Hi everyone! You are in for a treat today!! A few years ago, when I started to become a ‘real author’ I joined a critique group. Along the way, I have met some amazingly talented authors. One of them is none of other than Roger Kean. Roger’s work has always floored me. He might blush, but I honestly believe his work should be on everyone’s shelves.
Roger’s latest piece, Gregory’s Story is now ready for its debut. Without further ado, I leave you in Roger’s capable hands. I hope you enjoy!!
MORE A COMPANION THAN A SEQUEL
Roger M. Kean, author of Goodreads M/M Romance and Queereaders March 1013 Book of the Month “A Life Apart”, plunges again in the burning deserts of the Sudan.
Gregory Hilliard wants to discover his father’s fate, deep in the Sudan, at the hands of Dervishes 15 years before. Attached to General Kitchener’s army in 1897, he goes to defeat the Mahdist fanatics with his friend and lover, the Ja’alin Zaki. Gregory faces a tragic and at the same time life-enhancing mystery with its roots in far away England… and one which might yet rip the two lovers apart.
My new novel, “Gregory’s Story” can be read as a standalone novel, but it’s much richer treated as following on from “A Life Apart.”
I had completed work on “A Life Apart”—the story of Edward and Richard Rainbow—and put it aside to let it rest for a bit before starting final edits. That’s often when you see missed opportunities and do small, perhaps even quite large, rewrites. As it happened I always had the notion of bringing the two Rainbows back for a second outing, but the more I thought about the possible sequel the more I wanted one or two new main characters as the focus, and so Gregory Hilliard sprang to life in my mind, with Edward and Richard as secondary players in the adventure. Gregory, I decided would have a father who had disappeared during the massacre of British officers commanding Egyptian troops in 1883 at the battle of El Obeid, and a mother convinced his father still lived. Gregory had a quest as soon as he was old enough—discover his father’s true fate.
I started to rough out the first few chapters of Gregory’s early life, how he ended up being born and brought up in Egypt, of his first encounters with the Ja’alin Arab boy Zaki and how they came to be lovers… but I needed a link between the two novels. And then it hit me! I went back to when Gregory was about four, worked out the timings, and created a terrible accident where the child would have met his death were it not for the timely intervention of the handsome teenaged Trumpeter Smith, really Edward Rainbow, at the time a runaway from his English family.
Of course, that meant going back to “A Life Apart” at the very last minute and writing the same scene from Edward’s point of view. And that was my link between the two novels; and off went “A Life Apart” for publication.
That incident in the crowded streets of Cairo is crucial to the development of the early plot for “Gregory’s Story,” especially in his affinity for the now much older Edward (they both had somehow “lost” their fathers) and later for Edward’s “brother” Richard. Young Gregory is also drawn toward Edward at a more basic, sexual, level—although he barely acknowledges it—which creates another dynamic in the plot development and which has an important role to play later on.
In “A Life Apart” I explored the endless problems faced by two young men in love with each other in a Victorian-military setting, an era and situation in which homosexuality was a forbidden subject and any men caught in the act, or even accused of it, faced long prison sentences with hard labor. The fate of Oscar Wilde at the time is telling, and it gets a mention in “Gregory’s Story,” but for Gregory and Zaki there is an added complication. Not only must Gregory hide his sexual inclination and his love for Zaki, he must also face the extreme prejudice of his white peers, who regard all Egyptian and Sudanese as an inferior species, and with whom a relationship beyond master and paid servant is impossible, abhorrent, disgusting.
However, what I found fascinating in writing Gregory was that he feels himself more an Egyptian than a stiff upper-lipped Englishman. He strides two countries, two utterly different societies, and that makes his take on life infinitely more interesting. Nevertheless, it strains his relationship with Zaki because the two do have to play-act according to the white rules—Gregory the white officer, Zaki the black servant boy. The only redeeming aspect of this English colonial imperialism is the two boys’ relationship with Edward and Richard Rainbow, two men who know what it is to live a continual lie in order to preserve the purity of their love for each other. And both older men have more than enough experience to know the value of deep friendships with the native people.
So “Gregory’s Story” is often a satire on British imperialism as much as it is an action-adventure set in a very real history as the Anglo-Egyptian army slowly moves up the Nile in 1897–98 to crush the Mahdist rebellion that had brought down General Charles Gordon at Khartoum in 1885, the setting for “A Life Apart.” And ultimately the mystery of the fate of Gregory’s father plunges him into a situation where he must decide whether to accept his station in life and in so doing lose Zaki forever.
