stubbed out cigarettes and ash in a silver-coloured dish

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Debt

This is the story of a book we are still writing.

 

 

Edinburgh, July 2014. The sluggishness of early afternoon. The sky clouding over, a slight chill in the air. The same uninterrupted sadness, a kind of listlessness that went with everything we did. We’d made it to the Meadows. It had taken us a while to get out of the flat, him offering to buy us a coffee from the Swedish café and one of those cardamom buns we liked so much if she would come to the library. We noticed how people passing noticed us. She noticed how much thinner he was than in London, joggers slipping down on his hips, constantly tugging at the waistband. We slowed our pace. We were still talking about the morning as if something out of the ordinary had happened, when really we’d spent it the way we spent every morning, him coming to her room with coffee, her accusing him of switching the heating off, him denying this. He’d told her, We really must get up earlier. It won’t help to stay in bed. This because we sometimes spent entire days in bed. In the kitchen she lit a tube, picked the raisins out of his cereal, milk still unpoured, put them with the other raisins extracted from other breakfasts. Currency she said, They’ll see us through The Emergency. He ate. We stared at his opened screen. We argued about whether to cycle to the library. But the sky seemed unsettled and unusually close from up here, on the sixth floor. We decided to walk. The billboard above ScotMid still read ‘Straight Talking Money. Wonga’.

 

In the Meadows, some kind of fair. Tabletop stalls and food tents. Let’s mill she said. He began to look for something – a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 – he was always looking for a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911. By the time we met again the rain was falling. She took him to a stall and said, I’m buying this dress. Is that a dress? Yes she said. She paid then disappeared with the dress, made of material with some kind of special effect, like oil on water. When she came back she had it on over her jeans and raincoat. Just imagine there are whole loads of famous people who were never photographed she said. He thought about this. She thought: He looks like a young Nosferatu. Max Schreck. He would not know which screen star to liken me to because he’s ignorant about these things.

 

A fine rain. Dim light through the cherry trees. We walked away from the fair not speaking and when we reached the part of the Meadows that opens onto the tennis courts, just before the university library, we turned up onto Middle Meadow Walk. Ignoring the unbroken row of posters – comedy acts appearing next month at the Festival – not ready to stop – not ready for a coffee or a bun or the library – we took flight at the traffic lights and cut through Bristo Square, after that letting ourselves be carried by chance. And the sadness opened out.

 

 

The city is built on several hills. There are valleys and there are bridges and there are stairwells that connect the two. In those days we would stop on one or another of the bridges and lean over to observe the streets. Sometimes we watched the gardens but never the rail tracks. It was frightening and thrilling to come upon these sudden and dramatic views, which made us think of the postcards sold everywhere on the Royal Mile and all over the city for that matter. ‘The Old Town and the Grassmarket’, ‘Cowgate at Night’, ‘Princess Street Gardens’, ‘Princess Street Looking West’. We would stand there looking down but she didn’t say what she would have said before: We’re too fuckin scared to jump.

 

Because, when we walked, we failed to take in our surroundings, and because when we stopped walking we usually stopped on one of the bridges and looked down, we always had the sense of living above the city, of looking down – dizzy – on its many faces. We watched people flowing past as though caught in a flood. Knowing the city this way, from above, having arrived only recently, we didn’t feel part of it, though it had once been part of him, the city of his student years. We were nervous and irritable. This seemed to increase our togetherness. It gave us – only us together, not individually, never alone – a place in the world that we had not had before. We wandered the streets, unwelcome, leaning miserably into the wind or drinking ourselves stupid in a pub. All of this under the ugly haar-obscured sky that we didn’t realize we’d invented ourselves.

 

 

The first time she saw him was in a photograph on a website for a magazine. She thought he looked odd and his story sounded odd. She couldn’t find the story anywhere but found his email address. He could not send her his story because he had bought all the remaining copies he could find of that particular issue of the magazine and had shredded them at the vulgar, pseudo-political, faux-Dada readings he had given for a while at various art schools and gonzo bookshops – though he didn’t tell her any of this. The first time we met she said, I hope you’ve brought money and he said, I have. She showed him a photo of V. S. Naipaul and said, This is my dad, we don’t speak. He pointed out a figure in the audience and said, That’s my brother, he rarely speaks. Or else he never stops. Later when we went for a meal, Daniel came too and he and Daniel ate like rats let loose in a grain-store, even finishing the leftovers on a nearby plate, and it was sad but in the end it didn’t matter all that much. The second time we met it was at a party in a library. The party was honouring a famous English writer – one of those realists who writes like a politician – whom she approached saying, Do you want my autograph? The second party we went to together was a few months after that. We happened to be in Edinburgh at the same time. We found ourselves in a basement bar. We talked beautifully about Can Xue, Dambudzo Marechera, Elfriede Jelinek, all the while drinking ourselves stupid. At one point he came back from the bar with two shots of vodka spiced with hot chillies, we chimed the glasses and she said, To the Mauritian Greats, Devi, Pyamootoo, Appanah, Patel. I am indebted! We drank the vodka down and he said, Hang on! He ran downstairs to the toilet and boaked into the bowl. Meanwhile she’d gone and got talking to a dangerous-looking character who could not look or step or speak without a sparking flow of words conveying his stupid thoughts spilling into the smoky room. By the time he returned from the toilet she and the character were on their way out. She said, Come on come on, we’re going to a party. We left the bar and hailed a taxi. We drove through town. We looked out the windows at the passers-by, many were dressed as police, or perhaps they were police dressed in uniform, and many others were dressed in kilts, and we burst out laughing because we remembered it was New Year. The party was at Restalrig then it wasn’t so we drove on further out of town.

