The state has abandoned you, the forests are on fire. Your material possessions will not give you comfort nor rescue you. Where are you representatives now?
The Nationalists are here, the Centrists want your vote. You are of the wrong skin colour, the wrong heritage. Vote for us or your body will line the unmarked graves that we have prepared.
Your voice has been silenced, the villages are burning and will never be re-built. The sun does not forgive, your body will dry out in the desert. The oceans are acidifying, the animals are dying.
They are perverts, scum, ignore them and vote for us! Watch as the poor burn in their vertical prisons. Watch as the taxes rise and the services are cut. Watch as the rich profit from the misery of the poor, and the ill die in corridors.
Become one of us! Rip your heart from your chest, castigate all that you love, throw away any semblance of charity.
Join us, become us. Give up any hope of hope itself.
I have been shooting incorrectly for the majority of the time; it took me just one trip with the well-informed to tell me that. I should have known, I shouldn’t have shot from the hip, wasting film and time combined. Honestly, I have learnt my lesson, just hand me that last roll of black and white film and I’ll get your shot, the one that we both dream of on long hazy afternoons – the body laying silently, awaiting a brief exposure with your eyes focused on mine, the twin cradles of hips and shoulders turned towards me and only to me. As if in a dream the thin rivulets of your flesh cascade gently against the cold leather couch.
On developing I can see the flames licking the border of the shot, the deep blacks and greys helping to create shadow against the brilliant white of immovability. The mistaken shot turns into something more, an image captured that I had not originally cared to note.
He stumbled into the room, roughly grasping the top of the chair by his well-worn desk and cursing each former lover in his moist and ailing breath, fell into a sorry heap upon the bed, too tired to pull off his boots and too saddened by the decline in his quality of life to remove his glasses. Nothing, save the frothing fury of the tropical sea rising up and laying salty claim to all the beaches in the land, could save the loss of face that he had endured that day. For in front of his red-headed daughter, who was buxom, proud and ready to marry the young military captain that had so captured her heart and stained it so openly on his own uniformed arm, he had been stripped of all power, humiliated and whipped like a cowering dog chained to a post in the yard.
The cause of his mistreatment was the maid, who had so blithely started that fateful day as gormless as she had entered this life, the daughter of a whore who had given her up at the first opportunity. That is not to say that she, the maid, was unaware of the power that her accusation would bring to her master, as she knew from her dilapidated upbringing that the raw power of sexual lust could do strange things to a man’s heart. It was a memory passed down in blood from her estranged mother, the one who would die empty-handed clutching helplessly at the passing shoes of the sons and daughters of her customers. It was an ignoble end to a life lived in the shadows, but one that her daughter would not share with her mother, or so she had thought.
Instead she would carry around with her a glowing heart filled at the memories of a holiday romance, a fling that had lit a thousand nights of self-fueled passion spread across the decades following the now hazy memories of a lifetime ago. These were the glimpses into her past that brought her body and mind onto the edge of so fantastic an experience that she temporarily blinded herself each and every time she accessed them. Although her current life lacked little in the way of attention from the opposite sex, keeping as she had the plump and youthful looks of her mother, the willingness to partake in the tasting of the flesh was strictly divorced from the cannibalization of her own memories. In short, it was these that she feasted on instead of the current attention that she attracted and returned to again and again in the silence of the night.
Time passed silently, the moon forever chasing the sun as the weeks leaped into months and the seasons dictated the passing of the years. By chance work had found her employed as a maid for an owner of a large tract of land, which included numerous rented apartments and holiday villas for tourists that visited this small Caribbean nation alongside the owner’s main housing complex, hidden in a corner behind a curving perimeter wall. The owner coveted his private life and communicated with both his retinue and his staff by way of paper notes, dotted across the working surfaces of a life he had little known intimately but instead managed from afar. The practice worked as if by magic though, the newer members of staff at first baffled by the notes left in green ink each morning, documenting the previous day’s stock figures, both incoming and outgoing, and dictating the actions of the next. The older staff however were well used to this method and blithely accepted whatever the writer of the note wanted, trusting as they did the path ahead as an apparition of the successful path behind.
