We caught a bus that took us into the foothills of the Pamirs.

By now, I’d gone quite native and had put on my all-purpose Islamic grey kaftan, which my wife had made up for me out of some curtain material which I think I bought in Malta. I used a length of hemp to bind the thing at the waist, and my feet were stylishly shod with a simple pair of sandals, which I believe I won in a drinking competition in Corfu. I invariably skip shaving my beard east of Istanbul—everyone else out here looks like shit, so why not me?—and with my grubby designer stubble and “there is no God but God” demeanour, I seemed to give people the impression of being a senior theology student, or at least spiritually deranged in some way.

And my being of indeterminate racial origin, not to say parentage, helped.

God bless the officer corps of the British Army, and McCluskieganj.

My companion, Professor Mohammed “Siddiqi” (not his real name—although close—but certainly the one he was using on this trip), had abandoned his earlier costume in preference for a pair of semen-stained black boxer shorts and a shocking blouse-like garment he claimed to have picked up at the market in Tashkent.

“You don’t think I look like a right poofter in this fag shirt, do you, old man?” he asked as we roared past a madrassa on a hillside. “Some of these bastard locals are giving me the eye, and I could do without their attentions just at the moment. I don’t want to have to get into another punch-up right now; it’s really not appropriate behaviour for a mystic like myself. It’s just that it’s so difficult to keep a cool head in this relentless climate. Added to which, I left my spare fucking blood-pressure pills at my office in Russell Square.”

“No, chappie, you look absolutely fine,” I said. “But maybe we’ll try to get you something else to wear next time we stop. Maybe a straightforward fashion T-shirt with a modern, not to say upbeat, slogan on it.”

“Fair enough,” said Siddiqi, flapping the front of his blouse for air. “By the way, that bastard Mongolian wrestler sitting behind us, with his gigantic arse spread over two seats, is doing the most putrid fucking farts, and has been since we picked him up at the Blue Mosque.”

I handed him an enormous joint. “Actually, it’s me,” I said, sheepishly. “Something to do with that explosive muck we had for breakfast. I’m now at the mercy of corporeal forces.”

“Christ, I thought we had a dead mullah in the hold,” said Siddiqi, unkindly.

“In a bum-plugging society, these problems would have been solved,” I answered.

There was nothing he could say to that.


East, south-west, due west.

“Where the fuck are we going?” I asked Siddiqi as we prepared to board the umpteenth weather-beaten bus to nowhere.

He consulted a Pakistani newspaper. “Leave it to me,” he said, and pointing to the passengers, added: “We’re joining a Cox and Kings tour group.”

Then he switched into phrase-book Sindhi (not really his forte) and addressed the driver: “Vehicular Technician!  Salaams! We are rustic hajis, inshallah, and gratefully circumcised tourists in your picturesque and completely modernized and democratic country, free of Western degeneracy. Please monitor the scenery and put us off at ‘Kabul Highway’ as the very instant at which it is most relevant, inshallah.”

I was impressed with his confident delivery, as was the driver, but I don’t think he understood what Siddiqi was getting at.

“What’s happening there?” I asked as we, again claiming to be mullahs, heartlessly evicted some Pakistani mental defectives who were in the seats we wanted.

“All in good time,” said Siddiqi, mysteriously. “Roll me another joint, if you’ve got fuck-all better to do.”

I looked about the bus, at the congested assemblage of Central Asian peasants, derelicts, refugees, and walking wounded; crammed pell-mell into every available space. There were even some children and smaller farm animals stuffed into the luggage racks. Horrible old men huddled next to ugly old women; deformed destitutes cackled and blabbered like crazed beasts of the night. What a crew of fucking uneducated deadbeats. I don’t think I’d seen such a monstrously unsightly crowd since the last village.

“Are you sure this is a Voyage Jules Verne tour party?” I asked.

Siddiqi, now looking to be suffering terribly from hashish intoxication, changed the subject. “Do you see that cunt at the back? The one three rows behind us, in the aisle seat?”

I peered about, innocently. “Curly boy?  The fag with the trussed chickens on his lap?”

“No, no. The prick next to him, with the Iranian beard. The one with the stupid smirk, who looks like he might have trouble finding his own genitalia unaided.”

“He looks familiar, I must say,” I said, thinking hard and holding the hash smoke down as long as I could. “One of your old students? The one you caught wanking during the Hindi movie?”

“Sanjay Gandhi? Not him; he died. Try again.”

“Died ! From jerking?” I was astonished; it seemed so unfair. Poor Sanjay.

“Stick to the subject, you fucking chicken-brain,” said Siddiqi.

“Not the bloke you claimed was butt-fucking that transvestite in your India Department?”

“No!” he said, irritably.

“Is he a cricketer, like Ian Botham?”

“Who the fuck cares!” said Siddiqi, becoming visibly angry.