 

Our character was subterranean, his style of conversation mineral, the way the headlights of the passing cars slanted across her face seemed to dazzle him. London she said when the character asked. He handed round the tubes. She said, Can we? and the character said, This is Scotland and opened his mouth wide to catch the tube and lit it while his sparking words continued to flow. Can I have some of your water she said. Without stemming the sparking he reached into his jacket pocket. With his left hand he passed her the water, with his right an Apple Mac, she drank it down, eyes expanding like cameras chasing mirages in a desert. Would you mind not talking so much he said to the character. Jesus, OK. But the sparking…

 

We heard the party before we saw it. Felt the speakers in our chests. It was in a field somewhere up the coast, on a small promontory. Red 2 playing as we got out the cab. The character threw his head back and yelled, grabbed her hand, pulled her to the stage. He found them pressed up against the wall of speakers. The character reached out to encircle her with his arms (she didn’t move away) while the sparking flowed into her ear. She stood still, shivering slightly. Then the sparking was in his ear and he moved away, back through the crowd, he saw one of Daniel’s friends who told him Daniel was here, he went to look for him then needed to boak, and then there was Daniel, dancing & she started to dance thinking: Where is he I want to talk to him. She took another Apple Mac and the sparking.

 

When we came together again it was among a group sitting on the edge of the promontory. From there we could see the black and white sea, the moon, the character gone. Two women were building up the fire. A guy was pissing off the promontory. There were seagulls we heard above the noise of the music and the sound of the waves. Where is she I want to talk to her? Then we were next to each other and Daniel was there and Daniel was trying to tell us something. What? Do you know. What? we said. Do you know the German word for. What? we said. The German for. What? The German for promontory is half-island.

 

 

Standing on North Bridge, the station roof like a hothouse roof. The rain gone, the afternoon swelling with warmth. She took off her raincoat. The sadness – amplified by something with an edge that felt like hunger. Some kids were throwing bottles onto the mess of broken panes. Now is a dumb lie. Her screen flashed, ‘Unknown number’. She didn’t answer. Since coming to Scotland she almost always kept her screen powered down. She was afraid that RBS, with their clever moves to try to recover the substantial sum she owed them, would find out she was in Edinburgh, right under their noses. She was also afraid but defiant of the nefarious tactics of DCA Mappots, the debt collection agency EDF had sold her less onerous but not insignificant debt on to after two years of failing to recover it themselves. He said, Why don’t you just answer? She said, Why don’t you stop giving advice? He had given his screen away a few months previously, straight off the train from London, numb and crazed, to a teenager who’d asked us for change. Now he didn’t have a screen of his own. He wasn’t on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. for the same reason: The Emergency. She respected his viewpoint and listened with grave concern to his theories concerning asset bubbles, derivatives, guns and whisky and hollowed-out Bibles, total surveillance, TEOTWAWKI, the precariat, Charles Ponzi, the distribution of pornographic images and images of abuse, the totally administered society, the Pharmacopornographic era, structural adjustment, bitcoin, gold, hunger, debt – personal, civic, regional, national, federal, continental, intercontinental, transnational, global, universal, dark pools of – but she could not rouse herself to respond in any particular focussed way. Even so, she did not want them watching him. He did not want them watching her. He did not want them watching us. We did not want them watching us. She did not mind them watching her because she didn’t believe in them, not really, not when it came down to it.

 

The kids smashed another pane on the station roof, all of the panes dazzling in the sun, now the broken bottle too. She took off the dress from the fair and threw it onto the roof and we watched it being dragged here and there by the wind, which wasn’t so much wind as a kind of constant agitation of stuff, the kind that collects around those sites of perpetual transition such as railway stations, docks, border crossings, motorway service stations, etc. She put her raincoat in our bag. She leant her elbows on the bridge, rested her chin in her hands. He took a deep breath, feeling really shit. Allowing the sadness to overwhelm him, he closed his eyes and rested his head on her shoulder. She smoked a tube. He started to doze. Her/his shoulder/neck felt warm against his/her neck/shoulder. We stayed there resting on top of the bridge while she, not taking her eyes off the station roof, tried to remember a dream she only now realized that she’d had. It had left her feeling lost. She was trying to find her way back into the memory of it, to the almost pleasurable sadness it had left her with, searching for the point where it had begun. But then her ringing screen pulled her back, and his needling about her not answering. He had been in the dream too. A dream about that day in London, the time they tried to find Daniel. The blue honey of the Mediterranean, that’s what Fitzgerald said he’d said.

