HeadCleaner: A Novella by Nasir Hussain

Part 1: September 2001

A hand was held out for Nasir to shake. 

“Hello, my name’s Simon.” Nasir could not remember standing as close as this to somebody so tall. The top of his closely, cropped hair came up to Simon’s chest. Simon, though soft and fleshy around some parts of the body, was not a ‘big man’. The overly soft and supple bits around the waist stayed on as a testimony to bygone days as a much heavier person. The friendly look on his face and tone of voice did not look or sound bogus. This surprised Nasir. For reasons of cynicism or personal shortcomings he wasn’t used to thinking everything he heard and saw was as it appeared to be. Nasir took the huge proffered hand, thinking that this quasi-giant had an interesting face to go along with his quasi-gigantism. There was a long nose, like a finger pointing out at you, closely cut brown hair and small brown eyes that had an intensity to them that perhaps held memories that were better off suppressed than spoken about.

“I’ve heard you’re a writer?” Simon said.

“Who told you that?”

“Alison, she said you were an aspiring man of letters.” Alison was one of the teacher trainers at the Callan School of English where they both worked teaching English as a second language using a method where they were trained to teach from a book of pre-prepared questions and answers.

“I like to write.” Nasir said, a touch guardedly. He did not, after all, know what motivations and intentions possibly lay crouched behind this exchange. 

He looked at Simon’s face and noted how the only thing the two of them had in common were brown eyes and thinning hair. Simon was white, Nasir was British Pakistani with a smallish nose and much less exaggerated facial features than this man in brown corduroys, and smart green pullover.

“What’s your name for your book?” Simon asked with an air of genuine interest.

“What I really think about other people.” They both laughed and just like that they became friends, but to be honest The Callan School of English was one hell of a social nexus. That was a big reason why the employees stayed and the students paid. It was a rabbit warren of corridors, identical classrooms, quick turning corners and something that Nasir’s vocabulary couldn’t quite capture; but it was that intangible that gave the place it’s addictive character. It was awash with life; a place that shooed away loneliness and invited laughter and conversation. On good days it didn’t even feel like a job, it felt like being a student again, only without the burden of having to study and the subsequent guilt of not having studied. The only problems were the pay and the hours. You had to either start at eight thirty in the morning or come in later and finish the day at eight thirty p.m. Callan teachers netted less than seven quid an hour at the time. The Teacher Trainers and Admin staff had better job security. They had less to do, were on salaries that were better paid than what the teachers got but were still nothing to sing and dance about.

Nasir, Simon and most of the others who worked there hadn’t planned on becoming teachers. It was one of those things that just happened. The Sparse job advert at the back of the newspaper had just asked for graduates. No academic skill was required, in fact, it was suggested that it was better if you came in with as little prior experience of teaching English as a second language as possible. 

A few weeks after that initial handshake Simon approached Nasir with a proposition.

“I’m going to make a film. Do you want to be a part of it?” 

“Good idea. Yeah, I’ll be a part of it. What’s it about?” Nasir said looking up at him.

“Him. It’s about him,” said Simon, motioning with a flicker of his eyes towards Tamlyn who was sat at the other side of the room. 

“It’s about him, The Monobrow,” he added in a tone that though without any malice carried conspiracy. This is what Nasir saw – a tall, lean young man with long hair the greasy texture of seaweed and joined up eyebrows that hung over his dark, wolfish eyes like a black, bristly slash. He was holding court at the large table in the teacher’s room. He was picking at something behind one of his ears with vigorous intent as he spoke. 

Nasir was mesmerized by this new teacher at the school. He had only been there about a month, whilst Nasir had been there for little over a year and Simon had been there for about four months respectively, but he was already acting like a veteran Callan teacher. Nasir spoke without taking his eyes off the subject. “He’s amazing… all bewildered and mad looking. It’s a bit like finding John the Baptist without the religion. Do you know what his name is?” 

“I think his name is Tamlyn,” Simon said, the wheels of his mind spinning wildly behind his thinker’s eyes that now appeared large..

Tamlyn always came in around eleven-twenty with his belongings, usually broadsheet newspapers like The Guardian, in a tatty carrier bag. He was a little over 6ft tall with a grim spare frame. Nasir was decidedly under 6ft and like Simon suffered from sag in some parts of the body which was only apparent when he took his top off. He always felt undersized and overweight.If he had a magic wand he would have waved it and wished to be 6ft, but short of getting Tom Cruise boots with lifts in them, he could do little about it. 

The teachers all seemed to be characters and the students were varied, but one continuous constant at the school since it’s opening in 1960 was the eerie beauty of so many of the students who sat in the classes. Some of the teachers went out with students from the Callan School. It was one of the prime reasons why they hung on. Most of the young women who came to learn English there looked like Bond Girls. Why would you want to leave a place like that? A few of his fellow Callan teachers had married someone who had been a pupil at the school and many of them pined after some of their students. The teachers were overwhelmingly male and therefore a laddish culture inevitably developed among some of them.

Simon explained that the film would revolve around a single character, clearly suffering from some derangement of the mind. 

“It’ll be a short with no words. But you’ve got to be serious and committed. No messing around,” said Simon.

“No messing around,” said Nasir almost as an echo to Simon’s words.

“Have you got a name for it?”

“Yes I have. HeadCleaner,” said Simon, looking pleased with himself. “It’s gonna be about Monobrow,” he explained to Nas in his deep, dry Londoner’s voice. “He lives in a bedsit, you know, care-in-the-community sort of thing. He lives in squalor and writes drivel all day long and has bits of rubbish, like old newspapers scattered all over the place. Whaddya think? We’re talking about reversions and inversions,” he added enthused at his idea.

“I like that, very gritty,” said Nasir. ” Very gritty indeed, especially his writing screeds of nothingness.”

“Yeah, I know, but that’s not all. What happens you see is that Monobrow-

“Monobrow?”

“Yeah, that’s what the character’s gonna be called,” Simon reminded him, running a finger along his own eyebrows which were not conjoined. “Monobrow finds a videotape in the street that will become his bane. The tape is haunted…. A haunted porn film,” said Simon looking pleased with himself. 

“Now that’s a story I can get behind,” said Nasir. And he meant it.

“Your job, Nas, is to talk to him and see if he’ll be interested in playing the part of monobrow,” Simon said with a smile.

“I’ve never spoken to him, before-” protested Nas.

“Well, neither have I. I’m going to be honest with you, he sort of freaks me out. Try to befriend him and see if he’ll be up for it. That’s your job for now.”

Simon was white, Nasir was brown and Tamlyn looked something in between.The one thing that all three all had in common was that they were talkers. They loved the telling and listening of stories in whatever form they came. 

Tamlyn loved to talk, loudly and as often as he could. More often than not sprays of excited spit would assail those in the line of fire. Nasir had once heard him talk about the job within earshot of the management.“On a good day this was the best shit job you could want. No doubt about it. It’s like being in university all over again, only without the guilt of studying. You don’t even need to go out and make friends anymore because you’re always given a good supply of people.”

Tamlyn always wore the same crumpled, once white shirt, black trousers and black, suit jacket, looking like a man who hadn’t washed or ironed anything for months. Someone from the management had taken him to one side one Friday afternoon and told him that he had been wearing the same shirt for weeks on end and needed to come in on Monday wearing a different, clean shirt.

