Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Wizard

I couldn’t believe it when Pandita told me she’d got her first boyfriend; or at least, she thought she had. Not only was it shocking that my little mouse of a sister was actually going out with someone, possibly, but that he was a white boy. She begged me not to tell Mum and Dad, ’cos she knew they’d go mental. She remembered all the fuss there was when I went out with a white guy when I was her age. I guess I kind of rubbed everybody’s noses in it, which was disrespectful and yeah I regret it now, but I had to let Mum and Dad know: I wasn’t planning on being married off before I turned twenty-one. I was going to do something with my life. But Pandita never even acted like she was interested in boys. Just kept her head down in the library all the time, studying her books, getting the grades. And now here she was, with a boyfriend. Or something like that.

‘What do you mean,’ I said, ‘you’re not sure if you’re going out together? If you are, you are, if you’re not, you’re not.’

‘Well,’ said Pandita, ‘sometimes it feels like we are, but we might just be friends.’

‘But you must know. Do you hold hands?’

‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘but he’s a free spirit, so I don’t know if he’s holding my hand in that way, or if he’s just being, you know, friendly.’

‘Free spirit?’ I said. ‘What’s that meant to mean? Why don’t you just ask him if you’re going out or not?’

Pandita said nothing. It was stupid of me to ask. I knew she was too shy ever to ask a direct question like that.

‘Have you kissed him?’ I asked.

She blushed and turned away. Knowing my little sis as I do, I took that to be a ‘no’.

‘So what do you do then, when you’re holding hands?’

‘Oh, we just sort of walk around, really. Go to the park and things. Listen to music.’

‘You mean you’ve been back to his place?’

Pandita looked panicked. ‘Yes,’ she whispered, ‘but only in the afternoon. Oh, Shakti, please don’t tell Mum and Dad!’

‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I won’t. But I don’t like the sound of this feller. He’s messing you about, I reckon. Are you sure he’s not… you know?’

‘No, he’s not like that, I don’t think,’ she said, ‘he’s just very spiritual, and he sees things on a different level to most people. Him saying, like, ‘we’re going out,’ would probably be beneath him. Spiritually, I mean.’

I put my arms on her shoulders. ‘Sis, I love you, and I want you to be happy. But I have to check this guy out. There’s something suss about him, I can feel it.’

‘Oh, you wouldn’t say that if you’d met him,’ she said, ‘he’s lovely, really sweet, I –’

‘Yeah, whatever. What’s his name, anyway?’

Pandita looked down. ‘His name’s Lionel, but he likes to be called, well, he asks if people could call him… the Wizard.’

I looked straight in the eyes and pulled her towards me. ‘You are joking.’

‘Um, no.’

‘Let me meet him, ok?’

She nodded, and I hugged her.

Pandita was seeing him that Saturday in some hippy green tea café in town. I persuaded her to let me tag along.

‘Where did you first meet him, anyway?’ I asked, as we waited for the bus.

‘Oh, I was in the library and he just sort of came up,’ she said. ‘He was taking CDs out. He showed them to me, but I didn’t know what they were. Kept on talking about someone called, um, Frank Zappy… no, Frank Zippa? He asked me what it would sound like if Ravi Shankar played one of his songs. I had to say I didn’t know.’

‘Sounds like a right charmer,’ I said.

Pandita shook her head. ‘No, well, yes he is actually, he’s lovely. Just, you know, on a different level.’

‘He certainly sounds different.’

He wasn’t there when we got to the café, so we had to order some of their twig tea muck and wait. Then, there he was. Although I didn’t know which one was him at first, because he came in with about ten of his mates, and they all looked the same: long hair, beards that needed a decent trim, mouldy old coats from charity shops, bad shirts with patterns like wallpaper and muddy flares, all hanging off their skinny scarecrow bodies. So it didn’t really matter which one he was because they were all a bloody state. And too fricking old!

‘Pandita,’ I whispered as she beckoned to one of them, ‘how old is he?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘mid-twenties, I think. Does it matter?’

‘Yes, it bloody matters,’ I said, ‘you’re only seventeen! He’s taking advantage!’

‘Look, I know what I’m doing, alright,’ she said.

‘No you bloody don’t,’ I said. Then I had to stop talking, because he was offering out his hand for me to shake as Pandita introduced us. His fingernails on his right hand were long, like an old witch’s. So were those of most of his friends, I’d soon see. Pandita would tell me later it’s because they all played folk guitar. Meanwhile, I shook the very tips of his fingers so he didn’t stab me with them.

‘This is Lionel,’ Pandita was saying. ‘Lionel, this is my sister Shakti.’

