Sultana Raza

Sultana Raza has an MA in English Literature. Her creative non-fiction has appeared in Literary Ladies GuidesLiterary Yard, countercurrents.org, Litro, impspired, Gnarled Oak, and A Beautiful Space. Her 100+ articles (on art, theatre, film, and humanitarian issues) have appeared in English and French. An independent scholar, Sultana Raza has presented many papers related to Romanticism (Keats) and Fantasy (Tolkien) in international conferences.

Infer-Know Tours

Dear Hattee,

Would have written earlier, but for the pesky mosquitoes. Apparently, it is not enough that their brethren screw up their noses at the low quality of blood to be found under my browned skin, and find it beneath their dignity to taste it. The fact that most of their tribe fly away without tasting it, isn’t enough. Both Spanish and Moroccan mosquitoes voted unanimously that they will only believe it, once they have smelled it themselves. Too bad if I find their landings and take-offs to be so annoying, that it puts me off scribbling post-cards, or you would have gotten this last week.

That Maria Marped is very proud that mosquitos are avoiding her, but as I announced in front of the whole gang, that’s because she’s so cold-blooded, they’d freeze if they landed on her. But I daresay, she’s not more cold-blooded than that new young man of yours. Hope he’s still not buzzing around you, and that you’ve swatted him away by now.

Yours hardily,

Aunt Tzestee

PS I’ve half a mind to sue Infer-Know Tours (after we get back, of course) for not warning us in advance about these beasts, or for at least arming us with the appropriate creams, lotions etc. which (as expected) they’ve failed to do so.

#

Dear chumpkins,

You won’t believe the amount of marriage proposals we (including myself) were all bombarded with in Tunisia. Even ‘deaf and dumb’ Oriole lost count of her proposals!

But Ms Blatty Teppid, a fellow passenger on Infer-Know Tours surprised us all by dealing with them very efficiently: if any roaming lotharios propose marriage to you in any souks, just say that you are afraid that such a man would already have numerous wives, if not girlfriends. And after puffing up with pride, the foreign-girl chaser will leave you in peace.

All right, all right, I agree with you. That reply toned down to just girlfriends will go down well with most men anywhere on the globe. Why would anyone want to marry that old maid Blatty, was beyond me. Must have been a real shortage of sallow pale blondes in Sousse that day. That Maria Marped’s going around, boasting that she’s gotten two proposals more than me, but that’s all stuff and nonsense, as we all know.

Anyway, hope you’ve gotten over your own silly infatuation, and thrown Mr Worm out! In fact, why don’t you use the above tactic on him to throw him out? How can Mr Right enter your life, with that wriggling creature around?

Yours lovingly,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear hare-brained bunny,

Do you seriously think you can escape my eagle eye, though I’m far away? Hope you’ve come to your senses by now and ditched the winner of the Mr Louche Contest of the year.

I can’t help thinking that you sent me away on purpose to keep the coast clear to indulge your strange ‘passion.’ Perhaps you’ll be pleased to know that last night it was difficult to sleep at the prestigious Hasselt Hotel in an obscure village on the western coast of Mallorca when a party of a few hundred conspire to be as loud as that of a few thousand, considering it their duty to optimize on their lung power the very night that we happened to be there. Unlike all of us, twins turn twenty two just once in the joint lives, so they feel obliged to celebrate with double the noise! Not to mention the pandemonium that hand-walking on water produced, till the medics took the adventurers away.

Oriole took full advantage of all the commotion that ensued, to fill various bags with edible goods. I had to insist that she throw away the stronger smelling ones, so now she isn’t talking to me. Of course, she can’t actually talk, but mercifully she’s stopped making those funny noises of hers now. As soon as she realizes that that’s a big relief for me, she’ll do her best to start annoying me again. But, of course, you’re too busy to care about my travails on this Infer-Know tour from hell.

Yours bluntly,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear muddled muffin,

Can’t you see Mr Conman is playing up to you just to get free board, not to mention bed? Wish I could throw a jug of cold water to open your eyes.