“Yes, of course, will do,” he had said in his deep, cultured voice that seemed so out of sync with the rest of him. Tamlyn, as promised, came in on the following Monday in a different shirt, but by the following Monday he had the same shirt, albeit washed, back on again. Tamlyn took it all in his stride. It was like being told off about his hygiene was no new thing for him. The fact that he was popular with the students for giving it his all in the classroom was good enough for him. He seemed largely oblivious to those who took exception to him. He was too caught up in his own world of words and thoughts to seriously ponder what others made of him. 

Sometimes he would looking up at the ceiling with his long face split in a delighted smile, and a slight drool bubbled at the corners of his open mouth like he was having a eureka moment. It was during one of these raptures that Simon was touched on the shoulder by the long finger of inspiration into the idea that would be behind his second short film.

Nasir had some aspects of his life that he saw as ‘problematic.’ Beautiful women and the contemplation of perfect acts of coitus with these beautiful women were never far from his thoughts. The impulse of cupidity often overruled all other impulses and he floated through the long, carpeted corridors of the Callan School of English like an unchained sexual melody. 

Simon was not unaware of this. He was also aware that Nasir was of average height at best and could do with losing some poundage around his waistline; yet still went about thinking he was king shit.

Nasir had seen few people in his thirty years who were as easy to exploit as Tamlyn could be- with the right set of circumstances. Tamlyn had a BA honours degree in English and Performance at King’s College. This explained his unlikely, theatrical boom of a voice which contrasted so vividly with his tall, spindly frame. When asked by Nasir on whether he would participate: Tamlyn squinted up at the ceiling and scratched his chin. “I’ll think about it,” he said in a brooding manner that reminded Nasir of Christopher Plummer’s Sherlock Holmes.“I’ll of course need more information.” 

“What did he say?” Asked Simon later that day.

“He said he’ll think about it.”

He didn’t think about it for long. They were going to make HeadCleaner. Simon explained how the idea of the story germinated from a trip to the East End to buy a midi hi-fi from a creepy fellow in a high rise. The place had a peculiar, thought provoking odour to it. Later that night lying stoned in his bed and listening to music Simon had looked up at the flashing LED lights of the midi hifi and wondered what those lights that peered ominously down at him like some evil cat, had seen in their time in his bedroom. 

Simon had asked Nasir to send his contributions towards the script via email. 

“Remember, there is direction, a theme and no dialogue for Tamlyn to learn,” he reminded.

Nasir sent two pages that seemed to be some sort of synopsis about a man smiling at a desk in a filthy room delicately writing on a child’s writing pad.

The two pages made little sense to Simon, but as he had got most of the script and story boarding in order, he ignored Nasir’s handiwork and asked him instead to meet him at the office he shared with friends and have a critical look at what he had written and see what they could both add or subtract from it. Nasir visited the studio twice. He was late both times. He was restless both times and always managed to say things that made Simon shake his head.

“You haven’t read what I’ve emailed you, have you? Cos if you had you wouldn’t have said what you just said.”

Nasir kept using any available surface as a percussion instrument, displaying a furious, wayward energy that went nowhere. Simon was bongoed into distraction on both of Nasir’s visits and unable to concentrate on his work. “You’re distracting me, man. I thought you were going to help me,” he moaned as he playfully head-banged Nasir’s shoulder. Simon secretly feared that Nasir, despite his best intentions, couldn’t be trusted to do the things he said he would. Whenever Simon’s interest in him began to wane, like a water hose being turned off and flaccidly going down, Nasir would exhale commitment. Commitment poured out of his puppy dog ovals.

“Belieeve meee,” he would say. “Bellieeve me.”

Simon was a forgiver by nature. He felt he had to relieve himself of grudges before they arose. He was, after all, a vegan. Nasir had correctly sized him up as a pacifist. He had none of those tense movements that spoke of hidden pools of aggression. There was something about the eating of meat, specifically red meat that was vital to the corralling and distribution of violence. Inwardly, Nasir respected vegans but had never been able to express that admiration properly.

‘Alright… I’ll believe you.’ 

‘You won’t regret it man. I’m getting my act together, you’ll see’, promised Nasir.

But Nasir was more interested talking about a student at the school who he had recently taken a shine to.

“Now, Simon, I’ve got to tell you. I don’t usually fall for the tall, leggy, well proportioned blonde type, but in this case I’m more than prepared to make an exception. She’s a knockout, dude. Ten outta ten. If we were talking snooker she’d be a 147… She hits all your senses like a Ronnie O’Sullivan 147!”

“If she’s so lovely then it stands to reason that she must be getting permanently chatted up by all those handsome Italian fellers at the school.” Simon said.

“Naah, she’s got class, character and breeding, mate. I see all those Brazilians, Italians and a few slimy teachers trying it on. They’re all chatting to her, but I don’t see her mouth moving. And those Polish chaps don’t know how to chat up women, not a clue. So, they just sit and stare like beggars at a banquet.” Said Nasir heating up from the heat of his own imagination. 

“Where is she from Nas?” 

“She’s Polish.”

“What if she’s already got a boyfriend?”

“Well then I’ll just have to woo her away from him.”

“Okay very good, can we get back to work now, please?”

Simon had instructed Nasir to tell Tamlyn to make himself look as filthy and unkempt as he could- without losing his job. Tamlyn took it all in his stride. He looked pleased even. 

“Yes I understand all that. From the entrails of adversity is true art of quality delivered. Don’t worry about all that not washing stuff, leave it to me.” 

Nasir noticed with grim amusement in the days that followed, that Tamlyn was taking the injunction against hygiene as well as any method actor. It reminded him of a dramatised Russian folk tale he had seen in 1983 on the ITV children’s program Storybook International. The story was about a soldier returning back from a war, hungry and destitute. The Devil suddenly appears in the woods, and makes him the mischievous offer of five years of ceaseless wealth. In return the soldier had to agree to never wash, cut his hair or even blow his nose. The part of the story that stuck out was the intense shame of the soldier at not being able to wipe his nose as he stood to greet a beautiful princess. The soldier ended up reneging on his deal with the Devil days before the agreement was due to end. 

They were ready to shoot a few weeks later. December had arrived and it was particularly grey and bleak that year. Simon had since spoken to Tamlyn, but it had always been with some purpose behind it either work or HeadCleaner related. There had been no communication as yet that had suggested that they were becoming friends. The same was not true in the case of Nasir and Tamlyn.  Something of a rapport had developed between the two. They would sometimes meet at Bruno’s Cafe at the top of Berwick Street or at the Pollo Restaurant on Greek Street on a Saturday night. Nasir was keen to cajole Tamlyn into explaining how he had become ‘Tamlyn.’

“So what’s the story then? What happened? How did you end up teaching English to foreigners?” Nasir said. Tamlyn was not shy in talking about himself. It was almost like he had been waiting for someone like Nasir to come and probe him about his life. 

“Well, as you can tell, it wasn’t a part of my master plan. It just happened, like something I had no control over. As a kid I went to a private school on a scholarship. I’ve been told by reliable sources that I started to read from quite an early age. So you can say that I started at the top and I’ve sort of worked my way down ever since.”

“Well, I understand that side of life, but tell me, what was it like when you were little?” Nasir said. There was an intent pause, as if he had hit a defenceless place.