‘Do I have to call you the Wizard?’ I asked.

He looked at me with his scary, starey eyes, and said: ‘No, not at all. But you probably will once you get to know me. Everybody does for some reason!’ Then he laughed: a weird unnerving laugh that was just too loud for something you’d said yourself. Pandita laughed too. So did some of his cronies who overheard. I didn’t get what was funny.

It was only as he sat down that I saw the swastika medallion slip out from between his shirt buttons. He didn’t try to hide it or put it back again, but just sat there with a swastika hanging from his neck, poking out from his shirt along with a load of horrible scraggly chest hairs.

‘How come you got a swastika round your neck?’ I said, looking straight at him like I meant business.

He looked back at me, his eyes even more wild and scary, and said: ‘I must say I’m surprised you’d ask that. Surely you must know that the swastika is an ancient symbol in many cultures, often a mark of good fortune. It also represents the sun. Why, in your own Hindu faith, it is a sign of the sun-god Surya.’ He looked down and held the swastika in his hand. ‘But this is a Buddhist swastika,’ he said. ‘See, it goes anti-clockwise, not clockwise. So it annuls any negative energies that may be associated with it.’

‘Yeah, I know all that,’ I said. ‘It’s just a bit funny a white guy having a swastika if they’re not a Nazi; makes me a bit nervous, know what I mean?’

‘I do, but you must remember that the swastika is a very positive symbol that was perverted by the Nazis. I’m just trying to reclaim it, that’s all.’

‘Well, that’s all right then,’ I said, rolling my eyes. He seemed either not to notice, or not to care.

Soon the whole lot of them were crowded round our little table, drawing up stools from all over the place and pissing off the other customers. They ordered their coffees with no coffee in them and poured in the fake milk and talked loudly as the froth got stuck on sticking out bits of moustache and beard round their lips.

Their conversations were weird. Like one guy would say: ‘I totally peeled that girl who lives in my house the other day. Rolled her up in her duvet when she was in bed and put her in a cupboard and didn’t let her out for ages. It was well funny.’

Then another one would go: ‘Yeah, there was this bloke in a suit walking on the cycle path. Got right up close, then rang my bell. He jumped five foot in the air! Peeled him, definitely.’

Peeled? What did it mean? I kept on hearing it. They were all saying it.

For the rest of the afternoon they just sat there, going on about this peeling thing, and their hippy music and on and on about that stupid Frank Zuzzy guy. None of them bothered to ask me or Pandita about what we might be into or anything. The Wizard sat next to Pandita and mumbled things in her ear and she’d laugh, and he didn’t seem bothered I was there, but he didn’t seem interested in me either. In fact no one was. I was not one of them. Not that I’d want to be, the freaks.

Then Lionel raised his hand and they all stood up. Apparently they were off to his flat to hang out and play guitars. They obviously wanted Pandita to go with them, but not me, I could tell. Anyway, I pushed down hard on Pandita’s knee to stop her from standing up too, and said that we had to get back home. Pandita said we could go round some other time though, and I pushed down even harder.

‘Pandita,’ I said, as soon as they were out the door, ‘those guys are freaky. You do not want to be involved with them.’

She shook her head. ‘You’re just prejudiced because they’re different. They’re really great when you get to know them.’

‘I don’t want to get to know them, and I don’t want you to either.’

She looked daggers at me, the first time I’d seen her do that since I threw her Furby out the window when she was seven. ‘Yeah, well,’ she said, her voice sounding surprised at its own sudden volume, ‘I don’t see why you get to go out with whoever you want, and I don’t. You’re just a… hypocrite!’

‘Yeah, I am,’ I snapped, ‘but I’m still right.’

We sat in silence on the bus ride home, both of us fuming, looking in opposite directions away from each other. Finally, I broke the silence.

‘What’s this ‘peeling’ thing they all go on about then? I’ve never heard of it before.’

‘You wouldn’t understand,’ she mumbled into her jacket.

‘Why, am I too thick, or something? Just tell me, alright?’

Finally, she did. ‘It’s something that Lionel can do, although once he’s done it for you, you can do it too, a bit. It’s why he’s called the Wizard. I’ve never seen it, but apparently it’s amazing.’

‘Yeah, but what is it?’

‘I’m… not sure, really. I don’t know how he does it, but he takes layers off you - your mind I mean, not your clothes - and gets rid of all the bullshit, all the hang-ups, and just leaves you pure, like it’s just the real you. Everyone says it feels great.’

‘Sounds like he’s messing with people’s heads.’

