The first pages of Benny

Benny continues with the parks and the playgrounds and those that should be sitting in their boxes…

      Benny laid himself out on the bench and let his arms dangle down, his fingers an inch away from the dirt on the ground, just like the man two benches away from him.

      The park around them was still, obedient, with its leaves and bricks and fallen cigarette butts not troubling anyone. Not that there were many there to trouble, the only noise coming from two women, possibly whores, sat on the wall, and a local walking a long circle behind the benches, talking to his dog.

      Benny ignored the voices and focused on the fingers of the man in rags, trying to see if they were touching the ground.

      On the other side of the bench, Captain kept on talking.

      “…rub it against their thigh, only for a bit though, then they grab it and they just whack it in, mate…no half push or anything to warm me up, they just stick it straight in there and-…and then what, they lie back and wait, and moan a little, but they keep an eye on you, like they’ll raise their head and look down, to see how it’s coming along.” He leaned back on the bench and tilted his head towards his crotch, mimicking them. “…and mate, they yawn. Seriously, with a cock in them, they yawn…not because it’s me, but just in general, for anyone they get. And-…that’s not even the worst of it, mate, some of them go and put the fucking TV on. They stop looking at me and look at that, and-…that’s when they cross the line, putting the TV on. If they do that to me I don’t give a fuck about them anymore. I just hold their legs up and finish it. I drill them, mate, and I don’t give a shit where they look.”

      He laughed, pleased with his use of a good alternative word like ‘drill’ in place of ‘fuck’, then tapped on his can when he saw Benny was elsewhere.

      “Where are you then, mate?”


      “You’re touching the ground…”

      “Me? No, I’m-…”

      “…like a beggar…”

      “Man, I’m just lying down. Tired…”

      Captain looked around and saw the tramp sketching along the ground with his fingernails.

      “You’re looking at that guy.”

      “Which guy?”

      “You’re copying him, mate, I just saw you. That guy, him.” He pointed at the tramp with his foot then moved it over and pointed further along. “There are two girls over there with skirts you could put in your pocket and you’ve got your eyes on a tramp. You’re a weird fucker.”

      Benny pulled himself back up and drank from the beer they’d just bought from the conveni round the corner. He’d reached for another brand, but Captain had seen the one they were drinking now and told his friend of the last seven months it was a tramp’s drink. Special Brew, eight percent, cheap, and with associations of poverty, Benny got two for himself and two for his friend.

      “Ok, yeah, I am. But it’s not-…I mean, I’m watching him because he’s hopeless, isn’t he? He’s got nowhere to go. He’s lying on a bench. Don’t you think that’s interesting?”

      “They’re not waiting for anyone, mate.” Captain was still with the girls. “It’s been an hour almost. No one’s coming for them. Unless they’re-…no, they wouldn’t-…”


      “I’m listening. What?”

      “Over there, the guy. Don’t you think he’s-…”

      “Interesting, yeah, I heard you.” Captain turned round to look at the man and scrutinized him for authenticity. “You said he’s got nowhere to go, but how do you know? He might be looking at you thinking the same thing. No, hang on, you’re white.”

      The man opposite them shifted onto his left side and faced the two girls with the non-skirts. Benny watched him, waiting for him to get up and start some drama. The man did nothing, just stared. Then he lifted up his beer and took a sip. His watcher, instinctively, did the same.

      “Seriously, mate, he’s just a tramp. What do you expect him to do?”

      “I bet he’s got an interesting story…” Benny muttered into his can.

      “Here’s his story: Woke up poor, grew up poor, got no education, couldn’t get a job, spends his life in this park. It’s sad, mate, but only sad, nothing else.”

      By the time his analysis ended, Captain had moved the old man off his screen. He was looking at the girls again.

      “Go and ask him for me,” Benny tried.

      “Talk to him? Fuck off…”

      “Go on.”

      “He won’t understand me. I told you, I speak funny Cantonese. It’s off. To them it’s off, actually it’s proper, the way it used to be spoken. I told you this, right? My parents are from a village, I live in a village. I don’t speak like they do here.”

      “They speak it wrong, you speak it right?”

      “Yeah, exactly, mate. Example, “neih”, that’s ‘you’, it means ‘you’, they say “leih”, while I say “neih”, which is the proper way to say it. I was talking to my parents on the phone about it last week and they said I was saying it right. I listened to the way they talk and that’s where I get it from, I copy them, and they speak proper Cantonese. They’ve scuffed the language here, mate, they all speak common…”

      “But they still understand you, right?”