“Well, there are lots of pictures of me as a kid, smiling. In fact I seem to be smiling quite a lot in them, in my braces and soup bowl haircut, they called it a bowler-chrome. All in all I have fond memories of the ’70s…. Then the fucking ’80s came along and ruined everything.” A rueful smile appeared on his face as he ploughed on. “I grew up on a council estate in South London and even then I spoke the way I speak now, with the posh sounding accent. I was ten years old and the rest of the kids on the estate thought I was gay. I got called Geek, weirdo, nerd, arse-bandit, gay-child. You name it, if it’s bad I’ve probably been called it. They used to say the Good, the Bad and the Tamlyn. And loser- that’s the worst one isn’t it? It’s so overwhelming. It totally strips you down to rubble… and leaves you there all broken and forgotten. In the end the bullying and name-calling got so bad we had to move away. And my mother, who raised me by herself from when I was seven, never forgave me for her having to move. She liked our little council flat. It saved her money.”

“What did or does, your mum do?” Nasir said.

“Oh, mum’s a music teacher in Balham, always has been. Her work is her life. We lived a very Spartan existence. We didn’t have a colour T.V until I was thirteen. The house had very little in it besides that T.V, a table, a few chairs, a sofa, mum’s piano and a lot of books. I had to learn most things for myself. And I cannot ever remember her doing any cooking. We always ate out. She doesn’t look anything like me. Cos you see dad, who looks just like me, is of Romany gypsy stock. It’s where I get my complexion from,” he laughed brayingly out loud. “People must think we’re a couple of Pakistani lovers on a night out!” Tamlyn said.

“Yep, guilty as charged, my parents are both Pakistani, but I haven’t been there since 1985. What happened between your mum and dad?” Nasir said.

“They divorced when I was seven.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Nasir said.

“I’m not. They had nothing in common except for passion. He’s a failed lawyer who wanted to be a writer. Mum wanted to be a composer, successful classical musician. I can still remember some of the tremendously energetic rows they used to have.”

“And she’s English?”

“Her mum and dad were Scottish. She’s well removed from my swarthy complexion though, a real honest to goodness white woman. In fact we look so different that people see me with her and assume I’m her toy-boy. They ask her what’s she’s doing with someone like me and she says:

Do you mind that’s my son!’ she delights in telling people I’m her son, not because she’s proud that I’m her son, but because she looks more like my older sister than my mother. We don’t even look the same race. Her personal hygiene is of course to a much higher standard than mine too. She’s always well dressed and well turned out. People see me as a smiling happy-go-lucky-loser now. Yeah, I smile and laugh a lot. But it was different when I was a teenager. I was so serious then, so desperately unhappy that it was almost comical. I hated sixth Form school, didn’t like going and very often didn’t. Whatever I’ve learnt I’ve learnt myself. But I truly believe that the things you learn and remember are the things you learn for yourself.”

Nasir put a fist up under his chin in contemplation. “I know what you mean. At University I spent a lot of time in the library reading…It’s just a shame that everything I read wasn’t listed on the course syllabus.”

Tamlyn blinked and sat back. “I breathed a sigh of relief when the ’90s got underway and I went to university. I thought that at least there I’d finally meet my kind, my sort of people, people who understood. But an alarming number of them were highly impressionable low IQ types. The sort of people who would do just about anything to get attention. Yeah, like I said, I was a very serious young man back then. I never smiled. I suppose I just sort of loosened up as time went on.”

“What happened?” Nasir asked.

“What happened I think was that I became used to life. When you’re young you’re not used to life, to the whole business of living. It’s not a coincidence that babies have that ‘what-am-doing-here?’ expression on their faces.” He pointed an accusing finger at Nasir. “You, you must have been like a cat on a hot tin roof!”

Nasir looked ruminative for a long moment. 

“I remember that first week at University.”

“You studied Law at University, right?”

“Right. We sat in a room and had to introduce ourselves to each other with the faculty head going through what we should expect. I remember some of them actually saying- I’m so proud to be here- as if they had far exceeded their own expectations of themselves. I found it hilarious and inappropriate at the time. Because for me, three years at University was like three years of paid holiday, where you were made to feel good about yourself. There were so many students who pretended to be slackers, but weren’t. The sort who used to work bloody hard and then cover up the fact that they worked bloody hard. I grew my hair long to celebrate the fact that I had got into university. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. You were at King’s college weren’t you? Did you get a first or a 2.1?” Tamlyn’s eyebrows rose in amusement and he exhaled deeply before speaking.

“Third class honours.” 

“Whoa! You don’t get to see those handed out very often! How did you manage that?”

“It took a lot of work mate, certainly wasn’t easy I can tell you that.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t.”

“Well, I think that thirds are seriously misunderstood. The only degrees that count in my opinion are firsts and thirds. It’s tremendously hard work getting yourself a third class degree, much harder than it is to get a 2.1 or even a first class degree. We know a first class degree is 70 percent and above. The 2.1 is between 60 and 70 percent. A 2.2 degree is between 50 and 60 percent and the third is between 45 and 50 percent. Notice how a third is a slim margin stuck in between two large and two very opposite classifications.You could extend the class of a degree as an allegory for the different levels of life- because that’s what they are. They’re there to say what quality of person we are. You know, I believe from a very early stage in life we know who or what we are. As a result we think we know what we then want out of life. You only know what you really want from life when you know who you are. As regards becoming a first class degree holder, you have to make sacrifices, that’s the key thing. To really achieve something, to be great at something, you often have to be a shit. It goes with the territory. Your average first-class degree holders don’t usually have great depth, but they’ve got guts, ambition, ruthlessness and that tunnel vision needed for their cause. Which is usually to rise without a trace. There are no friends at the top. You don’t climb to the top of the food chain by being nice to everybody. A guy with a first-class degree doesn’t bother with socialising. It interferes with the game plan. Must always have your eye on the ball if you want to be a first, need to be ruthless. Now, I met this guy on the course, James, not a bad bloke, actually. Now, the moment he set foot in our department he rubbed his hands and said: I really want to get down to the course.” Tamlyn allowed himself a wide grin. “Yeah, right from the moment he walked in. Let’s get down to it. James wasn’t considered to be particularly bright. But he worked. Boy did he work, he had the discipline of the long distance runner. The number of people who got 2.1s on my course who were not that bright.” The memory extracted a melancholy expression from him. Nasir leant back with half-closed eyes and put his arms behind his head. 

“You know, when I was at law school there were all these firsts and 2.1s surrounding me. I’m talking Oxbridge firsts.”

“Really? I always thought that you’d managed to get away with doing absolutely nothing. Cos you had real problems working didn’t you? I had the same.”

“Oh yeah… At law school I was more concerned with being a social butterfly than studying. The course was not particularly difficult, but there was a huge volume of information to digest. Falling behind was fatal, and I fell behind. Since then I’ve been lost at sea.”