In any case, here are more tips in case you decide to ditch that leech of yours, and to join us here in the Mediterranean, though it’s too warm for my taste. Needless to say, I’ll be willing to bear all your expenses, just to get you as far away from Mr Parasite as possible. If conned into visiting wondrous caverns off the Amalfi Coast, do avoid lying down on your back in shallow row boats, unless you don’t mind swallowing alarming amounts of sea water that waves will conspire to baptise you with. For once in my life, I was glad about Oriole’s grub hoarding habits. She would have floated away, if she hadn’t stuffed her pockets with cans of tuna, lobster, and sardines. All probably stolen from the ship’s pantry, of course.

Though how she managed to do it, is beyond me. And when was she planning on eating them, is another question altogether. As long as she doesn’t go in for midnight feasts in our cabin. I wouldn’t care for fishy smells in our cub-hole. It’s amazing where she packs everything, considering she’s forever nibbling, chomping or swallowing furtively. Just as well, she stayed anchored in our flimsy structure that had the audacity to call itself a boat, or imagine the huge amounts of time that would have been wasted, looking for her spindly body in deep sea. No doubt they would have found a whale inside her, all mashed up, and compacted, with the astronomical amounts of chewing that she does, and not the other way round. 

So never mind what they promise you about the Blue Caves. The reality is very different! Just as you’ll find out soon enough with that good for nothing protégé of yours!

Yours jadedly,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear woolly-headed doll,

Hope you’ll get through your confused state soon! Stop lending him any of my money, or you’ll find yourself in the streets along with him. How long will love survive among garbage cans is anyone’s guess.

Besides unwanted ones provided by you, my trip is not without its thrills, especially when it comes to brushing shoulders with flying death, except we seemed to be going in opposite directions. Very small airplanes are riskier than boats, such as the ones between certain Greek islands, or even London and Cornwall, as after a miraculous landing, one’s insides take a very long time before deciding where one’s organs should go back in their right places.

Yours (still in one piece),

Aunt Tzestee

PS Couldn’t help wondering who’d mourn me in this world, were I to float away. Hope you’re not missing my sharp jibes too much. Who else can keep you on your toes as much as I can? I’ll forgive your recent shenanigans if only you’ll make that Indian frog jump out of our place! Believe me, he’ll never turn into any sort of prince! Not once in a million years! Especially if my cane meets his back side! Remember how I hated the idea of a cane, until I took a tumble down Mrs Tobeshpierre’s slippery garden path? Well, for once in my life, I’m glad I have a cane, as soon it will be put to good use!

#

Dear poppet,

Can’t you see? All he has to do is pull your strings, and you take him back in, no matter how shabbily he treats you? I was so glad when I heard all about your grand quarrel, but no, my joy was to be short-lived!

Almost forgot! While in London, it is rather useful to ask if they have just half a wash basin or the small one before booking a hotel cubicle, I mean ‘room’.

If you feel obliged to go on a day tour of Athens, do ask if you will have the pleasure of being instructed by their oldest female guide, aka the dragon lady? If the reply is in the affirmative, sit it out, unless you don’t mind a bullhorn voice shouting out historical facts the whole day long. And being bullied about as an added bonus. The sun did me in, or I’d have given it to her, good and proper. Well, to be frank, I wasn’t sure if I should have intervened when she had a drag out fight with that Maria Marped. But when she went after poor ‘deaf and dumb’ Oriole, I made a point of making a dignified and silent protest by marching out of the tour, dragging the fidgeting Oriole along.

Of course, the whole lot of gaggling geese saw that as an opportunity to follow me to the nearest café, where they indulged shamelessly in dollops of ice-cream, all in the name of recovering from the dragon-lady. Hope they fire her soon!


I shouldn’t have been surprised but Oriole broke her own record by slurping down 5 double scoops of ice-cream in under 10 minutes. I had no idea she’d been so starved of ice-cream in that nunnery of hers for so many years. It’s just as well I found out about that lost long uncle of hers, so she managed to inherit his loot, or she wouldn’t have been able to pay for her dowry with accumulated interest, thus gaining her freedom from that obscure little church of hers. But I wish she wouldn’t make up for missing out on interesting victuals and drinks with such vengeance now.

It was so embarrassing to hear that the café ran out of their stock of ice-creams and cakes soon after our tribe descended on them. Probably they think we’d all grown up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by huge corn fields, and had never tasted such delicacies before. I shudder to think what impression some older Americans make on the unsuspecting Greeks, but hopefully they saw my class and dignity too, and the ladylike way in which I imbibed the fresh fruit juice. And speaking of juice, do try not to become the main topic of juicy gossip in the neighbourhood.

Yours deflatedly,

Aunt Tzestee

PS Captain Gunnar is so sweet! When he heard of how I’d liberated our tribe from the dragon lady, he surprised me with a ‘Crown of the Liberator!’ You should have seen Maria Marped’s fuming face! Sometimes I think it’s worth coming on this inferno tour, after all.

#

Dear Swiss cheese,

Am sorry darling, but that’s what your brain looks like from here. Still can’t understand why you’re risking your future with that ‘loser,’ as you young people are fond of calling each other.

Anyway, you’ll find even me to be rather nice and pleasant, if you ever fly in the German-speaking zone.

Speaking of sour-faced Amazons mentioned in my last post-card, best not disturb Germanic air-hostesses too much, as their time is too precious to spend on watering old goats such as myself. Can’t remember the name of the airline exactly, so be a darling and send letters to all the small German airlines, to correct their notice, ‘Live West under the seat.’

Your hectically,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear hive-head,

It’s such a pity that hormones buzzing in your pretty lil’ head don’t allow you to think clearly. But I’ll be back soon, and your knight in rusty armour won’t need to risk his useless neck by jumping over fences, and sneaking in through the back-door, because he won’t be visiting us at all! Or getting within a hundred miles of you for that matter. Hate me all you want, but you’ll thank me later, you’ll see!

Good old Mrs Parker is a lot sharper than you imagined. Thank the stars for nosy neighbours.

Apropos, that sign I noticed in the plane. Am not sure about where I saw it, as we’ve taken countless little tasteless flights by now. Did I see it in Luxembourg? Did you know that the shop assistants and bus drivers are the real royalty of that Grand Duchy? So maintain your distance, keep your mouth shut in their august presence, don’t be even a second late for the bus, and make sure you buy something before leaving a shop. You would do well to leave all inane questions outside these prestigious vending establishments.

Am still waiting for your confirmation about dropping Mr Tick-Tack. Better do it before my return, or face my smoking nostrils! Hope your summer (sans Mr Spineless) will be as exciting as ours on this never-ending tour from Infer-Know!

Yours candidly,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear higgledy-piggledy hen,

Don’t you go telling me that I’m behind times. At least my generation still has some manners left, which is more than can be said for yours.

Mrs (Nosy) Parker has kindly informed me that all sorts of strange spicy smells are now emanating from the kitchen. My kitchen! Apparently, they’re so strong that they made it all the way through our yard, over our wall, and into Mrs Parker’s open window! When she followed the odours, they led straight to our home. I couldn’t be more mortified. Will you kindly tell that loose-limbed mortal to refrain from using my pots and pans to concoct his nauseous confections. Is that clear?

Yours reprovingly,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear Mata Hari,

I got the most curious letter from Sarah Pinkett. Apparently, you were wearing the most strange perfume she’s ever smelled. She couldn’t decide if you’d been in the vicinity of something burnt, or if you’d been rolling on the grass near the bins. Hope it’s not one of those exotic ‘oils’ he’s so fond of putting in his hair. Please tell me you’re not going all native on me. 

