Saturday 16 January 2016


Agal ran down the escalator to the Metro, knowing he was probably already too late to catch the train, cursing himself for sleeping those fifteen minutes more. It had just been the start of a cascade of events, each delaying him just a little more until he was so late that he’d had to run for the bus to make it to the Metro station in time – and then he’d missed the bus anyway.

The people on the escalator stared as he ran down past them. A pretty woman in a white faux fur coat cursed as his foot struck the bag she’d put on the step, knocking it over. A burly man with a shaven head tried to grab at him as he ran by, but he twisted past with the skill of long practice. He couldn’t stop to apologise. He didn’t speak the language well enough.

That was one reason he was running.

For the first time in the entire day, he was lucky. The train had, apparently, been delayed too, by just long enough. It was still at the platform when he dropped his token into the turnstile, sprinted past an old grandmother with a shopping bag, and into the train. She threw out an arm, probably in warning, but he made it just in time. The door tapped his sneaker heel as it closed.

Agal sat down on the seat next to the door. A pretty goth girl with piercings about everywhere he could see was sitting opposite him, and smiled at him tentatively. He began to smile back, and decided against it. His life was complicated enough already. Besides, he found piercings off-putting, always had, and she probably was pierced in all the places he couldn’t see, as well.

She got off on the second stop anyway.

His destination was a seedy building in the oldest part of the city, which was long overdue for demolition and reconstruction. The plaster on the walls was peeling, the windows were cracked and dirty, and few of the lights still worked. But at least it allowed the refugees to use it, and that was more than other places.

The language class was on the top floor, in a room that had probably once been fairly handsome, with wide windows that looked out on a playground. Now the playground was long gone, and the windows looked out on to a dirty, whitewashed wall. The whiteboard was so cracked that it was hard to tell just where it stopped and the wall began. And since it was one of the few rooms in the building which was still in somewhat usable condition, one could never depend on the benches being free of clutter. Last week they’d found sewing machines on each desk, the floor still littered with scraps of cloth and stray pieces of thread.

Today, at least, the desks were clear, though only one of the overhead lights was working and only three of the other students had turned up. Agal slipped into his usual place in the third row of benches, next to Issa. She glanced at him sidelong from her slanted Central Asian eyes.

“I thought maybe you wouldn’t come.” Her voice was cool and expressionless.

“Why not?” He looked around. “Where is everybody?”

“There are demonstrations in the town,” Issa said. “Haven’t you heard?”

“What demonstrations?”

“Agal doesn’t know about demonstrations.” It was a familiar voice, and he didn’t need to turn his head to know who it was. “Agal doesn’t need to know about demonstrations. He’s got the luck to not have to live in the refugee camp like us. Excuse me, the refugee centre.”

“It’s not exactly my fault, Cilla,” Agal said, turning.

Cilla’s hot black eyes didn’t waver. “Does that make a difference?” Her voice was rising steadily. “Did you watch from your window as they marched back and forth outside waving their red and black flags and burning torches? They threw petrol bombs at the building, did you know that?”

“It’s not your fault, Agal.” Charis, as black-eyed and hot-blooded as Cilla, but more restrained in speech, slipped on to the seat beside Agal. “But, you see, you might as well be living in a different world from us.”

“But I come to the same place.” Agal waved at the dilapidated classroom. “I study the same things as you.”

Charis opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment they heard the familiar noise of the teacher’s heavy, limping tread in the corridor. “I’ll talk to you later,” he said, going to join his sister.

The teacher’s name was Gedoran. Past middle age, he was a retiree probably eking out a miserable pension by teaching. Nobody was quite sure what he’d been before, but it was certainly not a teacher, a role for which he was totally unsuited. He looked a bit surprised when he saw the four of them. It wasn’t possible to tell whether it was because only four had turned up, or as many as four had.

“Grûn gé,” he said, and turned to the whiteboard before they had even finished greeting him back. His marker moved over the broken board. “Nedükar Se,” he wrote, and pronounced it carefully for their benefit. “Nedükar Hãi.” They repeated it in a ragged chorus without knowing what it meant. Gedoran spoke little English, and seemed to assume repetition was the key to comprehension. They all had dictionaries, but they weren’t always of much help.

“They don’t even bother to learn the language,” the flag wavers always said. “They come here like rats, they want to take our jobs, they live free of charge in the refugee centres, and they don’t even learn our language.”

How on earth were they supposed to learn the language anyway, when the only teachers to be found were those like Gedoran? No wonder half the class had dropped out already.

By the time the class ended it was raining, snakes of water wriggling down the dirty windowpane and dripping in on the floor. Agal walked down the stairs with Issa. She didn’t look at him.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, turning up his collar at the door against the rain.

“Yeah.” She kept her gaze on the ground.

“Issa,” Agal asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Didn’t you hear what Cilla said? We’re just here on sufferance. One of these days they’ll burn down the centre when we’re sleeping. It’s not as though they wouldn’t have done it already if they could.”

“She’s right,” Charis said from behind them. “It’s time we made a stand.” 

“What kind of stand?” Agal looked over his shoulder. “What are you talking about?”

“We’re going to have to fight fire with fire,” Charis replied. “If they’re going to attack us, we’ve a right to defend ourselves. You know as well as I do that the police here are useless. Remember when they beat Khasim half to death last month? What did the police do?”

“So what do you intend to do – attack them?” Agal blinked. “Are you totally crazy? All that’s going to do is get us kicked out of the country...those of us who are left. Do you want to go back to your country? Things weren’t any better there than in mine, last I heard.”

“We’ll see.” Charis and Cilla exchanged glances. “Remember what I said. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

There was a brief silence as the two of them left. “I’ve got to go,” Issa said finally. “We shouldn’t just stand here like this in the rain, talking. It draws attention.”

Agal hesitated a moment, and then reached for her hand.

“Come back with me,” he said. “I need company and so do you.”

She looked at him and finally nodded. “All right,” she said.


Issa and Agal huddled on the bed, holding each other. It wasn’t the first time they’d ever made love, and it wasn’t the best. It was more as though sex was a barrier they were trying to throw up against a monster that was waiting, just beyond the wrapping of their skins, a monster with black and red claws and teeth of fire.

Issa shivered. “How long do you think we can manage like this?”

“You mean, here in this country?” Agal watched the lights from the street reflect on the rain falling past the window. “Would you go back home if you could?”

