son of a witch part four – best-case-scenario mat

Markus could move like a ghost when he felt like it. Sometimes, he wanted to turn himself into a non-person, an abstract entity that did not extend beyond its own sense of the universe. He would imagine himself exactly like that, then. A disconnected jumble of eyes, nose, ears and tongue floating through the air, plugged out from everything to do with people but linked to the air and the forest and real life.

He didn’t really have to imagine that last bit.

He moved like that, then, through the ramshackle single corridor of what they called a house but everyone inside it knew that he had come. Everyone consisted of one more person than was necessary: a bald, golden haired man, pink and splotchy. His chest flapped outward to either side, butterflied like chicken breast before you stuff it with herbs and a round, flaky rose behind it like a peach sun. He was nearly piebald with every shade of colour white could be. He was clearly going through something. Everything was rising and falling, undulating

Markus’ mother hovered over him, her eyes on Markus and her hands on this sea-creature in a man’s body. She was singing the song nearly everyone knew the words to as she pressed down on the man’s chest. Markus leaned against the doorframe, watching and bored.

Mother had beautiful eyes. He didn’t comment on the rest of her but he supposed she wasn’t all that bad. She had a very long forehead and there were this little craters in them, two or three and so small they looked like large freckles from the distance. In conciliatory, soft, wet evening in front of the fire with popcorn, Markus would run his fingers through these little craters and feel. She had beautiful eyes, large and wide with a lot of room for storytelling. She rolled them to the right, to the table where his now cold milk and fried banana was placed under a red, plastic lid.

Markus nodded, not moving just yet and watching. Behind the scene in front of him was the large, curtainless window through which the evening sunlight was spilling like orange-juice into the room. He felt the onset of a bad mood starting to creep on him. It was multiple things at once like this that got to him, in the end. The thing with Una and the boy. The fact that his mother had let a session prolong way past the time she herself had been so vehement about. “After school is me over you. You listen to me. That time is for me over you.”

She was over someone else now and there was healing and money involved. Or a big act and exoticism. Perhaps he was another researcher who didn’t really have cancer or liver-disease or whatever else he claimed to have. Perhaps he was going to run away as soon as this was over and take notes about everything that happened, the way her hands became hot and cold over his naked flesh, fine tuned abilities to control body temperature at will and so on. Or maybe he got off to this stuff. His mother knew these types existed. She never refused to entertain them.

The man was starting to get distracted by Markus’ presence and his mother slapped him gently on the reddening cheek, getting him to look into her eyes again. It was close to the end of the lilting, rather scratchily sung song and this was probably the last effort to exorcise the little organisms that were feeding on him. The man was sweating enough for Markus to think it was probably successful. He opened up his after-school snack and ate it quickly. About as soon as he was done with his milk, a big spurt of vomit exploded out of his mouth and on to the plastic mat placed next to his head which fell down, facing the other side. The best-case-scenario mat, his mother would call it.

She took a basin filled with water and mixed drops of essences and oils from old squash-bottles in it before sprinkling the mixture over the white man’s face. He woke up, tired and panicked and she gave him a clean towel, sitting him up and rubbing his scarred, freckled back up and down.

“Markus, clean this up…” she muttered.

Markus just sat, hands crossed.

“Markus, clean this shit up.” She looked to him long enough for the white man to also turn to look at him, heaving, and he looked back at both of them, biting his lips and holding till it got awkward. He got up with a theatrical huff, walked slowly to the bedroom (which was the size of his school toilet) and returned with a mop and a bucket of soap water. By then, the white man was sitting at the table, buttoning his white shirt up drowsily.

“So is it out?” His voice was gravelly and weak.

“Not sure. Cannot be.” Mother’s English was halting and clipped. He could almost predict what she’d say before she said it. Maybe she practiced these things. “Need to wait.”

“That’s…you know…it was just a chest massage. I paid a lot of money.”

“You paid for me trying. It will work. It will.”

He sat, looking ahead and quiet for a while. “I could hear voices. Up…inside my ears. I could hear things speaking up there.”

“Will work. Go quickly. Forest not safe at night.”