And what’s this I’m hearing? You actually turned down Hope Tobeshpierre’s Invitation to her 75th birthday party! I’ve rarely missed any of her birthdays. And darling, you promised me you’d represent me there! All this after I’d assured her that you’d be there with the confetti, paper hats, and those amands glacé that she loves so much. Can you at least make sure that she gets all these before the big day? After all her nephew did for us when your Dad disappeared. How could you possibly let us down like this?

Yours annoyingly,

Aunt Tzestee

#

My giddy kiddikins,

How could you allow this to happen?

Your crazy young man actually painted on our garden wall? One of those strange creatures from his land. They may be called ‘gods’ or whatever there, but let me tell you, to me they’re akin to aliens!

How can you sully our very home and your parents’ memory in this way? I still can’t believe it!

I swear on the sour peas of saint Severine that you won’t inherit my half of our home if you don’t get rid of him immediately! Will we have to build a wall right in the middle of the living room, in order for you to come to your giddy senses?

Get the wall painted over right this minute, or I’ll get him deported as soon as I set foot on our blessed soil. And General Kamishka will help me too, I’m sure. He knows a few people, he does. That is, if Maria Marped ever lets me get near ten feet of the kind General, without sending one of her cronies to snoop on me.

Can I help it, if he quite likes my company? But who could blame him, given the choice he has of the other nincompoops. Oh, by the way, Captain Gunnar can breathe as many sighs of relief as he likes now, since Maria is no longer chasing him quite as athletically as before.

But honestly darling, you can’t possibly allow him to desecrate our ancestral home, now can you? Just when Sarah Pinkett’s brother-in-law’s uncle has become the trustee for the ‘Save the Neighborhood Foundation,’ and could twist the right person’s arm in the ‘Preserve our Heritage Grants Commission’ to give us funding to protect and re-build our façade!

How can you be so dense is beyond me! Thank heaven it will be all long gone by the time I come home!

Yours outrageously,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear clucking turkey,

Couldn’t believe it when Mrs Parker sent me word! Thought she’d over-dosed on her meds again! Remember when she was convinced all our neighbourhood gnomes used to have midnight feasts every full moon at the bottom of our garden? Or when she was chasing away invisible hens from her yard to ours at Christmas, when she’d forgotten to take those darned meds in the excitement of the burned turkey, and our efforts to rescue it?

Then Sarah Pinkett sent me the paper cutting. It couldn’t be true! Then General Kamishka got that nice young steward, Coney, to check it all up on the Inter web thingy.

I’ll admit to shuddering violently. Almost fainting at the sight of that hideous figure draped across our innocent wall. But if the ‘Museum of Indigenous Plastic Arts’ want to make a fool of themselves, who am I to stand in their way?

I can’t believe they have declared that horrible painting a ‘work of art.’ Do they want to take it to their museum?

I’m in two minds about it. Luckily for you, dear soap-suds, General Kamishka’s made me see the whole thing in a new light. There will be our wall preserved in the museum for a long, long time to come. And underneath, there will be our family name. Oh! What should I do?

Your confusedly,

Aunt Tzestee

PS Now that General Kamishka has graced us with his presence, through Captain Gunnar, that vixen, Maria Marped is forever trying to separate us, by playing musical chairs at dinner. Despite her best efforts, she hasn’t been able to make me and the General sit at different tables. She can have the dull and dour Gunnar, for all I care!

#

Dear silly sheep,

Of course, I’ll only give my permission to the museum to dig up our precious bricks if they agree to add my first name. After all, I’m the owner of that particular segment of the garden. Remember, yours is the left side, and mine the right.

So those crazy museum folk will have to deal with your aunt before they begin any digging. Though how on earth they’re going to transport the whole wall to the museum is beyond me!

Needless to say, I’ve never set foot into the ‘Museum of Indigenous Plastic Arts’ in my long and illustrious life, even if I say so myself. But of course, I’ll have to make sure that our ancestral name will be preserved for all eternity. After all, it’s my wall, and it’s your eye that spotted the ‘talent’ of that young good for nothing artist!

