Jingo Page 38


'My name is Bana. Would you like to come and talk with us?' Nobby looked past her. There were a number of women of varying ages sitting around a large well. One of them waved at him shyly. He blinked. This was uncharted territory. He looked down at his clothes, which were already the worse for wear. His clothes always looked the worse for wear five minutes after he'd put them on. 'Oh, don't worry,' said the girl. 'We know how it is. But you looked so alone. And perhaps you can help us... They were among the group now._ There were women of every legitimate shape and size, and so far none of them had said 'Yuk,' an experience hitherto unchronicled in Nobby's personal history. In a detached, light– headed way, Corporal Nobbs felt that he was entering Paradise, and it was only an unfortunate detail that he'd come to via the wrong door. 'We are trying to comfort Netal,' said the girl. 'Her betrothed won't marry her tomorrow.'

'The swine,' said Nobby. One of the girls, eyes red with crying, looked up sharply. 'He wanted to,' she sobbed. 'But he's been taken off to fight in Gebra! All over some island no–one's heard of! And all my family are here!'

'Who took him off?' said Nobby. 'He took himself off,' snapped an older woman. Clothing differences aside, there was something hauntingly familiar about her, and Nobby realized that if you cut her in half the words 'mother–in–law' would be all the way through. 'Oh, Mrs Atbar,' said Netal, 'he said it was his duty. Anyway, all the boys have had to go.'

'Men!' said Nobby, rolling his eyes. 'I expect you'd know a lot about the pleasures of men, then,' said Mother– in–Law sourly. 'Mother!'

'Who, me?' said Nobby, forgetting himself for a moment. 'Oh, yeah. Lots.'

'You do?'

'Why not? Beer's favourite,' said Nobby. 'But you can't beat a good cigar, as long as it's free.'

'Hah!' Mother–in–Law picked up a basket of washing and stamped away, followed by most of the older women. The others laughed. Even the disappointed Netal smiled. 'I think that's not what she meant,' said Bana. To a chorus of giggles, she leaned down and whispered in Nobby's ear.

His expression did not change but it did seem to solidify. 'Oh, that,' he said. There were some worlds of experience which Nobby had only contemplated on a map, but he knew what she was talking about. Of course he'd patrolled certain parts of the Shades in his time – the ones where young ladies tended to hang around without very much to do, and probably catching cold too – but those areas of police work that in other places might be of interest to a Vice Squad now tended to be looked after by the Guild of Seamstresses themselves. People who neglected to obey the... no, not the law as such, call them the unwritten rules... as laid down by Mrs Palm and her committee of very experienced ladies 15 attracted the attention of the Agony Aunts, Dotsie and Sadie, and might or might not be seen again. Even Mr Vimes approved of the arrangement. It didn't cause paperwork, 'Oh, yeah,' said Nobby, still staring at some inner screen. Of course, he knew what... 'Oh, that,' he mumbled. 'Well, I've seen a thing or two,' he added. Largely on postcards, he had to admit. 'It must be wonderful to have so much freedom,' said Bana. 'Er.. .' Netal burst out crying again. Her friends fluttered around her. 'I don't see why the men have to go off like this,' said Bana. 'My betrothed has gone too.' There was a cackle from a very old woman sitting by the well. 'I can tell you why, dears. Because it's better than growing melons all day. It's better than women.'

'Men think war is better than women?'

'It's always fresh, it's always young, and you can make a good fight last all day.'

'But they get killed!'

'Better to die in battle than in bed, they say' She cracked a toothless grin. 'But there are good ways for a man to die in bed, eh, Beti?' Nobby hoped the glow of his ears wasn't singeing his veil. Suddenly, he felt he'd caught up with his future. Ten damn pence worth of it hit him in the face. '

'scuse me,' he said. 'Are any of you Nubilians?'

'What are Nubilians?' said Bana. 'It's a country round here,' said Nobby. He added hopefully, 'Isn't it?' Not a single face suggested that this was so. Nobby sighed. His hand reached up to his ear for a cigarette end, but it came down again empty. 15 And Mr Harris of the Blue Cat Club. His admission caused a lot of argument in the Guild, who knew competition when they saw it, but Mrs Palm overruled opposition on the basis, she said, that unnatural acts were only natural.

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'I'll tell you this, girls,' he said. 'I wish I'd settled for the tendollar version. Don't you just sometimes want to sit down and cry?'

'You look even sadder than Netal,' said Bana. 'Isn't there some way we can cheer you up?' Nobby stared at her for a moment, and then started to sob. Everyone was staring at Colon, their food halfway to their lips. ‘Did I just hear him say that, Faifal? What do I want to be on a camel for? I’m a plumber!’ ‘He’s the clown with the juggler. I think. The poor man is several palms short of an oasis.’ ‘ I mean the bloody things spit and they’re a bugger to get up the stairs with your toolbox–‘ ‘Now, come on it’s not his fault, let’s show a little charity.’ The speaker cleared his throat. 'Good morning, friend,' he said. 'May we invite you to share our couscous?' Sergeant Colon peered at the bowl, and then dipped in a finger and tasted it. 'Hey, this is semolina! You've got semolina! It's just ordinary semol–' He stopped, and coughed. 'Yeah, right. Thanks. Got any strawberry jam?' The host looked at his friends. They shrugged. 'We know not of this “strawberry hjam” of which you speak,' he said carefully, We prefer it with lamb.' He offered Colon a long wooden skewer. 'Oh, you gotta have strawberry jam,' said Colon, carried away. 'When we were kids we'd stir it in and... and...' He looked at their faces, 'O' course, that was back in Ur,' he said. The men nodded at one another. Suddenly it was all dear. Colon belched loudly. From the looks he got from everyone else, he was the only one who'd heard of this common Klatchian custom. 'So,' he said, 'where's the army these days? Approximately?'