He turned and looked at Markus for a while, in his school uniform with the sleeves folded up and the bottom of his pants coated in mud. Markus looked right back. He was shaken up, this man. Didn’t even have the strength to argue. Out here, it was power and magic and in spite of how angry Markus felt about having to be subjected to this when the terms of the arrangement were so clearly laid down, he was glad he got to have this moment. It improved his mood, a little.

He turned to see Mother counting wrinkled notes and coins and making them into piles. She counted out a few five-hundred rand notes and some change and then pushed it towards him. The specificity of the sum made it clear to all parties involved that it was his school fees, to be paid as is.

Then, she counted out a few more hundreds and pushed that as well and again, it was clear to all parties involved that this was an apology, to be done with as he so chose. He tried to drum up revulsion and revolt from inside him. He wanted to be angry about not being able to be paid off like this.

But he was grateful. He was sixteen. Money was starting to become important. And he’d need a cheer-up after tomorrow’s affair.

He went to bed early, reading only a little bit under his battery-torch. She came later to the much larger bed in the same room, humming the old healing song. She stopped abruptly, realising what she was doing and tucked herself in.

He lay awake for a long time, his eyes white and ghastly against the dark.

 

Advertisements

camera | nocturnes

I

These nights are like all nights. They only feel different as each night feels different. The smell of it is often something varied and specific. The taste of it can be wet or dry. It could be be cold or it could be hot.

You’d only know through cutouts and disguises and falsehoods. The truest pictures of the night are those ones with the camera panned well up above the thronging colourmasses and up to the tops of the decaying buildings. Take a photo of a summer night, take a photo of a winter night. It all looks the same.

Spring nights are different.

II

They were contemplating a depraved flaneurism from on top of the roof as they tried to look at the truest view of the city without a camera. They weren’t sure if they should break their aesthetic loyalties and look down at the people and regard them coolly and from a (literally) elevated position.

They weren’t sure what that sort of urban metaphor would mean if they were rapidly losing elevation as they were doing it. They were fairly certain of a lot of things.

Only, they didn’t know if it was warmth first crunch later or if it was the other way around.

III

The moon hangs above as all, a petulant orb pregnant with all the meanings important people have attached to it. It is woman, demure and the counterpoint to the sun. It is madness. It is coldness. It is alien strangeness. It is the false god of the night.

Perhaps the moon isn’t any of these things. Perhaps the moon is angry and sad. Perhaps the moon feels this way because someone’s writing another poem about it and making it to be something it is not.

Perhaps the moon demands intellectual property legislation. Maybe something simpler. Maybe pre-art consent.

IV

Some part of the rationale behind their  actions might very well be because of the spring. Perhaps in their desire to turn their living, breathingness into art, their individuality into a product for the collective, they found the spring night to be a counterpoint to the sculpture they were beginning to mold.

Spring is the season of life.

They prepare to fashion death.

V

Art is difference. If you find a  world that’s one homogeneous block, one thing or perhaps a thing close to that, ask them if they know what a painting is or why it’s necessary and they won’t. Art is difference.

But is the difference in the universe before you came to make your mark on it enough for you to deem it art or is it merely randomness. All art is difference but all difference is not art, yes?

Spring is the season of life or death. Pan your camera up above them in their disguises and lies and you shall then see the city and the night in all its veracity.

________

That’s the last one. And perhaps the only real nocturnal one. Thanks for following along. All the header images are from http://mohtz.tumblr.com/ . 

 

 

placenta | nocturnes

I

All of a sudden, things become autumnal. Things are amniotic, before. Things are warm and cosseted and sounds echo gently and reach your forming ears wetly and you react with unknowing idiocy. Tethering is all you know. If you had any more sense, you’d take it for granted but you’re probably too stupid to do even that.

Autumn is not an end-state. It is a process. It is a narrative, a series of interconnected events.

Autumn is a story.

II

Americans call autumn fall because it is the time the leaves fall. And fallen leaves are the way you relate to this time of year, in your own tactile way. You’ve probably already thought about the sensation of crunching, dry organism under the heels of your shoes. But the fall is not the fallen. The fall begins with a prologue. A thin strip of tissue connecting you to a tree.

