Sugar? No thanks, We’re Maltese!


Valletta, 12th November 2035

The sun was blazing fierce and bright, the world around a stifling and bleached scene of midsummer lethargy. The cafés lining the now completely pedestrianised capital city were brimming with locals and tourists alike seeking refuge from the heat. Air-conditioning belting out cool air gave a surrealistic humdrum which battled with the buzz of the massive fans outside as they attempted to provide a cooling wind to the patrons nestled under a forest of heavy sun canopies.

Two wizened old chums observed this lazy scene from their favourite perch at one of the oldest cafés in the neighbourhood. Come rain or sunshine, wind or as now, the sweltering stillness of summer John and David would be sitting at “their” table chatting, discussing, reminiscing or simple people gazing. Happy they seemed to live out their old age stationed at Joey’s Café day in day out. Joey, a small plump and boisterous ball of non-stop gossip, had long ago resigned himself to the loss of one of his tables. Actually, in a grudging way, he was quite glad for their presence. John and David were such characters; they never disturbed the other clients and gave his café a certain nostalgic air that appealed to Joey.

Every morning the same theme would play itself out and all three men welcomed the uniformity of their lives. In a way they saw it as a security, a confirmation that some things, no matter what, never change!

Joey would arrive at the Café promptly at 6.30am everyday and begin his opening up procedure and prepare for yet another day of business. John, it was always John without fail, would arrive first at around 7.00am and would pop his head through the door to shout his greeting.

“Bongu Joey” he would holler regardless of any sleepy heads in the houses close by.

“Any juicy rumours for us today?”

Joey always had some new story to tell about some politician, musician or media start and he reveled in recounting these, especially when the appropriate oohs and ahhs were returned. Where he got his news from no one really knows, yet they flowed and often one would see an article in a newspaper or a feature on the news about a story Joey would have been bragging about a few days earlier. His sources were obviously genuine and often proved to supply more then just rumours.

Dave would often arrive some 15 minutes later, sometimes sooner, and another “Bongu” would ring out in the early morning stillness. The next 30 minutes or so would be occupied by a scattering of small talk and friendly jibes while Joey went about setting up shop. By 8.00am the first installment of clients would begin to stream in and John & co would retire to their table with a coffee and a few pastizzi.

These two stalwarts of Joey’s Café would spend their day at that table as they discussed or reminisced about the past. And a long and active past did they share. The reminiscing would often happen after a long spell of silence and would be announced with a short giggle and a “remember that time when….?” A long chat would ensue and it is not unusual for them to spend half the day or more talking about that incident from their past.

Naxxar, 6th May 2003

A beautiful spring morning was shattered by the shrill peal of the telephone. No matter how much John tried to ignore it the phone rang on imparting a sense of urgency that could only be attributed to David. With a groan John fell out of the bed and staggered across the room silently cursing and willing the phone to go silent before he reached it.

“ooomf…” he yelled as he stubbed his toe while reaching out for the phone, “Yes?” he said gruffly.

“Hi John, good morning to you too!” was the typically jovial reply from Dave, “I’ve got some very exciting news for you” he rushed on without giving John a chance to slip a sarcastic retort for being woken up at such an ungodly hour.

The reek of Dave’s excitement was palpable even over the phone and John soon calmed down. Pulling the chair closer he sat down with a huff and sighed into the receiver.

“Oh Dave, come on, what is it this time? Not quite exasperated he was, but how many projects had Dave embarked upon over the years? All, mind you, more exciting then the previous one.

Yet another sigh escaped from John’s mouth.

“Really John, you should have more belief in my efforts, anyway this time it’s a whopping idea, no silly get-rich-quick scheme believe me!”

“Business? Business?? With the politics of the country in upheaval? Come on Dave!” There is a limit to my patience John thought, why must Dave always be so naïve about life.

“Hey, slow down a sec… listen up and then think it over, do your research or whatever and let me know!”

Silence..

“Ok??” Dave had to insist..

Still more silence as John tried to gather his wits and think of what could be so exciting this time round.

“Shoot… tell me about it” he eventually said and Dave launched himself into a description, flowery as ever’ of this wonderful opportunity he had stumbled across. Or maybe merely dreamed up during one of his weird hallucinatory periods.

