h1

M. BUMPY COUNTRY

May 18, 2009

“Possum Parkin.”

That finished it.  Layla, bewildered and exasperated, pressed her fists to her hips and snorted.  Shaking her head in disbelief, she continued:
“Nally… isn’t that about enough?  Insensitive.  Really insensitive.

Thank goodness… here comes the coffee.  Let’s just enjoy it.”

I’d given Layla’s horrific ‘flatlining’ story some thought and had mined an interesting insight.  Before overpowering the restaurant with the effulgence of my perceptiveness, I had decided to indulge in a little teasing.  To Layla’s horror and hurt, I spent a good five minutes performing antics that mocked her life and death saga.  The possum reference, blurted out and accompanied by my strangled face, was the coup de grâce.

[Me, with the most taunting mea culpa face I could muster]:
“Sorry Layla.  A wee bit mean, I know.  But admit it… there’s a funny side.”

No confession forthcoming.  Her turning body language emphatically repelled the notion there might be some comedic value in her ordeal.  Disengaged, she curled behind her coffee steam.

I’d demoralized her.  It was evil but I reveled in the surge of superiority.  Victorious, I could now be soothing.

“Hey you, I’ve got great news.  It’s not true.  They didn’t kill you.  Not even once.”

[Layla, rocked back then winding into an irked impatience]:
“Not permanently… obviously… but…”

I shooshed down her growing agitation.

“No, Layla, no.  It was all a sham.  They just needed you to believe they did it.”

I waited for a sign that my message had sunk in.  Ah, blanching… that was it.

“No, listen, I’ve thought it through.  It’s inconceivable that they could have risked you dying during some ghastly experiment.  If you died… then whatever the impact on the baby ban… whoever gained would be accused of skullduggery… there’d be a world war.

And even if they were prepared to take that gamble… they would never trust each other to cooperate honestly.  They’d be complicit in a fraud though.

Yes, they made it up to freak you out.  And I think it worked.  They planted the message that they had control of your life and death and that they were close to overturning your miracle.  It was a negotiation technique.”

[Layla]:
“Hmmm… the Estonian, the Russian… I’m certain they weren’t lying.”

“They weren’t.  They were scammed too.  Get a whistle-blowing type… the Estonian doctor… and someone who values process over people… the Russian… and let them tell their stories.  Absolute credibility.”

[Layla, contemplating]:
“Maybe.  Maybe.  I did give some ground.”

She returned to looking at me.  As we engaged I nodded knowingly.  Come on Layla… you must be miffed.  I sang to myself ‘Cos I figured it ow-at…  I figured it ow-at… be-fore youuuuu.’

[Layla, her cogs settled]:
“Bastards!  Wow, what a bluff.  Well, if you’re right [I am, I said], let’s hope that collaborative spirit can be channeled into tenacity… to build the world structures they’ve agreed to.  You’re so smart, Nally.”

Bask.  I am pretty smart.  How about we call it a draw, Layls.  Each of us brings something to this relationship.  Feeling worthy and pleased with myself, we got up to go and began to amble contentedly through the tables.

Suddenly, like a clap, Layla swung an abrupt ‘Boo!’ at a muscle man.  The young lad with the crew cut startled and spluttered in terror… his Lebanese sausage cushioning a gory clash between fork and cheek.  Layla, having only briefly broken stride and heedless to the consequences of her action, was already out of the dining area.  The owner was waving her away… ordering her to not even think about paying.

Tailing her, I remember being alarmed and shaken at the violence of her boo.  It was predatory.  It was mean.  I felt concern for the humiliated agent who was left to pat down his embarrassment. ‘Oh, be top bitch if you need to’ I scowled as we broke back into Sydney Road.

I guessed maintaining an aura of infallibility went with the unaccountable superhero territory.  How childish.  This wasn’t good for her.  Unchecked, it would be her undoing.  This was another thing I could help her with if she’d just let me.

“What was that about?”

[Layla]:
“That’s Gilberto.  He was one of my minders.  He killed Callo.”

Sure.  And he’s still walking the streets… and they put him on Layla duty.  Likely.  This is going to be for you own good.  You can’t get away with this preposterous recasting of reality.

“Callo?  He was your biographer right?  You must have been close.  You haven’t talked about him.  If you ever want to?”

[Layla]:
“Oh thank you, Nally.  Thanks for your concern.  But, look, I’m coping well.  I’ve squared away everything on the Callo front.

Sorry about the Gilberto thing.  It was misplaced anyway.  My beef isn’t with him.  He was ordered to do it.  But it’s kind of hard to foster a hearty friendship with someone who has attempted to kill you.  I look at him, Nally, and it’s not in his eyes.  He doesn’t understand that he did the wrong thing.”

Oh no.  I wasn’t going to let her shift the goal posts.  I had to ask.

“Did you have a relationship with Callo… like ours?”

Layla said a quiet, tired “No, Nally.”

“I didn’t.”  She lingered.

Former quarrels, fit and battle suited, surrounded us… ready to pounce at the merest beckon.

[Layla, wearily]:
“Never with Callo.  I liked him… as an uncle.  There were rumours about us… that’s what you’ve heard, right?  I think he started them.  Look… oh Nally… does it bother you that much?”

I felt like saying “not at all… a ball park count of your liaisons would help though”.  Instead, I shrugged noncommittally and we boarded the tram to Coburg.