“You know what they say,” she replied. “You can’t go home again. Assuming there was a home left, but there isn’t.”

“Charis is going to make trouble for everyone,” Agal said. “It’s going to be terrible trouble.”

“And, of course,” Issa said, “he’s right. We can’t just wait to be wiped out. There’s that too.”

“You could move in with me here,” he said. “You wouldn’t be in the refugee centre then.”

“Even if they allowed it,” Issa said, “it wouldn’t work. You and I aren’t ever going to be accepted here, Agal. They’ll never look at us in the streets and call us anything other than foreign interlopers. I don’t suppose, not living in the centre, you really know that. I don’t mean you can’t understand it, but you don’t really know.”

“I once had a run-in,” Agal said, “with that lot.”

“When?” She sat up and looked down at him. “What happened? You never told me.”

“It was last month. There was nothing really to say.”  He tried not to think of the memory of running down one back alley after another, a pack of them in pursuit, yelling as though on the hunt. “An old woman saved me.” He’d almost been caught. Panting, a stitch in his side, he’d run down one final alley when a door had opened and the old crone had beckoned him urgently inside.

“They banged on the door,” Agal said, “and I suppose demanded that she send me out. I could hear them shouting. But she didn’t. I can still see her, standing at the door with her arms crossed on her chest, just looking at them. And after a while they went away. She was just an old woman, with a face like an owl, but she had more guts than all of them put together.”

“If they’d tried to attack her,” Issa asked, “what would you have done?”

“Don’t you suppose I’ve asked myself that a hundred times?” Agal shook his head. “The answer is, I just don’t know. I suppose,” he said bitterly, “I might have thought that they were all the same anyway, and that they were killing one of their own, so while they were doing that I’d take the chance of running out the back way.”

“But they’re not all the same.”

“Try telling the black and reds that,” Agal said. “Try telling Charis that, or Cilla.”

Issa pulled him to her, and held him until she felt the tension in his muscles relax slightly. She rubbed the back of his neck. “I heard that there are lorry drivers who’re willing to smuggle people north,” she said. “Up across the border. Some have already gone.”

“Are you telling me to go?”

“I’m not telling you anything. But it’s an option.”

“Things aren’t better up north,” Agal said. “Things aren’t better anywhere.”

“Back home,” Issa said, “we have this little bird. It’s grey and white, nothing much to look at, but it never sits still. They call it the firebird in my language. I don’t know the name in English. They say it always keeps flying from one place to another, as though it’s one flap of the wing ahead of a fire.”

“That’s us,” Agal said. “Firebirds, that’s us.”

“Or we can do as Charis and Cilla said,” Issa replied. “They’re firebirds too. Birds of fire.”

“So it’s keep running before the fire, or be burnt in the flames. Only there isn’t any kind of renewal when you burn.”

“That’s true enough.” Issa smiled at nothing in particular. “It feels as though I’ve been running since before I was born.”

“Will you come with me?” Agal asked.

“Where? The lorry north, or the fire?”

“Does it matter?” Agal glanced at her and away again, quickly. “Does it matter where we go, when the fire’s everywhere? Does it matter what we do?"

Issa tiled her head, considering the question. “It does matter,” she said. “And we both know it. Your old woman knew it, too.”

Agal frowned at his hands. His fingers twitched. “Are you coming or aren’t you?”

“I’ll come with you,” Issa said.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

Thursday 14 January 2016

A Thought For The Day

It strikes me that one, in any discussion, has a choice: one can choose to be conciliatory, to try and be pleasant and try not to hurt anyone's little feelings...or one can stand for what one thinks.

If one chooses the first option, one might be the same way as whitewash is popular, or floral prints, or vanilla ice cream. It's the absence of any characteristic to which anyone might take offence. One might as well, in fact, not be in the discussion at all for what good it does.

There's just one little problem with the second choice: saying what one thinks always risks annoying, or hurting, or angering, someone or other. In fact, any principle worth defending will inevitably end up hurting, or angering, or at least annoying, someone or other. One might alienate friends or acquaintances or co workers or just somebody.

Sooner or later, if one has strong opinions, one might end up alienating everybody.

Well, so what?

One can be soothing and conciliatory, or one can be right. If one chooses to be soothing and conciliatory, one ends up, inevitably, supporting (if only by default) things that need to be stamped on, hard. There's no sitting on the fence on some things. Not when sitting on the fence means allowing psychopaths and imperialists to destroy nations and societies right in plain view, when not protesting, not making the truth heard, means letting the war criminals, capitalist vampires, and allied scum win by default.

Being vanilla means one either has no principles, or one is too cowardly to express them. Also, and for these ladies and gentlemen this is something they need to remember, one can never please everybody. One might be vanilla, day after day after day...and yet someday someone who prefers strawberry will blow a gasket. Sooner or later, even the most characterless, please-all glass of plain water will end up falling afoul of someone over something.

Meanwhile, if you stand for what is right, it won't stop being right even if you're the only person in the whole world who holds to that opinion. It may be a lonely position sometimes, but at least it's an intellectually honest one.

Here I stand, and I can do no other.

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Crime Story, With Variations

I was just beginning to think of taking my coffee break when they arrived.

It was a lonely night, and getting cold; I’d had a tiring enough day without pulling a night shift as well, but of course when I was offered extra duty I hadn’t said no.

“What, again?” Gruoch hadn’t been happy when I’d told her. “You’re going to end up working yourself to death,” she’d said.

Same old nagging, and even though she is my Significant Other I often get irritated beyond tolerance. “We need the money. You know that.”

“By sacrificing your sleep sitting up all night? They’re taking advantage of your good nature, Mab. It’s just a pittance they pay you, anyway.”

“What, for sitting up doing crossword puzzles?” I’d snorted. “There’s never anything that happens during the night shift. It’s a sinecure. Nothing...ever...happens.”

“Someday something will happen. That thing will be you dropping dead from overwork.”

“Or maybe it’s going to be my finally making money,” I told her.

“Ha ha.” Even on the phone her voice was mirthless. “That I’d like to see.”

That was this afternoon, and I’d expected another night of doing nothing, with the sight of nary a soul. But now, just as I began thinking of a cup of coffee, they arrived, on a mechadragon they parked across the street. At first I thought they had some kind of engine trouble, but then they got out and sauntered across to me.