You are going gently into that cold night. But it isn’t a snap and a bang. It is peril and fear and terror but there is probably time in there for love and hope and family.

The fall is life.

III

We don’t romanticise the dead the way we romanticise autumn. Our paintings are paintings of creatures mid-fall, frozen in the air. The fall is too fast for us to consider any one moment particular eventful but perhaps temporarily like that is something we all decided to make up, together.

Maybe we’re more obsessed with the end-state than any of us let on.

Is falling worth it?

IV

Some placentae are green, others are not.

Meander or hover after that. Get crunched. Get saved in some little kid’s leaf-book. Maybe someone will take a picture of us.

Falling is worth it.

V

Falling hurts. Falling is dipping and weaving through the spaces between things and I make up horrible things to fill those spaces and I live my life an auteur. A creator-actor. I have to pretend the eldritch horrors I conjure up don’t exist.

Giving and taking and losing and eking and looking at the dead leaves in front of you and the little spot where you’ll land.

Is that a breeze?

 

bloodloss | nocturnes

I

In wintertime, tumults gently coalesce into blankets and warmness. Cold feet are made cold not artificially. It is dusk and as they take their boots off they are reminded of the sweatlayer of hotter times. Nobody really makes the sorts of food people want to make in the cold anymore, except in the takeout/microwave varieties and there are probably also vanilla air-fresheners and toilet scentbags.

They say you are more ravenous in the winter. They say birds eat more and you see everything crowd around sunny spots basking and forgetting.

Winter is active amnesia.

II

Warmth is a new thing. It is a scampering for permanence. It is feeling blindly in the dark and it is tactile mistakes we try to maneuver around.  It is a vehement refusal against a wave of chapterisation and neat clean titles.

Strain for your commas and semicolons as the seasons change and you pull out your second blanket. You’re drinking hot milk everyday. You’re running away from full-stops.

Winter is the creamy synthesiser behind the rattles and ukuleles.

III

Have I heard stories about frostbite? I think I have, though I don’t think I understand it very well. If your hands are in the cold long enough they can eventually just break off like a ceramic teacup. Why is this story so painlessly bloodless?

I want something so unnatural. I want to see crimson flow like a liquid prop over crunchy snow and make pools for maggi-wrappers to be islands on.

Why can’t winter be a little less intensity-negating.

IV

In the afternoon he sweats and shivers as it evaporates under a ceiling fan. Clean rooms and warm orange lights are as nice as the blankets are, if a little grimy by now this late into the evening/season.

What if nobody knows if you’re bled out? What if it happens at night as you sleep if they make little pricks on the soft skin of your hands and feet and patch you up before the morning comes?

Mosquitoes go away somewhere in the winter.

V

If you’re looking for bloodloss, now isn’t the time friend, for it is winter, that eternal maker-numb of everything. This is the time when you’re socialised into liking that which is not real. Your sweaters and soft scarves and laughs are all the nice things that are hollow inside the shell because they are constructed from fictions like friction and trapped breath.

Your blanket is a lie. The only true heat is from the sun and in winter, the sun turns their face away from you and you surround yourself in illusions.

In winter, everyone crowds and forgets, stretching their hands and feet out to a disdainful sun.

 

son of a witch | part 3: slip

There was a point in history when people couldn’t ever imagine an airport being decrepit. Airports were meant to be plastered down and matte where necessary and glossy where necessary and to do with coffee and warm, brown plates with cinnamon rolls slowly and sugarily melting and clean white cardpaper.

The man in the brown shirt wonders what it took for an airport to become like this. The place is dark, even in the early hours of the morning, just past sunrise. He can see the dried green of whatever foliage managed to survive the ravages of airport-making through murky panel-windows. It smells of accumulated cigarette-grease, staleness and trapped human heat. It tastes of dried sweat.

He stands in line, big and lumbering in his post-sleep. He is jostled gently by a very impatient man from behind him and he doesn’t turn to investigate the motivations fueling his burning desire to get ahead and past customs. That reason is very probably legitimate. This is home, after all.

