I can feel my skin start to warm up. The Winter Sun is far warmer than it should be this time of year. I know it’s a blessing. I’ll lie here in wait for it to rise over the tree tops.
Already the sky is starting to turn blue.
There are no clouds. There is no reason to be scared. The Wind gently stirs leaves just outside the window.
Spring is coming, but there is still some time till then. Not much at all. Soon.
It’s getting brighter and brighter but the Winter Sun has still not fully arrived. There is no doubt that he will arrive. The birds know and chirp with joy.
The Winter Sun is moving and will arrive soon.
Dawn arrived too early. The Sun shone its rays when no one was ready. Light painted the scene when the canvas was not yet prepared. All things became visible. The wet grass beneath their thin matrresses. The cut outs of soccer stories stuck to the cement pillars. The endless pile of trash surrounding their sleeping heads. The corners of their blankets being flipped up by the freezing wind.
Peacemaker lifted his head from slumber and knew all that he must do today. Make his bead. Gather everything he could on his trolley. Circulate the surrounding neighbourhood. Get recyclables. Bring them back here, under the bridge. Flatten them. Take it all and sell it. Rinse. Repeat.
Yet today had started differently. Something was odd. He couldn’t place his finger on it. He looked around from the two pillars that he had slept between at everyone else. They all seemed to be accounted for. Tea was being made by the ladies over a small fire. The river was no fuller than it had been yesterday. The scrawlings of spraypaint all around were no less inspired. Yet today had started differently.
He lay back down and looked up at the bridge. Cars were screaming past already and had been for some time. It was always a soothing sound. Something that let him know that he was a part of a massive moving machine called Jo’burg city. A mighty beast who hated him and fed him. Who loved him and made him cold. Who accepted him and rejected him every day. A mighty beast who served herself and never him.
Folding his blanket and mattress to be stowed he paused. “That’s it,” he uttered out loud to himself, “I know what it is.” Peacemaker looked around to see if anybody else may be experiencing the same thing. No one seemed any different. He stopped what he was doing and stepped down to the fire where 3 ladies and 2 of his friends were waiting. He didn’t bother with niceties. “Do any of you feel it?” He asked the circle. Only his friend Eric who was standing closest to him bothered to look up and reply, “Feel what?”
“Today, there is hope.”
I watched the bare lighbulb untit its light stung my eyes. If this was going to be the last thing I was going to see then I wanted to make sure that it was really etched into my memory.
“It’s time,” my doctor said in a calm and serious voice. I didn’t even nod in reply, just closed my eyes and saw the ghost of that lighbulb. It faded slowly. I thought about all the things that I’d seen that day. Curtains. Sunshine. People I didn’t know. An x-ray that looked like an alien. A shaking head from a doctor. A tear of my own falling on my jeans.
“Is it really that serious?” I asked the doctor a few hours earlier. “Yes,” he replied and explained more, “We need to get you on that table as quick as possible.”
I sat immobilised in his office. Sure there were tears. Mostly there was a vague sense of numbness that made me a piece of driftwood on a river approaching rapids. I knew what was coming. I also knew that whatever was coming, I could only ride it.
I’m sure somewhere someone told me that I’m the master of my own destiny. What a stupid thing to say. A teacher once told me that we don’t need to be anxious about exams or something. She said that we don’t need to worry because everything’s going to be alright. Why did no one ever tell me that sometimes things will not be alright? All I have are coffee cup sayings to console me. I have nothing.
And as a I sat with my eyes closed, the mask over my face pumping gas that would make me sleep, I think I realised for the first time that I really, truly, am not in control of anything.
A timeless essence floats through the air. It fills the lungs of the lovers who sit alone and together. Air embraces them and holds them warm. Orange flickers throughout the room creating shadows. The shadows are a puppet show of love. They sway and dance, move to the ambience in perfect timing.
He stands and offers his hand to her. She doesn’t dip her head but gazes fixedly in to his eyes. Joy plays its own melody on her expression. In the silence he holds her and she yields to his guidance. His hand on the small of her back and the other stretched out, entwined in hers like two ropes tethered. They move in the firelight to their own tune. It’s been playing since God looked upon Adam and Eve and remarked, “Very good.”
Swaying. Light stepping. Leading. Submitting.
For but a moment his hand leaves hers and he holds her face as a precious vessel of the person he’s commited to love and lead for life. With great confidence he presses his lips to hers and the tune grows louder. Closed eyes means the room is now black.
Swaying. Light stepping. Leading. Submitting.
The song goes on.
The plates were clean and the bar was nearly empty. The conversation had followed suit. The old friends, Jake and Vaughn, had reached that comfortable part of the evening when nothing much more needed to be said or caught up on. Instead there was a breathy silence which added more to the friendship than any of the years that they’d not seen each other.
Vaughn took another sip of beer and decided to break the silence. Not because it was awkward but because he had just remembered a story.
“Have I ever told you about the time I tested how much I could lift?” He asked with raised eyebrow. Jake raised both of his and laughed, “I don’t think you have.”
