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The Cult of Following, Book One

The Cult of Following, Book One

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The Cult of Following, Book One

Length:
327 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 4, 2017
ISBN:
9780993524547
Format:
Book

Description

In Book One of The Cult of Following trilogy, Englishman, Percy Field, takes his first uncertain steps towards a future no one could have foretold...

Misanthrope, Percy Field, is completely at ease amongst his reserved middle England community. However, if he is to rescue his floundering marriage he must follow his wife and her job to Singapore. Percy’s new home is exactly as he imagined it to be: too hot, too humid, too different, an annoying place where even his habitual comfort of picking fault doesn’t provide enough consolation. Percy tries to improve his lot by making friends; a feat he has never before attempted, viewing it as unnecessary, undesirable and definitely not English! With the help of Singaporean, Joyann Tan, Percy begins to navigate the treacherous waters of social interaction only to find that unknown dangers lurk beneath the depths.

Publisher:
Released:
Jan 4, 2017
ISBN:
9780993524547
Format:
Book

About the author

Life has so many possible outcomes. From the simple question what if? a thousand stories can evolve. This is how novelist, Barbara Jaques, finds inspiration, through questions of coincidence, uncertainty, superstition and faith.Born in a tiny town in Alberta to wandering parents before their return to Bristol, Barbara has also wandered a little, although is now settled in Wiltshire with her family, close to her childhood home.


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The Cult of Following, Book One - Barbara Jaques

Chapter 1

COUNTDOWN

‘So you’re going?’

Percy Field swilled his drink round and round, collecting miniscule bits of foam from the sides of the glass, making the most of the warm beer he so enjoyed. ‘Yes,’ he said.

His friend pressed him. ‘And it’s the right thing to do? You’re sure? Isn’t it full of snakes and malaria and other crap like that?’

‘No. Well, not malaria, anyway.’

‘So you’re just going, just like that? To a swamp.’

 ‘Just like that, to a first class city. It’ll be fine.’

‘So you’re sure it’s the right thing to do?’

Percy’s eyes lifted to meet the concerned gaze. He wanted to say, no, it’s the wrong thing to do, I am absolutely sure it’s the wrong thing to do. ‘Of course,’ is what came from his mouth. Tonight was not the night for sarcasm, not with Art. Tonight was for beer, companionship and peace.

‘But you hate travel, Fieldy.’

‘I don’t hate it. And it’s not travelling. It’s moving.’

‘Yes. Moving. To Singapore, for Christ’s sake! What if it doesn’t work out? You can’t just pop back here to cheer yourself up.’ There was a pause. ‘Well, you could.’

‘Yes I could.’

 ‘But not easily, or without spending a load of money.’

Releasing a long, steady sigh, Percy observed his friend. How he would miss Art. How he enjoyed these long evenings sampling craft ales and beers. Craft. It wasn’t even the correct term. They used it only because at some point in the distant past they had learned it was wrong, which meant using it became funny in some obscure way. This was not a replaceable friendship, but then, were any?

‘And Sal?’ Art persisted. ‘What does she think, now it’s really happening?’

Percy frowned. ‘Sal was happy enough to carry on as we were. But with her out there all the time, and me back here. It was making things tough. Not just the distance. The time difference. You know.’

‘So she wants to go? She’s choosing it? Her company isn’t forcing her hand?’

‘Maybe a bit. But yeah, she wants it. More than I do, anyway. It’s a step up for her.’

‘Visit, Fieldy. Be a tourist instead of an expat. Let her carry on with her travels and you stay in England. Just tag along every now and then.’

‘I can’t. I told you, we need to spend more time together.’

‘That would be more time together.’

‘Not enough.’

Conversation paused while they each drew a mouthful of beer, followed by the obligatory ahhh that comes with satisfaction.

‘So when did you check it out?’

‘Check what out?’

‘Singapore. To see if you like it.’

Percy slumped a little.

‘I knew it! You see! I told you so! You hate bloody travel. You haven’t even been to Singapore and you’re planning to live there. Who does something like that?’

‘Come on, Art. What’s the point of a trip like that? Sal and I need to be in the same place, so whatever I think of that place is irrelevant. It could be the fucking jungle and I’d go.’

‘It is the fucking jungle.’

‘You know what I mean.’