He is next. He walks forwards, scratching the back of his neck as his eyes flicker back and forth from the makeshift security camera (an early 2000s webcam mounted on top of a stick) to the customs agent. The customs agent is a fat man, white hair flecked across his face like sprinkles on eclairs by a bad chef. The man hands his passport over.

“Markus of the Orenin Woods.”

“That’s me.” Markus shrugs.

The customs agent flips through the passport with the sort of casualness Markus has always found amusing. Is this how mass-manufacturers of machine-gun rounds feel on the assembly line? Can you do something over and over so much that the thing you do looses all semblance of weight and value?

“French, yes? This is a French passport.”

“Yes sir.”

The customs agent nods slowly, looking through his entry and exit stamps. “You don’t come home very often, Markus of the Woods.”

“Tickets cost money, sir.” Markus realises he isn’t being very careful. That was a step removed from ‘who’ll pay for it, your da?

The customs agent seems to have realised the same thing. He looks up to him, a sausage-like finger stuffed between two pages of his wrinkled passport, the rest of his hand bending it around them, changing its shape. “Funny boy, huh?”

“I’m sorry sir, I wasn’t trying anything. I’m just very tired.”

“What’re you here for now, then? BP or SocTel snatched you up for something? What’re you studying? Engineering? Management?”

There were two people left in the line behind him and Markus supposes that meant the agent has the time and the option to screw with him. Probably the end of his shift. People do things like this at the ends of their shifts.

“Law, sir.”

“Law,” the customs agent says, stamping his passport. “Old gift?”

Markus hits that question like a miscalculated dive into a swimming pool. It jolts him painfully awake and aware of things he is entirely uncomfortable with. “I’m sorry, sir?”

“The old gift. Orenin Woods and all that. You know what I’m talking about, yes? The old pocus?”

“I wasn’t aware this was information I had to disclose here, sir.” Markus speaks slowly, letting the customs agent know he is choosing his words very carefully. They are staring into each others eyes in a necessary way. The last time Markus did this, he was in love, as far as he can recall.

“It isn’t. Not officially. I’m assuming you don’t, though.”

“Sir, if it isn’t legally compulsory, I have no reason to say, do I?”

“I suppose not.” The agent looks at him and then at the camera and back at him. He winks. Markus is let through.

The airport gets more decrepit the closer he gets to the exit, till he is out and greeted by a foggy, mulchy winter morning with a vague tease of rain. And throngs of tuk-tuks, little green Toyotas and bigger vehicles. Students in t-shirts and hats at a  large Uber station beckon vigorously towards him.

He drops his bag on the ground and pulls out a large, worn leather jacket, zipping it unfashionably high and stuffing his large hands into the frayed, widened out pockets. He moves left, down into the more deserted quarter of the airport’s front, past a few lazily guarded military-police stations and down the road to where he assumes the bus-stop still is. His earbuds are still on and he doesn’t hear a strange, familiar call it is far too close upon him.

Una hits him like a car crash. She is nearly as tall as him an poky in exactly the way she was five years ago. Her elbows pierce into his back as she hugs him, lifting her feet of the ground. She pulls back to lock eyes with him. “You really, honestly thought nobody’d show up? A bus, Markus?”

Markus tugs at her neatly braided, now very long hair. “I really, honestly thought nobody would show up. Who told you when I was coming, Auntie Ore?”

“Yeah, I’m glad you told her. It…would’ve been a shock. There’s a lot of people in the house, Markus.” She bites her lip, cocking her head and looking at him. “Well, how does it feel?”

Markus closes his eyes for a while. A petrel of some kind is flying way up in the clouds. A little lower, pigeons take roost in clusters and alone, shitting and mating in concrete nooks and make-do nests. There is a little enclosed topiary back in the middle of the airport and new little leaves are beginning to make their way out, defying the shapes they were sliced down into. Lizards and rat scurry and patter around each other through the pipes.

“Okay,” Markus said. “Feels okay. Feels weird. Do you miss her?”