‘It’s everybody else that messes with people’s heads!’ Her voice was suddenly angry again.

‘Yeah, like who?’ I knew where this was going.

‘Everybody! The teachers at school, the government, the people on telly, organised religion, Mum and Dad –’

‘Don’t ever let me hear you say that!’

I pinched her cheek.

‘Aaah! That hurts! Stop it!’ she wailed. There were loads of other people sat on the top deck, but no one turned round. Sort of thing you hear all the time on top decks of buses, I guess.

‘Not until you promise me you won’t say that again!’

‘Ok, I promise, I promise!’

I let go.

‘And I don’t want you having that head case Lionel doing no peeling on you neither.’

She rubbed her cheek, but said nothing.

‘Do you understand?’ I said.

‘I haven’t made my mind up one way or another about that yet,’ she said quietly. ‘And anyway, he hasn’t asked.’

From that point on, Pandita was around the house less and less. She never stayed out late or anything, but she always said she was going to the library or going round a friend’s house to work on some coursework, but I just knew, she was off seeing that Lionel. It made me sick, and I wanted to tell Mum and Dad, but she was right, I was a hypocrite. I’d got to make all my mistakes when I was her age and learn from them, and some of the situations I ended up in were a lot scarier than a beardie-weirdie telling me I was an onion. No, it wasn’t good, but she wouldn’t learn that from me telling her. I just didn’t trust that silly Wizard as far as I could throw him.

Then one day Pandita came to my room.

‘Shakti, you’ve got to help me,’ she said.

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘What’s the problem?’

‘I need an alibi for Saturday night. Say we’ve been invited somewhere and you’re taking me.’


‘Lionel wants me to go round his place. It’s really special.’

‘Oh no, no way, sis. He’s not –’

‘No, no, it’s not that. It’s just… he wants to peel me. Says I’m ready.’

It was almost a relief to find that I wasn’t being asked to cover up for that loser deflowering my little sister, but I still wasn’t happy. But then, maybe that’s what she needed. To see what a load of shit it really was. After all, Pandita was a smart girl.

‘Ok, I’ll do that. I’ll think of something to tell Mum and Dad. But on one condition.’


‘I’m coming with you.’


‘Why, you got a problem with that?’

‘No, I guess not. I suppose Lionel wouldn’t mind.’

‘Listen,’ I said, ‘if he doesn’t want me there, then he’s got something to hide, and that means…’ I mimed slapping his spotty hairy face. Pandita laughed. I hugged her. ‘I’m just looking out for you because I love you, you do know that don’t you?’

‘Yeah,’ she said.

‘And by the way, do you know if you’re going out or not yet?’

I could feel her shaking her head on my shoulder. When I let go, I realised that where her face had been, my hair was wet.

The Wizard lived in a two-room flat stuck in an attic. The roof sloped down so you had to bend over as soon as you walked in, and by the time you got to the other end of the room you were crouching, with the rain hitting the window loudly above you. But I didn’t get very far into the room, or even have a chance to take in who was in there and what was going on, before the Wizard, who’d opened the door with a creepy grin and a hug for Pandita that went on for ever, was telling me to take my shoes off.

‘You what?’ I said. I mean I always take my shoes off at home, but I wasn’t wearing shoes, I was wearing my boots. I’d had to fake an entire night out to the cinema and a meal at Pizza Hut with a couple of mates covering for us; I’d put the boots on so it looked like we might actually be going out to have fun, even get my parents thinking we might have a little too much fun, just to make it more believable. Anyway, these boots took about five minutes and about two meters of free space to get on or off, but I could see he had bare floorboards, with just a skanky rug in the middle of the floor. So what was the point?

‘Could you take your shoes off, please?’ repeated the Wizard, ‘It’s just what I prefer in my space.’

So much for him being a free spirit, more like a total control freak. Still, I shrugged my shoulders and tried to find a space I could actually stretch my legs out far enough to pull them off without stepping on the rug he must love so much. It wasn’t easy though, because not only was a lot of the floor taken up with boxes of records, all his friends were lining the wall: even more of them than were in the café. Some of them had acoustic guitars they were messing about with, playing along to some old record, Frank Zonzo I bet, while the rest had bongos and maracas and stuff. One guy was even trying to play a sitar, though all he could do was whack the strings a bit. The stupid idiot obviously had no idea how hard it was to actually play one properly.

The sitar wasn’t the only thing that was familiar. There was Indian stuff everywhere: a statue of Ganesh on a table by the window, a conch shell on the top of his bookcase. And the more I looked the more I could see. Trinkets on top of things, pictures on the walls. Even the rug was an Agra pattern. But it was all loads of things mixed up that didn’t belong together: not only Hindu statues but Buddhist and Sikh stuff thrown in too, so it couldn’t have really meant anything, more like he’d bought it all at a car boot sale or something.

