Remember My Name

This is the first draft of my new short story. I’m working on a novel at the moment and struggling with it. Having written this, I am conscious of the fact that I write better in the first person. I guess so much of my youth reading Raymond Chandler and watching Bogart films, had an effect. I was pleased with this draft last night when I wrote it – it took me about an hour. Not so sure today, but I do think there is something worth working on here. It’s a true story by the way. Events happened exactly as described here. Comments gratefully accepted.

It was damn cold that night. It didn’t matter how tight I hunched into my coat and pulled it around me, I was still shaking with it. How the hell the old guy, who didn’t have a coat at all, wasn’t shaking like I was, I have no idea. I guess, like all alcoholics, he’d become immune to the temperature.

I’d headed out to grab a pint. There was this cosy little nook of a pub right at the bottom of the Tor. I’d been in just once before, not long after moving to Glastonbury, and it was a place I fancied going back too. A big log fire, great beer and an ambience that made you feel like you’d walked into that bar scene in The Lord of the Rings. It was all just so, ‘olde England’. No idea what the place was called now.

I got to the top of the High Street and turned the corner. There was an orange glow from the pub’s windows and the sound of people laughing and having a good time, coming out into the street. The old guy was on the other side of the road. I saw him ask a couple of people for a smoke and they walked right past him. No acknowledgement, nothing. Then it happened again. I felt sorry for him, so went over and offered him a cigarette. He accepted eagerly and we both sat down on the wall opposite the pub.

I took out my tin and started to roll him a smoke. I don’t know what he said to me now. It was nothing of consequence I guess. I just wanted to give him the cigarette and get in the warm and have a pint. But the old guy kept talking and so I listened. I remember this though, and it had nothing to do with the rest of his conversation. He said to me “Only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name.” I nodded. What else could I do? I felt sorry for him.

In the glow from the pub, I could see that his clothes were old and filthy. I guess he hadn’t had a proper wash in days. Maybe weeks. And it wasn’t the time of year for anyone to be stuck out sleeping on the streets. But that was the way it was. I didn’t think about it much at the time. He was just a lonely old tramp who wanted a smoke, and someone to talk too. So I sat with him and listened. The pub wasn’t going anywhere.

I rolled myself a cigarette too, and light his for him. We sat and smoked, watching the smoke and then our breath forming thickly in front of our faces. It was damn cold. The old guy sat with me and we smoked in silence for a while. Then he talked some more and I listened some more. And then “Only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name,” he said again.

And it was like that for some time. I rolled us both another smoke and we carried on sitting on the wall at the foot of the Tor. People were coming and going from the orange glow across the road, but I sat, feeling even my bones freezing over, and listened to Nikolas.

I don’t supposed he’d had a decent meal in a long time. I don’t suppose he had any friends or a place to be. I guess the world didn’t give a shit about him. I coudn’t fix all that, but I could sit and listen and smoke. And right at that moment, that’s all he wanted. I gave up on the pint and offered him the tobacco tin. His hands were shaking and he couldn’t roll it for himself. So I took it back and rolled one for him.

“Only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name,” he said again. In fact he said it to me several times. I don’t know why all these years later, 22 to be exact, I still remember that. I guess it’s because I promised him. I don’t know why I promised it either really. Maybe to stop him repeating it over and over. But I promised it anyway.

After more than an hour of freezing on that wall and smoking way too much, the pub closed. It was back in the days when pubs had sensible hours. Not like now when you can go out and get pissed at any time of the day or night.

I didn’t want to leave Nikolas there, but what could I do? My wife would go nuts if I took him home with me. I knew that, because a few days before, a tramp had knocked on our front door and asked for some change. Instead, I took him in and gave him some food and a coffee and made him feel welcome. I couldn’t leave him out there in that weather for God’s sake. I think she’s forgotten about that now, but at the time, I knew I was in the doghouse. So I could n’t take Nikolas home with me.

I gave him my tobacco tin, whatever money I could spare and shook his hand. I needed to get back into the warm. As I headed back towards the High Street, he called after me. I turned and he said “Remember: only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name.” I smiled and silently promised I would.

I never saw Nikolas again, and have often wondered what happened to him. Maybe he’s dead. Maybe, as a friend just told me, he sorted his life out and became a success. I don’t know. But I suspect that he died. The world didn’t care about him, and won’t be missing him. No one will. No one gave shit. But for a while, I shared a wall with him and listened, and smoked, and made his world sort of okay.

And down the years, 22 to be exact, as I said, I have remembered his name. It was Nikolas Lebadar. Sometimes, I have panicked and had to dive into the fading parts of my memory and drag his name out by the scruff. Almost. It almost went. But I got it back and I keep it as best I can in my memory. I made a promise. But he’s probably dead, and no one gives a shit. But I remember his name, and I remember that only God is good.

“Only God is good. My name is Steve Gooch. Remember my name.”

