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4 March 2017

Rita by Ali May

‘How do I look?’ She asked looking at the mirror inside the fitting room. I was standing outside, looking in the same mirror.

‘Chubby,’ I said, ‘especially in the neck.’

‘Don’t be silly, I’m asking for useful feedback.’

‘And fluffy.’

‘Aargh!’ She was clenching her fists, I was laughing at how she was getting angry.

‘Deep colours.’

‘Nima!’

‘Well, I don’t like it.’

‘Why? What’s wrong with it?’

‘I can’t see your neck.’

‘You wouldn’t, would you? It’s a turtleneck.’

‘And I like seeing your neck. That’s my simple verdict.’

‘But Canada is cold. I promise I will change it as soon as we get home.’

‘Go for it then.’

The start of the term in Ottawa was imminent and we were trying to prepare. Visas were granted, accommodation booked, clothes shopping under way. We realised far too late that it was foolish to buy coats and jumpers in Tehran, thinking it would be cheaper.

That evening we went to Golestan, the mall for the trendy. It never goes stale how for many girls in Tehran the process of going to a shopping centre is, in itself, a ritual of beautification. Girls go to Golestan showing off their extended hair, hair with pink tips, hair done as if they’re going to a wedding, and give the neighbourhood the equivalent of what they think is western.

On the ground floor of Golestan there is a small pond right in the centre — mostly without any water in the concrete-and-marble structure. It is built to allow sitting on the ledges. Rita sat me there to go through the list of errands we had to carry out that chilly evening: have her sunglasses fixed, look for a present for a colleague’s birthday, try on winter coats and sweaters in Zara, and the only thing that didn’t sound like a chore was to have coffee in Konj. All was written neatly in her diary.

‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’

‘What, mister?’

‘Checking flights.’

‘That’s been taken care of.’

‘How?’

‘A friend of mine works for a travel agency. You don’t know her. I’ve asked her to get us a good deal.’

‘Bravo! I was hoping for an excuse to tease you.’

We sat there and watched people walk past.

‘Will you miss seeing so many beautiful girls when we’re in Canada?’ Rita asked me jokingly.

‘I’m guessing beauty will not be in shortage. The difference may be in the amount of trowelling. Why so much make up, really?’

‘What alternative can you suggest?’

‘Natural beauty, to start with?’

‘The face is all they can show. They won’t buy your argument.’

‘There’s a bit of hair, too.’

‘That’s right. And that’s why they spend time on those two fronts, face and hair.’

‘They just exaggerate with colours.’

‘Naturally! Wouldn’t you?’

Rita had a good point. Why did we have the highest record of nose jobs in Iran? Why were plasters on noses so fashionable? The face was the only window through which a girl’s beauty could be seen.

Mehr Hospital. The bustling centre of Tehran. A block away from where they sell curtains.

Mehr as in the sun? Mehr as in the first month of autumn? Or mehr as in kindness? What a bizarre name, anyway. What a stark contrast to what it is, to whom it hosts. It reminds me of 1 Mehr, the day the school year begins. The start of nine months of ongoing nightmares. Change one vowel in mehr to get mohr: stamp. How fucking irrelevant!

Mehr, where the capital’s medical crème de la crème roam around their patients. The hospital where they bring the newest keyhole technology and apply it to one person after another, drill holes in their bodies, stick tubes in, voyeur their interiors.

The florist across from the hospital sells big, pretentious boxes of orange flowers, tasteless bouquets of white and pink gladioli. Extortionate prices. Moustached owner so sour you couldn’t eat with a bowl of honey.

An architectural goulash, that street is. Few remnants of old-style detached houses. The rest, new builds. Yellow bricks, granite, marble, glass. No matter what, ugly. A neighbourhood with a mixed population, like most parts of the monstrous city. Maybe a few more Tehranis than immigrants.

Mehr. Constant passing of famous faces. An ex-health minister. An actress whose prime days are long gone. Family. Friends. I read sci-fi novels and I have a strange sensation, perhaps trying to cling to the miraculous narratives of technology. Knowing it can’t be right to lie down in a shower room of ions and get well in seconds, from any ailment, any pain. But I’m hoping it can be possible. Watching every news bulletin, as if any of it matters. An earthquake here, a rape case there, inflation figures going down, the country becoming all rosy. Sheer lies.