I finally managed to get my boots off and sat down, squeezed in between two giggling idiots with mouth organs that they’d blow into one after the other like they were having a conversation. Pandita sat opposite with the Wizard, snuggled on a wicker chair that made them look like they were king and queen of the room. They talked softly so only they could hear. Not that you could hear anything anyway over all the musical racket. Every so often Pandita would have to budge over so the Wizard could pick up a guitar himself and join in. He grinned and nodded as he played and everybody grinned and nodded back as if they were all in on a secret and they were really pleased about it.

There were several joints going round the room in both directions and the air was thick with it. I could feel it at the back of my throat already. It passed my way, but I said no. They’d offer me another four before they got it into their heads I didn’t want any. I swore to myself that if I saw Pandita take it, I’d put it out on her hand.

Finally, the guy to the left managed to focus enough to talk to me. ‘So you’re Pandita’s sister, yeah?’ he groaned.

‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘Listen, can you tell me what’s going on tonight? What is this peeling thing about? You’re not going to take the piss out of Pandita are you, ’cos to be honest, that’s what this whole thing sounds like: a bloody piss-take.’

‘Nah, nah, it’s not like that,’ he said, laughing through his teeth. ‘I mean it depends on the individual. When the Wizard peeled me, yeah, he had to make me look stupid, ’cos I was so uptight. And lots of people are, so when we see them out and about, sure, we’ll mess with ’em a bit. Street peeling, we call it. But I don’t think that’s what he’s got planned for Pandita.’

‘What has he got planned then?’ I said.

‘Well, that we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?’ he said, sniggering into space and, taking the joint from the left of him, paying me no more attention.

The Wizard stood up and raised his hand. The record player got turned off, and the instrumental fiddling died away until all you could hear was some string-tuning. ‘All right, all right,’ he said, like he was Mick Jagger or Richard Branson or somebody, ‘great you could all make it. As you know, tonight I’m going to be peeling Pandita: soft-style.’

They all let out a long ‘aaaaah’. It must mean something to them, at least, I thought. I didn’t like the way he said ‘peeling Pandita,’ but the fact that it was going to be a ‘soft’ peeling rather than a ‘hard’ one gave me some hope that it wouldn’t be too bad.

‘Ok,’ continued the Wizard, ‘so I’ll need some ‘soft-peel’ sounds, version one. Can you do that for me?’

They mumbled a group ‘yeah’, and the bongo players started a clip-clop rhythm. The guitars began to play in a folky way like you used to get on old children’s TV programmes, and the sitar player scraped along over the top. The two mouth organs either side of me honked away.

The Wizard had got Pandita kneeling on a cushion in the middle of his rug. To begin with, he was just wandering round her with his hands behind his back, swastika dangling, jeans falling down with his skinny, skanky arse showing. Then every so often he’d bend down and whisper something in her ear and she’d laugh. This wasn’t so bad, I thought. At least she was enjoying herself.

As it went on, she was laughing more and more at what the Wizard was saying. Now he didn’t give her time to recover before bending down and saying something else, so she was laughing so much she was holding her sides and crying. I thought she was going to wet herself. Finally he stopped.

The Wizard raised his hand, and the music stopped too. He went into the kitchen and poured a glass of water each for Pandita and himself. While she was drinking it, I scrambled over on my knees to talk to her. I could see the stoner to my right turn as if he was about to stop me, but the Wizard waved at him to let me go. I was so fricking grateful to have his permission to talk to my own sister.

‘Are you ok?’ I said, as she gulped her water down, her chest wheezing from all the laughter, ‘I’ll take you home now if you want to.’

She shook her head as she swallowed. ‘No, it’s ok,’ she tried to say between wheezes, ‘it’s good, I’m enjoying it. I feel better already!’ Then she laughed again, but a strange laugh, like she was laughing at something bigger than just some joke.

The Wizard nodded, and everyone instantly knew that it was time to begin again. I sat back in my place against the wall. He held up two fingers, and the music started up. Now it was more droney, with the guitar-players mimicking the sounds the bad sitar player was making, while the percussionists did a rhythm that was probably meant to sound a bit Indian.

Once again, Pandita knelt on the cushion, and the Wizard stalked around her. He started bending down some more and saying the odd thing in her ear. He didn’t make her laugh this time though. She was just sitting there, her head down, sullen. Then she began to cry. And he just kept on bending down and saying stuff, even though he was making her cry more and more.

