. Britain for the British was built on foreign slave labour. 
I got back into bed and closed my eyes, but I knew I wouldn’t sleep. My in-growing toenail throbbed with pain. I should really get to a doctor and get it seen to but I hated going to see my GP. Britain had the best free 24/7 health service in the world, well 20/7 because of the curfew. Even your smile was fixed for free. The doctors, dentists, and nurses were the only foreigners you ever came across these days but you never saw them outside, on the trains or the buses or in the shops or bars, why? Because they were held in the same camps as the street cleaners and factory workers; our medical staff were slaves too. It made me sick. It was at times like these that Hanka appeared before my eyes.  Lovely, sweet Hanka. Thankfully, I’d got her out of this country before the enslavement, but before I could join her on the other side, our passports were restricted. I was not given permission to travel. I’ve still got her photo in my wallet and somewhere in a draw in the living room is the photo she sent me of the family we never had together. I’m sure Michal is a good guy but it should have been me.

The clock outside struck 4, the curfew was over, the secret night-time army had retreated into the shadows, now there would be an hour of birdsong before it was drowned out by the traffic. Oh no sorry it was Sunday so the birdsong would survive until at least 6 am. Sunday was a day of rest, church, Sunday roast and Songs of Praise. Church was almost compulsory; skipping it was seen as being non-British; the pews were as full as the stands at the football.  Did people believe in god or just do what they thought was right, what they were told to do? Heaven knows, maybe heaven did know. I wished Hanka a good night, closed my eyes willed sleep to come.


Part 7
For audio click here 
It was the church bells that woke me up, the monotonous chimes that told people it was time to worship. If religion was so good, then why did it act like a spoilt child, reminding everyone of its presence? Surely people knew when to prey and didn’t need reminding. I got out of bed and lit a cigarette and wandered over to the window. I watched the congregation flock to towards the church as if being drawn in by magnets. I hadn’t been for two or three weeks, my absence would be noted but I couldn’t face it, not this week.  I couldn’t sit there and listen to the drivel and then sing God Save the King at the end. The girl in the green coat walked down the street, she reached into the shrubs and picked up the package in one easy movement.
‘The eagle has landed,’ I murmured to myself and went into the kitchen to make tea.
The ringing doorbell had me jumping out of my skin. I reckon that bell had been used twice in 10 years and both times within the last 48 hours. This time it didn’t even cross my mind that it might be the police. This time I knew it would be Beryl or Bethan or both. I threw the tea bag in the bin and went to look through the spy hole.
‘Hi,’ I said.
‘Hi,’ she smiled and then lunged at me, kissing me for all she was worth. It had been years since I had felt the touch of a female but my instincts remained intact. It was like riding a bike. I eased the door closed and then got to work exploring her body. Age does funny things to a man, yes I was aroused by this woman kissing me, yes it was probably exactly what my uptight body needed, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t help worry that my tea was going cold. I smiled as she kissed me, smiled at the ridiculousness of it all.
We made love with the wild abandonment of people who knew it might be the first and last time, who feared the police could break down the door at any minute for the ultimate coitus interruptus. When it was over we remained locked together for an age. We were strangers in an intimate embrace, desperate for contact but lost in ourselves.
Eventually I pushed her away and got out of bed to put the kettle on. Bethan followed me into the kitchen lighting her cigarette as she did so.
‘I saw them,’ she said. ‘Who are they?’ There was fear in her eyes. God she looked so young, so vulnerable, I felt ashamed of myself. I finished making the tea and then told her about the camps, the slaves, the doctors and the dentists. Tears ran down her face at the realisation her father was one of them. She curled into me and we sat in silence, reflecting on the day’s events. We were ripped from our reverie by the doorbell. Unbelievable!
I looked through the peephole and was relieved to see a religious policeman standing there.  I had hoped it wasn’t Beryl, that might have been awkward having her naked daughter in my flat.
I opened the door.
‘Mr Charles?’
‘Yes.’
‘Why aren’t you in church? Three weeks in a row you’ve missed.’
‘Why aren’t you?’ I said churlishly.
‘Mr Charles!’ He spoke like he was a disappointed teacher.
Interestingly under this regime sex was an excuse for not going to church. Well straight sex was, homosexuality was not a crime but it certainly wasn’t something you did in public, it certainly wasn’t a reason not to go to church. Anyway in the eyes of the Alliance creating future Brits excused you from your religious duty.
‘I have a young lady here.’ I said.
The copper looked me up and down; I could tell he didn’t believe me.
‘Bethan,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ her voice rang out and she popped her head around the doorframe.
The religious policeman almost fainted. I was known to the police, of course I was, this wasn’t the first time they’d talked to me for non-attendance, but it was the first time I had been able to give such a beautiful excuse.
‘Well I hope to see you both there next week.’
‘I’m sure you will.’ I lied and closed the door smiling to myself.
‘You do yourself no favours, you should be more careful,’ Bethan said as I came back into the room.
‘What do you mean?’ I said admiring her naked body, the guilt of a few minutes before had vanished.
‘Well the way you mope around in work, acting like you are a cut above. Christ if I worked out you had links to the opposition, then anyone can. Then the way you talked to that copper, you’re antagonising them.’
‘They know who I am,’ I said a little defensively, ‘it’s only a matter of time before the net closes, I’m a dead man walking, no point trying to hide that.’

