Friday 5 August 2011

Little Grey Men

I believe in UFO’s. I have seen them – twice.

OK, now I have got that startling admission out of the way, let me elucidate.

When I say I believe in Unidentified Flying Objects, that’s exactly what that means.

Back when I was a teenager, I was standing outside one summer night when I suddenly saw a strange thing in the sky. It was for all the world just like a bright red tadpole, wriggling a long tail behind it, and it crossed from one part of the sky to another and vanished over the horizon.

The other time was when I was in Lucknow, and I watched this glowing light climb into the sky, silently and slowly, like some kind of levitating lantern. I watched it for a long time, and I couldn’t decide just what it was – not then.

So those were both UFOs. Unfortunately or otherwise they did not stay “unidentified” for long.

A little analysis showed both for what they were. The first one was a red meteor (the fact that it was an unusually bright meteor, combined with the fact that I’d never seen a meteor before – I’ve seen hundreds since – combined to disguise its nature temporarily from me). As for the second, I actually came across its like a few days later. It was an unmanned hot air balloon flying at night.

There – that’s my definition of UFOs. Objects seen flying, and awaiting identification. That’s all they mean to me.

So, what about the flying saucers that have been seen? What about Roswell, and the Tunguska explosion, and all the other times the people in power have hidden the truth from our eyes? Where are the aliens who are keeping an eye on us?


Now, let me explain that I do not deny the existence of life elsewhere in the Cosmos. Not only do I admit the probability of such life, I’d go so far as to say that if there’s a chance of life existing, no matter how remote, you are going to find life there. It may be, of course, that such life won’t bear much resemblance to what we call life. But it will be there.

What it won’t be doing is zooming around this planet watching us and doing not very much else.

Why not?

Let’s take a look at the laws of physics. Nothing – and that means nothing – can travel faster than light. It’s the absolute speed limit of the Universe. Now, we can be fairly certain that there is no advanced civilisation in this solar system; we’d have noticed the electronic emissions at the least. Therefore, putative aliens come from outside. How do they get here?

Even if they travel at close to the speed of light, they’d still be travelling years to decades (and possibly centuries) to get to this planet. To do what, exactly? Appear tantalisingly above cities or on lonely roads, flip in and out of radar screens, and play an occasional game of hide and seek? Don’t these aliens have any concept of returns for invested effort? No?

In one of his books, the late Carl Sagan recounts an experience he had where people in a restaurant pointed out a UFO in the sky. Sagan demonstrated, using a pair of binoculars, that it was only an aeroplane – a NASA weather flight, as it happened – but the people were merely bitterly disappointed. They had wanted to believe.

So, why do we have this desire to believe?

I think there are several reasons, all intimately connected to human psychology.

In the first place, UFOs are reassuring in a fundamental way.

First, they give us a hope that, yes, we aren’t necessarily doomed; there are other civilisations who’ve conquered space and gone out into the Cosmos, so we can as well. However, they also reassure us that those civilisations are weaker than us.

As I said, why do these aliens seem so shy about showing themselves unambiguously? Why do they play hide and seek?

Does it, in fact, almost look as though these aliens don’t really want to show themselves because they might be afraid of us?

Some of us might remember those old Cold War era science fiction tales by people like Michael Shaara and AE van Vogt, in which (very American) humans invariably reigned supreme over aliens, who were either evil or were utterly overawed by humans’ capabilities. Those were reassuring tales during the height of the Cold War and the Flying Saucer craze – aliens weren’t really a threat, they were actually frightened of us.

The same impulse holds today, doesn’t it, in popular conception? The aliens play hide and seek; and the fact is that when they do appear, they are small and grey, like human children with big black eyes and no hair. Almost cute.

Also, since there are these aliens keeping a watch over us, doesn’t that mean that we’re special? Doesn’t that make us feel good about ourselves?

And doesn’t the official refusal to admit the existence of alien spaceships feed our paranoia about our governments? Isn’t it just like those slimy bastards, be they democratic or communistic, to keep all of us ignorant? Aren’t they hiding wreckage from shot down and crashed spacecraft in secret hangars and refusing to let anybody know?