The persistent rumours of the sightings of the owner were frequent among the staff, with wild recollections of a golden-haired Lothario prowling the grounds at night or that he was actually a hunchback man who had been seen howling at the moon in rage and despair. Lucinda, the young slip of a girl who worked in the granary, had once caught a slender grey-haired gentlemen helping himself to the kitchen stores but he had pranced off into the night before she had a chance to shout his name. No sightings were confirmed although that did not stop the rumours being mulled over and created late into the night by the staff at the end of their long shifts; instead the owner preferred always to communicate by his spidery flowing script rather than by sight and sound.
The maid had seen his notes and was taken by the veracity of the green ink on the faded, golden papers. The twirls of the P’s and the L’s satisfied some small section of her stomach, pleasingly looped as they were. In time she started to collect a number of the notes once the older ones had been discarded, their actions carried out by the ever observant and trusting staff. It was late one springs night, in her provided for one bed-roomed cleaners cottage, that the maid noticed the odd word or phrase that silently rung a long-dormant bell within her memory.
Surely the owner could not be the very flame that had burnt for eternity within her chest, ever since that fleeting coastal romance? She gathered up the dozen or so notes spread across the duvet and held them close to her tight chest, breathing in the vapors of the ink as her pupils dilated and the clothes fell from her body of their own volition. When she woke she noted the cold sweat of her body, the notes plastered on the inside of her thighs, on top of her belly and on her breasts, a love intent on the recreation of the physical and the spiritual. She knew then that the owner was indeed her former lover.
Some days later a note went up on the main noticeboard: ‘To wit: My Daughter to Marry the Captain, Two Days Hence – Staff Welcome’.
The owner’s daughter was most unlike her father in that she was well-known in the community, haughty but well-known. Little did she communicate directly with the staff, she was instead seen and not heard. Two days until the wedding! Some of the staff, the kitchen women and the mucker outers especially, expressed surprise that they were invited to view the proceedings, but all were excited by the prospect of finally seeing with their own eyes the owner of the land. Much was made of the brevity of the note in comparison to the usual notes but none could argue that the next 48 hours were to pass in a state of increasing frenzy and intrigue.
Today was the day that she was going to proclaim that this stored fountain of love was directly transferable to the object of her affections, the owner. In her fevered night-long dreams she could foresee a double marriage taking place, father and daughter pleased and pressed into unions of love, her simple maid’s status raised to the title of owner’s wife! Oh, what pleasure awaited them both! Dressing in her finest clothes and smartening up her shoes, she went to join the rest of the workers gathered outside in the courtyard, ready to proceed to the wedding venue – an outdoor folly that took into its expansive view the bay and the mountains in the background and the luscious greens in the foreground.
The crowd waited with bated breath as the procession of the captain and his bride, and assembled groomsmen and bride’s maids of honor, sorted themselves within the folly. A minute or two later the owner strode into view, each booted foot planted with firm resolution, his tight thin-lipped mouth curled up into the slightest imitation of a sneer, framed by golden-greying hair. A complete hush fell over the crowd of workers and some swore they could see green ink stains on his fingertips, a visual clue that this was who they suspected that he was.
It was at this moment that the maid, her breasts almost bursting out of her tight white top, lunged forward, one foot unsteadily following the other as a faint scream of ecstasy escaped her lips and the faint light of terror entered the owner’s eyes.
‘Matías! Matías! My love, it is me, Natalia!’
It was later recalled it was at this moment that the owner’s heart sunk fully into the very bowels of his body.
What for her had been an unforgettable romance by the sea, had been instead for him a desultory sink in status, one that he had revelled in at the time for its feeling of desperation but had since been forced into the very back of his mind. Instead, and ever since that long weekend spent entwined in both the arms and breasts of Natalia, he had made love to women only on par with his social standing, determined to remove the grit that he had felt instilled itself in him from sinking so low that one time.
In short, there could be no worse time for his past to haunt the owner then at the very moment he chose to show himself for the first time to his staff at his daughter’s wedding.
His eyes sunk into their sockets, and continued to join his heart, whilst his cheeks became maroon curtains of the richest silk.