 

It was the kind of thing he would say, the quoting of a writer. At least it was the kind of thing he used to say. Since we’d come to Scotland she could not remember him doing it once, this previously constant quoting thing. Unlike most white men who liked to quote writers he would quote as many Black and brown writers as he did white. Dambudzo Marechera:

 

Whatever insects of thought buzzed about inside the tin can of one’s head as one squatted astride the pit-latrine of it, the sun still climbed as swiftly as ever and darkness fell upon the land as quickly as in the years that had gone.

 

But all men. Always, always men. She had had to teach him to read women, and now he read mostly women, and no longer quoted.

 

She shook him and without knowing she was going to say it, said, I’m hungry. Do we have any cash? He lifted his head off her shoulder – feeling really shit, almost violent – saying, Yes, but we should go to the library. I need spaghetti vongole she said, they have it at Marcella’s. Not wanting to feel violent. She took out a tube and lit it to take the edge off her hunger. I don’t think they have it at Marcella’s he said. We stood in silence while she smoked, looking down at the station roof. The dress was still there. Why did I throw the dress away? The kids had gone, leaving smashed panes and the dazzling. When she’d nearly finished her tube she said, Let’s eat then go to the library. OK he said, but I’m not hungry. You can’t share mine she said. She took a fresh tube from the pack and lit it with the still live butt of the first.

 

It was at the moment of ignition that we first laid eyes on Diego.

 

 

He was standing on the opposite side of the road, visible in flashes between passing cars, bent over a heap of bags. He seemed to be looking for somewhere to sit down. Why didn’t he just sit down on his bags? Maybe he didn’t want to. We watched him thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans then pull out a small black notebook. He squatted down, unzipped the side pocket of one of his bags and took out a pen. He balanced the notebook on his knee and wrote in it. When he stood up again, he looked around, nervously. No – more than nervous he seemed afraid – his fear telegraphed by every jerky and deliberate movement and by his body which he held as if about to break off down the street, away from the heap of bags.

 

What was he writing? He said, Do you think he’s OK? He thought: Daniel. The neon numbers above Argos showed 14:10. He felt his face break out in a sweat. Then she said, He looks like he’s waiting for someone. No he doesn’t. Let’s go she said. We started walking along the bridge, in the direction of Marcella’s. The noise of the trains, the electric sound of the track, the roof shaking in the sunshine. He stopped. We could be friendly he said. What do you mean? Show him around or something. Does he look like a tourist? He has bags. Too many she said, anyway I’m hungry. It would give us something to do he said. I thought you wanted to go to the library. We carried on walking along the bridge toward the High Street. Every now and then we turned to look back at the man. A bus with an ad for Wonga – ‘Tired of waiting? Money in your account in 15 minutes. Wonga’ – stopped, blocking the man from our view. We waited for it to move. Some school kids got off, they were carrying screens playing a song, the same song at different times. The bus drove off and he said, I’m going to speak to him. He lit a tube and darted back & she thought: There’s something in the way he’s holding his tube down by his thigh there’s something about the way his back suddenly looks a bit less collapsed & as he got closer to the man he examined his face, about his own age, early 30s maybe & she watched how he – back straighter still – gesticulated, tube in air, then tossed it to the ground, stamped on it carelessly. The man seemed wary at first but then smiled taking out his own pack of tubes, patting his pockets, saying, Wait a minute, I don’t have my lighter, saying it in an accent he recognized from her family! Always a surprise to her and so to him to encounter a Mauritian accent in people not personally known to her. She thought: When he frowns he looks older and when he smiles he looks younger. But there was something else, what was it? My friend has a lighter he said, and jogged across the road to her, saying, Can I have our lighter? I’m going to give it to that man. You want to give our lighter away? Yes he said. Arsehole she said handing him the lighter. He said, I think he’s Mauritian! I recognize the accent. He turned and faced the traðc, almost bounding across the road.

 

 

She asked him what they’d talked about but he didn’t say, just that when he heard Diego’s voice he was sure he was Mauritian. Did you ask? No he said. I should have gone over and spoken to him she said, but I’m too hungry. You can do that later, we’re meeting him for a drink.

