This is not a time for self reflection. Poor Ravel is the one who needs all the help he can get. I feel I have toughened up at least a small amount over the last two years. Being the instigator of one's own downfall has a sobering effect, and I like to think that my experiences put me on a sure footing to help out those less fortunate. A bit like - and correct me if I'm wrong - someone who has been to war and can now advise on joining which unit is least likely to lead to death on the front line.
'Ravel, my good, good friend', I said softly the other morning as he wept slowly into his cornflakes. 'I know this is not a good time for you, and I want you to know that we are all here to help.' The young man looked at me with bloodshot eyes and nodded.
'Yesh bosh. I know', came the slurred reply.
'Ravel!', said my wife more loudly than necessary. 'Are you drunk?'
'Yesh bosh. I come home later than later lash night.'
Dolores bent down to look at Ravel's eyes. 'He's very dilated, Joseph. I reckon he's been on the weed again.'
Twin X entered the room at this point. 'Phew!', he exclaimed, and proceeded to wipe an imaginary smell away from his nose. 'Can you not, like, smell 'im, like?'
Truth was, we couldn't - on account of us both having colds (number 7 this year, caught from No.3 as usual). I bent closer to have a sniff and just caught a mild whiff of sweat, smoke, alchohol and a generic unwashed-ness. 'Oh dear', I sighed. 'I think this might have gone too far. Ravel's started on the path to self destruction.'
'It's not that bad, Joseph', countered Dolores. 'He's just going through a rough patch. That's all this is, isn't it Ravel?'
'Yesh bosh', came the lacklustre reply. 'I go now, yesh?'
'Sure, go clean yourself up and sleep it off. If anyone comes calling, I'll deal with them', I said, patting Ravel on the shoulder. He rose and shuffled off in the direction of his hut, head low, gait unsure.
'He iz like well wasted, innit, you know waht I'm sayin', said Twin X emphatically in a south-London accent (he is currently into some kind of gangster rap music and insists on talking like he never left the streets).
'Leave him alone the pair of you', said Dolores firmly. 'I don't want you (pointing at me) giving him any of your 'life is box of chocolates' speeches, and both you (pointing at Twin X) and your brother...'
'He's me blud, yeah?'
'OK, your blood and you - neither of you are to start taunting him, asking him for cannabis or alcohol. Clear?'
'Dont be raggin uz orrite? We got nuff respect, you know what I'm saying?', said the young gangster, his hands chopping the air to visually emphasise the syllables (at least, I assume that's what he was doing it for).
I held both hands up in surrender. Yet again I was being told to keep my distance by Dolores. Now, I'm not a man to surrender easily to feelings of emasculation, but being told who and who I cannot converse with under my own (admittedly unpaid for) roof was taking it a bit far. 'Dolores', I said as she was clearing the dishes, 'Now, I know I've perhaps given out some bad advice in the past, but you know how I've changed. I know my limits. I won't say anything to upset him, I promise.'
My submissive approach somehow worked. Dolores put down the dishes and tried to give me a hug. I was so surprised by her action that I instinctively pushed her away - assuming, incorrectly, that she was about to swat me with the tea towel or something. 'Come here, I'm trying to be supportive', she said.
We were still hugging two minutes later when there was a knock at the barn door. 'I'll get it', I said, ' it might be the lawyers.' With that, I unclenched and proceeded to the other side of our dwelling (for those of you unfamiliar with our situation, see blogs passim for an explanation). There were several other knocks in quick succession as I unlocked the door. 'Just a moment', I shouted.
On the other side of the door were about six or seven Chinese gentlemen. All but one of them were wearing suits. 'Hello, are you Dr Macrooble?' asked the one who had been knocking. His accent was neither Chinese nor English, but more like something from eastern Europe.
'Er, yes, that is I, though actually my name is McCrumble', I replied, hesitantly.
'Sure, sure', came the quick reply. I wasn't sure at this point, but I thought I caught a whiff of alcohol on the man's breath. 'We are here for your man Ravel. He is around?'