I wasn’t having it. I stood up and marched over. I could feel one of the mouth organ stoners try to grab my leg but he couldn’t get a grip. ‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’ I said to the Wizard, giving him a push. He tried to put his hand on my shoulder, but I batted it off.

‘Hey, it’s ok, she’s fine,’ he said, giving me a stupid grin and showing off how badly he needed to see a fricking dentist, ‘it’s just part of the process. But I swear to you, she won’t come to any harm. I understand why you’re concerned, but as you know, “the mind acts like an enemy for those who do not control it”.’

Great, now this white boy was quoting my own scripture back at me. ‘You don’t even know what that means!’ I said.

‘Who does? You’ve just got to trust me.’

‘Why the fuck should I trust you?’ I shouted in his face. The droney music came to a sudden stop. I grabbed Pandita’s arm. ‘Come on, we’re going!’

‘No!’ she cried, her eyes all red from the crying, ‘I have to stay! I’m so close now. One more layer then I’m peeled!’

‘I’ll peel you when we get home!’

‘No, I’m not going,’ she said firmly, and gave me a look with those watery red eyes of hers that told me that I’d have to drag her home by her hair.

‘Ok, ok,’ I said, ‘but if you’re a fricking vegetable by the end of it all don’t come crying to me.’

I just wanted to walk out and leave them to it I was so angry, but I knew I had to stay, just in case it got really freaky; as if it wasn’t enough already. So I sat back down with my back against the wall like a good little girl and waited for the next load of bullshit.

The music started up again. It was just one chord, being played over and over again by everyone, really slowly. The mouth organs blew one note for as long as they could. The bongos got hit about once a minute or something.

For the third time, Pandita was on the cushion, with the Wizard still strolling about with his arms behind his back, bending down and whispering in her ear. But now he was spending longer and longer saying stuff, like he was giving little lectures or something, and he was getting more and more excited. I still couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I could make out the odd consonant. When he straightened himself out and walked around, I could tell by the spring in his step, this wasn’t for Pandita’s benefit anymore. He was getting off on it.

Maybe I’d inhaled too much of their ganja smoke, because it suddenly seemed as if time had started to go strange. It was like this last part of the ritual was going on forever, but also like it was happening too fast, and it was already too late. I knew I wanted to get up and just stop it, but somehow I couldn’t get my legs to work. I felt like I was pinned to the wall, stuck between the mouth organ players. I found myself gazing round the room at all the Indian bric-a-brac. He must really get off on all this stuff, I thought to myself. India must make him… horny.

Suddenly, I knew I had to move. Hardly anybody was playing their instruments anymore. Just a couple of guitar players still strumming, the bongo player barely able to hit them, and the sodding sitar still droning. They were all really, really stoned. I looked to my left and right. The two either side of me were both gazing at the ceiling through half-closed eyes; their mouth organs on their laps, pools of spittle forming on their jeans.

I stood up. Slowly, I walked towards the Wizard and Pandita. I could hear what he was saying now, as the last of the guitars stopped strumming, and even the sitar player had finally given up. I wasn’t impressed.

‘Do you know what you are Pandita, when you get down to it, when all the layers are gone? You’re nothing, Pandita, just a hole. A Hindu fuck hole for me to put myself inside, that’s all, that’s all you are, nothing more. Just an Asian cunt, so spread your legs for me, ’cos that’s all you’re good for, a karma sutra fuck-buddy, you Punjabi pussy, you hole, you whore, you prostitute –’

‘We’re not Punjabi, you ignorant twerp.’ I brought down the statue of Ganesh on his head. He fell down hard. He wasn’t quite unconscious, but he got some blood on his rug. I took Pandita’s hand. She didn’t complain as I led her through the room lined with stoned bodies. It was only after we closed the door of the flat and were halfway down the corridor that I realised.


‘What?’ croaked a dazed Pandita. I was just glad she was saying something.

‘Look,’ I pointed down at our feet. ‘We’ve left our shoes in there. Shit! My boots! We’ll have to go back. Well, I will, anyway.’

Pandita smiled. ‘Do you really want to?’ she said.

‘Nah!’ I said, and laughed. Pandita laughed too.

‘What will we tell Mum and Dad?’ she said.

‘Oh, I don’t know, that we got them stuck in some popcorn in the cinema or something. They’ll believe that!’

Pandita laughed again, but it turned into a cry.

‘Come on,’ I said, and put my arm round her shoulder. She put hers around mine, and we looked for a bus stop, walking barefoot on the cold wet pavement.