The introduction and part 1 of Sea Changes are here.
Part 2 of Sea Changes is here, and here is part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11.
In this final extract from Sea Changes, we find out what happened to some of the protagonists, from the Prime Minister all the way down to Ibraham.
Thursday, 9th October— Thursday, 6th November
It was unusual for Wilberforce Smith to feel warmly towards News From The Inside. The Channel One documentary strand had often explored episodes he would rather have been left in kindly obscurity.
But he snorted good-naturedly as he watched from the overflowing kitchen table at Number 10, while tadpoles of rain rushed down the window outside. He was eating spaghetti bolognese from a microwave dish, and a trickle of orange sauce was trickling unnoticed down his chin and onto official papers.
A man wearing a flak-jacket and a pained expression was standing in a radiant street, eyes narrowed against the dust and glare.
“We came to Basra with the best intentions—to explore the human story of a man we had taken to our hearts. We found a hoax that fooled a nation.
“Ibraham Nassouf, the so-called ‘Miracle Migrant,’ was never involved in anti-Saddam activism and was never tortured by Saddam’s secret police. Not only that, but for years, he was a bodyguard and enforcer for one of Iraq’s most notorious gangland bosses. Tonight, we reveal the incredible story of The Refugee Who Never Was.”
The PM had never believed in Ibraham’s torture story, but even he was surprised by some of the program’s revelations. He seemed to have been instrumental in all sorts of unpleasant activity in the detention center in Greece—sexual harassment of a female human-rights lawyer (the PM sniggered at this), making an unprovoked attack on some Sudanese man called Mandoor, and even starting a riot, during which he had contrived to escape. A resourceful sort of a feller, it seemed. These revelations presumably meant he could be expelled nice and quickly, which would offset some of the recent bad polling on immigration. The PM whistled tunelessly as he pushed aside the smeary plate and got to work on his red box, leaving carmine fingerprints on the top sheet of a confidential defence review.
Of course, it had been old Albert Norman who had broken the story the previous month—not long before he had resigned after that incident when the other hack had been nearly killed. He wondered how many people would remember that—very few, probably. In a strange way, he felt he would miss Albert’s acerbic take on life, which was so very different from all the other papers. It reflected some perverse aspect of English identity, a kind of dour, ultra-individualist, small-c conservatism, which persisted despite decades of official disapproval from the likes of—well, himself!
He had been annoyed by Albert’s tongue-in-cheek “endorsement” of a few years ago, which some of the more literal-minded WP MPs had taken at face value—and by a few of the disobliging things the old fossil had come out with since then. But in the end, it hadn’t hindered his getting the premiership, and Albert had been just as hard, in fact often harder, on the CDs. That was a kind of family squabble, and they were often the worst. And he could be hilarious—and just once in a while, as with the “Miracle Migrant,” the old man had put his fat finger on something everyone else had chosen not to see. It would be a duller mediaverse without him. However, his disappearance had removed one of the last remaining obstacles to a Sentinel endorsement. The young editor down there must be one of the right sort. He made a note in his sauce-stained notepad to phone him.
There was one more piece of good news that night. That combed- over creep Jim Moore had dropped dead that afternoon of a too-long- deferred heart attack. The only possible drawback, mused the PM, was that his publishers would almost certainly rush out a “Best of...” collection. An amused tic flickered in his left eye; he had always had a highly developed musical sensibility.
Ibraham had been in an agony of impatience all that day. For the last fortnight, ever since those journalists had started to direct increasingly awkward questions via Mr. Basser he had withdrawn into himself— refusing to meet them or answer their questions in writing, refusing to explain himself even to Basser, whom he suspected shrewdly of being in the journalists’ pay. Basser had looked on with amused contempt as he squirmed and demurred—and Ibraham knew that even if the program was never shown, his story would get out into the public domain. Again and again, he cursed himself for having got so carried away at the press conference. He had hated even the positive press coverage; he began to realize what it might be like to be the focus of less fulsome attentions.
