When you have to go, you can’t be fussy…

Abelard struggled through the tavern. Each step was difficult as he felt his bowels rumble in warning. He sucked his butt cheeks firmly together and prayed he would make it through the mass of tightly packed bodies. The heat from the crowd gave the tavern a sickly moist aroma. Discretely passing small flourishes of wind to relieve pressure, he was confident no-one would correctly identify him as the culprit. He headed for a door by the side of the bar.

Abelard started down a long hallway with doors lining both sides. He politely knocked on each one and called out a hello before opening them.

“Damn it,” he muttered in disappointment as none of them were what he was seeking. At the end of the hall he opened the last door. He groaned when he saw that it was a stairwell.

“Bloody hell, doesn’t anyone need a toilet here.” Taking a deep breath and clenching his arse a little bit more, he began to ascend. He paused at the next landing to pull his handkerchief out and dab his face.

“Right, hang on just a bit more,” he said. “Bound to be one on this floor.” Yanking the door open he shuffled sideways from one side of the hall to the other, no longer bothering to knock before he looked into each room. When Abelard came to the end of this hall his shuffle had turned into a sideways skip as he tried to keep his legs together from the knees up. The pressure was now almost unbearable, and his hair was hanging limp from sweat.

In the end room he finally found one. Slamming the door shut behind him he hobbled painfully towards it. Lifting the lid Abelard was devastated when it wobbled. He realised that it wasn’t connected properly.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” he was crying as he spoke. Through his tears he noticed it was perched on a hole cut to its shape. “Bugger, it will have to do,” he mumbled to himself.  “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. He hoped whoever came to finish the job wouldn’t mind too much, but he was nearing insanity with need. He unzipped his pants and pushed his buttocks together with his hands as he manoeuvred himself onto the seat.

“Ahh. Ohh. Thank Christ.” Abelard’s head dropped into his hands as his bowels opened. When he was finished he used his handkerchief and dropped it down the hole. He listened by the door before opening it and peering out. Satisfied that no-one was in the hall he stepped out smiling and closed the door quietly.

“Now lad,” he said to himself. “Time to go back downstairs and have some fun.” Abelard strutted as he took the stairs two at a time. Before re-entering the tavern he adjusted his attire as he preened about in front of a full-length mirror.

“What the hell.” The tavern was empty. The music from the jukebox bounced off the walls of the empty room. “Hello,” he called out. “Where is everyone?” From behind the bar he saw two eyes staring at him.

“Where’d everybody go?” he asked. The eyes scanned the counter top before their owner placed his hands on it and pulled himself erect. “What happened?” Abelard queried. The eyes’ owner looked surprised at Abelard’s appearance.

“Where were you?” he asked Abelard

“Pardon,” Abelard replied.

“Where were you?” the man asked again. “When the shit hit the fan.”

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The Graveyard

It’s early. Twenty folk of various ages and nationalities, one broken orange Bedford truck and trailer, a cattle track, and a graveyard in Tanzania are my companions. It’s hot in or out of the sun. How hot is difficult to say since our thermometer blew up, but sweat runs from under my breasts leaving lengthy ruts in the dust on my stomach.

The heat brings a quiet with it, as the varying complexions among our group seek shelter. Some assemble in the back of the truck; others lie on camp beds under dispersed trees lining the track. Even those busy with engine repairs do not disturb the heaviness of the heat. We’d not chosen to camp here; our truck had simply decided to stop.

Graves line one side of the track. There are no orderly lines of uniform headstones. Instead there are small groupings, distinct but not separate from each other. They are marked by simple stones, or carved wooden adornments. Up close, these are delicately intricate. Although unable to decipher what is written, the deep scoring has been done with precision, and leaves you with a sense of solicitude.

A sound like thunder, but softer and more consistent, announces the coming of a hundred or more large beasts with curved horns and one hump, dragging a dust eddy with them. The orange Bedford stops them. Huddling together, the front ones refusing to get near to the truck while those in back push forward, they form a huge jam of bellowing beasts.

At the back of the herd, amongst the churning air and floating pieces of earth, a tall and slender Masai appears. His skin is a buffed black mirror, brightly reflective. Moving among the cattle, his voice clear above the noise, they quieten as he speaks.

One piece of cloth is wound around his frame, a dark, worn, red colour, matching the colour of the earth under us. Long hair is pulled back from his face with plaits and beads. Bracelets sit above his elbows. Beads ornament his neck, and beat against his chest as he moves. About his waist hangs an earthy coloured woven belt, from which a large straight knife dangles.

“It is not usual for people to camp beside graves,” is his first comment.

“It is not by choice,” our driver Gus tells him, explaining our break down.

“Why do you travel here? It is hot, and there are no hotels.”

“We are travelling north to Europe.”

“Mmmph. I would like to travel to Europe, but not like this.” He waves his arm to indicate our camp.

