OUT OF ESSEX – CHAPTER 41
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters.
Ursula Le Guin
Where the Arterial Road from London ends, at Kent Elms Corner, the woman watched the skinny Asian guy embrace the men wearing Arsenal and Tottenham shirts.
Downing her bucket, she ran across to them. “I’m not trying to be funny,” she said. “But are you the Prince of Peace?”
She was looking up in astonishment at the incredibly tall one, with the Middle Eastern face. “OMG, you are. You’re him.” Jesus wiggled an eyebrow. Noted her dark hair and strong shoulders. Eyes dancing, she offered him a McVitie’s Gold biscuit bar. He desisted.
Comfortably agnostic, never a churchgoer, Dawn felt the twin burdens of family and money lifting away. “It feels like I’ve been waiting so long for you, without even knowing it,” she said. She turned to the others. “Sorry guys, that was rude. These keep me going all day. Can I tempt you?” They also refused. Passing drivers were rubber-necking.
She twisted excitedly back to Yeshua. “Will you be truthful with me?”
He couldn’t help chuckling. Soon he shook with delight, tears running from his eyes. He had to lay on the pavement, next to a crushed plastic carton. She was perplexed. “It was a straight question mate. Will you tell the truth?”
He, also, had waited for her. “What name should I call you by?” he finally asked, finding a recovery position.
“Dawn. Dawn Landais.”
“Dawn, all I have ever uttered is truth. Please ask whatever you will.”
“Ta very much. Well first up, what are you lot doing in Southend?” She looked at Gandhi, narrowing her eyes. “I’ve seen you in a film somewhere. And who’s your pal in the Gooners shirt?”
Jesus stood, ushering them to begin the journey west. “Jesus, Sid and Mahatma, all at your service Dawn. Headed to the City of Corruption. Would you care to accompany us? Those gold bars could prove useful as the day finds its shadows.” The ghost of an idea had arrived.
“Mahatma…..Gandhi?” Now she remembered Genevieve’s description of Southchurch Park’s best-known inhabitant. “And you’re all set to walk to London? What’s the big idea then? Overthrow the tyranny, and pull us all out the stew?”
She couldn’t get over Yeshua’s height. “One thing I will say is I’m glad you’re a bloody giant. No offence intended, but it’s how I’ve always seen you.” Her smile was contagious, topping an orange fleece and dark jeggings. “Let me phone the old man. I could do with a break.”
Steve failed to answer, so she left a voicemail. “Steve sweetie, can you pick up my buckets by the Elms lights when you’re awake? I’ve hooked up with Jesus and two of his pals. I know, it sounds mad. Just look after the kids and don’t go on Betfair. You promised. I’ll be back when I’m back. Love you, my only darling.”
They walked alongside a cycle path. Pleased to converse, Gandhi asked Dawn about her work. “I’ve been washing screens for about a year, from just before when Steve almost died in the Big Wave. He hid under a betting shop floor down the seafront till it was safe. Now I earn about a ton and twenty a day, all ours, no tax, no questions.” She talked rapidly, over the cascade of horns, as they passed a Big Yellow Storage warehouse. Gandhi politely pursued the gambit she had opened. “Why would you withhold taxes, Dawn? Does that not penalise other taxpayers?”
Dawn looked at Gandhi’s bare legs beneath his white wrap. Calf muscles gleamed as he walked. “My daughter told me you’ve been in Southchurch Park.” The Indian smiled, as he wondered. Her blue eyes twinkled. “As for tax, my lovely, why would I be mug enough when the super-rich don’t bother? Council tax is bad enough. Here’s another thing. Show me where it says anyone is ‘obliged’ by law to pay tax.” It was Genevieve’s theory, which Dawn now touted.
She turned to Jesus. “Now who was your dad? God or Joseph?” Indeed, he loved her. Speaking plainly had set her free. She tried again. “You got a nickname? Seems weird calling you Jesus.”
“Sounds like yes.” A neonatal transfer ambulance roared past, siren wailing. Two passing cars slowed, drivers’ heads locked at 90 degrees. “Cat got your tongue?” she asked Buddha, who was observing flora bordering the path. He spied the flower head of a pignut, whose real treasure was its underground root, or tuber, a palatable wild food. He saw that Dawn lived without bitterness, cleaning each slate as she proceeded.
“Mahatma”, said Dawn, risking the forename. “I’ve just remembered something I read. It said you used human shit to fertilise the fields at one of your, whatever you called them….retreats?”
Gandhi said nothing this time. Cyclists glided past as the day found its feet. He reconsidered the fresh use of violence against the Southchurch community. Ten or more residents had told him they were leaving, but he envisaged a larger exodus. Dan said he would be writing a book, to log everything.
On the opposite carriageway, coming into Southend, the first impression of one driver was that a benevolent ninja squad had materialised in Essex.