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About Steve Gooch

Steve Gooch was born in March 1962 in Rugby, Warwickshire in England and grew up there with his two brothers and sister. He moved to Corsham in Wiltshire and attended Bath Academy of Art, where he studied sculpture and printmaking, before going on to work on projects for the artists Joe Tilson and Nick Pope. He also helped with the publication of a limited edition folio of Paul Eluard’s poetry. Steve moved to London to study for a postgraduate teaching certificate and then worked as a teacher of art in the UK. He gained his MA in Education with the Open University and also studied the discipline of Reiki with his Reiki teachers in Newcastle upon Tyne. His daughter Marianne was born in 1994. For a period of time, Steve devoted himself to teaching Reiki in his hometown of Rugby, before moving to Egypt, where he resumed his career as an art teacher, becoming the Head of Art in a prestigious British International School in Cairo. He continued to teach Reiki, introducing the discipline for the first time to Egypt. He also wrote extensively on the subject for various Egyptian English-language magazines. Returning to the UK, Steve’s son Sam was born in 2004. Not wanting to go back into the teaching profession, Steve took a job as a chef in a vegetarian restaurant and wrote his first book ‘Reiki Jin Kei Do: The Way of Compassion & Wisdom’. It was the world’s first book on that particular tradition of Reiki and is still considered to be the standard reference work on the subject. Steve them moved to Sudan, where he was again Head of Art at the prestigious Unity High School, and built an online living history for the school, called 'The Unity High School Archive'. It was in the process of building this archive that Steve uncovered a major scandal involving senior members of the Anglican Church, local dignitaries, and members of the faith communities. As a consequence, he got to know the head of the Secret Police in Khartoum quite well and then promptly left the country. Steve moved back to Egypt and took up a post as Head of Art in a school in Alexandria. Very much involved in the Reiki community in the UK, however, he founded the national organisation ‘Reiki Jin Kei Do UK’ and became the editor of ‘Focus: The Journal of Reiki Jin Kei Do UK’, and then set up the global ‘Reiki Jin Kei Do International’. He also set up the global video-arts project '12seconds for Peace'. The concept grabbed the attention of a number of big names in the peace movement, including Nobel Peace Prize nominees, and threatened to go viral. Circumstances (revolutions and social unrest) put it on the back-burner. Likewise, a major peace initiative called the 'Global Concert for Peace', scheduled for the summer of 2013, which would have been the world's biggest musical event, also went on the back-burner. Steve moved to Saudi Arabia for a little over a year in 2014, before returning to Egypt to take up a senior management position in another British International School in Cairo. Finally, after a year of professional purgatory in which he realised that there is no such thing as a good British International School in Egypt, he decided ‘enough is enough’ and quit the teaching profession for good to focus on his writing, art and Reiki classes. He is currently living in Cairo and writing ‘The Temple of the Djinn’, which is loosely based on the events that he uncovered during his time in Sudan. He is also teaching Reiki and working freelance for a variety of Egyptian magazines. He misses the UK and is looking forward to spending more time in his home country with his children. He'd also like to find time to paint and make sculpture.
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2 Responses to Remember My Name

  1. Auriel Roe says:

    Hi Steve, I like Chandler too which is why I was interested to read what you’d written. In the beginning, first paragraphs, I would have like to have a few descriptive details about the old man to enable the reader to see him as you did. I wonder if you could make this only partially a true story and alter the end. Look up that name on the internet and get your protagonist – you or Marlowe or whoever it may turn out to be – involved in mystery. Of course, you’d have to nip in a few suggestive details during your talk on the wall. But perhaps I’m too keen on plot driven fiction and you should leave it as it is, in its cleverly disturbing existentialism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steve Gooch says:

      Hi Auriel, Thanks a lot for your comment. To be honest, I didn’t even have the intention of writing a story. I had this memory of the event and needed to get it down on paper/screen. 22 years of carrying Nikolas Lebadar around in my head. So I splurged this, stuck it up on Facebook for someone to read, that I needed to read it, and went for a beer. It was only after that I thought that maybe I need to keep this and do something with it because there is a kernel of something worthwhile in it, I think. So what you read here is the splurge.

      But addressing your points to take it out of the splurge category and into the realms of short story:

      Yes, you are right. It needs something in that first paragraph to flesh the old guy out a bit. He is too one dimensional right now and there are things I can add to that to make it work better.

      Plot driven fiction works for me too, but I am not sure about changing the ending too much. I think there are things I want to do with it… I think I need to create the thread more between the narrator, and his realisation all these years later, that he has or is becoming, Nikolas. And actually, he has been remembering his own destiny all along.

      I do agree that yes, more mystery in there. Some meat on the conversation maybe. I want to work on the setting a little too, but not too much. Right now, it is not quite right.

      Thanks so much for your comments Auriel. Very much appreciated.

      Steve

      Like

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