A Cairo Street Arab, September 1896
Gregory envied his friend Zaki’s exile down in Habibah al-Suef’s shady yard below. But his own sentence would soon be commuted when Habibah and his mother finished their gossip and then he could run off to the shooting range for an hour’s practice with pistol and rifle, and then to the exercise yard he and Zaki frequented. Gregory turned his head from the overhanging oriel where he sat cross-legged on the window seat. The sun angling in through the glass panes burned his left thigh below the hem of his khaki shorts. His neat dress, European for the visit instead of the loose and comfortable djellaba he’d rather wear, had begun to cling uncomfortably from sweat forming under its tight confines. Across the wide room his mother spoke in quiet tones with her pupil. In truth Habibah no longer required his mother’s tuition and the regular afternoon visits were expressly for the exchange of gossip, just about every morsel of which bored Gregory. His sharp hearing picked out the familiar words in Habibah’s elegantly accented English.
“He is such a handsome boy, Mistress Anne. How proud you must be.”
Habibah always started this topic in the same manner. The objective was simple: by contrast with Gregory’s esteemed wonderfulness, show up Zaki.
“I never will understand it. A Ja’alin as well. Cairo teems with more suitable companions than…”
She’ll be waving her hands now, lost for words. He switched his gaze and glanced down again. Zaki had stirred and started chatting with the woman who looked after the household laundry. He looked up suddenly. Gregory raised a hand, waved, and received a cheery all-white-teeth-in-black-apple-cheeks grin in return, which caused him to shiver pleasantly. The woman offered Zaki a corner of her musallah. Gregory caught the faint call of the muezzin > from… the Mosque of Ibn Tulun was probably the nearest. As the adhan rang out over the streets, to be joined in a musical wailing wave by other muezzins near and far, Zaki oriented himself and bowed his head to the prayer mat, his tightly coiled hair like the pile of a black Berber carpet. Gregory knew well the tight nap of Zaki’s hair and mentally ran a hand over it with a renewed shiver, and from his eyrie joined his friend in prayer. He was used to performing the rak’ahs which made up the full salah, although he did not pray five times a day as prescribed (and to be honest, neither did Zaki observe all of them).
His mother greatly disapproved of him “aping” the Muslims. “You are a Christian,” she berated him after finding him forehead to a musallah with Zaki. On that occasion Nabila had chased the “nasty Ja’alin heathen” from the house—like Habibah, though eons apart socially, Nabila was a Copt. He found the whole business odd, since his mother also insisted that the god of the Christians (she graciously included the Copts), the Jews, and the Muslims was really the same being. When he interrogated Zaki on this, his expert on Islamic affairs shook his curly-knotted head and said he’d have to ask. A day later he reported what a local imam told him, that both of them were ahl el-kitab, along with any Jews.
“People of the Book,” Gregory translated, no wiser really, but he assumed it matched his mother’s assertion.
Unbidden, his mind side-slipped from the sublime to something baser. He laughed to himself at what Nabila and Habibah al-Suef might think if they knew what he and Zaki got up to when out of sight of censorious adults. Rather a lot more than praying together. While it was the son of a French stockbroker who initiated Gregory into the secrets of sex not so many years before, it was Zaki’s precocious uninhibitedness which transformed the purely mechanical into something wonderful, something which only they shared. At first they pleasured each other by fondling and rubbing, although a deep instinct told Gregory what they were doing should be kept secret from anyone else, especially grown-ups. But as they matured toward adolescence, they soon discovered how to make the strange and wonderful sensations stir in belly and groin and then explode like going for a desperately needed piss only… well, so much stronger a feeling. And the resulting emissions, enjoyed together, cemented their feelings in a way that made Gregory go fuzzy inside whenever he thought of Zaki, and which Zaki returned in all manner of ways: by looks, private touches of shoulder, hip, hands, gently tapped heads, even feet when they sat side by side on a high wall, legs dangling.
Looking down at Zaki in the yard, he grinned and unconsciously squeezed his cock. Loose-limbed but so elegant in his economic movements, just a glimpse of Zaki’s dark smooth-skinned legs whenever he hitched up his djellaba made Gregory feel breathless with a strength of excitement he didn’t know how to express. Yes, French and English snobbishness perfectly mirrored Habibah’s high-born Egyptian disdain, for Gregory’s white peers frowned on his friendship with Zaki and were often as vocal in their disapproval. He simply shook it off.
In fact years ago he’d shaken off several of the expatriate children of his acquaintance after Zaki came into his young life. The Ja’alin boy’s bubbly and irreverent sense of humor appealed to Gregory. It wasn’t long before Zaki mattered to him much more than any of his European friends did. But in that, even as youngsters, Gregory innately understood that his close friendship with a native would never be simple or easy; would never be really accepted by his white acquaintances in whom his mother put such store. But what could he do? The first moment those big, round, dark eyes glinted happily when Nabila introduced them and Gregory initiated the smiling, he was smitten.