Art shrugged. ‘Another?’ He pointed at Percy’s now empty glass. 

Nodding, Percy shoved it towards him and watched Art take the few steps to the bar.

While Art leaned on the counter waiting to buy the next round, Percy rested back in his chair and looked about. There would be no pubs like this in Singapore. Sal had told him so. Maybe an Irish bar or two, but no real pubs. No dark brown furniture, questionable carpet, old panelled walls and studded bar stools, all made darker still in the dim orange light of wall lamps. But then, there weren’t many pubs like this left in England, either, so who cared. And anyway, he could come back and visit it sometimes. Couldn’t he? 

Percy wasn’t sure what he could and couldn’t do, once they had moved themselves across those thousands of miles. Sal had told him about perks and privileges, flights home and bonuses, but he hadn’t been listening, thinking only that he suddenly felt trapped. If Sal carried on as she was, travelling so frequently, or if she moved to Singapore alone, the marriage would end. It made Percy’s heart sink to think of it, and so did his lack of choice.

How many thousands of miles was it, he suddenly wondered? He looked it up on his phone and drew a sharp breath. Nearly seven. Phone pushed back into his pocket, he shook his head a little. One thousand or seven, it made no difference. And it could be a good thing, that distance. It might offer a different kind of space, one where he couldn’t accidentally bump into someone expecting him to stop and chat. Cities in general were great places to be by oneself while not actually being alone; a foreign city could only enhance this, he decided.

There would be people-watching, of course, which he enjoyed and was easy in a city. Sal had said as much, suggesting he could hide himself amongst the masses and observe life there. A solitary activity perhaps, but one that suited him for Percy was a man who enjoyed his own company, though truthfully when he was at home he enjoyed being alone less and less. These days the place seemed to creep with emptiness, a sort of isolation that touched on desolation. He knew it was to do with his marriage. He brightened at the thought of having this chance to fix it.

His gaze wandered across the sprinkling of patrons. Sal hated this pub, he mused, and he knew why. It wasn’t good enough for her, for more and more she enjoyed the finer things in life. Compared to Percy she was sophisticated, and from what he had heard, Singapore would suit her very nicely. For Sal, the pub didn’t contain anyone of worth. There were the annoyingly smiley bunch coming for the real ales and beers, and even Percy thought they were dull. But there was also Fat Malcolm, Young George, Big Geoff and Little Geoff, Pete, Mary, Scabby Edith and the bloke whose name none of them could ever remember; rarely all present at the same time as they were tonight, but always represented in some form or another. Percy rarely spoke with any of them, merely nodding and occasionally exchanging pleasantries, but unlike Sal he enjoyed the sight of them. Their presence brought with it a sense of reassurance and security. Home was a quiet place and here was often quiet too, of course, but home offered no security, only unease.

And there was Art. Art was like-minded. He and Percy could be as sour as they wanted to be, and neither man judged the other. They just laughed at one another, with one another. 

Percy caught Art’s eye as he turned from the bar, and smiled. With a large bag of crisps wedged under his arm, his friend returned and placed two brimming pints on the table, before tearing open the crisp packet into a makeshift platter. 

‘Got a big head on it.’ Percy remarked, indicating the beer.

Crunching a crisp, Art offered the name of this latest sample. ‘Dogg’s End.’

Percy took a mouthful, ‘Taste’s like it.’ After wiping the foam from his lips, he held out his glass. ‘A toast…’ 

‘A toast,’ Art repeated, unsmiling, ‘to the future.’

‘To the future. Will you come out?’ Percy asked.

‘To Singapore?’

‘No, Art, as gay. Yes, to Singapore.’

Art paused, and a smile grew. ‘Yeah. I think I might. When I have some money.’

‘Good.’ Percy cracked a smile of his own. ‘It’s going to be weird.’

‘Fucking weird,’ agreed Art. ‘But you’ll be all right.’

‘I know. I am looking on it as an opportunity.’

It was true, over the previous few weeks Percy had thought a lot about what he was leaving behind, and on realising that it amounted to his job, Art and some people he barely spoke to, decided that Singapore might offer something more. It didn’t mean he wasn’t sorry to be leaving England, nor did it much relieve the melancholy this coming change had provoked, but he recognised the worth in trying something fresh; something new in the light of something old staggering dangerously near demise.

