Love and Rockets
By Auburn Red
A My Beautiful Launderette fanfic
None of these characters belong to me. They belong to the very talented Hanif Kureishi. However, I did create Latika, Gigi, Del, Max, Frida, Toby, and Little Ali.
Chapter One: What are words for?
There was no point in reopening the launderette, yet. At least not until the place was fixed up. Johnny and Omar had a late start in getting it cleaned up. A really late start, Johnny grinned, thinking of the night before.
After the two had made love in the backroom, they went to Johnny's new place to spend the night. Johnny was just as surprised as Omar that he volunteered to let him spend the night since he was ready to leave him before. But Omar was reluctant to go home, probably because he didn't want to answer any complicated questions from his father. Johnny admitted only to himself that he didn't want to be alone that night either.
Johnny continued to sweep up the glass and trash. As he swept it into the duster, he moved the broom fiercely. He thought of each person that he blamed for the fight, Johnny's injuries, and the whole damn mess! He swept the remnants with fury. Sweep! "Damn Nassar!" Sweep! "Fuck Genghis!" Sweep! "Fuck Salim!" Sweep! "The hell with Omar!" Sweep! "Damn me too!"
He glanced over at the backroom window. Omar had spent all day on the phone arguing or talking with people to help with Powders' repairs. Sometimes he spoke in English, sometimes in Urdu. Either way it sounded bad.
Omar slammed the phone down and walked over to Johnny's side. The Englishman leaned closer to his lover. Omar tenderly placed his hand on the side of Johnny's head where the bruises still showed. "It will leave a scar won't it?" Omar asked gently. Johnny shrugged. Omar's hand tried to cover the bruise as though he could rub off the bruise with just a touch. Omar leaned closer to his boyfriend, so their foreheads touched.
"What happened?" Johnny asked pulling him away.
Omar sighed. "Which would you like to hear first, the bad news or the really bad news?"
"Does it matter?" Johnny asked.
Omar fingered the dents in one of the washing machines that had been hit by the garbage can. "I spoke to the window replacement, electrician, rewiring, and plumbing. Guess how much it's going to cost to rev this place up again?"
"A million quid?" Johnny asked facetiously.
Omar smirked. "Close enough, it might as well be. Try, 50,000."
The punk whistled. "Christ."
"My thoughts exactly, "Omar agreed." Of course we could be insured for the damages, but therein lays the really bad news. A few months ago, my uncle was letting the insurance lapse in some of his failed businesses including-"
"-the launderette," Johnny guessed. "Remind me to thank him next time I see him." He leaned against a washing machine crossing his arms. "You talk to your uncle, yet?"
"I haven't been able to reach him yet," Omar said. "But Auntie Bilkes says that he is busy cutting Tania out of his life. Cutting her out of pictures, erasing her from documents. He doesn't want to say that she's dead. He'd rather pretend like she never existed. . Auntie told me that he visited Salim in the hospital earlier." Omar smiled and rubbed Johnny's shoulder seductively. He laughed sheepishly. "Speaking of which, how do you feel about visiting a sick friend in the hospital?"
Johnny pulled away from his lover. His pale face reddened and he looked like he was about to explode. He knew exactly where this conversation was going. "That depends on the friend, yeah?"
"Well, Cherry called and she said that Salim is out of intensive care and has his own private room and he has been asking for us by name," Omar began. "I thought it would be a nice gesture if we could visit him and-"
"-No," Johnny said plainly.
"But he asked for both of us you and me," Omar replied. "He may want to thank you for saving him."
Johnny snorted in defiance. "Not likely," he said. "We weren't exactly close mates before."
"I know but it would bring you closer to my family," Omar began.
"To the business you mean," Johnny replied.
"It means the same to me," Omar said frantically. "There is so much that's gone wrong. I just want everything to go right again. I want this business back to normal. I want to make my family proud of me and I want you."
Johnny rolled his eyes, and then kissed Omar on the mouth. "What was that for?" the young businessman said.
"You," the punk said. "Why do you always get me to do the exact opposite of what I want to do?"
Omar smiled. "Two reasons, one I'm your boss," Omar said. "And well you know the other reason."
They kissed again. "That reason infuriates me more," Johnny grinned.
Salim was in the hospital room arguing with the nurses and simultaneously fighting with his wife, Cherry.
"No, I don't need another fucking injection," he commanded.
"Salim, calm down," Cherry placated her husband.
"Fuck that," the drug dealer yelled at his wife. His body and face recovered slowly from the beatings, but the scars would still remain as well as some other injuries.
"Is there anything I can get you," Cherry asked thinly just as anxious to get away from her argumentative husband if even for a few minutes as she was to soothe him.
"Run off and fetch me a whiskey," Salim commanded.
Cherry stood up nearly running into Omar and Johnny in her haste to leave the hospital room. "There you are," she said. "Good luck. God help me you will need it. I didn't even get the chance to tell him the wonderful news." She turned and left the room. The nurses followed just as anxious to leave.
Omar held up the fruit basket in his hand. "Here you are, Salim," he said. "We got this for you. Where would you like me to put it?" Salim quietly waved his hand as if to say he didn't care.
Omar sat in the nearby chair vacated by Cherry. Johnny leaned against the door, a skeptical expression on his face.
"Are you feeling better?" Omar asked.
Salim shrugged. " Well as can be expected I guess. They said I'll be out in a few days."
"That's good," Omar smiled and grinned at Johnny who gave a diplomatic nod.
"Wanted to see us," Johnny prompted.
Salim smiled thinly, his voice was soft. "Yes, especially you Johnny." He motioned the blonde man to come closer. "I know we had our problems in the past, but I want to thank you."
"Really," Omar's face broke into a happy grin and he smiled at his lover for support. Johnny's eyebrows widened in surprise, but his face remained impassive.
Salim nodded and his grin turned into one of a cat who caught its victims. "Yes, I wanted to thank you for the fact that my car is now a piece of shit and I have to get a new one! I wanted to thank you that for six hours I couldn't remember my wife's name or my address! Thank you that I have no mobility in my right hand and I may never get it back! Thank you that after 14 hours of reconstructive surgery my nose will continue to be crooked and my canine teeth will be a different color from my other teeth! Thank you that you and your fucking Fascist friends have not only ruined my day as of right now ruined my life!"
Omar's mouth dropped open in surprise glancing from his bedridden relative to his boyfriend and back again. Johnny stood up and for a minute, Omar was afraid that he was going to punch Salim. Instead Johnny smiled. "I accept your thanks and in the same vein, I think you shouldn't thank me. You should thank Omo."
"Why Omar?" Salim asked suspiciously.
" 'Cause if you weren't related to Omar and so important to him, I would have not bothered to defend you," Johnny said. "In fact after what you did, I would have beaten you so hard that you couldn't stand!"
He stormed out of the hospital room. "Johnny," Omar called back, but his lover paid no attention as he walked away.
Omar turned to Salim. Now that he was in a hospital bed, Omar wasn't as afraid of Salim as before. "Salim, that was not necessary! Johnny saved your life. You could have died out there. "
"And it was because of him and his friends that this happened at all!" Salim said. Omar found nothing more to say, so he turned to leave until Salim called him back. "By the way, Omo, Nassar visited me this morning. I told him about you, everything about you and Johnny."
Omar shook his head and glared. "Get well soon, Salim," he spat out in anger before he turned around and left.
Omar and Johnny drove back to the launderette. Neither wanted to say anything, but they were clearly upset. Omar slammed the car door and ran inside the launderette. Johnny followed close behind him.
"Okay, have it out," Johnny said waiting for his normally placid lover to be annoyed or angry. The calm disturbed him more.
Omar waved his hands emphatically. "I don't even know where to begin. All I wanted was for you and Salim to be civil with each other."
"After what he said to me, you want me to be civil," Johnny thundered.
"I'm not excusing what he said," Omar retorted. "I told him so after you left. But I expect for you to at least behave yourself. I don't know if you are aware of this or not, but we are right now in Hell and we need my family's help to get out of it and we don't need you acting like a hooligan!"
Johnny turned from Omar and faced the window. He looked outside at the people walking up and down the streets. A child glanced at the broken window, until her mother grabbed her hand and walked off. He cleared his throat. "I've been thinking," he said. "You could get a couple of other guys to work here for less."
