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Chapter 20 - Lost Friends
Willow first met Bianca when Zaire had dragged her off to that crappy end of town, with the terrible unfashionable yet expensive shops, where no one with any fashion sense would go, to a seriously crappy coffee place with old worn furniture.
Other people there were probably Grads or something; or hobos. Willow had never seen such slovenly looking people. Most of them were wearing rough cotton pants and dirty old gym shoes or something like that. The men were wearing either shirts or what looked like old T-shirts, in drab colours, and some even had a coat or jumper that had seen better days. None of the clothes looked less than a week old. Several men had beards. But none of them was properly cut with the latest patterns shaved into them. These beards looked as if they had never been properly cut or shaved. They were just growing wild, like their so called parks.
On their way there Zaire had insisted that they go through a bit of wasteland covered in ugly out of control weeds and nasty twisted trees. She wanted to look at some horrible wooden shed stuck up a tree. She claimed that it had been put there by children. How could she believe such nonsense? Children are far too small to reach up into a tree and anyway it would take a hundred to lift that thing into the branches. Zaire insisted that they had done it by taking it up piece by piece and building it up there. That was even more ridiculous. Children can't make things like that. It must have been put there by a robot crane or maybe it was an old shed and the tree grew under it? It seemed totally ridiculous, who would want a shed in a tree anyway? These so-called parks don't even have their trees clipped, let alone into the shape of animals, and the trees are not properly spaced out or evenly planted in neat lines.
It got worse. Zaire wanted her to look at some weeds with tiny flowers, as if it was something special, And then she pointed to some birds, before showing her a large rat-like thing up one of the many ugly trees. She got quite excited. She seems to be going mad.
This whole part of town is ugly. There are tall buildings with balcony things jutting out at odd intervals and some of them seem to be covered in weeds of some sort. Many look to be over ten years old, some have no paint or plastic cladding at all; so there are hardly any colour contrasts like yellow and purple stripes to catch the eye and look beautiful. The worst thing is that there are a lot of surfaces that are not shiny. And everyone knows that shiny is the same as clean and germ free, as they say on MV.
Once there, Zaire had excitedly shown her a book thing, full of old script and said that she was learning to 'read' the 'words' in them, without using Pip, her VPA. She gave Willow a demonstration. It was so painful listening to her stumble over their sound and meaning that Willow asked Snookie, her VPA, to read the same thing and it took half the time. But it was still a mystery: what did the words actually mean?
Willow couldn't help furtively looking at a woman nearby who was occasionally turning over pieces of paper that she was staring at. It was very spooky. She wasn't saying anything yet her eyes were moving back and forth; and from time to time her facial expression changed. Once she cleared her throat. She had long brunette hair that hung down over her shoulders in ungainly twists, as if she had recently slept in it, and her clothes looked as if they had been thrown on in ten minutes. Although she was shapely with good underlying features, she seemed to have no makeup on at all. Her drab cotton top hung from thin shoulder straps and when she noisily turned to another sheet her arm came up and Willow caught a glimpse of breast. But that wasn't the shocking thing. Her arms were completely bare, without a single tattoo and her armpits were hairy. Disgusting! Did this woman get about like an animal, just as God had made her? Somewhere in the Bible, Willow was sure, God must have taught us that a woman getting about, flaunting herself like this in public, is immoral.
She suddenly started conferring with Snookie on her hand-held, ignoring Zaire, as Bogans do a thousand times a day.
"Snookie, what does the Lord tell us about women flaunting themselves?"
"At 1 Timothy 2:9 St Paul teaches: Women, for their part, should display their beauty by dressing modestly and decently in appropriate clothes, not with elaborate hairstyles or by wearing gold, pearls, or expensive clothes," Snookie replied: "Is that enough, there are more about modesty? For example, a woman must cover her hair when praying."
The woman seemed to be in the clear, unless she was silently praying. But surely she should at least do something about that obscene underarm hair? She's probably hairy elsewhere too!
Willow was suddenly concerned. Maybe she was the one who was in trouble. Some of her clothes were expensive and she had quite a bit of gold and even some pearls and her hairstyles were often elaborate.
"What happens to a woman who breaks the rules?"
"She will die in childbirth," Snookie told her.
Zaire, who'd been listening, exploded: "What utter nonsense! Where does it say that? I want to hear the current English version."
Willow asked Snookie to tell her. Although Zaire had been talking directly to Snookie for as long as she could remember, Willow had recently told her that in future only Willow could talk directly.
Snookie was quite precise: "1 Timothy 11:15: Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing; IF they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."
Zaire was outraged.
"How can you believe this crap? Adam and Eve; original sin; women subservient to men; women mustn't teach men; women who die in childbirth do so for not obeying this nonsense. It beggars belief."
So you ask Snookie, because I can't, what your two, or is it three, thousand year old book says are appropriate clothes today.
