I can’t believe what I did this evening. Perhaps it was the nectar that made me do it. Or, it’s just been such a draining day, what with Joshran Kemnat’s departure and everything. Perhaps I was jealous of Sophia. At last she and Ben Alki have got together. The months I’ve been trying to get her to make a move. We’re not so old-fashioned that we can’t let a guy know we fancy him, are we? She’d been torturing herself for weeks. He’d been the same. Well, not quite, exactly. Blokes just aren’t. But I’d heard him often enough. Telling the others just how much he fancied her. He was a bit crude, I suppose, but I’m sure half the time they just do that, I mean talk like that, because they’re shy really. They just talk about all the physical things. Bit silly really. Because if it was in fact that simple, why not just go for it, like the animals do?
Then, of course, we had been drinking nectar. I’m sure the nectar was stronger than normal, this time. The controllers do that sometimes, alter the strength. Maybe it was a sort of celebration, or compensation for Elder Joshran. He was such a nice man, and we’re all sad now.
No, but when I saw Sophia leave with Ben Alki, I’m pretty sure they must have gone back to his place, and they would have had sex. Why not? After that horrible thing he had to do today… I hope they won’t be like Marijam and Nazaret, though – Kaleem’s parents – failing Stopes. Since we heard about that, we all get worried. I wonder if only girls worry like that?
Then there was me, and there was Kaleem and we were alone in the bar. We were being almost as bad as Ben Alki and Sophia. He obviously didn’t know what to say to me and I had no intention of going until he did say something. So there we sat. And then I come out with it. “Where can you get Black Tulpen on Terrestra?”
You can’t. You just can’t. They’re only grown on Zandra. Sure, you can get black tulips here, but only the ordinary-sized ones, and they don’t mean anything. Nor are they anywhere near as expensive here as the big ones are there.
Really, though. Black Tulpen. Kaleem played it down when he said a Zandrian girl can show a guy that she fancies him. It’s much more than that. The Black Tulpen mean that the girl wants to go to bed with the boy. She wants his hands all over her, his tongue down her throat, his swollen penis throbbing inside her. What’s more, she’ll probably have him round to her place, dress beautifully for him, drown herself in perfume, cook him a great meal or get the Autochef to do something good. She may even pay for a little holoholiday for the two of them.
He probably thinks I’m a complete slapper.
It is all right coming from Zandrian girls, I suppose. They’re all a bit more outward going on that planet anyway. We’re just too old-fashioned and shy on Terrestra.
But I’ve always liked Kaleem. Even before he went off and became the Peace Child, I thought he was quite nice. He was always very serious, and quiet as well. I wonder why he used to live down in the old cave system like that? He didn’t go out much – you never saw him in any of the junior bars or the mixed sports clubs. He wasn’t shy though. He used to say what he thought. And he was intelligent. Really intelligent.
I’ll never forget that awful day when Stuart Davidson and Erik Svenson had a go at him about the way he looked. They really were cruel, and poor Miz Johnstone got into trouble for trying to explain why he looked the way he did and was then suspended from teaching because she’d given us some Hidden Information.
I suppose he is a bit odd-looking. He looks so much more normal though, now that he’s dyed his hair black, but his skin’s still much darker than everybody else’s. I think that was partly why I used to like him. Because he was different. I think I was fascinated by him. I didn’t fancy him back then. I suppose I wasn’t all that much into boys then, though I did go out with Erik for a short while – elders know why! What a mistake that was!
No, I just liked Kaleem. He was mysterious – because of his looks and where he lived – and straight forward at the same time. He wasn’t devious like some of the other boys. I mean, I just know they were thinking about sex all the time, not that they really knew all that much about it then. You could work out what they were going to get up to, or what they were thinking. You could trust Kaleem, somehow.
And when he went and disappeared. Even Pierre Lafontaine didn’t really know much and what he did know he had to keep secret.
