This month’s selection of creative writing is by Sufiah Abbasi, a short story that recalls a chance meeting with one of Liverpool’s most shadowy and celebrated muses.
I Met Lee Mavers In 2012
We were both housekeeping and distracted by the thick grim air. I’d seen him before and the time had not been right. I have nothing to lose any more.
I approach the car.
“Are you Mr Mavers?” He looks suspicious. I begin fawning. “I just want to say that I have known your music for a long time and it is a genuine pleasure to meet you.”
He seems relieved and surprised. “Yes, it’s me, do you want to go for a coffee?”
Now, I’m surprised. I hesitate for a micro instant. “OK.”
Then it’s diving into the almost universal vision of the world. Not much is said about the cosmos, but there is God, purity, insanity and perfection.
“Do you love Liverpool?” I ask.
“I love what it’s going to be,” he says mysteriously. OK, I think, but I’m confused.
“I hate music,” he says. I stay confused. “I know who you are. I can see you.” He looks at me.
“I know who you are too,” I respond quickly and reassuringly. “Oh, why 95 in Doledrums?” I’ve always wondered why he wrote that into the tune.
“It sounded right,” he says.
“Oh, fuck you,” I shout.
I notice that his hands are small as he easily manages to stretch to the chords on my niece’s jazz bass. He’s playing music and singing. Sometimes he just recites his lyrics. I ask him about the size of his hands. Our palms meet and his are only slightly bigger than mine.
I play him Old friends/Bookends. He doesn’t like Simon and Garfunkel particularly. He likes real music, but I don’t understand at the time and it becomes apparent a few days later. I play it to him to demonstrate the discordance which spins into pure light and magically transforms into a clear note. He is untroubled by my question as to how this happens. If God were playing the most beautiful music and taught all the angels to play as well, what would happen if God stopped playing and took His teaching away?
“They would have to learn it themselves?” I ask. He smiles and I’m right.
All the reflections of the souls that ever lived folding upon themselves. I imagine that it would be the most infinitely tremendous musical note.
Prophetic, lunatic, poet – all I ever expected him to be.
I told him my dreams and he told me his, with full performance and a raw revisiting of the feeling.
I tell him the Kali dream and describe how Dawn brings one of her friends into my flat. Dawn is supporting this girl and two others are with her. Dawn is supporting the girl as she is very sick. He butts in, “Heroin addict.”
I stop, look up, “What makes you say that?” I ask.
“It’s like a leprosy round here.” He indicates with his eyes all outside the four walls of my lovely flat. “You need to get out of here.”
He said that he had felt nauseous following me home through the yellow tipped park. He thinks its toxins – not literal but mental and emotional – need to be expelled. I tell him that I was crazy nervous as I was driving home.
He says he doesn’t watch films. We both have a connection with Morocco, but he’s stayed with the Berbers.
I play him the Gonjasufi album and during the intro, he puts his head back against the wall.
“Hopi Indians,” he says.
“I didn’t know that.”
He sits up a little when Gonjasufi sings Duet.
“I like this one. It sounds like Walk On The Wild Side,” He says without looking at me.
He can tell as soon as Error Operator’s remix of Philip Selway’s Beyond Reason begins that it is a good one. He reluctantly admits to liking Massive Attack’s Unfinished Symphony and I guess it’s the over production that he’s not keen on.
I play him the only tune on the bass I know – House Of The Rising Sun. The bass is massive compared to me. I sit cross-legged on the floor and play it so shit that he doesn’t recognise it. He takes the bass and plays it on open strings and is trying to teach me.
“It just clicks,” he says. “When you’re on your own.”
I tell him two jokes: one in the Other Place – almost minutes after we met. I saw it on Old Jews Telling Jokes off the iPlayer. It’s a blue joke and he laughs with his head back. I clap my hands quietly and quickly in front of my face because I’ve entertained him.
The second joke is from the same programme but hinges on an image. He laughs and then stands up, “That wasn’t funny. It was a bit Monty Python.”
I remember the sketch he’s talking about: from The Meaning Of Life where the waiter makes you follow him out of the restaurant and keeps beckoning the camera and you as he walks and walks through the streets and countryside.
“Oh, you like that film as well,” I say.
He recited his own lyrics with me joining in the end of lines, like I was his hip hop hype guy. Then or at another time, he cried, remembering the pain of his father’s passing. His father contracted asbestosis when building St John’s Market. I wanted to dry his tears and was an inch away from his face. He didn’t want me to do this and wanted to leave the salt on his face. He tilted back his head and looked relieved.
“I believe that tears are a mercy,” I proffer. I’ve already made a show of myself when recounting my dream. The one I had when I moved into this place. We were in the Other Place sitting outside, me scavving a rolly off him, when I tell him about the moment I hear him and the group singing a cappella. It’s tune so beautiful that I start to well up while I’m remembering it. I’ve known him minutes.
