The Prince of Our Disorder
He couldn't take much more of this. It wasn't the pain that bothered him, it was the noises in the room. The relentless drip, drip, drip of rain from the roof to the ground. The ticking of the cheap clock that he knew was three minutes slow. Then there were the blows themselves. Why couldn't John (not John that was too familiar) be bothered to keep a steady pace? The inconstant "whack!" of the birch rod was out of step with the clock and for some reason that drove him mad. He tried to concentrate on the blows themselves and not the way they were administered. He thought to himself of all the frustration, depression and anger he had to hide on a daily basis. Those feelings were so heavy in his chest he found it simple to think of them as tangible things with a physical presence. He imagined transferring all those weighty qualities to his back where the force of his emotions would meet the physical force of the implement.
That was better. He felt better. He also noticed that he was beginning to bleed less. The first time he had bled so badly he had ruined the shirts he had worn immediately after. He was proud of the fact that his back seemed to be getting tougher. Of course he was, that was the point wasn't it? Wasn't it?
Drip, drip, drip
Damn the rain. He hated it he could feel it when it rained, even if he spent the whole time indoors he could feel the moisture slowly seeping into his very being. That and the ever oppressive and endless expanses of grey that made up English skies. He missed warmer colors, and warmer climates. Even though the same sun warmed this part of the world as it did the shifting sands he had known all to briefly, he felt instinctively that they must be different. How could the same celestial body that's movements spelled out men's deaths in the desert fail to even warm the inhabitants of this sedate little island? That was not a good train of thought to go follow up, he took a cautionary look at his hands and the lower part of his arms. Like his face the sun had damaged them permanently. The skin he had so foolishly left unprotected would serve him as a reminder of the truth. He belonged here, not in the vast expanses that he both longed for and wanted never to see again.
Tick, whack!, tick, tick, whack!
Why couldn't Bruce at least keep time with the blasted clock! That was it he couldn't think properly and he was too distracted to be getting his money's worth. He was also feeling less of the enjoyment he usually experienced. But wasn't that good? This was a penance after all. "For what?" asked the voice in his head that sounded an awful lot like Robert Guy. He wasn't sure why it did, it's just that for all that precious creature's good qualities Robert had never understood any of his need for self flagellation. "My darling" he thought to himself "you always thought I was a saint incapable of any wrong, you were, and probably still are too trusting for your own good" But this was another train of thought that he couldn't allow to leave the station. Nothing Bruce could do to him in any of these birchings was as painful as thinking about Robert too much.
Tick, tick, tick, whack!
That was it he really wasn't getting his money's worth. The noises were going to drive him mad. He had a letter to write anyway. He pondered responding to that R. A. F. officer's wife. Poor woman, but she was asking for something that he wanted to keep to himself. Was he a beast? For not writing or for being incapable of reciprocating her feelings? Any real man would be flattered. He wouldn't write, it made him feel guilty but even writing to her felt dishonest, and…unnatural. That thought almost made him laugh, the irony of his choice of the word "unnatural" was just too ghastly. He didn't laugh, instead he cleared his throat and asked,
"Yeah Shaw?" replied the other
"Could we have a break? I'd like to write a letter"
"I thought you'd never ask! My arms bloody tired. But that's probably nothing to how bad you're feeling?"
Bruce looked expectantly to see the logical conclusion Shaw must have reached. This was that when John Bruce decided to hit you as hard as he could it hurts like hell. He was disappointed (as he was every Sunday) that it didn't seem to faze Shaw at all. But this was a really awful thought. He merely shrugged and replied
"It does sting a bit"
This came to John like a slap in the face. But he should have realized by now how this small, delicate schoolboy of a man, with his sad eyes and rather effeminate way of speaking was capable of enduring things that would make the toughest, most muscle-bound career solider weep and beg for mercy. John did not consider himself to be a sadistic person. When he was first approached with this he was appalled at the idea. He was horrified that he might do him real harm, maybe even kill him. But as the time had gone by Bruce had been amazed by the amount of suffering he was capable of tolerating. It had started to bother him. As there were two explanations. First John was too weak to inflict any degree of pain , or two the man actually enjoyed or at least didn't mind these weekly ordeals. Surely there was something abnormal about number two. That couldn't be natural? Could it?
Shaw sat down and started the letter. He became uncomfortably aware of Bruce staring at him. He simply stared back as if to demand of Bruce why he was looking at him but then realized that he was a touch distracted by the fact that Bruce had seen fit to remove his shirt. He quickly moved his eyes from the well sculpted chest and arms. Honestly why did he insist on doing this half naked? The word naked was not one he should have allowed to enter his mind. Why hadn't he seen fit to find a less distracting person to do this?
"Can I ask you something Shaw?
"Ask away" answered Shaw as if bracing himself for another blow
"Why are you paying me to do this? I mean I've done my job and taken your money and kept quiet…"
"I hope you have" Shaw looked so stern and who could blame him? Honestly how would he explain something like this if it came out?
"I haven't told a soul, and I've never asked you anything before"
"Why don't we keep it that way?" Bruce watched feeling a little ill as this man picked up a handkerchief and wiped at the rivers of blood running down his back as if trying to clean up some dirt. Not that any dirt would dare settle on T.E. Shaw, disorganized as hell but always clean.
" I just feel that I have the right to know"
He knew that this question would have to come up eventually. And he sort of did have a right to know. Oh well best try to answer it. "Should I mention Deraa?" Shaw posed the question. "No absolutely not" came the sensible reply.
"I don't really know myself" he said lamely and after too much deliberation
"I've got another question"
"That's interesting I've got a pen in my hand" Robert had hated that so much, his insistence on nit picking over the connotation as oppose to simply accepting the denotation. But Bruce looked a little too puzzled to bicker about questions of primary school English class. But he recovered enough to ask his question
"Are you quiet human?"