Police constable Ray Wilkins decided that words were needed. He turned right at the Elms, cut back via Eastwood Road and The Fairway, and brought his vehicle into the stuttering traffic flow of the A127’s London-bound carriageway. The swarthy male’s staggering height was an accident waiting to happen. Ray pulled into a lay-by two hundred yards past the group, unnerved to see that only the woman wore shoes.
Following instinct, Jesus asked Dawn if she shared his love of trance music. She talked about “Time” by Hans Zimmer. “I know it’s utterly mainstream: they used it as a film score. Does it count? It works every time. Sometimes I’ve listened to it back-to-back for a whole morning doing the windscreens, and I feel like I’ll take off and float up the Arterial Road.”
As they approached, Ray heard her talk of dancing in her youth at outdoor parties, in forests, at an abandoned monastery, and by a river. Song in her voice. The giant said something about Goa, and journeys to other dimensions. Ray got out and planted himself across their path. “Morning ladies and gentlemen. Would you mind informing me where you are headed?”
Jesus and Buddha smiled; Gandhi looked sour. “Officer please inform us if we are committing a crime. Otherwise we will bid you a wonderful day and go about our business.”
“No crime that I can see, but you should be aware that you’re attracting attention. Too many drivers are slowing down to look at your group. Somebody is going to crash soon.”
Gandhi spotted a sideways pass; took a step forward. “Officer if we are not permitted to walk alongside this road then kindly detail the laws involved. We would welcome such enlightenment. Otherwise, I repeat, we will happily continue.”
The Indian’s brow furrowed further than usual. “And officer, I do hope we are not witnessing a display of what we might term as ‘heightism’.” He glanced up at Jesus, some six and a half feet above his own head. “We have all heard, with hurt in our hearts, of the racism and sexism sprinkled within the British police force. One prays there is surely not a ‘tallist’ tendency at play among you and your esteemed colleagues?”
Jesus looked down at Ray Wilkins, who was poised to instigate a drugs search, for want of a better option. As they held each other’s gaze, the policeman felt himself involuntarily reach out and up, touching the giant’s hip. It calmed him. “I’ll say goodbye then, and safe journey,” said the copper.
They recommenced. “He is correct about the drivers,” said Buddha, tilting his head towards the wobbling traffic. “Let safety prevail today, for the good of all.” The Arsenal fan turned to face the dual carriageway as the police car pulled away. He positioned his hands, shut his eyes, and softly chanted four Sanskrit words, repeatedly. The traffic regained shape and pace.
“I won’t ask how you did that Sid,” said Dawn. “But I can tell you this – there is a desire for that sort of magic buried in everyone.”
In East London’s former docklands, in a high Canary Wharf conference room, change was knocking for another Essex girl. Across the sparkling river, Susan Grice saw sunshine light the roof of the O2 indoor arena.
Susan felt awkward, uneasy and out of place, like a character thrown into the end of a novel.
She needed to sign off a roundtable transcript which had circulated her bank for a whole month. The bank’s in-house PR team, its lawyers and its corporate governance specialists had waded in, cutting out asymmetrical words, citing potential liability, taking days to redact, reduce and finally squash the energy pulsing through parts of the debate.
Despite an accelerating headache, she read it through again. Antagonistic feelings towards her husband were exacerbating Susan’s mood. Pete had spent the previous evening in their Hampstead home yo-yoing between endless texting and researching emerging market bond yields.
It hit her that she would give almost anything to be with her daughter, back-packing in Thailand. She brought up the private Facebook message from two days ago:
Hello mummy! Just a update, we’re in Krabi now at the Pak-Up hostel for 3 nights 🙂 its so ridiculously cheap here! Costs 3.50 a night and i just had a massive lunch for less than two pounds! We’re going to ko phi tomorrow where ‘the beach’ was filmed and then koh phangan for the full moon party on friday 🙂 We’re all sweating like mad and i’ve been bitten about a thousand times but i’m having a ball! speak to you sooooon love you lots xxxxx
For a time, the group walked in silence, passing a wood on their left. Dawn spoke first. “What other animal on this planet needs police?” The men saw that she thought aloud with ease.
“As a kid, I thought the British were all like my dad: strong-willed, standing up and taking no nonsense. Somewhere along the line we got too passive. Nobody can tell me what to do, not ever; not as long as I’m not causing harm or distress.” She spoke with composure, as she recalled Genevieve’s words.
Gandhi found the number of white vans odd. He picked out a key word. “The notion of passivity is intriguing, is it not? The greatest force on earth is passive resistance, which India used in my last incarnation to ensure it stood equal to the UK, rather than as subject or pawn. Incidentally Dawn, the precise word you were seeking was ‘ashram’, not retreat.”
In sight of Rayleigh Weir interchange, Dawn tucked back a squeegee poking from her pouch. She asked Jesus “what went wrong last time?”
