Thursday, 6 June 2013

Corruption - A Short Story


Smoke swirled lazily into each corner of the third floor room. The Chinese official lit up again, the 
glow from the end of his cigarette off set the blue white snow reflected from outside. Cold crept 
along the floor, along the desk and hunkered down among the creases of the crumpled bedding 
on which the woman sat.

A steady stream of Chinese and Georgian language interwove ice-cold breath and the interpreter,
a chunky young woman layered in woollen jumpers, jackets and scarf switched languages effortlessly 
between the two men, one Georgian, one Chinese as the final details of the choir’s China tour were 
thrashed out.

Watching them move and weave through the complex negotiations the woman noticed how the 
man sat, lent forward, nervously twirled his mobile and constantly checked his watch. It made her 
uneasy. She recognised the signs and knew he was moving up a gear.   She wanted to remain 
anonymous.  There was an oppressive mood. It was dangerous. The drive to the isolated 
Chinese Railroad Company building high above the city had been full of unspoken tensions between 
them. Once again she felt side-lined, hurried, manipulated and suspended in a void of half-truths 
and shadowy half- finished conversations. The Man’s facade was beginning to slip. The woman 
saw the darkness beneath his handsome face struggling to be contained, the sharpness in his voice
was clear as he stumbled over explanations and tried desperately to remember what lies he had told 
her so as to continue to create the illusion of security, of love, of trust.

This was a new game. The Chinese had wanted him to take the choir to China to be part of a festival 
earlier in the year but the Chinese leader had died so the trip had had to be post-phoned. It just so 
happened that they had contacted him as the artistic director whilst she was in the country visiting. 
This is what she had assumed and he, tired of her questions, let her believe that. Her gut screamed 
at her, ‘Be careful, he lies’ and her suspicions surrounding his motives grew more and more. 
The woman began to feel the connection between them slipping away. She was not sure of anything 

He looked nervous. She sensed things were not going well, he made to stand up and suddenly there 
was a flurry of activity, the Chinese official waved him back down furiously and picked the phone up 
on the desk opposite the bed. Urgent scribbling on paper scattered with doodles on the desk filled 
up with numbers. The man shook his head each time, the official spoke quicker and quicker to the 
anonymous voice at the other end of the line and finally the musician glanced over at the woman, 
looked past her and half smiled. The game was on.

They left. Confused she waited for him to calm down before she asked him what had happened. 
Smiling through triumphant teeth, he said that tomorrow they would return and sign an agreement 
that each member of the choir would be paid $1000 for an all expenses trip to China where they 
would perform only two 15  minute concerts. ‘That’s great’ the woman said, ‘another $1000 for you 
to help build the apartment.’ He had bought an apartment in a new high rise at the bottom of the plateau 
area of the city some years ago that he had proudly shown to her and said that that was to be their 
marital home. The apartment was unfinished and as far as she could tell no new work had been 
done on it in 2 years despite him saying it would be ready, ‘by Christmas’ and  then, ‘by the summer.’

He laughed, it sounded hollow. ‘Nooo,’ he almost sneered, ‘I will have $7000 from this deal and 
I will use it for another project’ Uneasily she looked at his profile; he had turned the Georgian 
Folk music up and was conducting with his right hand. ‘How?’ she asked.  ‘I am keeping all this 
money’ he replied. The gulf between them widened.

They spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Tbilisi, he on his phone and meeting 
various people who handed over their passports. The sky was brooding and threatening more 
snow and icy fingers of cold drifted into the car. The woman sat miserable, neglected and waiting 
whilst he did his deals, one foot perched on the kerb, shoulders hunched forward and hands thrust 
deep in his pockets. Another of the six precious days she had planned to be with him, disappeared.

The next day they went back to the smoke filled room where the stocky interpreter and the small 
Chinese man were waiting. This time the bed was made and there were empty coffee cups on the 
desk at one end of the room. Used tissues lay scattered around the floor.

He signed some official documents, they shook hands and with a sly smile and dead eyes, the deal 
was sealed. The choir were due to leave the following Friday so the visas needed to be applied for; 
and quickly.

The ride into the capital in the company BMW cream leathered interior imbued with cigarette 
smoke was unpleasant. Sarah sat in the back feeling sick with hunger and realisation. Her lover 
played with the sound system. Uninvited he assumed possession of the CD player and changed 
tracks much to the irritation of the driver. The Chinese embassy were expecting them and all 
three by-passed the security checks and sat at a table to start filling in forms.

He called five people. Three men. Two women. The same people who had handed over their 
passports yesterday. He spoke quickly and without hesitation or interruption and wrote their 
passport numbers on each form. She had offered to help fill the forms in but he had 
brushed her offer off with a dismissive wave of the hand. When it became clear however, 
that it was going to take him a long time to finish the task he pushed a pen towards her and growled,
 ‘Write it’. Feeling 
uncomfortable, hungry, sick and desperate for it to be over she filled in what she could and passed 
them back to him.

The man forged a signature for each document.

It was clear this was normal procedure and the woman sat silently as the anger built inside her. She thought of the hours and hours she had put and continued to put into getting his choir members legitimate visas to visit the UK. Corruption clearly seemed to underpin the things this man did. Irritated and alarmed she resolved to tackle him on his idea of honestly and fairness the minute they were alone.

Once the forms were filled in, photocopies taken and official stamps given the Chinese man drove them, the man victorious, she, angry and resentful, to a bank in the city. Parking outside the low squat building, told her to stay in the car whilst he went inside with the official. The purpose was to oversee the financial transaction from the Chinese government to him.