I suggest to you that it's natural to believe that they are.

There’s of course, the basic human need to believe in myths. The actual universe is a big, cold place, with humanity a race of apes crawling on the surface of a tiny ball of mud and water revolving around an undistinguished, middle-aged yellow star. How much more pleasant to believe that there are space guardians looking out for us, or keeping watch over us – perhaps to rescue us from our excesses, but at the same time afraid of what we could do to them?

There are also the Ancient Astronaut myths, so popularised by Erich von Däniken; myths that serve to tell us that these UFOs are benign guardians, without whom we wouldn’t have been here. They tell us that we’re just going through a painful adolescence, and afterwards they’ll help us find our true space in the galactic scheme of things, like less theological gods.

Doesn’t it seem significant to you that nobody has yet been able to produce an actually irrefutable bit of evidence for the existence of UFOs as alien spacecraft? With virtually everyone carrying cell-phones these days, and virtually all but the most basic cell-phones being equipped with cameras, why aren’t we seeing at least multiple pictures and videos of UFOs showing some evidence that they are what they are purported to be, alien spaceships? Why don’t a few meet with actual, verifiable accidents where we can recover wreckage?

Why, in fact, do we keep seeing videos like this passed off as “evidence” of the existence of these mysterious aliens?

Let's analyse it objectively (without considering the superfluous commentary). What do we see?

A white dot appears above a globe, and suddenly reverses itself and races away at high speed, while a streak appears and crosses its approximate earlier position. That's, literally, all you see, and it lasts all of ten seconds.

Let's assume that the globe is the earth, the white dot some kind of alien spaceship, and the streak a missile. Where does that get us?

1. We have an alien spaceship which can, apparently (and against Newton's First Law of Motion), reverse its arc of movement like a rubber ball bouncing off a wall. This (quite apart from the impressive acceleration) shows that said alien spacecraft can ignore the laws of physics (especially since it doesn't seem to be leaving any exhaust trail as it zooms off - what is it pushing against?) but can't even evade or disable a primitive surface to air missile without abandoning its course (something most modern military aircraft are equipped to do). Or else this means that the video is either fabricated or shows something else that has been deliberately or accidentally misrepresented.

2. We have some kind of surface to air missile that operates at heights that would put it in space. I'm fairly knowledgeable about military technology, and if such a missile exists I don't know about it. In fact the more I look at it the whole thing resembles a video played in reverse - a meteor burning out in upper earth orbit, with something else (the white dot) being superimposed.

3. Why would any military in its right mind fire off a SAM against an alien spacecraft? How would it even know that was an alien spacecraft without a closer look, and not say a Chinese or Russian (or American) secret space flight? Can you imagine the hell to pay if one nation shot down another's manned space exploration probe?

4. Assuming that everything did occur as claimed, the military concerned must have had SAMs and orders to use them all ready. There would not be time to report to higher authority. Where? Why hasn't anyone reported the missiles being launched?

5. There are far too many admitted fraud videos floating around (like the Alien Autopsy fake video, of which you may have heard) and there is absolutely no reason to believe that this one is genuine without independent corroboration.

(And, while I’m on the subject, anecdotal “evidence” is not evidence. No amount of talk of close encounters is valid without verifiable physical evidence, even if the witnesses pass polygraph tests. None. Science doesn't work like law. In science, it's for the person making the claim to prove it.)

If we remove the misidentifications and the hoaxes, as Sagan said, there remains nothing more to discuss.

The only real flying saucers are Frisbees. But if we’d rather believe they contained intelligent ants from the Andromeda galaxy, we’ll believe that, come what may.

I think I see a light in the sky through this window…

Aah! They’re here!

6 August 1945

This is the anniversary of the second-worst war crime the world has ever seen...

I will post a detailed analysis of the worst war crime on its anniversary, three days from now.

Till then, let us stand a moment in memory of the people of Hiroshima, and hope without too much conviction that it will never happen again, even when self-proclaimed globocops writhe in their death throes and yearn for Armageddon.

Rest in peace, people of Hiroshima.

Thursday 4 August 2011


It was the day the world had been waiting for.

It was the day of the Experiment.

All over the world, billions of people turned on their TV sets – or held their radios to their ears – to listen. All over the world, the great and powerful turned from their business of making money, torturing renditioned prisoners, or bombing Afghanistan and Libya to watch. The President of the United States held a prayer meeting in the White House. The President of Russia went to St Basil’s Cathedral and kissed an icon. The President of France took a moment off from furiously demanding a thousand more bombs be dropped on Colonel Gaddafi’s grandchildren to watch. The de facto Royal Family of India even paused from stealing money hand over fist to turn on the TV and switch to the appropriate channel.

It was the most intensive link-up the human species had ever known.

From the Temple of Religious Science (situated in an undisclosed location somewhere in the Western Hemisphere) the face of the Reverend Prophet himself appeared on a billion TV screens, his words translated into a thousand languages. Looking suitably grave as demanded by the occasion, he cleared his throat, adjusted the eight-pointed star of the Great Multi-Faith Order on his black cassock, and began to speak.

“We are here,” he said, as though his listeners didn’t know already, “to carry out the greatest Experiment the world has ever known. Today, in a few minutes, we shall prove, once and for all, beyond all possibility of doubt, the existence of God.”

An unseen interviewer asked a question.

“Of course we shall share our technology with the atheist scientific community, once the experiment has succeeded,” the Reverend Prophet replied. “The Order of Religious Science wants to leave not one iota of doubt about its bona fides. We will make the atheist scientific community accept the fact that we will, quite scientifically, prove God exists.”

The camera cut away to a series of chambers, in each of which a child between the ages of six and ten was lying on a padded table, with clamps and tubes stuck all over his or her shaved scalp. Screens along the walls of the chambers flickered, depicting coloured readouts.

“These children,” the Reverend Prophet intoned solemnly, “are the offspring of the members of our own Order, the blessed fruit of the loins of our own Religious Scientists, donated and consecrated to the Cause as soon as they were born. They have been trained all their lives to develop their natural psychic abilities to the utmost. They aren’t really just human any longer, They’ve gone beyond, into a higher plane.”

The interviewer asked something else, as the camera cut back to the Reverend Prophet.

“Of course it’s not child abuse,” the Reverend Prophet snapped irritably. “The children will themselves tell you that they are proud and glad to take part in this. After all, it would not have been possible without them. And besides, their role has been upheld as legitimate by the governments of the European Union, the USA, and India, not to mention a majority of the UN General Assembly. What more do you want?”

The next question by the interviewer brought the smile back to the Reverend Prophet’s face. “Ah, yes. Roughly, this is how it works. These children have been trained so highly that they can focus their minds on anything you want them to – any specific thing. I should tell you that in earlier experiments they have detected something, of which we have garnered enough data to be sure it’s God Himself. And today, they are all – all four hundred and twenty-nine of them – hooked up on the same wavelength, zeroing in on the same object. When they find it, their brains will send messages to the central supercomputer, which will show us God and communicate – via the children – with Him. In effect, the children will become part of the supercomputer for the duration of the Experiment.”

The Reverend Prophet paused, and made the Holy Gesture of the Multi-Faith Order. “We shall now begin,” he intoned.

All along the chambers, the screens stopped flickering and began throbbing in regular patterns. The children lay back and closed their eyes, chemicals coursing through their blood sending them into a trance. And as the world watched, there on the screen appeared a glowing golden mist, vaster than the mind could imagine.

“Vaster than galaxies,” said the Reverend Prophet, falling to his knees. “Oh my God,” he murmured.

Her voice high-pitched with excitement, the interviewer asked another question.

“We will now attempt communication,” the Reverend Prophet affirmed. He paused. “We will beseech Him to show us a miracle.”

It floated in the vastness, alone.

It was far too huge to exist in just four dimensions. It spanned time and space, and reached into higher levels than punier creatures could imagine. It did not choose to recall the time before It had come into being. Such thoughts did not trouble It. It existed, that was enough.

It floated in the nothingness that transcended universes, seeking nothing, hoping for nothing. It already knew everything that was, had been, or would be. Mere knowledge did not tempt it.

It was at peace. Almost always in its aeons of existence, it had been at peace. It loved peace. It wanted nothing more than to remain at peace and self-contemplation.

All of a sudden, It was assailed by a new and disagreeable sensation. Somewhere, in the near-infinite recesses of Its being, It was being assaulted. It was being disturbed.

Restlessly, It turned a portion of Its mind to the problem, seeking only a return to Peace. Something was pulling at It, probing It, seeking, demanding. Whatever it was would not be ignored.

Miracle, the things that assaulted It demanded a miracle. It would give them a miracle.

It sent out a tendril of Its mind, twisting at the fabric of reality. They would have their miracle, and It could have its peace and quiet back. Satisfied, It retreated.

And, a moment later, the sun went supernova.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011

Syria - Hama - "Peaceful rebels" dumping their victims' corpses into a river

Warning: Graphic video. It depicts the "peaceful" so-called rebels in Syria dumping the corpses of their victims into a river. Yet another Libya-like "liberation" war is on the cards, I assume? One that will lead to a "democratic" Syrian government which will hand over the Golan Heights to the Zionazi pseudostate and abandon the Lebanese to the tender mercies of the racist vermin in Tel Aviv? Looks like it.

New Paintings


The Path Not Taken

Watercolour on paper. It's been a very long time since I last took up the brushes, and I find my painting ability has deteriorated sharply. From now on I intend to paint at least once or twice a month.

Monday 1 August 2011

The Libyaration

Hey, people. Among all the Sturm und Drang of the Norway massacre, and the drama over the debt ceiling in the US, the Rupert Murdoch scandal, etc, etc, have some of you forgotten that there’s a war going on in Libya, still?

Well, if you have, don’t worry; I’m here to remind you.

In fact, so many interesting things have been going on in Libya that it’s probably time to sit back, take a deep breath, and take a look.

Before I go further, I’ll just save everyone some time and reveal myself as an ex-neutral in this conflict who has morphed into a full Gaddafi supporter. The reasons will be clear enough in the article, but I’ll say for now that I’d have backed him anyway from the moment the first NATO bomb fell, on the grounds that anyone who’s opposed by the Empire (or the British and French running dogs of imperialism governments, and whom, together, I have dubbed the Coalition of the Killing) can’t be all bad, just as anyone who has the Empire’s backing can’t possibly be on the side of the angels. Do not expect any neutrality in this piece; there will be none.

So, back to the main course.

  1. The war is still going on. After months of being bombed round the clock, and multiple (completely illegal) attempts on his life – which are now openly admitted by the would-be murderers (and the actual murderers of his son and grandchildren) – Moammar Gaddafi is still in power, still very much in control. This is especially bad news for a lot of people, because, as I’ll shortly discuss, things aren’t actually going the Empire’s way on the ground.

  1. According to the people who ought to know – the ones who have actually instigated and prolonged this war – the Libyan “rebels” (whom they now style the “government” of Libya) – cannot win. So why are they going on with the war? That’s an interesting question, one which I’ll discuss, too.

  1. Remember that TV station this selfsame NATO bombed in Belgrade, killing 16 civilian media people on the excuse that they were spreading Serb propaganda? Well, they bombed the Libyan TV station, as well as some transmission towers, on the grounds that Gaddafi is “intimidating” the Libyan people through the idiot box. They also killed three journalists, but couldn’t shut the TV down. I wonder if the Libyan people on whose behalf these considerate NATO bombs fell are assumed to be too dumb to simply, you know, turn off their TV sets if they don’t want to be “intimidated” by Gaddafi?

  1. Libya is a desert country, and as anyone knows (or ought to know), water is scarce in deserts. In fact, the main cities of Libya are dependent on one of the marvels of modern irrigation engineering – called the Great Manmade River, which is the world’s largest irrigation system. On the same day as the Norway massacre, NATO bombed this irrigation system, and the next day bombed the only facility making replacement pipes for repairing the system. What this means, basically, is that they destroyed the water supply of the Libyan people they are allegedly bombing round the clock in order to save them from Gaddafi. There’s liberation for you!
(In this connection I’d like to share a memory from the 1990-91 Gulf War, where after bombing power stations and putting Baghdad in darkness, the Empire’s propaganda services claimed that this was done in order to “bring home the seriousness of the war to the Iraqi people.” It was as though the only consequence of bombing power stations would be that the people would have to use candles to light their homes, and heaters wouldn’t work, so that they’d have to suffer a smidgen of discomfort. I was just twenty then, and even I had wondered whether hospitals, food preservation facilities, water and sewage treatment plants, and other essentials for modern living, could operate without power. I’d come to the conclusion that the Empire didn’t really consider the people of Iraq human beings, something richly borne out by later developments. We’re seeing something of the same sort in Libya – with the Empire working through its NATO proxies in between taking a more direct role.)

  1. Oh, hey, some of you might remember a woman who made a dramatic appearance in a Tripoli hotel claiming she’d been raped by Gaddafi’s men? This woman, Eman Al-Obeidy, had a story that was as thin as it was dramatic, and which didn’t hold up to medical examination. Anyway, this freedom-lovin’ heroine then left Libya for Qatar, which she left in short order (after claiming people there gang-raped her too; what is it about this woman that people keep itching to rape her?), spent a shade under two months in a refugee camp in Romania, and then was allowed into the US, profusely thanking Hillary Clinton as she did so. But – as a bona fide “freedom fighter” with relatives in Benghazi, shouldn’t she have stayed there to carry on the struggle? Or was she thinking she’d be raped there as well? Oh, wait - she went to Benghazi after being forced out of Qatar, and then had to leave there as well. Gang-rapists are everywhere! (Though not in the US, I assume.)

  1. Then, remember how everyone was told that Gaddafi would have massacred the Benghazians if he took the city, so it was imperative to begin bombing, rocketing, and destabilising Libya with all the forces at the immediate command of the Empire’s British and French handmaidens? Well, while the towns taken by Gaddafi’s forces were not depopulated, the towns that have fallen to the “freedom fighters” most assuredly have been. As the German magazine Der Spiegel (which also broke the news of the Empire’s troops murdering Afghan civilians for trophy body parts) reported:

“Several towns along the route [of the rebels’ advance] are now completely depopulated. One is Awaniya, a town of 15,000 people until the rebels captured it. The shops lining the highway in Awaniya were looted and are now littered with garbage. In some stores, even the shelves are missing. In the town itself, houses stand empty and ransacked, and some have been burned down. Other towns look similar. New houses are still burning days after the rebels took over, and trucks are removing anything that was overlooked during the initial looting: sacks of wheat as well as food and sheep.”

Some liberators, these glorious freedom fighters are!

  1. I’ve been saving the best bit for last: the rebel military commander on the ground, General Abdel Fattah Younes, has been murdered (along with two of his aides) and their bodies burned. By whom? As it turns out, Younes was arrested and murdered by his own men – belonging to one of the rebel factions, which is allied to Al Qaeda and is designated by the US as a terrorist organisation. This was followed by intra-rebel fighting in Benghazi. Isn’t this lovely? These patriotic Libyan freedom fighters can’t even wait to take over the country before leaping at one another’s throats! (Younes’ son declared at his funeral that they want Gaddafi back, which shows where the whole thing is heading, but that’s another story we've seen before. Remember how former opponents of Saddam Hussein began pining for his regime after the “liberation” of Iraq?)