He considered. “The people did not want the bread of life,” said Yeshua. “They followed me in the desire for physical bread. Pearls of wisdom, which would have flooded their lives with creative power, fell on stony ground. Most lost interest when the miracles stopped – but authorities so feared that power they could not let it be further expressed.”
As they waited at traffic lights to cross Rayleigh Road, she spoke of Genevieve and Nigel. Gandhi’s ears pricked up at the first name, which brought a surge of discomfort as he recalled the girl’s libidinal nature.
“Trouble is, everyone has to feed in a dog-eat-dog system,” said Dawn. “People have sex, have kids; those tiny mouths need bread and other food. I’ll never forget the struggles we had bringing ours up.” She looked up at Jesus. “Come on luv, time to tell me. What you trying to do in London?”
Jesus’ long legs made him difficult to keep up with. “The crazy has been normalised. Why would humanity want anything less than its full entitlement?”
“You’re sounding like Russell Brand,” said Dawn. “Genuinely lovely guy, real eye candy that you’d want to tuck up tight to. Brilliant with words. But he don’t satisfy my need to hear exactly what has to be done, to make it all perfect again.”
Jesus felt the rising sun on his back, as they passed the Woodside Garden Centre. Compassion for all things had grown the light inside Dawn Landais.
Gandhi watched a battered strip of tyre flipped up by a lorry. “For change to happen, you must first become aware of the problem,” he said. He raised his skinny arm, pointing rather dramatically down the road, thought Dawn. “In the town of Basildon, ahead, over 120 disabled people have already received bailiff notices from councils after their disability allowances ceased. Local disability groups say their members are pawning televisions and jewellery, to pay bills. This is contemporary Great Britain.”
They passed a café for lorry drivers. Crossed a slip road down to Canvey and Chelmsford. Gandhi resumed. “If the number were just 12, or even two, it would still be excessive.”
Jesus had still to accustom himself to how smooth the highway was, how ineffably different to the dirt tracks of Palestine and Syria, save for the sprinkling of holes.
Dawn tried to talk but Gandhi wouldn’t shut up. “The troubles go beyond Britain. The G7 is a front for failed states controlled by global central bankers that cannot stop their habit of theft. Their entire philosophy was laid bare, when Greece and Cyprus were stripped and financially raped before the world’s eyes.”
Dawn didn’t know much about that. But she felt Gandhi’s heat.
“You have a billionaire club on this planet which want you off, after they have taken your assets. And how do media react? While people starve, in the 21st century, they run lists of the world’s richest people as if we should admire them.”
They were opposite the Alton Garden centre, on Basildon’s outskirts. “One happy aspect”, continued Gandhi, “is that some unwholesome players in this drama are facing their final years.” He named a list that had “neglected their chance to make a positive difference”, citing David Rockefeller, George Soros, Donald Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, George Herbert Walker Bush and Jacob Rothschild.
Dawn was exasperated. “I don’t know very much about that lot, but I’d guess you’ll need gallons of disinfectant to kill the smell when they finally go. The shame on them, like you say, is they could have helped everyone on the planet. But then very rich and powerful people generally wouldn’t give you the steam off their piss. Me personally: I don’t see life’s point if you’re not helping others.”
She took a deep breath: “But you both ducked the question. What can we do about it? About them? Is a load of spunky kids camping outside St Pauls the best we can offer? Peoples’ backs are against the wall. How do we change it? I want answers.”
Sid and Mahatma looked at Jesus, who seemed indifferent to the question. They had reached the foot of a hill, where she noticed the ‘Pound Lane’ sign and let out a wicked laugh. “Now that brings back a major memory.” She smiled deeply. “The truth, though, is that most people are getting poorer. How can politicians sleep at night when people have to go to food banks?”
Gandhi noticed three cars in succession sporting UKIP stickers. “You ask for a remedy. I say outlaw interest paid to banks. The short- and long-term attritions of interest and compounded interest will eventually make paupers of all but the very rich. God alone knows how many millions end up destitute or dead because they or their governments have sold and pawned their last assets to repay interest-bearing debt.” The Indian looked across the dual carriageway at the Dick Turpin public house.
“Now you’re talking!” she exulted, also thinking of the famed highwayman. “I know all about debt. All we hear is how the banks can’t be touched, because it will damage growth and jobs in the City, yadda, yadda, yadda. Might even force banking ‘talent’ to flee the country, blah, blah, blah.” Dawn bared her teeth, showing several gaps. “Well good bloody riddance, I say.” She swayed as she walked, arms swinging to an invisible beat.
Gandhi intuited this woman would live to be 125. “Never forget that this ‘debt’ – which is destroying governments, businesses and individuals globally – is made up out of thin air,” he said. “From a young age, we are told that money does not grow on trees; and has to be earned through toil and sweat. Yet for banks it does indeed grow from nothing, inside a computer.”
