Camel On An Ashtray Excerpt

The following is the second chapter from my novella Camel On An Ashtray:

Is This It

Sonell sucks his saliva as the corrosive ethanol whirls around his mouth; its texture is grimy and thick and actively attacks his gums. It tastes of nothing, yet leaves an abhorrent aftertaste. The vicious smell of morning-after alcohol is so pungent he motions to open his bedroom window, but falls back into bed when he realises he is still significantly intoxicated.
He sneaks a quick peek under his cover; he can see his genitals, the only item of clothing he is wearing is his shirt from the previous night. As he attempts to recollect the evening’s events but struggles to piece together a linear narrative, he realises that he must have been extremely drunk. Therefore, the technique of ‘remembrance after an acutely drunken night out’ is initiated. Simultaneously, he blinks continuously and works his way through the displaced fragments of the night that project in the cinema of his mind.   
Pulling a sock up his left leg, his mother reminding him to wear a jacket, a stranger avoiding eye contact with him, Jagdeep shoving a wad of fifty pound notes under his nose, (he immediately realises these two events are not in chronological, and places them correctly), Prada white boots, a rabbit serving Tequila, a large nose almost poking him in the face, shoe, a black shoe with skinny laces. Blank.  
He remembers little else and realises a lot of the evening is missing. He rummages under his quilt, finds his mobile phone near his left foot, it is a quarter to five.  
            Water; his thirst awakens, sudden and sharply. This desire is so acute that it is as if he has been lost in a sweltering hot desert for days.
He sees that his bedside jug of water is empty. Begrudgingly stumbling upwards and awkwardly locating his centre of gravity; he hobbles into the bathroom, which is half a foot away from his bedroom. Gently; the door is locked, the tap is opened.
Streams of unfiltered light sparkle through the large window on the north side of the bathroom, exacerbating his headache, while the sudden sound of the stream of water reminds him of consuming unpleasant spirits the previous evening.

Eleven thirty. They will all be up now; time to find out what happened, he thinks.
“What the hell d’yu want? I told you, we’re not on speaking terms,” Pamdeep yells.   
“Eh?” is all Sonell can muster. He has rarely heard Pamdeep raise his voice at him. “I barely spoke to you last night dude. How can we not be talking?”
“Nish was right; you can’t remember a thing, can you? Who dropped you home last night?”
“To be honest mate, I’ve no idea, but I’m guessing it was you?” Sonell replies, stating these words in as humorous a tone as possible, attempting to manipulate the ire bent against him.  
“When you get stupidly drunk, I can hack it. When you chat shit, I can hack it. Even when you dance so vulgarly that you embarrass all of us, I can take it. But when you open my car door, when I am driving at seventy miles an hour, you’ve crossed the line!” Pamdeep states before hanging up on him.  
Sonell’s guilt compels him to call Pamdeep back.
“Look dude, put the phone down if you want, but only after hearing me out. I am shocked and appalled at my actions, and hereby solemnly swear not to touch another drop of alcohol when I am with you guys. If I break this solemn oath, never utter a word to me again.”
“Good on you. Come on Sunny, what would you’re parents say if they saw you in that state last night?”
“Yep. Are you coming over for the Spurs testimonial game?”    
“Definitely! I’ll be there two-ish. Is Keane gonna play?”
“Before we go in to all that - do me a favour dude. Tell me what happened last night. I remember seeing a shoe…”
“Don’t lie. Sukhbir was looking for his shoe all night! Some lafunga took it off while he was on the can. Poor guy was taking a piss, when someone pulled his shoe off. He was so angry; he left half an hour before us! Ha, you should’ve seen his face, he went skitz! You were even more of a joker! You approached a load of hot girls - they all completely blanked you, but you carried on anyway! Then you went into the middle of the dance-floor, made the whole crowd make a circle, as you attempted to dance Billie Jean!”
“So, uh, I’m no Michael Jackson?”
Pamdeep chuckles heavily.   
Sonell cuts off the conversation and moves on to the next account. He dials Sukhbir, who picks up after three rings,
“Sonny, how you doing man?” Sukhbir states with an over-emphasised huskiness to his tone that he assumes implies that he had a great night out.  
“Dear me! You sound like I feel. What’s the matter dude?” he feigns, already aware of what his response will be.  
“Some twat nicked of my shoes last night. I mean, who steals a shoe? They’re my lucky clubbing shoes!” Sukhbir laments.
For all his vanity, there is something undeniably endearing about Sukhbir, Sonell thinks. He realises that he himself is being simple-minded in merely focusing on all the pitch-black parts of the tribe’s palette; he must bleed all of the colours from their very root.    
“Did you get it back?”
“Nah, I had to hop for five minutes till I could find a cab to go home in – and I was having such a good night as well. Free booze, pulling this amazing looking girl! Don’t tell anyone else, but I was getting off with her in the men’s bathroom - that was when my shoe got nicked!”
Sonell instantaneously remembers what happened.
“If I found that idiot, I’d have given him a big slap!”    
“Cheers mate. But enough of that. Mate you were hammered last night. How did you manage that, you started drinking really late. And you were at your funniest as well, you kept reciting some shit in Latin, or was it Greek? What the hell does it mean?”
Sonell immediately knows it can only be one phrase as it’s the only one he knows by heart.  
“Of all the ills there are, Rumour is the swiftest. She thrives on movement and gathers strength as she goes. From small and timorous beginnings she soon lifts herself up into the air, her feet still on the ground and her head hidden in the clouds. It’s from…”
“OK enough of that - how did things go with that girl last night?” Girl, what girl? All Sonell can remember is a pair of Prada boots.  
“No comment.” 
“Come on, I told you about my thing.” Sukhbir protested.  
“How come you didn’t tell Pamdeep about it, he thinks you were taking an innocent piss when your shoe was taken?”
“Don’t change the subject. But you know why, it’s my personal mantra. You have friends for different reasons. He comes into the category of talking football and playing computer games with. Don’t get me wrong he’s a great bloke, but for me that’s as far as we go.” 
“So what category do I fall into?” Sonell enquires.  
“Oh mate, you shouldn’t need to ask that."
“I’ll tell you what happened - what you think happened.” Sonell states with over-emphasis; he is still unsure if anything did, but a white lie would do him no harm.    
“Nice one.”

