Coffee and Stimulating Conversation
The last time I was at Cat’s house in Athole Gardens the only other person living there was her stepdaughter, Samantha. Now there are three more residents; Shaima and her two children, Zeina (8) and Mohammed (5). They’re refugees from the recent conflict in Gaza but Cat is very coy about how they managed to get out.
“I have contacts,” she smiles as she spoons coffee into a funnel, “and if I say much more I’d just have to kill you,” she smiles warmly and pops the funnel into the coffee machine.
“Shaima’s grandfather was a friend of mine back in Cairo in the nineteen thirties, he was my housekeeper and bodyguard,” and seeing my smile goes on, “for the purposes of keeping up appearances. I was working out a university teaching nurses. When I left Egypt in thirty three I promised to provide for him and his descendants,” she opens an instruction booklet.
“I’m just honouring my oath and in my world honour is everything, we live and breathe it and that can be either good or bad depending on the situation,” she flips a page over.
“Sorry, I’m just going through the manual. I’ve just bought my very first coffee machine. This thing does everything, latte, cappuccino, espresso,” she raises an eyebrow. “Don’t laugh, I’ve got a special supply coming over shortly so I’ll be able to taste it for a few days or weeks depending on how long I can make it last.”
She’s referring of course to the imminent arrival of Melanie Nolan aka Morganna and Elizabeth McIvor. The potion that restores her taste buds comes from Morganna although she won’t say much more than that.
“I’m looking forward to seeing them all again, I wasn’t expecting them to return so soon,” she moves to the fridge and adjusts a drawing of a house with a missile descending on it. On the roof of the house are three people, a mother and two children and between them and the missile is some Arabic script.
“It reads, Allah protects those who believe,” she translates for me, “Mohammed drew it a few days after he arrived. I’m hoping to get him to start drawing pictures of houses without missiles and bombs falling on them but it’s a start. They lost their entire family in a missile strike, twenty three people living in one house and only three survived. One of their uncles lives in Ramallah and when he heard about it he opened up a metal box that was passed onto him by his father. Inside it was a letter written in nineteen thirty three by yours truly,” she leans on the fridge and slips her hands into her pockets.
“It promised him and his family refuge and safe haven. There is an address I keep in Berne, which serves as my more or less permanent postal address and when I got a letter from Shaima’s uncle asking for help it was forwarded onto me here. For obvious reasons I can’t reveal myself to everyone but there are ways of maintaining constant contact with mortals over many generations without showing your fangs,” she glances at the coffee machine.
“I’ve got a nice little house not far from here that’s being prepared for them. They can stay there as long as they like.”
And they still don’t know?”
“Why should they?” Cat turns to the door as we hear footsteps drawing nearer, “all they need to know is that a rich anonymous benefactor was looking out for them. I’m the official representative for this mysterious Miss Schwarz and I intend to keep it that way.”
The door opens a moment later and Samantha and Zeina enter. Cat smiles warmly as Zeina gives her a hug.
“Hey this is the fourteenth hug I’ve had today or is it the fifteenth?”
“Sixteen,” she hugs her again and smiles at me.
“This is my friend the journalist, David MacKay and this is Princess Zeina of Palestine.”
Zeina giggles and releases her, she adjusts her glasses and holds out her hand to shake mine gravely.
“It is an honour to meet you.”
“And you,” I reply as Samantha speaks up.
“I’m going across to the garden to play soccer with Zeina and Mohammed.”
“Does their mother know?”
“Yeah,” she pushes her own glasses further up her nose, “she’s coming too.”
“Okay, go kick some goals.”
“Inshallah,” Zeina waves at me and then trails after Samantha as they leave the kitchen.
“She speaks good English.”
“She should,” Cat murmurs a few seconds later. “The literacy rate in Occupied Palestine is about ninety five percent, despite being gassed by the IDF on their way to and from school in the West Bank. Many are multilingual and English is widely spoken. She’s just gotten a pair of glasses courtesy of yours truly, hence the hugs today,” she props on the bench. “She lost her last pair when the Israelis destroyed the house along with everything else she ever owned.”
She pulls a wry grin.
“I’ve had to buy them all new clothes, shoes and various other things, as well as giving them a house. What do you think of my chances if I bill the Israeli government?”
“Not much,” I admit.
“Shame, Elizabeth earned a stern rebuke from the pro Israel lobby for suggesting we bill the Israeli government for rebuilding Gaza again,” she turns to the cupboard. “Not that it stops her letting rip with another broadside. God I love that woman, she says what she says and be damned with the consequences. Some Zionist lawyer has declared her intent to sue for siding with a terrorist organisation and Elizabeth tweeted that she didn’t side with Israel so she couldn’t be sued for siding with a terrorist organisation.”
She takes out two cups and gets some coconut slices from the fridge while I take notes. The whole scenario is somewhat bizarre taking into account that the woman pottering about the kitchen is over seven hundred years old. There’s no attempt to talk over or down to me or make me feel like an intruder. I could be sitting in my sister’s house although Cat’s a better cook. It’s a little known fact of the vampire culture that despite their inability to taste food, many are gourmet cooks.
“It’s a way of compensating for not being able to taste what I cook. Granted I tend to get a little sloppy if I’m just cooking for myself but because I’m a sociable person I’m usually cooking for someone else as well so it stands to reason that I’ll put extra effort into these meals.”
