Exerpt from ‘Bleached Bones and Sailcloth’, by J Diddith.

    Melanie Dunstan 1997 "Heeeere, Shuk, shuk, shuk, shuk, shuk; heeeeere, Shuk, shuk, shuk, shuk, shuk."

    The wicked catcall surrounded him from four sides, and Hamil felt like beating the boys to a pulp. Never mind the lessons in live and let live. Never mind that those obnoxious boys were the sons of the prominent Arab leaders. Never mind that his own father was the most prominent of all at the Semite peace conference, the Interlocutor himself.

    He tucked his chin harder into his chest, and practiced calming breathing. It didn’t work. The biggest of the four leered close into his face - offensive in any culture, more so in Hamil’s, where personal space meant freedom. Hamil held onto his courage with clenched fists and deliberately hawked, as if to spit. The big boy, worried, moved back - and Hamil immediately sank down to sit in the centre of the walk, humming, eyes closed. It was a trick the old Yogi had taught him, last year. The boys moved closer, taunting. Hamil could hear the "Shuk, shuk, shuk," even through his humming. He stuck his fingers in his ears, hummed louder, and listened through his bones. It worked. When he next took his fingers out, the boys were distant monkeys on the horizon. Hamil let out an explosive breath and slumped backwards - immediately jumping up as he felt the dust settle onto his face. Marah would be furious!

    Like the mosquito looking for manblood and finding only threats of death, Hamil ran from one certain trouble into another.

    "....And that makes three times in four days that he hasn’t completed his school work, plus the damage to the small room and you surely are aware of the ridiculous way in which he......." Hamil tucked his chin into his chest, and listened to his spoon scraping on the plate as Marah delivered yet another harangue at his stony-faced father. He held onto his calm as a root holds on the windface of the cliff. Stealing a glance sideways, he saw the Interlocutor expression on his father’s face. Not good. Tuning in for a brief, painful moment to Marah’s tirade, Hamil realised that today would have been better spent watching the whales. Staying calm became an effort, and Hamil found himself increasingly reacting to Marah’s slights and accusations. The food became grass in his mouth. But a bright moment came when Marah temporarily paused between misdeeds and turned away to bring another serving dish. Hamil, distracted by the absence of sound, glanced at his father and savoured the merest hint of a wink that fleetingly kissed the Interlocutor visage.

    As he cherished that wink in his heart, Hamil remembered times he’d asked his father about Interlocutor work. Unbending on rare occasions, the replies his father had given varied from the monosyllabic to short discussions to instructions to watch and wait. "Murder and mayhem" was the most common response to Hamil’s questioning, a frightening phrase that was often pondered by the light of Hamil’s reading lamp on sleepless nights. Most Semite groups didn’t like each other. So they went round getting angry and killing each other and causing each other problems whenever they could. Hamil decided it was because they lived too close and were too similar, but it didn’t do to say such things to other Semites. Particularly not when your father is the Interlocutor.

    Hamil had watched his father on many occasions when people had both applauded and reviled him for his decisions in conference. The Interlocutor expression never changed. Not for happiness, nor sadness, nor grief, nor anger nor fear. Although, Hamil reasoned, his father had overcome fear many years ago, -he must have done - to be in his current exalted position. It didn’t even matter who addressed the Interlocutor - from the highest Semite leader to poor Marah, who felt she should have been born a man so she could go on the stage, and practiced the virtuosities of her fantasised calling at every opportunity - mostly to Hamil’s detriment. But even when hearing the worst of Hamil’s escapades - and Hamil would readily admit there were many of these - the face of the Interlocutor remained unchanged.

    Later, in the study together with his father, Hamil breathed in the sharp incense of the insect lights as he watched the brief twilight and listened to the waves and the waterbirds calling. He told his father of the boys, and their calls and then asked the Devil’s question. "Why?" repeated his father "Well, it has to do with the Other Meaning Of The Word." Hamil heard the capitals. He remembered half-heard whispers behind the outside rooms at school. He remembered low-voiced laughter from his father’s room late at night. He abruptly decided the subject could wait a day or two before being thoroughly examined.... but that didn’t make sense! Shuk was for what men did with women - everyone knew that!

    His father saw the confusion leaping around on Hamil’s face and spoke gently of the priesthood and the expectations within it. He spoke of many lands, many cultures, including the Arab cultures, many ways of expressing life and love. Some of this was definitely not what Hamil wanted to hear just then, and he began to breathe into his calm area within, to avoid wriggling with anxiety and impatience.

    His father paused, to make sure that Hamil had actually heard the words instead of only his agitation. Hamil recognised the Interlocutor ploy, and responded with the correct question. His father’s reply filled him with immediate and incredible anger. Anger that made ‘Murder and mayhem’ seem like small soldier ants, marching away, easy to step on. The anger got bigger and bigger until it filled up Hamil and all the space in the room. "I am not their novice priest to use!" bellowed Hamil, wild with unchained anger. He stamped around the room, flapping arms and flicking knees and hair.

    Catching his father’s eye, he saw the Interlocutor face, as always, impassive. "Would you have them use me that way, just because they are honoured visitors to our conference?" he asked in a small, please-reassure-me voice.

    "I would be angry beyond belief if they did..." replied his father. In a rare gesture of affection, he touched the boy’s shoulder. Appeased, Hamil looked away - and then became incensed all over again. He didn’t care that he was behaving like a non-walking child.

    "How can you sit there and not even look angry when you say such things!" he screeched. "Hush," said his father. "Marah will hear - and will copy you...." Hamil’s anger diminished but would not go away. And so his father told him the first Great Interlocutor Secret, upon which the entire science is based.

    "Where does anger go? In the constant recognition that we are the same, not separate," he said. "For how can you be angry with that centre which is essentially yourself, and the same in all?"

    "But what about their behaviour?" insisted Hamil, moodily. "Do you blame a redfruit for behaving differently from a thick-skinned purple fruit when you cut it?" asked his father. "They are both food. Yet they do not behave in the same way. Differences are fun." Hamil remembered the too-close, leering Arab boy’s face, heard again the now-embarrassing taunt. "I don’t think it’s funny," he said. "Ah, but you will, boy. There will be times when finding and holding onto your Interlocutor face will be the hardest thing in the whole world when your body wants to shout for laughter!"

    From the kitchen, the off-key sounds of Marah’s bawdy rendering of ‘The Grecian Sailor’s Lament’ filtered gently through the slatted boards on the floor. Father and son looked at each other and burst out laughing.

    That day, Hamil recognised that he could eventually follow in his father’s footsteps. For it is not commonly known, that the office of Interlocutor is hereditary, if a subject is worthy. And each candidate must hold his face, and remember that all are one, no matter what happens. Even the murder and mayhem that abounds in the Semitic cultures. Hamil went on to become one of the best Interlocutors of his time - with many escapades between, frequently punctuated by Marah’s colourful diatribes, of course - and was known as the ‘joyful Interlocutor’ from his open demeanor and his shouts of laughter before he entered the conference rooms each day.