“That reminds me of my dissertation. I wrote it out in one night. My flatmates were typing it out as I wrote it. I got a 2.1 for it. The terrible thing was that mine got stuck in the computer, and I knew nothing about computers then, absolutely nothing. And basically the computer crashed and I didn’t know that all I needed to do was just switch the computer off and start again and I got into this terrible panic thinking, ‘shit, what am I going to do?’ I spent about ten days trying to get the script out of the computer. But, my dissertation saved my degree. Basically, my friend and I will always remember this, saved it for me; I wasn’t even going to hand my dissertation in. I thought ‘I haven’t done it’. I’d done loads of reading. I’d been thinking about my dissertation all year.  Basically it was all in here,” he said tapping the side of his head. “It was just a question of getting it all down on paper. Anyway, I was saying; ruthlessness is the key ingredient to big achievement. Do you think it’s a coincidence that nearly all so-called great men are not very nice people? That to be great you have to be a total shit. That’s another reason why most famous people tend to be without real substance, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes, I agree. Celebrity and notoriety are all too often very closely linked.” Nasir said, keeping it short because he wanted to hear more of what Tamlyn had to say.

“Good! Now your third is someone special. Never forget that. This is someone who really manages to fuck things up. Not being able to pass or fail properly. Thirds are dreamers, often childlike.”

Flyer for Comedy Performance by Nasir and Tamlyn

Simon emailed the completed script of HeadCleaner over to Nasir and asked what he thought of it.

“I like it. It’s dark and sly and clever. Can’t call it a comedy, can’t call it horror, and you can’t call it tragedy either.”

“It is what it is,” Simon said.

Simon had by this point gotten over Nasir’s lack of written input. But he had not come anywhere near to overcoming his apprehension of his lead actor.

“I bet you he’s never had a girlfriend. I bet he’s a virgin. He’s got more chance of converting to Islam before the end of the year than he has of getting a girlfriend within the next ten years!”

Everything had been synchronized so that they were able to get the first scene out of the way on the second Saturday morning of December, just before the Callan school took a short break for Christmas 2001. The weather had turned very English. It was the sort of weather that made Nasir feel homeless every time he went out for more than an hour. Simon, his girlfriend and Tamlyn showed up at the agreed time. Nasir did not. They hung around waiting outside Brixton tube station sending unanswered messages to their AWOL co-director’s Nokia mobile.

Nasir eventually emerged at the busy entrance.

“Trust you to be late,” Simon muttered.“Come on, pick up one of these bags. No, leave the camera, the other bag. We got to hurry up. We’re behind schedule.”

“Schedule? What schedule?” Nasir said. Tamlyn grinned and ran his tongue along the upper row of his teeth as he saw Nasir panting towards them. Simon shook his head and picked one of the bags off the floor.

“Come on!” The street outside the station was swamped with people looking to change the world. Christians were testifying, Muslims in proud looking beards and loose apostolic robes falling down to the ankles, manned tables laid out with pamphlets and incense.  A Marxist in a green donkey jacket and fisherman’s hat held up a newspaper and seller-shouted:

“Today’s Morning Star! Today’s Morning Star! Today’s Morning Star!”

A middle-aged black woman sat in cross-legged swami fashion and expressionlessly on a large mat. There was a mug, a pack of cards and some dice in front of her. She must have been some commercial prophesier. A white woman in her late 20’s, dressed in clothes which only a good job could pay for, knelt opposite. Her body language and intent facial expression had the sincerity of someone talking to the bank manager for a loan. The soothsayer spun the cup and turned the cards. Christianity and Islam were still leading the market- the Coca-Cola and Pepsi when it came to evangelical ideology. 

The chosen house suited the tone of the film. It looked lived in, but too transient to be a homely place. It seemed more of a central point where people came and went.  It was lived-in by a group of people who to Nasir looked as anti-establishment as the Weathermen network of 1970s America. 

“They’re anarchists, they don’t eat meat, but they’ll eat the rich if they get the chance.” Simon chuckled as they entered the front garden which was slightly overgrown as far as the grass was concerned and also, judging from the black bags left outside, looked to be the victim of an unofficial bin man’s strike.

Nasir guessed that about five people lived there. One of them was a young woman with a cute infant daughter. There was a lot of coming and going of people with mohicans, nose rings and DM boots. He could never grasp the motives of such people. At such times he did not feel like the son of Pakistani immigrants, but a Pakistani immigrant himself with an entirely different worldview to the country of his birth.

“This country is heaven boy,” his dad’s fellow Pakistani friends, who had come over at the same time as his dad back in the mid to late ’60s, would say almost like they were repeating a phrase they did not want him to forget. 

It was a strange dichotomy he thought. In Pakistan the youth practically worshipped their fathers, even if the worship was forced. Whilst here in the west the youth repudiated their fathers, even though with the passage of time they were destined to become just like them.

“What are they railing against?” Nasir wondered. In the east corruption, nepotism, cruelty against animals and tormenting women, children, the poor and the mentally ill was common enough that one could have argued that such behaviour was the norm. And the idea of state benefits or notion of something like the NHS were not even in the framework of consideration of any dictator or political parties. From where he stood, the game plan in Pakistan, and therefore in most other third world countries was to do well enough to you could exit the country and get yourself to places like Britain, Canada or the United States and get that shiny pound coin in your pocket and aim for the holy grail of a first world passport. Nasir was grateful to the point of prostration that his dad had got out of Pakistan when he did, or else he’d be the one driving people around in a rickshaw or milking some cow with the smell of manure polluting his nostrils with some forced marriage to some far too close relative. These angry, young white people didn’t know how good they had it in the great scheme of things. They took their civilization, which had taken such an arduous process to develop, for granted if not to the point of contempt. He bet that such people had no idea of what the world beyond the West was really like- just a convenient image of it. 

The scene they had come intending to shoot was ‘the discovery scene’ in which Monobrow comes home to discover videotape, lying stranded on the dirty carpet without a cover or title. 

It was a cold, December afternoon, not helped by the fact that the house had a heating system that didn’t work, refused to work or would be switched on when the outsiders had pissed off. Nasir wanted to go home and dance.

“Right,” Simon shouted. “Action!”

Monobrow, carrying two shopping bags filled with newspapers, made his dramatic, beleaguered entrance through the front door and pressed up against the wall like someone hounded by the world with eyes closed. “Awwwh,” he whimpered as if he were in some abstract agony. He then opened his eyes and looked at the hallway in front. A videocassette lay abandoned on the dusty, red hallway carpet. He rushed forward to tenderly caress it before bounding up the stairs with both arms swinging in front of him. 

Simon looked moodily thoughtful. “I like the way you’re running up them stairs, but I want you to laugh as you do so, not ordinary laughter either, sound mad.”

Nasir hadn’t realized how tedious and repetitive it was to shoot a scene. The same scene was repeated over again, with small variations here and there while Nasir stood to the side hoping each re-take would be the final one so he could go to Piccadilly and buy CDs. The process, if not the actual filming of the opening scene of Monobrow coming in through the front door, had taken the entire afternoon. Nasir’s abiding memory of that day was one of coldness and of not having a clue as to what he should or could do to assist. 

He wasn’t there for that successful retake; he went for a jacket potato with Sumiko, Simon’s live-in Japanese girlfriend, who stood here and there with almost hanger-on like meaninglessness. She stuck close to Nasir for most of the day and at one point asked him what a jacket potato was. He used the question as a pretext to escape for a while. Nasir liked her, but didn’t seem to know much about her, except that she had a dark bob-cut and came up to Simon’s chest in height. She seemed impenetrable due to the fact that she displayed no personal hobbies, interests or pursuits besides her devotion to Simon. She even liked to dress like him when she could, giving Nasir the sinister impression of a ‘mini-me’ type devotion.

