Happy as pig

Excerpt from Bombay to Beijing by Bicycle.

‘Where are you from?’  buzzed a robotic voice.

Before we could look up to see where this disembodied voice was coming from, our poached eggs were suddenly wobbling across their plates like escaping albino frogs as half a pint of lager and glass of Scotch came crashing down on the edge of the table. A middle-aged man tumbled into the chair opposite and sat there fondling the drinks, staring at us through his big glasses, stroking his grey goatee, fiddling with a ying and yang ring on his finger, his face as weathered and battered as his old leather jacket.

All in all, we (Maria, Athalia and myself) were used to such loud interruptions at the hotel bar here in Beijing. The manager, a bolshy Chinese woman, Amanda, most mornings would loudly exclaim in the company of her foreign male admirers, ‘Noooo! FUCK YOU!’, before laughing the smoke out of her face. She was now slumped at the bar asleep, a tiny cigarette in one upright hand trailing a ring of smoke above her.

Now we had a man we’d never seen before. Or that’s what I thought.

I soon recognised him as the sleeping lump in the bed next to mine in the dorm. I’d never seen him awake nor indeed upright till now. I was told he’d been here two weeks already, ‘recovering from jetlag’ which of course had nothing to do with the all-night benders he’d subjected himself to.

He smiled and pulled out what I took to be a small electric shaver and pressed it to a large dint in his throat.

‘I said, “Where are you from?” ‘

 ‘Australia,’ I replied. ‘You? ‘

‘Can’t you tell from my accent?’

I wanted to say ‘Dr Who?’ because he sounded just like a Dalek. I thought better of it. ‘Ireland?’

‘No. Guess again.’


‘Correct. I’m Scottish. My names Gilly, short for ‘Killy’…Killy the English, you know. I hate the fawkin’ English.’

From his garbled squawks, I could only piece together fragments of what he was ranting about: fighting in the Gulf War, being in prison, searching for the Holy Grail. God knows.

He suddenly coughed and choked.

‘Excuse me.’ Gilly unwrapped the cravat around his neck and tended to a small plastic pipe that stuck out from his throat. He pulled out a hanky and cleared sputum from the pipe, hissing and rasping as he did so.

‘How did you…how did you lose your voice?’ I asked

 ‘Ah, that’s nothing for you to worry about,’ he said, disappearing into his lager.

‘I was asking because my father had a tracheotomy as well.’

‘Give him me number and we’ll have a chat!’ he laughed, then spluttered and coughed again. He wiped his mouth and moved in closer.

‘Yer see. I’ve got what’s called the second insight.’’

‘You mean you’re pissed.’

‘No! You don’t fawkin’ understand. I can see the future. And believe me. It’s ‘orrible. Fawkin’ orrible.’

With that he pulled out a small crystal attached to a gold chain, held it up and dangled it. ‘It…never…lies.’

‘What do you mean?’ Maria frowned.

‘Yer see I could feel this lump on me shoulder so I goes to the doctor ‘Feel this here. I’m sure this is cancer’. Your doctor has a wee squeeze of me shoulder, shakes his head and says ‘No, I’m sure that’s not cancer. Probably benign’. ‘Look here, Doctor! Let me show you something. I’m tellin’ you it’s cancer because it told me so. Watch this,’ I says to him. And the crystal went fawkin’ crazy! Spinnin’ all over the fawkin’ place. ‘See? I’ve got cancer.’

‘I can’t believe that. No one would.’ He says but he then goes, ‘But look, I’ll get you in for biopsy.’ So theys rush me through and sure enough your doctor comes back with ‘Yes, it’s lymphatic cancer. We’ll have to operate as soon as we can.’ They took the whole bloody lot. Fawkin’ huge cancer out of my throat and shoulder.

‘Why do use crystal?’ Athalia asked.

‘I could use fawkin’ shite. But I like crystal.’

He passed the crystal over and put the gold chain between my index finger and thumb. ‘Think of somethin’. Somethin’ important.’

I tried. I thought of Rebecca. The crystal didn’t move.

‘Hm. Now you,’ he said to Athalia. Nothing. Then it was Maria’s turn. Nothing again. He passed the crystal again to me.

‘Ask it a different question.’

This time the crystal spun and swayed violently.


‘ “Yes”, what?’

‘Yes, to your question. What was your question?’

‘I asked if my dead father was happy.’

‘He’s happy,’ his Dalek voice crackled, and then, clasping my forearm, leant so far forward I could smell his whisky breath, ‘Happy as a fawkin’ pig in shite!’