Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Mighbrow: He Could See Nothing But Shadows

There is a Portuguese word 'saudade' which is defined as 'a terrible yearning for a past that never existed.' Maybe nostalgia is really a yearning to reclaim lost lives or missed opportunities, hence our sentimental connection to the things that have shaped us or perhaps slipped away; our parents, our childhood, lost friends, music, books, TV and films of a particular era. 
There is nothing quite as sweet as the grey warbling of a bird near extinction; we push things towards extinction, and, only when we're fearful of their loss, do we cherish them. 
Why do we need to make totems of things rare when we should celebrate the common place?

Corsica had gifted me a perfect day in the sun, now I needed to live beyond that day without 
corrupting or resenting the memory of it. 
But dark thoughts returned; when I should have been living in the moment I became wistful 
about the past, and fearful of the future. I suspect that I was wrestling with the possibilities 
   of what was beyond that moment. 
And then, for my birthday, a friend offered up his house in Foz de Arelho on the Portuguese coast. 
It was a beautiful location overlooking not just the sea but a fresh water lagoon; the perfect 
place for taking long walks and clearing my head, which seemed to be permanently humming.
I took my small yellow note pad everywhere with me, feverishly making notes; and this piece came 
from a trek around the lagoon. I'm not sure why I started writing about myself in the 3rd person; maybe 
after the self regard of 'Hopeland' I was becoming a little tired of myself; maybe I was trying to distance
myself from me, me, me; surely that couldn't be me threatening the well being of an innocent dog...

He Could See Nothing But Shadows

He didn't know what he was doing.
There was a humming in his head.
Stepping out of the air-conditioned warmth he shuffled down wooden steps towards the lagoon.
The day was hazy and undefined, but surely beckoned.
Looking out to sea the only break in the silver canvas was a brown strip of sandbank.
He turned and headed upriver following a path until it left the water’s edge. There he stepped onto the sand, past a barking muzzled dog, past the vagrant fishing boats that hosted sleeping gulls. Bamboo and pine brush littered the shoreline; beneath his feet crackled a thousand broken shells, the corpses of crabs and inky cuttlefish were everywhere.
Out in the lagoon he could hear the idle chatter of fishermen digging for clams. They lent heavily on rakes, rocking like dancing bears as they dredged for bounty, sifting shells into floating baskets tied loosely to their torsos. They laughed easily, pausing occasionally to open a clam or two, tasting their catch, poverty’s fruit. As one worker broke into song a heron spread its wings to dry them and seemed to conduct the tuneless mantra.
The wrecks of small wooden boats lay strewn above the waterline like broken promises. A few could be repaired but would ever be sea safe again.
A toothless hag in a headscarf crouched upon an upturned wreck bellowing at a giant of a man who coiled a rope and smiled down at her affectionately.
This is what we gain when we learn to lose ourselves’ he thought, and wrote those words in a small yellow note pad before moving on.
A feeding fish broke the water nearby and gulls fell on the shadow. Other than the metallic whiff of seaweed the still air was odorless.
He climbed the pine steps of the sailing club where he’d been promised a bowl of coriander clams and a beer, but pressing his nose up against the window he could see nothing but shadows.
He sat on the top step gazing out across the pale gray and thought ‘if I just sit still for long enough something will happen’.
The heron had followed him and eyed him inquisitively from atop a broken flagpole.
The noise in his head suddenly stopped and there was a silence like he’d never heard before.
Behind him, a sharp bang. A smudge of blood and feathers stained the glass where he had previously pressed his nose. On the ground beneath was a brown bird. He looked down at the lifeless body and couldn’t give it a name. His temple twitched and the humming returned. He set off back towards town, in search of company.
This time as he passed the abandoned boats, they made him think not of broken promises but of forgotten dreams, before he realized that they were, of course, the same thing. He wrote this down and then winced at his dreary insight, ‘Bloody genius’.
The sun was at his back now and everything was so much clearer. Beyond his extended shadow he noticed that the only marks ahead were his own footprints outward bound. The prints he left now were those of a heavier man.
The singing fisherman was now aboard a small turquoise boat, the ‘Maria Alice’, diligently sorting his catch; mussels, clams, razor clams, smaller cockles and whelks. He stopped his song and turned, aware of another presence, maybe a customer. He reached into his muddy bucket offering a handful of shells, ‘Mariscos. Fresco. Saboroso. Quatro.’ he smiled and held up 4 fingers.
Please, yes, Obrigado’ he stammered and, reaching into his back pocket pulled out a crumpled 50. The fisherman’s eyes narrowed, he snorted and turned back to his sorting.
Always carry small change’ he thought, ‘you get to meet more interesting people that way’.
He stifled a yawn and felt a tightening in his chest. Stepping off the sand and back onto the path he slowly reached down to pick up a heavy piece of driftwood, holding it like a club. His back ached and the hum in his head was thunderous now.
Fifty, a fifty, nothing but a fifty” he muttered as he moved towards the muzzled dog.
He raised the club above his head and held his breath.

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