Then Frazier Kennedy of all people – his grandfather, for goodness’ sake – called us to a meet and said he wanted to find someone to help him greet Kaleem – the Peace Child – when he came back from Zandra, I volunteered. Lots of the girls in our group did, and some of the boys. Frazier Kennedy interviewed us all himself and he chose me. I never did understand why, but I felt really honoured.
And to think how much I worried about not knowing what to say. I needn’t have. They worked out a speech for me. I was so nervous.
But Kaleem was as nice as ever. He did seem different, though, even through a communicator screen. He seemed more confident, somehow. And he’d lost that worried look he always used to have. I didn’t actually fancy him not even then. I didn’t even think about anything like that. I’m sure, though, that was when I really started to respect him.
Tonight was different. Perhaps it was the nectar talking. I meant every single bit of what a gift of Black Tulpen means on Zandra. After Sophia went off with Ben Alki and I started to think about what they might be up to, I wanted Kaleem all right. I’d been watching him most of the evening, after I’d got those two sorted out. I love the way he moves – like an athlete or a dancer. He seems so strong, too. Mentally as well as physically, I mean. I wanted to do something to please him. And I wanted that strength around me – in me, even.
And so I blurted out that stupid question. I can tell you, the second I had, I wished we could have had a terrestraquake or something and that I could disappear forever.
He looked surprised. Then a bit awkward, as if he didn’t know what to say. Then he smiled.
“I don’t think you can,” he said. “They don’t grow here and they can’t be imported. Yet.”
“Only joking,” I managed to say. I had to look away from him, because I was so embarrassed.
“Can I walk you home, anyway?” he asked. He lightly touched my elbow, so that I had to face him again.
“Well, which transporter route do you take?” I asked.
“No, I mean, walk,” he replied. “I’ll walk with you back to where you live, and then I’ll call up a private transporter from there. Or send for my grandfather’s.”
I couldn’t speak. What a lovely old-fashioned idea, I remember thinking. For starters, people don’t walk anywhere these days. Perhaps we are a bit mad, going absolutely everywhere by transporter, then spending hours at home on the exerciser or in the hologym to keep fit. And then if a boy and a girl want to do anything remotely like what Black Tulpen imply, they usually just go and rent a temp apartment for a few hours. It’s all so safe with the Stopes programme.
“You don’t live far away, do you?” he asked. “It’s about twenty minutes, isn’t it?”
How did he know that? Had he been looking at my profile? Did that mean he’d been interested in me as well?
“It’s a lovely evening for a walk,” he said. “It’ll be cooler now.”
My heart was thudding. Did that mean he was intending to take me to the park, perhaps, and we were going to sleep together there in the open? That’s frowned on, but people do do it. I suppose he’d get away with it… or would he… wouldn’t the information channels go berserk? I could just hear the robot reporter voices now.
“Kaleem Kennedy. Our so called Peace Child, caught with his pants down in the Peace Park. Frazier Kennedy once more has to disown a young relation. Like mother like son.”
No, I couldn’t let that happen.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather…?” I couldn’t get the words out. Perhaps, after all, his wanting to “walk me home” was another form of rejection. I couldn’t bring myself to suggest that we hired a temp apartment.
“Come on,” he said, pulling me to my feet, and then steering me from behind, his hand at the back of my waist.
The robot glided over towards us. Kaleem lined his eye up with the sensor.
“Both bills on my account,” he said.
Seconds later we were in the lift, speeding up to the surface. We were no longer touching and there was at least fifteen centimetres between us. But it was as if this electric current was passing between us. I was convinced that if we touched again there would be sparks. We didn’t speak as we went up. Kaleem seemed to avoid looking at me. I was quite glad really.
He turned and smiled as the lift stopped. Something turned over in my chest and there seemed to be a lump in my throat.
He operated the switches on the doors and stood aside as I made my way through. Then we were out in the fresh air. It was much cooler than it had been earlier in the day, but still warm enough to feel comfortable. The night sky was clear and brightened by stars. The scent of honeysuckle and night-scented stock was so strong and erotic. You have to admit that Terrestra has recovered well after the poison cloud went.
“Told you,” he said.