It was not just that the exposure of his fabrications would undermine— probably fatally—his asylum application. It was also the thought that he would be portrayed to millions of people as a fraud—and a fool. This was an appalling thought. For it to be on British TV meant everyone would believe it was all true. After all, as he had been told in classes at the holding centre, Britain prided itself on its precious traditions of free speech, open media, and fairness.
He saw a thousand phantoms—his street, central Basra, Kemali laughing with Saddam, jets dashing overhead, the beach at Crisby, the ill-starred press conference—and Lavrion. Most of what the programme was alleging was mostly true, but he was astounded by just how wrong they’d got the section on Lavrion. He was angered to see Mandoor, being filmed in what looked like a restaurant and looking well-fed and prosperous, saying in all seriousness that Ibraham and two Egyptian had set upon him and robbed him—and then there were the other false allegations, about Miss Karatakis and starting the riot. He began to think maybe he should have spoken to the journalists after all. He tried to explain about all these things to Basser and the interpreter nodded, but Ibraham had an idea he was being humoured.
His only comfort was a vague superstition that maybe all these tribulations had been “sent.” His mother had always insisted there was A Plan, to which he had always smiled sadly, seeing it as just part of her incapacity, her means of dealing with all the tragedies and disappointments of her life. But during the dangers and difficulties of his journey, he had reevaluated all kinds of things and found himself relying more and more on this psychological prop. As he had moved physically, he had also been travelling extensively inside himself. Just maybe, he thought, he had been foreordained not only to leave, but also to return. Maybe he would emerge on the far side cleansed—able to start again somewhere no one knew him, in some small but useful way. The troubles at home couldn’t go on for ever; they’d be needing men like him to help rebuild. He was still relatively young and could help shape a new reality in what was, after all, his home.
Basser took pity and tried to rally him. So what if you embellished the truth? So have others. Who can really blame you? Anyone would have done the same. And you can’t be sent back to a war zone. Don’t forget, you still have a whole arsenal of defences. If I were you, I wouldn’t worry too much. You’ll see. But Ibraham refused to cling to this delusion. He resigned himself to the inevitability that in a day or two, officials must inevitably come with his name on some papers and take him straight to the airport—stripped of his freedom, yes, but also any further necessity of lying. Some small part of him was gladdened by the end of the pretence.
It was disgraceful, the Bugle suggested, that this government could permit such blatant abuses, which could only cause resentment. It was typical of this grossly irresponsible government that they should have taken the word of a thug as gospel. It was political correctness gone mad. Was it any wonder that there was extremism? Ibraham Nassouf must go.The minister should go…or else every Tom, Dick, and Ibraham would be able to drive a coach and horses through this government’s immigration policy. The Bugle’s sentiments were echoed by other papers, and government strategists feared meltdown at the local elections. But the minister did not go—and no-one came for Ibraham.
Not only that, but soon a counter-counter-mood was emerging, led, as so often, by John Leyden. He pointed out that the fact that one applicant’s details had proven partly factually incorrect did not invalidate the wider point that immigration was a social good and should continue, in tandem with an ethical foreign policy; furthermore, there was no room for racism in Britain. There was a wider social truth, and right-wing hysteria must not be allowed to obscure that salient fact—for we are all guilty in a very real sense.
Then the Register ran a long interview with Ibraham—a brilliant coup- de-main in its circulation war with the Bugle. Jakob von Grönestein, reading it beside his pool in Dubai, actually burst out laughing.
“Ibraham is sitting huddled in his tiny cell, his only companions, a traumatized Syrian, a silent TV set, and a few pathetic possessions on the table beside the bed: a notebook, a half-eaten sandwich, some cigarettes, some sweets—and, of course, the translator, without whom Ibraham would be marooned on a cultural desert island. His thin, sensitive face looks tired, and he looks shamefacedly down at his hands for most of our snatched hour. I ask him the question that is on every Briton’s lips—‘Ibraham, we took you to our hearts. We knew you had suffered, and we wanted to believe what you told us. What made you dream up these stories?’
