Oversharing

His good-natured face was screwed up in almost real pain – bafflement – trying to come to terms with the terrible fold in his universe. So much has been said, I can’t even — because really, I think my tongue has grown too inches thicker. He’d crouch behind his desk in the corner, voice dropping (half) an octave to beg us, implore us to be discrete.

Two days before it was Nairobi’s golden hour, with sun setting over the car park, temperature drop too rapid to feel comfortable, and excited chatter rising above the raging traffic that finally, the weekend has arrived. We’d ordered an appetizer and red wine – it wasn’t supposed to be a long outing – just a casual drink among colleagues, wrapping up the end of a strenuous work week, and the long-anticipated submission of the first report. We talked work, expat life, the upcoming election – all those pleasant non-committal topics that make the time pass by quickly and the wine empty on its own. The glass tipped and left no treacherous stain – tipping the conversation along with it – boldly venturing into personal realm. We stood up, and even though I wasn’t hungry – decided to go have dinner at the ‘best seafood place in town’.

It was a truly delicious meal – my very first lobster – you were endeared and surprised – and oh, the glory! – the fact that you used to like Dune too (but probably outgrew it). Our evening ended in a completely empty bar across – a bar that couldn’t quite decide if it’s a bar, a restaurant or a nightclub – the espresso martini was but a sweetened echo of what I’d had in Singapore – but you liked it. We probably overindulged and overshared, but it didn’t matter – because I really enjoyed myself.

Seas

We raced through the night, with music blasting out of the speakers – into the purple sky. You took my hand and raised it to your lips, smooth and practiced, but after Germans, I didn’t really mind. Two hours before, we’d sat on the terrace overlooking the sea, and the sound of waves crashing against the soft sand lent a keen delightful edge to the band tinkering in the background. I didn’t want to go, of course, because I am, despite appearances, a paranoid chicken, but who could resist – for longer than one course of an overcooked pavé de loup de mer – your deep dulcet French-Arabic tones? I’ve had my own sweet share of Arabic men, and you were one fine specimen: tall, broad-shouldered, and with those thick generous eyelashes around the eyes the colour of molten sugar… That you’d had your own brush ready against the canvas, and felt the breath of the abyss might have had something to do with it as well.

But – to the wind! – I dropped my water bottle on you in the plane, and now I climbed into your car (but let my friends know where and what I was doing, because, well, better safe than sorry after all), and off to the Tunisian capital to get a peek of its infamous nightlife.

We’d gone straight for the bright and the blaring, the recently opened Billionaire Gammarth lounge, because, I mean, who doesn’t like a bit of red carpet at the entrance, complete with its own step and repeat banner? I hope the name was meant to be funny, a self-ironic nod that, really, we don’t take ourselves that seriously here. Let’s walk in, and observe the stocky Tunisians, immaculately dressed, and girls as immaculately made-up, to the amount that I’d normally wear for a ballroom dancing competition. And I must admire the skill — and Arab faces can take a lot of makeup, with those kajal-lined expressive almond eyes, and strong-willed noses, and all that framed by lush, perfectly groomed hair. Dance-wise, though, especially after Africa, there were no skills to speak of. But nonetheless, it was great fun – people drank, but with obvious enjoyment, and even if someone did start showing signs of getting boisterous, it was contained to their tables. I saw a curious sight in one of the bathrooms – the cleaning lady, dressed in hijab, was helping a local girl into her skimpy night-out get-up – trying to zip up an open-back, lace catsuit (that was obviously one size too small). My companion shrugged – he said that these things do exist side by side here, and are not really the way one makes them out to be – frenetic crowds with pitchforks (if only! and as if!..) – over there on the other side of the sea…

The sea, now, deserves its own mention – nothing better than to dip into the smooth waters, and feel the pull of the currents, and the delicious emptiness between the toes, as you swim forward, with the brilliant sun in your face. And even if not (for the week did turn out to be somewhat rainy and cloudy throughout), sitting on the shore, with my dress billowing around my ankles, and that briny wild smell up my nostrils, by Gods, must be one of life’s quiet unassuming pleasures!..

Totems

So much to enjoy, and yet so little to relish.

I keep telling myself I should stop dreaming about the immediate future and enjoy – This – (ModPo Cycle 4, anyone?, Kelly Writer’s House) but I guess this is the disillusionment, fed-up stage setting in. Third and last week in Kampala – this time around – starting, and I just can’t wait to get back. Everything is annoying (so, I’ve decided, it’s going to be a whining post, bear with me) – the garlic smell of the fried fish wafting from the kitchen, the glacial pace of the waiters, the souring wine, the mosquito bites (however carefully I arrange the net above my bed), the shrill yodelling (no other word for it) of a local comedian over the radio. Ugh, how I hate the boda-bodas (how are you not hot in that bomber jacket, anyway?), pestering me when I just want to have a slow uninterrupted Sunday walk.