Bethan took my face in her hands and kissed me, a gentle kiss that contrasted with the passion of earlier. ‘Be careful,’ she whispered and led me back into the bedroom.

Part 8 
For audio click here
The post orgasmic euphoria had been replaced by a come down of epic proportions that I didn’t really know how to handle.  My life was all about equilibrium; I’d cocooned my emotions, I’d accepted life for what it was and found a path that protected me from elation and disillusionment. I joined the opposition not out of a sense of excitement but out of a sense of duty; the fact that we’d had to become more covert over the years was a fact of life not a source of enjoyment. I’d taken lovers over the years but I’d normally been disappointed, I guessed that I just had a low libido and had shut up shop. But a couple of hours with Bethan had changed all that, I discovered a passion, a lust within me that I didn’t know existed and now was paying the price. I moped around the flat thinking about Bethan’s body, her kisses and her words. She was right. I had kind of given up trying to cover my tracks.
My dad, before he’d died, had called me Citizen Smith, a reference to a TV show of his youth where the lead character was a Trotsky Marxist who saw himself as a revolutionary in the mould of Che leading a revolutionary army. Meanwhile everyone else saw him and his friends as sad waster layabouts. Is that what we’d become? Were we all talk and no action? I knew nothing about us really.  We were a cloak and dagger organisation, I knew Bob, Igor, the Girl, and a few others but everything else was hush-hush. We’d got information on a need to know basis, the secrecy was meant to protect us all from each other, but it left me with more questions than answers and one big question. What if we were being controlled by the state too? State sponsored opposition! What if we were just pawns in their game. What better way to control the opposition, than control the opposition? And even if we weren’t, well what did we do? What did we achieve? And why did we want to achieve it? Looking around people seemed happy, they had good lives, most people had jobs, incomes, clean streets and teeth. Would our future fairer society be a utopia or was this as good as it got?
So as I became more disillusioned I suppose the sloppier I became. Maybe I wanted to get caught, to get out. Getting caught was the only way out wasn’t it? I couldn’t flick a switch and start enjoying the twin games of Thrones and Football.
Ach this was the come down talking or was it? Were many a true word said in a moment of clarity after a moment of ecstasy? No, I believed in what I stood for; our society was built on slavery, on deceit, on creating mistrust, and that needed to be changed. And if we didn’t do it, then who would?
I needed to get out of the flat, get some air. I’d wander to the café to see if Bob was around and if not I’d have a beer and a cigar anyway.
I took my usual circuitous route. It was a chilly Sunday afternoon. I could hear families enjoying their post Sunday lunch sing-songs. There was no television on a Sunday until the football kicked off, but for the hour before the game Karaoke versions of British classics were streamed direct to Channel 5.
‘There’ll be blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover.’
‘Consider yourself at home.’
‘I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.’
Suddenly I was aware of a man walking next to me, keeping pace with me, then a woman on the other side, a man crossed over and walked at exactly my pace three yards in front of me. I was surrounded. This was not good.
The woman veered in.
‘Get in the car,’ she said. I looked to my right and there was a car waiting at the kerb. I did as I was told opening the back door and slipping in. The woman went round to the other door and got in next to me. As soon as her door was closed, the driver put the car into gear and drove off. We sat in silence. It had taken maybe 30 or 40 seconds from becoming aware of the group to being whisked away. Any onlooker would not have seen anything amiss, just a man and woman getting into a friend’s car. I suppose I knew this day would come sooner or later, but you never expect it.  I wondered who had betrayed me, Bob had said Igor had gone rogue, so maybe it was him, or maybe Bob himself was the traitor. Would Bethan fuck me and then give me away? Or had her mother made the whole missing husband story up? Maybe Bethan knew her mother was betraying me and it was a pity fuck. Maybe the religious policeman had been upset by my insubordination. The possibilities were endless but what was most likely was as Bethan had said, I had given myself away by my sloppy behaviour. Whatever it really didn’t matter now, I was in a car with god knows who, being taken god knows where and feeling kind of relieved.