 

On our way to Marcella’s we passed Till’s. He wanted to go in. She didn’t. In this mood she could not be persuaded to do anything unless it involved food or the promise of food, so he offered to pay for lunch. Spaghetti vongole she said. Till’s sold mostly novels. Some of the novels were old and some were new and written in a slightly different style from the old which now read exactly like the new. We browsed the novels then went to the back room where the shelves were labelled History, Social Science, Philosophy, Literary Biography, Botany, Psychology, Science, Popular Science, Reference – a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica 1933 (incomplete) – and Film. We hung around by the Philosophy section where there was an armchair. She sat down. He happened to pick up Minima Moralia by Theodor W. Adorno. He happened to sit down on the arm of her chair and flick through it and stop on page 42. The section was called ‘Articles may not be exchanged’. Honest giving is impossible in these inhuman times, Adorno wrote. We read:

 

Instead we have charity, administered beneficence, the planned plastering-over of society’s visible sores. In its organized operations there is no longer room for human impulses, indeed, the gift is necessarily accompanied by humiliation through its distribution, its just allocation, in short treatment of the recipient as an object. Even private giving of presents has degenerated to a social function exercised with rational bad grace, careful adherence to the prescribed budget, sceptical appraisal of the other and the least possible effort. Real giving had its joy in imagining the joy of the receiver. It means choosing, expending time, going out of one’s way, thinking of the other as a subject: the opposite of distraction.

 

He folded the corner of the page. This made her angry. She reached across to unfold it, scolding him because it wasn’t our block. Also because the corner folding suggested he was getting interested and might stay to read on and she was hungry. Let’s go she said. He didn’t answer. It was hard to concentrate especially when she was looming over his shoulder like she was and he could hear her breathing and even see the page lifting slightly from her breath, but he thought he’d understood the gist of Adorno’s argument. Moment of lightness.

 

It was hard to concentrate when she felt as hungry as she did but she’d been moved by what she thought was the gist of the argument, despite her hunger and its present insatiability. She thought: blocks blocks blocks and not a fuckin thing to eat. Ten minutes you said she said. Don’t you think this is amazing? he said. She was too hungry to understand and this was making her angry. The point about object and subject was clear enough. What was hard to grasp was the last bit. What does Adorno mean by distraction? What about my spaghetti vongole? He said, Let’s finish this paragraph, then we’ll go, I promise. Which made her even angrier. Which made her even hungrier, that dangerous spiral known as hanger. He began to read aloud:

 

Beside the greater abundance of goods within reach even of the poor, the decline of present-giving might seem immaterial, reflection on it sentimental. However, even if amidst superfluity the gift were superfluous people who no longer gave would still be in need of giving. In them wither the irreplaceable faculties which cannot flourish in the isolated cell of pure inwardness, but only in live contact with the warmth of things. A chill descends on all they do, the kind word that remains unspoken, the consideration unexercised. This chill finally recoils on those from whom it emanates. Every undistorted relationship, perhaps indeed the conciliation that is part of organic life itself, is a gift. He who through consequential logic becomes incapable of it, makes himself a thing and freezes.

 

He thought this was one of the most brilliant things he had ever read. She thought it might be brilliant but her hanger was preventing her having any kind of nuanced understanding. Each word evaporated before she’d fully registered its meaning. Soon her hanger would prevent her not only from understanding this or any other argument in Minima Moralia but pretty much anything at all – whether philosophical argument, moral argument, negative dialectics, the workings of chance, questions from tourists, how DCA Mappots had got her number, why the green person was never green when we came to the lights – the condition of hanger being something like debt during The Emergency in that its growth factor is exponential, the greater one’s hanger the more difficult and specific its assuagement becomes, which meant at this moment – as we left the shop and headed at pace across the Meadows – it was no longer enough just to eat spaghetti vongole from Marcella’s, the spaghetti vongole from Marcella’s had to satisfy a particular set of requirements which became increasingly precise as her hanger raged unchecked, e.g. it was important that the dish be hot enough when served, without being so hot that she could not immediately eat a mouthful and begin to arrest the hanger. We passed the fair. It was busy. He said, We’re nearly there. He thought: It’s almost 3 and we’re still not at the library. She said, I want a Coke with my spaghetti vongole. She thought: can you move please can you move please can you just fuckin move THANK YOU. He said, OK (conceiving of forms of giving which might be possible when The Emergency is over). We reached the edge of the Meadows and spotted Marcella’s. He thought: Emergency, the rule and mode of existence hence never over. He tried to say something about giving and The Emergency. Don’t talk to me she said. It was no longer enough that the spaghetti vongole be hot enough without being too hot, now it had to have the correct ratio of sauce to pasta and vongole to sauce, fresh not dried parsley, and if the sauce appeared with the tell-tale bubbles of microwave after wave convection—

 

but there was no spaghetti vongole.