For a few moments the men chose silence, drinking and eating companionably.

‘So when do you go?’ asked Art, once he had gathered the last tiny fragments of crisp on his fingertip.

‘End of the month.’

‘Shit! That soon?’

‘Yeah.’

‘What about your stuff?’

‘Some into storage; some will follow us out.’

‘Where will you live? Have you found a house, or a flat or whatever?’

‘Sal’s sorted something.’

‘And what about work? For you, I mean.’

Percy released the second long sigh of the evening. ‘I’ll be able to work. Not doing my actual job or anything, but it’s allowed.’

‘Allowed?’

‘Work. It didn’t used to be. Not for dependents.’

‘So what will you do?’

‘What would you do?’

Art shook his head, ‘Dunno. I’ve never been there. What is there to do?’

‘Exactly.’ Percy downed a huge draft of Dogg’s End, and once more his glass was empty. He pointed at Art’s, still a quarter full. With a wide mouth, Art finished what remained and passed it to Percy.

*

Percy had finally matched the position of the key with the keyhole, when the door ripped open.

‘You couldn’t make anymore noise, could you?’

‘Oh, hi Sal.’

‘You and Art had a good evening, I gather?’

Percy staggered in. ‘Not bad. You?’

His wife closed the door and turned to the piles of stuff covering the floor and any other available surface.

‘What’s this?’ Percy asked, slurring a little and following his wife, before carelessly emptying a chair and sitting down. He ignored her astonished stare.

‘Sorting,’ she said, lowering herself to the floor. ‘We don’t have long before the packers come, and I don’t want to store a load of crap anymore than I want to take it with us.’ She tossed a tee shirt at Percy. ‘Take, store, or charity?’

Percy picked it off his chest, and held it up. ‘Ah! I love this. Where did you find it?’

‘The back of a drawer, with the programme.’

‘Brilliant concert, that one. What a man!’

‘So? 

‘Huh?’

‘Take, store or charity?’

‘Keep it.’

‘Percy! Take it or store it?’

‘Uh. Take. I’ll need a tee shirt.’

‘Why don’t you go to bed?’

‘You don’t want a hand?’ Percy clutched the shirt as if it might throw itself into the ominous black bin liner Sal was filling. Worse, the rubbish bin next to it.

She smiled a pissed off smile. ‘No. It’s late. I’ll be finishing up for tonight soon, in any case.’

‘It doesn’t seem fair that you have to do all the sorting yourself, Sal.’

‘No, it doesn’t seem fair, Percy, does it.’

He felt himself sober a little. ‘You okay? You still want to do this?’

Sitting crossed legged on the carpet, surrounded by their things, Percy’s wife pushed away a rolling tear with the back of her hand.

‘Sal?’

She shook her head, and waved him away, though he hadn’t been preparing to stand and comfort her. ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘A fresh start is what we need. We agreed, didn’t we?’

Percy stared at her. She so often looked hard these days, with a dismissive air. But tonight, there on the floor, looking small, she reminded him of when they first met: her, an ology student, a lively creature passionate about anything and everything, especially him, loving him for the man he was; no pretentions for either. Him, a young man of craft and skill, a genius with wood, absolutely besotted by her, by that beautiful physical form, the flashy smile and intelligence. In that order.

‘I still want you, you know,’ he said. ‘Want us.’

‘I know.’

He waited.

‘Me too,’ she added.

Chapter 2

TO MAKE A CHANGE

After six weeks of doing virtually nothing, Percy Field realised he was not cut out to be a househusband. He knew he was not the only one in existence, particularly in a country like Singapore; there were many, since women seemed now to hold all the cards. He did not miss the daily grind of getting out of bed and travelling through the grey misery of rush hour to reach the peaceful place of work he loved so much. But the stimulation of like-minded companions – more precisely, Art – was another matter. Although Percy knew himself to be introverted and understood that his personality fell on the slightly miserable side of morose, he’d always felt that other sour souls made for interesting conversation. It was one thing to think a thought, but what use was a thought not shared? Somehow, nearly seven thousand miles from home, the single redeeming feature of a new life he did not choose and did not want, was not the self-indulgent pillow he hoped it would be. This new form of seclusion was not working out, and he was fed-up. 

In the awful drawn out weeks before leaving England, determinedly focussing on the joyous prospect of being conveniently inaccessible to all, he had forgotten his need for others. Inaccessible to all was not what he had wanted. What he’d wanted, if he’d stopped and thought about it, was inaccessible to most. Yes, he planned to email Art and no doubt Art would email him, but it wasn’t the same as griping over a pint.

He had come to realise there was only so much coffee a person could drink alone, only so many beers it was possible to sink without sharing idle comments. Only so many temples, shopping malls, districts and museums one could wander without a foil for cynical remarks. Sal was working long hours, and quiet days drifted into quieter evenings and often into lonely nights. By the time the weekend finally arrived, Sal was usually too tired to leave the house, or she went back to the office. It was, indeed, a solitary existence. So he decided to concentrate on his new country, and Percy had to admit that despite his best efforts not to like it, the coffee, at least, was good in Singapore. 

Within the space of a relatively short time, he stopped hiding away in the cold inner sanctum of his favourite café, The Bean, and sat as others did, outside, where the sound of traffic mingled with the whooping call of the resident koel. He was extremely uncomfortable in the constant warmth and suffered it because, in a way, that sticky air brought with it a little happiness. It gave him something specific to feel cross about, at a time when his usual, more generalised irritation was proving a little hard to direct. Had the coffee been poor, he might have stayed indoors and moaned about that instead. 

Even as the fortunate child of delightful older parents, Percy had always looked about himself for fault. Endlessly tolerant, they had been generous people supporting him in everyway they could, latterly so he might move out and set-up home on his own. Both long dead, he’d thought of them little over the years, but the sound of the koel brought to mind his mother, and her shrill greeting. It was a shame they were not alive to come and visit, he thought.

Percy was a morning man, and the morning faces at The Bean changed little. A woman of Indian appearance and indefinable age, with short, straight, orangey hair, almost the same mid brown as her skin, was always there by nine, piercings adorning nose and eyebrows, tattoos decorating her ankles and arms. She never spoke. She sat, read, drank and left. Two forty-something women whom Percy decided were Australian, also regularly met at nine, wearing what appeared to be evening attire with sunglasses arranged like tiaras on a coiffure bed, jewellery dripping, nails gleaming, much talk of school and babies and maids. Three other regulars at The Bean looked Chinese-Singaporean, one woman and two men, and they always shared a good breakfast and a good joke, laughing cheerily. The order of their words sometimes made it hard for Percy to understand as he eavesdropped, especially so given the thick accent, but it was English they spoke. Sal suspected it was something the locals called Singlish but neither could decide if the term was considered derogatory or not. Sal said she would ask someone.

There were also less frequent regulars. Every few days, at ten o’clock, an English woman dragged in a sweaty pink toddler and a stringy baby for a cold drink. She was not groomed to perfection as the women around her, and Percy discussed this with Sal, for he had little else to talk about other than the people he watched each day. He and Sal had to talk about something, Percy felt, for if they sat in silence they might as well be back in England.

The all-knowing wife, or Oracles as Percy liked to call her in deference to her developed figure, declared the woman to be a newcomer, a reluctant expat also resisting employing domestic help. Sal seemed to have many friends, too many considering she worked all the time. Percy couldn’t imagine how she found the time to talk, if she was indeed as busy as she claimed. But whoever these people were, they were a useful source of information and fed Sal’s appetite for local knowledge. Lots of expats initially resist domestic help, she claimed, especially Brits, because the days of feeling comfortable with servitude ended generations ago. Give her time, Sal declared, and she’ll look just like the two Aussies and the two brats will be nowhere to be seen.

Sometimes, if he could find nothing better to do, Percy returned to the café in the afternoon, when the tables of The Bean filled with school children, huge groups pouring in and ignoring the little notices requesting No Studying. When first he saw these small gold and black signs propped up in every café, he couldn’t help but smile at the irony of it. Around the table, and therefore around the sign, a sea of students gathered, laptops open, books strewn, papers everywhere, heads bowed, discussion focussed. The one rule these inherently obedient children ignored was broken only so they could study, and do so in comfort. Percy had never seen anyone ask them to stop. He imagined putting the same sign on tables in British cafés. People would be unsure of the meaning, he decided. No Studying? What does this mean, No Studying? No Studying the sign itself? Or would they think it a statement, perhaps the beginnings of a revolt, a middle class flyer advertising coming change: a riot of literary proportions. 