“You must think I’m fruit loops.” The whole time he is with me, he never looks weirded-out by my behaviour.
“What do those mean?” he asks, pointing his eyes in the direction of my niece’s two small canvases which have Arabic calligraphy on them.
“Grace and Mercy.” I look at him and explain flippantly, “They’re just words”
He made me tea.
He met Bill Shankly, who ruffled his strawberry blond hair. He’s a blue-nose, though.
He thanks me for the beans on toast or tea. I say, “I owe you, you owe me”. I suddenly realise that I have absorbed his words into my consciousness and often say it to people.
I then punched the air with both hands in victory, like Ian Rush after a dink. “I got to say that to YOU,” I squeal.
He turns his face to me and says, “I know YOU can stand on your own two feet.”
I play him my party mix – it is a party after all. He plays the bass along with Silicone Soul’s Right On! and seems to perk up when Carwash comes along.
“You know the bassline I love. The bassline to Hey Joe,” I say. He pulls the guitar and points it up to the sky, just knocks it out – he’s got to like it too. I start conducting the steps of the notes of that most perfect bassline.
I ask him why he thinks I’m so excited. He says, “Because you’ve found a kindred spirit.”
“Thank you.” I’m surprised and utterly impressed with us both.
Another cup? We’ve run out of milk. Neither of us have slept very well. My back’s against the wall at work and he’s recently been betrayed. We’ve caught each other at an unusual moment. I ask him to come to the shop with me. Neither of us go out a lot but we didn’t notice anyone else. As we whisked past the corner of Ivanhoe, I ask him what his name means. He doesn’t know.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I shout. “You don’t know what it means?” I’m genuinely weirded out.
“So, what language is your name from?” he asks.
“It’s Arabic in origin.” I say. “A Semitic language.”
“I thought that was Jewish,” he says.
“Oh no,” I gesticulate wildly, “we’re all Semitic… in that neck of the woods,” I add.
We fly by Phil’s shop and turn the corner.
Now, we’ve picked up the pace and we’re bumping into each other as we swagger up the Lane. We pass the afternoon drinkers outside the Rhubarb.
“So, what happened there, then?” he asks. “Why the split?” He’s referring to the Jewish/Arab spilt.
“Oh,” I splutter, “it’s that… erm, err… biblical story… erm.” I’m furiously trying to shake the facts in my brain into view. “It’s the story of Jacob… no.” It’s coming. Bingo. “It was Isaac and Ishmael.”
“What’s that about?” He asks.
“I’ve got no idea.” I look at the ground, disappointed, as if the two of them had made a mistake.
We’re at the cash machine. He doesn’t realise where I’ve taken him because we’ve been engrossed in the talk. I get my cash out.
“I’ve got £20, I know you’re on your arse. Why didn’t you say?” he says.
I tell him no and make a mental note to discuss this offer with him later. We’ve got the milk and we’re flying back home. We both tend not to look around. We’re aware of our surroundings. I look up and catch the glance of a young-looking old vampire. I’ve no fear when I see this guy now, though, I’ve got the Custodian with me.
We’re back in, the kettle’s boiling again.
“So what does my name mean, then?” he asks.
“Oh, it’s going to take a bit longer than that. I’ll have to look in a book or Google it.” I’ve had no internet for over a month and I have had to entertain myself. This has been like living in a fucking cave and my nerves are shot.
(I cycle over to my sister’s some time later and ask my niece to look it up. Lee – sheltered from the storm. Mavers – custodian. My sister quietly suggests the Arabic word for this – Khalifa. This word has great potency.)
I remember that he’d offered me money and I pick him up on this.
“You can’t be that generous. I didn’t ask for anything from you,” I tell him firmly.
He doesn’t understand. “There’s no harm in greasing your neighbour’s palm.” He quotes his lyrics.
“That’s right,” I tell him, “but not all the time.”
The kettle’s boiled. He’s tired, I know, but I’m surprised that he hasn’t picked this concept up. I shouldn’t be this frustrated. I don’t have the right to be because I only learnt it from a book. My voice rises like a soft Dalek.
“Why are you getting angry?” he asks.
I check myself. Yes, I went too far.
“Tell me like I’m a child,” he says quietly.
I sit down at the table with him and demonstrate. “You can’t always have your hand open. It’s got to close sometimes,” I say and demonstrate by flexing my hand open and closed – not a fist though, more like flapping the hand open and close like a wing.
He mentions getting shivers as he saw that old building on the corner and tells a story about his friend who he thinks is lost. He describes to me how she clutches at her rosary beads now. It’s related to a dream he had.
“What are prayers, but dreams,” I suggest. “And some of my dreams seem to be preparation.”
He looks over at me and nods in agreement.
I’ve asked him if I can write about him. He’s generous and comes up with, “Write so that I might know you”.
*Quotes within this story are the account of the writer.