Snookie was duly asked and replied: "Deuteronomy 22:5: A woman is not to wear what is appropriate to a man, nor is a man to put on a woman’s garment, because anyone who does this is detestable to the Lord your God."
"Great!" said Zaire. "I'm going to hell, because I'm wearing pants with a fly, like almost every other woman here. I'll be sharing it with all those transvestites, not to mention all those Greeks and Scotsmen."
After an awkward time, during which Willow was terribly embarrassed for her friend and didn't know where to look in this horrible place, Bianca arrived and they talked excitedly about something incomprehensible for a minute. Then Zaire apologised and introduced them. Bianca was dressed casually too, as if she didn't care about her appearance. The whole place was a den of iniquity.
Bianca became very attentive and asked about how long they had been friends and even their trip here and how did she like this place. Willow was too polite to tell the truth but Bianca smiled as if she knew perfectly well what she really thought. There was something unsettling about all these questions and how she watched and listened. It was like she was a police robot at a concert or something. She'd noticed this in Zaire too recently.
Bianca was quite unlike a Bogan who would ask a question and then not bother to listen to your reply. With so much to listen to and so many friends and so much going on it was hard to concentrate on anything for a long time, except for dance steps, and things of that sort, that Willow loves to practice with friends.
Willow realised that that was part of her objection to this reading nonsense. Reading seems to require you to concentrate on a single story for maybe up to an hour without talking to anyone else. And you do it alone, you don't even speak or listen, it's silent, and that's both spooky and antisocial. You must miss out on so much. Think of all the people you could have messaged in an hour and all the messages that you might receive and want to comment on.
Can you imagine the weird people who write these things in the first place? They sat down for maybe a whole week, all alone, just to write a book. Working alone like that, writing away silently, without messaging your friends has to be perverted. The whole writing and reading thing is faintly disturbing, like when mum used to tell her to open her room door if she was silent in there for more than a few minutes. Sitting alone like that people must wonder what they're up to.
This was about the longest that Willow had thought about anything for... well since she could remember. It must be this strange place.
Anyway, she must have been staring into space because Bianca suddenly asked her if she'd bought anything interesting today.
She snapped out of it. Spending that long on one idea was very unsettling.
"Lots of things," she said enthusiastically. And she began to list them and how fabulous and exciting they were, starting with her latest purchase on the way here.
Bianca needed to cut this short and asked: "So what was the first thing you bought today?"
"Oh that was when I woke up, first thing before breakfast," she enthused.
Apparently her old nightwear was a month old and completely out of fashion.
"But who would know?" asked Bianca, her interest suddenly sparked.
Willow was taken aback. She'd gone out of her way not to mention Starfighter in front of Zaire and now this Grad obviously knew. Did that mean Zaire knew too?
"Oh I'm so sorry Zaire darling," she said: "but we're in love. You weren't around and it just happened. Can you forgive me?"
Of course Zaire didn't know. Bianca had just been trying to put the girl at ease by raising a subject she knew Willow would be comfortable with. She hadn't the slightest interest in what Willow might have bought, let alone the reason for her purchase. She was just making conversation. She'd been considering mentioning her new skimpy bikini before realising that it must already be out of fashion.
"So that's why Starfighter has been acting so strangely," Zaire responded. "I wondered why he wasn't his usual randy self. You're a little sneak! And a coward, At least you could've told me. As for him - pretending that we were still together - I feel like scratching his eyes out."
Willow was now in tears but Zaire's anger abated as quickly as it flared. "Stop weeping Willow," she said and gave Willow a tissue. "I'm over him. You're welcome to him." And she thought that indeed they were meant for each other.
Bianca was amused that Zaire had already told her that she suspected that something was going on. She'd said she was on the lookout for a new boyfriend with some interests in common. For example, although she had invited Starfighter to come with her to top overseas resorts as her partner he'd declined. He shared Willow's views about the futility of international travel, when you could experience it, including the feeling of going into the water perfectly well in 6D.
So an awkward conversation with Starfighter had obviously been averted. Nevertheless Zaire wasn't happy that she'd been made to look a fool in front of her old friends. As soon as Willow smiled at her good luck Zaire told her to get out of here and go and tell 'Rocket Man' the good news. Willow was obviously delighted to leave this 'slum'.
Zaire sat back and laughed at how uncomfortable Willow had been. Then she said:
"I had the first same impression but now I love this place. It's comfortable in a way that those bright plastic places never can be. Did I tell you I'm moving into the city? The half hour commute is taking too much out of my day and I can't keep sponging off you. I need my own place and now I have enough credit to afford it. I could use your help finding some quality furniture. I'm afraid Starfighter wouldn't have fitted in anyway."
"What about you? Do you have a man in your life?"
Bianca smiled and paused considering what to say.
"I've never been short of men. But right at this moment I'm officially waiting for my boyfriend to return from sabbatical. If he takes too long we'll both looking for the next Mr Right. I hope there are two. You can have the Bogan.
"I'm not sure that I want another Bogan," said Zaire.