'Why do you ask, o full–of–gas one?'

'Oh, we thought we could make a bit of cash entertaining the troops,' said Colon. He was immensely proud of this idea. 'You know... a smile, a song, a lack of exotic dancing. But that means we got to know where they are, see?' ‘Excuse me, fat one, but can you understand what I am saying?’ 'Yes, it's very tasty,' Colon hazarded. ‘Ah. I thought so. So he’s a spy. But whose?’ ‘Really? Who would be so stupid as to use a joke like this as a spy?’ ‘Ankh-Morpork?’ ‘Oh, come on! He’s pretending to be an Anhk-Morpork spy, perhaps. But they’re cunning over there–‘

‘You think. A people who make curry out of something called curry powder and you think they’re clever?’ ‘I reckon he’s from Muntab. They’re always watching us.’ ‘And pretending to be from Ankh-Morpork?’ ‘Well, if you were trying to look like a joke Morporkian pretending to be Klatchian wouldn’t you look like that?’ ‘But why’d he pretend to be from there?’ ‘Ah… politics.’ ‘Let’s call the watch, then.’ ‘Are you mad? We’ve been talking to him! They will be… inquisitive.’ ‘Good point. I know…’ Faifal gave Colon a big grin. 'I did hear the entire army has marched away to En al Sams la Laisa, 'he said. 'But don't tell anyone. 'Have they?' Colon glanced at the other men. They were watching him with curiously deadpan expressions. 'Sounds like a massive place, with a name like that,' he said. 'Oh, huge,' said his neighbour. One of the other men made a noise that you might think was a suppressed chuckle. 'It's a long way, is it?'

'No, very close. You're practically on top of it,' said Faifal. He nudged a colleague, whose shoulders were shaking. 'Oh, right. Big army, is it?'

'Could easily be very big, yes.'

'Fine. Fine,' said Colon. 'Er... anyone got a pencil? I could've sworn I had one when–' There was a noise outside the tavern. It was the sound of many women laughing, which is always a disquieting noise to men. 16 Customers peered suspiciously through the vines. Colon and the rest of the crowd looked around an urn at the group by the well. An old lady was rolling on the ground, laughing, and various younger ones were leaning against one another for support. He heard one of them say, 'What did he say again?'

'He said, “That's funny, it's never done that when I've tried it!”'

'Yeah, that's true!' cackled the old woman. 'It never does!'

' "That's funny, it's never done that when I've tried if',' Nobby repeated. Colon groaned. That was the voice and tone of Corporal Nobbs in storytelling mode, when wood could scorch at ten yards. '

'scuse me,' he muttered, and forced his way through the press to the gateway. 'Have you heard the one about the ki... the sultan who was afraid his wife... one of his wives... would be unfaithful to him while he was away?' 16 Usually because they suspect the joke's on them.

'We haven't heard any stories like these, Beti!' Bana gasped. 'Really? Oh, I've got a thousand and one of 'em. Well, anyway, he went and saw the wise old blacksmith, right, and he said–'

'You can't go round telling stories like that, cor– Beti,' Colon panted as he lumbered to a halt. Nobby realized that a change had come over the group. Now he was surrounded by women who were in the presence of a man. A known man, he corrected himself. Several of them were blushing. They hadn't blushed before. 'Why not?' said Beti nastily. 'You'll offend people,' said Colon uncertainly. 'Er, we are not offended, sir,' said Bana, in a small humble voice. 'We think Beti's stories are very... instructive. Especially. the one about the man who went into the tavern with the very small musician.'

'And that was pretty hard to translate,' said Nobby, 'because they don't really know what a piano is in Klatch. But it turns out there's this kind of stringed–'

'And it was very interesting about the man with his arms and legs in plaster,' said Netal. 'Yeah, and they laughed even though they don't have the same kind of doorbells here,' said Nobby. 'Here, you don't have to go–' But the group around the well was dispersing. Water jugs were being picked up and carried away. A kind of preoccupied busyness came over the women. Bana nodded at Beti. 'Er... thank you. It's been very... interesting. But we must go. It was so kind of you to talk to us.'

'Er, no, don't go...' A faint suggestion of perfume hung in the air. Beti glared at Colon. 'Sometimes I really want to give you a right ding alongside the lughole,' she growled. 'My first bloody chance in years and you––' She stopped. There was a crowd of puzzled yet disapproving faces behind Colon. And things might have ended otherwise had it not been for the braying of the donkey, from above. The stolen donkey, easily pulling away from Nobby's inexpert tether, had wandered off in search of food. She vaguely associated this with the doorway to her stable and therefore with doorways in general, and so had wandered through the nearest open one. There had been some narrow spiral stairs inside, but her stall was pretty narrow and steps didn't worry a donkey that was used to the streets of Al- Khali. It was only a disappointment when the steps came to an end and there was still no hay.

'Oh no,' said someone behind Colon. 'There's a donkey up the minaret again.' There were groans all round. 'What's wrong with that? What goes up must come down,' said Colon. 'You don't know?' said one of his dining companions. 'You don't have minarets in Tar?'

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