“To be honest, a little bit. I mean…I know what she did to you and all and I know some things you can’t account for but you know. I do. She was sweet towards the end.”

“Did she remember who you were?”

“I think she forgot who I was years ago.” Una smiles . “Years before the dementia or anything. I don’t think she really cared ever.”

Markus nods. “Where’s your car?”

 

 

 

 

son of a witch | part two: song

Koka Kandy was the taste of childhood. He was vaguely aware as he was walking back home from school that he was now old enough to be nostalgic.

The walk home from school was like the suntan pattern on Aunty Ore’s back when she asked him to put sunscreen on for her at the beach. At some point, pavement slowly transitioned to leaves and then eventually brush but he couldn’t really draw a line where the change concretely happened. He’d know when he was in the forest and he’d know when he wasn’t but there were always a few minutes of flux in between.

They stopped making Koka Kandy. He realised he was sucking at nothing, the center of his tongue mindlessly scraping his palette. His mother never bought him a lot of it. He’d never really been shopping with his mother in any distinct sense he could remember. The idea of his mother buying things for him, treats and nice things, was a foreign idea but not an entirely alien one. He could conceive of how it would pan out but he didn’t think it had ever happened to him.

“Markus, wait!” Una was running up to him, her feet kicking up wet, fallen leaves and grainy mud. “You’re supposed to wait for me at the end of the road!”

“You mean the beginning of the forest?” Markus asked.

“Not this again.” She caught up with him and sighed before meeting his eyes and smiling. “So guess what.”

“What?” They began to walk, significantly slower than he could’ve managed alone. “Is this about the boy?”

“No….well, yeah….yes and no.”

Markus turned to look at her, lips crooked downwards. “Sounds right complicated, eh? Unnecessary.” Una’s ongoing entanglement with ‘the boy’ was something Markus had been hearing about ever since the new term started. They were in different schools, so Markus had no way of seeing for himself or confirming if any of it was true. Not that he’d be interested in doing that, even if he could.

“Like you’d know about what is or isn’t necessary, Markus, you have no life.” This was something she had been trying to get him to accept for a couple of years now. ‘I am your only friend and that isn’t okay,’ was a sort of catchphrase for their relationship and Markus never really had the courage to say that that wasn’t really true. That he didn’t really consider even her a friend.

“Fair enough,” he said.

“Anyway, we talked today.” She turned to him, her big, artfully-lined eyes looking at his face closely and pensively. He wondered why his opinion on this whole thing mattered so much today. It never had before.

“Oh yeah? What’d you talk about?”

“About? Oh…just you know…family and things like that.”

Oh. His hands went up to his cheeks and he massaged them hard into the row of teeth on either side. This was one of his many ‘nasty habits’: things that were absolutely fine to do unless Mama was watching. “Family like Aunty Sion and Aunty Ore and like your mother?”

“Yeah…and family like you.” She was dead quiet and it seemed the forest had decided to mimic her. It felt like the whole bloody universe had gathered itself around him and was waiting for him to fume.

“You know what this is about, Una.”

“It isn’t like that. He’s-he’s…we were just talking to each other. He told me about my family and I told me about his.”

Markus was trying as hard as he could to ease his feverish mind. He could feel birds alight on branches in a circle around him. Squirrels had stopped their foraging to watch. He could feel the roots under the earth gently twist and shift through the rubber soles of his black shoes. He felt lighting and thunder between his fingers and though he knew he was miles away from the edge where all of this could slip out of his control, the quickness with which nature, and he, came to this point terrified him a little.

“You know why the white boys come here, Una. You know why they come here to this empty, hot little place instead of all the other places in the world they can go.”

“Markus, it isn’t like that. He’s been here most of his life.”

“His father, then. His mother. His older brother. They’re all here for me. And eventually for mother.”

As they moved in silence, the forest moved with them.

“What did you tell him, anyway?” Markus asked.

“Your school. And your name.”

He chuckled. “He’ll come and see me after the weekend, I’m sure. I’m also sure he’s not going to have a lot to say to you after that.”

