The Sins of the Leopard
I was 19 years old and not long out of school. I was working with my father in a factory downtown. He more or less ran the place and got me in with him to keep me from lying around the house and wasting my time. He was the hardest working man I’d ever met, and still is to this day. I couldn’t measure up to his prodigious work rate. I didn’t have it in me. Then, like now, all I saw was waves of scattered ass I couldn’t get with and a dead end on every road. A cruel thwarting of dreams and row of slowly closing doors. The factory was dusty and cold and owned by some brothers from Turkey who had come to this country to make good and ended up somewhere around the middle. They worked hard, too. I was a daydreamer and a loafer. All I wanted to do was write and be left alone. Not too much has changed, really. Whenever I bristled at some aspect of the job or the day that I didn’t like they just kept on saying ‘welcome to the real world’ like I’d arrived at the airport of some new destination. What the fuck did that mean, the real world? My Dad kept saying it too and it pissed me off. Where did they think I’d been living these past two decades?
So, there I was lugging boxes onto delivery trucks and trying not to let my father down. They were sex obsessed, these Turkish brothers, and that would be all they’d talk about all day long. Who they’d fucked, who they were going to fuck, and who the best fuck they’d ever had was. I was still awkward and useless around the ladies back then. Later I’d get daring and lucky. The sun even shines on a dog’s ass some days. But back then I couldn’t catch any sun ortail if I’d wanted to. And I did really want to. So, when they’d ask me who I was fucking and who I’d fucked, I’d grin in great discomfort and mutter some useless remark that trickled out of me like weak piss. I didn’t even have the flair to be a smart ass and say I’d laid Marilyn Monroe, or some shit like that, the way I would do now. I was uncomfortable in that world of men. It was a whole new language and way of being, and I neither understood nor cared to understand, how to operate in it. I was really a tragic case, looking back on it. They would just laugh and go back to talking about fucking while I slinked away to lug more boxes.
One night the younger of the brothers, Nazmi, the only man who ever came close to working as hard as my father, had me stay behind late to help him clear a large delivery out of the way before another one came the next morning. They were running out of storage space but had big ideas so were loading up on cheap stock while they could. Nazmi would work the factory most of the day and then go off to work in a pizza place they had recently bought until around 2am. Then he’d be back at the factory bright as a button, talking about who he’d fucked in between. I kinda liked Nazmi. He was the guts and the brains of the operation. Him and my father. The oldest brother, Arkun, was work shy and not too bright. The middle brother, Mohammed, was a mixture of the other two. But Nazmi was the driving force. That night Nazmi and I lugged boxes for hours; way after my father had gone, even. Every now and then he would nod at the huge walk in fridge that held all kinds of meats and trays of drinks and let me pry open a crate of cold Coca Cola, handing him one while I thirstily drained the other. We were sweating and covered in the kind of muck and dust that comes from lugging boxes around a factory floor all day. Outside it had gotten dark. The place looked different at night, all the other factories bathed in the eerie orange glow of the streetlamps. We finished our drinks and lugged some more. Eventually we were done. Either we were done or even Nazmi had finally had enough.
“Come on a-sunshine” he’d smile wearily, scooping up his keys and putting on the alarm but leaving everything else until morning, “let’s go home.” They were some of the best word I’d ever heard.
We jumped into one of the white vans I spent most of my day loading for deliveries and pulled out of the yard. Nazmi was always the life and soul of the place, very focused and smart, very driven. Alone, though, I always detected a kind of sadness in him. Could be he was just tired. Either way, he would never say much when he drove us home. It was winter and cold outside. He turned the radiator on and the heat filled the van immediately. Instead of heading home the usual route Nazmi drove a different way tonight, and I wondered aloud where we were going. Was there more work to do, I asked, trying to sound like I’d be ok if there was, but secretly hoping that there wasn’t.
“No. No more work” he said, to my relief. He looked at me. “You’re all baby batter. You’re a smart kid but we need to get some of that cum off your brains. You need to be a man, like me or your father. You need to be clear and clinical and sharp. We need to get that cum off of your brain so you can grow up.”