Corridors of Mehr, the sterilised smell of death. The slippery tiles. The struggle to reconcile past and present, present and whatever it may be called — the thing that follows.

Dr Amir Atabaki, Oncologist, reads the golden plaque on the door. I knock on the cream wood and enter without waiting for an invitation.

‘Mr Hekmat, come in, come in,’ says the specialist with a broad smile that subsides after he sees no reaction from me. Maybe he feels the numbness that’s plaguing my whole existence.

‘You need to be strong, Nima,’ he says. I say I’m not, nor do I desire to be. ‘Tell me everything; that’s why I’m here. I want to know what it is we’re against.’

He looks at me from behind his rimless glasses. The thick black arms of the spectacles are half seen, as the rest is hidden under his white side burns. He puts his pen down and fastens his fingers together, as if they’re hugging, as if they need to support each other in the face of crisis. He starts from cells and gets to organisms. But I’m too impatient. I want to know what can be done.

‘A mixture of chemotherapy and radiotherapy,’ the doctor says, ‘basically to kill the bad cells.’

‘How?’

‘Well, with chemo I mean a combination of drugs. Radiotherapy is the use of X-ray technology, very high energy. The whole procedure targets the lymphoma cells. These are the cells that have gone bad and should be destroyed.’

‘What are the side effects?’

‘Some people see a change in the bowel habits. Others experience weight loss. Anaemia. And of course there’s the hair loss.’

‘But why?’

‘If we had an answer, medicine would be able to find a cure.’

‘What are chemo and radiotherapy then?’

‘Procedures. Cell killers. All we have found that might give patients another chance.’

Lymph. The colourless liquid that washes the body cells, nurtures them. It’s everywhere in the body, and you have twice more of it than you have blood. When it goes bad, it goes really bad. ‘Lymphoma,’ the doctor said. The cancer of the lymphatic system.

How is it possible? It’s like water killing you of dehydration. Football players scoring goals against their own nets. An army shooting at their own base.

El. Why. Em. Pee. Ech. Oh. Em. Ey. Written everywhere. Embossed in a colourless world. In a world in which I float, Rita floats. Tehran is just a weightless, shapeless thing drifting between us. People march on the streets. People? Bodies. All white and headless. Every single one of them carrying a placard, equally as white, with handles made of rugged wood. The white tops turn soft and shredded. The bodies turn them upside down in synchronised but slow action and sweep the road.

The human body is a factory. Not like a Japanese plant where there is kaizen, where every single unit of the organisation does its best to make the whole a better place. The human body is like an Iranian factory. The machines need repair. The labourers constantly escape work. The management steals from the workers and the machines and themselves, let alone the consumers.

The human body is a bloody dysfunctional family. Despite the hardest efforts of each member, the result is the inevitable, the dreaded, the pitiful — a disaster.

Lymph. Lymph, oh, lymph. How soft it sounds. How lucid.

The human body is shit.

‘Ottawa is the fourth largest city in Canada,’ said the university’s international admissions coordinator. He was tall and slim, perhaps in his late twenties, wearing a light grey suit at least two sizes too large and a carelessly fastened brown tie that didn’t go with his light blue shirt. He had travelled especially to brief us on the term that we would all be spending in the Canadian capital. He was excited to be in Tehran and see what’s behind the news stories. His lips were pale. He was hoping to travel to Esfahan and see the city’s marvellous architecture. I wish he’d at least worn slightly darker socks.

Ottawa is pretty, he said, and the Rideau River that passes through it makes it a perfect city for nice, romantic walks. The National Gallery of Canada is based in Ottawa, as well as many other museums for civilisation, nature, war, etc. You name it, he said, our capital is very cultural.

‘Doesn’t he really think that we could easily find all this shit on Wikipedia?’ I whispered to Rita.

‘The capital’s population is just under a million,’ Jake Robertson said, as if he was talking about a giant metropolis.

‘That’s small,’ Rita said under her breath, looking straight, as if all her focus was with the speaker.

‘The city has a buzzing nightlife, great restaurants, fantastic live music, bars and clubs,’ he said with a wide smile, without thinking for even a second that it might backfire.

Mr Angry – the title Rita had given a classmate, a guy who worked for an oil company, state-run, but according to him private – raised his hand. Robertson, pleased to have elicited a question, gave him an even wider smile and paused to hear what was coming.

