The Trouble with Tarts...
Sometimes I go through periods when I can forget about my Sin. For whole weeks at a time I don't even feel tempted to give into it, and so I start to think I've conquered it. I feel clean and light, as if I'm starting life afresh. I walk tall, because I am in control and I have, at last, mastered my Sin.
And then it comes creeping back, when I least expect it.
I wake up in the morning and feel fine, just as the day, or week before. I set off for work full of jubilation. “Good morning, how are you? Lovely day, isn't it?” I greet the other cleaners and they smile back and I can see the raised eyebrows, the “He's in a good mood this morning,” faces they make at each other.
I set to work with a will and then there's a text from my sister.
Hi Tom, are you free this weekend? Haven't seen you for ages. I worry about you being lonely living way over town, all by yourself. Church and dinner on Sunday?
I hardly bother to read to the end of the message, but toss the phone aside and carry on working. I think it means nothing to me so I don't even notice my Sin creeping up on me. It's like those times when it's a beautiful sunny day and you go to the cinema and when you come out again, the sky is grey and it's been raining and you had no idea. At first I try to ignore it, to pretend it's not there – the flat disappointment like an ache in my stomach. But as the day passes, it grows into a scorching hole of emptiness and I know I am weak, I know there is nothing I can do, that however hard I battle with myself it will come to the same thing this evening. My Sin is lurking, waiting for me and I know I will give in to it. All day I work as hard as I can, but it is there, looming at the back of my mind and slowly, the scorching emptiness becomes a lust that spreads and thickens, billowing up in my chest, pouring through my veins till the very sweat on my palms seems to be full of it.
The ridiculous thing is that I still pretend to myself I won't do it - that I'm going to go home and have a normal evening, watch a bit of TV, eat my dinner and go to bed.
By the end of the day, I am exhausted. I wait in line, board the bus, then stand, hot and sweaty, squashed against the bodies of other hot and sweaty and exhausted people. Perfume mingles in the air with the smell of sweat and fart and petrol; mobile phones play stupid tunes and beep and trill and I want to scream. The bus swings around corners and we all bump into each other, barely containing our irritability; but still the lust lies in my stomach, unabated. The further we go, the bus empties and I am able to find a seat. We are moving away from the part of the city where the pavements are swept and the shops sell expensive clothes and the restaurants serve food on huge white plates, at linen covered tables. The bus snorts and sneezes its way out to the part of the city where I live, where the establishments have their names written in neon lights and garbage lies out on the pavements; a place where temptation lurks on every corner, where there are girls dressed in lace and velvet and every fabric in between, flesh revealed in improbable proportions.
I hear my mother's voice so clearly in my head I wonder if I actually told her about my Sin.
“For heaven's sake, my boy, how do you expect to resist temptation when you live here?”
And I hear my voice, replying in a mature, reasonable tone, the sort of tone I would never have dared use: “Ma, I can't afford it, you know I can't.”
“Then why don't you get a proper job like your siblings? You could live in a nice part of the city where there are parks without needles and vomit on the ground and meet a nice girl and live a good life, like your brothers and sister.”
But the trouble is, I like this place.
I like the smell of curry and old Chinese takeaways and cigarettes that hits my nostrils as I enter my apartment block. This is my home, where I feel comfortable. This is the true me. I would like to think I'm the sort of person who lives in a nice flat by a park with no needles or vomit, married to a nice girl with nice children, who goes to a nice church every Sunday. But I'm not. I don't deserve that sort of life. That is the sort of life my brothers and sister live, with their clean wholesome families and their clean wholesome bodies, their nice houses, their nice jobs and their nice thoughts.
I walk up the dark, urine smelling stairs, and let myself into my apartment. I change into jeans and a pullover, help myself to a beer, feed the cat, switch on the TV. Sometimes I even sit down in from of the TV, the cat cuddled into my side and I stroke her, her warm head butting my hand. But there is a burning in my chest and the sweat is breaking out on my forehead and suddenly I don't even want to resist my Sin. Now I feel the excitement building and I'm not even pretending to fight it anymore.
I let myself out of the flat and run down the stairs, my feet skimming the treads. I burst out onto the pavement and there, right on the corner is a hot dog stand. That's where I'll start. I order a hot dog with onions and gherkins and slather it with mustard and tomato sauce, the saliva pooling in my mouth. Then I take a big breath and shove the food in, teeth tearing, gulping, swallowing it down, slimy onions, rubbery meat, the sharp kick of the gherkins and the mustard, the sweetness of the sauce all combining in my throat like a song.
Next door is a grocery store where I buy a blue frozen drink from a machine, struggling to hold the bucket sized cup steady as the icy mush pours into it, my hand shaking with anticipation. A mammoth bag of chips comes with it and a doughnut the size of a soup bowl, dense and sweet.
Then outside again, and two large slices of pizza from another stall, dripping cheese and pepperoni. I down them in three bites before a foray into the Indian shop next door to chomp down a bag of samosas - so quickly the chilli doesn't burn my tongue. The food is bubbling in my stomach now, but underneath there is still a small ache of emptiness that I need to fill and I know what to do about that.
The all night bakery, which I always leave till last.
I wander in, wiping the grease from my chin with the back of my hand and now I take time to survey the shelves, though I already know what I'll order. I come out with two bags and, stopping only to buy a tub of ice cream I make my way back to the apartment, to eat in comfort on the sofa.
First the strawberry tart, pastry thick and buttery, jam sweet and gelatinous, big enough for a family of eight, but I eat it quickly, gulping it down, only coming up for breath. Then comes the lemon tart, an explosion of sunlight in my mouth. I eat this one slowly, letting the pastry melt on my tongue, savouring the sweetness which is mine, ignoring, for as long as I can, the bubbling in my stomach. The sweat is breaking out on my forehead, around my collar.
I make it to the toilet just in time and for a while my body is one heaving, swelling, shaking mess, my legs trembling, my throat screaming and I am joyously, beautifully free at last as I take the punishment for my Sin and all my weaknesses and failures. Then I fall back, down onto my knees, head slumped forward on the cold tiles of the floor.
And then my Sin rushes back and there is nothing I can do. It comes swooping down, enfolding me in its embrace, reminding me that I am its child, that I will never escape, it will always be there, hanging on with its greasy, grasping fingers.
I get up, flush the toilet, wash my face and hands and go back to the sitting room and the tub of ice-cream.
Love it or hate it, if anyone has any comments, would love to hear them.