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There’s something wrong with me she said. Who is she? Doesn’t matter. The names and faces keep changing. I told her as such the last time. She said that was part of the problem. Or maybe she said it was a symptom. Not that important.

It’s not healthy she said, meaning my appetite for women. A man shouldn’t feel compelled to flit from bird to bird like a tree. He ought to try settle down some and try growing some roots. I might have mixed some of that up. I wasn’t paying much attention. She was beginning to bore me again.

You’re a man whore, one of her said to me once. Something about double standards for men and women, but I never said she couldn’t do the same. I never cared much for what she did outside of when I craved her. What do I care what society thinks you ought to do when I dont care what it thinks what I ought to do? That’s what I told her but she wasn’t satisfied. She made like a tree and left.

Another one sobbed all night in my bed. I slept just fine beside her. Did I feel bad for her? Sure. But I had no part in her self-deceptions. Dont put promises on me that I never made. I never lied once.

It’s a hunger. I tried to explain it in terms she might understand: women eat too right? You crave a thing so you go get it and eat it: I consume women in the same way. I enjoy the experience. Savour the taste of every individual bite. Sometimes one even grabs hold of me and I feast on it for months at a time. It’s nothing personal. Women and men must eat to live.

We are not food, she said. As though she spoke for all of Her with one voice. Of course you’re not food, I’m not an imbecile. But how else do you explain something to someone when it doesnt ever make sense to them? Food is our common ground. You can’t expect every metaphor to work one-for-one. Plus she started it with the talk of my appetite and my being a tree. Or was that me? I get confused sometimes.

I remember her crying another time too. Thinking I’d changed this time. What’s there to change? A hungry man eats and is grateful for the meal. Why should there be an obligation to eat the same meal forever? Or to remember every meal? To remember all her names? I dont understand food. Maybe I dont understand trees or metaphors either. Or women and people. I do get confused sometimes.

I haven’t finished the manga Berserk. And now, neither will its author mangaka Miura Kentaro. That wasn’t meant to be some cheap joke – this latest famous passing has thrown me off in a weird way. This man devoted his life to this manga. Over three decades – with no exaggeration, almost as long as I’ve lived.

The world he painstakingly imagined and drew. Hellish dreamscapes… the most intricate character designs. So many lines. So much motion.

And emotion too. Don’t let Berserk’s brutal aesthetic trick you. Yes it was violent angst, blackest grief and bitter dread. But it was also so much heart and soul. It dared to hope and be human in the face of overwhelming odds.

At its core, Berserk told a story of a scarred man fighting demons within and without. Defying fate itself to put his broken world right.

If you love storytelling or love hand-drawn artwork, please read Berserk. Sweet dreams, Miura. Thank you.

They tell you it’s like a flutter in your gut when your feet expect a regular step and miss. Or when you catch yourself on a step that shouldn’t be there. But it’s not. It’s world shattering.

It’s a strange thing to be confronted by reality.

I was happily married to my wife for almost two decades before we divorced. She was a mathematician and I was a physicist. We met in university during a shared lecture on applied maths. It was a small theatre and she caught me staring multiple times. We spoke afterwards, clumsily. She invited me out to a bar crawl and I declined. Instead we spent all night bickering in her common room – what was more fundamental in nature, maths or physics? She was wrong: it’s physics. Our worlds collided that day.

Until near the end, our marriage was largely of little note. We had no children and enjoyed working in each other’s company when we could. There were few arguments. We flirted over playfought existential philosophy – was maths discovered or invented? Would physics ever end?

Then came QMind. It was the most powerful computer ever built and it was built only for one thing: mathematics. QMind was no mere tool: it was a mathematician in its own right. It would conceptualise, connect, prove and journal its billions of findings. It was the atomic bomb to mankind’s pistol and it didn’t take long for it to outproduce our species’ collective contributions in the field.

I suppose QMind shattered my wife’s world. Boom. No more maths. Picture that.

I didn’t understand it then. In fact, I dreamed of living to see the day we fully understood the physical world. I tried to reassure my wife, told her that as we uncovered more of the universe’s fundamental nature, we would have to create more maths. But she knew there was no beating QMind. It broke her.

My wife began to spend long hours at work. It was only then that reality confronted me for the first time.

We live in such a narrow slice of existence and know so very little. We go about our daily lives, not knowing all the pieces in our phones or the human cogs within our institutions. So many trains kept on the tracks, kept on time by so many invisible conductors. And all of them stay invisible so long as it all goes according to plan.

My wife was cheating on me with a colleague of hers. Boom. Her world had shattered and so she’d chosen to shatter mine.