‘There is so much of everything,’
A sudden pause. Sonell surges through the pathways of his mind, looking for an ending to this semblance of a half-sentence. He types the letter Y, yet his thoughts stumble again.  
He is now sitting on his leather swivel chair while he tries to start writing a short story on his large desktop computer while nursing the mother of all hangovers. Although it is now mid-afternoon his yellow-burgundy curtain remains fully drawn as his hangover has transformed him into a vampire that is incapable of tolerating natural light.   
Unable to focus, he opens iTunes and skims through the thousands of songs on his playlist until finally deciding to listen to Elvis’ ‘Return to Sender’. As it plays, he starts to dance in his chair, whispering the words of this song which he only half knows.   
That rare opening of the channel of any productive thoughts has once again been closed as the banality of inaction returns. He goes on onto Google and searches for potential Elvis sightings, there are 287034 matches. Scrolling down the page, he finds a match. All the supposed sightings are outrageously hilarious. One in particular strikes a chord. Someone claims to have spotted him in Surrey, England on the Seventh of March in 2003, much to his humoured surprise,
‘We was at the supermarket when we noticed a Cadillac in the disabled slot when we’s was picking out potatoes. We saw Elvis with a trolley of fish fingers and everyone knew it was him’.  
            He pictures the character who would have told this tale; a slightly overweight man with a rapidly receding hairline, Homer Simpson belly and exaggerated Cockney accent.   
It is all far too funny not to be shared with someone, so he picks up his mobile phone and calls Jack, four and a half rings later there is an answer,
“Yes yes,” Jack mumbles. His voice is extremely groggy, rarely have words required this much effort.  
“You absolute clown, I’ve woken you up haven’t I?” He replies, in an absurdly over-exaggerated voice.  
“Nope, just lying in bed.”  
“And how long’s that been happening?”
“Let’s see. Well, it’s about quarter to two now, so almost fourteen hours.”  
“Fair play. Anyway, I’ve just seen the jokesest thing on the net.”
“Ha, you’re so damn predictable. Cheers mate, you’ve just won me a fiver,” says Jack with a sense of triumph.  
“You’ve lost me, what are you going on about?”
“How’s that short story coming along, the one you’re entering in for that internet competition?”
“Urm, written about a line so far. Anyway, as I was saying...”
“Don’t change the subject. The deadline’s tomorrow night; let’s be honest, it’s not gonna be sent or written today.”   
“I think it will.”
“It won’t and you know it won’t - and the reason I said you’ve won me a fiver is ‘cos me and Nick have made a cheeky little wager on whether you’d get it done by the end of the week.”
“Thanks for having so much faith.” he replies faintly, the last word is mumbled. “So I’ve got almost two days to win Nick a fiver?”
“Don’t tell me that, go do it then!”
“OK, but can I tell you something really, really funny first?”
“No, you can’t.” 
“Fair play, speak to you in a bit.”
“Yes yes, call me when you’re done.”  
            As he presses the red button on his phone, he closes his connection to the internet and reopens the document where he was writing the short story.
‘There is so much of everything, yet so little of anything’.  
            A combination of relief and delight encompass his understated smile. He has spent weeks working on what he considers to be the perfect opening line.
He had gone through every opening line in every book on his shelves, typed them up and tried to work out a pattern. After hundreds of failed attempts, he at last chanced upon a line he was satisfied with. The problem now was coming with a story to fill up the rest of the blank page.


Three games in and he was already on auto-pilot. Each year the graphics of this game become more realistic. Yet every once in a while he can see all that is really there, a collection of binary numbers propped up by a complex graphics machine.
            He is losing by two goals to nil to his younger brother Jeevan and is feeling exasperated. This frustration stems partly from the game, but most of it is from the list of ever-growing problems manifesting in his mind; writing (his lack of it), four months free with nothing planned…
“Do you want to do something this summer?” he states after three minutes of silence.  
“Ask me after we finish playing, stop trying to distract me!”
“When else do we get time to talk about it? When we’re downstairs with everyone else in the house, when I’m out in the evening and you never bother coming with me?”  
“Fine, you want me to…” just as Jeevan is going to react to Sonell’s outburst, Sonell scores a wonder goal from outside the penalty box. Sonell cannot hide his delight and thrusts his newly-clenched fist upwards.   
In response Jeevan pauses the game and proceeds to lecture his older brother.  
“No more talking in any matches, ever! Whenever you do, you always score! And so you don’t have an excuse and no, I can’t go anywhere this summer because I have to build that website for dad…So you we’re distracting me! Ha!”    
            Sonell simply nods his head and plays on. He ends up winning the match and the next two as well while sticking to his brother’s rule of maintaining silence.
He considers writing a story about a man who has a video game addiction, but fears the competition judges would not take such a subject matter seriously.

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