There were five of them. Four elves and a fairy. The elves all stayed hanging back, kind of, and let the fairy do the talking. She was a good looking one, too, small and elegant, but with huge eyes, and her wings were all gauzy and fluttering so they caught the fluorescent light and made rainbows.

“Yes, ma’am?” I asked, looking at her across the counter of my guard booth. “What can I do for you?”

She smiled at me prettily, and for a moment I almost believed that she liked me. She was that good. But even then, of course, I knew that she couldn’t possibly. I mean, she was a fairy and I’m only...what I am.

“I just wanted a little bit of help.” Her voice was nice too, like tinkling silver crystals, or the sound of a mountain stream in spring. They all think we don’t understand poetry and stuff, but we do. Just because we look like what we do doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the finer points of life. She clasped her pretty hands below her pert little breasts. “You’re the right person for it, I’m sure.”

“And what would that be?” I asked, and then, even before she replied, I realised my mistake. It was a beginner’s blunder. While she’d been taking up my attention, the four elves had come up quietly, on either side of her. One of them leaned over the counter and pointed the business end of a blaster at me.

“Make the slightest move for that alarm button, orc, and you’ll have a hole in your face,” he said.

I looked at him and at the blaster, and withdrew my hand carefully from the vicinity of the red button. There are risks worth taking, sometimes, and then there’s idiocy. This would be idiocy.

And from the blaster you probably have under the counter,” the elf added. “Put your hands where I can see them.”

I put my hands where he could see them.

“That’s a good orc,” the elf said. He was dressed up in black, except for his face which was very white. It was so white, even for an elf, that he looked as though he was wearing enough makeup to make a mask. His black eyebrows arched over the glittering wet orbs of his eyes like leaping gazelles. “A good, smart orc.”

“Good orcs get to not have a hole in the middle of their face,” the elf on the fairy’s other side laughed shortly. He’d a marked accent, and his ears were so pointed they ended in spikes. I recognised the signs; this one would be a denizen of the Middle Dark, not a local. “Not that it would make a difference anyway, as far as your looks are concerned.”

I glanced from him back at the fairy. She was looking at me, her eyes huge. Her lower lip trembled.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I wouldn’t have done it if we’d had a choice. I...”

“That’s enough.” The third elf was brown as seasoned wood and had a very handsome face. He smiled at me, flashing white triangular teeth. “Now, you understand,” he said, “we don’t want anyone to get hurt. We’re just businessmen, and business goes so much better without bloodshed and unpleasantness, doesn’t it?”

“What do you want?” I asked, though I already knew.

“As Fairy Twinkletoes here said...” The brown elf glanced at the fairy with absolutely no trace of affection. “We believe you can help us. We’re, as you can probably see...” He indicated himself and the other elves. “...foreigners. Tourists. We want a guide who can show us around.”

“Show us around,” the Middle Dark elf said, laughing again. He had a shrill, yacking laugh. “I like that.”

The brown elf ignored him. “We’ve got this...” he gestured vaguely in the air, but his eyes never left me. “ safes and vaults. You have a nice big vault here in this building, which we’re just dying to see. Lead us to it.”

“We also have a dislike of loud noises,” the pale elf with the blaster said, “such as alarms. So we need you to disable them while we’re looking.”

“That’s right. So, let’s get going. And, by the way...” the brown elf patted his hip, where something coiled and writhed and twisted as though it was alive. “You do know what this is, don’t you?”

I knew a neurowhip when I saw one. “Yes.”

“Good. That’s just in case someone – just someone – gets ideas that we won’t use the blaster at close quarters. We won’t have to.”

“What’s all this talk about?” the Middle Dark elf yacked. “It’s just a stupid, ugly orc. Order him to do what we need, and that’s all.”

Now, I don’t mind being called ugly – I mean, I do own a mirror, as well as eyes – and I’ll also admit that we orcs aren’t the fastest thinkers in all the Darks. But, though we might take our time, we aren't stupid. We do get there in the end, and isn’t that what really matters?

“Just one thing,” I said. “When you get your look at this vault, you aren’t planning to just look at the outside, are you? You’ll want to see the inside as well?”

“See what I told you?” the pale elf said. “A smart orc. No, orc, we’ll want a look at the inside too, at all the money. We like money as well.”

“That’s going to be a problem,” I said, “since though I know the alarms, I can’t open the vault. I don’t have the combinations.”

“We’ll handle that part,” the brown elf said, and glanced briefly over his shoulder at the fourth of their number. I hadn’t paid him much attention earlier. He was just an ordinary elf, short and thin, but he carried a large black case in one hand. “He knows how to go about all that.”

“So let’s get a move on,” the blaster elf said. “Or do you want a hole in your face after all?”

I didn’t want a hole in my face. We got a move on.


Though I’d been on night guard duty so many times in the past, on average once or twice a week, I’d rarely been inside the bank at night. And I’d certainly never been inside like this before, with a blaster pointed at my back. As I opened the main door, reaching inside to flip the first alarm switch off, I wondered for a moment what they would do if I simply bolted into the dark building. But they were elves, and faster than any orc; and, with my bulk, I’ve never been known to be anything but slow. I wouldn’t get ten paces before that neurowhip came curling round my neck.

So it was with a feeling as though intruding into unknown territory that I entered the building. The pale elf followed right behind, but not so close that I could turn round and knock away the blaster. He wasn’t that overconfident. The spike-eared Middle Dark elf crowded close behind him, a torch in his hand, and the silent safecracker at his back; while the brown elf, who was obviously the leader, followed behind the pack.

“Twinkletoes!” I heard him shout. “Stop hanging around there and come on.”

“The vault’s on the first floor,” I explained, as I led them past the counters. “We’ll have to go up top.”

“We know.” The leader laughed shortly. “If it had been underground, we’d just have tunnelled in, without all this rigmarole. Your employers could have saved you this trouble.”

“Sue them,” the Middle Dark elf yacked. I was getting terribly tired of his yack. “Sue them for mental distress. You might get awarded what’s left when we’re done.”

“Shut up, Candun,” the pale elf snapped. “Just shut up, can’t you?”

Candun complied, but I thought I saw him dart a look at the pale elf that didn’t bode well for the latter’s future. I’d already decided that the Middle Darker was the most dangerous of the lot of them. If the rest of them didn’t know it, they’d probably find out soon enough.

We went up the stairs. Nobody suggested using the lift, which meant, again, that they had their wits about them. In the confines of the lift, the advantage would’ve been entirely on my side.

The vault was at the far end of the long line of offices on the upper floor. It was in a room guarded by a sliding iron gate, which was, of course, itself locked.

“You know where the key to that is,” the leader said flatly.

I knew. “It’s in that office, in a drawer. The drawer has an alarm too.”

“Disarm it.”

I did. The key was half as long as my forearm. In the wavering light of the torch – Candun seemed to have as much difficulty focussing it as he had keeping his mouth shut – it took me several tries before I got it into the keyhole of the lock set in the gate. It probably ought to have screeched reluctantly open, in keeping with the darkness and the atmosphere of the moment, but, of course, it slid smoothly aside on greased wheels.

“There,” I said. The vault was a slab of metal set in the wall. “That’s all I can do for you.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” the leader purred. “I think there’s a lot more you can do for us. Disarm the alarms on this door now.”

There were three separate sets of alarms on the vault door, and strictly speaking I shouldn’t have known about them, since this room was only supposed to be accessible to bank officials. But of course there was no point in telling them that, and the leader watched while I shut them down one by one.

“Good,” he said. “Now wait there, by the wall.”

I waited by the wall. The pale elf watched me, the blaster in his hand pointing at my midsection. Candun pointed the torch at the vault door while the safecracker bent to examine it. The leader looked at all of us in turn. At his waist, the neurowhip twitched and rustled.

The fairy came to stand beside me. In the reflected torchlight from the vault doors, I saw she was giving me sidelong looks which seemed apologetic. The tip of her red, pointed tongue came out to lick her lips nervously. Her wings, almost invisible in the shadows, moved, stirring the air faintly.

 “Look,” she said, “this isn’t my fault, not really. They said they’d hurt me if I didn’t.”

“Shut up, Twinkletoes,” the pale elf snapped. “Shut up” seemed to be something he liked saying. “Nobody’s going to get hurt if you all do as you’re told.”

I’d serious doubts about that, but there was nothing much I could do at the moment. The safecracker, who hadn’t said a word all the while, had taken out tools and was putting them on the vault door here and there. Some I recognised, most not. I’d never had much of a head for that kind of thing anyway.

A thin metallic buzzing sounded, and sparks spiralled through the air. There was a smell of metal burning.

“Shut up,” Pale Elf repeated. Nobody had said anything, so I don’t know who he was saying shut up to.

Time passed. The room grew very hot. I felt sweat start on my scalp and begin to roll down my face. Finally, I took off my uniform jacket and hung it over my arm. Pale Elf’s black glittering eyes watched every move, but he made no attempt to stop me. He rather looked as though he’d have liked to take his black sweater off as well.

“What’s your name?” the fairy said. Her wings beat harder, fanning us both. For a wonder Pale Elf didn’t shut her up. Maybe he couldn’t hear over the noise of the safecracker’s drill.

“Mabketh,” I said. “Do you usually ask orcs their names?”

“I’ve never really talked to an orc before,” the fairy confessed. “I didn’t even really believe orcs could talk. You probably think I’m awful.”

“I don’t think anything,” I told her. She glanced at me and away again, quickly. She looked like a fairy with a lot of things on her mind.

“Stand back,” the safecracker said. It was the only time I ever heard him speak. There was a flash of light and a soft crack, and the vault door creaked open.

I’d expected that they’d take as much of the money as they could carry, and then leave, probably after carrying out whatever plans they had for me. But of course they didn’t.

“You,” the leader said, pointing at me. “Pick up all the money and dump it in these sacks. And then carry them down to the mechadragon.”

I was stronger than all of them put together, of course. I should have anticipated this. Well, all it meant was that they’d let me live until I got the money to the mechadragon. And then? And then we’d see.

I shovelled the money into the sacks from the shelves, using both hands. There were four sacks, and they were soon all full, bulging, and still the shelves weren’t empty. Not quite.

“What about that?” Candun said, pointing with the light of the torch at the money still filling one shelf, as I heaved the sacks on my shoulders and, one-handed, picked up my uniform jacket.

“We’ve enough,” the leader snapped. Now that they had the money, he seemed to be tensed up, like a spring, getting ready for violence. “Come out of there and let’s get down.”

We went down the stairs. The sheer bulk of the sacks of money made it hard for me to walk easily down the narrow steps. Pale Elf, impatient, prodded me with the blaster. “Get a move on.”

“No,” I said, and threw myself over backward on top of him. His blaster went off, the charge searing harmlessly through a sack, burning only money. I raised my elbow and brought it down hard on his neck, which was against the edge of a stair. There was a cracking sound and he went limp.

I rolled quickly on to my knees, wrapping my uniform jacket round my hand. The leader had fumbled the neurowhip from his waist and was just bringing it down when I grabbed hold of it. What? No, my hand didn’t get burned into a paralysed, useless claw. Did I mention that my uniform jacket has an insulating lining inside?  It isn’t much, but it can protect against a neurowhiplash. And we orcs are nothing if not tough.

Elves, even sharp-toothed elf leaders, aren’t tough. I didn’t have to raise myself from my knees to drag him down to me by the neurowhip and, literally, break him in half.

There was a sharp yacking sound. It was Candun, of course. He had a long black knife in his torchless hand, and was creeping down the stairs. There was a fixed grin on his face.

“Good orc,” he said. “Took care of those two and spared me the trouble. More for the rest of us, eh?”

I’d been right. He was the most dangerous of them all, and crazy to go with it. And he was obviously an experienced knife fighter. On my knees, exposed to him, I had no chance at all.

I didn’t attempt to go for the blaster, which was buried somewhere under corpses and sacks of money. As for the neurowhip, those things are always keyed to a particular owner. I couldn’t have used it even if I’d tried.

So, as he lunged, I raised the nearest sack of money and threw it at him. It met his knife thrust in mid air.

Of course it didn’t stop him. No experienced knife fighter can be stopped by so basic a tactic. But it slowed him for a moment, enough for me to try and get to my feet.

I wasn’t fast enough. He tossed aside the sack and came at me again, giggling. There was a distinct insane note in the giggle.

And then he stopped giggling when Fairy Twinkletoes bashed him over the head with the safecracker’s kit, hard. He stopped giggling, dropped the knife, and a moment later I’d got my hands on him and he’d stopped making any noise at all.

Twinkletoes was standing on the stairs, the safecracker sprawled behind her. She wasn’t even breathing hard. She smiled at me triumphantly. “Did a good job there, didn’t I?”

“Very.”  I brushed myself off and pulled on my uniform jacket. “A very neat job indeed.”

“He threatened to cut off my wings,” she said, kicking at Candun’s body with one neatly booted foot. “That’s why I said what I said to you, you know...down there.”

“I see.” I opened the sack which had been hit by the blaster and looked in. It was filled with charred paper and ash.

“I suppose it’s covered by insurance,” she said, looking over my shoulder. “The bank does carry insurance, doesn’t it?”

“I’m sure it does,” I said, straightening up. “But that doesn’t make any difference. You still aren’t getting away with the rest of the money.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, beginning to back away. “I never said anything about going away with the rest of...”

“But you were about to, weren’t you?” I dropped the sack. “I always did figure you for the smartest of the bunch.”

“I told you,” she said, “I was never with them. They forced me.”

“You know,” I told her wearily, “we orcs may be slow thinkers, but we aren’t stupid. If you’d known us better, you’d have realised that. You gave yourself away over and over again.”

“What do you mean?” She was backed against the stairway railing. “What are you talking about?”

“If you really weren’t with them,” I said, “you could’ve warned me in time to get to the alarm button. They were nowhere near you then. If you weren’t with them, you could have run for it when you were at the back of the bunch and we were entering the bank. You didn’t. And if you weren’t the smartest of the bunch, you wouldn’t have hedged your bets and kept your options open, so that you could switch sides when you saw I was winning.”

“But I’m just a weak fairy...”

I laughed. “Just a weak fairy,” I repeated, stepping towards her over the sacks and bodies. “And that’s why you took down the safecracker without even breaking into a sweat. Just a weak fairy, indeed.”

There was not enough space for her to try to fly away. She tried to run, and then she tried to fight. But she didn’t do either very long.


Look here,” I said to Gruoch, opening the little bag and pouring the contents on the table.

Her eyes grew wide. She sat back in the chair and stared. “Where did you get all that money?”

“All the money you keep saying the bank owed me for all the overtime,” I said. “As you said, they were taking advantage of me. Well, they finally paid me all that.”

“Really?” She frowned at the money and at me. “Are you sure you didn’t steal it?”

“I didn’t steal it,” I said. And it was perfectly true. After disposing of Twinkletoes I’d stood, pondering, for a while. Then I went up to the vault and took the money the elves had left on the shelves, popped it into the bag, and hid it under my uniform before I reported the robbery. The bank had, as I’d known they would, assumed it had all been burnt in the sack Pale Elf had blasted.

Gruoch had been right; the bank had been taking advantage of me. And the fairy had been right, the money had all been insured, so the bank hadn’t lost anything. And surely I deserved something for foiling the robbery, didn’t I?

I told you. We orcs may be slow thinkers, but we’re not stupid.

Give us some time, and we’ll get there in the end.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

[Image Source]

I've Had Enough Of Bowiemania

So David Bowie died
And the internet
Went wild.
I’m now going to add my bit
And reveal myself a monster.

I hardly knew who Bowie even was
I never knowingly heard anything by him
And I don’t really give a damn
That he’s dead.

There. That had to be said. 

I did not assume that he, or anyone else
Was immortal.
That’s how much of a monster I am.

And I don’t care about all the grief either.
Not when it’s splashed all over the net
On Facebook and cartoons, when the news and the loons
Find nothing else to say
Day after day after day.

No, I don’t give a damn
That’s how much of a monster I am.

And meanwhile
Saudi Barbaria bombs Yemen
Obama drones children
Liberals plan to vote for Killary Klingon
And zionazi vermin cheer as Palestinian kids
Bleed to death in the street.

Where is all the anguish and grief?

 I've had enough of Bowie
Whoever he was
And that is the truth.
Is how much of a monster

Tuesday 12 January 2016


It was Chronomass Eve, so Munkin and the twins painted the floors and walls with Timepaint. They’d been saving up for months for it, denying themselves anything but the necessities, and finally, just a week ago, they’d had enough.

“Just in time for Chronomass, too,” Vampi, who was the younger twin by fifteen minutes, had gloated. “It’s like it was...meant.”

Rangi, the older twin, had snorted. “Only because we’d scrimped with Chronomass in mind,” she’d replied. “You always have to look for silly things to believe in. No wonder, seeing you’re the kid.”

But they’d gone off this morning to the Time Shoppe in town, and walked back all the way carrying the sealed dark blue tins of Timepaint. They could have bought sprayers to put it on, too, but Munkin said they’d do it the old-fashioned way, with brushes. After all, sprayers cost money, and they had brushes aplenty.

So as darkness fell outside, Munkin climbed on a chair and began painting the walls all around the windows and the doors, making sure not to leave even the slightest little gap through which the time might leak out. Meanwhile, the twins, barefoot and in shorts, painted the floor with brushes tied to mop handles. The heavy, oily paint spread reluctantly over the polished wood, and glowed faintly with a greenish-yellow glimmer afterwards.

“Remember the ad?” Vampi said, dunking the end of the brush in a can to pick up another load of Timepaint. “The years that have gone,” she quoted verbatim, “rolled away into the dark of the night, can be brought back again, to the present, which they had once possessed; the memories that hover in shadows, weeping because they have no home, will find themselves freshened, given birth to anew. The leaves which have withered, harbingers of the snows of yesteryear, will sprout green again from the branches of spring, the grass will push up once again from the dust-dry earth. The..”

“Yeah, yeah,” Rangi said. “We’ve all heard it often enough. Remember the precautions we’re supposed to take, not the promises they made.” She inspected the bottom of one foot, which glowed faintly green; and when she ran a finger over her sole, it, too, came away glowing. “What do I do about this?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Vampi said. “Remember what they said, that it’s harmless to the present. Just make sure you paint over the footprint you made over there – I can see the floor in a couple of places. We can’t have leaks in the barrier, you know that.”

By the time they finished, it was almost ten in the evening. The paint was already beginning to dry, as promised, and the greenish-yellow glow was intensifying. They ate a small supper and settled down around the dining table to wait. Most people put up decorations for Chronomass, but they didn’t have time after all the work, and they had no money left over to buy decorations. Besides, it didn’t matter anyway.

The first visitor arrived early, an hour before midnight. Rangi, looking over her shoulder, saw him sitting on the bed, watching them. He looked exactly as she remembered him, his toothless jaws moving constantly as though he was chewing, while his yellowing moustache drooped over his mouth.

“Look,” she said, quite calmly, with none of the wild excitement she’d expected to feel. After all, it was just the Timepaint working as it was supposed to. “It’s Grandpa.”

Grandpa peered myopically around the room. “Where’s my favourite chair?” he mumbled. “I want to sit in my favourite chair.”

Munkin and the twins exchanged embarrassed glances. The favourite chair had finally succumbed to age and dry rot, and they’d burned it months ago as part of a bonfire. “It’, gone to the carpenter’s, Grandpa,” Munkin said, remembering to half-shout to get through the old gentleman’s wall of deafness. “It needed fixing. The joints were all loose.”

“We couldn’t get it back in time,” Rangi added.

“You call me back here,” Grandpa grumbled, “and without my favourite chair to sit in. And I’ve been looking forward to this for months.”

“We’ll get it for you next time,” Vampi promised, and was promptly rewarded by as hard a kick on the ankle from Rangi as she could manage under the table. “At least we’ll do our best,” she amended feebly.

Fortunately, Grandpa didn’t seem to have noticed. “Where is everyone else?” he asked. “Surely I’m not the only one who came?”

“No, no, they’ll be coming,” Munkin reassured him, and, as though on cue, Mama and Papa appeared together, just inside the door, side by side, as though they’d just walked in.

“How nice to see you,” Vampi and Rangi said, the latter much less enthusiastically than the former. “Was it hard for you to get here?”

“Don’t ask,” Mama said, flopping down in the nearest chair so hard that it squeaked, and mopping her red face with the same white lace handkerchief as she’d always used. “I walked and walked through the years, and now my poor feet are aching, and it’s not as though I got any help from you-know-who either, which isn’t surprising considering how he always behaved when we were alive, and...”

“We got here all right,” Papa said shortly, and sat down on the bed next to Grandpa. Munkin sighed. Death and the passage of years hadn’t changed the parents, evidently. As usual, they seemed to be straining to get as far away from each other as possible, and avoided looking at each other, but somehow still stayed together though they loathed each other and had never really tried to hide the fact.

“Isn’t there something to eat or drink?” Mama asked. “You call us here and you don’t even have anything ready to offer us?”

“I’m sorry,” Vampi said, and jumped up to rush to the kitchen. “I’ll get you some tea, the way you like it.”

“Children,” Mama said to nobody in particular. “How inconsiderate.”

“How’s the afterlife?” Rangi asked Papa curiously.

Papa shrugged. “It’s impossible to say. We aren’t from the afterlife, you know, just from the past, from where you dragged us. We’ve no idea what happened after we died.”

“It’s awful,” Mama said simultaneously. “Awful beyond belief.”

There was a brief pause, while everyone looked at each other. Grandpa’s jaws worked constantly, and his wheezing breath filled the room. “So, what are all you kids doing these days?” he asked eventually.

Munkin told him. He snorted. “No drive in young people, just like always. When I was your age, we’d achieved things by now, and you’re just marking time.”

Papa jumped up from the bed. “I’ve had enough of this,” he snapped. “To come back here, only to listen to the same old broken record...”

He was interrupted by Vampi returning from the kitchen. “What’s going on?” she asked, looking from one tense face to another.

“Never you mind,” Mama began. “I always think...”

She got no further. Although the paint was by now too dry to smudge, Vampi was still walking on the tips of her toes, and she was carrying the heavy tray with the cups and teapot. The accident was inevitable, and – though nobody would admit it – was welcome.

By the time the twins had mopped up the mess, and Munkin had replaced the tablecloth, the house was beginning to fill up. First it was crazy old Aunt Mashi, Mama’s sister. She still had the old grin on her leathery face, and she still spun round the chair and sat on it the wrong way around, which had always driven Mama crazy back in the old days. “Well, well,” she yelled. “I never thought you’d call me back. Nice to feel wanted, I always say.” She threw her head back and laughed. “Not that anyone else here is pleased to see me, are they?” She nodded at Grandma, who’d just appeared and was staring vacantly at nothing, the same empty shell as she’d been in her last years. “Except for her, I’ll be bound.”

“Well, it’s nice to see that you haven’t changed.” Munkin felt a snuffle and a cold wet nose pressed into his hand, and, even without looking, began scratching the hairy head under his fingers. He suddenly had the absurd feeling that if he looked down, if he saw the eager eyes and the lolling tongue, he might burst into tears. “Not that I expected you to.”

“Of course not.” Aunt Mashi leaned across the table and tapped Rangi on the arm. “I’d have thought you’d be hooked by now. How come you’re still single? Did you get jilted or knocked up or something?”

While Rangi was struggling to reply to this, Vampi saw someone on the far side of the room who made her mouth dry up. It wasn’t anyone she’d wanted to see again, and, after all, she’d only seen him the one time. And to look at, he wasn’t much – a small man with greasy hair, a little moustache, and a tiny pot belly. He looked across at her with a half-apologetic smile.

“Who’s he?” Munkin asked. “Someone you know?”

“Nobody,” Vampi muttered. She had a sudden, physical sensation of one of those two pudgy hands slipping under her skirt while the other twisted her nipple. She remembered his voice, insinuating, cold as ditchwater the day after a rainstorm. “You want it, don’t you?” he whispered in her ear, even as he smiled at her from across the room. “Tell me you want it, you little bitch. We both know you do.”

“Nobody,” she repeated. Was the man even dead? Was he just the memory of him come back alive? She hadn’t ever found out what had become of him, after all. She squeezed her eyes shut, and opened them again. The man was still there, but he’d pressed himself back against the wall, as though he would have loved to be gone. But of course that was impossible so long as the Timepaint barrier lasted.

Munkin was looking at the man as though debating whether to go and ask him what he wanted. He even started to get up from his chair, and Vampi had a sudden shaft of terror go through her at the thought of what the man might say. But then someone else came wandering out of the kitchen, and Munkin’s mouth fell open.

“It’s you,” he said blankly.

The young woman nodded. “Did you really expect I wouldn’t turn up? When you summon the past, you can’t really pick and choose.” She stepped towards him, ignoring everyone else in the room. Her face, under the tan, was pale, the skin drawn tight over her cheekbones. Her lips were a gash of red. She looked fierce and very beautiful. “You’re looking well, all things considered.”

“Who is this girl?” Mama demanded.