This is what I wrote days before the bombing began, on my other blog site:

Libya is a tribal society, with strong tribal affinities. I don’t know how many of you have any experience with tribal people, but as someone who’s lived all his life in close proximity with them, I can tell you something: the primary, indeed only, allegiance of a tribal person is to his tribe, and not to his “nation”, usually a woolly concept to him. And, also, tribes compete intensely against one another for power and influence. Gaddafi – along with several other Arab despots – has ruled not necessarily only by brutality, but by successfully playing off one tribe against another and walking a tightrope of competing tribal aspirations. Remove that factor, and what you have is going to be intertribal conflict, with erstwhile allies at each other’s throat.

Then, remember what I said about the Libyan “opposition” being far from unified. The Empire is going to have to choose whom to prop up when it becomes an occupying force, because, make no mistake, intervention will have to end in occupation. Libya has too much oil wealth for anything else to happen; and the various tribes and factions will be at each other’s throat as soon as their object of common hatred, if that is Gaddafi, leaves the scene. And then, whichever faction the Empire supports will be the Enemy of everyone else. We have seen this before, haven’t we?

I’m not privy to the thought processes of the “interventionists”, of course, but it seems to me somewhat unlikely that they don’t realise all that. So all this talk of intervention is either a hollow smoke-screen…or they mean it. If they mean it, they are willing to go through it all the way down the slippery slope of full-scale intervention and occupation, including fighting the inevitable guerrilla war that will follow. Nobody likes foreign occupiers, especially ones who are all too transparently there only to control the oil supplies.

In that case, we will once again see the naked face of the Empire, which uses a manufactured “outrage” (where is this outrage when Yemeni, Iraqi and Bahraini “allied” dictators use military force to kill unarmed demonstrators, including nerve gas?) to start another war which will be paid for in blood by poverty draftees on one side and Ay-rab ragheads on the other

I know that in this case the French and the British are taking the lead in the anti-Libya Crusade, but let's remember that the Empire has before, in Yugoslavia, been drawn in against its own first impulses, as a result of the machinations of its vassals. And never forget the final result: a bandit regime in Kosovo which trades human organs for profit.

So far, I’ve seen no reason to change one word of my prognostications; and I don’t think I shall have to.

Therefore, since things on the ground are emphatically not going well for the Empire, why do they persist in the war? One the one hand, it may be the paralysis of inertia and the unwillingness to lose face. After all, can a nation which still styles itself “Great” Britain, or another (France) which still acts as though it’s the occupying power in its ex-colonies, admit they couldn’t defeat a tinpot dictator they’ve been demonising for decades? And when they run out of precision guided munitions and the like, they can always holler to the Americans for aid. But, of course, even they must be aware that the bombing campaign is not working. They’re also arming and training the rebels on the ground, but let me repeat something I’d said about that – remember how the missiles and training the Afghan mujahideen were given against the Soviets were turned against their former paymasters in short order once the Russians left? How do you prevent that from happening again?

So, the only conclusion I can come to, to explain why this war is still going on, is that eventually there is going to be a Coalition of the Killing invasion on the ground. This will likely happen when the “rebels” can advance no further, and the CoK will then claim that there has to be a ground invasion or else all the gains by the “forces of democracy” (to whom they are committed)will be lost. Of course, once the invasion force is in place, they will have to stay there as an occupation force in order to “protect the people of Libya” from the civil war between the various rebel factions that will inevitably follow. And I have predicted this from the moment the first bomb fell.

In this, it’s more than likely that (as in Iraq) the money made by handing over Libya’s oil resources lock, stock and stinker sinker to Imperium-owned companies won’t compensate for the costs of maintaining an occupation, but the fact is also that the companies’ financial bottomline is all that matters, and the actual poverty draftees who have to fight the Ayrab ragheads on the ground can go right to hell as far as anyone’s concerned.

In the long run, though, I believe that this whole exercise might have some positive impact:

  1. It will contribute to the weakening and bankrupting of the military systems of the junior members of the Coalition of the Killing. I read recently that the Coldstream Guards are already on the chopping block; and that’s just the beginning.

  1. Those nice, trusting nations who believed, or pretended to believe, the CoK’s promises on Libya (that they were only there to protect the people, etc) will be wary about believing anything in future. Calling it not a war won't fool anyone.

