Black Beetles, Black Beetles, Black Beetles; A Time in Azerbaijan

A genuine smile split open my face the other day – like an axe through a watermelon.  I was in the passenger seat of a Lada as it sped through the streets of Sheki, Azerbaijan. The driver, a cousin of our home-stay host, was obviously auditioning for the fast and the furious 17, and I think I offended him by grabbing the passenger seat-belt.

“No worries, Azerbaijan is fine, no need for belt,” he said, as we swerved past a packed mini bus and nearly collided with another Lada driving just as manically on the opposite of the road.  I clicked in anyway, and took the cigarette he offered me. I don’t smoke so much these days, but my heart was trying to escape through my mouth, and I thought a few drags wouldn’t hurt on the grand scale of things.

So I smiled. Because regardless of my relentless OCD, here I was, in a town in Azerbaijan, in a Lada hurtling through the streets in the pouring rain – I was winning.

OCD ruined my education, lost me countless opportunities in life, crushed my hope, and it has left a bitter taste in the back of my throat. When Crow reminds me of what he’s taken away from me, I choke a little, fury rising inside me like a charging wave, and all sorts of negative emotions wrestle for control. Sometimes it takes a while to stop feeling so bitter, so sick in the stomach; I feel naked, helpless to a horde of black beetles scurrying over my face, into my mouth, swimming into my bloodstream.

Warp speed to yesterday evening, in Sheki, Azerbaijan – and I’m brushing off those beetles like dust from my jeans. Our host invited us for drinks with his family, and we talked, and smoked, and drank vodka and beer around the table. Crow nibbled at the back of my head, the intrusive thoughts knocking at the door, black beetles scuttling beneath the floorboards, but I held them off,  (the alcohol probably helped,) and again I smiled healthily, like a chimpanzee with a bag of bananas.  Yesterday we’d seen the local market; our host had driven us to a beautiful viewpoint over the city; we’d been fed tasty dishes and joked and laughed in broken English about subjects none of us fully understood, warmly accepted into their family as new friends, toasting life with the flowing vodka as Crow bit into my shoulder like a bitter, toothless, B-movie zombie.

“You are always smiling,” said Antigua, the wife of our host.

I told her that inside I was always crying. She took it as another vodka fueled quip. I wanted her to. It reminded me of my times at work in the noisy factories as I wore my clown mask in front of my work colleagues. I want to be remembered as the happy joker, not the manic juggler, or the sad shadow in the corner – laughing even as the Crows talons grind my insides to shreds.  I’d had a day and an evening to remember – a slice of life in Sheki Azerbaijan.  OCD had not taken this away from me, and the crow, although circling in the smokey room, banged into furniture like a clumsy slapstick villain, almost comical as I fought his army of gnashing beetles.

We ate, we smoked, we tipped vodka down our necks like it was a necessity to life.  We put the world to rights, agreed and disagreed, forgot that the world can be a terrible, frightening place, and I crawled into bed with a grin like a quartered watermelon.

My last coherent thoughts, regardless of Crows ferocious advances, were simple, ‘Today was a good day.’

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CONFESSIONS OF A DOOR TO DOOR SALESMAN

I’m writing this on a plane.  Greece is a gently rolling landscape beneath the clouds.  The cat we were looking after was still purring when we clocked off, and the house was still standing – not even a broken plate to glue back together.  Mission success, but already it’s just a memory – another page of history flapping in my slipstream.  It felt like yesterday we landed here; I can still taste the first gyros. It was chicken. I wanted pork.

Funny how most of the things we did here will soon be forgotten, lost on the steaming, pulsating heap of other memories, scraps and old tins and strange bones sticking up from an ever distorting mountain of a lifetime of experiences.

Sometimes I stick my hand in the tottering jumble and pull out an old rag or rusted box – just to reminisce.  Sometimes a memory breaks free of its own accord, making a clatter and drawing my attention as it spills down the hill.  I often cringe at what I did, or said, or thought at the time. Like everyone else in the world I have a lot of regrets.

Regrets come in differing shapes and sizes.  On top of this, there’s regretting things that you’ve done, and there’s regretting things that you didn’t do, but also, and sometimes worse, there’s regretting things that you think you did, but you didn’t actually do at all. Punishing yourself for an action or conversation that you’ve convinced yourself happened but never did. The more you think, did I? The louder the crow, or the monkey, or the goblin begins to shout “Yes, yes of course you did this. Remember, it was so fucking bad but you did it and now people are suffering.”

Or did Little One do this? Or say that? Or….

“Yes, Yan. Yes she did, and much worse. Remember?” The more I try to remember if these memories are legitimate,  the more, over time, I am convinced that they are. Could I have done something so spiteful? Did that person really say those awful words?

“Yes, yes, yes!” squawks the crow, spitting his breakfast in my face.

A memory of something hurtful, or nasty, will introduce itself to me like a salesman at the door.  Some are familiar faces selling the genuine article – I remember their patter, and eventually, after a lot of pushing and shoving, I send them on their way.  Some however are new, memories from long ago that I have never thought worthy to dwell upon, or even remembered before.  At first I am dubious of their authenticity, and laugh them off, slamming the door in their smirking smug faces.

A little later the doorbell will ring again, and standing before me will be the same man, in the same cheap suit – perfect teeth, dazzling white, the smile cutting his face in half.

The salesman dangles the fake Rolex before my eyes.  This time my ninety nine per cent certainty of forgery has slipped to below seventy five.  I push the door closed.

‘Ding dong!’  I’ll ignore him until he goes away.

‘Ding dong!’  He’s a persistent little fucker.

‘Ding dong!  Ding dong!  Ding dong!’ the doorbell chiming like a church bell striking a hundred o’clock.

I know I have OCD, I know that this is how the OCDemon attacks.  But still I can’t walk away.

I throw open the door…”Listen friend.  I’m not interested, I…”

He opens a suitcase of gold watches…Is that a Rolex?

It took me a long time to realise that a good way to combat the rep at the door is to just buy everything that he is selling.  “Here’s my credit card, I’ll have it all, and more if you’ve got it – I agree with you Crow. I did do it; Little One did say that, and yes, probably much worse.  Yes,” I say, “and what the fuck are you going to do about it?”

It doesn’t always work but it’s better than hiding under the bedcovers, a quivering mess, hands covering my ears waiting for the doorbell battery to run out, or the salesman’s finger to fall off.

In years to come I wonder if the Crow will try and make me think something bad happened here in Greece.   I already have a backpack full of false memories to say that he will.

He will tell me something terrible occurred, or was said, maybe just hinted at, but it will be enough to spark a doubt.  I cannot say what memories I will depend on as true in the future.

That’s why it’s good to keep notes on this blog.  So Yan, if you’re reading this for confirmation, its ok, Greece was good for you, and you didn’t kill the cat.