With a heartfelt sigh, Ibraham replies brokenly through his translator. His teeth are pearly white, his deep brown eyes filled with a secret sadness—‘It’s not actual reality, but it was my reality...It was my way of coping... I seek forgiveness from those who feel betrayed, but I implore them to put themselves in my position; I had lost everything, I had to survive... I feel a fool, and now you all hate me... I have received racist letters, and yet I feel I cannot blame the senders. It is all my fault.’
And as I sit there listening, I try to put myself into Ibraham’s battered old shoes—those shoes which have done so much running. I am compelled to ask myself one simple question— would I, would any of us, have behaved very differently?”
The Register’s editorial answered its own correspondent, with the generosity of spirit on which it so frequently prided itself:
“Ibraham, you needn’t have lied. This is a great nation, and a big-hearted one, with a tradition of fair play and refuge for all who really need it. And even leaving aside your background of poverty, hunger, totalitarianism and war, your experiences at the hand of the human traffickers alone would have qualified you for sanctuary. So despite what’s happened in the past, we say let bygones be bygones—and urge the government to let Ibraham stay. He’s said he’s sorry.”
Ibraham started to think Basser had been correct. He looked on in silent thankfulness as he faded back out of the headlines; he was inexpressibly glad to become just a part of the process, on the same terms as everyone else. As that year’s perfect autumn burst around, seen but not felt through the plate glass of the complex, there were meetings with caseworkers, presentations, medical examinations, psychological examinations, hearings about hearings, hearings, adjournments to hearings, deferred decisions, a verdict (heart-stoppingly negative), notice of appeal, submissions and evidence-gathering, appeal, adjournment of decision on appeal...
He was intrigued one day to be told by a winking warder that he had a woman visitor. He went wonderingly along to the interview room, where he found Carole Hassan waiting. She stood and introduced herself through the staff interpreter. He was puzzled that she was a white woman, and not an Albanian. He had never thought of there being English converts—especially ones that smelt strongly of cigarettes. She spoke shyly; she met very few fellow Muslims, and rarely spoke to men of her age.
“I am here on behalf of the whole Muslim commuity to show our solidarity, and make sure that you are being treated well. Do you have any complaints about the way you are being treated here in this awful place?” She looked around at the bright and cheery room, and shuddered.
“All Muslims?” Ibraham, who had seen Sunni and Shia interacting at home, was gratified to learn of this unexpected local solidarity.
“In a way, yes. I represent our interests as a group, because if we do not organize ourselves in this way, we would be badly treated by the state. There is a lot of Islamophobia in England and in America. That is why London, Washington, and Israel launched their war against us. I have money given to me by the state to ensure our people are protected.”
The translator appeared to be rolling his eyes humorously, but Ibraham ignored him, trying to digest this seemingly contradictory news. Why would the state give money to a group that was opposed to them? And why would an English girl be interested in Iraq anyway?
“Our view is that the present outcry against you is part of this Islamophobia. If you were a Christian or a Hindu or a...a Scientologist... they wouldn’t be making these allegations against you—you know, all these stories that you are lying. We know what The Book says about lying.”
Ibraham didn’t, but didn’t care to admit it, so sat looking sapient as she went on, speaking rapidly, nervously, as if expecting him to correct her.
She was reading from a scrap of paper.
“Sura 42 explains why the Christians lie—it says, ‘ They like to listen to falsehood, to devour anything forbidden’. Sura 96 says, ‘We would certainly smite his forehead, A lying, sinful forehead.” And of course Sura 104 says,‘Woe to every slanderer, defamer.’”