The Pakistani looked down at his feet, the dust on the floor anything but Johnny's face but his voice was determined. "No."
"There're a lot of bodies round South London that can do what I do here," Johnny continued as if unheard.
"No," Omar's voice was more determined and he faced Johnny squarely. "If I just wanted anyone to work here, don't you think that I would have just put an advertisement in the paper and be done with it? I wanted to share this with you."
"I wonder if it's even worth it," Johnny said more to himself than to Omar but he spoke loud enough for his lover to hear.
Omar looked at him in shock. "Of course it is, the time we put in, the things we did to get here! Yes, it's worth it!"
Johnny faced Omar, his arms crossed. "I wasn't talking about the launderette."
Omar came closer. "Neither was I." Omar wrapped his arms around Johnny's waist, but the blond punk once again pulled away. The two young men stood in stony silence until the phone in the office made both jump in surprise.
Omar rolled his eyes and walked to the office fixing Johnny with a look that clearly said "this isn't over."
Johnny gamely followed Omar into the office as he answered. "Powders; Omar Hussein speaking."
"OMAR WHERE IN GOD'S NAME HAVE YOU BEEN?" Omar's father's voice was so loud that the young man pulled the phone away from his ear. Johnny grinned slightly since even he could hear his voice. "Thank God Nassar was here most of the evening," Ali thundered. "I don't know what I would have done if he hadn't."
Omar returned the phone to his ear. "I'm sorry, Papa. There was just some trouble at the launderette and the car broke down."
"I told you the brakes were probably faulty," Ali Hussein muttered. "Are you alone?"
Omar glanced at Johnny wordlessly and sighed. "Yes, I am."
"A likely story," Ali said, his voice icy. "Nassar came from the hospital visiting Salim. He's here now. Omo, the three of us need to have a talk. Come here alone." Ali then pulled away from the phone as if somebody, probably Nassar, Omar guessed wanted to talk to him. The two voices argued for a minute getting more and more frantic. Omar distinctly heard his father say "I do not want that rabble rousing fascist in my flat!" The brothers' voices got softer as once again they argued, until Ali sulked "Fine, have it your way, but I will keep my eye on him." The middle-aged former journalist returned to the phone and spoke again to his son. "Nassar also wants Johnny to come here as well."
Omar pulled away and turned to Johnny. "Papa wants me to come home. Uncle Nassar is there. They want to talk."
"Your father?" Johnny asked. Omar nodded. "With Nassar?" Omar nodded again. "To talk?" Another nod. "Probably about us?" The young Pakistani man shrugged and nodded. "I will be watching your career with great interest." He turned and just about left the office when Omar grabbed his belt loops and pulled him from the door.
"He wants to talk to both of us," Omar said.
"I ain't going," Johnny said. "I ain't going to be pulled into another one."
"It will only work if we are in this together," Omar said determined.
"Are you going?" Johnny asked.
"Are you with me?" Omar shot back.
Johnny rolled his eyes and nodded. Omar then returned to the phone and told his father that they would both arriving at the flat.
St. Bartholomew's Primary School, Lewisham South London 1967- Johnny kicked the football onto the wall. He practiced a move that he had seen in the footer match the night before and was excited to try it out. The noises of the other children were all around him. None of the other kids offered to play with him and that was how he liked it. Even though he had just turned six, Johnny had something of a reputation as a bully and most of the kids his age were afraid of him.
For no reason, Johnny glanced over at another boy playing with some blocks. He was a new student, arrived from "Packet-stan" or whatever country that Miss Twing said. When he spoke, he talked with an accent that many of the other kids made fun of and to Johnny's dismay, Miss Twing sat the new boy, Omar, in the shared desk next to him. No sooner did the boy sit next to him then Johnny already marked his territory. He covered his side with all of his supplies and said "You see this stuff? It's all mine. If you touch any of it, I will knock your block off!" But whenever Johnny turned his head, Omar would sneak one of the supplies and cover his mouth to stifle a giggle as if he didn't take Johnny's threat seriously.
"Bugging wot," Johnny grumbled not knowing what that word really meant, but he heard his dad say that about someone on TV and it sounded pretty good.