      “Yeah, but they laugh at it even though, technically, I’m right and they’re-…”

      “So just go and ask that guy how he got here, onto that bench or whatever…however you wanna put it…”

      Captain drank more from his tramp’s beer then crushed the can.

      “I’m gonna speak to the girls instead.”

      He threw the can into a bin nearby but didn’t move. The tramp stayed on his left side as Benny finished his own can and put the flip flops back under his dirty feet. There was only one of them tonight, not enough for research, and if Captain wasn’t going to talk to the guy then it was better to go back. Next time, he’d come alone and stay longer.

      The tramp lifted a double page of newspaper off the ground, straightened it out then lay back down on the bench and used it to block out the park.

      Benny pushed open the door from the stairs to the corridor leading to his apartment and heard the sound of tiles falling onto an invisible board and an old woman, who had probably never uttered a quiet word in her life, shout out in victory. It has to be mah-jong, he thought, he heard them playing it at least five times a week. What were they doing except playing that fucking game? What were they talking about between tile placements? In a more distant apartment there came a stop-start line of piano, a few seconds of rehearsed performance, a pause, and then the same few seconds, perhaps slightly improved. Benny didn’t think much more on it as music wasn’t a keen interest of his. It was a lesser art, an art that only appealed to the senses, not the mind. That was why he classed himself as a writer. “If I can get the authenticity of poverty then I’ll have a story,” he told himself as he opened the cage protecting the wooden door to his apartment. “Those other ideas are good, but they’re not calling cards, not like this one. I’ll come back to those when this one is done.” The cage and then the door were opened and he walked into his modestly-furnished apartment, kicking his flip-flops off, turned on the thirty-eight inch TV he had bought after only two days of doubt over the expense of it, and put the kettle on before finally letting his shoulders drop down in comfort.

      The news came on the screen and by the time he was sitting on the couch it had moved onto a story about rebel fighters in Sri Lanka flaying some monks who had wandered, tourist-like, into their area from the opposing side. The Tamik tigers, they said, had killed over a hundred innocents within the last month in order to protect their territory in…Killinoti? Killinocki? How did he say it…Killinokiti? That was an achievement. A hundred people in a month, three and a limb each day. Another monk, a friend of one of the skinless monks perhaps, came on and talked about “peace first, and then justice for these immoral, disgusting crimes.” His face looked familiar, someone who had featured in Benny’s own life at some point. Is there a link between them, he wondered? We met in the past and he went that way and I went my way, and now he’s facing the prospect of getting flayed while I’m living in this fantasy land where people never get flayed. What would it be like to wake up in the morning and think that, on that particular day, someone might catch you and take a knife to your skin? There were places like that all over the world and he was nowhere near any of them. Well, Sri Lanka’s close, he reasoned, and Tibet’s closer, but it’s not in the same world. Hong Kong didn’t know violence like that. People died here, sure that happened everywhere, but the percentage was so small. Only eight-hundred and fifty-seven destitute in a city of seven million, he recalled. Not even one percent, krist.

      The story on the TV changed to the elections in Russia, forcing Benny to shake his head as if every country were more dramatic than the one he was currently in. Another country with a recent history of suffering that put Hong Kong to shame. The Cold War, snuff movies in warehouses, Chechnyan militia, the rush to sudden capitalism and riches and surplus warheads, the tanks moving into that renegade arm of Georgia; why wasn’t I born a Russian?

      He drank some water out of a clean glass and turned his computer on. He would try to make up for the days waste and write for a bit, then sleep. The air con blew into his face, reminding him that it was working on in the background, and the news reporter said goodnight from inside the TV screen. The music played out and the studio went dark and a preview came on for ‘House’, with Hugh Laurie being pulled over by a cop, a familiar cop, the guy from…what? White hair, big, six-five maybe…scrunched up eyes, who was he? When his computer loaded up he stared at it for a few minutes before connecting and going to Wikipedia. He searched for ‘House’ and scrolled down the page until he found the cast list, and then the list of recurring characters, and went down that until he-…David Morse.

      “Ha! David fucking Morse…” he cried, and sat back relieved while outside the window, down in the estate below, amongst all the trees waiting for the light to come again in the morning, the benches lay empty, alone, tramp-less.

      The banners were up because it was summer. The bars lining both sides of the main hill where most of the foreigners went to drink in Hong Kong were busier outside than in as people drank and watched the newcomers strut up the main stretch and paid careful attention to where the prettiest ones stopped.

      Benny sat at the back of a high table with Captain, Michelle and her boyfriend in front of him, outside a bar on one of the branches of street shooting off from the main climb.

      “Why are they all coming here? It’s not even clean, mate. Look, that shit on the kerb over there. It’s only the insides that have any class to them, that’s what they come for.”

