Wednesday 15th June
We woke up this morning to the smell of frying bacon seeping under the door into our bedroom, and to our amazement when we entered the kitchen Jamal was in the middle of preparing what can only be described as a banquet of a breakfast. The dining table was piled high with pots of coffee, jugs of orange juice and plates containing food all of kinds. Some were familiar, like sausages, eggs and piles of toast, dripping with butter and smothered generously with honey. Others were less so, and some looked downright dubious. There was a small bowl of what looked like boiled eggs which I particularly didn’t like the look of. They were meat coloured and their texture wasn’t smooth like boiled eggs, but instead slightly wrinkly, sitting in a small puddle of pink juice that was dripping from each one.
“Haiya!” exclaimed Jamal on seeing us in his thick Croydon/Hindu Kush accent. It’s his standard greeting, which for some reason always makes me think he’s about to karate chop me, and I’m afraid to say it wouldn’t be the first time.
“Mai friends! Doctor Moook! What’s up my brother?!” he asked, putting down the frying pan and throwing his arms around me, a wild look on his face.
I won’t lie, at that precise moment I feared for my personal safety and fervently hoped my travel insurance covered medical costs and repatriation.
Jamal thumped me heartily in greeting on the back and pulled away again, stopping with his face perilously close to mine.
He looked me directly in the eye with a manic grin and said “you know what today is innit?” His eyes narrowed questioningly. “You do know don’t you…?”
My mind raced. What should I say? It felt like my life literally depended on the answer. Should I attempt an intelligent guess, or crack a joke to try and deflect my ignorance?
I went for both.
“My last meal?”
Jamal’s eyes narrowed further until he looked almost Japanese, and for a moment my life flashed in front of my eyes. Then, as relief washed over me he started laughing, and sat me down at the table.
“No, not your last meal, you funny guy innit…” He paused and his face became serious. “Today is Feast Of Camels. Very important day of year! We celebrate our sacred herd, and their fertility for coming season.”
My relief was shortlived and I groaned to myself. All of Jamal’s holy festivals seemed to do with fertility, and not just those relating to camels. I knew he brewed fermented camel sperm especially for these occasions and my heart sank. Please God, don’t let him have brought the fermented camel sperm. Suddenly those wrinkly eggs didn’t sound such a bad option.
I looked around and found that Mrs Muck had spotted her chance and legged it, leaving me all alone to my fate. Every Muck for themselves in these situations, and she had been happy to sacrifice me to save herself. Charming.
“Surely the others should all try it too” I started, but Jamal put his finger to my lips and said “No my friend, you good man who not deserve bad words other night. You are like brother to me innit blud. I make feast and you eat first with me, as peace offering.”
His moustache quivered strangely and his eyes shined. It took me a little while, but then I realised that the strange look on his face was a smile. Not a leer or a smirk, but a genuine, friendly smile. I wasn’t used to it and it unnerved me. It was infinitely preferable to his dangerous scowl, but the irony that the cost of his peace offering could be a Middle Eastern bushtucker trial wasn’t lost on me. Handy’s poisonous tongue at that moment seemed far preferable to fermented camel seed- and less bitter too. (so I’ve been told, before you ask)
Jamal was feeling pleased with himself at his gesture, and my heart sank as I realised that there was no way I could refuse him without mortally offending him, and once again risking his wrath.
I racked my brains desperately, and failed miserably to save myself.
“Ah cheers Jamal, that means alot to me.”
I’ll style it I thought- “I’m on my diet though, so I’ll just have a bit of toast with some orange juice.”
“Nonsense! You will dine with me on all the camel delicacies and we will raise our glasses together for the Feast Of Camels.”
“Wine at this time of the morning?” I asked hopefully.
Jamal pulled up a chair and sat down facing me, his hands on my shoulders and a warm smile on his face. Not the smiling assassin I thought, please don’t be the smiling assassin.
“No Mooky, my brother, I have brought with me my new batch of Chateau Jamal, just for me and you. Today we will be drunk on the finest camel seed anywhere outside of Lebanon!”
Jamal leaned closer, and with a conspirational whisper told me “I haven’t told anyone so it’s all for me and you.”
Yep, the smiling assassin.
Jamal hammered the final nail into my coffin. “Of course the heat has coagulated it a bit, but I’ve brought the toothpicks, so you no worry my friend.”
“Now then, you help yourself to food and I get the bottle!” said Jamal excitedly. “The tongs for the testes are on the table.”
My appetite had disappeared completely, and as I sat disconsolately I looked out of the window and saw Mrs Muck in the street with her towel under her arm on her way to the beach.
“Enjoy!” she called, looking up and waving gaily at me with a nasty smile on her face. “Have a drink for me!” and then was gone. Bitch! Wait till I catch up with her I thought…
Jamal came back in with two pint glasses in his hands. Oh God.
He left the room again and my mind drifted back to primary school. I had developed a technique for keeping down the limp overcooked cabbage and beetroot they forced down our throats which I’d perfected. Whatever you do, no matter what happens, and under no circumstances breath through your nose. One deep breath then down the hatch. If you don’t breath through your nose the awful taste slips into your stomach before you have a chance to retch. It had worked then and it would work now. It simply had to.
These were the last desperate thoughts of a condemned man, and the technique nothing more than a blindfold from the impending execution. I steeled myself and prepared for the inevitable. Camel testes and a pint of the finest dromedary were about to cum my way. I mean come my way. Oh God.
My despair was interrupted by sounds of shouting erupting from somewhere in the flat. Jamal’s angry voice reached my ears and he sounded as if he was arguing with someone. Something crashed over and I rushed out of the kitchen to see what was happening.
The commotion was coming from the bedroom where Jamal and the twins slept, and Jamal was screaming and cursing even louder now.
I cautiously put my head around the door and saw Jamal standing over the bed, still ranting and gesticulating wildly. A lamp from the bedside table lay shattered on the floor next to the wall, apparently where Jamal had thrown it in his rage.
On the bed, with an empty bottle in his hand, and quite drunk, lay Handy, a small white tell-tale moustache on his top lip all that remained of the Chateau Jamal.
“The bastard drink it all!” sobbed Jamal.
And it was true. Not one drop was left at the bottom of the bottle. Handy had downed a litre of fermented camel sperm to himself, and at a reputed 40% alcohol he was completely and utterly wankered. His head lolled from side to side, and he slurred badly as he looked at me.
“I love you Doctor Mucky Moo! I love you Docky Wocky Woo Woo!”
He waved towards me, his glazed eyes unseeing. “Love you… you…. yoo hoo…!” he trailed off and with that he slumped back down on the bed as Jamal turned to me and told me angrily that the feast was off.
“Feast no possible without sacred drink… You go to beach, I sort out this piece of shit innit”
As I hurried out of the bedroom Handy called after me “Love yooooo…..!”
Oh Handy, dear wonderful Handy. I love you too.