A thing like that sounds trivial when overheard in a pub. So what? Find someone better and move on. But the reality of reality is complicated. Had she changed so much to want to hurt me so? Had she always been this person? How could one act ripple out and disturb so much? I didn’t just question her, but our past, the past itself, and then myself. She wasn’t whom she’d claimed and vowed to be. Our relationship was false, built on unsound foundations. What we had between us was false. All the words and actions shared meant different things now. And who was I that could be so lacking in my judgement? Not the same I I had presumed to be all this time.

We separated quickly and quietly. And then QMind struck again.

The thing about science is it isn’t about the body of knowledge – that list of whats and facts. It’s about the process. You guess at a thing and plug away at disproving what you can. You rule out the ideas one by one, over and over again, clipping off the branches of possibility. And then over a long enough timeline, the approximation of the truth within your model or body of knowledge hopefully approaches the actual Truth. But it’s never the Truth itself. Only the Truth is the Truth. It’s just a giant simulated model.

I wish I could’ve explained that clearly to my wife. Maybe it might have changed things. If she understood that the maths was not the reality but a heuristic – only reality was reality. Most likely it would’ve made no difference.

Even understanding it myself, I shudder at the chaos of unburnished Truth. Beyond our man-made rules and laws is the real thing. It hides during everyday life. A physicist revels in the intellectual thought of approaching Truth. But drop him in the midst of it, and he falls apart. All it takes is one late train.

QMind released its latest findings. Its AI network had been linked to a supercollider around Jupiter. As it processed the data, it reached a consensus. QMind had concluded there were no more fundamental particles to be found beyond what it had discovered. It had unified general relativity and quantum mechanics to build a Theory of Everything. There were no alternative interpretations of the universe left.

And yet there were still some physical anomalies. Anomalies with no higher level explanation available to them now. They simply existed, unaccounted for. Boom.

It drove me mad, again. QMind had divided the universe into something understandable and come up with some truly indivisible parts. I emailed these anomalous remainders to my wife, hoping my despair might be her hope.

It’s a strange thing to be confronted by reality.

Twenty six.

I swore I’d moved on.

‘What?’ cried Selina. The fishing line snapped, whipping the pair of us off our feet. Asses sore and elbows torn from the jagged stone steps of the communal pond.

‘Nothing’, I said and pushed her off me. And soon enough we were back to popping water lily bulbs and counting how many of the tadpoles had grown legs. We were six then.

A few years later we had chased a snake to its nest in our little boat. We killed it with our paddles, one apiece - but not before tipping overboard, all the frenzied thrashing included. As we emerged from the murky pond as victors waving our paddles (boat abandoned for the day), I felt a sharp tug in my foot and yelped. Selina turned around, dead snake draped over her shoulders like a Hollywood starlet’s fur and laughed. Embedded in my sole was our old fishing hook, snapped line and all. 

Her father caught us striding (and limping) into the village. How we cried when he beat us both. My own father nodded in approval as he tended to my foot. Of who, I was never very sure.

‘When I leave this village I’m never coming back.’ That’s what she told me that night. Thunder growled and I believed her. The air was charged and I told her ‘I’ll leave too.’

We were sixteen when my father phoned Selina’s. Theirs was the only telephone in the village at the time. We had been skipping rocks on the way back from school. Selina’s mother damn near dragged us the whole way by the ear when she found us.

‘Tell your mother to pack her things, son. You’re joining me in London.’

I remember how upset Selina was. We stomped puffer fish all week in near silence. ‘You’ll get your visa in no time.’

She didnt say anything. When I left we didn’t say goodbye.

Selina’s family followed not soon after. I remember it was the twenty sixth of a winter month because that was her favourite number.

They moved into a two bedroom flat not six minutes from ours. I shoved her face in the snow, she put it down my neck. I made her eat some. ‘That was fun’, she said and we walked home holding hands.

We went to different colleges but the same university. We kissed and fought and fucked the entire time, like only two halves of a whole could.

We were twenty six soon enough. I had saved a pretty penny for a ring. Christmas day we spent snuggled in bed rewatching old films. And the day after, on a snowy twenty sixth morning, I knelt on one knee and Selina walked away.

I hurt for a long time. The world became incomprehensible. I ran away with my medical degree stateside. Selina seemed to follow. I know because I followed her on social media like a maniac. We both zigzagged around the nation through the years, never within reach and neither of us reaching out. We darted between our respective bases in the US and our families in England and India. Her father wept for me.

We are thirty six now. As usual I am late for my flight. I’m okay with this. There’s something soothing about the dull rush of an airport. I sleep well in them. Still, I power through the travelators with a coffee in hand. There’s something to be said about making an effort.