She paused and sat silently for a few second, with her head slightly inclined in ritual obeisance. Ibraham didn’t know what to say, so said very slowly, “Oh, yes, of course...” The translator winked at him, and then Carole came to his rescue. She smiled, but cast down her eyes as she spoke.
“May I call you Ibraham? I must tell you that I used to be a Christian, but one lucky day, I realized that I had been wrong—that my parents had been wrong, and everyone else in my family going back hundreds of years. I learned to be brave enough to reject my mistaken religion and culture—but also to bless Allah (to whom all blessings) that He had allowed me wisdom to see The Way. And since then I have devoted my life to reading His Book and helping all those, like you, who are victimized because you, too, have seen The Light. So I am here as a kind of friendly spirit to offer my help to you, as a friend and fellow searcher after truth. That is why I have come.”
She looked up at him, her blue eyes beseeching. He was amazed to see that her hands were trembling and felt a curious mix of emotions— a wish to protect her and slight sexual arousal, plus puzzlement and repulsion. He could detect that she wanted him as much as what he represented.
He was deterred by the smell of cigarettes, but also a feeling that by becoming a Muslim, she had become too obvious, too attainable. She was too similar to all the girls he had known back home. He had come here partly to escape what she was apparently seeking. He had wanted an English girl and would have been willing to accept even one who looked like this—but he wanted one who had something of the coolness and poise he had ingested from all those magazines years ago. He had always fantasized about being with one of those lovely long-legged, light-haired models in one of those lovely luxurious interiors, content just to be in her presence and adore her lovely strangeness, her advanced and exotic assumptions. He had thought he had found something approaching this in Miss Karatakis...but he didn’t want to think about that.
How to explain these private thoughts to a stranger, and furthermore a slightly sluttish facsimile of a woman from home? He couldn’t articulate them even to himself—and besides he had no wish to hurt her feelings. He spoke gently, dreadfully conscious of the translator’s ironic presence.
“Please, you are very kind to come all the way here and offer your help. But I think you may not understand everything. The truth is that I did lie in the hope that I would be allowed to stay here. I don’t think that you can really help me to get around that!
“And as for the rest, for me Islam is just what I was born into, and I don’t think about it much. I am not a well-educated person, like you— just a man who wants the best for his family.”
“Oh—you have family?” Her disappointment was pitifully plain. He stroked his moustache complacently, flattered.
“I have three sisters. I have no wife, though. I was too poor to marry. And then there was the war; there seemed to be always war. And when there wasn’t war, there were people killing each other. Sunni killing Shia, Shia killing Sunni, both killing others—that is why I am pleased to learn that all Muslims are friends here.”
The interpreter made a noise that sounded like a snigger. Carole flushed as Ibraham continued, speaking quickly now:
“Miss, these are the facts. I am here as an illegal immigrant. I lied to get here, and I have been found out. Soon I will be deported. And it will be my fault—and my fate. I don’t blame anybody, and even if I did, I do not think you would be able to help me. No, I will go home, my sister will return with me and—who knows?—maybe it will be for the best? Maybe the bombs will stop, maybe there will be a peace, and I can be made richer by this experience and be happy.”
She was marvelling at Ibraham’s acceptance and composure, qualities she knew she lacked—qualities she associated with his having been born into Islam. She felt she would never be able to attain to such an elevated state without help from someone as wise and calm as he was. She wanted to ask him where she should go on her spiritual path, but her appointment was almost over and she had not been able to offer him anything he was willing to accept. But she didn’t want to lost touch with this kind, wise (and handsome) man. She took out one of her professional cards and, amazed by her forwardness, wrote her home address and number on the back. She gave it to him, and as their hands almost touched, she shivered almost ecstatically.
“I must go. But please take this—these are my contact details. If you need any help in your battle—information, advice, contacts, money, spiritual consolation—call or e-mail me. And don’t give up! You may yet be allowed to stay. And even if you are not, you may need a place to stay for a while. Remember—you have at least one true friend!”