Within minutes he was gushing to her about the magic that was Kinga. On her last day at school she had waited near the teacher’s room and then pounced with a gift-wrapped box of Ferraro Rocher. He’d relished the way some of the other teachers had looked on from the classroom with tight facial expressions. Especially since Kinga was one of the girls whose names were repeated in the smokers corner of the staffroom.

“She’s got the best tits in the whole school and that’s a fact.”

“You got that right, what they lack in size they make up for in pertness.”

“This is my last day. I brought this for you,” she said, handing a box over with two hands. “Thank you for teaching me. I really enjoy your class. You are very kind and funny.”

At that moment something happened to him and all his ambitions in life seemed to have boiled down to finding a way to sit next to her on a sofa and tell her his life story while she held one hand in his and brushed his face with the other.

“She left the school last week, but she waited for me in the corridor and gave me a Christmas present. It was a box of Ferrero Rocher, wrapped in gold paper and red ribbon. She handed it over to me with both of her hands and a voice inside me whispered ‘oh shit’ and I turned into a slush puppy. Since then it’s been autopilot all the way, like KITT in Knight Rider. I asked her to come to the pub but she just laughed like I’d asked her to go to the moon and said “I don’t know anyone.” She gave me her phone number before she left!  And now I find myself thinking about her when I really should be thinking about other things.”

“Call her,” Sumiko insisted. ‘Call her. You really like her a lot. I can see that.”

“Yeah, but what if she says no?”

“Wha’ if she says yes?”

“Good point.”

“No ask, no get,” said Sumiko. 

He looked at her and chewed on a fingernail. “What happens if she doesn’t want to see me?”

“Call her, see what happens. She gave you her number didn’t she? Why do you think she did that huh? Men are like dogs, throw them a stick and they’ll chase it.”

“Thanks.”

“Look if she doesn’t see you then you don’t see her. If she wants to see you then you see her. Easy, I don’t see the problem here, Nas.”

He reached for his mobile, looked at it for a couple of seconds, looked again at Simon’s girlfriend and with conviction, started pressing the buttons. A minute later he was smiling across the table.

“We’re meeting tomorrow at five o’clock Oxford Circus station. It’s her birthday. I’ll buy her a present.” She clapped her hands and bounced up and down.

“Good boy! See what happens when you try?”

By the time they got back Simon and Tamlyn had put away the film camera and its stand.

“These people and that baby remind me of that house in Trainspotting.” Tamlyn whispered in Nasir’s ear.

“Yeah, but I don’t think they do needles in here,” Nasir said in a small voice.

“What makes you so sure.”

“Nobody here looks fidgety or desperate, there’s a routine of calm about this place. Everyone’s busy doing things that they can’t tell you and me.”

“Feel sorry for that baby though,” said Tamyln. “She’ll probably end up becoming a Christian capitalist just to spite these lot.”

Weeks passed, the usual delays occurred. Delays produced by the three protagonists being held up by, more than anything else, the day to day business of life. Nasir had shortened his hours at the school and was making plans to leave Oxford Street altogether. He had found a recently opened school in Putney where he now spent his mornings doing what he did in Oxford street: for more money. The differences between the areas in which the two schools were based were stark. The normal sight of a policeman gripping a pickpocket on the street in Oxford Circus would have achieved the status of spectacle in Putney. 

By late January, Simon had managed to get Nasir and Tamlyn to agree to come in to get the bulk of the film finished over the course of a weekend. It was a Saturday morning that felt colder than usual and Simon was quietly getting things done. There was a job that had started and he was going to be strutting defiantly when it had finished.

Simon had spent a good part of the night before and a significant chunk of the morning, building and then putting the closing touches on the set of Monobrow’s living quarters. A grimy, filthy room that despite being cluttered with food wrappers, newspapers and other masculine litter, was filled with absence. There was a small fold out bed tucked away in a corner of the room. The wallpaper had stains on the stains and a small round table, like a luxury item, dominated the centre like a showpiece.The whole set-up told of the deadened clank of hope and expectation in the chest of Monobrow.

Simon had meticulously and, at points, lovingly, built the set that he and Nasir – the theoretical co-writer and co-director were supposed to build together. He moved the stove into place, grunting with effort and thinking all the while: 

“Where’s Nas? Has something happened to him?” Nasir was supposed to have shown his face early that morning. The effort would have had healing qualities to what was becoming a strained and fractured relationship. When he was done Simon held his cotton handkerchief up to his nose, blew into it and stood staring at what he had done before finally mumbling.

“This room’s a masterpiece.”

Tamlyn had been late too, but had helped make penance by helping to shove the last few things into place and speaking only when spoken to. He thought Simon had paid an almost disturbing attention to detail, but decided to keep that opinion to himself, at least for the time being. He now sat staring out of the window, stiff as if posing for a portrait with an odd Mona Lisa smile on his lips. 

Nasir showed up nearly three hours later than expected.

“And where have you been?” Simon asked with his hands on his hips.

Nasir smiled apologetically. “I’m really sorry man… Yesterday was Friday… I had a late night… you know I’ve been feeling low lately… I haven’t got much sleep this week… You weren’t really expecting me to show up at 9 o’clock, were you?”

Simon’s voice suddenly sounded quietly hoarse. “I asked you to help me write the script.”

“You did.”

“And did you?”

“Of course I did.”

“No, you sent in two pages that made no sense. It was like you had written them while whacked out on some draw. I let it slide and did all the writing myself. We were supposed to work on HeadCleaner to a tight time schedule because of work obligations. You couldn’t get to Brixton on time and when you did you stood around looking bored and useless. You were supposed to be here hours ago sorting the set out with me. I carried the portable stove over from Victoria. I arranged all the things into place. I did everything myself, I’ve been up all night dragging things around like a slave and all you can say is- Oh you weren’t really expecting me to show up at 9 o’clock were you?-What do you expect me to say eh? Ah it’s alright, Nas. Glad you could join us. Glad you could make it and share your magic with us. Is that what you think? Or maybe you would like both me and Tam to give you a curtsy now that you’re ready to grace us with your genius?”

Tamlyn dipped his hands into his pockets, looking uncomfortable at being thrust into a moment which he would prefer not to be part of and hiding his feelings like a poker player in an intense hand. Both he and Nasir stared awkwardly around themselves like blind beggars from a Victorian melodrama, sensing their tin cups were about to be smashed.

Simon pulled a smoking pipe from his cardigan pocket, rubbed it against the side of his nose, sat down and sighed wearily.

“You don’t want to make films. It looks to me like you’d much rather like to talk about making films. Because let me tell you, from where I’m sitting it looks like something you want to experience in your mind only.”

“No, that’s not true. You got it all wrong there, this has just been an unfortunate bit of happenstance.” Said Nasir, still not wishing to take the full responsibility for the things that happened because of the things he did.

“You’re not committed,” Simon scoffed. “This isn’t what I’d call commitment. Would you? You think you’re some talented unknown. A pampered Asian prince, sitting at home waiting to be discovered as the next big thing; waiting for Steven Spielberg to come calling on your door at 11 in the morning and pluck you away from lazy obscurity. Well, take it from me. That’s just not going to happen. You’re living in la-la-land… and wasting everyone’s time.” 

Nasir was reduced to little more than a confused smile in a brown face, confused about what to do or say next as he did not know what was going to happen next.

“It’s almost twelve O’clock, have you both eaten?’

‘No.’

Simon looked at Tamlyn. “Have you?”

“No.”

“Okay then, you must both be hungry, go and get something to eat. But I want you to remember that we’re in this together. What I do to you I do to me…go on then. But don’t take ages alright?”

They found a cafe not too far from the house where Simon lived with his mum and their cats. Nasir had a plate of chips and beans.Tamlyn ordered a plain cheese and tomato sandwich on cheap white bread.

“That’s a real school dinner that is, Nasir and please can you go a bit easy on that vinegar, it’s making my eyes water. Now Nasir, don’t mind me saying this but you really are putting your friendship with Simon under a lot of pressure.” 

“He’ll be alright,” Nasir said squirting ketchup over his chips. “Whatever else happens you’ll still find me and Simon friends after this is all over.”

Filming got underway late in the afternoon just as the sky began to change colour. The scene shot in Brixton had been of Tamlyn coming home and discovering the tape. The next scene was of him coming home and preparing dinner in his all-purpose bedsit. Monobrow slouched in a maroon dinner jacket looking like a deposed monarch. A candle shone with ominous brightness on the small dinner table as he shoveled food into his mouth. Monobrow’s dinner of a fried egg, mashed potato made from granules and tinned spam floating in a lake of baked beans had been prepared on the small portable stove in ‘real time.’ Simon would edit the footage later.

Simon had bent forward behind the camera, with eyes squinting and widening in concentration. He had to film Tamlyn cracking the egg that would get the cooking scene underway. Tamlyn had no idea of how to grip the egg let alone crack it. Three eggs were abused and lost before he looked up at Simon and raised his hands in confused surrender. Simon thrust the camera into Nasir’s hands. 

“ Here hold this,” he said and took the egg from Tamlyn and cracked it himself, making a golden splatter on the coal black stove. “There you go.”

For Nasir, the room seemed to have assumed personality and identity of its own and it was one that Nasir would have described as dysfunctional. He was certain that living in the room for any length of time would carve into anyone’s personality. Simon had warned him about this scene.

“Whatever you do, don’t look disgusted. He’s going to feel like he’s been taken for a mug by a couple of jokers with a camera.” 

Egg and thin tomato sauce trickled down Tamlyn’s chin as he ate food Nasir would have considered fit only for a dog. Good food, bad food, it was all one to him, merely fuel to keep the engine going along. When he was done he sighed, gently blew out the candle and looked around till his gaze landed on the videotape. Without thinking he picked it up and inserted it into his shabby looking video recorder. Without warning porn, featuring women with thickly permed hair and men wearing mullets and Hawaiian shirts appeared onto the screen. The scene took on a farcical hue, thanks to the unlicensed usage of a funky 70’s piece by John Cameron’s called Afro Rock in the background.

Monobrow’s first reaction was one of shock and amazement. His second was one of curiosity as he sat down and bit his lip. His third reaction was to send his left hand down south. Simon shot Tamlyn’s elbow moving rhythmically and his eyes blinking and tightening trying to keep the scene within the boundaries of as much taste as the context allowed. Monobrow’s eyes closed, crossed and dilated. His mouth made a gasping, effeminate sound and reached out for the tissue box. At that moment the machine clicked ominously and the screen went black. He got up and the picture restored itself before he could press play. He sat down and the screen blackened again. This happened again and again till it was apparent that this was a battle of will and reflexes. 

Nasir was reminded of the physical comedy displayed in Charlie Chaplin’s films.

Comedy Performance by Tamlyn and Nasir

After a while the machine switched off seemingly for good. Monobrow got up and turned the T.V round so that it faced the wall.

Nasir felt demoted and superfluous as Simon and Tamlyn went about the business of discussing, rehearsing, shooting and re-shooting. A lot of what he had to do seemed to be based on making tea and passing bits and pieces to Simon. He now wished he had sat with Simon and involved himself in the crafting process so that he could make sense of what he saw passing between actor and director. He hadn’t done that and was now finding his limitations as a filmmaker close in on him like a plundering army on that cold Saturday afternoon. 

It was decided that the room needed more reading material scattered around it and that Tamlyn and he were going to be the ones scouring the open bins, streets and skips for suitable stuff. Tamlyn rubbed his hands and did a quick purposeful sniff as the front door closed behind them.

“It’s not that bad being thought of worse than you are, you know. Once I looked even worse than this and this man in a slick suit and one of those 1980s power bouffants that David Dickinson has, asked me ‘what’s it like to be poor?’ I said it was great and he said ‘thought so.’ Before wandering away with a sad face and bowed head.

Nasir had dressed, as he often did for Saturdays, shabbily. He wore a faded grey boxer’s tracksuit and had three-day stubble growing on his jowls. He tried to avoid eye contact as they prowled the streets. Tamlyn sighted a huge skip and broke into a run.

“What have we got over here then?” He dived right in and joyously fished out a couple of glossy magazines and a few copies of the Sunday Sport and punched the air in triumph.

He had followed Simon’s injunctions to ‘not wash and shave for a week’ and was a lean vulpine shadow, too enmeshed in his character by now to be distracted by Nasir’s entreaties to leave and head back to the house.

“Yes, Yes, yes. This is great, Simon will be so pleased,” he said bouncing up and down with filled carrier bags bouncing in the air like trophies.

Nasir kept looking from side to side like a cornered rat noticing that more than a few people in the cars that had stopped by the lights were noting their antics. One of the cars, an open topped BMW had a black man in a red tracksuit and a heavy gold chain slapping against his beefy chest, sitting behind the wheel. He nodded his shaved head up and down in proud obedience to the bassy rhythm pounding out of his expensive system with boisterous club lyrics to match.

“Booties, rumps, backs and assets. Waxing and taxing from club to crib, hey fellers do yourself a favour and get yourself some ghetto booty, sweet fat luscious and round.” Rapped the rapper with insolent certitude. 

Nasir’s mind reeled back to when he had been a dedicated purchaser of rap records. The music back then in the late 1980s seemed driven by self-righteous anger, a strong sense of vengeance is mine and driven by fast aggressive drums and samples. He no longer had any time for the music, it was slow, off tempo and perhaps the result of a conspiracy designed to drive its listeners stupid. The driver made sure he established eye contact with them for a moment, a sure moment of ascendancy, before turning his dead eyes back to staring at the cars in front. His car pulled ahead and another car stopped adjacently and Nasir braced himself for another low moment. Tamlyn leered wolfishly at the attractive young lady behind the wheel. His lone eyebrow rose fiendishly into the upper reaches of his forehead, while his lips parted in delight and non-repentance. Her face welled up with an expression composed of regret, contempt and pity. She then rolled her window up in a fast, fluid motion and shrank back in her seat. While Nasir was wishing a hole would open up in the ground and swallow him whole, Tamlyn wallowed in the moment.

“Did you see the look on her face?” He said bouncing in the direction of Simon’s house. 

“She definitely thought we were on our uppers didn’t she?” He said before disintegrating into laughter. He realised that Simon was right, Tamlyn must have been a bachelor all his life. There was no way he could have laughed so roguishly. Nasir’s feet dragged as they approached the house and he tried to make sense of his own motives for signing up for the project.