Sugar! His plan revolved around sugar. Well it had its merits, John mused, it was a unique idea. Yet with all the political upheaval going on, that madman George “D” as he liked to call himself, seemed to be gaining popularity throughout the country. And Dave develops a damn sweet tooth!

John considered this George “D” chap a sort of miniature dictator. His speeches were full of the oratory bombastic ness typical to dictators of the past during which he would whip up his listeners to a feverish frenzy. His rhetoric was all about Nationalism, Pride of country, Glory for the flag etc etc and his style was, seemed appealing to the population. John feared for the future should this man be voted into office. David, on the other hand, seemed totally oblivious, always the dreamer who was seeking ways of self-betterment. How many projects had Dave come up with over the years?? Ah, too many to count and this one could be just another dud….. or is it? Enough beating around the bush, John told himself, as he realized that he had just daydreamed a full hour away.

The days rolled by and although both John and Dave were unemployed they still managed to be busy much of the time. Finances, somehow, never seemed to be much of a worry to them though as they both picked up odd jobs here and there which helped them stay afloat. Almost a week had passed since Dave first mentioned the Sugar Project and John still had not pronounced any verdict on it. Predictably impatient, Dave called and insisted they meet up to discuss the idea. An hour later they were sitting at a bar, John with a pint of his favourite stout and Dave, as usual, moongazing over the top of his unopened bottle of water (whether there was a moon to gaze at or not doesn’t matter). Dave had spent the first 40 minutes expounding the nitty gritty of his plan and now, slightly shell shocked, John was mulling it over.

Sugar!! Yep, that was the pillar of the plan. Dave somehow planned to create a Sugar Museum. Who, and this is what really bothered John, would ever want to visit a Sugar Museum? Oh well, that’s Dave for you… another wild plan in the coffers. It took John all day plus some to finish off that pint. He can’t be serious, John was thinking.

“As I said last time Dave, I gotta think this over.” Trying to buy time though John hated putting dave and his ideas down.

“Hmmph” grunted Dave as he continued to gaze at nothing.

Suddenly a whole commotion roared up in the streets and many of the people in the bar were getting up with questioning glances at each other and were working their way towards the windows to try and get a view of what the cause could be.

“What the heck is going on out there?” John shouted at no one in particular, yet Dave seemed not to have noticed. Still caught up in his musings about Sugar as he was. John had to grab at his arm and drag him along as he shoved his way towards the door and outside.

A mass of humanity surged and toiled up the street, all shouting and gesticulating like an angry mob. This cacophony of noise and the chaotic scenes brought Dave back to earth.

“Hello? What’s this all about? He called, but all ignored him as they trudged on as if in a trance.

“Quick, lets get back to my place, maybe there’s something on the news..” John screamed into Dave’s ear to be heard.

“Righto” Dave mouthed back and they squeezed their way down the road to John’s small flat. Along the way they managed to pick up a few scraps of information but the general feeling was that no one really knew what was going on. George “D” it seems was the instigator of all the ruckus.

After a short fumble for the keys John and Dave burst into the cramped flat and charged for the TV. All the local news networks were awash with conflicting reports but the general them was the same – George “D” had masterminded a coup and the Prime Minister and most of his cabinet were locked up pending trial. This “D” chap was the perfect hypocrite in John’s eye as while he claimed to embrace democracy and its values he would then go on to declare that politics and politicians were the curse of democracy.

John grudgingly had to admit that he had a point there, but his actions spoke too loudly of a dictatorial leaning. And recently a joint committee of world leaders had issued an edict in which they declared total, zero tolerance towards any sort of Dictatorship. This edict being backed up with calls for all countries to impose a 100% sanction on any form of dealing with the offending state.

“Dave?” John looked over at his mate who had gone pasty white and very quiet. Obviously Dave must have read up on the edict and its consequences and must have been imagining the downfall of his Demerara Palace before it was even built.

“DAVE!!” John had to shout to get through the trance, “Snap out of it mate, you haven’t lost anything yet and anyway we might get lucky and this whole nonsense gets blown over.”

“Haven’t lost yet?” Dave seemed hysterical, “where you not watching? Everyone seems to have gone ape over this “D” chap and if he gets his way we are going to be isolated” as always Dave saw the blacker side of things.

