“Tell us a story to pass some time”

Achmed had buried a clever guy within himself, only his clever side suffered from oxygen deficiency, caused by the burial of his mind under layers of his brain. To which his own mind suffered the consequences of an attention span of a fly and the memory of a noodle sieve. I am convinced that everyone has their talent, but the usefulness of most talents has its limits in this modern society. His talent was not arithmetic, hardly anything got stuck in the Achmed’s noodle sieve, but if something got stuck, he was able to use it. So I pressed some hard-boiled questions through him several times. In different variations, I explained the same things to him, repeatedly.
“You multiply if you want to calculate the area of a square, usually one side with the other.”
“You have to look at it like this: You’re putting a net over a hole on the ground. If I ask you now, how big the net should be, what would you say to me?”
“Okay, if you upload a picture to Facebook, it needs a size that is expressed in two numbers. For example, what could it look like and how could the image size affect your profile picture?”
All of this to answer one question: “Okay, now how would you calculate the area of this particular square?”
“Eehh 1 meter times 1 meter.”
The light in the lighthouse came on, drove away from the fog and one enjoyed pasta on the cliff over the pointed stone beach. Knowledge was assured, competence gained, and the next examples he reckoned with ease. I nearly became religious when he understood it. Then unequal sided squares were added, and we started the game from the beginning. The holes in the noodle sieve became larger over time. The crossed-out calculations were even more so, but in the end, there is no knowledge gap that could not be clogged by studying the test materials on hours usually ending up into days.
Achmed ended up with a C and I received 150 Euros plus a performance bonus of 50 Euros. I was occasionally allowed to eat for free in the restaurant when Kamil and his not so eldest son was running the restaurant. Achmed’s brother that I usually got along with, was more of a businessman than a restaurant owner. He took care of the bookkeeping, did the ingredients shopping, took care of the guests, and ensured that enough people visited the restaurant on a day to day basis, and when he had to, he also stood in for his parents in front of the stove. Kamil’s wife was there every day, cooking in the back room.
I’ve rarely seen her. This was due to the fact that the customers were never absent. It was jam-packed at most times. When I ate alone on a table, I felt like the yogurt sauce in the kebab. But Kamil made sure that I never felt uncomfortable. One time when he asked me how I was, I said I couldn’t complain. Then he asked me if his son had a chance.
“Achmed is not an idiot, I actually think he could be quite smart, but he simply doesn’t give a shit about anything more than himself.”
“He comes after his father”, he told me and brought me another a plate of breakfast eggs on the house.
“I probably do too,” I said to him when he placed the eggs in front of me.
“Good appetite” he wished me and left me alone with the plate.
On the other hand, Achmed joined our group more often after the first test under my graceful supervision. Sometimes we learned, sometimes we just smoked weed. We were making good progress. He’s achieved real success. His F’s turned in C’s, once he even managed an A-. We had fun and his friends seemed to notice his newly found success in school. Soon I became a tutor for the tutor-less, much in demand and who would have thought that in a quarter of a year in a city full of neglected working-class children, you could quickly become the number one tutor, if the word spreads on the street. When it came to everyone else I made house calls. Achmed was pretty much the only one who came to us.
I usually got something to eat with my “students”. I didn’t pay taxes and I could work as much as I wanted. I gave the dates and I got most of them through without much effort. I spoke their language, not German, not Turkish, not Chinese, not Serbian or French; their language which was a mixture of patience and had a tinge of repetitiveness. If they couldn’t prove that they had mastered the last chapter, we wouldn’t go on. The subject matter was ridiculously easy, I did not recommend any form of higher education for most of them.
If he wasn’t with us, Achmed was always somewhere that wasn’t his family’s restaurant. But if he with us, he showed what a yokel he could be.