      “What were you doing last week, Benny? I called, but you didn’t answer. You didn’t phone back either…”

      Captain had spoken first, Michelle second. Benny ignored the first, figuring it didn’t need an answer, and tilted towards Mish.

      “Last week? I was-…I can’t remember where I was. When did you phone?”

      “I’m seeing the same faces going past too…that one; she just went by not even two minutes ago. Where are you going, love?”

      “I phoned twice on Sunday. You didn’t pick up, honey.”

      Benny smirked, noticing the boyfriend’s hand come out of the shadow and place itself on hers. What was his name again?

      “Didn’t I?” he drawled.

      Nearby, another conversation coasted over, this one political, manned by two middle aged men in suits.

      “…it could’ve been millions, it really depends what figures you rely on, but, the thing is, the thing that makes it so frustrating is the lack of justice. That’s the only reason we’re even talking about it and-…hey, you’re knocking the table…watch it. No, ok it’s straight…yeah, what was I-…the lack of justice, that’s it, that’s the problem. All those people who died and their relatives now aren’t going to get any-…”

      “That’s always happened though, always.” A quick sip off the head of the beer as the other shook his head. “And justice? You’re overlooking history. Listen, every struggle has a winner, and they write the story. They win, they make changes, the country moves on. Now the Chinese government, and I’m not defending them here, they did what they had to do, they modernized the whole area because it had to be-…”

      “Had to be what?”

      “Modernised, and it was. They were all farmers and religious nuts, and that’s what needed to be-…”

      “Religious nuts? Jesus, talk about broad strokes…”

      Captain continued across the table, oblivious to anything but the people in front.

      “They’re repeating themselves, eight of them at least anyway. You ever hear that theory, mate, there are eight people in this world, in any country, that look like you, exactly like you. I think it’s true…”

      “So where did you get to?” came Michelle again.

      “Fine, they modernized the country, maybe, but so did Stalin, so did the British in India, and they killed thousands doing it, you can’t forget that. That’s what the price is…”

      “I’m not forgetting it, I’m just making the point that-…”


      “…no, wait a minute. Wait a minute, let’s be clear here, you’re trying to brush it away, you’re saying it’s all ok. That’s the classic ulitaria-…ulititarianism…what’s the word? Ulit-…Utit-…fuck off, I know it…Utilitarinism, that’s it. That’s the classic (spoken slowly and cautiously) u-tili-tari-nistic attitude right there, isn’t it, and you think it excuses everything, that’s what you’re saying.” A deliberate shake of the head from the speaker, a bitter sip taken from his pint. “But it’s not justified. If you’re honest, you’ll admit it, but you won’t, will you? You know what I mean…ulititary-…fuck, you’re saying it’s ok to murder in one village if it makes a whole town happy somewhere else…that’s what you’re saying.”

      “Benny, are you in there?” Michelle repeated.

      “What? No, I don’t know where I was on Sunday. Writing maybe, I don’t know. Why, you wanted to meet up?”

      Michelle pulled her hand away from her boyfriend (Andrew? Alex?) and edged her stool closer to Benny.

      “I always wanna meet up, but you never do.”

      “No, that’s-…that’s not true, Mish.”

      The boyfriend pulled her away with something in Cantonese, and Benny drifted back into his seat, closer to the politics…

      “I did study this at Cambridge, Tone. You don’t have to draw examples for me. And how do you know what I’m saying, you aren’t even-…”

      “People died, people starved, thousands of them. That’s fact, complete fact. And you’re saying that’s just history, let’s brush it…let’s brush it under the, the…whatever, the carpet and move on.”

      “Wait, hold on, hold up. You’re making my argument-…that’s a straw-man you’ve-…that’s a straw-man. I’m not saying any of that…”

      “Straw-man? For fuck’s sa-…tell me what you’re saying then. Go on, tell me, explain it to me…”

      “Yes, fine, give me a second to actually speak and I will…”

      “…two of me already. Did I tell you that?”


      “Not the exact same faces though, right?” Michelle asked.

      “No, two of me, mate, exactly the same face. One in Egypt, one back in the UK. Seriously, there was a guy who was me, in Egypt. The Arabian me or Egyptian or whatever you call them. I’m not lying. He was a taxi driver, mate, sitting-…”

      “So, burn them if they protest too? Is that it? Great, well then that’s just crap, they’ve got every right to protest, they’re not a minority over there, they’re-…”

      “Who said protest? What are you talk-…you’re having your own conversation, Tone. No, don’t shake your head, you’re doing it again. Every time I speak. Jesus fucking-!” one of the suits turned away in further disgust and stroked the hair on his arm just above the plated watch that looked to be genuine silver. Benny watched him covertly, annoyed that they were talking about suffering. What did they know about it?