I see a stewardess at my gate as I approach it. She looks mildly unhappy before she notices me and puts on her professional face. I am clearly the lone straggler they’re waiting on.

That’s when I hear that laugh. The laugh I havent heard in a decade. I would recognise it anywhere in the world. Much to the dismay of the stewardess, I turn around and head to the opposite gate. 

The sound of her voice reels me in. I am caught again on Selina’s hook.

Before I know it, I am hugging her and shaking her husband’s hand. Selina seems embarrassed and the gentleman is confused. I dont remember the words exchanged. Only the feeling of floating on air. It’s electric, like those old thundering nights.

I’m very happy for them, selfishly and selflessly so. I tell them as much, and explain I am very late. My father is ill and England awaits. Selina is headed back to India to visit her in-laws. 

They board their flight. We are separated again. The charged air dissipates and my feet find their way back to solid ground. I have missed my flight.

I am left standing at her gate. Gate twenty six. Thinking. I swore I’d moved on.

He’s haunted by memories of me, my husband is.

Of who I once was. I still live with him, my husband – although perhaps ‘live’ isn’t the best choice of words on this occasion. You see, I died some years ago now. Terribly drawn out affair. Absolutely horrific to go through; I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It was a car accident.

Nobody’s fault, mind; just one of those freak occurrences. A lorry driver was switching lanes when his steering wheel jammed momentarily. He managed to regain control, but not before veering into our lane and collapsing the passenger side of our car. With me in it. I did not pass upon impact. Let’s just say my eventual funeral was closed casket and leave it there.

Oh, what a strange thing to say out loud. Still doesn’t sound right to speak on. If I’m being honest, I suppose I’m not over it yet. Neither is my husband though, poor thing. He somehow got it in his head that he could have done something about it. He couldn’t. Short of taking another toilet break at a service station. But I wouldn’t have let him. In his heart of hearts somewhere he must know that. I was so set on arriving in London before morning traffic.

He mopes around the house most days. Swears to never take another after me. Still puts on his ring first thing every morning. It’s sweet, but it crushes my heart to see him like this. If he did take another though I’d kill him myself, I swear I would. I’d crawl right out my grave, dust off my Sunday best and we’d have serious words. But that isn’t to say he should live like this. That isn’t living after all, is it?

I follow him around. He sees me in everything he does, wherever he goes. Not me me, as I am now. But the me he knew. Or better yet, the me as he remembers me to have been. He talks his thoughts out loud and I listen. But it isn’t me me he’s talking to. It’s her me, the old me.

Me with a body. With a beating heart and flowing blood. Me without a shattered body and ruined face. He calls me pretty, remembers me as I was in life. In many ways it’s sweet, to be thought of as you lived and not as the intubated spectre that clung to life for a pained handful of days.

But who he remembers isn’t me any more.

For me things continued. The marks on my face remain fresh to my touch, no matter how many months pass. It changes you, truly. My heart is dark with the unfairness of it all. Why him? Why me, why my face?

He frequents our cafe and I limp and follow, sit at our table opposite him. He reminisces and I enjoy his present company. I’m tempted to show myself. To let him know I am near. That I am always near. That I will wait for him. I reach out with a hand, so tempted to connect.

But then he calls me pretty again, in his talkings out loud. And I recoil. He’s haunted by memories of me, my husband is. As am I.

Jamie looked across her knees hugged tight at the slow skitter of sunlight. 

It was her favouritest part of every day, when the low sun moved quickest and the sky and waters ran a million colours. Sometimes she wondered how many of them she had marvelled at and never seen again. Sometimes she gave grateful thanks to the universe that contained such beauty, or to whatever great being had created such a container. More often Jamie thought no thoughts at all. A quiet meditation accompanied by the sounds of the sea.

She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, rubbed her prickly skin gone cold as it turned dark. In a few minutes, like clockwork, her mother would enter her room and call out to her, “Jamie will you come in, my love? It’s dark out.” And Jamie would nod absently, and pluck herself out of her favouritest, most solitary part of the day. 

Below her balcony sloped the town’s white walls, its rooftops busy with sundried spices and hung lines of forgotten dried clothes. And below all that, still visible to Jamie, was the cream beach that she had secretly sworn herself to. She had never known a day of her life apart from its view, without its salt in her ears.

The sunset was colder than most and the fine hairs of her skin bubbled. But Jamie clenched her jaw shut and squeezed her knees tighter, refusing to yield to it. And refusing to yield, she retreated deeper into her thoughts. Below her balcony, further still than the beach, out in the sea – that was where she had retreated to in her mind – the small uninhabited island.