For example, he liked to bring trash and various bits of garbage for target practice. He often wouldn’t clean up after himself without being asked to do so. It was rude, but nothing to get furious about. Ätz took it easy. It was his apartment, so he determined what was okay. Chang took over the annoyance for Ätz. He often locked horns with Achmed because of his attitude. The little Chinese screeched into the Turk’s ear, who just sat there and barely listened to him. He was more captivated by his smartphone than by the words of a small Chinese man.
Due to Achmed’s age and character, it made it impossible for him to learn that basic house etiquette. Instead of simply accepting his nature, Chang became shriller in tone. His voice rolled over in every sentence and became more passive aggressive in his choice of words. It was so absurd that I found it funny and I could also hear Ätz laughing at the whole situation that was, so I laughed wholeheartedly. I had a laugh, the Chinese man did not seem to like, but instead of taking it out on us, he became harder and harder in tone towards Achmed to be taken seriously. Achmed continuously ignored Chang and when he then finally looked up from his cell phone under the roar of the angry Chinese man, when Ätz asked him what Achmed was planning to do next weekend, Chang lost his temper. He knocked Achmed’s smartphone out of his hand.
“What’s wrong with you, asshole?”, Achmed asked him.
“Ah, now you can react you Bonobo.”
“What do you want, Chink?”
“Did a pig raise you? Clean after your fuckin’ self…pick up the can.”
“Pffft.”He spluttered and Achmed looked at us as we watched the spectacle with a grin from the dining table. Achmed shook his head, stood up and took the can and threw it silently with the rest of the garbage. That should have been enough for Chang, but the way Achmed did it seemed more upsetting for him than the many times he just didn’t react. So Chang pulled the warhead out of the bag and ripped the pin out of the grenade.
“Fucking Turkey. Just degenerate idiots from a backwater, backward country.”
“We’d fuck you!”
“Shit, you would do!”
Achmed put the smartphone aside.
“Stay calm, friends.” said Ätz, “Calm down.”
Chang wanted to rekindle the flame, but that was enough for Ätz. He said that he and I had to go and throw the two squabblers out of the apartment.
Now we were a diverse group. The list reads like the beginning of a joke. A black man, a Chinese man, a Turk, and a white maniac; going to a bar? Meet at the gates of heaven? No, they were sitting together in a living room doing Math now and English later and in-between sessions smoked weed. Then after a few weeks, the Russian had joined us.
The Russian was not always our guest. Yes, “our” guest. But I think it’s safe to say after six months sleeping on a couch without a real bedstead. Hey at least my back got used to it and it was still better than a bus station.
Miroslav, affectionately but simply called “Miro” by us. He was a Siberian bear. His broad shoulders made his head look like a rectangle. Ätz called him “square-head” when he has gotten frustrated with him and there were plenty of mannerisms that one could be frustrated about Miro. He pumped himself up all day in his apartment, came to us in the evening, smoked, then went out. Before we had been introduced us to him we usually only saw him stagger home early in the morning. When we got to know him, we saw him at 3 o’clock in the morning, we sat outside on the stone stairs at the yard, and he strolled past us covered in blood. His T-shirt looked like it was used to wash up the floor of a slaughterhouse. He was a tough fighter and he always wanted to be a warrior and gladly he proved that to anyone drunk enough to mess with him.
He discovered his talent in secondary school, like me, he got in a lot of fights. But unlike me, sometimes he was the first to blow a strike. Miro became the well-respected champion of the unofficial asylum seeker fight club during his school career. Which promptly ended predictably at the age of 15. To achieve this, Miro lived according to Mantras even back then. He was awake in his mind, he said, to have an awoken body. That his mantra forbade him nothing but to follow the diet of an average person was for him only a stroke of fate. No sugar, but proteins and vodka without everything in the afternoon. Yeah, he was our disciplined pseudo-Russian, because he wasn’t really Russian.
He didn’t talk much about where he came from, just about his fights and I didn’t want to ask him any more questions. With him, you were never quite sure which string you pluck or touch without angering him. He used to like to hit out of love. The bruises on my upper arm, which he gave me buckled up in laughter, were only signs of affection for him. As long as he was good to me, I didn’t care.