‘I tink dis is very inappropiriate,’ said Mr Angry, in his version of English, in which ‘th’ sounds were never pronounced correctly. ‘Vee are a Islamic cowntiry, we don’t want to go to your bar. You are here to talk us about your university, not your kelubs.’

‘I’m so sorry, I was just trying to draw you a picture of the city, just to tell you what Ottawa looks like.’ The poor guy was almost shaking.

‘You should kno dat we have given belud for dis revolution because vee didn’t want de rotten imperial culture to affect us,’ Mr Angry put a lot of stress on the ‘f’ of affect. ‘We only want to see de experience dat oder cowntiry have in technology and bizines, not de derty tings.’

‘Come on, man, he’s just tellin’ us about his city,’ a tech-savvy classmate came to rescue. ‘It’s good to know what to expect.’

‘Speak for yourself, stop saying ‘we, we’. Who appointed you as our representative?’ A lady who ran the logistics department of a transport company and was doing the course just as a means of socialising and networking pointed her objection at Mr Angry. She was well respected by the whole team.

Our Canadian speaker looked helpless, although he could see he had those in the class who supported him. He looked amused at the same time. He must have thought to himself we were such a weird, non-functional, hot-blooded bunch. I thought our small group successfully represented the whole of the Iranian society, with its diversity and conflicts. We were a good sample indeed. What pleased me most was that Mr Angry was still in the minority.

‘Haj khanoom, don’t get angiry with us. I am only vorried dat our time vill vaste if tings like dat become de subject. Ve should build our cowntiry,’ Mr Angiry, who was rubbing his bushy beard and fat neck, said from his defensive position.

‘How many times have I told you in the past year and a half that I have never been to Mecca, nor do I have the intention of doing so. I have a name, and that name is certainly not haj khanoom. You can have the courtesy of remembering my name, at least. And on the subject of the irrelevant argument that you have started, I must say I am personally very interested to learn how people have fun in public – as opposed to the privacy of their homes – and I would love to hear all about a city where I’ll be spending several months. Mr Robertson, please do not take the comments made by this gentleman as collective statements by everybody here. I am sure most of us think differently from Mr Ghodrati.’

Rita and I looked at each other and tried not to laugh. I winked at her and whispered ‘the fight’s getting personal.’ I loved how she was crushing the self-righteous bastard. There were many ‘that’s right’s and ‘absolutely’s and ‘we can speak for ourselves’s from around the class. Mr Angry had nothing left but anger, which was eating him from within. It was good to see he hadn’t succeeded in making alliances and was on full retreat.

Shaken Jake changed his strategy and talked about logistics. We could either live in the halls of residence or benefit from the special deals that the university could provide as a result of forging a deal with a respectable Canadian estate agent and rent apartments near the campus. He also talked about Air Canada’s exclusive deal for our university’s MBA students, which offered them a reasonable price as well as crediting their frequent-flyer cards with ten thousand bonus miles. There was, of course, the canteen talk and the library rant and the partnerships with businesses that would allow us to spend a month with a company in Ottawa and see their workings.

‘Sounds like a boring city to me,’ Rita said at the break.

‘Well, at least we can see it for ourselves.’

‘We should travel around to a few cities while we’re there to get a better picture.’

‘I suppose our best bet will be Toronto.’

‘You’re right. It’ll be easier to find work. But what if it’s really grey and boring and awful?’

‘Let’s not be pessimistic from the very start, Rita. We haven’t even met any Canadians apart from this Jakie boy.’

‘It’s good that we have this opportunity before we go for good,’ Rita said.

‘The country can’t be beaten on its wildlife; that I’m sure of.’

‘How about culture, history and all those insignificant, unnecessary things?’

‘Is that sarcasm I can smell?’ I said.

‘Just a bit.’ She looked nervous.

‘Are you OK?’ I took her hand in mine and pressed it gently.

‘This guy doesn’t impress me. At all.’

‘It’s not about him. It’s about going to a country that may give us our only chance for what we want. For the two of us to be together.’

‘I know, I’m sorry. I wish I could hug you here.’

‘That’d make Mr Angry furious!’

‘If it were just that I would say screw him!’

Imam Khomeini International Airport. AC6567 to London, operated by British Midland International. Flight departure at 4:55 a.m. You need to be there at least two hours before the flight. Could it be any more unsocial than that? 

