‘When you leave you never go back, even if you think you might: it’s impossible.’
With these words he left: took a job somewhere abroad. He never visited, or if he did he kept it quiet. Of course we saw updates online: places he went; achievements; petty squabbles.
‘All as the world turns,’ an old friend once said.
I have grey hairs.
‘There is no such thing as “close of business”.’
That’s another thing I heard.
When he finally returned there was little fanfare, just raised eyebrows.
He hadn’t come back, he had tried to catch hold of a shadow.
At first it happened slowly, blistering the skyline and the dusty roadside only occasionally. People turned to look, crying out. But soon, more and more little outbursts came, a ceaseless bombardment, and the city became quickly transformed. The past was forgotten.
There were little explosions of colour all across Homs, cherry blossom firing spring into consciousness. The blossom was soon lying thick on the streets and the children said it looked like snow from the movies on TV. Delicate pinks and ethereal whites were strewn across the avenues and clung to the little houses, and all, for now, was good.
The reporter speaks to camera from the steps, recently swept, across the churchyard where huddles of tourists peer at maps and hold up camera phones, squinting into screens.
A TV is being watched.
The camera’s banal gaze focuses on the grey flagstones. Everything is clean as if a uniformity has returned, a natural order resumed.
Laughter is heard.
[Off stage a tented green, colourful banners, cups of tea. But the cameras will not travel and the gaze will not turn. Attention is fixed on the clean stage. The question is how to depict what is not ever to be presented.]
Kirsty was very tiny and those paths were wide and sometimes she would feel scared but then she would have her dinner and feel full and forget. And soon she was growing and the paths were all thick with flowers and weeds and then some of the paths she couldn’t see so well. And then big machines and people who shouted built houses all along the paths and made fences and the path got narrow and the trees were tall. And Kirsty looked out of her small window and wondered how little things got so big and big things small.
Like at night, talking at the table, and glancing outside to see the snow falling. Like forgetting and awakening; again the clear magic. Like the blackthorn’s spindle branches and grass turned bronze and the endless white sky. And the snow that came like confetti first, and clung to the birches and the oaks, and settled like a warm robe across the woods. Like the gleeful shouts that crack the morning still, the scrape of shovels and crunch of boots. Like the water’s edge with its icy hem and the stealthy strut of a curlew. Like coffee. Like my lover’s eyes.
It was on my mind to tell you that I’d booked us a meal. We could maybe take a holiday in France this summer; I’d like some peace and quiet and you’ve been working so hard. The kids were coming back from school the other day and my how Olivia is growing. She’ll be as tall as me soon. We get so sidetracked sometimes. There’s no rulebook. Sometimes I think of how we used to be and the laughter we’ve shared. I wanted to tell you that I love you, always will. I’m sorry now it’s… now it’s… now it’s…
A day with white tops on the grey waves. A day of no horizons. A woman came out of one house and disappeared into the next. In the field a horse chewed grass. Herring gulls circled. Three miles out at sea it lashed rain. The rain was to come, dragging itself behind a trawler returning to port. The trawler was just a speck, growing, until it was recognisable as a boat to the naked eye. And then, as the stoves were being lit, the trawler disappeared, taking with it five men, drowning their lives in the sludge of the past.
In the park the dog was wrestling with a bone. Hey, said the man, throwing a ball into the sky. The dog ran across the frosty grass and the ball soared into the winter blue, rising above the trees. Upwards from the tops of the oaks and birches a bird flew – maybe it was a dove – towards the gold-flecked river; and out in the distance, across the water, was a thin white plume. Aeroplanes. Horizons in Europe, the Indian Ocean, warmer climes, desert sun, heat. The heat – a missile caught in a tragic arc, screeching to earth. Earth, flesh, bone.
It is the 12th of December. The passing of steady time is played out with a handball game in Doha, the King of Bahrain at Downing Street and Iraqi soldiers graduating into action after a mere month’s training in Kirkut. Was it Kirkut? The name remains, lingers like a strange flavour in the mouth. And from behind a grate there is heard a scratching, shuffling sound. Something is coming; some rough beast in a vast image, a revelation in these parts. But now clear, black and white, moving its slow thighs, Tian Tian the panda appears – and we forget all.
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