  1. Other nations will know enough to actually have a WMD programme in order to be immune from a CoK attack. They’ll have noticed that Libya was attacked after it voluntarily abandoned its WMD programmes, and that North Korea’s nuclear deterrence has saved it from the Empire’s attentions.

  1. By spreading the Empire’s occupation forces further and further across the globe, it will contribute to the ultimate collapse of the Imperium, just as Rome’s string of unsustainable colonies (stretching from Britain to Persia) led to its final collapse.

In the meantime, as I’ve said before, we live in interesting times.

Sunday 31 July 2011

Getting Away From It

She had just opened her menu in the restaurant when it all came apart.

She’d been outside, walking, and the night outside was warm and scented with flowers in the trees that gave out a heavy, cloying smell. She’d been walking for hours now, it seemed to her, wandering the maze of streets away from the hotel, not knowing where she was going, not really caring. The smells and sights of the town were strange, but she scarcely saw or heard a thing, her thoughts turned to what might or might not be going on with him.

“It’s going to do you good,” her friends had told her after the break-up. “You need a vacation anyway. Get away for a while. Go abroad, have a nice time. You’ll be better.”

So she’d dug out her passport, made sure it still had a few months on it before it expired, and summoned up the willpower to check out travel brochures and make plans. And, finally, sitting in the aisle seat, she’d felt it in the pit of her stomach as the aeroplane lifted off the runway, and she’d thought that her problems might be falling away from her like the ground below.

Only, that hadn’t been true at all. Two weeks in this country, listening to the strange voices with their inflected speech and lilting accents, and things were still the same. She’d been up in the north, where the sands of the desert stretched out to distant brown hills on the horizon. She’d been down to the beach in the south, where the tourists flocked, and lay around almost naked in the sun while talking to each other in thirty languages. She didn’t belong with them – nothing of their world had anything to do with hers. The young men and women parading on the sand in almost nothing were as alien to her as though they came from somewhere beyond the stars.

She’d finally come to this city, sprawling on both sides of the wide brown river, hoping that here she might find some distraction in the ancient architecture. So far, she had found nothing except more of the same.

Two days later, she would be flying home. She’d decided that once she was home, she’d try to confront the problem head-on. Talk to him, maybe even meet him; try to either get him out of her system altogether or perhaps even patch things up. She wasn’t doing herself any good wandering the streets of a foreign country, hardly knowing what she was doing, that was for sure.

“Handbag, madam?” The vendor’s voice was weary, as he repeated the same thing he’d said a hundred times today already. “Good handbag, real leather.” She passed him with a slight shake of her head, an automatic smile on her lips. She’d turned down so many vendors over the last weeks that she no longer even noticed what they were trying to sell her.

Walking, her hand moved down to her purse where the mobile phone rested. She had bought international roaming, just for this trip, so she could stay in touch if she had to, without depending on local phone services which the guidebook had assured her were unreliable at best. So far, all she’d ever done was finger the phone – she’d never used it, not once, after arriving, not even to send a text message to the friends who’d asked her to come on this trip. And she now knew that she wouldn’t use it – not now, when her return home was so close. She would wait two days more and then talk to him face to face. But, still, she fingered her mobile, her face expressionless, her eyes far away.

It would be so easy. She didn’t even need to look up his number in the phone memory – she knew it as well as she knew her own. It was still mid-afternoon where he was; he would be at home now, perhaps preparing to go to work; he always worked evening and night shifts at the hospital. She’d call him, and he’d pick up the phone, with the anxious eagerness that was always in his voice when she called. She’d call him, and then…?

What would she say? What could she say? Tell me how to set things right? Set me free? Come back to me?

I’m halfway round the world, walking the streets, going crazy for you, and I don’t know what to do. Tell me what to do.

She shook her head, a tiny gesture, and her hand left the bag. She couldn’t call him like this.