In return for allowing him to test his restraint on me, I was allowed to make fun of “his” people from time to time. At first glance, I did not expect the patience he showed when I once again claimed that the meal queue was still common in his alleged home country, as it was in communism. Not even that I always said “…And off to the Gulag with you.” if he did something wrong, he didn’t seem to care, because we were friends.
He was not just a mountain of muscles that jumped on any external aggression that was offered to him. He had a gentle side too. His was called Lucas, and he was seven years old. Miro had conceived him at sixteen and a compromise with his mother determined how often he could see him. That he loved the seed of his loins was so often asserted that the affirmation was beaten in a number only in the explanation that Lucas was the only good thing in his life.
I don’t know much about the mother, never met her personally, but he told me proudly in our first conversation that Lucas was allowed to be with him all weekend. That, his patience and the few times I saw them play in the yard made me think that he may not have been a good husband, but he was a good father. One evening Miro told us again about his son, that he was allowed to accompany him to his first day of school. It stabbed me briefly in the chest, but I thought of Luke’s face when his hero bolstered him up.
There were many things I liked about Miro. His way of talking, if he did, was full of enthusiasm. When he told you about himself, apart from his past, he talked openly about his life as if he just wanted someone to carry on his legacy and get you to try to solve the mystery where he came from. The riddle remained mostly unanswered, but I want to tell a story I heard from him in a drunk, stargazing night. I gave it the silly title: “Systema Kid: Attack from the East.” Which it deserved, he was prone to exaggeration.
At the age of 14, Miro started fighting in the amateur kickboxing league. His father signed him in to get a grip on his aggression. He didn’t win any prizes, but he assured me that he had won a reputation. He was persistent in the ring, standing on his feet for longer at a time and seemed to endure more than any other boy. His trick was always to wait for the right moment, which is why his trainer gave him the nickname. “Steam Boiler.” Steam Boiler’s big moment, he told me, was the title fight of the amateurs. Miro was sixteen-years-old and took them all down. Before the last fight, he stood in front of the mirror in the dressing room, threw water into his face to cleanse his mind of doubts. Steam Boiler was looking for focus, whispering into his eyes: “You can win.”
I narrowed my grin.
Steam Boiler held his face under the running water.”You can do it.” He said to himself, and then he felt his hip. He felt the pain and collapsed and looked up and there he stood, the coach of the other boy. He called out to him, but the trainer was gone, the murder weapon was gone, no one heard him. Steam Boiler got back on his feet, he limped out into the arena, but the bruised hip cost him the victory. Steam Boiler had no evidence of the fraud and did not pursue it. Unfairly beaten, he took second place.
Miro vowed to come back. He kept training, came back, but he didn’t make it far in kickboxing. “It had become too soft for him” Miro said. Later, when the UFC came up, which in its early days knew no rules, he wanted to get into competitive events again. Today Steam Boiler only fights on the street.
I never checked the truth of the story, telling stories was the main past-time activity here. Stories and arguments, and that was basically it. The television didn’t offer us anything at all just mundane crap. Even the otherwise quiet China man was driven with dissatisfaction that would often draft the skin from under his nails from time to time simply out of boredom.
We were sitting outside and the fourth day in a row didn’t bring any new topics to discuss. The Chinese, the Black Man and the White Scarecrow were sitting on the hill stairs in the house building, smokin’ their brains out, nobody really cared because they stayed quiet and just stared at the inside courtyard.
A call came in, Ätz let him into the yard and then the Turk marched in and demanded a drag. The black guy unpacked the second joint because he knew we had nothing to talk about and if there is nothing to talk about, we use more time to smoke. We smoked with the Turk and he told us how much the last week might fuck his life up.
“What happened last week?” I asked him, and he started talking about how he and a friend of his had been to a whorehouse.