But then again, there was this Ugandan, blissfully stretched, to the full length of his long limbs, under a dried up giant leaf of a palm-tree that looked more like a totem, upright and polished. And that picture – of how absolutely at home he looked, and at peace – he could have easily been painted onto the landscape (one of those fake 3D drawings going around the internet, when the camera shifts, and voilà! exposing the pretence, the optical illusion that tricked your eye into thinking that there was something real there when in fact it was just flat) – a totem in its own right.

 

Slowly the water rat takes up its reed pen

and scribbles. Leisurely, the egret

on the mud tablet stamps its hieroglyph…

 

 

Gaspara

Some months are longer than others. This month, a nod between Africas, had disappeared from view, like water through the opened sluice gates.

My own version of Gaspara Stampa’s return to the sweet life, the blithe European summer.

Come, walk with me, — I’ll show you a cellist under the bright afternoon sun playing medleys unworthy of his supple well-trained fingers. I won’t even try to guess how hotly uncomfortable, squeakily wet his cello feels in between his legs, and under his bare arms.

Still, the inspired curve of his brow, upwards, with the sliding notes, and the strained mouth denote, well, commitment, for lack of a better word, and I immediately feel sorry for my jeering thoughts. After all, did not Spivakov pour buckets of sweat from his own tuxedo sleeves after a concert?

How much I envy them.

Ugandan Nights

If I were a good girl, and if this weren’t night-time, and if tomorrow there was no tedious red eye flight all the way back to the continent, I wouldn’t be writing this. But I am not a good girl, and this is night time, and the day after tomorrow this will have been but a nightshade in a fleeting memory. Like receding hairline, all too obviously disappearing from view.

My things are strewn all over the canopy bed. I should be folding and sealing them in plastic bags like my mom had taught me, but right now I am too annoyed at the fact that the European plug doesn’t fit into the Chinese adapter.

Oh how glad am I to be going back, and yes, obvious reasons – comfort, safety, predictability. But also – last night, my driver took me back from the breathlessness of Cayenne, and suddenly, the moon, unapologetic, upon an empty sky <and all that famous harmony of leaves>, and a song came on the radio, soft and <i>melancholy</i>.

No extra blanks between
to document the last few takes
-my blinking glassy eyes- hay fever
or cold, or one more
razed emotion-
shall pass along the bend of space
I’d spin around
gasp
at this finality

 

Brackets

So some have been complaining. Truth is, there is been too much to write, and too little (to do).

The heightened emotion heaves up, gasping, drags up your heaviest suitcase (up the stairs), but there is only so much strain that your back (can take). Take it back then, the glass doors, and the glow of the lamp on late winter evenings —

How am I now, a year later, a mirror image, though not quite, about set off for Uganda (again), in a grown-up apartment and a grown-up office, with a grown-up officemate and a grown-up espresso machine.

Life is good. And yet – candle light flickers.

Watch me waddle through mud at a German barefoot park during the corporate retreat – such an urbanized first world invention! – sniff at old cinnamon sticks – experience this tamed version of nature!

It was a good day, with an unexpected and rebellious start – we set off in 3 buses, like schoolchildren, with coffee and buns (not!) swishing in our bellies! Track karting first, washed down by abysmal soup and white bread, very blue collar – and then off to the woods, like some franchised version of Wrong Turn. We took off our shoes gingerly, pretending not to mind this sudden (indecent?) exposure, and felt the cold ground beneath our feet. Ah Earth, the disconnect!

Take my hand in yours, then, wait for my eyes to close (reluctantly) and guide me through the open field for one last trust exercise, feeling my pulse quicken. And then, among Bunin’s dark (and darker) alleys, balance on a log, and I — so very awkwardly — in your unsteady arms.

Let’s climb up the hill (after) towards the white tents, hide behind one of them, and drink red wine on an empty stomach.

All this, and yet, a missing link.

Lunch

Sunlight fell down in a rectangle.

We opened a bottle of wine, cut down into the white fish, and laughed at stories of the forbidden forest. The last of lasts in such a constellation, the half-Dutch arch of a concerned brow above the French curve of the nose — smoothed into the laid back smile of the Balkans. And finally, with the approaching finality, the black-rimmed glasses lost in black. And yet, he brims with happiness.

We crossed the fields, and watched the leaves shift against the deep untainted blue, and gorged on first strawberries of the year. Et in arcadia ego.