“I went to the gym and saw all these muscle guys lifting crazy things. I wondered what I could lift, so I sauntered over–”
“As one does.”
“As one does. I walked over and started looking at the weights. You know, that kind of look you give of ‘where to start?’ not trying to convey what I was really feeling ‘what am I doing?’. Anyways. I picked up two small ones that could fit one in each hand.”
“Oh right. Dumbells. And they lived up to their name. They were dumb. I could easily lift 1 kilogram in each hand. No problem. So I walked over to an alien looking thing that had a heavy part at the bottom and a smooth handle on the top. The handle was big enough to pick up with both hands. You know what I’m talking about?”
“I think so. It’s called a kettlebell.”
“How do you know all these names?”
“I’m a trivia genius. Anyways. How’d that one go?”
“Good. I could lift it no problem. Problem was I lifted it in a dumb way and I could already feel my back getting angry with me. I still pressed on. I was growing in confidence and walking towards the other big weights now. The benchpress ones. I had seen earlier how the guys slotted the weights onto them and then locked them off, then put them on the benchpress bench thing and then lifted the heck out of them. I put a few weights on, I can’t really remember how much, and put it on the holding part. I sat down and before I reached for it a muscle factory walked over and offered to help me in case it went wrong.”
“Spot you. Sorry. Carry on.”
“Yup, spot me. It was a massive push for me as I lifted it. It ached. It hurt. I could feel veins popping out of all sorts of places but eventually I got it down and all the way back up. I don’t know how much it was, but it was definitely the heaviest thing I’ve lifted.”
Vaughn took another sip of his beer and noticed for the first time how empty the bar had become.
“Then I sat up,” he told Jake, turning back to look him in the eye, “and breathed heavy. The guy helping me said well done and asked if I was going to lift anything heavier. Not in those words, but you get what I’m saying.”
“The words I used to reply were ‘I might’. Then I stood up and walked away giggling to myself.”
The silence hung again, this time Jake kind of shuffled his feet and seemed unsure on whether he was supposed to understand. He asked, “Is that it?”
“Don’t you get it?”
“‘I might’ like ‘I MIGHT’ like ‘I’M MIGHTY’. I was imitating him.”
“This is the worst story you’ve told all night.”
They sat quietly watching water trickle down a drainpipe. Unsure of the future but hopeful. Hopeful for no reason other than wanting to have hope. The future was murky. Not clear like the drops that were catching light as they fell to the floor in silence.
They wanted surety. They wanted to know exactly what was coming in the next few moments. Certainty only reached as far as sunbeams and several breaths. Everything else was frail. Their eyes wouldn’t meet. Their hands were intertwined though. She blinked hard as a tear rolled gently down her face, conforming to the deep lines of age. His face was set ahead. Serious and unsmiling. A blank wall worn down by years of empty hope.
The house phone was face down on the table in front of them. The chairs they were sitting on were more than thirty years old, wire and white. The garden’s flowers were all in rows. The grass freshly cut. And there in front of them a drainpipe going drip drip drip.
He opened his mouth to say something. It only came out as a breath slightly louder than the rest of them. She noticed but didn’t move. She had to be strong now and not let him see tears. He had to be strong and not show tears. Here was a pageant of two splintering vases pretending to be mountains. Yet even mountains crumble.
He was the first to crack. Sucking in of air and wavering of speech. She turned to look at him and was so relieved to know that he was coming apart too. There were no words exchanged. Only eyes locked and kisses given and embraces held.
And then the phone rang.
If you had followed Tumi’s gaze you would have seen it coming.
Don’t blame yourself though, no one besides him saw it coming. They were all too amazed with what was happening in the middle of the circle of the crowd to look slightly skyward. They would have seen it. It all would have been alright. We would all not be in this mess if we’d just seen it.
If only we’d heard Tumi shout.
If only the street performer had been a juggler rather than a dancer.
If only a bird had flown past at that moment.
We would have looked up. But we didn’t. The consequences have been unbearable. I can barely look at myself in the mirror anymore. I’m sure the rest of the crowd that was with me, gawking at the dancing street performer feel the same. I hope they do. I hope I’m not alone. I hope they don’t. No one should feel like this.
Maybe it’s not too bad. Who am I kidding? You should have seen it. Dammit. We should have all seen it coming. I hate dancers. I hate the sky. I hate Tumi. I hate what has happened and that it happened to me. I should have just walked past the crowd that had gathered. Sure, it all sounded exciting, but seriously. I could watch better dancing on Youtube.
But I didn’t.
None of us did.
The internet couldn’t save us this time.
Now here I stand. Trying to brace myself. Trying to get all psyched to look in the mirror. Ok… here goes.
Wait. It’s gone…
There was blood everywhere!? Where’s the blood? Where are my scars? There was so much blood all over me? Where are my wounds? Where are my scars?
Ah crap. It wasn’t a bomb was it? Not a real one anyway. Just a big bang with red paint.