‘Shouldn’t I be cuffed or something?’ I said, but there was no answer.
As we drove, it dawned on me where we were going, the streets became more crowded with people decked out in blue and white scarves and shirts. Men and boys women and girls all heading to the game. 80,000 people would pack into the stadium, countless millions would watch at home, and I was going to be the pre-match entertainment.
The traitor’s parade they called it, reserved for only the big matches. Criminals, paedos, and anti-Brits were marched onto the field while their rap sheet was read to the crowd. Imagine the stocks of old combined with being fed to the lions. As we drew up into the bowels of the stadium the woman spoke to me for the first time since we were out on the street near my flat.
‘Don’t do anything stupid,’ she said. ‘By the time you hit the centre circle they’ll be an angry seething mob, make a run for it and they will beat you to death and then beat you again. When I say go, walk onto the pitch and into the centre circle.’
I nodded, I noticed she didn’t give me instructions for how to leave the pitch, we both knew why.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen we have a traitor!’ There was a roar as if the home team had scored, louder because the away supporters joined in. Nothing could unite a crowd like an Anti-Brit. The car door swung open.
‘Go!’ The woman said. I went. I walked down the tunnel and out on to the pitch. The announcer was listing my sins, each crime met with a deafening boo that had turned into a cacophony as I walked out onto the pitch. I wasn’t ashamed, I walked tall, defiant. Despite the masses, I could see individual faces, the children were the scariest, the angriest, like it was me that caused their nightmares.
I knew what would happen, there would be a shot, I would fall, paramedics would come to make sure not too much of my blood would soil the pristine pitch, and then within minutes the game would kick off. I looked around for the sniper high in the stands, for the coward that would pull the trigger but I couldn’t see him.
I wasn’t scared. I was sad. Sad that I wouldn’t know if Beryl would find peace, sad that I wouldn’t know if the seed I had planted would grow in Bethan. Sad that life had come to this. I remembered a song by the Men they Couldn’t Hang that my father had played me years before. The lyrics echoed around my head.
I am a member of the council of the naval mutiny
And no traitor to my conscience having done my sworn duty
These are my last words before the scaffold and I charge you all to hear
How a wretched British sailor became a citizen mutineer
All you soldiers, all you sailors, all you labourers of the land
All you beggars, all you builders, all you come here to watch me hang
To the masters, we are the rabble, we are the 'swinish multitude'
But we can re-arrange the colours of the red and the white and the blue

I felt proud as the boos rang out, they might have been calling be a traitorous swine or words to that effect but I knew I was no traitor to my conscience. I’d done my sworn duty. I knew I could be pro….

20 comments:

  1. hey, maybe I am too tired to see but i think you have forgotten to insert part 4 here:
    http://garethsshortstoryblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/looking-for-bethan.html

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    1. you're quite right, fixed now.

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  2. oh, and forgot to say I love this story

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    1. Thank you, I wish I knew where it was going next :-) hit a bit of a dystopian wall with it at the moment :-)

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    2. Maybe George Orwell didn't know where he was going either whem he was in the middle of his novel... Anyway, have an inspiring Sunday then.