As she wandered up a narrow street lined with shops of various kinds, motor parts and handicrafts, she thought about the time she’d thought she actually could be with him, overcome the past and her own fears. It had seemed so close, so real, and she’d almost told him then. But she’d held back, too long, and then she’d lost him. She still did not know who was to blame. Someone was, for sure. He, perhaps, for not waiting any longer. Or she, for not telling him while there was still time. Or, maybe, the things that had happened in the past and made her who she was. Perhaps those who had done all that were the ones to blame.

After a while she discovered she was hungry. She wasn’t sure when she’d last eaten. Had she had lunch, or was breakfast the last thing she’d had inside her? Suddenly ravenous, she looked around. The street she was on now wasn’t a main road, but was lined with more upscale establishments, boutiques, furniture showrooms and a couple of restaurants. She chose the nearer one, the one without Chinese characters on the door, and entered.

It was dimly lit, amber lights hanging from the ceiling, cigarette smoke eddying through the air. Her nose wrinkled at the smell, and she briefly considered trying the Chinese place, but she was hungry, it was getting late, and she’d have to find her way back to the hotel, wherever that was now. Besides, the place was reassuringly crowded, full of people – including plenty of foreigners, like her – and only a table or two empty.

A waiter in a red uniform showed her to one of the empty tables, in the far corner. From her she could see the entrance, and the heads of the diners bent over their food and conversation in the dim amber light reminded her of times in the past, and she almost did it then, she almost reached into her bag, got the phone out and called him. Almost.

The waiter brought over a menu, thickly bound and embossed with a logo of a crossed knife and fork. She felt his eyes on her, curious. She was a foreigner, and fairly young; and yet wasn’t the backpacker kind, who might be alone. Not that they’d get many backpackers in a place like this. And she wasn’t of the upper-crust tourist kind, either – she wasn’t old enough, or rich enough, and they were never alone. She didn’t fit in.

At one time she’d have been interested, perhaps, in his story, of what kind of home he had, what sort of family. What did he think of serving food to people every day? What insights did it give him? She might have asked all this, another day, another time. Just now, she wanted nothing but to be alone.

More to get away from his gaze than because she was hungry –and suddenly her hunger ebbed away like the tide – she flipped open the menu and began looking through the pages. The local fare sounded strange and exotic, and she’d already learned not to order without knowing what she was going to get. She flipped the pages, looking for more familiar dishes, and when she felt on safer ground she looked up. The waiter had gone.

There was movement at the door, so she looked in that direction, at the man entering. A big man, she thought, a fat man, dressed inappropriately in a heavy jacket in the heat, his face surprisingly young and thin-looking for one so corpulent. He looked around the restaurant, his eyes briefly catching hers, and began making his way between the tables towards her.

It was then that she knew, with the certainty of absolute knowledge, what was about to happen. She knew it before his hand had even slipped inside his jacket, knew as he stopped in the exact centre of the restaurant, knew as his eyes met hers again, and held her gaze, letting her know that he knew that she knew, and that he knew as well that she couldn’t do a thing about it, that it was all too late by far.

The explosion split the world apart smashing her to the floor, agony searing through her as her head struck something, and the last thing she thought as consciousness slipped away was that she should have made that call while she could.

It couldn’t have been that long before she began to see and hear again, though everything seemed oddly dim and muffled. Before her eyes, someone’s hand and arm lay on the floor, protruding from under an overturned table. There were noises, screams and sirens, but they all sounded from very far away. She sat up, looking around. She couldn’t find her handbag. She couldn’t really even feel anything much any more. When she held her hand in front of her face, it looked blurred and unreal, as though she was looking at a shadow.

Fires were burning in a couple of places in the restaurant, spreading steadily, and people were entering, police and a couple of others with a stretcher between them. Their mouths were moving, shouting, and yet she couldn’t hear what they were saying, their voices lost in the screams and the sirens, and the sirens and screams themselves locked away behind a wall of silence. She walked between them, unnoticed, and out into the night.

Looking down at her feet moving on the pavement, as though from a long, long way away, she decided she really should have made that call, after all.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011