“Urge to fuck, you get it.”
I understood, and he went on. Achmed and his friend are both drunk as they arrived, Achmed chooses the lady of his heart first. He went upstairs with her, enjoyed himself sufficiently and well paid for the hour, as usual, according to the hourly rate. He pulled up his pants and goes down to the bar. His friend, who was still sitting there at the bottom of the stool as he looked over his shoulder when he climbed the stairs with the girl, was gone on his return.
Achmed waited there, sat on a bar stool, had a glass of vodka and coke. He got nervous and impatient. He waited longer than Achmed thought his friend could last. Plus five minutes if he had misjudged him and another ten because his friend was drunk. Achmed thought his friend might’ve lasted longer.
“Brotha, I was really paranoid, you know, I thought they had him.”
Achmed climbed the stairs to the hooker rooms. He knocked on the door behind which he suspected his friend. He heard nothing behind it. Nothing stirred. So, he stormed down the stairs.
“WHERE IS MY BROTHER?” Achmed yelled at the madamé.
“Upstairs.” said the madamé coldly, Achmed had then stormed up the stairs. He forgot the courtesies and bashed open the door. His friend was sitting at the head of the bed with his pants down. He was asleep. His dick hung limply down, and the professional sat at the table beside the bed whilst flipping through a newspaper.
“What did you do to him?”
“Nothing, he fell asleep right away.”
Achmed got up to him, slapped him gently on the cheek. His friend regained consciousness. They looked at each other, then his friend noticed that he still had the belt by his knees, he pulled them up and they both proclaimed they were leaving.
“First you pay.” the madamé stopped the two boys in the door. Achmed gave her the money. But he refused to pay for his friend.
“She didn’t do nothing, I won’t pay for that.”
“Your friend has booked a room, so he’ll pay for it.”
“Or what?”
The bouncer came up by the request of the madamé. When they saw him, they stopped arguing. Achmed’s friend paid for himself and the two of them went home with rage in their stomach.
“We’ll get them,” said Achmed after the bouncer pushed them rudely onto the street. The Turk got his baseball bat and his Turkish rabble. He was on the phone on the way home and on the way back to the whorehouse. Thirteen Turks met at the subway station and at every crossroad, more people swarmed towards the scene of pleasure. Achmed spoke of around forty or fifty Turks. At my request, he described some of his Turkish brood. Everybody sounded like they hung around gas stations in their free time. Small combat battalions of Turks stood in front of the barn and heated themselves up. Achmed screamed against the building.
“FUCK YOU MOTHERFUCKERS! DON’T MESS WITH ME! I WANT MY FUCKIN’ MONEY BACK!”
The crowd roared in unison, swinging their weapons and fists. But no one came out. Achmed frustrated and angry lost his patience and smashed the studio window with a baseball bat. The glass clanged towards the brittle glass. The bouncer stayed hidden, the staff inside and through the window he saw the madamé pulling out her cell phone.
“You smashed the brothel window and then all of you 40 people ran away?” I asked in disbelief.
“Wow, great action, you really gave it to them” Chang mocked. He stole the words out of my head, but I was too stoned to say anything clever.
“Some more smart things to say, filthy Chink?
“Come at me, kebab whore shipper.”
“Fuck you, OROSPU ÇOCUĞU.”
“Blow me, yín chóng.”
Achmed got up and stood in front of Chang, who remained seated and looked up to him. The two stared into each other’s eyes like wild animals. There was lightning spraying and Ätz passed the joint on to me: “Boys, calm down.”
They both stopped staring and looked at Ätz.
“Tell the dog-eater here.” Achmed had folded and Chang punched him in the soft tissues. He was at the right height for a straight swing, and Achmed rolled down the two steps to the asphalt floor. Achmed wriggled on the ground, holding his dick.
“YÜREKSIZ! COWARDLY DOG!” He cursed was distorted with pain. Chang had stood up. Ätz got between him and the wounded Turk. I just sat there, observed and smoked.