He was about to return to his one-on-one game, when loud noises made the boy turn his head in Omar's direction. Two bigger boys were teasing Omar. They had already knocked the block tower down and were holding a lolly over the smaller boy's head. Omar leapt up and tried to grab it from the bigger boys but they both knocked him down.
Johnny approached the scene as Omar landed on the ground with a thud and looked up at the boys. The Pakistani boy was smaller and slighter than the two other children, but he faced them down. He bit his lip to keep from wailing but large tears welled up in his dark eyes and fell down his cheeks. The other boy's lip quivered and he could hide his hurt feelings no longer as he gave out a wail and his body shook with sobs.
One of the boys laughed until Johnny knocked him down. In a fury the other kid lunged at the smaller boy but Johnny kicked him. Even though the two boys were larger, Johnny was quicker, faster, good with his fists, and his teeth which he bit the main boy on the hand. "You stupid shit!" the other boy yelled, but Johnny wrestled the lollipop from the other boy's hand and stood up.
Omar dried his eyes and looked up at the other boy who helped him. He knew that he was Johnny the boy who sat next to him, but he didn't know him that well. The Pakistani boy stood up and took the lollipop from the English boy's hand.
He smiled at the other boy who helped him. How could he thank him? But then he remembered this morning, when his Papa found his Mama's change purse for her and how she thanked him. He puckered his lips and leaned over to Johnny. Without another word, Omar gave Johnny a kiss on the lips.
Johnny was stunned for a moment, then he wiped his mouth embarrassed. "Eww, what are you, a girl?" he yelled.
"Johnny, Omar!" a voice called their names. Both boys looked up to see their teacher, Miss Twing standing over them. She wore a lime-green mini dress and her blond hair was cut in a short pixie style. Because of her blond hair, thin frame, and sometimes spacy way of talking many of the kids called her Miss Twiggy, like the model when she wasn't in ear shot. Usually she had a big smile and a sing-song voice when she spoke with the children. But this time her arms were folded and she spoke firmly. "I am going to have to speak to both of your mothers," she warned.
Johnny and Omar sat outside the headmaster's office while Miss Twing was inside with the headmaster talking to both Johnny and Omar's mothers. More specifically, Johnny's mother was doing all the talking or yelling rather and the others were listening.
"IF MY BOY DID ANYTHING, YOU CAN BET THAT HIS FATHER WILL GIVE HIM THE STRAP WHEN WE GET HOME!" she yelled.
"Mrs. Burrfoot, please calm down," the headmaster, Mr. Phillips, a small bespectacled man said. "Your son, Jonathan, was in a fight with two other boys at the playground."
"Then, he is in big trouble," Amanda Burrfoot declared. Though small, she had an often commanding presence in front of people. Her face was often ruddy from yelling and she showed signs of extra weight. Her hair was as dark as her sons, but it hung in messy curls that she never bothered to do more than brush. Her pink waitress uniform which was a size tight for her smelled of cigarettes as she was called to the school on her break.
By contrast, Daviya Hussein seemed more faded and passive. She was a taller than Amanda, but the other's woman's exuberance made her seem invisible. Her dark hair hung neatly around her slender shoulders and her face was pale almost ghostly around her dark eyes. She wore a long gray dress which looked pressed and clean despite the obvious wear on it. Clear glasses hung off her nose until she pushed them up. "Excuse me, but if the altercation was between the other boys and her son," she pointed at Amanda who snorted with disdain. "Why is my Omar in trouble?"
"Ooh, your boy too good to go to the headmasters, eh?" Amanda challenged.
Amanda's comment was ignored. Mr. Phillips cleared his throat. "Excuse me, but Mrs. Hussein is it customary in India-"
"-Pakistan," Miss Twing and Daviya corrected the headmaster.
"-Pakistan, I apologize," Mr. Phillips corrected himself. "is it customary in Pakistan for boys to um well kiss other boys?"
"Certainly not," Daviya said in shock. "What do you mean?"
The headmaster nodded to Miss Twing who stepped forward. "After Johnny fought with the other boys, Omar kissed him on the lips."
Daviya's mouth opened in shock, but Amanda doubled over in laughter. "Well looks my boy isn't the only bad one. Who knew your boy was a shirt lifter!"
Daviya glared at the other woman then turned back to the teacher and headmaster. "I don't think my son would do anything serious. He is only 5 years old, but I will speak to him when we come home."
