Dreaming of Cairo, so I thought, and I was on some concrete balcony at the edge of the desert, with the city in the distance, illuminated by explosions – and the death-rattle of guns and screaming missiles echoed across the void between me and… them.
I peered harder and saw that the explosions were fireworks, lighting up the sky with their crackle and kaleidoscope wonder. And the city was maybe Romford, somewhere not quite London.
I woke up. It was still night. Deeply so. A blackbird was singing. It sounded so frail and confused, so beautiful, and so full of dread.
I looked at the silver mud along the banks of the river. A month ago it was filled with birds. You could see them scurrying even at night. Now they have gone. The seasons are changing and the mud is becoming bare. The gulls’ heads are taking on their summer colour. It’s as if the dunlins never happened. But they will be back. All of life succumbs to the gyre. Once we accept it, we can begin to make predictions, begin to understand the pleasures and the horrors that are as yet out of sight.
The guns were silenced yesterday.
Get the fucking stretcher –––– here now! Get it here! Blood is pouring from –––– left of the child’s leg. Med-tent is 200 metres and watch the air – the shrapnel – it is so full. A glance, quickly, buildings at street end are rubble. Patches of street have turned red. Six bodies – rough count – in the road. Where is it? Run! Run! Yes, yes, on her brow, there, there. Go. Breathing –––– breathing –––– breathing –––– breathing –––– Doctors, doctors, off, off the stretcher, now go! Another explosion, nearer explosion and run run for the second. Is she? Is she live? Okay! Your name is? Darja, Darja.
She confirmed that the meeting lasted for more than three hours. At these times pastries and coffee are merely decorative. Neither party stoops to accept a fix of sugar or caffeine. After the smiles and handshakes it is the tiniest details that count. The way one of them tilts their head towards an unnecessary interpreter; the merest upturn of one corner of one mouth. They try not to blink, try not even to avert from their focused stares. Water is refreshed and refreshed again. The summit builds understanding but not trust. Nothing is lost, but there is nowhere to run.
Picks up a coffee, checks her Facebook at her desk and feels angry. Sits through two hour+ meetings. Emails Robin. Looks through the glass at the boys on the floor becoming animated, arms waving, pointing, voices raised. Now, now, they seem to be saying. It is to do with Russia. Before lunch the office empties. The boys go to the gym and then to restaurants and bars. Polly eats salad and watches a comedy. It is the same as pre-crash, she thinks, except everyone is more stressed, more suspicious, more aware that they might need to get away, soon, fast.
Watches the joggers run past the flats as she towels her hair dry. Hums along to the radio and eats toast, drinks orange juice. Waits at the bus stop where all the men cough into the cold wet street. Stares at the passing shops, swaying as the bus jerks. Walks up past the park and hangs her coat in the back of the café and begins work. In her mind, her cousin – blankets across her shoulders, running through the streets and tugging little Darja along and squeezing into the minibus, fleeing from the tanks rumbling on the horizon. It hurts.
That our lives are nothing less than fissile
is a blind spot on a blue retina.
We arc our actions, our thoughts, like missiles;
sing praise, hope the heavens make us better;
behold the sky and hold it high, careful
not to see the cracks that let the light in –
or the umbra, its foretelling, which, shared,
might point a compass towards compassion.
The shadows of celestial bodies
fall to earth with no poetry, reason
or goal. We are better than this, we say.
But when we play gods we soon discover
those graves we think beneath us are above.
A broad-brimmed black felt hat lies on the tracks below the bridge that crosses the railway line on Shoreditch High Street.
They sip sweet creamy coffee, shuffle and talk of failed interviews and jobs that didn’t work out.
A man by the Tube shouts ‘Freedom out!’ or perhaps ‘Free Time Out!’
They add a pre-meeting meeting to the diary, tapping fitfully while taking a call.
A line of immigration enforcement vans passes by as they hesitate at the wet kerb.
Restless regions shift like cumulonimbus across the horizon. We are heading for a low. A black hat rests on rails.
The day the border was crossed he drank sweet coffee. He had been waiting to hear a cuckoo. His father railed “Let them in!” and waved his handkerchief. The fields were yellow with rape. Vasily had his toys all over the carpet. His mother made soup. Later he would meet friends at the corner bar but make sure he returned home before dusk. The main roads were all busy with heavily laden cars and trucks. They were all headed in one direction. How quick things move, he thought. And how predictable this unpredictability. Oh she danced so well last night.
The bear wandered far and wide until it came to the hut of an old woman, which was raised off the ground by a single chicken claw. The old woman hit the bear about its head then bade it sleep. The next day an eagle descended and the bear tore it apart. The old woman told the bear to bring her the water of death and the water of life. With the water of death she brought the eagle’s body back together and with the water of life she made it breathe again. There is no moral in this story.