Percy was a man who liked to think, and he pondered whether it was, in fact, these local children who might cause a riot. Were they indicating, however subtly, that the safe autocracy of Singapore was housing not compliance but rebellion? He wished he had Art to talk it over with. Sal, of course, would chat, but in an increasingly dismissive way that left no room for exploration, always pushing forward an immediate answer as if that was all he wanted; he was the idiot, she the wise-woman. He watched her sometimes, when she was sitting with him in their new marble clad house, laptop fizzing with work, and wondered if she still loved him. He loved her, but they seemed to have passed the point of saying it. He supposed this happened to everyone.

Wherever Percy went, at whatever time of day, there were maids. He watched them as they squatted on the ground texting, sometimes playing with children in their charge, or eating, talking, laughing, occasionally just staring soulfully at some unseen thing; perhaps the memory of a place they would rather be. He and Sal could find no justification for having anyone live in, instead employing a Filipino cleaner on a part-time basis. Instantly, Percy found her terrifying. It was a sensation that unsettled him on two levels; firstly the fear itself, and secondly the idea of this fear, since he was not accustomed to feeling afraid. He soon realised he wasn’t alone. Mila was the big feather duster amongst domestic help, he discovered, which would account for why someone else was always cleaning the house while she barely moved from the comfort of the ironing board. He had been meaning to talk to her about this other woman, to ask how legitimate it was for there to be someone else working in the house. Mila herself, he knew, was an official part-timer, a person with Permanent Residency, and so free from the restrictions placed upon immigrant workers. He feared the extra helper was not. He was sure she was someone else’s maid earning cash on the side. It was illegal. He wanted to ask. But Mila had the biggest face and the scariest expression he had ever encountered in a woman, and so could never find the courage. He would have asked Sal to speak with her, but she was never there. 

It was in The Bean, pondering an absent looking Filipino maid cradling a baby whilst her employer talked with friends, that Percy realised it was time to snap out of the dreary trance he’d been suffering from the start. Watching others live their lives was not enough, not by a long measure. The exact moment of revelation occurred after one of the Chinese-Singaporean breakfast trio spoke to him, startling him into an English-fop stutter. Maybe it was because he had not spoken for such a long time that his vocal chords were caught off guard, or perhaps he was simply habituated to invisibility; he hadn’t realised just how unnoticed he would be in Singapore. Either way, Percy’s responses were numbed.

‘Good morning,’ one of the men had said, as the other man and the woman passed him by, smiling and nodding sharply.

It was casual and quick, and since the owner of the nicety was in the process of leaving the café, it required nothing more than an echoing of the words. But by the time Percy’s pale plain face had folded into something close to a smile, and his voice had cranked back into life, they had gone. He felt ashamed. There had to be more to him than this.

*

When Sal heard Percy’s proposal at dinner that night, she laughed loudly. Whilst he was growing used to this increasingly superior attitude – a manner rooted in England and here sprouting freely – tonight for Percy it inferred something. It suggested that he shared her view, and this he didn’t like, because it implied that he had therefore spoken merely to encourage reaction for the sake of a little evening chatter. It made him feel small. When finally Sal realised he was serious, she put down her forkful of steamed rice and stared at him, bright eyes wide in disbelief, mouth gaping.

‘Not a good look,’ Percy remarked, ‘like a palsied fish.’ It was a risky comment, since her mouth was quite narrow and her lips very full.

‘You. You? Join a club!’ She frowned, nose wrinkling. ‘You?’ Sal shook her blonde hair away from her face in a way that irritated him, though he recalled he normally liked it. ‘I mean, by all means do it. You should get out there and meet people. But you?’

He stabbed several spicy fried prawns to make one huge mouthful. ‘Not a club,’ he said, words muffled, ‘just some kind of...’ 

‘…club,’ Sal finished. ‘Don’t eat like that, Percy.’

‘No, Sal. Not a club. Just… something. I’m not sure what yet.’ He again began gathering prawns.

Sal chuckled quietly to herself.

‘You may mock,’ said Percy. ‘But if you saw as many lone men wandering around Singapore as I do, either entirely alone or with one or two of those… things in tow… ’

‘Children?’

‘Exactly. One of those

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