While the mothers were speaking to Miss Twing and Mr. Phillips, Johnny and Omar sat outside the office glancing at each other. "Thank you for helping me," Omar said.
"Right then," Johnny shrugged. They sat in silence and then Johnny spoke. "So you pack a lot of stuff?"
"When we moved?" Omar asked. "Yeah, I guess."
"No, I meant in Packet-stan," Johnny asked. "Is that why they call it Packet-stan, blokes pack things?"
Omar giggled and Johnny blushed in embarrassment. "It's not Packet-stan, my family is from Pakistan," he corrected. "Well we were in Bombay for awhile, that's where my Papa met my Mama."
"Why'd you move here?" Johnny asked. He was curious about this other kid. True a lot of children at the school came from other countries, but there was something about Omar that he actually liked. He actually listened when Johnny talked and seemed not to be at all intimidated by him.
Omar shrugged. "Papa fought with some people and they didn't want him in the country anymore."
"Your dad's a boxer?" Johnny asked.
"No," Omar said and he sounded the word slowly as he remembered what Papa said that he did for a living. "He's a journ-a-list. He says that he writes the truth, but sometimes people don't like to hear the truth, so that's why we moved here."
"Oh, sounds brill," Johnny said. He always liked a good fight.
"What does your father do?" Omar asked.
Johnny looked down. "He hadn't worked in awhile since he was busted out of the factory. He had a bum knee and couldn't stand for very long, so they chucked him out."
"Oh," Omar said. "That's sad."
Johnny nodded. "Now, mostly he just watches the telly and drinks stuff that he says is bad for me."
"You ever tried?" Omar said.
Johnny leaned closer as he whispered in secret. "Yeah once, when he wasn't looking. I picked up a bottle and tasted a sip." Omar's eyes widened that Johnny would be so bold. He knew the drinks. His father drank them too, but Omar would never try to taste them."It made me sick. Tasted like fire, it did."
"How do you know what fire tastes like?" Omar asked. The office door opened as Miss Twing, Mr. Phillips, and the two mothers stepped out.
"Omar, come," Daviya said. Omar jumped off the bench and held his mother's hand. Amanda forcefully pulled Johnny from the bench and walked off.
"Mama wait," Omar said in Urdu and he turned to face the other boy.
Amanda muttered under her breath as she walked away. "Thinks she's the queen of Sheba does she? Damn Paki bitch!"
Johnny barely listened to his mother as Omar called to him. Johnny turned around as the other boy ran down the hall and approached Johnny.
"What?" Johnny asked.
Omar took the lollipop that Johnny rescued earlier out of his pocket. He put it in Johnny's hand and said "Thank you."
"Yeah right, then," Johnny said as Omar hurried to join his mother.
"Johnny, when we get home you are going to throw that out," Amanda said.
"Why?" Johnny demanded.
"You don't know where that's been," his mother said. "It's probably been in that boy's mouth!"
"Fine," Johnny said sticking the lollipop in his pocket.
Later that night, Daviya told her husband what happened between Omar and the other boy. Both parents gave Omar a lecture on how to behave and restricted him from watching the telly that night. But later Daviya kissed him and Ali sent his son to bed, ruffled his hair, and tweaked his nose, so he knew that he wasn't in any serious trouble. When Omar went to sleep, he dreamt of that English boy.
Johnny's mother told his father as soon as they got home. They yelled their heads off at him, then they started fighting with each other. Amanda threw a dish at her husband, George narrowly missing the television but ramming it against the wall. In return, George Burrfoot, a tall stocky balding man, threw a bottle towards his wife.
Johnny rolled his eyes and walked into his messy room. He blocked out the noise by listening to his small radio and turning up the volume. The station was playing a Rolling Stones song. That's how his parents' fights usually went , they'd be arguing about something, usually about something Johnny did, then they would yell at each other and throw things. The only difference was which parent stormed out for the night. Johnny looked down to see his father slam the door and leave the house.
Johnny thumped on the bed and felt around in his pocket. He took out the lollipop. His mum forgot all about it. He opened the wrapper and stuck it in his mouth, thinking of the strange Pakistani boy who gave it to him and smiled.