The Bedouin Cricket Club

It was at some point just past midday on the wind-cracked Sunday that Phelan, the leader of this reprobate, ever-shifting caravan informed me that the flux I had experienced would now be replaced by some permanence, and his band would take part in a game of cricket with local villagers.

As an American I had always had a curiosity for this sport. But the idea of a match taking place now, in lieu of the depravity I had witnessed in the previous days as part of their merry band, crazed me. I’d been sent to England to cover sport, yes, but that mission had evaporated in the hours, days - how long had it been since the beast of a Mufti had whisked me out of the metropolis in his beat-up Volkswagen?? Vorsprung Durch Tecknik he spat at me before collapsing over the wheel with a godforsaken shriek. This hairy mountain man. A linen behemoth was taking me to see something I hadn’t ever seen before. And goddamn it, it wasn’t a nudist beach in Vancouver.

Once we arrived in the place they called Yoxford I noticed two of them might have been more psychoactive than any men I’d ever had the misfortune to be trapped on a bench between. One offered his hand “I’m Russell”, he told me. I was uneasy. His shoulders loomed over me.

“Call me Uncle, I told him.”
“Uncle what?”
“Just Uncle. For now.”

His side-kick, a dark-eyed man of indeterminate age in huge oversized track outfit pressed a canister of something in my hand. It bore the legend ‘Strongbow’ and he urged me to drink it. Is this the local brew I thought? Is this… safe? I stashed it in my belt, drew hard on my Gauloise and smiled insanely in his face.

The game began and a huge man – as tall as the man called Russell, deranged staring eyes, pupils like beach balls propelled the ball hard in to the unforgiving wind for what seemed like days. They called him Dan. A barbarous man. Two children accompanied him, left playing serenely enough, thinking that even though Disneyland had burned down, as their father explained when they arrived, it was a pretty fine wreckage and maybe in the foliage and twisted metal behind the cricket ground (all that remained) they could have a fun time.

I was standing at Square peg or whatever they called it, all the better to experience at close hand the bastardised baseball which is the English Summer game and they had tasked me to check each batter made it to base. Bedouins got a wicket and the learned Balfour was trying to trick me with three different handshakes. Was he a Freemason like they told me in London? He hailed from far away but as Robert Browing the English poet knew, the Patriot was an old story.

The men greeted each other, some moved more quickly than they had in four hours, to high-five and pirouette. A brunette called Suzannah appeared from nowhere with a sports holdall, handing out Gatorades and orange quarters. She was at least a head taller than every one of them, breasts like IED’s and a mouth as sharp as Lenny Bruce on a bad day. CP – A craggy Antipodean with hands like a Venus Fly-trap ranted and squealed at his team mates.

At the interval these Bedu each spoke with a fearful reverence of the itinerant Preacherman they call ‘Sean’. He never showed his mystical face and when I pushed them to tell me more of him the men took on a look of distant wonder and agitation before spitting cursing or leaving me. It seemed I’d looked in to a pool of poisoned Albion and would have to be content with my lot. To be the first American to have insight in to this sport they call cricket would not be my pleasure or pain.

I had to wait until after the game to seek insight from the skipper - as they called him. Who did I have to seek out in this Heart of Darkness? Why skipper? I’d felt like I was on a boat ever since two of the Bedu had pinned me in the corner of the country roadhouse they call the Cratfield Poacher that early morning and attempted to explain something called Leg Before Wicket between large tugs of some ether compound. The one they called Mansell screaming HOW IS THAT in my face while the kid Peter Williams pinned me to the pool table and threw the 8-ball repeatedly at my legs. The skipper Harrison accepted me in to his dressing room, and offered me German beer. He was draped in a monogrammed kimono scratching marks on a page in an Arab script utterly alien to my eyes.

“What is that you’re doing?” I said.
“This, boy, is the narrative of our little game today. You Yankees wouldn’t understand but here on this sheet is Our Story. The big Aussie ‘AB’ has smashed it!” Harrison pointed at some sort of binary, full of 4’s and 6’s. It looked like a Semitic I-Ching, and I was scared and confused once again.
He continued, “He got 71 in 45 balls. That’s the kind of scoring we needed today if we had any chance of chasing 281.” What little of their game I could stomach or begin to understand was this: The Bedouins asked their village opponents to bat. Interminably they watched and chased and skipped over that red hard negative of a baseball, sometimes chaperoning it out of the playing area themselves rather than pick it up or catch it, as if the ball was studded with nails. Maybe the son of the village blacksmith Scott Sutton spiked the leather as he pulverised them - scoring a hundred for Yoxford.

Outscoring that was going to be a tough call, and the nomads had to make do with what they insisted was a flamboyant, provocative draw. Any American would call this outcome a defeat, unless they happened to belong to the Bush dynasty. As I stood in back of the shower room wondering if I’d just borne witness to the European equivalent of a Florida ballot the next thing I knew there was a sound behind me and in walked Phelan, or Mufti as they called him, with the strange alchemist who travelled everywhere with this group of Bedouin, Elliot Sherrington. Feasting and revelry would happen anywhere when this pack of individuals shot the breeze together and, ritually, Sherrington would oversee all arrangements pertaining to this debasement. Seer, necromancer and opening batsman, he would always be the diviner of hard liquor and red meat or brains of sheep.

“Are we getting on it tonight then?” He asked cryptically. I was left to ponder the meaning of the motto No Horse No Wife No Moustache which Phelan told me would be this excursion’s real truth. Playing with this idea in my mind a chill settled on me and I got a call out to my Attorney in Colorado. After I explained I didn’t need an airlift, just an idea of how to get back to London, and an air ticket, I left them there in the flat-hilled British East and headed back home, still no wiser about their secret ritual: cricket.

Sailor J.Landesman

The Charge of the Weird Brigade
The Charge of the Weird Brigade
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