Back at the house Simon made them all some tea. “I’m tired, let’s talk and relax a bit, then we’ll start shooting when it starts to get dark.” He brought in his record player as well as a few records.

“Let’s have some noise,” he said, snapping his fingers.

“What’s this called?” Asked Tamlyn.

“Dirty Deeds done dirt cheap. AC/DC.”

“I see.”

Nasir saw a fly zig zag into Tamlyn’s ear and not come out. Tamlyn either didn’t notice or care enough about the intrusion to even stick a finger in his ear. He just carried on as usual.

Simon libarated a pipe from his pocket and with pinched fingers, carefully began to stuff a tobacco like substance into it. Nasir, who had been lying on the floor with his hands behind his head, suddenly raised up and stared at Simon firing up the pipe.

“What’s that?”

“It’s skunk, also known by it’s afficiendoes as pollen.”

Nasir had no idea what that was. As far as he knew pollen was a word associated with bees, summer and long grass. But he didn’t want his ignorance exposed.

“Well, how about I have some then?”

Simon gave him the raised eyebrows treatment. “It’s not for amateurs. This isn’t like blowing bubbles in the back garden you know,” he said before patriarchally putting the pipe between his lips.

Nasir looked at the slowly swirling smoke between them. “Oh come on, what do you think I haven’t tried any of the hard stuff before? I ain’t no kid you know.” 

“I don’t want you too zonked out to do any work.”

“Trust me, zonking out is the last thing on my agenda, but maybe a few puffs on the magic pipe will help relax me a bit. I’m feeling tense.” Simon sighed, shrugged his shoulders and handed over the pipe. Nasir’s hand greedily snatched at the air to take it.

“You want some?” Simon asked Tamlyn. Tamlyn closed his eyes and politely shook his head. It wasn’t long after that they got ready to shoot and Nasir found that not only could he not keep his mind focused on one thought for longer than a few seconds, but that his whole body seemed to be shutting down on him. The voices of the others seemed to sound like echoes from far away and he was finding it difficult to keep his eyes open. After a while there was nothing for Simon and Tamlyn to do but plonk him down on a stool in a corner. He sat with body hunched, limbs outstretched, and face tight and absent like a man bleeding to death. He slouched back listening to his heart beating like the drum introduction to Blue Monday by New Order, vaguely aware of purposeful carrying on around him.

Now and then they’d hear him silently jabbering away like some character from a Lewis Carroll story.

“I see slow moving dust particles flying across my face from a distant sunset. Makes me wonder. The littlest things we hardly ever notice float right in front of our very eyes. They’re beautiful aren’t they? You’re the most abundant organism on this planet, and when we’re all gone the last entities will have never left, they will continue to float here forever. When I breathe in I remember, when I breathe out I forget…. Don’t draw Satan in too fast…mother’s the best bet…dog biscuits, dog biscuits….”

Tamlyn had just shot a scene where he stood combing his hair in front of the mirror with clenched up hands and glittery eyes in the manner of a figure from a Stalinist propaganda film. Written to the side of the mirror in red lipstick by Simon was the true mathematics of loneliness 1 + 1 = 1.

The scene had been shot to the background accompaniment of Nasir’s strange musings. Tamlyn stood admiring himself in the mirror. It felt good to have a camera on him and he didn’t know if he was going to ever feel this way again.

“What I don’t understand.” He said, running an intent comb through his lank mess of hair, “is how you seem completely unaffected by that pollen or whatever it’s called and Nasir’s tripping like a member of a late 60’s rock band. Very strange.”

Simon was used to operating under altered states. He liked the sensation of being here- but a little bit over there too. 

“Drugs never get the better of me,” he said matter of factly.

But Nasir it seemed was strictly an aspirin man when it came to drugs. Simon decided that the best way to deal with the Nasir question was just to carry on as if nothing had happened. In a strange way it even spurred him on in a frenzy of activity that saw Tamlyn in various states of dress and undress, enacting things from various parts of the room. Tamlyn for his part had shown more energy than Simon had ever seen in a person. He hadn’t asked for any breaks or refreshments. An air of commitment had breezed around them all day, Nasir alone had refused to breath it in. Before the mirror scene Tamlyn had danced with careless, yet graceless joy, to ‘Happiness’ By Ken Dodd. Simon readied and steadied himself behind his camera stand. 

“Ready for more?”

“Always ready for more.”

“Great, can you strip down to your Y-fronts again and do some more of those Mick Jaggeresque moves you were doing before?”

Tamlyn smiled and raised his eyebrows twice in quick succession and began to unbutton the smooth, flowery shirt he’d been wearing. “I love acting, I just love it.” Abba’s Dancing Queen could be heard playing from a car in the sunshine outside. ‘Friday night and the lights are low, looking round for a place to go.’

“…Aaah that’s a great song that is, dancing queer, there he is having the time with your wife.” Nasir sang in a tired unmusical voice before sleep grabbed and pulled him back to itself again.

“Let’s hope he stays that way till we’re done for the day,” Simon said.

By the time Nasir found himself back in the same dimension as the others, Simon and Tamlyn were done for the day.

“We’ll leave everything more or less as it is. You both can stay for the night and we’ll wind everything up tomorrow,” Simon said, backing the camera stand into a corner. They took to the floor again and Simon pulled his pipe out of his cardigan for an encore. 

“You ask me for any drugs again and I’m going to brain ya, Nas.”

“No more drugs, just say no.”

They sat discussing films that they loved. Simon had good things to say about Harold and Maude, Withnail and I and Aguirre the Wrath of God. Tamlyn spoke about Tarkovsky and the Three Colours Red Trilogy, while Nasir raised his hands and spoke about his love for the Godfather trilogy, the Rocky films and The Wizard of Oz.

“Well, you were definitely gone somewhere over the rainbow an hour ago,” Tamlyn said with a chuckle in his throat.“For a while I feared whether the change was going to be permanent.” 

“So the world cup final’s tomorrow, who do you think is going to win? I think it’s going to be Brazil,” said Nasir. Simon tapped the pipe on his chest. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

“I don’t play football. Come to think of it I don’t play any sports. I don’t like running after inanimate objects.” Tamlyn said and Simon laughed. “That reminds me of how a friend of mine lost his wife. At the court hearing when she was asked for the judge as to why she was petitioning for divorce she said that at the end of summer he’d sat her down and asked her whether she had anything really important to ask him. She was moved by his apparent consideration and when she asked why he was asking he told her that the football season was about to start the next day.” Said Nasir.

“Sounds the song of true love to me” said Tamlyn, “ And nothing wrong with that.” Simon laughed. “He took it in stride though and just said, ‘plenty more where that came from.’This guy so loved Liverpool that he decided to give up smoking, so that he could live longer, so that he could watch more football.”

He got up and replaced the AC/DC with Crosby Stills and Nash, the Déjà vu album, before settling down to enjoy more drugs. Tamlyn looked at him and mumbled, “What a mighty God you serve.” But nobody heard him.

“You know I once knew someone who was an addict,” Tamlyn said, cheerfully. 

“I’m not an addict.” Simon said.

“I know you’re not. You’re too much in control to be anywhere near the gates of addiction. But anyway he characterized his situation, by describing drugs as the best thing in the world when you’ve got them and the worst thing in the world when you don’t. Another thing I remember him saying was that getting hooked on cocaine was a bit like making love to a gorilla.”