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet. Tell those artsy folk that I have to think all this over. No rushing while I’m gone. In any case, if they’re really as respectable as you say they are, then they won’t do anything without my permission.

Yours resignedly,

Aunt Tzestee

PS Ms Blatty Tepid seems to have switched sides, and seems to be on Maria Marped’s team, but General Kamishka has a wonderful sense of humour, and just laughs them all away…

#

Dear tumbling tea-pot,

Now, now. There’s no need to get into a lather about it all. Of course, I got the date of the vernissage of his silly exhibition moved. Our clan is not entirely without connections you know. Not that you’d ever use them to get a respectable job. Oh no, not you. Not when you can hob-nob with the most undesirable young men of New York. Helping them to get their careers launched at the expense of our family home.

Those crazy folks are simply not going to dig up any of my walls until I’m there to make sure, they replace it immediately with a similar style one with all the matching bricks in the right places.

I don’t care if this affects your boy-friend’s chances of being accepted at the Whitney! You know I still have the power to get my own wall white-washed, if I choose to do so.

Don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions! Of course I’m not racist! What a preposterous idea! I never said I disliked your young man on account of his race! Just not him, individually. And I’m not going to change my mind about that, no matter how many awards he gets.

Now that he’s actually earning some money for the first time in his life, please do feel free to move out, to actually live with him, if you like. For he’s certainly not going to be polluting the air in my living room once I return.

Oh, and I’ll prove to you just how unbiased I am. You’ll understand when you actually lay your eyes on Marcus. I mean General Kamishka. He’ll be spending Halloween with us. I’m sure you won’t mind, seeing as you’re so liberal yourself. We’ll see who’s racist then. I won’t keep you in the dark for long now. Besides, you’ll probably have moved out by then, anyway.

Yours conspiratorially,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear sniggering bug,

No need to make fun of my behind my back! Of course, I’m not a racist! Never was. Never have been. Just because I didn’t care for your particular young man who happens to be Indian, doesn’t mean I’m a racist. So don’t go all smug on me, and spout nonsense that nature is taking revenge on me, or some such rubbish. 

Anyway, how did you find out about Marcus? It was going to be a surprise. You young people! Always snooping on others through that infernal thing called the ‘inter web’ or some such stupid name. What gives you the right to go looking up Marcus. Admittedly, he’s a public figure and all that, even if he’s retired. But can’t you respect my privacy just a little?

I can’t wait to see Sarah Pinkett’s face when I turn up on Marcus’ arm at Mrs Tobeshpierre’s pre-Halloween party.  That is, if Maria Marped doesn’t get him kidnapped before the end of the cruise! You’d have to see all her manoeuvring to get herself plunked down at our table, to believe it! Bribing waiters. Pestering poor Captain Gunnar to death about rotating partners at dinner etc. Poor man, he’s not too happy about being side-lined by Marcus, but that can’t be helped. Marcus outshines everyone with his brilliant smile, witty asides, and ready charm. Like attracts like, they say. So we’ve managed to outwit Maria Marped so far. Or rather, I have. I doubt Marcus has noticed anything much, as it’s beneath his dignity to stoop to Mad Maria’s level.

And no. Your crazy coot is not going to paint the garden wall on the other side too. If he does, I swear, I’ll get him locked up faster than you can say, ‘boo.’ You can’t even begin to imagine the kind of clout Marcus has, even after his retirement. And no, that’s not the reason we’re friends. After all, what could he possibly get out of me, except for my company. So it really is a meeting of two minds. And were you to imply anything more, I’ll personally spank you a dozen times, as I now realize I should have done years ago. 

You’ll have a lot to answer for when I get back. So it’s in your best interest to be gone before I breeze in with Marcus. Now that your stick figure is a celebrated artist, that shouldn’t be a problem. Speaking of art, no I won’t be contacting Mrs Tobeshpierre’s cousin, smiley Stuart, just so he can garner votes to get your barmy friend’s weird art pieces into the Art Basel Miami Fringe Show, or Lace Show, or whatever it was you were foolish enough to ask me to do. Let him make his own way in the world. That’s what will make him stronger.

