Whisperings & a place called Fischer’s…

I’ve had a rough couple of nights. First, my older daughter decided to scream out for her socks in the middle of the night. Second, my one year old decided to wake up at 4.30am. My better half found my younger daughter and I passed out on the bed in her room. I’m grateful he didn’t capture it on camera. What was funny… Actually, funny isn’t the right word – what was interesting was that I dreamt he had come in to wake me up already. I saw him clearly; I heard his voice, heard him ask whether he should wash up the bottle lying on the bedside table. Was this greyhound day, a glimpse of another paradigm or simply the effect of fatigue on the brain?  All the same, that semi-wakeful state – that bit between the dream period captured by REM and that state of consciousness – conjures up impressive images or emotions. Why is it that we sense things, see things that cause us to stop and think for a brief moment once we’re fully conscious, but before real life takes over?

Earlier this week, we descended on my parents for the bank holiday weekend. Among certain family members, my new blog series is causing endless amusement and consternation in equal measure. My dad has a tendency to picks holes in my observations; my mum revels in the rejuvenated mystery of Djinn Mamu (see inaugural blog). My older sister (just over from Pakistan) thinks I’m a bit idiotic, but that’s nothing new. One discussion over breakfast (started by my sister, I might add) focused on this semi-wakeful state. My sister retold, how, many years ago, when she was living in a flat in one of the noisier enclaves of Karachi, she believed she had some kind of visitation. Picture the scene: the call for the dawn prayer isn’t due for at least half an hour, but life still continues despite the twilight hour –  traffic rages outside – horns blare, brakes screech; somewhere below a radio plays on full volume, spewing out the tinny sound of a Bollywood song. A baby cries; an argument between two men floats up from one of the flats below. There’s the perpetual smell of dust, heat soaked and heavy. Speaking of heat, it’s already suffocating and the sun hasn’t reared its head yet. My sister has the windows open and warm air breezes through the rooms. Her children are asleep. Her husband is away. She is awake, but not awake. Above the pre-dawn din, she feels it: a blast of cold air piercing through the heat. It fills the room, it blows around her and then, it nears her awake-but-not-awake-body and she feels a cold shaft of air blister through her ear. It’s tipped with malice. My sister repeats the Kalma several times over. It disappears.

My sister awakes. She’s shivering. Her skin is ice cold in spite of the humidity bearing down. The room is empty.

To preempt questions: she wasn’t ill. She’s one of the sanest (and smartest) people I know. She’s religious, but not superstitious. She’s rational – clinically so, at times. Yet she still believes that something was in her room. So yes, I believe her.

There are times I’ve felt something similar – often occuring when I’ve been alone. On one occasion it was during my first year at university: I felt a presence by my bed followed by a blast of air in my ear. On another, more recent occasion, I heard someone whispering “hello” in my ear. It happened in the early hours of the morning; my better half was on an overnight flight returning back to London. I woke up thinking it was his ghost and that something had happened. I flew out of bed and checked the Heathrow and news websites. Of course – and thankfully – nothing like that had happened. He arrived a couple of hours later, looking knackered and wondering why I clung to him as if I hadn’t seen him in years. The latter can be ascribed to my subconscious worrying about the risks of something happening to my better half as he got on yet another plane. And to be honest, a ghost whispering hello to me is a bit comical. It should try harder… As for the former experience: I can’t quite explain it. For a number of reasons, I did feel quite lonely in my early days at university, so maybe that had something to do with it. But it’s not as if this presence or whatever told me to get over my melancholy and ‘man-up’ – I would’ve much preferred a visitation by a djinn like the Robin Williams’ one from Disney’s Aladdin – breaking into a song called ‘You Just Gotta Man-up, Woman’

Yesterday we had breakfast at a new place – ‘Fischer’s’ – on the Marylebone High Street (http://www.fischers.co.uk). It’s owned by the same people behind The Wolseley, Colbert and Delaunay. When you step inside, it’s like you’ve gone back in time to Vienna, circa 1910. It has the coffee house feel, the furniture – the polished walnut tables, the chairs, the paintings on the wall; even the way the staff are dressed – it all captures a certain mood… According to my better half (who turns staunchly Austrian when it comes to skiing, hospitality and the Eurovision song contest… ), the food was ‘pretty good’ – that’s his version of a compliment… I’m not sure whether the protagonist in The Silent Children, Max Gissing, would go near this place. He has a love-hate relationship with Vienna. Perhaps if he wasn’t estranged from his mother, he would embrace Fischer and go and drink in the atmosphere and food… Once in a while at least.

The Silent Children