Low life

Jeremy Clarke: When public vice improves private virtue

I suspect my friend Trev of being a follower of Malamatiyya — a Sufi sect that does good deeds in secret and bad ones in the open

11 January 2014

9:00 AM

11 January 2014

9:00 AM

So I go to the all-night house party with my rolled-up yoga mat under my arm. Nice house, middle-class crowd, everybody drunk. Women’s screams coming from upstairs. Looking for the lavatory, I find one vacant at the top of the stairs. I’m in mid-stream when this bloke bursts in and slams the door again behind him. He’s a big bloke and it’s a small lavatory. To accommodate him, I shuffle around the bowl and come at it now from the side. ‘Don’t mind me, pal,’ he says, all business-like. He delicately opens a tiny plastic bag, licks his thumb and shoves it into the powder as if it’s sherbert and he’s ten years old. He licks his thumb lovingly and plunges it into the bag again. ‘Here you go,’ he says, and he offers me his white MDMA-coated thumb to suck. ‘The Yorkshire method, pal. E by gum.’

He stands his thumb up in front of my face. I hesitate. I’ve never sucked a man’s thumb before. It seems indecent and more to the point terribly unhygienic. Apart from being in his mouth just now, that thumb might have been anywhere since he last washed his hands. ‘No, thanks,’ I tell him. ‘You have that.’ But the huge, coated thumb in front of my face is obdurate, unwavering. ‘Come on, pal,’ he says, with genial condescension. ‘It’ll put hairs on your chest.’

I transfer my eyes from the bowl to the bulbous thumb in front of my face. If the police were to burst in now, technically I could get seven years for the privilege of leaning forward and sucking his class A off that. This is a casual observation merely, and not a cavil. I look him in the face. One of Boris’s bottom 16 per cent of the species with an IQ below 86, I guess, and not looking his best, either. Trying to keep my aim true, I shake my head briskly at the thumb. ‘Suit yourself, pal,’ he says huffily, and wrestles and barges his way back out of the door with his thumb in his mouth like a baby.

I follow him out and wander around upstairs, looking in the bedrooms, which are all full of drink- and drug-crazed people, trying to find someone I know. In the last bedroom I try, I am successful. There’s a woman in the bed and Trev, naked from the waist down, is leaning out of the window smoking a contemplative cigarette.

I have recently become interested in a venerable and extreme branch of Sufism whose adherents call themselves Malamatiyya. Malama is the Arabic word for ‘to blame’. The Malamatiyya believe that the root of all evil is the ego or lower self, which they call the nafs. For these austere gentlemen, to be esteemed by others for virtuousness is sinful because it puffs up the nafs. They therefore practise their asceticism in secret, while in public committing the most outrageous acts of impropriety. The public odium they draw down on themselves thus thwarts the nafs and sanctifies them. One of the most revered Malamatiyya saints used to horrify his followers by whipping out his penis and urinating indiscriminately in the street. And I am lately beginning to suspect Trev of secretly being a Malamatiyya holy man. A nicer person you couldn’t hope to meet. But the behaviour is consistently egregious. Adherence to this esoteric Sufi doctrine is the only way to explain him. ‘All right, dude?’ he says.

Hours later we leave the party together and head back to his place. I’ve remembered my yoga mat and have it tucked safely under my arm. On the way, we pass a house with lights still on upstairs and down. An old flame of Trev lives there, and he motions that he wants to call in. It’s about six o’clock in the morning.

And this is how drunk we both are. There’s no doorbell so he must knock on the door. But neither of us can manage one decent knock between us. It’s a feat of manual dexterity beyond our capability. Trev’s hand misses the door completely at the first attempt. In subsequent attempts, his hand is too flaccid to form a fist and he merely caresses the door with the back of his hand and he topples sideways. Even when bracing himself against me, his hand crumples like tissue paper against the glass and slides off without a sound. Neither of us can speak. I am unwilling to take my hands out of my pockets in case I fall down. I stand there patiently, like a cow, with my yoga mat tucked firmly under my arms.

And then I have a bright idea. I meticulously unroll my yoga mat in the postage stamp of the front garden and lay down on it in the corpse pose while Trev keeps trying.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments