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SECRET MEN’S BUSINESS

‘Well, ladies, seeing as you’ve begged me to say what’s on my mind, I will.’

Dog was on the edge; there was nowhere to go but up and over.

‘Truly, you are the most self-absorbed group of people on the planet. It’s all ‘me, me, me’ out here ain’t it? Spare me. I thought we were in the desert to lose all that.’

Dog warmed to his task. I think he was having a shamanic attack.

‘Don’t you realize you have to drop the me, me, me? It’s not about you, you dickheads – that’s the point!’

‘Go for it,’ Ranald whispered.

‘This isn’t therapy, this is shamanism…? We-e-ell, it’s sure looking a lot like therapy to me. Your self obsession is stopping you from moving on. Stop looking in. For once in your conceited lives; try looking out. Try and leave your dick alone!’

There was a snort of laughter from somewhere in the darkness. It was Swami Greg, taking notes for his next session.

‘Big shamanic men’s group. Pffft. What a joke.  I know drag queens who are more manly than you blokes. We should change the names of the work groups to Wimps, Wankers, Wanna-bes and Warriors.’

Darisha was beside himself with glee.

‘I’ll leave it to you to determine in which of these four groups you feel you belong.’

Was there applause? There should’ve been. Time to stop.

*

A gust of wind shook the rusted galvanized iron behind the sheds and flung words into the night. There was a rustle of flesh and a fart.

‘Ma-a-a-an! Woo hoo!

It was Prashant, our resident drug-fucked loon.

‘Se-e-erious business here, eh? Sense that anger, man, I can feel it. Whoa, powerful man. Big time, big deal eh? Savage garden in the desert. Sensing that. Man. Intense. I’m, like, whoa – bring those, like, skeins of the future together, like a wonder, you know, install it deep in my heart. You know when all parts come together? Think’ Syria, or Jordan. Man, remember Marrakech. Melting pot, boiling point, fulcrum leading us all here… ‘

‘And your point is…?’ interrupted Darisha.

Our acid casualty babbled more crap and waved his arms but Big D wasn’t about to be stopped.

‘Prashant, I’ve known you for seven years now and I love you dearly, but in all that time I haven’t been able to understand one fucking thing you’ve ever said – and I can’t now, either.’

He started babbling again, but there wasn’t time. The circle spoke.

‘Prashant! Shut the fuck UP!’

But still the big man would not stop. Utterly unaware of the mounting wall of anger facing him he continued blithely forward, mangling language in the search for truth. Men sat forward in their seats now, their irritation evident. Incredibly, he continued.

‘Prashant, we really love you, man, we really do,’ Ricky oozed, ‘but…’

The shamanistas leapt in for the kill. Anything to divert from Motor-mouth.

‘That sounded like a load of crap to me, Ricky,’ hooted Ranald.

‘I didn’t believe that at all,’ Greg hissed.

‘Sounded like pious new-age bullshit to me,’ shouted Darisha, ‘I’d believe it more if you told him you hated his fucking guts.’

‘Tell him what you really think!’ shrieked Ranald.

‘I hate you, Prashant,’ growled Ricky in a girlish voice, trying to please.

‘Pathetic! Tell him like you mean it!’

‘I hate you Prashant!’

Ricky may as well have stamped his foot. He sounded petulant, not powerful.

‘Woeful,’ laughed Greg, ‘stand up and say it!’

Ricky stood, uncertain.

Prashant was one of those bear-man hippies, plump and hairy, as if someone had poured lard into a condom. Ricky was a small, smooth man, a ferret of a fellow. He looked a bit puny.

‘I hate you!’ Ricky screeched, waving his finger limply.

‘Not good enough.’

‘I hate you-u-u-u-u!’

‘Hopeless. Prashant, you’re the problem. We’re all sick of you.’

Ranald scouted round the group with a wild look in his eyes.

‘We need a replacement Prashant…’

*

In a masterstroke of intuition, the fatal gaze fall on Andrew – meek, mild, lovely Andrew, Andrew with the father problems, Andrew with the issues about standing up for himself.

‘You’ll do. Both of you. Outside.’

Without a moment’s hesitation Ricky transferred all his pent up emotion and unexplored rage onto a complete stranger. The object of his pain was irrelevant, what mattered only was the visceral roar that came spewing out of his guts. To my complete astonishment he advanced on Andrew, his voice rising in strength each step he took.

‘I hate you! I hate you-u-u-u!

Andrew sat transfixed, trying, like the rest of us, to wrap his head around what on earth was happening. This had come as a complete bolt from the blue. No time to think. Suddenly Ricky was leaning over him, screaming his message over and over, getting more and more out of control.

‘React to me! I’m right here right in front of you! Can’t you see me? I hate you!’

Hands reached out to clutch at Andrew’s neck. Instantly the Greek reacted. He leapt to his feet, brushed his assailant’s arms away from in front of him and pushed him solidly away.

‘Don’t fuck with me!’ Andrew yelled and advanced a step. Ricky stood his ground.

‘I hate you!’ he screamed.

‘I hate you too, pal,’ Andrew replied evenly and put one arm up to stop his opponent as he moved forward again. Rick brushed it aside, grabbed Andrew’s neck and started to squeeze, Andrew clasped Ricky’s neck in a returning grip. The two men stood, balanced in the moment, screaming into the each other’s face. It was only a second more before the sweet Greek broke too.

‘Arghhhh… ” he yelled and wrenched Rick’s neck, twisting the two of them towards the campfire.