His few European friends were all transitory anyway, here one day, moved on with their parents’ important administrative roles the next. And they all hailed from big places like Paris or London or Berlin, cities which meant nothing but which they used to lord it over him by calling him an Egyptian fellahin. Little Gregory shrugged it off and made out that he was proud of being a Cairene—which he was, really… at least when the others used it as a tease. Sometimes, on his own, the taunts stung and he never felt like the tormentors were real friends. Zaki was so different. Within weeks… no, if he thought about it, perhaps only days… of being in each other’s company, Zaki became an essential part of his life, and it thrilled Gregory when Zaki responded as though he felt the same. Were they not always able to win the staring game against Gregory’s itinerant cronies? This English lad, that French boy, none could withstand Zaki’s unblinking gaze and had to break away first with growls of irritation. Gregory could engage Zaki’s dark eyes and they would stare into each other for ages before bumping noses to end the session. Gregory also won the staring game against the European boys as well.
“Kite-eyes,” Zaki labeled themselves. “Able to pin the prey and kill at a distance.”
Even when the others made it plain they didn’t want Zaki to “stick around,” he still hovered and looked out for Gregory. One day, one of the older boys—whose father had come to Egypt for a year in some snooty capacity—teased him for being an Egyptian babu. “I say, Hilliard, what school are you put down for when you grow up?” he’d asked in the nasal accent Gregory associated with all the English gentry in Cairo.
“I don’t know.” The question puzzled him because he learned stuff at home.
The worthy’s face contorted into a mock-incredulous sneer. “You must know what place your pater has booked for you in England, surely?”
“I’m prob’ly staying here.”
The bully shoved his face in Gregory’s and aped his words. “Oh, prob’ly, hey? Can’t even speak proper English, you dirty fellah-heen!”
This conversation ended abruptly when Zaki head-butted the boy in the stomach and sent him sprawling.
The truth, he told himself without any feeling of regret, was that he felt more an Egyptian than he ever did an Englishman. When alone, Gregory and Zaki played on the small lawn in his mother’s shady court, wrestled and fought as boys will, and rolled together on the coarse grass the part-time gardener struggled to tame. Gregory loved to snuffle in the crook of Zaki’s lean neck and breathe in the smell of him—warm, like rice newly cooked in coconut milk and citrus from the fruit he handled every day. They wriggled together and inhaled the different scents of sun-blushed skin.
As they turned thirteen and fourteen Zaki became everything and Gregory’s social life with other whites dwindled. As with the haughty sons of temporarily expatriate fathers, so it was with girls. He began to question his feelings for Zaki. Intense, warm, fuzzy, comfortable. They understood each other at a deep level, heightened by their mutual fluency in the Ja’alin dialect, which excluded others even more than his friendship with a Sudanese boy did. The word love had popped into his mind on several occasions for what they did in private. He wasn’t at all sure whether love described his feelings for Zaki… should it be more, or less? In the few English books his mother deemed suitable for his age, any mention of love suggested the emotion was only appropriate between a boy and a girl. But he knew hardly any girls to challenge this. Egyptians kept their women of any age hidden fast away, and the Europeans weren’t much different. There was, of course, Rose Something-Or-Double-Barreled-Other. He wondered why Europeans always had to have so many names.
“You’ve got two,” Zaki pointed out.
“That’s nothing compared to, to… Sir Charles Frederick Mallord Clifton-Wellbury,” he retorted, naming a luminary of the foreign powers governing Egypt’s fortunes… or lack of them.
“Well, I’m simply Zaki, but the imam who berates me for being a wicked person is Alhajji ibn Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd al-Rahman.”
Gregory had met Rose Something-Or-Other on a few occasions at children’s parties, when she regarded him briefly with a blank face. Once, she poked her tongue out at him when she thought no one was looking. Gregory didn’t know what to make of this, but he was certain he had no feelings for her like he did for Zaki. And now they were all older (she was due to return to England at any time, he overheard his mother saying) he was no clearer. They had passed in the street on a couple of occasions, she under the protection of her governess, he with Zaki. He thought he detected a glint of interest as she sailed serenely and silently by, the slightest hint of polite recognition before turning up her snub nose at his native dress and companion.
His thoughts drifted reluctantly from Zaki to the conversation behind him. Habibah was moving into full steam…
“But, Mistress Hilliard, Anne, I mean… A Ja’alin, a Nilotic native of deepest Nubia!”
Gregory sensed the Egyptian gentle-lady’s shudders. But, as always, his mother’s calm, amused voice cut across.
“Nubian, he may be, but Zaki has his good points, Habibah.”
“Well, I’m sure as Gregory’s mother you know best, but it offends my sensibility to see a… a black native consorting with your handsome son.”
As if allowing us to read his work was not amazing enough, Roger has offered up two copies of Gregory’s Story. To enter for your chance to win, leave a message along with your email address. The contest will run from Sunday July 28 thru Sunday August 4th, 9pm EST. The winners will be chosen randomly.
Thank you so much Roger, for stopping by and giving everyone a chance to win your work! You are an amazing writer.