“ENOUGH!”
And at that moment, out of everyone’s field of vision, Achmed stood again. Agreed to the truce, the Chinese turned his back and PENG. Achmed had stormed past Ätz and hit Chang in the back of the head.
Surprised, he tilted forward and fell against the stone stairs. He caught himself, he cushioned some of the force with his hands, but despite his efforts, his head hit the stairs badly and it tore a cut into his forehead. He bled as he stood again, ready for another round, you could see it in his eyes. Ätz forced himself between them once again and appealed to justice: “Both of you have had your punch in, enough is enough.” It was difficult, hardly manageable to keep the dogs apart and I had made so many moves on the joint during the argument, I didn’t feel like I was even there. Ätz lost centimeter by centimeter distance, I stood there as if I hadn’t been in the yard at all. They might’ve gone further if Miro hadn’t intervened when he saw the spectacle from a distance. He shouted “HEY!” as I made out that he was sprinting towards us.
One short look to Miro cost Ätz the necessary focus on the situation, he lost control and his position. The two overcame him and Chang jumped on Achmed like a raccoon gone wild. He hit him from above and Achmed blocked the blows with both hands. Chang’s beating rhythm got longer. Achmed noticed that the Chinese quickly lost his energy and turned the tables. He hit him on the chin and then he was the one laying on top of him. He was about to hit, he swung out with his right hand when Miro jumped on Achmed and tore him off Chang. He hit Achmed pretty darn hard. You could hear a crack coming from his nose. He screamed so loudly that the residents opened the windows to the courtyard. The old woman from stairway three was watching us. If anyone would call the police it was almost certain that it would be her.
Ätz, who stayed out of the Achmed and Miro skirmish, knelt on the lying Chang.
“Enough.” He insisted again.
The two squabblers wriggled under the weight of the two muscle men, but they became tired and finally gave in. They both got up. Achmed wiped off his clothes, his nose looked crooked as it was profusely bleeding. With that, he stormed off angry and without saying a word, he was gone. I passed the almost finished joint to Miro. Chang in the meantime keep on blaspheming Achmed with a blood smudged face.
“I don’t want to see that skinny brown prick here ever again.”
Miro agreed with Chang whilst I was standing next to him. After some amount of time, we had stopped seeing him. A man must know where his loyalties lie, and my loyalty was with Chang because I knew him two days longer. But a real man had to know if loyalty he showed was just his own wounded pride. Of Ätz I had known that he was never on one side and when I asked him how he would find it if I helped Achmed one last time, he was fine with it.
Yes, Achmed was a fool and he couldn’t read properly either. I gave up German early when I started working with him. Every linguist would pull his hair out when they read what this Turk had written on his paper. How he was able to survive at all, I thought to myself at first. Much later I realized that everything but verbs, nouns, and adjectives was pretentious humbug. He only used the three particular kinds of words, even the simplest of them, arrived okay with the girls and he could still communicate with his brethren, whilst I knew words like pretentious, with which he did not even wipe his ass with. I could’ve been the dumber one of us in that respect after all.
Some think that these Islamic immigrants are to bring about the downfall of Western civilization. I didn’t think so. The idiots will bring down the West, and yes, some of them will be Muslims. Maybe most, it is the largest religious community in the world. Maybe none. Nevertheless, I gave up teaching him German. I was 17 years too late. He didn’t like that.
“Come on, Moruk”
“Achmed, my friend, I can’t teach a blind man to see.”
“Haide brotha, come help”
“Man no, stop it now”
“Boy, come on”
After several more lines of begging, requesting and rejection, I finally gave in. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I wrote down a text that sounded good but was so meaningless; so deprived of any statement that it could be used almost everywhere. His job was to memorize him and pray it down if necessary. That was enough for his graduation, he moved away from Felixstraße, his father said he had gone back to Turkey, in any case, I did not see Achmed again after that. 


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