I dribbled another useless comment, as I was wont to do at the time. I realised we were in the seedy side streets of Union Street, next to the bus depot and the closed down auto repair shop. There were no orange streetlights around here.
“What are we doing here?” I wasn’t so much worried or confused as tired and hungry. I was off the clock and out of work. I wanted a shower and something to eat.
“Just looking a-sunshine. Just looking. Whatsamatta? You don’t wanna fuck a hot woman?”
Well, I did and I didn’t. I did, but not one of thesewomen. Plus, I really wastired and hungry. I’d worked all day. She probably wouldn’t be getting the best me I could have offered. Not that it mattered. Two pumps and a squirt would have been the best I could have mustered back then no matter what the time of day. Kids are horny bastards and eager to get started. They don’t care about performance or what their grade was. It’s only when you get older you start to care about shit like that, and then perhaps a little too much. Nazmi drove slowly around the corners and peered into the shadows.
“You a-scared a-sunshine?” he asked
“No” I replied. I actually wasn’t. Why would I have been?
Eventually he put his foot on the gas and we eased back out into the centre of town, heading for home. He hadn’t seen anything he liked.
“Don’t worry” he said with a wry smile, lightening up again. “Tomorrow we’ll go to Amanda’s.”
That had done it. I was too beat to worry about it when I got home. But once I woke up it was all over my mind;
‘What and where was ‘Amanda’s?’
All next day I thought about it and imagined it to be all manner of places, but fairly certain which one it would be. When Nazmi showed up for work he was his usual smiling self. He never mentioned anything about last night or tonight and nothing in his demeanour around me even suggested it had happened. My Dad would have killed him if he’d known. Would have killed me too, probably. I kept quiet for all concerned. Besides, I thought, Nazmi was full of talk. All three of these brothers were. They can’t have been getting as much pussy as they always said and, even if they were, now I knew where it was coming from. It didn’t count, to me. Any idiot could pay for it. It wasn’t real.
Still, that night, with my father headed home and what seemed like hundreds of wrapped kebab meat to move, Nazmi and I got to work, our hands getting greasy and stinking of donner meat, me pulling the Coke cans from the fridge. Eventually he looked at me and said
‘Are you ready?’
I shrugged, trying to play it cool. I just wanted to go home again and watch T.V, play some music and laze around.
But we were going to Amanda’s.
We didn’t drive where we had done before. Instead we headed a little way out of town, passing farms and all the rural areas I’d pass if I was helping do deliveries with Maurice, the dim-witted delivery driver who drove the vans we filled all day. After what seemed like a long time but was probably only ten minutes we came to a building with its light on. It said ‘Amanda’s’ on the window and right away you could see it was a hair salon. What the fuck are we doing now?I grumbled to myself with an empty, surly stomach.
Nazmi led the way. When we got inside, he smiled and exchanged hellos, obviously on familiar terms. Right away I saw a girl around my age, helping another woman cut an old ladies’ hair, but really just standing around ineffectual and looking bored. She looked at me and our eyes met before we both hurriedly looked away. She seemed shy and my stomach did that cart wheel flip I’ve since come to learn means you’re about to fall into a world of trouble. She gave off this confident vibe but seemed nervous and shy. She had this pretty brown hair, long and shiny, falling onto the shoulders of a grey cardigan. She had on blue denim shorts and black leggings, chipped black nail polish. She had the deepest, most exotic brown eyes I’d ever seen. I instantly felt weak and a little sick. Then another woman, older, perhaps in her mid-30’s, emerged as if by magic from behind some door I hadn’t even realised was there, and embraced Nazmi with a smile. I saw the younger girl fleetingly look at the scene before her eyes darted over me and back to what she was doing. I understood right away from the similarity between them this was her mother that was greeting Nazmi and me.
‘Come through, come through’ she smiled, ushering us both through the door she had suddenly emerged from. The girl quickly looked once more then turned away.