The young woman didn’t even glance at her. “Well, Munkin,” she said, “it’s been a while. Won’t you ask me to sit down? Or...” her eyes roved over the room, flickering momentarily as they touched Vampi’s and Rangi’s faces, “...would you rather discuss things in private?”

Munkin looked as though he’d been thrown a life jacket. “Come to my room,” he said. Ignoring Mama’s squawk of protest, he took her by the hand and drew her away. She, for her part, stepped past Mama as though she didn’t exist.

“Well!” Aunt Mashi hooted. “High drama at last! What do you think they’re talking about?” She winked at Vampi and Rangi. “Do you know?”

“I’ve never seen her before,” Rangi said, pushing away from the table so the dog could climb on her lap. The feel of the rough tongue licking her face was so familiar that she clutched him to her, hugging him as tightly as she could. He squirmed and whimpered.

“Vampi, Rangi...” Papa said. He looked acutely unhappy for some reason. “I’d have thought things might be...different. I don’t know. Better. But it seems it’s just like everything continued going downhill like always.”

The twins glanced at each other. “So it was always going downhill?” Rangi asked softly.

“And you still had us, even though it was going downhill?” Vampi added. “What were we then to you?”

“Ah, you’re a disappointment to him because you couldn’t do what he couldn’t, which is turn his life around for him.” Aunt Mashi propped her chin on her hands. “Isn’t it interesting what you find out when you get a chance to have a look at the past again?”

Rangi suddenly felt intensely hurt on their father’s behalf. “I’m sorry, Papa,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry you were like this. And I’m sorry we had to find it out.”

“Break the Timepaint seal.” Papa looked down at the floor and kicked the leg of the table. “Break the seal and let me go.”

“Not on your life,” Aunt Mashi said. “I’m enjoying myself far too much, and, besides, you can’t break it for just one person.”

“It’s going anyway,” Vampi pointed out. And it was, as the paint sank into the past, the glow fading, first slowly, and then with accelerating swiftness. And as it did, one by one, the visitors began to thin and waver. She reached out to the dog, but only managed a touch of fur before it faded under her hand.

“Goodbye, Grandpa,” Rangi shouted. “Goodbye! We hope you enjoyed your time with us!”

“Who was that girl?” Mama was still demanding, but her voice was fading fast. And, to Vampi’s vast relief, the man with the pot belly in the corner was already gone.

“Goodbye,” Vampi and Rangi called, as the visitors vanished. “We’ll see you next Chronomass. Goodbye!” And “Don’t go,” they both wanted to say. “Don’t go.” But it was both useless and too late. There was nobody left to hear.

Munkin came back into the room. He looked intensely unhappy. “It was a mistake,” he said. “A very bad mistake. We shouldn’t ever have done it.”

“A mistake?” Vampi said. “I don’t know that it was a mistake. We found out things we wouldn’t have otherwise. But even then...” She threw a glance at the far wall, where a small greasy man had pressed himself apologetically, “I’m glad it’s over.”

“Is it?" Rangi asked quietly. “Is it really?”

They both stared at her. “Of course it is,” Vampi said. “Or are you suggesting we do it again?”

We don’t have to do it.” Rangi got up, went to the door, and opened it. The dark night flowed by outside. She stared into it for a few moments before closing the door and turning back to them.

“What about when it’s our turn to be called back out of the past?” she asked. “What do we do then?”

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

Monday 11 January 2016

Prime Directive

Zwar Cleb scroobed down to the water and oozed towards the shore. Behind him, the ship floated, lightly touching the waves, her vast bulk light as a feather.

“Be careful, Zwar Cleb,” the ship ziggered. “Please.”

“Aren’t I always?” Zwar Cleb gronkled back, reaching out with a tentacle to clutch at a wave. The alien city grew slowly closer, rising white and grey out of the edge of the sea, as he crawled towards it. “Do you remember a single instance when I wasn’t?”

The ship was silent for a long time. “Still,” she ziggered finally, when Zwar Cleb’s grasping tentacles touched the sand of the beach, “you could, just this time, even by accident, you know –”

Tuning her out momentarily, Zwar Cleb bent an eyestalk to look closely at an animal lying on the sand. It was small, smooth, streamlined and glittering, as though it ought to be moving swiftly and gracefully, but it flopped back and forth, an orifice in its front end opening and closing. Watching it, Zwar Cleb transmitted a mental image back to the ship. “What do you think?” he gronkled.

The ship, interrupted in mid-zigger, took a millishomoy to change mental gears. “It would seem to be out of its element,” she signalled finally.

“Yes, the shape and the appearance of the limbs suggests it ought to be in the water,” Zwar Cleb agreed. “Therefore, it should be in the water.”

“But just suppose it isn’t!” the ship worried. “Suppose it is there because it wants to be, because it likes it there, because...”

“ wants to commit suicide?” The thing’s flopping was getting weaker, its orifice’s opening and closing slowing. Zwar Cleb flattened the end of one tentacle into a spatulate triangle, pushed it under the animal, and flicked. The creature described a parabola through the air and splashed into the water. For a moment, it hung motionless in the liquid, as though unable to believe its senses. Then, with a flick of its tail, it dived towards the wet, welcoming, shelter of the ocean floor.

“You took a big risk,” the ship hambarred. “You might have caused it irreparable harm. Just because it came out well this time doesn’t mean that it’s going to work always. You know that huge mistakes were made in the past trying to help, like Zwar Meegum that time when...”

Zwar Cleb tuned out the scolding. From so close to the city, he could make out that the tall white buildings were empty and desolate, the streets between them filled with detritus. “Ship?” he moggled.


“Remember that when we were in orbit we found there were no electronic transmissions?” He sent back a mental image of the empty, deserted streets. “We thought it was because the inhabitants had advanced to the point where they didn’t need transmissions, but it looks like we were mistaken.”

The ship digested this for a full hundredth part of a shomoy. “Still,” she ziggered, “we have to check. There may after all be survivors.”

Zwar Cleb groofed in agreement. He dragged himself over a seawall on to a street, and scroobed along it. It was so full of debris that he had frequently to squeeze himself to half his girth in order to get by it, or even had to climb over it, which was of course time-consuming, and would have been exhausting if he had to rely on bones and muscles for locomotion, like a hamandistar hargiley or something. And as he went, his bottom tentacles tasted everything he touched, looking for the slightest trace of life.

“No animate life forms yet,” he informed the ship, “except for some microscopic creatures too small to have thought processes. I am, of course, leaving them alone.”

Then at last he found life. It was a brown, shining creature with six jointed limbs and a pair of long, thin tentacles at one end, which flicked back and forth. Zwar Cleb stared at it for a half shomoy and then decided it was probably too small to have any great capacity for self-awareness, and was probably just urban wildlife, like a shohorer idur. When he tried to reach out and touch it to make sure, it scuttled away from him as fast as it could go.

“Their buildings look like stacked boxes,” the ship observed. “Do you suppose they were lacking in aesthetic sense as an evolutionary trait, or simply gave it up as inefficient?”

“If the latter, no wonder their civilisation collapsed,” Zwar Cleb gronkled. He was beginning to imagine that the creatures which had built the city were extinct, and was just about to add that, when he heard the noise. It was a ululating moaning, punctuated by an occasional sharp cracking noise, coming from somewhere to the left. Scroobing slowly over the wreck of what had once probably been a vehicle, he went to have a look.

He saw a herd of the creatures gathered outside a building, pressing against it and beating on it with their upraised front limbs. They were obviously frantic to get inside. A few of the creatures were also on top of the structure, carrying what Zwar Cleb diagnosed to be primitive projectile weapons, discharging them haphazardly down into the herd.

“The herd at the bottom,” the ship ziggered, “must be so frantic with terror at the sight of you that it’s trying hard to get inside.”

“True,” Zwar Cleb agreed. “And the ones on top, so frightened of me that they’re unable to even control their aim, and are launching their projectiles at their own species.” He scroobed forwards. “So it’s clear what I must do.” Raising a siphon, he hooted the Prime Galactic signal of peace and friendship.

It had no effect. On the contrary, they seemed to become more frightened than ever.

As Zwar Cleb came closer, the herd on the street got so overcome with terror that it lost all self-control and scrambled over each other to bite and claw him. Of course, it had no effect on his substance – nor did the projectiles, which the creatures on the roof were now raining down, so wild with their own fear that they seemed even more incapable of aiming at him than before. Spreading himself out as a shield between the biting, scratching herd on the street, and the little projectiles that the ones on the roof were firing down, he considered for a full shomoy what to do.

 “You have to help them,” the ship ziggered. “They’re so afraid they might end up harming themselves.”

“But how...” Zwar Cleb began, and then he noticed the entrance. It was barred by a heavy corrugated metal shutter, and was probably locked in some manner from the other side. No doubt the creatures on the roof would have normally opened it to let their fellow herd-members on the street enter, but they were all so afraid they had forgot.

Well, Zwar Cleb was there to do it for them. A mere metal door was no match for his tentacles, which – though gentle enough to smooth the dew from a leaf without disturbing it, could...

...wrench the entire corrugated metal barrier off its hinges, and fling it safely away over the heads of the herd so it hurt nobody at all.

“There,” Zwar Cleb gronkled in satisfaction to the ship, and scroobed aside to let the herd rush into the building as fast as they could go. “Look at them run back home!”

“The ones on top also went down,” the ship responded. “No doubt they’re welcoming their friends and relatives inside.”

“It’s a tender moment when creatures find each other again after great danger,” Zwar Cleb agreed. “I shouldn’t interrupt them. I’ll come back now, and we’ll try and talk to them again tomorrow. By then they’ll have realised that I mean them no harm.”

“Yes,” the ship ziggered, as Zwar Cleb made his slow way back down to the shore. “I am proud of you, Zwar Cleb. You handled the Prime Directive exactly as you should have. Nobody was harmed at all. I’m proud of you!”


And, meanwhile, inside the Last Redoubt of Man, the zombies, who had been denied so long, feasted and feasted.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

Deliberately left untitled

About a decade ago, while I was still working for the Air Force, I knew someone whom I will call, for the purposes of this article, Sergeant Panigrahi.

Sergeant Panigrahi had a daughter, who at that time was about seven years old. At least, she was biologically his daughter. But you’d never know it to look at her.

You see, Sergeant Panigrahi and his wife brought her up as a boy. They dressed her in boy’s clothes, cut her hair in a crew cut, called her by a boy’s nickname (which has escaped my memory), and even referred to her as “he”, not “she”, in her presence. But for the fact that I had to write the treatment sheets and prescriptions, I’d never have known that this was a female.

I don’t know where the sergeant is now or whether he is still in the air force. The last I saw of him was in circa 2007, and he must have long since been transferred elsewhere and he ought to at least be a warrant officer by now. And his daughter, whom he’d brought up as a boy, must be in her mid-teens...and realised that she is, you know, actually a she.

I can only imagine the psychological trauma the poor kid had to go through when she started getting her periods, sprouting breasts, and the rest of it. I can only imagine how much her parents managed to screw up her sexual identity for her.

Why did they do it?

To this day, especially in North India, the craze for a male child is so extreme that it defies rational analysis. The most common response is to breed and breed until the couple has achieved the desired male heir; and this is, I’m sure, what Sergeant Panigrahi would have done if he’d not been restricted to a sergeant’s salary. In rural communities, where polygamy is rampant, if one wife doesn’t produce a male baby after several tries, the commonest recourse is that the would-be father of a son simply “marries” again.

What he doesn’t do, of course, is adopt a boy. That wouldn’t be someone of their own “flesh and blood”, would it?

Some years ago – in 2012 or 2013, if I’m not mistaken – there was a case where the middle-aged daughter of a prominent business family got a sex change operation done and became a “male”. There was a rumour in the media that she’d done this in order to inherit the family business, because a daughter can’t inherit. This is actually total rubbish; there’s no law to discriminate on the basis of gender where inheritance is concerned. But, because of the rumour and the prominence of the person involved, it got splashed all over the media, and a lot of people suddenly became aware that sex change operations were a thing.

So can you tell me what happened? Yes, of course. All over the country, couples rushed to the nearest surgeon, daughter in tow, demanding that she be turned at once into a son. I don’t know how many were actually put to the knife, but I would be amazed if there weren’t at least a few.

I think about this kind of thing each time I hear about female genital mutilation. I also think of this kind of thing each time I see a picture of a four-year-old girl in high heels or a twee little bikini top to cover her nonexistent boobs.

In what world is this a good idea?

[Image source]

Just how much do people in different cultures hate their female children, and express it in whatever way is socially acceptable to them?

The hell with it.  I need to write something to cheer myself up now.