 

In Marcella’s she swore at him. She tried to swipe the napkin holder off the counter but he removed it in time. As we left she was almost in tears saying, Fuck this let’s just get a pie. Back across the Meadows. The sun hot. Tourists and students in our way. Progress slow, the people, peopling paths, the grass, everywhere, moving in all directions. She waited outside while he bought a chicken pie, a cup of tomato soup and a can of Coke. We took her lunch to Greyfriars Kirkyard, pushed through the tourists. Our usual bench near the entrance, near that long list of buried bodies. She sat down and ripped open the bag, tearing off pieces of pie with her teeth, muttering to him – now sat down next to her – with a mouthful of pie, Don’t talk to me. Distorted relationship. Suddenly she stood up half-sobbing and flung the pie across the yard. It hit a gravestone, disintegrated. Lumps of white sauce on the stone, chunks of white meat sliding. He said, Drink your Coke, please? He walked over to the gravestone. Bent to wipe it with his napkin and pick up the bits of pie, then turned back. You hit Greyfriars Bobby. She shrugged. Greyfriars Bobby, the dog he said. I know who he is. I’m sorry. My pie was cold. She started to cry. It’s OK he said. Dogs love pies. Right she said, dogs are greedy bastards.

 

 

They is the THEY. That’s what Marechera said she said.

 

 

A bench outside the pub we always went to, though it was not our favourite pub. The sky clear and bright and the sun hot but not too hot. The sadness as always but the listlessness abated just a bit. He’d bought a new lighter, a pack of tubes, two pints and now we were sitting and smoking. The pub was dead inside, through the window yellow with dust and reflections we could see the barperson with their mongrel who was sleeping. The picnic bench where we were sitting was dry. None of the slats was missing like on some benches outside pubs sometimes and it was stable on its legs too. She helped herself to a third tube – she normally chain-smoked while drinking – and he did not object. He was too excited to care. Nose like a beak poking in his bag, a mumbling coming from the bag which could have been Leave me alone or I feel great. He reemerged. Flexed his shoulders. Then he took two tubes and tossed one to her. She lit it and held it between her knuckles then lay her arms flat on the table and leant forward, resting her cheek on one arm and letting the tube just burn. She said, What’s wrong with you? He said, I’m thinking. About what? I don’t know he said. Yes you do. You’re thinking about Adorno. No, I’m not thinking about anything. She lifted her head and took a drag of her tube, looked at him directly. I demand you tell me what you’re thinking about. Then when he didn’t answer she said, You’re not looking yourself these days.

 

A motorbike drove by noisily. A sort of tearing sound. Once, we walked through Regent’s Park with Daniel in the early morning, passing the zoo, hearing a tiger roar – a tree being torn up. She lifted her head from her hands and said, Look at me. Do this with your mouth. As the noise of the motorbike receded we looked at one another, she opened her mouth wide as if she were afraid – he didn’t move his mouth – she smiled with her teeth showing, she closed her lips and furrowed her brow. We continued to look at one another but he didn’t move his mouth or change his expression in any way. You know what? she said, It’s those stupid glasses. Why do you mend them with Sugru? He reached inside his bag and took out Minima Moralia and began to read. Did you buy that? It was a present. He said this without looking up from the page. Who from? He didn’t say anything but carried on reading for several minutes. All clear now but not like he’d thought. The argument about giving and capital. She leaned her arms on the table and rested her cheek on one arm. After a minute he looked up from Minima Moralia. He said, It was stupid of me to give Diego your lighter. She didn’t move or say anything, just let the tube burn itself out. He looked at her hand then returned to the page. Her tube burned completely out and she sat up and threw it under the table. She said, That was Scottish giving. What? He looked up from Minima Moralia. Scottish giving. It’s when you give something away that belongs to someone else. Huh? You know, like ‘Indian giving’. Meaning someone gives you something then takes it back: you know, white settler-colonialists murdering Native Americans and calling it trade? You are being a Scottish giver – being Scottish. But I gave you that lighter in the first place he said, and I took it to give it to someone else – someone who needed it. Needed? We stopped talking and sipped our pints. He put Minima Moralia on the table and thought about The Emergency, then he looked at her, at her beady eyes, and he thought about how clever her eyes looked, especially with her green raincoat. Hey and what about the block? she said, That’s a kind of giving. You’re right. The shop gave me the block. I suppose but I was thinking more about the writing of the block. Didn’t Adorno write it for his friend’s birthday? German giving she said: a gift that places a burden of reciprocation on the receiver. After a while, smiling at her, he said, Mauritian giving: when you give something with a flourish in a show of great generosity when it’s something you owe anyway. Like the Chagos Islands she said, That’s what the British would say. Britain says Mauritius gave the Chagos Islands to them… That Mauritius owed them to Britain, in exchange for independence. The US thinks it owes Diego Garcia to the British but really the British owe the Chagos Islands to Mauritius, who owe it to the Chagossians. The pub was in a courtyard, overlooked by antique buildings. Our voices resonated. She said, Mauritian giving is when you give something great to someone who doesn’t really deserve it. Well, Scottish giving is when the gift is so much greater than the recipient deserves that it dignifies the receiver. Sounds like Adorno she said. Not exactly he said, Adorno says – I was kidding, you arsehole! Then, No, sorry, tell me, I want to hear. He thought for a moment. I don’t want to talk about it right now.