She stood up red-faced and almost ran out of the room, leaving an open-mouthed Ibraham sitting at the little table. She had vanished by the time the by-now broadly leering interpreter had finished rendering her last sentence.
Ibraham dreamed of her that night and woke up overheated. The fluorescent light in the twin-bedded room was still on, and his silent Syrian roommate was lying looking at the blank ceiling, as he did most nights. He always gave Ibraham the creeps. What did he see up there? It was like the evil eye! It was said that he’d been shot at by troops in Damascus and had seen his family die—but that was just speculation, because he rarely said anything. When he heard Ibraham groan, he turned his head on the pillow and stared expressionlessly at him for a few seconds before resuming his examination of the ceiling. Ibraham shuddered slightly, then turned away from the light to face the wall. There was a long silence—and then there was a brandishment of dawn striping the blinds, cheerful whistling and the squeak of a trolley’s wheels along waxed floors as a new day came calling.
John had frowned when he had first heard the news about Ibraham’s subterfuge. It was a bit embarrassing for him and would furthermore be used to attack all immigrants, all immigration. But on reflection, he felt less concerned, reasoning that at least it demonstrated that he had a big heart. And at least the Sentinel had been neutralized. It was such a great benefit for society not to have that open sewer spilling its offensive contents out onto the clean sands. The new regime there seemed to be anxious to make amends for its past. They might even accept articles from him again—in the meantime, he had taken a professional pride in turning the mood around with his article.
He had also been excited by a request from Capital University for him to lead a module in their new course, Radical Voices—Writing the Revolution. He loved the idea of having his name attached to one of the country’s top universities. He particularly relished what the Administrator had written—“As one of the most articulate radical voices of our generation, we hope you might consider lending your keen insight to our proposed module.” He had forwarded the e-mail to Gavin and a few other senior editorial staff, ostensibly to ask if the paper would have any objections, but really so that they could see the e-mail. It was good policy to remind others how well-regarded you were, especially now that your former friend had become your boss, and was probably intriguing against you.
And Janet had gone, and quietly, without making any more embarrassing scenes. When he came in from the Chinese one night, he had found a note folded over on the dining-room table and noticed there was no booming TV beyond the door. It was on her usual lilac-coloured paper with the faint smell of peppermint—she had insisted on using that paper, despite his often-expressed disdain.
John, I can’t see any way of fixing things between us, although I have thought hard—VERY hard. It was probably wrong of me to be so horrible to you, but I couldn’t help it. So although it cuts me up (sappy, eh?), I think it’s probably best if I go. I’ll be staying at Tammy’s for a few days, after that I might go home—in case you need to contact me for ANY reason. I’ve taken most of my stuff, and I’ll get the rest out of your way as soon as I can. Sorry—and take care. All my love, J.
P.S. Here’s my mobile number for emergencies.
P.P.S. There’s some bacon in the back of the fridge, which needs to be eaten before Tuesday.
P.P.S. Don’t forget—ANY reason!
He folded the note carefully before putting it into a drawer in the old bureau. By now, he had quite a collection of love notes, going all the way back to the age of 17, and found it quite diverting sometimes to read back over them. Once he had brought some of them along to a dinner party and read them aloud, which had been hilarious. He locked the bureau again, then took a few pages of a magazine and scrunched them into a small ball. He tossed it up towards the high ceiling and leapt exultantly to meet it on its descent, nodding it perfectly into the back of the fireplace. Then he did a victory lap of the room acknowledging the cheers of the Wembley crowd.
The journalist who had been beaten in error was doing well—even if one eye would never be as strong again, and although he did find it more difficult to concentrate on writing about Volvos. He still had no real idea what it had all been about—even though Albert had been to see him often and explained it each time. Dougie had visited a few times, too, but had now stopped coming. He had too much on his plate with a sudden steep decline in sales.