Most days she never thought on it, but Jamie wondered now as she had many times before what the island meant. 

No one ever went there. Some must have in the past, but none did so any more. There was no law or tradition as such that forbade the act – it simply wasnt done by the locals. It was a small unimpressive thing, covered entirely in trees. Short enough to hold your breath and run its length maybe, and near enough to swim to. 

Come to think of it, it bothered her.

The island must have meant something once. It was intoned in their stressed nonchalance. In how adamantly the townspeople ignored its obvious existence. Like a gecko on the wall.

She had swam out to it once in the night, in secret – looked at it in the moonlight, encircled it – and then swam back home. But nothing had possessed her to touch its sands. To stand ashore.

Even now, as Jamie pondered on its being there. With the glorious red sun shining off its treetops during her favouritest part of the day. Even now, she had no urge to ever step foot upon it.

“Jamie will you come in, my love?” Her mother called from her bedroom doorway. “It’s dark out.” 

Jamie nodded absently and shivered.

‘Yes, yes, but it was my jungle, you understand?’ Said Nigel, cradling his crude beverage. ‘Perhaps things did change too fast, too sudden for some. But we don’t choose the times we live in, do we?’

George took a small pained sip of the stuff. ‘We certainly don’t.’

They had been talking all day – what else was there to do? Company was always in short order – largely disagreeable nonsense, but enjoyably disagreeable. Gone was Nigel’s sharp pointed way of speaking; now replaced by something more congenial and tipsy, yet coherent all the same.

‘Now George, I’m only a guest on your fine raft, and as such, I have no intentions of overstepping my bounds. But please accept what I say next as genuine compliment, and not just dutiful pleasantry.’ Nigel paused for acknowledgement.

George nodded him on.

‘We might not have liked each other in the old age, but now we’re all we have left to rebuild with. I pride myself on sniffing out a man’s worth and I tell you now: we need your sort to rebuild the kingdom. To rebuild civilisation.’

George’s flushed cheeks were hidden by the sunset wash. He raised his tin cup and toasted Nigel’s. ‘To rebuilding civilisation.’

—-

Previous parts:
I – KING GEORGE
II – RED PASSPORT

It sounded like a gull at first. A shrill caw that wouldn’t let. George jerked up when he realized what it actually was – a human voice. He looked about, half in panic. How many months since he had last seen another person? A man silhouetted by the sun shouted and waved madly, one hand holding a cloth. George knelt by the waters to wash his face and then ran to his tent.

George sat in his foldable chair, which he’d retrieved from the tent for this momentous occasion. It was best to make a clear first impression, he’d always been taught, but the lesson rang truer than ever these days. As the other man’s raft came within distance, George rested his arms over a folded leg. And in his rested hands rested a loaded rifle. The stranger dropped his tablecloth, both hands up in the air as the two rafts gently bumped together.

‘Bloody hell. Where’d you get a hold of that?’

‘Traded for it’, George lied. He took in the man’s raft. It was a neat thing, larger than his own. Where George’s was made of chopped wood roped together, the stranger’s consisted of segments of timber grouped together and buoyed by large tyres underneath. In the centre was a three-sided shelter. George hoped his face didn’t betray how impressed he was. ‘State your name and business.’

The man pointed to his shirt pocket, and slowly reached into it. He threw the contents to George’s foot – a red passport:

EUROPEAN UNION
UNITED KINGDOM OF
GREAT BRITAIN
AND NORTHERN IRELAND

‘I was an Englishman too.’ The man gestured at Her Majesty’s waving flag. ‘Name’s Nigel. Business is trading if you’re up to it. Could do with some things I’m short on.’

George cautiously bent over and opened the passport, careful to keep the rifle pointed at the stranger. HUGHES, NIGEL. Place of birth LONDON. ‘Not so fast Nigel. Who did you declare for?’

The man, Nigel, looked puzzled. He stepped forward a half step still smiling and met a raised rifle point. ‘What do you mean?’

George took a deep breath. ‘When it all happened. Who did you stand with? The continent? The union? England? The south? Where did your bloody loyalties lie, Nigel?’

The man’s eyes sharpened. ‘You want me to say the union, or England. But it was the south. Are you going to shoot me now?’

George chewed his tongue a moment and lowered his gun. ‘Doesn’t matter who was who any more, does it? What matters is you stood at all.’ He reached under his foldable deckchair and threw out some rope. ‘Name’s George. Welcome aboard.’

Other parts:
I – KING GEORGE
III – THE TOAST