The Last Temptation

Shay Sheridan

In Africa, there is no such thing as temptation.

There is only seeking comfort, and taking it. Wanting and having, or trying to have and failing. Things are hard, crude, but oddly simple, too. There is no yearning, no taste of desperation in the back of your throat. All there is to taste is lust, or bitter bile, or the thick muskiness of someone's cock in your mouth or the coppery tang of your own blood. And dust, everywhere, in your mouth, in your pores. Dust and dirt and come. Sex or death. Sometimes both.

In Northern Ireland, if there is temptation, it is to feel too much. Easy, in Africa, to see everything as us and them--easy because they have skin different from yours, traditions, religions, languages alien to you. Easy to pretend you were superior to them, that the women you took were yours to take, yours to kill. Oh, they wanted your death the same way you wanted theirs, but you kept apart from them in your head; they were different. They were the enemy, and less than you. You didn't understand them, and didn't want to.

But Belfast is different. They look like you, don't they, and a quick fuck with the comely milk-skinned lass in the pub might move you to the top of the IRA's list, because she's somebody's sister, somebody's daughter, somebody you might've shared a pint with in that same pub. You understand them, don't you? You even feel for them sometimes, because they are as sinned against as sinning, and you are one of the worst sinners of all, because you know the whole damn thing is a colossal cock-up, start to finish.

You don't take from them, men or women, not their food, not their property. Their food tastes like crap, anyway, grey and flat. It tastes of dust, of death. Even their beer tastes of gunpowder.

No sex for you, there. You act like a choirboy, and if you feel temptation now and then, when someone smiles at you, or when you look at your mates, well, the SAS is a different sort of outfit from the mercs. Wouldn't be looked on with the same tolerance. So you hold it down. Ignore it.

Store it up for later.

And then you fall in with this lot, and home you come to the land of your birth. Strange, isn't it, at first, being home? Doesn't feel like home to you, this "green and pleasant land." Or maybe it is home, and it's you who's changed, you who's become the strange one. And like a stranger, a tourist, it all seems shiny and desirable.

It's a feast.

Everything tempts.

You open your arms, your senses. You grab at it all--women, food, cars, clothes, seeking comfort, seeking sensations long denied. Gone is the filth, the dust, the dirt, a ratty sleeping mat and a grimy merc pushing at you in the mud until you spurt your completion. Now there are white, clean sheets and the softly willing flesh of women eager to embrace you within their bodies. These women make their own choices; they're not sold to you as slaves, or bartered by brothers. They're not inviolate virgins. They come to you, one after the other, blonde, redheaded, brunette, a smorgasbord for a starving man.

Starving. Your palate is slaked by as much beer as you can handle, good English beer, not that filthy piss-water that passes for beer in Africa. And food--funny that so simple a thing as, say, a swiss roll can send you into fits of delight. Everything tempts, and you take it all without a moment of remorse.

Save one thing.

You ask yourself why this impossible desire has inflamed you so. You could have anyone. You have had just about everyone. You've never had a woman say no to you. You've never had the occasional man say no, either. So why this one? Why does he tempt you so?

The question, as they say, is moot. He's never shown the slightest interest in you, other than as a friend, a mate. It's a pointless exercise, a gnawing yearning fated never to be fulfilled. A temptation never to be addressed.

And if you touch him a little too much, hand around the shoulders, a quick ruffle of his hair, a fleeting palm on his bum as you ascend the stairs, so far he hasn't done more than flash you a speaking look and turn back to the job at hand. Each time you're relieved he hasn't caught on. And if that doesn't suffice, well, too bloody bad. You can't cock this one up, because it means too much.

But it's not enough.

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