Flash Fiction: Death of a Bachelor

‘We’re safe then?’ whispered the gangly one.

The fat one nodded. ‘If all goes to plan.’

‘If?’ His beady eyes glared in the shadows. ‘We’re counting on you. A fortune’s at stake. Not to mention our positions.’

‘Yes, yes. It should be over now. But I don’t know -‘ He glanced round. ‘If the you-know-what was strong enough.’

The other flapped a hand in exasperation. ‘Come!’

Footsteps echoing, they scurried through the dark, draughty corridors to the chamber. Timidly, the fat one opened the door. ‘Yes!’

Grinning with delight, the two cardinals danced a sedate jig round the Pope’s dead body.

In response to Matt’s Flash Fiction Foray, where this week’s prompt was Panic at the Disco’s Death of a Bachelor. Although this precise scene is not historically attested, many an unfortunate Pope has met with just such a fate. The most recent was John Paul I in 1978, after only 33 days. He upset more than a few with his plans to clean up the Vatican and though it’s never been proved, it’s more than likely he paid the price. Quite a risky profession all in all.


Flash Fiction: Forgive me

San Giusto Cathedral Trieste2

‘But what precisely?’

Light and dark: such comfort in the light. She was cherished, her every thought seen, encouraged towards it.

Vanessa. The way she smiled, the glow of her hair. Her lips.

Magali forced herself to answer. ‘Of kissing her, Father.’

Such terror: within her a sin she couldn’t control, dragging her into the dark.

‘Be strong, my child. Resist.’

Absolved, uplifted, Magali stood in the light, looking up. But even as her own lips moved in prayer, the thought of Vanessa’s returned. She ran outside, seized by dread at her powerlessness, the impossibility of making her imagination pure.

In response to Matt’s Flash Fiction Foray, which had the song Pure Imagination as the prompt. The title of the story is apt as I’ve been a little overwhelmed this week and there’s been no Thursday Interview, nor even Pic’n’Post. Normal service to resume next week – thanks to Matt for getting me back on track.


Thursday Interview: Adam’s Rib


Creation of Eve, Basilica of San Marco, Venice

– Now, for the moment you’re just a rib, but there are rumours God has plans for you. Is that so?

– Yes, he’s going to turn me into a woman! Both Adam and I are hugely excited, though for different reasons, I imagine. He’s really looking forward to sharing the Garden with someone and as for me, well, what can I say? My big break, the role of a lifetime! I honestly didn’t think I’d get the part.

– Was there a lot of competition?

– At the first audition, yes. Practically every bone in his body turned up, including some I’d never heard of. I mean, the sesamoid bones, the trapezium… To think we’re in the same body and I’ve never met them! The only ones that didn’t bother applying were the cranial bones – thought it was below them. But then they’ve always been a bit big-headed.

– And why did you get the part, do you think?

– A process of elimination, mostly. The tiny ones like the malleus, there’s just not enough material to work from. And to choose a bigger one would have meant redesigning everything. The femur twins did a really good audition but without them Adam wouldn’t be able to skip and caper so gracefully around the Garden. Nor would he look quite so sexy, in my view.

– Well, excuse me for saying so, but it sounds as if you were something of a default choice.

– That’s what some of the other bones are saying but I’m not letting it bother me. It’s just the usual bitching. I know I have the potential to do a good job.

– And how do you see your role shaping up?

– I dare say it’ll be tricky. Will we bicker about who prepares the pineapple, clears up afterwards, keeps the cave tidy? Probably. Adam’s pretty slovenly, you know, he leaves his banana skins all over the place. So I’ll have to find ways of getting him to do his bit, but without getting on his nerves the whole time.

– I’ve heard he had a first wife, Lilith, who was very forthright.

– A pain in the ass, you mean. Which is  precisely why the producers dropped her. I mean, who wants a ball-crushing dominatrix as a partner? Just imagine if the UK ever got a Prime Minister like her – a sad day that would be! I can be persuasive, I think, without a head on confrontation. One of the first things I’ll do, for example, is get him to try this fruit he’s been avoiding simply because he’s been told he mustn’t. He’s not at all adventurous, you know. He keeps on walking past and staring at these juicy Cox’s Orange Pippins but he’s too scared. Sticks to bananas and berries most of the time – it’s ridiculous! I mean, what’s it there for in the first place if we’re not allowed to eat it? Adam needs a woman like me to push him out of his comfort zone. Otherwise we’ll never get anywhere.

– And where exactly would you like to get?

– I don’t know yet. I think it’s something only the future will tell. I hope to be a good role model for all the women who come after me. Adam can be pretty hot-tempered, so one thing I’m going to make sure is that he never raises a hand against me. If I let him do that, I’d be the worst role model possible.

– Well, as you say, it’s a great opportunity, but a great responsibility too. I wish you luck.

Connivance of the Cadis


Le turban et la Capote (The Turban and the Condom), by Nassur Attoumani & Luke Razaka

One consequence of the départementalisation of Mayotte in 2011 is that the laws of the République Française must now apply. This has led to a decline in the influence of the cadis, the Muslim dignitaries previously in charge of the island’s moral and legal affairs. Among the customs the Republic disapproves of is polygamy, especially when the wives can be as young as thirteen. The cadis, though, have no problem with this – it’s been part of cadial law, approved, and to a large extent practised, by the cadis themselves for centuries. Before we start feeling sorry for them, though, it should be noted that the practise is still going strong. The cadis have simply learnt to pretend that it’s not.

Thursday Interview: Nimrod


– Now, Nimrod, we all have a soft spot for your great granddad Noah, who got us out of a spot of bother, but the same can’t be said for you. This Babel thing – what on earth got into your head?

– I’ve never understood why a bit of ambition is equated with arrogance. What’s wrong with building a tower to heaven? OK, so it presented a few technical difficulties, but that’s what architecture’s all about. The Burj Khalifa, the Petronas – you’ve got towers all over the place now and no one bats an eyelid. I was a pioneer.

– But all the way to heaven? Didn’t it occur to you that God wouldn’t like it?

– That’s another thing that’s got around – that I had some sort of plan to chuck Him out, wage war on Him. Not at all, I simply wanted to take a peek at what’s up there. I mean, it’s all very well for Him, all high and mighty and omniscient, I can’t even pick my nose without Him seeing, but we haven’t got the foggiest how He lives or what His tastes are. Scrambled or sunny side up? Apple or Samsung? Beyoncé or Taylor Swift? It’s not as if it would cost Him a lot to tell us.

– I think His point is He likes to be shrouded in mystery. A bit like the royal family. People would lose their awe if they knew all about Him. But tell me about the construction itself. Must have been a huge challenge.

– The difficulty was calculating the height to width ratio. Bear in mind we only had bricks and mortar back then, none of your steel girders or reinforced concrete, so to suppport the weight, it had to taper up to a point at the top. My worry was that we’d reach that point before we got to heaven. I mean, no one could actually tell me how high heaven was, so there was a bit of guesswork involved.  But I think our calculations must have been close, otherwise God would never have freaked the way He did.

– What exactly happened? He saw what you were doing and flew off the handle?

– He totally lost it, man! I mean, talk about overreacting. You’d think He’d caught me peeping through his bathroom window. I though He was going to smite us all dead or something, but He just made everyone jabber away in different languages and it was total pandemonium. You had the foremen squabbling over the plans, bricks going to the wrong place, scaffolding falling apart. In just two days, the whole site ground to a halt. And I was running round giving orders that no one could understand – it was a nightmare!

– Well, it gave a lot of work to teachers and linguists and interpreters, that’s for sure. And you know what? The number of languages in the world today is dwindling rapidly. Barely 7000 left, a quarter of them spoken by fewer than 1000 people. And English looks set to become a global language, not that everyone’s happy about that, mind – ask the French!

– Well, maybe one day you’ll build a tower like mine. All you need is funds, technical savvy and loads of slave labour. So you’ve got it sorted, I’d say – I mean, that’s how it’s done in Qatar, isn’t it?

The Pig’s Head Brainwave


It’s generally admitted that if you live in a glass house, it’s not a good idea to throw stones. By the same token, if you live in a Muslim country, it’s not very wise to throw pigs’ heads. Especially into a mosque. Yet that is precisely what a gendarme’s girlfriend did on New Year’s Eve, 2013, with the help of another woman and the gendarme himself, who drove them there. The initial idea, suggested at a party attended by a score or so of military personnel and police, was to throw trotters into the neighbour’s garden. That being ridiculously tame, though, someone had the brainwave of the mosque. Everyone, of course, was drunk, but when it came to trial, that was hardly a mitigating circumstance: the two women, convicted of ‘psychological violence’, were sentenced to three months in prison, while the gendarme received a six-month suspended sentence. The defence lawyer appealed on the grounds that what they committed wasn’t psychological violence but blasphemy, which, conveniently, isn’t a punishable offence.

Mayotte is the setting for Perfume Island, the sequel to One Green Bottle. I’m not using this story in the novel, but there are others like it. When it comes to creating fiction, the gendarmes and their capers provide an excellent source of inspiration.

The voulé

IMG_3666 voulé

Mayotte being tiny, and affording few of the attractions of city life (for lack of sustenance, shopaholics simply wither away), the main weekend activity is the beach. The Mahorais tradition is to flock there for a voulé, which is basically a giant barbecue. Branches are cut, fires lit, pans of food prepared. The main staple is chicken wings and breadfruit. The chicken is bought in supermarkets by the carton: origin Brazil, 3 euros a kilo. Not exactly free range organic. The breadfruit is healthier, picked straight from the tree and either deep fried or tossed in the embers and baked.

IMG_3796 breafruit

Allah, of course, disapproves of alcohol, but appears to turn a blind eye at the voulé. Perhaps this explains why a couple of weeks ago, a young boy, whose parents were busy with the chicken and breadfruit, wandered off on his own and nearly drowned. One of the party later complained vociferously. “Beaches should be supervised! How can parents be expected to keep an eye on their children when the voulé is in full swing?” A voulé in Mayotte is a serious affair.

Children are Children, aren’t they? #IndiawithPakistan


Children from the Hunza Valley, north Pakistan.

India-Christmas 2013 252

Indian boy, Chennai

This reblog Wednesday post is Damyanti’s discussion of children in India and Pakistan, following the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar last December. Because as an Indian, her condemnation and compassion are all the more noteworthy; because one thing follows another and barely have we heard about an atrocity than we forget it; because I have been to both countries, seen the children she talks about, and been enriched by their smiles.

Le salouva vous va bien


Mayotte is 95% Muslim, but there’s one thing to be said for women’s fashion here – it’s far from drab. Though some of the younger women wear the standard western jeans and tee-shirt, most still go for the salouva, the traditional, brightly coloured costume which may or may not be worn with a headscarf, or kishali. This gives rise to a certain confusion in schools, where under French law, ‘ostentatious religious symbols’ are forbidden. These include the Muslim headscarf, which in its dull, dark, austere version is banned, but worn as a bright, colourful kishali is tolerated. The reasoning seems to be that colours = moderate, dull = extreme. There may well be an element of truth in that – the minority of extremists who every so often feel they have to kill other people don’t seem to think that life is much to be enjoyed. Given the choice, I certainly prefer a religion that glows. But as making colours a criterion in the statute book might prove tricky, the confusion is likely to continue.

In the meantime, Mayotte celebrated its tradition recently with a salouva competition.

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Contestants await to parade in their salouva

If you feel like scrolling through the 160 photos, you can vote here for your favourite:


Book Covers and Monks


A calm, meditative, peace-loving Buddhist monk? Uh, no. Ashin Wiratha, the “Burmese Bin Laden”, preaches hate and discrimination against Muslims, and has now called the UN’s special envoy to Burma a “bitch” and a “whore”. So there you go. As the French saying has it, L’habit ne fait pas le moine. Literally, “the clothes don’t make the monk”, often translated as “you can’t judge a book by its cover”.

You might think I’m now going to analyse religion, discrimination and Burmese politics. Sorry to disappoint – I’m simply going to add a poll to this post. Trivial, I know, but blogging 101 has got me hooked!

It’s just for practice, really, but I’m also genuinely curious: how do you judge a book? Several answers are possible (if I’ve done it right).


What if the proverb is confirmed? Will I be able to go for something that really sucks? Or is totally irrelevant? Hmm…

blog cover