Some of our group try to take his photograph. His body language underlines his verbal, “No photos!” One girl, an Australian, keeps trying. So quickly I don’t register the movement, he has his knife out, its point resting in the curve between her nose and lip. Again he requests no photos. At this, she puts the camera away, and the knife returns to his belt. Except for the expression on her face, it is as if the moment had never happened.

Returning to the problem of the cattle, he asks for our help in moving them past the orange monster. We arrange ourselves around the truck, forming a barrier between it and the cattle. Moving back among them he uses sounds, and a long stick, to encourage them to go forward. He is taking them to the local market for a monthly sale. Once the front of the herd passes the truck, the others move to quickly join them.

While the cattle continue ahead, the Masai rejoins us briefly, and he farewells all twenty of us individually.

“I hope that you are able to leave before I return,” he says. “It is not good for people to camp beside graves. It disturbs them.”

Teenagers – A Generation Apart

My beautiful daughter and handsome son !!

Being a teenager is often a bewildering and complex time in a person’s life, as much today in the 21st century as when I experienced it in the 1970s. There are new experiences to make sense of, hormones to deal with, and boundaries to test and expand. It can be a time of immense fun with parties, concerts (good music being a pre-requisite, of course) or just hanging out with friends, on the other hand, dealing with personal safety, sex and drug issues can be perplexing and difficult. Although there will always be similarities, as each new generation evolves, they face challenges and experiences that those from the past have not encountered. That some experiences such as personal safety, music, drug usage, puberty, and sexual awareness are pertinent to every generation is true; nevertheless, there are challenges in these experiences that are generation specific.

Safety is an issue that is of more concern today than for teenagers 30 years ago. Sydney Australia, where I grew up, was an exciting place to spend your teenage years. My friends and I felt safe to roam, people were friendly and we enjoyed a good deal of freedom. Days were spent at various beaches, while at night we cruised the streets. Moving from one pub to another, often using our thumbs, hitch-hiking being the favoured means of transport.

The innocence and freedom that my generation took for granted 30 years ago no longer exists. Although my teenage daughter enjoys the relative safety of growing up in a small rural community in New Zealand, she is aware of the need to consider personal safety issues to a far greater extent than I ever was. She wouldn’t consider hitch-hiking anywhere, as she has told me frequently: “That is just too dumb a thing to do Mum.” Stranger danger is something we now drill into our children; even kindergartens operate programmes to educate those as young as four on this subject.

In the seventies, as well as today, music formed a platform for teenagers to express themselves. The seventies was a time where some truly great music was born. Glam rock appeared with bands such as Queen, rock was taken to a new level with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Joe Cocker. Musicals took on the new era, with the likes of Jesus Christ Superstar and the infamous Hair, the first stage show to have full-frontal nudity, bringing with them controversial change.

Another controversial teenage issue has always been experimental drugs usage; however, teens today are more at risk than my generation was. While marijuana, LSD and speed were readily available in the 70′, today’s teen are bombarded with an ever-increasing assortment of drugs. As well as what was available to us, they now have everything from the popular so-called ‘herbal’ party pills to the highly dangerous drug P. Sadly today it is not uncommon for teens to have drugs offered to them even in schools, to the point where some teens are routinely drug-tested in schools and colleges.

Puberty has become a dangerous time for today’s teens to negotiate their way through in comparison with teenagers 30 years ago. While 30 years ago we too were concerned with pregnancy and catching STD’s, the teenagers of today also face the existence if AIDS, which has altered the sexual revolution altogether. On the other hand, we now have more sexual education available from many differing agencies. It is no longer considered the place, or the right of parents to be the only ones to teach these matters to their teenagers.

Sex is no longer the taboo subject it was when I was younger; on the contrary, colleges have nurses available to discuss issues. Doctors protect teen’s privacy, making it more likely that they will seek help. Advertising constantly reminds them of the need for them to be safe and protect themselves.

In particular the ‘no rubba, no hubba hubba’ campaign, was specifically targeted towards today’s generation of teenagers. Television and radio programmes, magazines such as Cosmopolitan, as well the internet, have brought sexual issues out into the public arena for teenagers dealing with puberty. And discussions in our house are certainly more open and lively than I experienced while a teenager.

No matter when people experience their teenage years, there will always be challenges. But, so long as the preceding generation is willing to stand behind and be willing to listen as well as offer help when asked, hopefully the good will outweigh the bad. With luck, my son and daughter will also smile when they look back over these years, just as I do.

Aethelfrith

At Degsasten, under a cloud-murk sky

Aethelfrith’s force-at–arms lay quartered on the fens.

Each brave man slept deep.

It was widely understood that on the morrow,

they faced a full company of men-at-arms.

Outnumbered ten-fold on the field they would,

undaunted, face the minions of Aedan, protector of Dal Riata.

Morning came to the land,

Aethelfrith’s warrior-band made ready.