We had to go to the airport separately. Rita’s family wanted to take her and say goodbye. For them, I never existed. Rita was very apologetic for having to abandon me at the airport. I told her it was absolutely fine and that I would be surprised if she did otherwise. We didn’t need any more complications.

The taxi dropped me at departures. Even at that hour the contrast between the air-conditioned cab and the warm wind outside was stark. My skin expanded as I got off. I mounted my laptop bag on the wheeled suitcase and made my way in. Rita and her family were chatting right outside the entrance. There was no escape. ‘Good morning, Ms Bina!’ I said, pretending I was surprised to see her.

She said hi and introduced me to her parents as ‘one of my classmates, Mr Hekmat.’

Her father shook my hand. His handshake was vigorous and genuine. His face was round and bore the signs of a city with a sun that is not timid. His hair white and short, with stubbles the same colour. Her mother smiled and told Rita that it was good that she would have other Iranians around her while in Ottawa. She was a little chubby and shorter than both her husband and her daughter. She shared nothing in terms of style with Rita.

I asked to be excused to go and check in. Rita’s father walked with me for a few steps. When I was shaking his hand to say goodbye, he looked me straight in the eyes.

‘Mr Hekmat, you’re like my own son. Can I ask you for a big favour?’

‘Absolutely. What can I do for you?’

‘Can you look after Rita for me? You look like a gentleman. She’s very independent, but you know, she’s a girl and she’s never been that far from us. I would be very grateful to you.’

I shook his hand harder and promised that I would. I could see a little spark in his concerned eyes. Why should it be like that, I thought. If only we could tell them that we were together, that we had already arranged to rent a little flat together, that we would spend most of the time together, study together, eat together. Only if things were a bit different.

It’s such a bizarre behaviour when you think of it, and it wasn’t only Rita’s father who was guilty of it. It’s a normal Iranian trait to build your trust on a total stranger in a matter of seconds, yet be awkward about, say, your own daughter’s boyfriend.

The plane was small and the legroom tight. The fat woman who sat behind me pushed her knee into my back all the way to Heathrow Airport, where we were stopping for a couple of hours.

‘What was my father telling you?’ Rita asked. We’d managed to get seats next to each other.

‘He asked me to report your behaviour to him on a regular basis while we’re in Ottawa. He said I’m allowed to spank you if you don’t behave.’

‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous. What did he say?’ I told her. ‘He must have liked you,’ she said.

‘That’s a good start.’

The flat in Ottawa was basic but pretty. It had a small balcony that overlooked a nearby park and Rideau in the distance. A small round table and two chairs, whose cushions lived in a fibreglass box, were set in the balcony, which made it the perfect spot for a beer and a relaxing chat.

We had arrived in a group of fifteen on a Wednesday, and we’d lied that Rita was going to live with an uncle during the stay. We didn’t want any gossip. We had until Monday to get settled and to explore. Rita suggested we should start from Canada Agriculture Museum. ‘What?’ I said with rounded, surprised eyes. ‘Why?’ Because it had nothing to do with either of us. Because it was a very new experience. And because of what it said on the museum’s website. She read it to me:

‘The milking of the Museum’s dairy cows takes place twice daily. Over the course of this demonstration, visitors will be impressed by the technologies used in modern dairying as they see the herdspeople milk the entire herd. A Museum guide will be on site to explain the process and to answer questions.’

‘Can’t get better than this,’ I said. ‘A proper farm in the middle of the country’s capital, and a full-blown cow-milking session! Let’s get impressed.’

The smelly museum was fun. They also showed us all sorts of horses they kept and told us the use for each type. Then we wandered around the city centre, hungry. After walking past National Defence Headquarters and over the Mackenzie King Bridge, we ended up in a restaurant that dished out food in a distinctly beautiful style. The café’s chef was an artist. He arranged immaculate pieces of vegetable and tuna and eggs on long, white rectangular plates with such speed and precision that I preferred to watch him work rather than eat.

By the end of the weekend we’d seen four other museums, walked most of the city’s central streets and visited the main landmarks. It was a cute, pretty town.

‘I hope Toronto is bigger than this,’ I said.

‘Oh yeah,’ Rita agreed, ‘this is nice but can get boring very soon.’

The sky was an acute blue, without a trace of a cloud. I looked at Rita still struggling with sleep, boiled the kettle and made instant coffee. I called for her coming out of the tiny kitchenette, hoping she would get up. No sign.