      “I think I’ve just seen eight of the same faces on this fucking hill alone. And there’s another one, she’s local, isn’t she? Yeah definitely, she’s-…what’s that? She’s got a-…krist, she’s hanging onto a French guy, a French guy, mate. That’s one country that doesn’t have my face, I know that much.”

      “Hey Benny, you didn’t answer my question…”

      “What’s that?”

      “You’re dreaming, aren’t you?”

      “No, I’m here. What is it? You phoned me, right?”

      “Yeah, but you didn’t pick up. We said that already…”

      “I didn’t notice the calls, sorry Mish.”

      Benny gave her his face and tried to remember, honestly, why he hadn’t picked up her call. I didn’t ignore her, did I? He recalled the phone lighting up and her name on its screen, but with no sound, and where was he when that happened?

      The boyfriend leaned into her ear and said something in Cantonese. She nodded in response, no smile, no turn of the head to face him. He patted her shoulder and slipped quietly back into his chair.

      That guy, krist, the information giver…Benny wanted to lean in close, grab her by the other ear…Mish, you’ve been with that guy for two years…two years. What is he doing for you, really? He suspected…no, he knew, it was simply the sway of familiarity and…what…the other one, routine, or regularity. That’s what they have, thought Benny as he scanned over the boyfriend’s bland features, familiarity and regularity, but not love. But wasn’t love simply familiarity, the repeated waking to the same face for so long? There was a story in there, beyond the aphorism, definitely a story.

      “And why are we in the only local bar in this whole area?” continued Captain in his own bubble.

      The two amateur politicos were getting up from their table and had retreated into silence, perhaps aware that a few more lines of dialogue would end their night. They grunted options for the next bar, put on their jackets and picked up their briefcases, politely pushed the stools back in and then left. The waiter came over quickly, his face slipping as he saw there was nothing but the two empty glasses to take away.

      “I had a new idea for a story, Mish.” Benny brought himself closer to the table and his listeners. “You wanna hear?”

      “You write…a story?” the boyfriend asked.

      “He talks more than he writes,” laughed Captain, coming back from the street.

      “No, he does write…” Michelle started.

      “I’m writing.”

      “…on Sundays. When his friends have their only day off.”

      “I’m writing all the-…what? No, last Sunday I-…I had to, it was important. Anyway this new one…”

      “Short story or longer?” Captain butted in again.

      “It’s about a-…mostly short, but just listen, this one…it’s-…”

      “Is it the poverty one you were talking about?”

      “What? The poverty-…no, not that…”

      Captain leaned over the table to Michelle, towards her ear.

      “He’s been dragging me to Mong Kok to watch tramps. He copies them and tries to get me to talk to them. He says it’s research, but I don’t get it, how can you research that? What does he want them to do? They’re just people in a park, mate…”

      “Ok, let him tell his idea, Cap…”

      “I am, I am. I was just saying…” He stopped and left the space open for Benny to talk into.

      “It’s not the poor people one, it’s a newbie. And I wasn’t expecting them to do anything, I was just watching them to-…I don’t know, to get a feel for them, I guess. I can’t just use my imagination on something like this, it’s gotta be real. Anyway-…”

      “How do you mean get a feel for them? They were lying on a bench, mate. Tell me how it’s impossible to imagine that…”

      “It’s not just the fact of it, it’s the details, it’s-…it’s hard to explain.”

      “Mate, if you’re gonna write a story like this you need one thing. A main character you can empathize with, that’s all. Poor or not, you’ve gotta make me give a shit about who you’re writing about.”

      “Cap, I didn’t say who the main character was…what are you-…you haven’t even heard the story yet…”

      “Alright mate, take it or leave it, I’m just trying to give some pointers.”

      “…and I haven’t even started that one anyway.”

      “I know, I’m just giving some pointers, mate. And it’s true, the books I read, they’ve always got an asshole as the main character and what does he do? He walks around smoking and he drinks and fucks around with women, and he says all these smart, clever things, but who gives a shit? No one, mate, it doesn’t work. I’m just telling you that you need someone sympathetic as the main guy. That’s all, take it or leave it.”

      Benny patted the table, nodded, then turned round to the street behind them and twisted his face in frustration.

      …fucking street, slabs of know-it-all, know-everything stone shit, never wrong fucking pavement, go fuck yourself…krist!

      He came back to the table with a conciliatory smile.