“How so,” said Nasir.

“You don’t stop until the gorilla stops.” Tamlyn said. 

“Right back to business.” Simon announced with a clap of the hands as if to say- enough of all that. We’ll finish this tomorrow. How about we all watch Withnail and I and be done with the filming side of things by the evening?” Simon suggested. Tamlyn shrugged.“ I’ve got no problem with that, no one waiting for me anyway.” 

Nasir’s eyes bulged with a sudden jolt of anxiety. He could not be persuaded to stay the night. Thoughts of soft carpets, hot running water and expertly spiced curry were running through his mind like ants at a summer picnic. Simon tried to persuade him a little and then relented. “Okay, but you better be here by eleven. Don’t be late again.”

Nasir hoisted two thumbs up.“See you at eleven.” He and Tamlyn left together.

As the train neared Nasir’s station he realised that his having to be home was about more than escaping the mad man’s lair that Simon had constructed with such lavish attention to detail. Nasir was dead set on getting home that evening. Not only because he couldn’t flop in bed and turn the world off unless it were in his own bed, but because he desperately needed some ‘alone time’ to process and filter the events of the day. He liked his house. For him it served the purpose of a near idyllic retreat, a filling station where he harnessed the energy he needed to play the optimist. The ruby red carpeting made soft sounds underfoot, the ceiling was high and there was enough space to walk around in and not see another face for hours.The downstairs study was his base of operation. With its broad church of books and old scratchy records stacked in the corner of his room. It was the special place where he could sit for hours on end, with a cooling cup of tea to the side, and dream of conquering himself. It was his little kingdom, and no kingdom should be deprived of its rightful king for any length of time.

The next morning Simon and Tamlyn stood waiting for Nasir in the sort of Sunday sunshine that left most Englishmen feeling unexpectedly patriotic. Everything was perfect to the point of idyll, just one very important piece in the tapestry was out of joint.  

“Cometh the hour, but not cometh the Nasir,” Tamlyn declared after calling for the third time to hear a flow of beep beep before being redirected to the answerphone message.

Simon stood grinding his teeth on the long black handle of his hash pipe. His eyes gazing moodily towards the station exit. Tamlyn stared down at his cheap oversized mobile.“I ring, I ring and I ring and all I get is his answering machine blasting out second rate 70’s pop rock.” 

Simon looked back at him. His gaze seemed tired and full of worry and for a man who never looked tired and full of worry. This was a dark thing indeed, thought Tamlyn as he met Simon’s gaze with a rueful smile. He thought that Simon could think of him as an unwashed social reject if he liked. No problem, just as long as he kept that opinion to himself. 

He had some sympathy for Simon and hoped that all this would lead to them becoming friends, if indeed they had not already become friends. The man had integrity and integrity was a vanishing value these days. He thought of how Simon had spent Friday night, and a sizeable chunk of Saturday morning, building, conspiring and arranging the canvas that he and Nasir were supposed to build for him to work on. The moment he needed him most Nasir wasn’t there. Did he even care? Tamlyn wondered. Nasir certainly gave the air of someone who gave a shit, but that wasn’t hard for someone who smiled and went about doing things the way Nasir did. A thin trace of a smile formed around Tamlyn’s lips as he found himself thinking that Nasir’s lack of role, or definable role, in Headcleaner somehow meshed perfectly with his lack of a role in life. Who was he? What did he want? What motivated him? He was sure that the answers were elusive to Nasir as they were to him.

He put a comradely hand on Simon’s shoulder, gently turned him round and led him towards the pub. From the small rock of understanding, on which he stood: it looked like Simon had held out an olive branch for Nasir to save himself from sinking down in the sea of his own bullshit. And that’s where Simon had made his mistake. Not that he had chosen Nasir, but that he had felt the imperative to choose a partner in the first place. For Tamlyn real art was an energy that came and possessed you till it had done what it had to do; an entity that took a grip over you and choked out the rest of your life till the job was done and done right. As such it was a seriously lonely affair that left a lot of tears and bruises behind in its wake.Was this what distinguished art from science? He asked himself. The fact that art was ultimately about ‘I’ whereas science was about ‘WE’ and that art, more so than science, often made you go places that sent you back in different shape to when you had set out. 

The pint was doing the job it was meant to. Simon was looking calm now, at peace even. It was like he had come to a sudden realization. 

“You know, Nas seems to spend a lot of time talking about this girl or that girl. It’s his favorite subject for sure, but I have never seen him with anyone. I’ve just just heard him talk, and his talk does not ring true. His descriptions sound like porn fantasies… I wonder if he’s nothing more than just some fantasist making everything up as he goes along.” He shook his head, took a deep breath and reached for his pint glass for another gulp.

Tamlyn got the feeling that Simon was not the sort of person who launched himself into an attack of this kind, and once doing so felt his sense of anger being replaced by something closer to guilt.

“Do you think that something’s happened to him, like an accident?” He said sipping at his beer.

“I kind of doubt it,” said Tamlyn. “ He’s not the sort of person that something happens to, he’ll outlive the lot of us.”

Simon picked up his ringing phone and listened to the voice on the other end without interrupting and gave the voice at the other end three simple negatives and put his mobile in his pocket.

Simon’s forehead had turned crimson. “And another thing, he’s totally insincere.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“He never thinks before responding. If bullshit were poetry he’d be Shakespeare.”

The next day Nasir got a text message from Simon.“Making a film is an intimate thing, where trust is absolutely essential. What the fuck happened?”

When he showed up at the Callan school on Monday Simon simply ignored him. Nothing to do, Nasir decided, but to wait. Escape the winter chill of their friendship and then come from another angle when the time was more clement. If Simon then still looked at him with those dead uninterested eyes he’d just have to wash his hands and accept that another relationship had become a right off. No big deal. It had happened before and would most likely happen again.

To be continued.

Copyright 2021 Nasir Hussain

Published by simonmandrake

A weekly dose of short stories, short films, web series, blogs and articles.

2 thoughts on “HeadCleaner: A Novella by Nasir Hussain

  1. A fun read. starts well but gets stronger after a few paragraphs. some wonderful personal recollections. loved the weed story. the descriptions of simon are a joy and picture the man brilliantly. profound sections such as the bit on art and science work wonderfully. as characters albeit real life ones i did feel the characterizations were strong in a series style like in a book or TV series you follow a set of much loved characters. most articles or blog entires would simply reflect on a movie shoot – this works uniquely and is original in that its a story in itself that is enjoyable and you feel like you were there. i feel it should be read before watching the film will work well. Also id say both are inseparable. Tamlyn’s comments and reflections are beautifully captured. Monobrow is a lovable character alright! liked the descriptive sections very powerful all the way through as well as parts like the arts and science comparison. Leads you to wanting more. very whimsical in a Withnail way . lots of byplay and thoughts are expressed interestingly. loved the bit on lateness and grotesque food. wish Nas and I had been in it together! The rapper rapped the rapper with insolent certitude was a great but of writing! well described such as Tamlyn leering like a wolf which was very accurate. Evokes the man well. This is done well all the way through it in terms of describing individuals so well. simon and Tamlyn at the end was potentially magic moving forward in the series with the byplay at the end. As a background piece its great but id say as a companion piece in a central essential way it works superbly with the film and in a way keeps it alive.

    Liked by 1 person

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