Writers’ Room student, Rob West, wrote this intriguing short story inspired by a Chalk the Sun exercise
How I got into the Mango Club I don’t remember. Once I was up there, and an hour or two later, I noticed we were on the second floor of some kind of barn or warehouse; and what was odd, there was no way out, other than a door open out into the darkness. From the door hung a rope.
So I must have climbed up, logically, though the logic only came to me as the surroundings became familiar and the Limovan started to wear off. Marie had disappeared somewhere with her friend. Some time later I caught her chatting excitedly, completely off her head, to a couple of unshaven guys in black.
So I lurched around, randomly, trying to make sense of what was going on and where I was. Somewhere I saw a crush of people under a load of mock-Tudor beams and, in the middle of them, a Chinese man performing some kind of magic trick with a cigarette. I remember a swathe of yellow velvet curtains covering a canopy; underneath it, a decrepit cockatoo mouthed uselessly against the bars of his cage.
- Hey, what’s up? exclaimed a big friendly guy with a sort-of Afro and a Dutch or maybe South African accent, who appeared suddenly from nowhere. Got some shit?
- No, I grunted
- You here on your own?
I explained about Marie.
- Want to see something interesting?
A flash of light caught the curtains. A hundred stoned, chaotic faces washed across my line of sight.
- Sure, what do you mean by interesting?
He took out of his pocket a white rat. I gagged.
- This rat, he said, can detect lies. It’s a lie-detector rat.
- Oh? Really…
I made an excuse and drifted away, avoiding his snare.
I glimpsed someone I knew, though it took a moment to place him – he looked different in white lipstick. Mr Meares, a Senior Associate in the Legal Department. He was groping someone.
From out of nowhere came a scream, sharp as glass. Everyone turned their heads, there was a brief silence and confusion, and then the hubbub returned as if nothing had happened.
I fell into conversation with a bohemian girl from Ecuador, I think, and her friend who may have come from Russia or possibly Estonia. What we talked about I don’t remember other than something about Picasso and the price of shoes. I think I told my joke about the vicar and the cactus, which would have been lost in translation or, if not, in the noise. It was one of those conversations which seem very engaging and intimate and exuberant at the time but devoid of any meaning at all later.
What happened next, how I came to be lying on a bed under one of the yellow curtains under the mock-Tudor rafters in a cloud of smoke, is for me a mystery. There is a blank space in my memory around it all. It took a while for me to work out that I was surrounded by a motley group of revellers, including a bald, fat man who was smoking something unpleasant just above me.
He was speaking. As he spoke, he rolled his hips from one side to another, as if shifting his weight around to maintain balance. I heard him growling out a tedious monologue about the corruption of capitalism; how the world was doomed; how lumps of rock would fall into the sea and wipe out civilisation etc. It went on relentlessly, pounding all the wiped-out, snorted-out by-standers into narcoplepsy. His speech was a jumble of clichéd opinions and half-digested science. I ached with boredom as his dull oration crashed on.
At last I could bear no more. I stirred from the chiffon blankets on the bed and banged a table.
- That’s enough! I cried. We’re trying to enjoy ourselves.
He turned towards me, slowly, seeing me for the first time. His cheeks wobbled, angrily.
- Oh, are you? He said in an unpleasant tone. Am I stopping you?
- Well, yes… I replied. You are.
- Well please go and party, he said. Don’t trouble yourself on my behalf.
- I would like to, I said, but you’re talking a helluva lot.
- Might I ask, he asked, who invited you here?
And as he said this, I realised for the first time that a good number of eyes were fixed on me. Something inside me made me think I had said the wrong thing, that I had crossed the wrong man. On my left-hand shoulder, a presence loomed above me, a solid gold chain glinting from his neck. He wore black. His eyes drilled into me.
- Can I see your invitation? said this new person, in an Italian or possibly East European accent.
- I …I don’t think I have one, I stammered. I was someone’s guest…
My voice trailed away in a gargle. Somehow my vocal chords melted into my throat.
- Well, may I suggest, he responded, that you do not abuse Mr Kominski’s hospitality any longer?
A chill ran through my spine. Something told me to get out of that room, to move as fast as my wobbly legs could carry me. I fumbled through the curtains and found myself in what seemed like a broom-cupboard. It smelt of something, an animal maybe. I stood there, shivering, for what felt like half an hour but could have been 2 minutes. I tried to figure out what to do next, but my mind was fuddled with the contents of the evening. I fixated on a nail in the wall: thoughts of crucifixion drifted through my brain.
The door opened and a large figure fell in, almost on top of me. I felt some hair against my cheek. A wave of panic and nausea hit me.
The person grunted, coughed and pulled himself up:
- Hey. Sorry, man, he said.
It hit me that it was the Dutch (or South African) man I had met earlier:
- What you doing here, man? he asked.
- I’m…I’m in hiding, I said
- You’re in hiding? What you hiding from?
- Well, I .. the thing is, I don’t have an invitation. I’m not welcome here. I think Mr Kominski’s angry with me..
- He is?!
The Dutchman sounded surprised. We were crushed against each other in the broom-cupboard. His eyes peered at me through the gloom.
- Yes, I said the wrong thing. His men are after me. I need to find a way to escape, I think they’re going to beat me up…
The Dutchman laughed. I think it was a laugh.
- Mr Kominski!? He repeated. You know who Mr Kominski is?
- No, I don’t. I’ve not been here before. I don’t know…
- Mr Kominski. Heh. Mr Kominski’s a cockatoo.
- Yeah. That’s what the cockatoo’s called. Mr Kominski.
- He is?
My heart was thumping now.
- You think I’m lying? he asked.
- Well, I don’t know…
- If you think I’m lying, just ask this rat here. This rat knows when a person’s lying…
For the second time that evening, the sight of that rat caused me to flee. I pushed open the door and forced my way blindly out into a dusty corridor echoing with voices, laughter, drumbeats, a muffled din. I ran, breathlessly, hopelessly, my life flashing before me in all its dull and mediocre instalments.
How I got out of the Mango Club I don’t know, though logically it must have been down the rope. I remained in hospital for a few days, recovering from a mysterious head wound which one of the doctors thought might have been caused by a bird. Marie, I heard later, had enjoyed a wonderful evening:. ‘We must go again,’ she enthused, ‘it’s so different there, so exotic…’