Bending low before their hastily built pagan shrines,

they offered slain beasts, and swore to uphold ancient laws,

would that the Gods were to protect them, and that which they

would fight for.

Addressing the men, Aethelfrith, son of Aethelric, spoke:

“Truth is, even the mightiest man may lay mangled on the battlefield.

Many warriors, valiant and venturesome, went on their way at

Catraeth.

I believe you are a loyal troop. I hold out my kingship, that this

danger we will defeat.

So go ahead with your war-graith and gear,

and you shall be remembered throughout the land as our nation’s

killing-sword.”

Inspired with thoughts of glory the warriors went forward,

young men marching in war-shirts and woven chain-mail.

Some to be tested, their first time as fighters –

having pledged loyalty to their lord of the nation –

beside battle-weary thanes,

together under a blaze of burnished helmets wielding scroll-worked

weapons.

Hard-edged blades designed for death and destruction,

a rose red sea of bladed arms, mirroring the rising dawn.

Aethelfrith, riding forth in magnificence,

the shepherd of his people,

recklessly led his band of retainers into the clash of battle.

They stood four-square, facing their foes,

a blood-lust welling, unleashing the killer instinct

to carry them into combat.

Pushing his mount past his warriors at a punishing speed,

Aethelfrith, brandishing his banner of gold and red called out:

“This day shall Aedan learn we are not to be trampled upon;

he shall not humiliate us in the heat of battle.”

Aedan’s campaign indeed was fated to be overpowered.

Such was the regard that the kinsmen and men-at-arms held

Aethelfrith,

his band of retainers rode in excitement toward Aedan’s force.

The king himself, their treasure-giver,

rode to the fore, fighting fearlessly, dealing death with his hard

edged blade.

The men-at-arms resolve to prove their courage in contest was as

great as their lord’s,

they drew themselves high behind the cover of their shields,

and followed the burnished helmet and war-shirt of their fabled

shepherd into mortal combat.

No coward’s path would be taken this day.

Pouring forth in coats of mail, woven by the smith,

their bloodied weapons sang of victory.

Dealing death at each stroke, unyielding, and roused to a fury,

they struck terror in the enemy.

Blades flashed and slashed, and the fields ran wet with blood.

Each man’s fighting hand came to his kinsmen’s aid, lunging,

every man acted throwing his whole strength into each sword-stroke.

So it must be that men shall act so,

to be at hand for those needful of their strength,

to be inspired by thoughts of eminence,

stay resolute in their defence,

and to bear arms in defence of their gold-giver.

Though the going was heavy,

good men lying dead in the mayhem and horror of the harrowed

field of blood,

the Almighty exacted a great price from Aedan for his wages of war

against Aethelfrith.

Sorrow was to follow Aedan and his retainers,

as they slithered away from the battle-field,

beaten, battered, a broken guard of men.

Favoured by the fortunes of battle,

Aethelfrith cried out to his warriors to return to the

seat of their nation, bringing with them their dead and wounded.

From astride his horse he said:

“Good men, now that the killing sword has done its worst,

and we are not over harmed through

the clash of battle, let us be guided home.”

So they marched,

stern-faced, and battle-weary,

Aethelfrith guiding them the shortest way

They kept to marching order,

their war-graith grimly covered in blood,

ringing out its metallic song as they moved.

Seeing their glittering bawn settled in the dale,

glowing amidst the green glade and timber dwellings,

each man’s heart welled to be granted this sight.

Aethelfrith dismounted;

walking within the walls of his hall-building,

he saw the rich wall-hangings covering the stoutest hardwood

that reached high into wide gables.

Stewards ran between tables and benches

bearing large jugs of ale,

placing cups so that the thanes could quench their thirsts.

Above the great carved throne hung a golden hilted sword,

a relic willed to Aethelfrith from his father, Aethelric.

Beside the great throne’s wooden feet lay Aethelfrith’s two great

beasts, bred only for those of noble birth,

they barked their joy at their master’s return.

Aethelfrith, sad at heart, saw none of this.

He ordered that the news of the battle be carried to those left

behind.

The troops gathered in the great hall. Aethelfrith addressed them,

“We have been victorious and beset Aedan with our small band of

warriors.

Now it comes to us to honour those who did not return.

My loss is as great as some of you.

My own brother, Theobald lay bloodied, his war-gear bought low.

He fell among the great forces he commanded this day.

My pride, my kin, is laid dead,

though I hefted my sword it was for nothing.

I was not to save the blood of my blood.

Let us build funeral pyres for the dead,

Theobald among them.”

Aethelfrith watched as they built the pyres,

Theobald’s stood out among them.

The warriors laid him atop, his torque resting on his shining armour.

Aethelfrith carried the flame,

fumes and smoke swelled;

blazing fires bore company with weeping.

***

This poem was showcased at One Shot Wednesday Week #53

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. – Lao Tzu

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