 

She finished her pint. She stretched her arms out in a curious way then rubbed the back of her neck. He lit a tube and said, So what about American giving? Oh that’s when you give something with a huge flourish and lots of pomp but the gift is shit. Or lethal. He finished his pint and went inside to order more from the barperson who was trying to attract the attention of the decrepit pub dog.

 

He left the barperson pouring the pints and took a piss then splashed water on his face & she picked up Minima Moralia and read the page he’d been reading, a section called ‘Doctor, that is kind of you’ which she thought very good & he made a murmuring noise in front of the bathroom mirror and closed his eyes tightly like he’d been staring at a bright light & she put Minima Moralia down and examined the composition of the rubbish below the table, empty packets of Walkers, Snickers, an empty bottle – green glass with the label peeled off, some tube stubs, all the same brand, the wrapping of a Subway sandwich, a till receipt from Starbucks & he thought of the comics whose faces lined the Meadows and how unfunny or even tragic they looked collectively & she thought about Diego and wondered if all of those bags had meant he had arrived from somewhere or if he had nowhere to go & he dried his face continuing to look into the mirror his eyelids now stinging, wide open and the water still cold on his skin and he decided he knew nothing & she thought about whether it was bad or good his habit of stealing bad blocks from chains to leave in shops that sold good blocks so he could steal good blocks of equivalent financial value from them, the five finger discount she thought, and then she thought about how ‘discount’ can mean ‘not to consider’ & he moved his eyes slowly from the bathroom mirror to the bathroom window because he’d seen a group of tourists, he could see them now looking up towards the top of a building, and he could see that they were laughing, and their guide was laughing, and fuck it the sky was laughing too, and so were the open windows of the building and he tried to think how he could tell her this & she thought that she should have brought a block or bought one from the shop but she couldn’t bring herself to read another one after the one she’d just abandoned, Women as Lovers by Elfriede Jelinek, whose Nobel Prize lecture-performance remained her favourite of Jelinek’s works & he thought it wasn’t OK but then he remembered Minima Moralia and how everything had become clear to him earlier, suddenly, but not the way he expected; his hatred of capitalism, it being the very thing preventing him from doing anything whatsoever – not having to just hate but love it too, the two at the same time, & she thought about an idea for a story or maybe not maybe an essay but more fictional and why not a kind of fictive criticism? or maybe it was just a good title, ‘Factory girls’, an essay comparing Bolaño’s dead girls from the maquiladoras and Jelinek’s poor bitches in the bra factory, and she thought about the job she had had in the turkey processing plant one summer when she could never rid herself of the smell of fat and became vegetarian for five weeks though treacherously she could not remember the first bite of meat that had hooked her back & he thought how it was a double bind but anyway that was better than this fuckin… this massive amount of hatred blinding him so that its effects had been a done deal & she wondered if she would give him the German gift of a block she had written just for him – he always mocked her for dedicating her first and only published novel to her parents, while she mocked him for dedicating his first and only novel to her – and she thought about the block she once bought him for Christmas, a ‘celebration of writerly friendship’ which he had taken back to the shop and exchanged for Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, while his present to her had been a jumper with holes under each arm & deciding he’d better get back he turned from the mirror and walked out of the bathroom with a tenner in his hand to pay for the pints, but when he got to the bar he saw the barperson had fallen asleep on a stool with their head on the bar & and she thought what she would give him was music because unlike Daniel he didn’t know jackshit about music in the most dumb and basic way and she remembered playing him ‘Hallogallo’ by Neu! and him nodding his head more birdlike than ever, as though he was pecking at the ground, saying it was good music to write to and writing to it as he said it, and she lit another tube and gagged which was a sign she had drunk too much too fast and smoked too many tubes and she thought maybe The VU, he only knows the obvious ones, the sweet tinselly ones, but she detected in him of late a taste for Gelassenheit and wondered if this was her influence which made her laugh out loud a honking sort of laugh to think how outrageous he’d find her & he turned from the barperson to the dog who was whining but louder now he was moving towards it & what is that noise she thought and wondered where he was & as he got close to the dog it began to tear at the webbing on the underside of the barperson’s stool, but despite this the barperson didn’t wake up, so he knelt down beside the dog and made a sucking sound with his teeth and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together until he got its full attention & it was true that he’d love ‘The Murder Mystery’, specifically the simultaneous recitations of competing lyrics and contrasting choruses, he’d find it very contemporary she thought & then it occurred to him that the mongrel had the wiry long hair of a lurcher but the flabby flanks of an ageing lab & she thought of the very first time that she knowingly heard The VU which was also the very first time she had tasted espresso which was in the bedsit of a busker ten years older than her who she’d followed home, a beautiful long-haired woman with a broken smile who had looked at her sad then proud when describing how, inspired by The VU, she had once been a heroin addict and how some months later when she had forgotten all about her, this woman had rung her up from a phone box asking for help and how she had made an excuse for why she could not see her thinking, What does she want from me, I’m only 16 and how that first song, the one that had prompted her to ask, What is this? was called ‘The Gift’ & he thought if Daniel had been a dog he would have been a lurcher, he had a peculiar love of dogs, not strange when you consider his vegetarianism, but perhaps strange when you consider what bitterness he had at times for all things living except perhaps for her. He stroked the dog’s head until he’d calmed it and gently led it away from the bar and towards its bed, then he went to the bar, picked up the two pints and returned outside to the bench.