Una opened her bag and took a sip of water from a canteen before handing it to him. He shook his head. “Mother says that’s what’s wrong with your whole end of the family. You think everyone’s evil.”

There was a lot Markus wanted to tell her then. He wanted to tell her magic came as easy to him as breathing or taking a shit. It wasn’t something he and his mother had to conjure. It was just there, like every other biological process. He wanted to rail about how callous it was for her to consider his life of suppression to be somehow, in some skewed way, his fault.

They were quiet again for a while. “I’m sorry,” she blurted out eventually. “Wasn’t thinking straight.”

Markus said nothing. But nature seemed to loosen around them. The birds sang again and a light breeze disrupted the claustrophobic clamping the trees had been doing for the past five minutes.

“What does childhood taste like to you?” Markus asked. They were past the final bend and he could see smoke rise gently from his chimney. Una’s house was further ahead, very close to the village.

“It tastes like this. Because I’m fifteen, Markus, I’m still a child. And you’re a year older so so are you, okay?”

He laughed. “I don’t know…I don’t think I am.”

“When did you stop being one, then?”

“Whenever they stopped making Koka Kandy,” he said.

She nodded sagely. “Yeah, I suppose that is the taste of childhood. If they ever bring it back, they should use that as their tagline. We’d be old then.”

“Old Una.” He laughed and she laughed too and they laughed till a dark sound cut them both off. The voice making it belonged to his mother and she was singing the old song. The healing song.

Markus tensed and the forest tensed with him.

 

son of a witch | part one – home

I remember writing something ages ago called Son of a Witch but I can’t remember where or if anyone saw it or if it was any good. I remember these strange disconnected bits from it but nothing tying the vignettes together. Perhaps I remember some semblance of a plot but I don’t remember a conclusion. Maybe it was a dream. 

As soon as the man in the brown t-shirt is past security, he takes off his shoulder bag and fumbles for a button-clip folder. He is strangely aware of the importance of the documents in his hand as he is aware of everything. The airport is suffused for him with this gross, unnecessary awareness of his body and what it is doing.  He carefully places his government pass, his passport, his student ID and his boarding pass into the file and zips it back up. He straightens his hitched up shirt and pulls his nondescript black jeans up, checking to make sure he still had his wallet and cellphone after security divested him of everything.

He realises he is hungry. He hasn’t eaten for a day.  He thinks about this bad habit as he follows the signs that lead to the food-court. He stops eating the day before an exam and doesn’t eat again till the exam is over. This was something his mother had taught him. After yesterday’s exam was over he had to catch a couple of trains to the city and ride a bus to the airport. There hadn’t been time for food.

After a cursory glace and a quick estimate of what he has left in his account, he settles for McDonald’s. The girl behind the counter sounds Dutch. She has very blue eyes, freckles and not a lot of hair under her yellow hat but she doesn’t have a name tag on. He assumes she’s just started her shift because the lethargy and emotional death anything more than an hour behind a McDonald’s counter entails doesn’t seem to have hit her yet. He has worked at a McDonald’s too, once.

He’s made some sort of attempt at rationalising her peppiness but it is difficult to match up with the dourness of the airport and with how he feels. Her eyes follow him as he pulls his scratched debit-card out of his wallet very carefully. She turns the card reader back to him and he hovers over it, his fingers wiggling. He waits long enough for it to be peculiar. “Shit…” he mutters.

“Long day, sir?” she asks in a lilting English. He must’ve fumbled his Dutch while ordering. He was fairly confident with it after three years, or so he had thought.

“Er…yeah. Hold on, I think I’ve got it.” he keys in the last four digits of his old phone number. This was his pin-number at some point, he’s sure of that. He’s not sure if he’d changed it. The reader beeps and the receipt slowly prints out.

“I think you’ve got it too.” She smiles, revealing a crooked tooth. “stand over there and we shall serve you soon?”

He smiles back, nods and does what he’s told. Another man comes and orders a very elaborate Hunger-Value meal. He is brown, paunchy and in a tight sports shirt and shorts.  He ambles next to him with his receipt.

“Damn, you’re a big fellow, aren’t you.” American. Or at least, he wants to be.