I glanced around the men. Though at first glance the majority had appeared neatly attired, I now saw what had all the hallmarks of a group of young men who'd spent the night outdoors whilst dressed for work. A couple of them even had twigs in their hair. They must have got lost finding this place, I immediately surmised. That made them even more dedicated than I thought. I had to think quick to throw them off the scent. 'Er no, he's not here. He, er, went away. Far away. Left last, er, month. He couldn't take what had happened to him. Just left us without leaving a forwarding address. You won't probably ever find him. And I don't have any money either. I, er, have a gambling addiction and spent the whole lot on a horse race at, er, Newmarket, last week. So I think you can go now.'
The same man at the front spoke again. 'Sure sure, we know he is here Dr Macrooble. He live here, we know this. We know he came here last night, and we know he is here now. Please, you bring him to us. We have plan.'
I was not going to back down. Ravel had done many things for me, and I felt utterly obliged to defend him from these sharks. If it came down to it, I was prepared to actually launch myself at them (I did judo at school, and reckoned I could throw two of them at least). 'Look', I said, folding my arms, 'I told you, I have no idea where he is. Now please leave my premises or I will call the police.'
'Show him the SMS from Inspector Davis', said the leader to a man on his left. A phone was lifted and put in front of my face after the text had been retrieved. It said
'You take Ravel with you. He deserves it. Don't let me stand in the way! - Davis.
I read the text a couple of times whilst thinking of what to say next. It might not have been from Inspector Davis, but I did in fact recognise the number (we, er, co-operate on the pub quiz). If that message was real, then it meant Davis was in cahoots with the men in front of me, and wouldn't stop them from taking my loyal companion!
'Don't come any closer, or I'll exercise my right to use reasonable force in defence of my property. You have been warned!', I shouted, my knees bent and my arms held out karate style (why I chose karate I have no idea).
'Dr Macrooble. We are seven and you are just one. We do not want a fight. We come for our man and we go in peace. We are sorry to disturb you but we must insist you hand him over, yes?'
I took another step closer. 'This is for Ravel, you hound!' I shouted, and brought my left hand down towards his shoulder. Thinking about it now, I couldn't actually say why I chose this precise moment to attack. In my head I knew it was a futile gesture. They would make mincemeat of me within seconds. I knew this, and yet still I launched a pre-emptive strike. I felt so indebted to Ravel that I was prepared to sacrifice myself to a bunch of tatty looking Chinese lawyers with European accents, in his name.
Of course, the hand never reached the man's shoulder. I was hauled off my feet and dumped on the ground before I knew what had happened. Looking up I saw the whole bunch of them standing with their arms still folded. It was as if they hadn't even moved whilst throwing my challenge away like they might have blown away a leaf. Was this some kind of souped up martial art, some telekenetic power not seen before in the West? Was I about to be thrown a hundred metres into the wood whilst they skipped amongst the trees throwing bamboo spears at me?
'Sorry bosh. I hope you not hurt.', said Ravel, still slurring his words.
'Huh?', I cried, looking upwards. Ravel's face was near mine as he extended a hand to help me up.'
'You don't need to attack these people. I go now. I look after myself', said Ravel, a thin smile on his face.
The leader of the Chinese gang took hold of Ravel's arm, saying 'OK, we must hurry or we will miss the transport. Goodbye Dr Macrooble...and...thanks for your cooperation. Don't get up, we will see ourselves out.'
They set off at a quick jog. For a moment I was minded to run after them, but then Ravel shouted at me not to follow them. He too was jogging, unfettered and apparently un-bothered by his kidnap. Sitting there, I watched them run along the track and turn left towards the hamlet. My confusion was intensified just as they disappeared, as a gust of wind brought their voices in my direction. Now, I'm no expert in linguistics, but I have heard Ravel talk many times with his Bulgarian family on the phone, and I quite clearly heard both his voice and those of at least two other of the gang. They were all speaking Bulgarian......