 

We looked at one another as if all the strangeness of the day was not a new experience. After all we often got side-tracked from the library and not infrequently ended up at the pub. But the day did feel strange and, in being strange, felt surprising, an instance of insanity or hunger, insanity-hunger, what Marechera called the House of Hunger where every morsel of sanity was snatched from you the way some kinds of bird snatch food from the very mouths of babes. We picked our pints up and each lit a tube and after a short pause he looked at her and said, Tell me about English giving. It’s when you give something to someone that really you want for yourself… you English-give all the time. What do you mean? Well for example every block you’ve ever given me you’ve wanted to read yourself. OK he said after a while, that’s true. No! What about that, oh who was it by? It was the bad kind of autofiction you love to read. Remember? When we were in Brussels? I remember she said, but you didn’t give that to me. You bought it for me because I didn’t have any money. You never have any money he said, how come you never have any money? How come you always have money? We heard a scratching sound and looked up. The mongrel was trying to get out of the pub. Let the poor thing out she said. He got up, opened the door then returned to the bench. She reached out and gently stroked its temple. The dog followed then began sniffng at the rubbish below the table, sticking its muzzle into the bright packets and licking the sugary, salty stuff inside. Get outta here she said and nudged the dog gently with her knee. The dog moved off and lay down outside the door of the pub. We sipped our pints. What were we saying? I can’t remember he said. There was a pause. Come on, you do know. What? I really don’t! You don’t? No! he said. You do, yes you do she said I want to know. He didn’t say anything. Tell me! He pretended to rummage in his bag before finding the packet of tubes on the table then lighting another. She looked at his hand, thinking, the way his fingers move ever so slightly the way the smoke rises without it seeming to rise. She looked directly at him but he just looked at her as if confused and smoked his tube. She thought: If pressed to say why I love him I’d reply, because it was him, because it was me. OK she said, in that case I’ll tell you. We were talking about how come you have money and I don’t. It’s because my credit rating is better than yours. That’s not hard she said and slumped on the table. Then, after a while, I thought we were having a nice time. She took the screen from her pocket, turned it on. It flashed – debtfuckersdontanswer. He said, They’ll never find you here. She turned the screen off and put it in her pocket. We put our elbows on the table and our heads in our hands our faces close together. If it makes you feel better he said, I have less money than you, I mean when you count how much I owe. Tell me, she said. Will it make you feel better? She nodded. He thought for a while. I don’t know. I know who I owe money to though. I have an overdraft from HSBC and another one from Co-op, a handful of student loans, a bank loan I took out when we couldn’t pay the rent last year, credit card debt I pass from one card to another whenever they send me an offer. What else? A bike-to-work scheme loan. But you lost your job and your bike got stolen! Yes he said, but I still owe the money. He drank down half his pint. So as well as what I already told you, let me see, I owe working tax credit because I signed the form too late, and there’s money I owe T-Mobile because I didn’t finish my contract before I chucked my screen. Arsehole she said. Then, What about Daniel? He must have left debt. Yes he said. He had a student loan, and he owed me, as well as the library at Goldsmiths. That is strange she said. What’s strange? What else but money can you have less than none of ? Wait, I owe even more he said, There’s PayPal and the library, two libraries! Some of that debt was from blocks I borrowed for you and – wait – I haven’t included the public debt I’m paying back, I mean all of us, every poor fucker. Ah yes she said, that billboard ticker thing in New York. The National Debt Clock. The numbers constantly ticking up, I can’t remember how much it was when I saw it but it was a lot, it was… I don’t know, it was fuckin… it was a massive amount of dollars, and then below the National Debt Clock there’s another set of numbers also ticking up but more slowly and it said ‘Your Family Share in Dollars’.