      P.s. Why do they still print newspapers in 2035 (that must be at least 2035 according to my calculations) ? What has happened to the world wide web ?

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    3. The idea is that because of the controls on the media, and creativity time has stood still in terms of technological progress in this society.

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    4. Of course. Stupid me. Hope the dystopian wall will disappear

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  3. Is the same happening in other countries? This Hanka I suppose is from The Czech Republic... Have the natonalists taken over the power in other Eurpean countries too?

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    1. The narrator of this story has no way of knowing what has happened outside of the UK as there is no news doming in from outside but as Britain has always been a bit of a black sheep of the european family maybe this is only a British disease. Oh and hanka comes from wherever hanka comes from.

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    2. True... That goes so naturally that I haven't noticed the presence of any omniscient narrator. And it was mentioning this central european name that made me wonder about other countries.

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    3. the lead character narrates the story, it is all through his eyes, his thoughts his world. If you want an insight into the way the author writes then I will tell you where I got the name hanka from when the story is complete :-)

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    4. Or rather lack of presence :-) too much booze

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    5. Hehe… seems your story works better than a dream app and it got stuck in my conscience and subconscience giving me a weir dream. So again I was rushing through the streets of my town at night and there were policemen everywhere not letting people enter the old town area… I somehow got there and I found myself in a kind of steel mill.. I worked with others – we melted down some old iron objects, so I had to drag them (very heavy), switch on a big furnace, wait for it to meld down and then drag the new object again (had to wrap them in something that looked liked a big towen or carpet rather):-) ok but that’s probably not very interesting for you :-)

      Anyway I am writing to tell you that the question I am asking myself over and over again is why your protagonist, working for some kind of secret organization or resistance movement, doesn’t have access to confidential info about what is going on in the world (it usually happens in totalitarian regimes that in spite of the propaganda some people have access to leakages from the world)… It again boils down to this question of where the hell is the Internet…I understand the government has stopped all progress and cut the access to the web but did they also manage to destroy the whole infrastructure? Can’t some people have secret access to it… hell, these are the problems I am thinking over on this Sunday morning… Bloody hell, I’d better go and cook some soup for lunch.

      And as for Hanka, yes please tell me. I have my own theory though. You have taken it from this Czech cartoon! :-) (it was very popular in my country when I was little). Rumcajs and his wife Hanka :-)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JKn1RZbCnQ&list=PLlFNVmchqhPj252VGubqAJR32BwLwCwvc&index=4

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    6. I hope you are not angry with me asking these questions but I think this is what a good story does to a reader: it doesn't answer all questions but makes us ask ourselves new questions and makes us think about the story long after you have finished reading. and this story does it. After this part I wondered why the hell it was Bethan he chose, I somehow assumed (or hoped) he will choose Beryl. He seems a sophisticated man, but the call of nature is probably stronger. Men choose younger women without realising that it is nature that secretly makes them look for a place to plant their seed.

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    7. I think it is Bethan that chooses him rather than the other way around, maybe we find out why in part 8. But also Maybe because Beryl is married and still in love with her missing husband, she wouldn't cheat on the missing man she is trying to find.

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    8. oh yes... true... i ust assumed she might not be telling the truth and that she either wants to get closer to Charl or just get into the organization together with her daughter... and that finding a husband was just a pretext... anyway, good she is a good woman, nor some kind of unfaithful bitch betraying her husband.
      the more questions, the better the story:-)

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  4. and this has reminded me the followinfg news item I saw at the end of the last year.... No wonder they have deicded to take the bloody immigrants under control! :-)
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/12/07/nigel-farage-blames-m4-traffic-jam-on-immigrants_n_6284328.html

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  5. I love this story: i like the idea, the storyline, the fact it touches the important issues and the main character. So before I go, tell me how you got this name as you promised

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    1. Oh not his name the name, Hanka, and it was how I get all my names, which is, I needed a not British name so I chose one where there is no link to me. :-)

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  6. Ah, yes. Thanks. And thanks again for this thought provoking story. Au revoir.

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