Sunday, August 24, 2014

This is a work in progress: Coronation West

From 'Truth or Dare': 

While sitting at a favourite coffee shop and typing these words, he came to two crucial realisations.

The first was that for once he was not on a deadline, that these words belonged to him, to twirl, to weave or crochet in any way that he so chose; that in this particular space, he was God. Well, to a point, because the compost he was sifting was his truth, and he didn't want to meddle with that: his truth, to him, was sacrosanct.

Because he was disabled by perfectionism, and now knew he had no deadline, multi drafts were possible, that he could fuck up as often as he needed to. He didn't have to get this right first time around. Relief.

The other realisation was that Words were his life. That if he wasn't imbibing them, thinking about them, or producing them, which currently he didn't do often, his life was then both meaningless and purposeless.

The sunlight was gone from the glass roof of the old but tarted up shopping centre; it had moved behind The Mountain. There he could still see it, basking golden on the granite baulk below the cable car station. The shadow fell across his heart and mood; it was instantly winter again. For today, with the unexpected warmth after the ice, he'd almost forgotten which season it was.

The lime green keys on his wireless keyboard were sexy and attracted the attention of passers by. But he frowned into the small screen and barely noticed.

Yesterday at this time he had managed to squeeze on to the packed peak-hour Salt River bus, just. And squeezed he was, against the double door.

He had no option but to hop off two stops later, Coronation West, or be swamped by the disgorging passengers at this the busiest stop on the return journey. It was the price he was happy to pay to get this bus, and not the next. This was for him the Arabic district of the city, Walmer Estate; he'd often heard the mysterious and ancient language spoken here, had seen the unusual but beautiful features not common this far south of the continent. And the strangeness that he liked to think that, only sometimes, he read as dislike of him.

In my two minutes on the pitch-tarred pavement I was punched-unnerved by a familiar-but-not reek I couldn't place. I sniffed the air like a hound dog. Then I clicked. This was the distinctive reek of coal-fire roasted lamb; it permeated my mind - hence the confused frown on my forehead - also the people-busy street, as did the hazy smoke from the kerb side fire. Busy it was with pedestrians: children and older folk, the men wearing fez's, and a dog. Freindly-busy it felt. And welcoming. This time I was also a foreigner, but much less intensely than last time.

Back on.

In the instant that the bus lurched to the corner he could suddenly see into the distance, across the broad and uninspired sweep of the Cape flats, snow on the peaks of the long Hottentot's Holland mountains in the east.

In the split sensory-second when the meat aroma and the sight of snow upon the distant mountains became one, he was instantaneously with his mother in Marrakesch as seven-and-a-half years slid away like glacier ice into a fjord.

That late December, when the snow had laid thick on the distant Atlas Mountains to the west of the city, the light, just like now, when he had first looked up and noticed it, was pastel pink at sunset. Minutes later the sky sloughed its skin to reveal its swathe of perfect navy-charcoal velvet scattered with diamomds. The moon that night was glitteringly full and more ancient than Africa itself.  Also, like this one, it hovered like a conqueror above a flat plain. Except that that plain was made of desert and this one of industry and shanties. The other difference was that the aroma of coal-roasted lamb and dust had permeated all of the old city, as opposed to merely one street corner. As had the putrid reek of the countless lamb pelts left out, like scabs, to dry on the sun-beaten flatbread roofs.

It was all very different then, those few nights in the riyad: He had cried from frustration when he's started reading a very lonely planet's guide to travel journalism. So impossible and unachievable he'd thought when confronted by the beauty and strangeness before him that he was - too brittle and too desperate inside - to even attempt to sketch it in words.

I loved that trip, I loved my mother as she was then, fearless and impassioned, before she lost her passion to travel and explore, before she independently relinquished her independence; we had travelled to there together, only seven short years ago. Perhaps seven years towards the end of a life is much longer than  seven years in the very middle of one.

There was also a Frenchman in jeans and a blue t-shirt, with long blonde hair, who'd walked across the sqaure not knowing that he'd been trapped forever in a memory, and in the digital amber of my Canon: Beautiful boy. Thomas Mann. Death in Marrakesch.

He'd been reading Paul Bowles then, also Tom Orton's diaries, in attempt to decode Marrakesch and Morocco.

Until then most of his travels had been to countries and cities that weren't in any way out of his comfort zone; instead, there he was in an a North African Arabic-speaking country that neither looked nor sounded, nor smelt like anything he'd ever experienced. And as one long life chapter was about to be written closed. 

I was with my mother; while she was undeniably thriving on the rush of this journey, I sometimes fearfully held on tight to her apron strings. To think that she'd scoured Egypt on her own, and there I was quivering in her wake.

Remind me, please, to stop at Coronation West again.

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