“Not yet Dave, and ……”

“John,” Dave cut John off mid-sentence, “look at the TV, look outside… how can you say that? Not yet my ass” with eyes on fire Dave glared at his mate and sucked a gallon of air into his lungs.

“You’ve heard about his ideas on politics I’m sure” Dave continued, and as if on cue a Breaking News item was flashed on to the TV screen.

‘PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET DECLARED GUILTY OF TREASON AGAINST THE NATION. GEORGE “D” ASSUMES FULL CONTROL OF PARLIAMENT AND MILITARY’

“oh god….” Dave’s hysterics seemed justifiable. John just sat there staring blankly at the screen. How long, John was thinking, before the world catches on with the events here and imposes the sanctions on tiny Malta. Damn.. Dave was right, we are going to be isolated.

The room was deathly quiet, even the news presenter on tv seemed to be whispering and the noise from the streets had mysteriously become very muted. The afternoon light was fading and the room was becoming very dark as John hadn’t bothered with lights as they charged in earlier giving the room a gloom worthy of the waryness in his heart. Glancing out of the window John noticed that the throngs of people were still milling about but they seemed unsure, confused, about something. The latest breaking news must have brought their Castle-in-the-sky crashing down as the earlier news brought Dave’s Demerara Palace down.

The nightmare played itself out and within a few days the gauntlet of the Sanctions crashed down on the island state. A tough and arduous time seemed to loom ahead especially as Dave seemed to have flipped! The destruction of his sugar plans taking on a completely melodramatic importance.

One evening, many months into the sanction, John and Dave were sitting in front of that same TV that announced the bad news. Dave seemed uncharacteristically calm and collected and John ventured to mention something that had been bothering him for sometime.

“It doesn’t add up” he blurted, very much out of the blue.

“Huh” was Dave’s usual dreamy reply, barely audible.

“Think about it Dave, the world edict that set off this total isolation of our tiny country was meant to protect the innocent right?”

“Yeah, kinda like a disincentive to those with grandiose ideas” was Dave’s dreamy reply.

John blinked hard and took a long look at his mate, sort of to confirm that it was still the same person as he hadn’t had any coherent responses from Dave for ages, most of the times Sugar managed to worm itself into the argument, whether it was relevant or not.

“Ok, right, so why are we, the innocent, allowed to suffer like this because of one man? Much protection we’re getting here” John felt he had a right to a gripe of his own once in a while, especially after all he had put up with these past months. Dave’s ranting on about the lack of sugar was incessant and sometimes totally maniacal. With all the basic necessities running dangerously low Dave had actually managed to whip up enough fervour among a sizeable number of the population and staged a street protest with banners blaring slogans such as: Sugar? We have none, out with George “D” or get us some.

Oh hell, how corny could we get? Ahhh the lack of sugar must be effecting our intelligence.

Dave seemed to have wandered off into oblivion again and John’s eyes were getting heavy… sugar seemed such an unimportant thing before, yet now it has taken on the mantle an all important commodity, an essential to life on the same level as water. There were black-marketeers who were selling the stuff by the grain. Not even cocaine had ever reached such sky high prices. And to think, Dave had once wanted to open a Sugar Museum. The thought of it made John feel dizzy! Say they had gone into the idea, just imagine the flow of cash they would be receiving now if they were to sell the stuff by the grain!! Or rather, the riots they would have to deal with as they tried to keep looters off their property. Yep, that seemed a more likely scenario.

Someone started tapping John on his shoulder, but he didn’t feel like stirring as he was slowly dropping off into a blissfully forgetful sleep.

The tap continued and seemed very insistive……

Valletta, 12th November 2035 (later)

“Wake up Johnny; you’ve been blabbering to yourself like a madman!”

John opened his eyes and saw a big nose looming up in front of him. As his eyes focused better he realized it was Dave’s nose and just above that he could see Dave’s amused eyes looking down at him!

“Ugh… I must have dropped off! What time is it?” John murmured.

“Time for us to leave old chap… Joey is shutting down and I am expected home soon!” Dave informed him as he stifled a giggle.

“So much for the Sugar Days!” John replied with a sheepish smile…

© Mike Gatt

September 2007

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