We were in some strange red corridor that had two rooms to it; one immediately to your left, the other up ahead on the right. The woman closed the door behind us and engaged in some pointless chit chat with Nazmi as he took off his coat and scarf. I just stood there, unsure what to do and out of place.
“Choose a room” the woman said. I had gleaned by now that this was Amanda.
I looked at a beaming Nazmi. Not wanting to walk any further in this strange place than I had to I turned to the white door immediately on my left and, swallowing hard with a dry throat, tentatively opened it. Nothing happened. I peeked nervously inside, and then Nazmi burst into laughter over my shoulder and yanked the door shut.
“It’s ok a-sunshine, we’ll take this one.” He brushed past me with a laughing Amanda, and then closed the door on me with a smile. Standing there alone and not knowing what I was meant to do, I waited a couple minutes, hearing giggling and groaning coming from the other side of the door Nazmi had went through. I looked up at the other door on the right. Was I supposed to go in there? I didn’t know. Why hadn’t he explained it to me? He’d fucking brought me here and not even explained the rules. Twice I went to step forward and changed my mind. Eventually I turned and went back through the door we’d come through, back out into the hair salon.
I felt like an idiot, embarrassed and awkward. I was pissed off at Nazmi for bringing me here and making me feel like this. Was it some game? Had he even meant for me to get laid? I went up to the young girl and, out of not knowing what to say and wanting to make her understand I was a good guy, said ‘I didn’t do anything in there.” The fact that I’d only been through there two minutes probably told her that. Or maybe it didn’t, I don’t know. I was new to all this. She looked at me blankly for a few seconds and then put her hand out and said ‘I’m Natalie.’ I took it and felt that flip in my stomach again.
“Claire” she suddenly said to the other woman, the one actually doing the hairdressing, “I’m taking my break.” Claire didn’t seem too bothered, not bothered enough even to reply. Natalie turned and began walking out of the place, out onto the street, leaving me feeling heavy footed and marooned. Then she turned around.
“Come on then” she said, looking right at me and holding open the door. Another flip. I was really in trouble now.
We walked a short way in the dark, away from the light of the shop until we reached the entrance to a grassy area. We climbed over the locked fence and stood on the gravel and mud. Natalie lit a cigarette and exhaled into the cold, damp night. My heart was beating out of my chest and my mouth was dry as cardboard.
“So, you work with that guy?” she asked, looking directly at me.
“Yeh” I replied, unsure of what to say. “Only part time, though. I’m trying to write a book. Might join a band.”
She nodded slowly and I felt like an idiot. How the fuck did I know what girls wanted to hear or thought was cool? A brief silence passed between us there in the dark.
“Do you think your dreams mean anything?” she then asked, holding the cigarette between two fingers and fiddling with her necklace with the other three.
“I, er, I dunno. I guess I’ve never really thought about it.” She nodded again and I silently cursed myself for not thinking of something better to say. Eventually she finished smoking and we headed back out of the field, back onto the street and towards the light of the shop. It hadn’t happened. I felt sick. I felt like I had just failed some sort of test.
We stopped outside the shop and sat on the roadside. She still had a few minutes of her break left.
“Do you have any gum?” she asked. I did. I always did and handed her a piece. I watched her chew it for a few seconds then take it back out of her mouth, wrapping it around her index finger. Then she leant over and began to kiss me. I kissed her back and it lingered there for a few seconds. Then it got heavier. Then she pulled away.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, nervous I had done something wrong. She stood up abruptly, ready to leave.
“You kiss like your father” she said coldly. Then she headed back inside.
I sat there a few seconds, stunned and reeling, before quickly standing up. I felt dazed and my mind was swimming. Before I could follow her inside Nazmi emerged onto the street, zipping up his fly and grinning broadly.
“You ready a-sunshine?” he said, noticeably happier than earlier, lighter in foot, heading to the drivers’ side and cheerily pulling out his keys. In the harsh light of the shop window Natalie had returned to work. Everything seemed to be going on as normal, but nothing felt the same.
We got in the van and headed for home.