Suddenly, I felt so comfortable with him. I found my voice.
“But it really must be fantastic, being up there, with the stars,” I said.
“Oh, it is, it is,” he replied. “Especially when you look down at Terrestra. Or Zandra for that matter. But it’s great looking up at the stars as well.”
“Surely they’ll send you somewhere else, one day, won’t they?” I asked. Goodness, it had been such a shock to find out that despite everything people had regularly left this planet, and he as Peace Child would surely have to go away again.
He shrugged. “I expect so,” he said.
We were walking across the Peace Park now, and without me telling him, we were walking in the direction of my home. He must have been looking up stuff about me. So perhaps he did fancy me as well, after all. Even before tonight. What a thought!
“So,” I said. I felt bolder again now. Despite the stars, the half moon and the soft lights from the lamps in the Peace Park, he would not be able to see if I blushed. “Have you ever had an offer of Black Tulpen before?”
He suddenly stopped walking and looked at the ground. His toe played with a piece of loose gravel.
“Yes,” he said. “There was an offer once. Just after I arrived on Zandra. Didn’t dare take it up, then, though.”
“Would you have liked to?” I found myself asking. Honestly, I must stop drinking nectar.
He laughed. “Of course,” he said. “Actually, she looked a bit like you. But blond.”
I suddenly felt hot. At that point, he took my hand.
I loved it, walking along with Kaleem. Yes, with Kaleem. I suddenly didn’t care that he was the Peace Child. Sure, I liked the strong person that being that had made him into, but he was still more Kaleem than Peace Child – whatever that really meant.
“Is it hard, being the Peace Child?” I asked him. Dumb question. But I needed something to say.
“Sure is,” he replied. He stopped walking. We were by what looked like an old shut-up entrance to one of the cave networks.
“Come over here,” he whispered, pulling me inside the shallow opening which covered the doorway.
He quickly looked behind him to see if anyone was watching, then I was leaning against the wall and he was pressed into me kissing me hard on the lips. So, he was accepting my offer after all. And I wanted him. Oh, yes, I wanted him. My hand found its way under his tunic and to the top of his leggings. I began to slide my fingers in. It was obvious now that he did want to accept the imaginary Tulpen. In fact, the poor lamb was trembling.
Then suddenly, he stopped kissing me. He pulled away from me, and pushed my hand away from under his tunic.
“No,” he said. “Not here. Not like this.”
He straightened up his clothing.
“I’ve made a mess of your hair,” he said, smiling. “Sorry.”
Then he helped me to straighten it and my tunic. “Come on,” he said, “we’d better get home.”
He didn’t hold my hand any more, and we walked almost in complete silence.
He stopped right in front of my apartment block.
“I’ll see you again soon,” he said. “I’ve got your call sign. I’ll call you up.”
Then he gave me a little soft kiss on the cheek and he was gone. He didn’t even give me time to ask for his call sign. I’d be able to summon it up easily enough, and he had got mine – or so he said. I don’t know how he knew it. But I would have felt better if he’d given me his.
I didn’t know what to think. He’d seemed to fancy me. Oh, yes, there was plenty of evidence of that in that cave entrance. In fact, I don’t know how he managed to stop himself. And it really was clear that he’d thoroughly researched me.
Oh, and it’s not just that I fancy him. I think I adore him. In fact, in many ways tonight, he behaved like a perfect old-fashioned gentleman, and you know, I like him all the more for that. But, it was just so frustrating.
Then just as I reached my apartment, I suddenly had this thought. Could it be that he’s a virgin? After all, he’d been offered black Tulpen, just the once, when he was on Zandra, and he’d turned them down. And I guess he’d been too busy after and also while he was still on Terrestra. Doing all that training to become a Peace Child… and before that he was a bit young anyway, and he would have definitely found it hard to find somebody. I mean everybody found him odd then. I know I liked him, but there was no doubt about it – he was very odd. So, I bet that’s it. He’s never done it before. That’s why he was trembling. Oh the poor, poor lamb.