"Of course what else would I be?" There was a time when that question would have merited some serious thought but now he had learned his place.
"I mean" and John couldn't control the frustration in his voice "that you willingly submit yourself to agony that I would have judged unbearable. You pay me to do what all human beings in their right minds would pray never to have happen to them. And you do all this without knowing why!"
"Fine I'll try to explain it to you. During the war I…" he then heard that practical voice in his head "No don't tell him about that!". Fine he wouldn't he would only regret it, but he had to try and maybe Bruce this man specifically selected for his ability to be hard and in a sense cruel might understand?
"I was beaten and r… I was by … a gang of Turkish soldiers while attempting to have a look around a city we, my generals that is, were planning on trying to attack. I was beaten very badly. I had a price on my head you see… I was lucky they left me alive. I was ashamed of how I cried and begged for mercy. I was also disgusted by… by…by the fact that I would have betrayed my friends if they had asked me where they were. I felt that I had failed to properly train myself…"
"How could you train yourself for something like that?" Interrupted John
"Ever since I was a boy pain has been an int…no I won't lie, an obsession. I thought if I kept causing myself hurt then I could learn to tolerate it better when the time came, when someone else hurt me. When I had to suffer in a way I couldn't control. It didn't work as I told you so I realized that I would have to take more drastic measures in order to make myself no longer an involved party in my pain, but merely a spectator."
Shaw watched him listening and realized that he didn't understand either. Would S. A. have been able to comprehend? He immediately wanted to seize the rod from Bruce and hit himself with it for allowing the memory of that person to cross his mind.
"Why did they do that?"
"Who? Oh the Turks…well they thought that I was a deserter, some people find that fun to take out their frustrations on others " Bruce felt not a little apprehensive. Was he becoming that kind of person?
"And do some people find it fun to be on the receiving end of that?"
"Yes… I mean I wouldn't know. I am trying to develop my character and tolerance for pain. I'm not looking for pleasure. But in the Arab culture it is common as a way to…keep ones desires in check. A more clean and wholesome thing to do than…" he shuddered. Bruce was getting the sense that he was in over his head. But he decided to go ahead and ask the question he knew he shouldn't
"Um..isn't it well better to um…try and move on? I mean what happened to you was horrible but I don't think its weakness to be beaten. I don't think of you at all differently hearing that. Being affected by torture is only normal…"
"Well normal was never what I aimed for was it! I used to do rather well because I wasn't average, now I'm just a freak, like I've always been" Bruce was surprised at the venom and the enjoyment with which he spat the word freak
"You're not a freak" Bruce tried to say but it didn't come out right because that was the word he had been trying very hard not to use to describe Shaw. So he tried again to… to do what? Reason with the man he supposed
" I know that you feel like you need to…oh I don't know… you feel that you failed and now you are worse than you were, or some such. But did it really make you that different a person? "
No he was not going to tell the truth, not at all. He didn't want to go through his experience in Deraa again and he knew if he even gave Bruce a hint that would be the consequence. But wasn't that what this whole thing was about? Bringing things to the surface instead of repressing them?
John could not sense any reaction from Shaw. Though he did fancy that the other man had whispered something under his breath. Shaw had, he had let slip in an almost inaudible tone;
He had hated what they had done to him at Deraa, of course he had. That was why he paid a man to come every week to help him relive it. He noticed that Bruce was getting restless. He was satisfied to have written a perfectly satisfactory letter and promptly folded his letter and put it in an envelope. At this Bruce laughed. He hadn't meant to, there was just something so ridiculous about the calm almost cheerful way that the other man had done something as mundane as fold a letter and put it in an envelope. It was an action that every human does on a regular basis. But this person was doing such a common place thing with a crimson spider web of gore dripping delicate threads all over the snowy flesh of his back. The juxtaposition was so macabre and comical in such a sick and pleasant way.
"Would you stop looking at me like I was some slimy thing that you found on the underside of a rock?" Bruce did stop. The rain had not abated. Shaw finished the letter and cheerfully asked Bruce to continue.
Drip, drip, drip
He tried to block out the sounds and found that that curious (almost certainly sexual ) warmth was beginning to wash over him as Bruce began again with renewed vigor. He really missed the warmth the most. Even when it was oppressive the heat had felt so good. It was almost impossible to get warm in England. Still he had known for a long time he was not going back to the sand.
"Only two kinds of creatures have fun in the desert" someone once told him "gods and Bedouins and you're neither" he was neither and should have seen that before. But if he was simply neither, or as he had said later "I'm none of those things Ali" the inevitable question
"Then what are you?"
"Don't know" would always, he supposed, be the reply
"Shaw?" Bruce tugged him back to England and the present
"I was looking over an old newspaper and I found a picture of…well do you know T. E. Lawrence?"
His reaction to hearing that name had always amazed him
"Who?" How nonchalant that sounded
"You know! Well you must know everyone does! I mean everyone's heard of Lawrence of Arabia"
"Oh him, yeah him I've heard of who hasn't, papers couldn't get enough of him a while back" Now did that sound too bitter to be merely an average solider bored with a celebrity obsession?
"Well of course they were, the mans a bleedin' hero"
"No, he's a bleedin' fraud. He's just a nutcase who happened to get lucky. Hero my ass" how was it that both statements sounded so true. Could they both be true? No one had to win "Bruce you do realize that all of the press you read about him is either propaganda or the most sensational lies and gossip"
"We'll just have to agree to disagree. I don't see why you have such venom for the fellow. But what made me bring him up was that he looks just like you, I mean it's kind of scary. You two are so similar, but I bet you get that a lot."
"Yes , all the time"