‘Get between them and the fire!’ Greg hissed in a low voice. Several of us leapt to be the barrier, I was bumping Joseph’s shoulder, the fire to our backs, dancing on the balls of my feet as the two of them careered round the clearing, screaming at each other. I caught his eye and we laughed. It was exhilarating.

Ricky didn’t hate Andrew, not at all. It was all a game. For him at that moment Andrew was all the immovable forces that chained him to a mute round of whining self-destruction. He needed demons to wrestle with – and he needed them to beat him. Ricky got off on pain.

For Andrew it was simple. He was fighting his father.

*

They landed heavily, Rick on his back, Andrew on top, still clutching at each other’s necks. The force of the fall broke the strength of their grip and they lay there for a moment, collecting their wits. Andrew was the first one to his feet. His face was purple, eyes glazed, face covered in sweat and dirt and he was growling.

‘Don’t screw with me, don’t screw with me, pal!’ Over and over at the winded warrior on the ground in front of him, ‘don’t screw with me…’

Rick leapt to his feet with a shriek and charged back into battle. Andrew side-stepped and grabbed him in a headlock, tight, unrelenting. He wrestled him to his knees as Rick clawed at the constricting arm around his throat.

‘Ack. Ack. I can’t… bre-e-athe.’

Ranald and Greg swooped in, whispering, prodding, reminding – there was a roar, the two combatants separated and Ricky was flung heavily to the ground. Suddenly there were men all around them. Andrew charged in for the kill but hands stopped him and pulled him away. The meek one lay where he was thrown, breathing heavily, spread-eagled in the dirt. Finally he began to weep.

Darisha was with Ricky, kneeling over him and whispering. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but a swag was pulled up and the limp man lifted gently, placed carefully on his back and carried away. I saw Ranald dancing behind him, waving that feather but my attention was drawn away just in time to see another body hurl himself to the ground, thrashing about, screeching.

‘Tie him down!’ came a voice. Greg was standing close by. As he spoke he looked around at the growing mayhem behind him.

They were going down like flies. By now the clearing was like a revivalist meeting. There were brawls and confrontation, a whack, a slap, a wrestle or two. Some fool is dancing round the camp, bullock naked, shoving his rear end at people, shouting ‘I’ve got a tight arse! I’ve got a tight arse!’ Dust flew. Bodies shook in the dust, clawing the earth into their mouths, moaning and sliding about. Someone had set the genie free.

Joseph was rigid, face down in the dirt. .

‘Don’t forget to breathe, Joseph! Don’t forget to breathe!’ someone shouted.

With a sudden gulp of air the body came to life. He made a noise like a drowning man then jerked his head backwards. He stayed poised in that state until the returning breath brought him back to consciousness. In that moment Joseph seemed like a new-born child. Whatever he’d been through had sloughed away his cloak of darkness and suddenly there he was, a freshly minted penny, gazing up at me. He smiled a distant smile and said simply:

‘Hello.’

‘Where have you been?’ I heard someone whisper and Joseph’s eyes began to focus. He took another deep breath and started to answer. Then he giggled vacantly. I could see his thoughts flying around him; they circled blindly, then dived direct to his heart.

‘Where have I been? Joseph said strangely, ‘where have I been?’

Then he laughed like a banshee.

‘Well, to tell you the truth… I don’t really know.’

Joseph lapsed back into his dream.

Greg’s head loomed over my shoulder. I smiled and looked at him.

‘So pal, this is what you do for a living…’

He laughed.

‘We’re in the same business…’

Indeed we were – the bullshit business.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This was no more shamanic than my left foot. This was a group of hysterical men’s group junkies on an outback picnic playing blackfella for a week. This was just their annual burn-out; a chance to come together, bang a drum, get naked and talk about themselves – forty consenting adults besotted with their own impotence, sphincters clamped shut by a drawstring of male terror.

*

Wind whirled through the camp; abandoned iron screamed its rage, the fat lady sang like a banshee. The show was over; swags strewn around the clearing, sleeping bundles of snoring shamen battered by the night. Greg sat in his chair, gazing at the fire.

‘This is Malu dreaming, my friend. That’s what it’s all about.’

I glimpsed something in the flames, a tiny glowing stump that glowed and sparkled, gasped and imploded, crumbling to dust as I watched. Pho-o-o-o hissed a log on the fire. Pssssst! Pah-h-h-h. Dog heard a warm rumble as another one crumbled to neon-zero. The fire was falling into night.

‘You know where Ranald stood when the sparks flew over his head – you remember, just before it all started? That place was the trigger.’

He pointed to a spot not far away. It didn’t look very scary – just a patch of red dirt.

‘Men would pass through that same spot and bam! They’d go off. This happened several times while I watched. It was like Joseph was hit by lightening! So, when things had calmed down I got up, moved over and stood there – and I had the same experience.’

He turned his head from the fire and looked at me very seriously indeed.

‘Blood, violence, the whole catastrophe; all the anger and sadness in the world, pouring through that one spot.’

He stared back at the fire.

Another log imploded, vanishing into sparks.

‘This whole thing is about this place and the power that runs through it. We’re in the middle of big-time Malu dreaming, right in the centre of the lines of power.’

My head was spinning. Like a frame within a frame within a frame the contexts of this evening were being expanded, and with them any sense of reality. Either he was right or he wasn’t; either this place had the power to turn sane men mad or it didn’t; either there were intersecting dreaming paths – or not. I had only the words of three self-proclaimed shamen to tell me, one way or another – them and the ‘evidence of my heart’.

I have to report that, as a general rule, Dogster’s blackened heart is not a reliable witness.

‘It’s good we’re going tomorrow,’ Greg said, ‘it’s too strong here. Someone might get hurt.’

Too late, I thought.

*

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