“I suppose,” the man mumbles.

“D’you play basketball? I coach the school basketball team on the side sometimes and we could sure use a big fellow like you.”

“I box.”

The basketball coach chuckles. “You box? Short man can box. You have to use what God has given you.” He points emphatically. His accent breaks down when he says God. Gode.

He has things to say about autonomy and the importance of his own desires. He smiles, tilts his head and doesn’t.

“So where you headed?” the basketball-coach asks.

The man tells him.

“Oh. Let me think…um….” He says the name of the capital and his eyes light up when the man nods. “Nice beaches, civil-war and a hunger crisis, yes?”

The man was in the middle of massaging his eyes and he continues, pausing for a while to take that in.

“Assisted regime-change, British Petroleum. Forests and waterfalls and…and magic. And all that.”

The basketball-coach (on the side) takes his loaded plastic tray, arms and movements very stiff and walks quickly away.

The girl behind the counter is looking at him with her wide blue eyes, picking at her lower lip with her hand. He is aware of himself even more than before. He knows he is capable of this, of becoming very powerful very suddenly. His voice and his height and his breadth all flaring out like a peacock. What Gode gave him.

She watches him and he watches her back, too weary to do anything else.

“Here’s your…um…your sandwich and smoothie.”

He nods. “Thank you. Have a nice day, now,” he says in the best Dutch he can muster, given the circumstances.

She smiles  and goes back to the counter, now gradually starting to grow crowded. He walks to the circular courtyard around which the gates and everything else are arranged like rays. He looks up to see the sky past the glass roof slowly turn into a light blue. He finds this significant for a second – the last time he will see this sunrise for a while. Then he grunts out a laugh. Airports make him so gorgeously dramatic.

He goes past a mirror on the way to his gate and looks at himself for a second. His beard was always patchy but now it is grown out and curled. His hair is a dry, frizzy mess. His eyes seem to peer out from sunken, deep potholes, not even uniform. His clothes are clean but that is because they are new. He always buys new clothes when he goes to the airport. Eliminating reasons for uniformed men to pull him out of the queue was something he was taught early.  When he thinks about it he realises he didn’t even have to be taught. He just knew.

He falls asleep at the gate and only wakes up when there iss a crowd of people, everyone from home, standing in a line in front of it. He stands as well, pulling his boarding pass out of the file. He gets the window seat as usual and a woman possibly in her sixties sits next to him clutching a big, overstuffed handbag carried in addition to the large box she stowed overhead. They do not make conversation.

He is bemused to see that some of the stewardesses were foreign. None of them are white (yet) but there are two or three from the Philippines. He went out with a Filipino girl in his second year and he can identify them talking to each other in Tagalog as they breeze past.

He doesn’t feel himself falling asleep. When he wakes up, the woman next to him opens his table and places a tray on it. “I assume you will eat fish,” she says, not in English.

“Fish is good, thank you,” he says and as he tucks in, he wonders why speaking in the mother-tongue again after two years isn’t as much of an event as he assumed it would be. He woke up and answered the question. He feels guilty for wanting to be more alienated from home than he is. He doesn’t want to but he is saddened the past four years haven’t impacted his consciousness enough to keep the old language even a little further back from the tip of his tongue.

He is halfway into his dessert when the woman next to him, who had been absently clutching at her chest for a while, suddenly vomits and lolls her head back. He, and a couple of other passengers from the next aisle shout for help. The stewardesses glide towards the area in practiced formation. Two of them call for medical professionals on board the flight. The man helps the other two lay the woman down on the aisle and as they run to fetch the first-aid kit, the man starts chest-compressions.

At some point in the middle of this, he begins to sing the old song. He is only conscious of this when a man from the next row joins him. There are a couple of other voices he can hear from the immediate vicinity. It is not a moment of unity. The whole flight does not join in.

Even as a bleary eyed doctor makes his way to the gaggle and begins to administer asprin and nitrolglycerin and whatever else, some people are still singing. And he started it.

His mother would’ve been proud. He didn’t think it was possible to hate himself any more than he already did but somehow, he found a way.