In the meantime, be a darling, and before you move out, call the fumigators and have the whole place fumigated, as I would be horrified if Marcus started to choke on the funny smells that those infernal incense sticks of his give out. And don’t make me repeat myself, you hear?

Yours fumingly,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear headstrong mule,

What do you mean by saying that that so-called artist has a stake in our garden walls, and so has every right to live here? My great grandfather didn’t build these walls just so your lothario can use them as his very own canvas, and paint whatever he likes on them! He’ll get his notice soon enough, as soon as my lawyer recovers from his spell of complicated hay fever chills. And what do you mean by writing that your pet artist has to stay near his fans. What followers? Any delusional hippies and such-like had better stay away from my garden!

Yes, I’ll admit that I’d arranged for the Neighbourhood Watch to hose down the side-walk next to our wall, to scatter the unwashed masses gathered in front of that alien image. It’s my right to protect my property as I see fit! In case artist in residence doesn’t like it, he can go and invade any other wall, except mine! He knows very well no one else in our neighbourhood will be as kind and tolerant as I’ve been, that’s why he’s staying put there. Anyone else in my place would have gotten him arrested a long time ago for trespassing and vandalism. Why can’t you see that it’s because I love you so much, that I’ve tolerated him for this long?

I don’t know at what speed your dear mother and her parents must be rolling in their graves at your shameless shenanigans on Society’s Medium or whatever it’s called! Perhaps they’ll stop rolling once our wall is enshrined properly in that museum, with our family plaque displayed prominently. I think one of our ancestors in Scotland even had a family crest. I tell you, that wall is not going anywhere, unless and until I find that seal, and crest, and they’re engraved on our family plaque in that silly museum. After all, the world should know whose wall was desecrated so wilfully by that worm of yours. I don’t care if his fans are growing by the thousands every day. He’ll still be a parasite in my eyes.

Yours worriedly,

Aunt Tzestee

#

Dear gullible goat,

Stop pestering me about my return date. How many times do I have to tell you that I’ll come back only when I’m good and ready. My plans have changed now, so expect me at any moment. Who knows, as soon as you stop reading this letter, you might hear a yelp. It could be your ‘boyfriend’ getting acquainted with my cane. That will be the only way to break this ridiculous impasse that we’ve reached now.

Even though you’re as stubborn as your Dad, I know how to deal with pig-headed young people. And now with Marcus by my side, we shall prevail, as you shall see. Start packing now, unless you don’t mind the homeless folk near the docks getting all your designer fripperies and gee-gaws for free. For I’ll get rid of all your personal effects, along with that good for nothing guy of yours, as soon as I set foot through our door, jet lag or no jet lag. At least I don’t consider him to be an ‘artist,’ just because a few dolts happen to say so.

Your artistic friend should be gone within a fortnight’s time, along with his smelly paints, pots, and brushes. If not, then don’t blame me if he ends up being deported back to his native land! And if you have the temerity to marry him, in order to save his skin, then I’ll denounce you both for marrying under false pretences just so he can stay here, in the land of plenty, living off the hard-working tax-payer’s money. I don’t care how much money he ends up making. These artist types always end up sponging off the people foolish enough to hang around them.

By the way, how can you be so sure he wasn’t married already when he got here? I’m making discreet enquiries to prove the existence of his first marriage through my private channels. So wait a while before you tie the knot with that good for nothing friend of yours. In any case, darling, even if you do jump the gun, your marriage here to an already married man will be declared null and void. So, don’t help the authorities in their deporting process, by refraining to walk down any thorny aisles with him, will you?

Don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning now!

Yours intrepidly,

Aunt Tzestee

-The End-

Note: Infer-Know Tours was first published in Short Story Town on 22 June 2021.

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