I placed the mugs on the side table, sneaked under the duvet and started tickling her, beginning from her thighs, coming upwards to her waist. Rita’s ability not to get cross when she was being woken up always amused me. This time also she smiled, but I wanted her to laugh, so I carried on.

She was now wiggling like a tired fish, but she was laughing. I felt something hard under her left arm, small but unusual. I remembered having had something similar once after I fell playing football, and the asphalt took a good bite off the flesh right below my pelvis. The wound got white and infectious and took weeks to heal. For months after that I had a small lump in my armpit. I didn’t care about it in the beginning, but Mum got worried and asked the doctor what it was. The answer was my lymph nodes were swollen as a result of fighting with infection.

‘Do you have an infection?’ I asked Rita, still touching the lump.

‘What is it?’ she said, taking over the inspection from me. I told her the story of my own lump and that we’d be late for the lecture if we didn’t make a move.

Rita had always been very fit, if not skinny. In the month following the lump discovery she lost a lot of weight. Her ribs came to prominence. I joked with her that she’d been influenced by health-freaks and stopped eating. But she hadn’t really changed her diet. My other joke was that she was losing weight because she was missing Iran and her family. ‘How are you gonna survive here when we properly immigrate?’ I asked her. She looked tired, more and more towards the end of the Ottawa stint. I thought it should be the volume of work. She said she had the same theory, plus the change of environment. But I was in the same position and not losing any weight. Then we both got concerned.

When we went to the doctor we had another month remaining in Ottawa. There were blood tests and examinations and chats and all the rest. The conclusion was ... well ... they could not conclude what was wrong. Their recommendation was for us to fly back immediately and get Rita checked in depth, since on our student visas we were not eligible for any substantial medical cover.

‘We’ve only got a month to complete this course,’ Rita told the doctor. ‘Do you think we can wait?’

‘You know what I think? I think you should be in hospital yesterday and get some proper medical care.’

‘Why, what is it?’ I asked.

‘I don’t know and I wouldn’t speculate. I don’t want to worry you, but look, there has been a weight loss of seven kilos. That sure isn’t normal, and it may carry some implications.’

I asked the doctor to give us a letter so that school wouldn’t make a big deal. We went straight to a travel agency and changed our booking for the following morning.

She cried when I asked her to marry me. Tears were unstoppable, and these weren’t tears of joy. Determination was always her strength. She took my index finger in her hand and pressed it, didn’t let go. She was in the ugly hospital gown, on the reclining bed. She didn’t make the slightest noise. It was an elegant show of emotion. I’d never seen her cry like that before.

‘This is what we want, this is the reason why we decided to immigrate to Canada in the first place, right?’ I asked her. ‘I don’t care about the situation. We should do what we really have wanted for so long.’

She just shook her head in agreement. There was a trace of a smile somewhere.

Mehr Hospital. Room 517. White tulips on the window ledge, on the table, by the television. Rita in a wig and a white dress; I in a blue suit, a white shirt and a light blue tie. Two mothers in the room, Rita’s dad sitting outside in the corridor.

I leave, the two mothers follow me. I don’t want to stop and talk to them, but they make me.

‘Why are you doing this?’ asks Rita’s mum.

‘Be reasonable,’ says mine.

I look them both straight in the eyes, their sad, anxious eyes. What’s in my eyes, I don’t know, but it makes them look away.

‘The woman on that bed is the woman I love. She’s the reason I have changed everything, myself. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have even thought of immigration for one second. Reasonable? This is the only reasonable thing I’ve done in my life.’

‘Nima —’

‘Nima what?’

‘Nima, darling, you know better than us what this illness means. Why do this to you and to Rita?’

‘Because I love her. Because there is no other woman that would take her place for me. Because this is the right thing to do. Because she is the only one that matters. Can you please understand and stop this talk? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go to the reception and get the registrar.’

‘But it’s illegal, I can’t marry a Muslim and a Jew,’ the registrar had said when I was trying to convince him in his claustrophobic office.

‘Listen, none of us is really religious.’

‘But you were born a Muslim and she a Jew, right?’

‘Yes, but does that mean anything to you? We don’t practice. We don’t even believe in any of it.’

‘I don’t care what you believe in. God says in the Koran that religion should not be imposed on people, that it should be a choice made out of knowledge.’

‘There you go!’ I said.

‘Yes, but the law does not allow me to marry a Muslim to a follower of another faith. The best I can do is a temporary marriage.’ He used the remote control and turned up the TV.

‘I’ve explained to you my fiancée’s situation. Make an exception. Make a deliberate mistake. Do something,’ I said, trying to block his view of the television.

‘I’ve never taken such a big risk. It’s too dangerous. If it’s found out, they may shut my business.’

‘How are they going to find out?’

‘I have a family to support. I have two schoolchildren. I can’t just take risks like that.’

‘Nobody will find out, I promise you.’

‘I have no doubt about you. But I have to be careful.’

Frustration is only a small understatement when I try to describe the feeling at that moment. It was time for me to take a risk.

‘How much?’

‘What?’ He asked, busying himself with a paper.

‘Let’s stop this game, OK? You’re taking a risk and I’m prepared to pay for it. Just tell me how much it costs.’

That did the trick. Date was put in the diary, extortion was paid in cash.

The registrar was wearing a brown suit and had his assistant carry the large register. They both shook my hand but ignored the traditional niceties of meeting the groom. They silently followed me to the lift, then to the room.

When they were setting up, Rita called out for me. I sat by her on the bed and she held my hand in hers, her cold, pale hand. She asked me to get closer. ‘Are you sure about this?’ she asked softly.

‘Never been so sure about anything in my life. Do you have any doubts?’ I said looking right into her eyes. Eyes that still shone, regardless of what she went through and all the pain.

The day starts with vibrations. First with the tingling sense of black plastic in the hand, then the cold touch of perforated steel on the face. It links one organ to the other, the vibration. It makes them one, united.

I put the electric shaver on intensive, hoping the pulse would get deeper, penetrate in the layers of muscle and fat and blood. I keep rubbing the now warmed metal to my face. It glides in most places, but there are the tricky neck bits. The only cure is the razor. Five thin blades, powered with a small battery. It creates a pulse of the same nature, but lower strength. What size of a ripple could each of these make if you stick them in water?

You can’t discriminate against your teeth; they need their morning dose of shaking. This vibrator should be handled with care. It’s a bit of a rebel. You’re trying to do the upper teeth, but the back of the brush keeps hitting the lower ones. Back of the teeth is another hurdle, reaching them, shaking them. Spit.

 Next, shower. Full power. Steady disconnection from the reality of a world without, a world lacking, a world impotent. Relentless drops of water competing to join the sewage. And it’s hard to stop them. It’s hard to want to get out of the cage that builds walls of water around you, so you can’t hear, you can’t see, can’t be a part of it all. I only dare turn the tap when the water starts cooling, only because I know the tank must be running out of hot water. I get rid of as much water on my body that is happy to let go and step out of the shower.

Towel, check. Deodorant, check. Underpants, check. Vest, check. Hair dryer, check. Shirt, check. Trousers, check. Jacket, check. Wallet, keys, laptop bag, check. Door to flat locked. Lift button pushed. Car beeps. Door opens. In the driver’s seat, seat belt fastened. Car started. Radio turned on. Pedal pushed. Button pressed, garage door opened.

Streets of Tehran, yet another morning. The sun is shining and the rush-hour traffic is in full bloom. Radio Payam plays some western pop, minus the vocals and slightly rearranged in tunes. Smog seems intent to drown everyone, to gobble us up, devour us, digest us. There are rows and rows of cars in an inexplicable chaos, honking their horns and not using their indicators. If Tehran were a sea and we the fish, what would we be called? Carfish? Fishomobile? Traffish? Smoked, for sure.

I get to the narrow street near the office, drive slowly to the car park, put a halt to the car’s vibrations and take the key out. Silence.

The car still smells of Rita.

-

Ali May was born in Iran and his childhood was consumed by the eight-year war with Iraq. War, as a result, is one of the focal points in his writing. Having grown up amidst stifling repression, the concepts of liberty, choice and individualism shaped his intellectual framework. These are subjects that he writes about, alongside sex. Geography of Attraction, his collection of short stories revolving around sex and travel was published in 2015. One of his stories was published in the anthology Desire: 100 of Literature’s Sexiest Stories in 2016, alongside Anaïs Nin, D H Lawrence, and James Joyce. His mission is to provoke curiosity and critical thinking. He was a recipient of the Decibel Penguin Prize in 2007. He works in TV as a creator and presenter.

Ali May would like to thank a friend, Shirin Irvine, for her help in editing this story.

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