 

 

When we left London Daniel was dead, but at that time and for a long while after we had thought of him not as dead but dying. Not dying in the sense of a gradation, a shading from life to death, but stuck in a continuous present, an enduring, in the form of this gerund that was not-living. We thought of Daniel’s dying as we had always thought of his dancing. Daniel was not always dancing but when he was dancing he seemed in a state beyond livingliving being a state to be endured, while music for Daniel completed a circuit in his brain, animated him, moved him. Or moved through him: while Daniel was dancing, music was living through him, relieving him, in that moment, of the duty of living. And that is how Daniel’s dancing made time overwrite itself, continuously, in precisely the same way that the thought of his dying did, for us.

 

 

Bankocracy consists in circulating debt to make money solely from money and time. The primary relationship between a creditor and a borrower is not important. Everything is arranged in order to multiply the number of people involved in the chain; debt must circulate to the point that the debtors no longer know to whom they owe money. A state that wants to offer reassurance regarding its solvency need only increase its penetrability. In reality, it is of little importance if it will be able to repay what it owes. The objective is not for debt to be settled but for it to circulate in order to produce profit. Strictly speaking, ‘what one owes’ is not to return the money but to continue playing the game. The imperative is less to keep a promise than to make the structural adjustments so that promises can multiply. What is important is not the initial promise but further surplus-promises, the game of simulacrum and its bluffs.

 

 

Diego was standing by his bags outside the library, blocking the pavement. We said hello and each picked up some bags, Diego took the rest and we walked to Sandy Bell’s on Forrest Road. Inside it was hard to hear because there was a fiddler playing, but we talked anyway. We talked about the weather we talked about the city we talked about the independence vote. We talked about mountains and she and Diego talked about Mauritius. We talked about her name and Diego’s: from a nineteenth-century popular novel and an island named for a Portuguese colonial explorer, though Diego told us that Diego was not his real name but the name he now chose to go by. We talked sometimes in English and sometimes in French and then she and Diego talked in Mauritian Kreol. We leaned back on the bench and exhaled. We watched our reflections in the window and drank our pints. We bought more pints and one for the barperson, who we wished was our friend. We talked about boats we talked about cancer. We exited to smoke tubes, first she and Diego with him guarding the bags, then him. When we started to talk about tubes Diego told us about the packs he’d brought over en route from Mauritius. They’re called Horseman and they’re strong and foul-smelling. His favourite brand is Sportsman. He has a load in his suitcase. Do we want to buy some? OK we say, we love the name but we don’t know the brand. We decide to look it up on YouTube, on Diego’s screen. We watch the best goals of the season we watch the National Debt Clock live we watch piglets being kicked across a pig farm in Kentucky we watch Stromae singing ‘Formidable’ and falling about in the street in Brussels right where we’d been the year before, but nothing is like the ad for Sportsman tubes. We love the song for the ad. We sing it. We buy more pints and we drink them. We watch our reflections in the brass trim of the bar. When we run out of money we sell several packs of Horseman to the fiddler and buy more pints. Diego points to his bags and tells us what’s in each. Tubes. Shit plastic toys. Codeine. Saris. He talks for ten minutes about the fake Nike. Then he asks us what we do and when we tell him we’re writers he says, Have I got a story for you. We ask about the notebook. What were you writing? Wandering lines he says. Can we see she says and Diego says no, some poems are not for you. We exit to smoke tubes. He says he wishes Arsène Wenger was his dad. Fuck Wenger says Diego, he lacks the killer instinct. We take codeine. He can no longer feel his feet. He doesn’t know whether this is because of the codeine or his vegan shoes. Diego says to the fiddler, I’m watching you and we exit to smoke tubes. Where do you feel you are from? No one has ever put the question like that before she says then says London but not any more. And you? He is the only one who has not spoken these last minutes. He cannot stand straight. He goes to buy a Coke from the shop across the road and when he returns she and Diego are gone. Shit he says. He drinks the Coke, thinks he should eat something, then goes to buy an iron bru. He feels like having sex with a stranger. He doesn’t feel like but anyway contemplates jumping from a bridge. He explains to himself that really it is best if he goes home. He starts walking & she and Diego are holding hands in the toilet of Sandy Bell’s. Let’s get out of here she says and they stow the bags under their bench, then exit Sandy Bell’s & he is walking off too, he can’t feel his feet, the world is colourful, things go on and on & she’s thinking that’s what’s so sad about anything and how he’d said nothing’s worth anything in the end and how she’d said that’s not true there’s got to be something worth something and how he’d said do you have a point here at all? do you? do you?


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Natasha Soobramanien, British-Mauritian, and Luke Williams, Scottish, are the authors of Genie and Paul and The Echo Chamber, respectively. They used to live in Edinburgh but Natasha now lives in Brussels and Luke in Cove. ‘Debt’ is the first chapter of Diego Garcia, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. An earlier version of ‘Debt’ appeared in Issue 12 of The White Review.

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