Dawn could see he had a point. “And from this flimsy premise,” said Gandhi, “it rules and poisons everything, giving those who control money supply an unwarranted power, whose logical conclusion is to own the entire world.” He described how the UK was still borrowing tens of billions every year, without any obvious way to repay all the capital and interest. “Debts throttle all governments. Nobody knows what is to be done, so they penalise the poorest,” said Gandhi. Ahead, a sign indicated the A132 roundabout, leading to Basildon and Wickford. Drivers had lost interest in the group.
They walked down to a roundabout facing a large industrial estate, before continuing back up to the A127. “An associated problem is that poisons seep into the society, weakening morality,” continued Mahatma. “No longer does the majority ask: ‘What is the fair and just thing to do in any situation’. Instead the financial and legal ramifications must be figured out, so the entire population is expected to act increasingly like accountants, without souls. Parents want children to ditch their creativity, regurgitate second rate information in worthless exams and work in London’s big money machine. Sad and pathetic, because all money does is help one avoid oneself. Only meditation, looking at yourself, will reflect you.”
Dawn noticed Buddha nod. Jesus chipped in. “Seek for the treasure which fails not, which endures, where no moth comes near to devour, and no worm destroys.” The seventh saying from the Gospel of Thomas brought a segue from Buddha, who said that “the more things accumulate, the more life is wasted, because they have to be purchased at the cost of life.” Breeze ruffling his white wrap, Gandhi offered the notion that “outside things can, at the most, deceive others, not yourself.”
A sign said 31 miles to London. “You’re all nifty with your words, but I’ll ask again: What will we do up in your City of Corruption?” sighed Dawn.
They were approaching a retail park, signs for KFC, Homebase and Costa souring the skyline. Buddha reflected that the human drive for hard logic, for the boundaries and distinctions that science relentlessly chased, brought reality no nearer. You could reduce atoms to their tiniest components, but they still behaved unpredictably under microscopic observation. His religion, conversely, made boundaries disappear. The trees meet the sky; the sky drops into the trees. Why did Dawn imagine words and labels might chisel a profile for their pilgrimage?
Dawn needed the loo, so they sat on steep stone stairs by Costa, whose door she disappeared through. Away from the road, Sid relaxed his spell. “Bleedin’ weirdos” said a lorry driver strolling by. “More immigrants after our jobs and women.” Dawn returned with four glasses of water. “I’ve got a full bottle for later. The loo’s unisex, if you guys want it. Might be a bit cramped for you, Yesh.”
His long body covering many steps, Jesus asked Dawn to relate her Pound Lane memory. She suddenly looked hesitant. “It’s a bit tasty – not sure it’s suitable.”
Looking in, Maggie sensed this would be interesting. She had not been able to take her eyes from the screens.
“Does it involve love?” asked Jesus, who sensed something profoundly beautiful in her reference a couple of miles back. She smiled. “A bit more than love, my darling.” He gestured to proceed. “OK, between adults then. But first we’re all going to have a McVities Gold Bar. That leaves four for later on. No artificial colours or flavours.” They unwrapped and munched the bars, enjoying the caramel, white chocolate and crisp biscuit texture. Jesus reconsidered his earlier idea. It was a possibility.
Dawn set the scene: “It was late May, nearly 18 years ago. Steve’s parents were staying with us in Eastwood, getting on our nerves. I was climbing the bloody walls. Beautiful sunny evening, so we piled in the Escort and drove up the Arterial. Windows open, radio on. All the hedgerows and woods bustling with greenery. Didn’t have a plan, so we turned down Pound Lane on a whimsy. It took us into an old village, Bowers Gifford, where Steve’s aunty lived when he was a kid.”
Buddha loved the name. Like Tolleshunt D’Arcy and Stondon Massey, Bowers Gifford indicated the Essex history beneath the surface. The Gold Bar was delicious, assaulting his palate with temporary sweetness.
“Bowers Gifford always looked odd, like it didn’t belong to Basildon. It had these unpaved roads going nowhere, houses looking like homesteads. We drove to the other end of Pound Lane, turned right, found a pub called the Gun on the old A13. Theme nights and Mexican food. It didn’t feel cosy, so we wolfed the drinks, and Steve said he’d show me the oldest church he knew. He found a little road that went past a cemetery and across the new A13. After a quarter mile we were in a different world, heading down an old farm road towards the Thames, fields heaving with green barley shoots.”
“What colour was the car”, asked Jesus, listening intently.
“Red. A red Ford Escort, A-reg.” Three sets of male eyes met. “Did you say….A-reg?” asked Sid, intuiting a new prototype, an inception, the first in a series.
“Yeah….but believe me the car was no big deal. If you want to hear this, then listen up.”