Just now, I paused at the midway point between the house and the study, where neither wifi signal quite reaches my phone, stood in the sun and the incessant wind, and let all the thoughts in my head just crowd into each other. War and grammar, playlists and plots, the whereabouts of each of our four children and what they might be doing, what those shouts beyond the houses on the edge of my vision might be, football, meanings; all those signposts in life that suddenly appear on the road towards the unknown destination when you take a moment to rest, to catch an unhurried breath, when the world seems to stop for a split second, when things become clear, and the split second can be a life-time. Is that meditation, is that rest, is that reflection?
The book I’m reading right now is a piece of what I’d call pulp fiction about 16th century France and the Netherlands, about religious conflict, massacres, intrigues, all based on history, with marginal fictional characters at the centre of the action. Although it’s not brilliantly written, it is relevant to me because it underlines the recurring thought I have, this constant belief I have, that organised religion is at fault for the majority of all wars this world has seen, that true faith has been usurped by organised religion. The same way in which the principle of all people and peoples being equal has been hijacked by the ideologies of power and conquest and expansionism. I always had huge arguments with my father about my world view that Jesus was the first communist, because what he preached was all about equality and community. I realise that even now many people think of me as a naive utopian, that there can be no world without overlords, that ideology is the most important thing, that the observation of church (and church of any religion) rituals is the most important way in which to express your faith. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It is my firm belief that all true faiths are in your heart, that being of true faith means being good, recognising the difference between good and evil, that being of faith means not lying, not killing, not imposing your will on others. I do realise that those ethical dilemmas those of more organised mind than me are genuine dilemmas (like “but you’d kill to defend those you love, wouldn’t you?”, and that if I was ever truly tested with one of those dilemmas I might be found severely wanting by my own standards, but what my beliefs say to me is that if the world was truly arranged in the way I think it is meant to be, then those dilemmas wouldn’t arise in the first place.
There is within me a straining for simplicity, the recognition that all the philosophical, economic, political theses ever written have so complicated the world and thought, that hairs are split not just into two strands but into an infinite number of strands that have led humankind down any number of blind alleys, that have distracted everyone from the true simplicity of life. Blind alleys of extremism. And that’s where we are now. And under my sadness and depression and despair at the world, I still hold on to the hope that things can get better, that evil will be beaten.
I don’t really want to be sitting in this study while the sun is shining outside, despite the wind. I bought four bags of gravel yesterday, and I want to pour it into the gaps it is intended to fill. And find my chisel (which I bought in Norway many years ago when I thought I would try myself at sculpting) so I can chop away a superfluous concrete plate under the garage door. Maybe those preoccupations and activities are the simplicity I seek. And then again a part of me says they are just bourgeois, white middle-class preoccupations. I obviously don’t know my mind at all.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 15
‘Don’t you sleep?’ he says, sitting up and shielding his eyes. ‘And what shouldn’t I try?’
‘Why would I want to do that.’ He’s fully dressed. ‘But you didn’t search me, did you?’
‘No need. You were too easily beaten.’
He smiles. ‘Amateur.’
‘Have you killed anyone before?’ she says.
‘Has anyone tried to kill you before?’
He shakes his head. ‘Not really.’
‘Just in training.’
He nods. ‘Sorry.’
‘For what? Being useless?’
‘I think I’ll have to apologise to my employers for that.’
‘I’m your employer now.’
‘How did you work that out?’
‘I told you we’re working together now.’
‘But I’m useless.’ His eyes are translucent and disbelieving.
‘I’ll teach you.’
‘Who are you?’
‘The Albino,’ she says. ‘That’s what you called me.’
‘That’s what they called you.’
It’s Aggie’s turn to shrug. ‘Labels. Irrelevant.’
‘Why would anyone want to kill you?’
‘Bit late to be asking that now.’
‘I don’t get paid to ask questions.’
‘You didn’t get paid to ask questions.’
‘Detail’s important. And you should have your own ideas even if you can’t say them out loud.’
‘Is that what you do?’
‘I don’t know what I do. I just do it.’
‘You read shit as well as acting shit then.’
She gestures at him with the unwavering gun. ‘Let’s get some food.’
‘What about sleep?’
‘I don’t sleep much.’
‘That answers my previous question then.’
‘Which one? Machine or monster?’
‘I never said monster.’
‘That’s what most people think albinos are.’
‘That’s what most people think the enemy are.’
‘There are no enemies. Just targets. Now come on. There’s some fresh bread in the kitchen.’ She tucks the small pistol into the waistband of her trousers. It fits between her hip bone and her stomach is if it’s always lived there. She relishes its solid warmth.
‘You’re being careless,’ he says to her back as she turns away.
‘That’s what they all say.’
He’s next to her now, in the hallway. ‘Have you killed many .. er … targets?’
‘I don’t remember.’
The silence follows them down the stairs. She pushes the kitchen door open with her shoulder. The lights are still on, as they always are. ‘Sit.’ She points at one of the chairs around the table.
He sits down, looks around. ‘Nice.’
‘It does its job.’ She goes across to the work surface, pulls a board across to her, puts the started loaf of bread on it, a bread knife, carries them across to the table, drops them down in front of him. Back to the fridge for butter, ham, cheese, gherkins, butter knives.
He’s got the bread knife in his hands. ‘I could have killed you with this by now.’
‘You couldn’t have.’
‘It’s got no bullets.’ She laughs. She hasn’t laughed this loudly, ever.
‘No, no,’ she says, her stomach still shuddering from the laughter. ‘You just wouldn’t be quick enough. Or silent enough.’
He cuts into the loaf. The crisp sound of the crust. ‘Nice bread.’
‘Proper double proving. You have to give it time. Be patient.’
‘The bread? Or killing? Or me?’
‘All of them.’ She leans back in her chair. ‘Eat.’
‘Don’t be stupid.’ She breaks a piece off the block of cheese, puts it in her mouth, chews, swallows. ‘See.’
He spreads butter on his bread without taking his eyes off her face, piles up cheese and ham and gherkins on top of it. Takes a crunching bite.
She watches him eat, her pistol still hard against her hip.
‘What now?’ he says.
‘Tell me everything you know about the order to kill me.’
‘I’ve told you everything I know.’
‘Show me the message.’
Very slowly, he puts his hand into his jacket, pulls out a cheap phone.
‘Burner,’ she says.
‘What else?’ He presses a few buttons, hands it to her.
Get the albino. Get rid of it. She scrolls down, shakes her head at having to do it with a button not a touch screen. ‘They really are short of cash and sense.’ It always goes to Norwich Cathedral after midnight.
‘I’m an it,’ she says. Laughter bubbles up inside her again.
‘Well. A target is an it, I suppose.’
‘Won’t they be expecting a message telling them you’ve succeeded?’
‘Send it.’ She hands the phone back to him.
‘Tell them I’m dead.’