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Authors: Niven Govinden

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BOOK: Black Bread White Beer
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As they pause for her to catch her breath he feels something running over his foot. The tiny movement of a mouse. Its patter across the top of his brogue, less rhythmic, and more a scrabble to somewhere more urgent, strikes him with dumb gratitude. It is an experience that seems impossible had they been in Richmond, even with the scores of rats flooding the tangled miles of drainage.

They are alive in the world, and harnessed to a natural cycle. What they lack in understanding can be gained by learning to command what they have. They are alive, for fuck's sake. Anything is possible.

‘We lit a bonfire here when we were sixteen. Night of the village hall Halloween party. Me and Rory and couple of others. Pissed out of our faces.'

‘What is it with you and fires?'

‘Don't know. If you burn the hell out of something you leave something good behind. Something sweeter. Those pujas your mum does. They always start with a flame.'

‘The Catholic Church. They're big on candles.'

‘And the Jewish Sabbath.'

‘So you're saying that we should start a fire?'

She laughs, as sweet as the ashes she remembers; turning towards him so that the shadow finally falls from her eyes.

‘It's something.'

They see the pole before they walk into it; its flat top illuminated by scatterings of village light, and a fistful of stars blearily peeping through the bank of cloud.

‘This is where we dance round the maypole, is it, 'Mal?'

‘No, but we could touch it and get some of its energy. Put your palms on it like this, see? Flat. Both hands.'

His feet are planted firm and wide apart as he does so. Something about the preparing athlete in his posture: head bowed for a few moments and then gradually raised,
so that his eyes meet the pole's highest reaches. He remains unaware that this is what he set out to do until his eye catches the brass ring that clenches the top. Waiting for its reflection, a glint that indicates acknowledgement; approval.

Claud circles him for a few minutes, appraising his movement. He sees on her face, each time he lifts his head from its natural meditative position, an expression of surprise mellowing into a studied wonderment. Through all of their marriage, she never thought him capable.

Though he waits for a cascade of tutting to reach his ears he knows there will be none. She joins him, silently and without question; knowing the impact will be lost if she does not join forces and place herself opposite. The effort shows in the flare of her nostrils, suggesting a re-enactment of locked horns, before she allows her body to relax.

The pole brings them into sync. They have the wind and the trees and the racket from the pub as their white noise. Instead, they acquiesce to a soundtrack taken from bed: of gentle, muscular breathing, and of the clicks and rolls of the other's body.

‘I wanted to call him Evan Neel. With the Indian spelling. Two Es,' she says after a time.

‘So you thought he was a boy, too?'

‘From the first moment I found out. I can't explain it. Isn't that strange?'

‘Medicine can answer so many things, but the reason for some senses, those gut feelings, can never be traced.'

‘What about you? What would you have named our son?'

‘Haroon. It's Arabic. My parents would've hated it. More coals heaped onto the identity crisis.'

‘I like yours better. Haroon. Beautiful name for a baby.'

It takes little for the scant light to fade: a thicker patch of cloud settling over the Green; curtains drawn in one of the several upstair windows of the cottages opposite the pub. The thick darkness renders them invisible to each other, bar hands on the pole and the outline of their forearms. He follows her lead. Still standing, heads staying bent. Hands now clasped round the pole, prayer-style.

‘What do you feel, Claud?'

‘That the pole's getting hotter.'

‘It's our body heat. Means we've still got blood running through us.'

‘What else?'

‘I keep wondering how many others have done what we're doing. Stood here to ask for something. This afternoon I saw the village dogs sniffing around this pole, cocking their leg up probably, but that doesn't detract from what it is.'

‘Is this what it takes? For us to have another baby?'

‘Could be.'

‘I'm not sure I believe it.'

‘What else is there?'

He feels the trembling in her hands. A fear of the future; both the immediate and what lies further; what is wished for.

Heads bowed, they wait.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to: Stan; Karthika V.K., Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, and all at HarperCollins India; Tabish Khair; Stuart Evers, Nikesh Shukla, Gavin James Bower, Lee Rourke; Alex Clark, Jake Arnott, Ian McMillan, Boyd Hilton, Will Ashon, Edmund White; my family.

Also by Niven Govinden

Graffity My Soul

We Are The New Romantics

First published in India in 2011 by
HarperCollins
Publishers
India
a joint venture with
The India Today Group

This edition published by
The Friday Project
an imprint of HarperCollins
Publishers

Copyright ©
Niven Govinden 2011

Epub Edition September 2012 ISBN: 978-0-00-750317-9

Niven Govinden
asserts the moral right to be identified
as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this book are the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved under The Copyright Act, 1957. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins
Publishers
.

Cover design: Prabha Mallya

www.harpercollins.co.uk

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Publishers

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BOOK: Black Bread White Beer
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