Getting rid of Albert Norman had been The Right Thing To Do, Dougie knew, whatever the board said. He at least had not been afraid to confront the old dinosaur, and one day the board would thank him for his foresight. They had certainly been wrongfooted when he had told them that the Prime Minister had rung him personally, to arrange an exclusive briefing at Number 10. It was the first time the paper had been so honoured since the 1930s.
But there was still work to be done, to drag the paper kicking and screaming into the 21st century—seemingly against the board’s and the readers’ wishes. Yet it could and would be done—must be done. He roamed ceaselessly throughout the building, looking at things without seeing them, nodding at staff without having any idea who they were, lost in abstractions, thinking of his necessary work—a figure of both fear and fun.
Albert had felt briefly vindicated by Ibraham’s exposure—even though only a few Sentinel readers would remember that it had been he who had first raised doubts. Once he would have had hundreds writing in to say how thankful they were that someone of his calibre and courage... etc., and maybe even some grudging acknowledgement from another columnist...but now there was ungrateful silence and dreary days emptying endlessly into each other like enfiladed doors opening to reveal yet more dust-sheeted rooms.
Now that he was at one remove from deadlines and headlines, he paradoxically found himself taking more of an interest in external events—sometimes even getting annoyed by some act or statement. He had never got annoyed by things before—but that was when he had it within his power to strike back. One afternoon, he even found himself feeling infuriated by a photo of the Prime Minister, who had been caught asleep whilst attending the Royal Opera House. He felt he would like to reach into the picture and shake the insensate brute by his cheap shirtfront until his yellowing teeth fell out of his receding gums and the shambling jackanapes opened his eyes and listened for the first time in his life...and stopped, surprised yet faintly pleased that he could still summon up such reserves of feeling.
But what was the point of still being able to feel, and to describe what he felt, if he had no means of transmitting it to the patriotic public he was sure still existed? He thought more and more that his decision to resign had been premature.
The government were buffeted but not defeated in local elections at the end of the month, thanks to Doug McKerras’s astonishing incompetence, and a surprise Sentinel endorsement of the government. McKerras had resigned after the vote, but had been replaced by someone who appeared to have even less substance or style.
The rest of the repellent crew remained precisely where they had been—Wilberforce Smith, Richard Simpson, Dylan Ekinutu-Jones and all the rest of the dittoheads. Naturally, John Leyden was still at the Examiner, still writing his highly literate, highly-regarded rubbish, while he seemed to crop up on almost every radio or TV panel show Albert had hoped to enjoy. Albert had even seen John once in the flesh—from across the hall at the Barbican after a concert, a sleek and smiling demi-god with a doting demi-goddess on his arm, with other demi-goddesses looking at her in envy. John had eventually become aware of the elderly and obese man looking at him so thoughtfully, but had clearly failed to recognize in him the once-famous Albert Norman. After a slow and contemptuous look, he had turned up the collar of an elegant coat against the weather outside, and he and the svelte demi-goddess had dematerialized into the night, leaving the concert hall feeling all the emptier for their having once been there.“What a waste!” Albert had muttered, and a passing couple stared at this ancient oversized eccentric in the Continental-cut coat.
And these were only some of the most egregious members of the barbarian brigade—behind them stood thousands more automata waiting to be wound up and set in pointless play. It was always the same, probably would always be the same—the ordinary people outmanouevred, the good causes subverted, the deserving and undeserving alike never getting what they really deserved.
Copies of Sea Changes are available from Amazon (a few copies of the first edition still available)
…........................................................................................- Derek Turner has appeared in a number of top-notch news outlets, including Taki's, Chronicles and the Times.
Follow him on Twitter: Follow @DerekTurner1964
or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Some recent articles from Derek Turner:MUDDLING THROUGH (OR NOT) WITH MULTICULTURALISM
Taking back the city
FALSE FLAGS, AND TANGLED GROWTHS
FLIGHTS OF FANCY