She caught her breath. The Chinese thought they were getting one thing but they were getting something entirely different.  They were getting five dancers and him. They were getting backing tracks, falsehoods and lies.  They had paid for one thing and getting something entirely different. The woman felt trapped by the layers upon layers of deception.

She stayed silent for a long time. Then finally, when they were alone together and when he noticed she was not herself, there was a row. She was making him tired. She did not understand how these things worked. He had done all the work. He had negotiated the deal. Who would know if these dancers were part of his choir or not? The Chinese were pigs anyway. The bitterness in his voice and the anger coming from him only compounded the woman’s feelings of isolation.

This was not the man she had fallen in love with. 

This was not the man who had spoken with such passion and pride about his culture and his song. This man lied, cheated and stole. The man she loved had said quite clearly that he would have nothing to do with such corruption and she, naively, had believed him.

In her dealings with Georgia she had borne the brunt of such corruption only two years before and he, he had been outraged by it and had sworn he would never be like that, never do that.

Glancing sideways what she saw froze her heart. His profile was like stone, cold, closed, emotionless.

She had never known him.

Sarah Cobham


  1. Hi Sarah,

    Brilliant story. I felt an acute connection with "her" disappointment with "his" changing profile. A number of questions come to heart on whether the decisions he made was based on necessity in order to achieve a goal, when at the time, the amoral or corrupt option was the only presented lifeline that was evident or available with the highest probability towards the desired outcome? And, if the moral option/s were as obviously present whether he would have made the same decision?

    So basically, was the option he was given the only option available to him at the time . . .

    I guess the real question I am asking is: Does and should that bad decision we have made permanently define us, and should it alter and lastingly affect perceptions of those close to us, or should our profile only really become diminished when the we recurringly trade off the moral high-ground in order to achieve our objectives?

    Maybe the other question is; should the "she" profile who find her/him-self in any similar situation be more patient with the "he" profile - learning and growing from mistakes made and be so quick to diminish the profile of every person who inevitably would make the wrong decision at some or other point in our lives. . .

    I am not asking these questions in judgement of your short story. I don't think it would be fair to expect of you to answer them, but they were indeed my own impressions for understanding that your story left with me.

    Keep on writing. You're work is thought-provoking . . .

  2. Hi Johann,

    Thank you for your comments. I feel very honoured that you have taken the time and given so much thought to the themes raised in this particular piece. I have to admit I had not thought about the things you have highlighted and they have certainly made me think.

    I guess the one thing I come back to is that we don't know if the male character actually engineered the 'game' from the beginning and if so if he was within it and fully conscious of what he was doing. We also don't know if he went on to make further decisions designed to reinforce and justify this particular one.

    Should the female character forgive him this one choice? Should she put aside her own sense of what is right to allow him to grow? It is certainly an interesting and I think, age old,dilemma.

    Thank you once again.


  3. Feminism? More like sexism. You stereotype and hate on Georgian men. Shame

  4. Dear Vlad,

    Thank you for your articulate and balanced response.

    I wonder if the behaviour of the Georgian character in this story has touched a nerve in you. Perhaps looking in the mirror was more difficult after reading this piece.

    I wonder why you chose to attack me personally by using the word 'shame' which implies the meaning YOU take from this writing is shameful, which implies as a woman I should take on the responsibility for YOUR inability to accept that such behaviour does exist. This is classic projection of the male ego and has been used as a form of social control where ever there is fear of the individual especially if that individual is a woman.

    Perhaps you mean something different when you use the word sexism? Just to clarify from the dictionary;

    prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
    "sexism in language is an offensive reminder of the way the culture sees women"
    synonyms: chauvinism, discrimination, prejudice, bias; machismo, laddishness
    "he admitted that the company had been accused of sexism"

    Can I just make sure I understand something correctly? YOU believe ME to be sexist because I have written about the male character being divisive, aggressive, neglectful a liar and a thief towards the woman? Hhhmm. We clearly have a different idea of what is fair and respectful behaviour inside a relationship between any two people.

    I do feel that perhaps bandying words like feminism, sexism and stereotypes about as if they had no real power is irresponsible especially if the understanding of those words is tied down to a stereotypical meaning itself.

    I would very much welcome a conversation with you about my writing just as soon as the shackles you try to place on me by assuming I hate Georgian men and that clearly makes everything I am ( ie a a woman before I am a person) shameful have been looked at, and addressed.

    Just to clarify the dictionary definition of shame is;

    a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour, humiliation, mortification, chagrin, ignominy, loss of face, shamefacedness, embarrassment, indignity, abashment, discomfort, discomfiture, discomposure guilt, remorse, contrition, compunction
    antonyms: pride, indifference a loss of respect or esteem; dishonour.
    "the incident had brought shame on his family"
    synonyms: disgrace, discredit, degradation, ignominy, disrepute, ill-repute, infamy, scandal, odium, opprobrium, obloquy, condemnation, contempt;
    "ignorance of Latin would be a disgrace and a shame to any public man" discredit to, disgrace to, stain on, blemish on, blot on, blot on the escutcheon of, slur on, reproach to, bad reflection on a regrettable or unfortunate situation or action. pity, misfortune, crying shame, cause for regret, source of regret, sad thing, unfortunate thing.

    Having read all of these I can assure you I feel none of them.

    Please feel free to read my blog 'The Georgian Witch'

    All the best