“Slice?” She offers me the plate
It’s a delicious slice and she smiles crookedly as she watches me eat. I had a similar slice the last time I was here although Samantha made that one. I remind her and she grins.
“Sammie’s my pride and joy. If I’d ever had a daughter in real life I’d hope she’d be like her. She has this inquisitive nature that just has to investigate for its own end. When I told her we’d have Palestinian guests staying with us she wanted to know everything, where they lived, the situation and of course the history. I can give a pretty good historical expose of the Zionist invasion and before I could even suggest it, she was searching for the local Palestinian Solidarity group. She’s just painted a backdrop for an open air play they performed in Princes Square the other day and is right into the BDS movement.”
She takes a bite out of a slice.
“Sammie never does anything by halves, she’s either right into it or she’s not interested.”
So is she going to vote in the upcoming referendum?
“She wishes she could but she’s a student here and I’m supposed to be dead but it didn’t stop her from trying to find ways of registering. She’s been attending house meetings run by students and doing door knocks. She’s quite the Yes girl.”
How does she think the campaign is going?
“Better than expected,” she sips her coffee. “This is our third attempt at some kind of self government and thirty five years ago they promised devolution and gave us Margaret Thatcher instead,” she winces.
“A cow of a woman if ever I laid eyes on one, but devolution with the Labour government has been exposed as a bribe. Give us a bit of independence but just not the real deal. If the No campaign had actually offered up a vision for the future instead of slagging off the Yes campaign and rubbishing their claims, they might have stood a chance. But I think the momentum is shifting and we can’t go on one poll, they’re notoriously fickle and quite easily faked if you know who to target. It’s going to be a close vote because they’re playing on people’s fears, the unstable financial situation, the NATO membership, which I’d tell them to shove,” she smirks.
“NATO is trying desperately to justify its existence right now after destroying Iraq and Libya, maybe this time they’ll hit the jackpot although judging by past experience I doubt they’ve learned their lesson. Don’t meddle with other countries unless you want to get your face bitten off.”
She’s warming to her subject as she polishes off another slice.
“Seriously. Why are they so desperate to isolate Russia? They’ve got rock solid trade agreements with the world’s most powerful economy, China and good relationships with India. Why would they want to worry about upsetting the European Union? The Western powers have always had an inflated sense of their own importance. Back in the thirteenth century we were thought to be the most civilised and intelligent part of the world. I travelled through the Middle East, Persia and China. Those cultures were centuries ahead of the West in medicine, science, technology and philosophy. I was only a few years older than Zeina at the time and my head was literally exploding with all these new ideas.”
So where did it all go wrong I wonder out loud and she’s quick to explain.
“Because the western powers had less morality. Arabs are incredibly moral by nature, as religions go, Islam imbues tolerance for others but they came up against Christians who have no problem going against Christian teachings to slaughter innocents wholesale. The Western powers had the ability to put aside their religion when it suited them, to exploit and ravage entire continents. Once you factored in the capitalist creed it was inevitable the Arab world would have to retreat but the fastest growing religion of all is Islam. Christianity hasn’t got a leg to stand on because most people have seen its nakedness. Strip away the mythology and you find that Christianity has borrowed and stolen from dozens of other religions and cults. There’s nothing original about Christianity and I’ve had centuries to explore it.”
But getting back to the referendum. What does she think will happen? It’s a silly question and I instantly regret it but she stares out the window as she ruminates over her answer.
“To answer your silly question,” she smiles, “it’ll go one of two ways, yes or no. If the majority votes no then it’s a slim margin, which means that at least half the electorate voted yes and that changes the playing field. What the SNP have done is to face up to Westminster and the elites have done their usual sniping and cheap shots. What that’s done of course is anger the Scots. We’ve been held down for centuries but when I was Zeina’s age we fought back against tyranny. The Scots love fighting, drinking and rutting, not always in that order and the smugness of the elites has just angered them. Now they’re coming up here in force to love bomb us and I think there’s a good chance it might backfire but if not, at least we’ve bartered a better deal from this modern day Longshanks. He’s been forced from his bolt hole in Downing Street and driven north to confront us. He may even win the day but the Scots will know that by standing your ground you’ll force Westminster to concede,” she pauses.
“It’s like the rocket attacks launched by Hamas. A friend of mine remarked that if Hamas really cared about their people they wouldn’t launch rocket attacks that invite massive retaliation. But when Hamas launch rockets it’s in response to Israeli attacks and although they have little effect, it’s their way of saying, we’re still here on our land and we’re not going away. The sooner Israel realises that the Palestinians aren’t leaving the better for everyone. This referendum may see us lose by a narrow margin, but now the English know we exist and we have legitimate concerns that need to be addressed so don’t write us off or ignore us. Our oil funds their basket case economy. Our resources keep the United Kingdom afloat and yet we have the lowest life expectancy of any region in Britain, more poverty, less job opportunities and when we speak out we’re ignored. Now that they think they might lose us, it’s suddenly rattled their cages and that’s got to be a good thing,” she smiles and raises her mug.
“To freedom, for Scotland and Palestine.”
To freedom. I can drink to that.
When my stepmom’s plane went down a part of me died, Cat was my world. In her place she left us to her friends, the Grey Ravens. Over the years I slowly came to realise her death was a mere facade. When we were reunited I learned the truth about Clan Grey Raven and her remarkable history. Some people will always love. Some people never lose hope. Some people never die…