Usually, I got immense enjoyment from the vicarious attention that Layla attracted on public transport.  That nights’ travel was dull and empty for me.  It seemed that way for her too.  Her acknowledgment of greetings and signing of autographs was flatter and less colourful than normal.  Eventually, we disembarked and tapped our way home over the suburban pavements.

[Layla, weighing while walking]:
“I met him in a Horsham pub.  He was under duress and I helped him out.  He was very grateful… groveling.  Sicko… fan… tic.  [sorry face]

I was never attracted to him physically but I did get off on his flattery.  And he was always around… part of my group.”

There.  That wasn’t so hard was it?

Turned out Layla had spoken to her closest friends about her shooting and subsequent abuse.  They were irate and many decided to keep watch on her.  Callo had been the first to step forward.

“Gilberto cut his throat, Nally.”

But not before he yelled out to warn of the imminent attack.  Layla had been evacuated.  Then, as Callo gargled, Gilberto doused him in petrol and set him on fire.  Driving off, she could see the flames rolling about on the ground.”

“I don’t understand, Layls.  Why isn’t Gilberto in jail?”

[Layla, shriveling up that nose]:
“Well, apparently, after being given water, Gilberto talked.  He revealed that he was acting on behalf of a faction within the East Timorese government.”

“East Timor?”

[Layla]:

“Yeah, it’d be a hard one to pick.  It was officially denied, of course.  Anyway, one of the many stupid agreements I made… to keep the WCA process rolling along… was not to pursue the matter as long as Gilberto was given the same free pass.”

“Surely Callo deserved justice?”

[Layla]:
“That was my initial reaction, Nally.  I wanted revenge.  What Gilberto did was gruesome.

But then, on the night of his funeral, before going to wherever we go, Callo came and spoke to me.  And after that… seeing him painless and carefree… well, Callo didn’t seem too bothered with Gilberto so my zeal for retribution waned.

Now, they rub my nose in it by having Gilberto stalk me.  If I had the time over I’d work harder to make sure Gilberto and the East Timorese government… and all the governments and dictators… faced their consequences.”

I noted that I could help her improve her decision making process.  She’d relate to flowcharts.  But first…

“So how was Callo?  Was his speech impaired by his injuries at all… or his lack of life?”

Layla stalled long enough to laugh.  Then, cheekily, she grabbed my arms.

“No, but seriously Nally… you’ve got to listen to this… I’ve never told anyone.”

Enter the spirit of brave Callo, unsullied by his recent physical trauma, with the beam of a hero.  Layla thanked him for his sacrifice.  Proud, his glow intensified.   Then, his demeanour turned to solemn embarrassment.

He confessed how “inappropriate… no… indecent… no… depraved” he had been towards her one night as she slept.  Yep, he spilled his guts on the whole semen smearing incident.  He had lived with the guilt that he had betrayed her friendship and trust.  Now, he felt, was a good time to clear the air.

“It’s pretty sordid isn’t it?  What’s worse is that I was awake and aware.  I squinted through my lashes.  I didn’t dare move; it was too awkward… and icky.

I told him this.  He was flabbergasted that I knew and blabbed that he’d felt terrible after.”

Don’t worry about it, Callo, she said.  She understood.  She wasn’t at risk.  Being a table-turner, she was the one with the power.  Of course, if he’d done it to some other girl it would have been worse.  We’ve all done things we’d like to take back.

Result.  With his beam back again Callo headed off.  We’re all square then, he said, clapping his hands.

“I called out to him. Oh Caaaalllooooo, should I pass on a message to your family?”

“Err, the family… yes, yes.  I love them always and can’t wait to meet them… at their right time of course.  I did good… right Layla?”

“Look, I didn’t answer, Nally.  I let it slide.”

“That’s disgusting.  Despicable.  What a pervert.  And what a selfish prick.  He had no thoughts for his grieving family.  Good on Gilberto for giving him his comeuppance.

Layla, you should have done something.  Who knows how many other women he performed his sick acts on?”

[Layla]:
“I wasn’t sure what to do.  If I opened my eyes we could never be friends again.  On the other hand, we were never the same again anyway.  Nally, I don’t think he was likely to menace other people.

No, I’m glad I didn’t dob him in.  All in all, we were good friends and hearing him make an honest confession was a relief to me but, yeah, I’m still dazed and disappointed at his blinkered self-concern.”

“I’m not convinced.  If you see that level of loathsome behaviour you have to do something… for everyone’s sake… even the perps’.“

[Layla, rolling her eyes]:
“Jeez, you sound just like Pippy.  Look, you’re probably right… you’re a lot smarter than me.

We’d come to a stop outside the door of her dump.

[Layla, sincerely sorry and concerned]:
“Nally, you are a wonderful person.  So clever, so beautiful.  I want you to know that I hang on your every word.  If I’ve given you the impression that I don’t value your knowledge and ideas… well I didn’t mean to.”

She’d figured out that I’d been narky all day.  Mismanaged, the situation would balloon out of control.  She was looking for a pin to prick it or, failing that, anything that would let the air out.  She’d tried sharing secrets; she’d tried looking for empathy.  Now, she was trying to butter me up.

“And I promise to clean up my mess.”

The mess… yes.  Now we were getting closer.  I very deliberately showed her my best perhaps face. She had a good idea what the real issue was but immediately clambered onto my olive branch.

[Layla, with a wink]:
“Eh, this is not a flat land but a bumpy country.”

That might not mean much to you but, to me,  it held out much promise.  I could do with a good bumpy ride in the country.  I put my baggage to one side till the morning.

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