      “I’ll think about it, when I write it. If it’s natural…” He wanted to put a dig in but the ‘natural’ line was all he could manage. “Anyway, the new idea…you wanna hear it?”

      “Of course we do,” Michelle said.

      Captain nodded, the boyfriend smiled.

      “Ok, the abridged version then…basically, it starts with-…or you’ve got a guy who wakes up and everything seems normal…he’s in Hong Kong by the way, living out near Tai Po, like a village house or something…and, so he lives his life as normal for a few days, going to work, coming back home, sleeping, eating and all that…he doesn’t have many friends, I think, maybe just people he sees once a week, and then most of the time he’s at home, alone, and-…so everything’s normal, it starts normal, but then one night he gets a visit from a man in black, who kinda barges into his apartment and starts acting weird for a few minutes, pointing at things and shouting…you know, really weird stuff…and before the guy can react and ask him to leave, he’s been knocked out and dragged upstairs to his bed. The guy then sits down by the bed and waits for him to wake up and, when he finally does, the guy-…”

      “Hang on, mate, which guy?”

      “Which one? You mean, who knocked out who?”

      “Yeah. I mean, who’s been knocked out? The guy in black?”

      “No, no…the guy in black is the intruder, he’s the danger…the other guy’s been knocked out…”

      “The man who owns the house?”

      “Yeah, him, he’s been knocked out…”

      “Ok, mate, go on…”

      Benny nodded and turned towards Michelle.

      “…so, the bedroom…in the bedroom, the guy watching him, the man in black, tells the other guy this huge revelation, that a few days earlier the man, the one who’s just been knocked out, had been turned with drugs and chemicals and shit from a Christian to an Atheist, only he doesn’t remember any of it. The whole process wiped his memory of his past life, it’s all gone and he totally believes himself to be fully Atheist. So, the man in black gets out his own needles and tells the guy he’s gonna change him back, but the guy in the bed is obviously petrified as he’s only got this guy’s word for it, and I didn’t really mention it before but the guy’s dressed in black and seems really intimidating, just this huge black figure looming in front of him like Robert Mitchum…‘Night of the Hunter’…you ever see that film? No? It’s pretty old, I guess…but, ok, the guy, he’s like a complete righteous psycho, and he’s huge and has these grand fucking needles so that makes the Atheist guy even more panicked, so-…after a bit of drama and struggle with that guy he somehow gets away, I’m not sure how yet but he does, and he goes off to hide in the shittiest parts of the city, like Lai Chi Kok, Sham Shui Po, Mong Kok, all the dirty Kowloon areas, and…ok, shorthand, after a few nights watching his back the Atheists find him and he finds out that there are a load of these guys running around the city, using all these chemicals to change people while they sleep. But the thing is, the conflict is, he knows he’s been changed against his will into an Atheist, but he also thinks like an Atheist now, so there’s some kind of torn feeling there, like which side should he pick…that’s the basics of it. Which one is right…which one should he choose?”

      He leaned back, stretched out his arms and tried not to look at Captain.

      Michelle nodded, a positive nod. “Sounds interesting.”

      The boyfriend, who couldn’t have understood much of it, smiled and nodded, his lips altered into a ‘y’know, it might just work’ expression.

      “Yeah, I think the idea’s decent,” Benny said, his arms still stretched out.

      “It sounds a bit messy, mate,” Captain decided.

      Benny’s arms froze in front of him. He spun his wrist a little to give a sign of life.


      “It sounds good, at the moment,” Michelle said, patting his arm as he brought it back down to the table.

      “It sounds good, yeah, but still a bit messy. You’ll have to make it more logical.” Captain, again.

      “It’s going to be a satire, I think. Logic won’t be so important.”

      “No, it doesn’t matter, you’ve still gotta have logic, mate. That’s a part of satire. If you make it too ridiculous then you’ll lose the audience, and then that’s it, you’re done.”

      Benny thought it through. He’d seen at least fifty satires in his life and he’d read them in their most common genre, Science-fiction, and he was almost completely certain logic wasn’t a crucial part of the formula. Did Vonnegut use logic in ‘Cat’s Cradle’? All that stuff about ice-nine, Bokonism, the way the world ended in that little Caribbean State…that wasn’t logical, it couldn’t be. But wasn’t that an absurd satire? He wasn’t sure what the difference was, he wasn’t even sure if there was a difference, but to say it out loud, how would Captain respond?

      “Can’t lose the audience, mate,” Captain repeated with authority.

      Benny bit both his lips and put a bag over his brain to stop it fighting back. There was no point arguing a point he might be wrong on, not with him, even though he was certain he was right.

      “It’s just an idea…”

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