“A hugely recognisable face, but I simply can’t place the baboon,” I said.

I felt a pat on the shoulder. “Excuse me, dear gentlemen! Salaams. Excuse my inexcusable rudeness, but I couldn’t help eavesdropping your conversation!”

The voice came from a short, elderly man, neatly dressed in a Nehru jacket and cap. “I am Dutt, of Lahore: scholar, astrologer, astrophysicist, part-time necromancer, and principal inventor of the “Grand Dutt-Bolus,” a marvellously uncomplicated, semen-enhancing suppository, patent pending. I heard your confused musings as to the identities of the gentlemen at the back of the bus. Pray, allow me to inform you, and ameliorate your abysmal ignorance. The bearded gentleman is the poorly-apprised, much-reviled, anti-Islamic hack, Mr V. S. Naipaul, and his constant boy companion is quite obviously the homosexual talking-head and travel agent, Quentin Crisp.”

“What’s he talking about?” I asked, delirious with marijuana.

Siddiqi was not impressed. “Don’t you mean Andy Warhol?”

“I beg your pardon, you are quite right,” said Dutt, sounding a little flustered. “What I really meant to say was Bruce Chatwin.”

“Chatwin? Here! Where?” I asked.

“Dutt, insert one of your boluses in yourself and go fuck,” said Siddiqi, decisively.

But just then, another elderly gentleman, this time in the seat in front of us—I’m convinced it was Ben Kingsley, or Yul Brynner—turned around. “You are all quite wrong, entirely,” he said in measured, well-spoken English. “Anyone at all with the slightest brains can see that the bearded man is the disgraced author of the Satanic Verses—one Solomon Rasheed—and that his attendant is a British secret service agent, a veritable James Bond, travelling incognito and empowered to prevent him from speaking any further on Islamic matters.”

“My God,” said Siddiqi, rolling his eyes in derision. “Talk about a fucking pub quiz. This is like the front cover to Sergeant Bilko’s Lonely Band.” Then he asked in a loud voice, “Any other bloody offers from you fucking idiots?”

“Pepper’s,” I said.

“Where?” said Siddiqi.

“Forget it,” I said.

The passengers around us looked suitably chastened.

“Okay, so who is it, then?” I asked.

Siddiqi pushed the smoke deep into his lungs and then exhaled, slowly.

“It’s Gerry Adams, gentleman terrorist and intellectual genius behind the IRA,” he said after a pause.

I shot another glance behind us. “Fuck me, it is too!” I said excitedly. “The people you meet on these busses ! Honestly! Look, there’s Jayne Mansfield, next to those goats! Get a load of her huge tits!”

“I’d love to fuck Demi Moore!” roared Siddiqi suddenly at the top of his voice and making an utterly disgusting gesture with his fingers.

“No thanks. Give me Demi Moore, any day,” I said, flicking my tongue about as if to lick her twat.

“Hey?” Siddiqi looked puzzled.

Then I added, “I wonder if Adams would agree to autograph an Islamic pamphlet I think I’ve got in my suitcase. And the shit-for-brains next to him, is that Art Garfunkle?”

“Garfunkle! Are you mad?” roared Siddiqi. “Fuck off! It’s Maqbul Butt, a demon ball-tampering off-spinner in the Pakistani B-Team.”

“But he looks lily-white!” I protested.

“Oh Jesus!” screamed Siddiqi, slapping the side of the bus again and again, noisily, with an open palm. “It’s Martin McGuinness, you fucking halfwit! Don’t you know those two fucking high points of Irish civilisation are a double-act?”

By now, even the driver had turned around to see what all the fuss was about.

“All right, all right, old man. Keep your fucking plug in,” I said. “So I’m just a dumb old black Paddy from New York.”

“Christ, I wish you’d bloody well pay closer attention to the international political scene,” said Siddiqi furiously, his eyes filling with tears. “Sometimes I think I’m travelling with a complete fucking jock.”

“Very sorry, old man,” I said. “You’re right enough. That was a bit thick of me. Okay, old man, okay. Look, I’ll roll you another. Come on, old man, here you go,” I said, handing him the joint I was smoking.

“Sometimes you really fucking hurt me with your dumb fuckery,” he said. “You must be the most poorly-informed scholar in our chosen field.”

“Have some of this, old man,” I said, selflessly handing him a snort of smack I was keeping for an emergency.

He accepted it greedily.

“Is that Ronald Reagan over there next to the driver? I bet it is,” I asked, trying to make pleasant conversation.

“Eh, what’s that, old man? What did you say? Adolf Hitler?” said Siddiqi, collapsing heavily against the side of the bus, altogether too stoned on the heroin rush to appreciate the stunning views of the Hindu Kush that suddenly loomed into view.


For all installments of “Love You, Zyra,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1