He ran and he did not look back as Natalia stumbled onto her knees and tried clasping onto his fleeing heels, just as her mother had once done in the street where she lay dying …
Taking turns to sleep, taking turns to keep watch. I wonder what my life could have been like if I changed just one of a thousand choices. Would I still be alive? Would I be living in a different country? Would I still be as thankful as I am now for what I have got, or would I be hungry for more, oh so much more.
Taking turns to keep watch, taking turns to sleep. Does she know just what I’ve done for her, even as I keep scanning the horizon, searching for the ever present threat of a life in the balance. Would he still be dead? Would I still be living in this country? I’ll keep my watch, I’ll keep my silence.
Blue is the colour of my dreams, the inside and the outside worlds tilting but never quite fully falling over. The flutter of the leaves in the wind and the beauty of the sky’s colours urged me to look up, to embrace the vast emptiness of existence. No comfort was found, history meaning nothing to the future, but no comfort was needed. It wasn’t that life is on a constant knife-edge of imbalance, when is it not?, but the fact that I could embrace the now, the cold comfort of the wind and the cawing of the birds as my own. Distinctly my own, this moment and nothing more. That nothing, or rather no moment, truly mattered or matters in the great cosmic life course of universal matter. We were born and we will die, from whence we began we will return.
We pulled up in our rented vehicle, dwarfed quite comfortably by the incumbent coaches ferrying tourists from sight to sight, and prepared to disembark once again as travelers in a foreign land. In reality the location reminded us, perhaps more grandly than we remembered, of our own homes and the landscape therein, the coast battered by salt-fused waves whilst brash accents announced a population who had become ingrained into the very land they lived on. Our identities remained the same half the world away and we became a self contained unit, a family of friends.
The guitar leans silently against the wall. Both the pint glass and the cup are empty, the plate too is bereft of what was once resting upon it. He is sated, fed and watered, content to watch videos streaming on the computer laid out in front of him. There was no conversation taking place here, no exchange of ideas or of intimacies, no special spark between a bond shared. It was as it was pictured.
That the walls once rang out with the thrill of love and the laughter of friendship was not deniable, that this would occur once again a known truth. For the moment though this was a simple moment to relax, to enjoy the stillness present at this known time of deep changes. For the walls did not move but the foundations surely did shake in their silent scream of protest.
Photograph by the author using a Pentax Super ME camera and lomography colour film (if I remember rightly), please attribute if used elsewhere.
How could I possibly tell her that I had thought we had a future together when these thoughts alone were just the remanent of fragmented dreams, and that those dreams were recalled by the half light ecstasy of sexual mores that only I could gain personal satisfaction in? No, these feelings and lust-filled thoughts were just that. They were simply a morning temptation before the creeping light of dawn awoke me fully to the realities of the day ahead. I held the phone in my right hand, her number displayed on the screen with a text half-finished underneath. I reread the message and cringed in shame, the liquid warm against my belly whilst I drew deep breaths. Deleted. For the betterment of us both.
Besides I had double English to attend and I still needed to scrub the sleep from my eyes, shower and dress. The walk to the college alone would take twenty minutes and I had an hour at the most to get ready, prepare for the class and to arrive on time. Timekeeping was never a strong point for me, the lack of punctuality ran in the family and infuriated my mother continually throughout her children’s adolescence. My eldest brother, for I was one of four and the second youngest of our parent’s brood, would drive my mother crazy by getting up late, sometimes comically late and especially so if we had to be somewhere on time. This would then cascade a chain of fury from my mother to my father, who got annoyed on her behalf before the fury finally found us, his younger brothers. Once we were out of the house however we were fine and I think Dad sensed this when he saw the frustration spreading and urged us out as fast as was humanely possible.
The house was empty this morning though so I could blast the music, keep the bedroom door open and move about freely as naked as the day my poor mother had pushed me out. I loved it – the feeling of an empty house where my favourite music reverberated from wall to wall; where I could eat quickly before I jumped into the shower, laughing as I did so as the water followed and flowed over the contours of my limbs and ran down my thighs. They were where the thick surgical scars outlined the orthopaedic surgeon’s fixation. I was proud of these scars, they were my personal tattoos of a specific time and place, my memories of pain and pleasure entwined to produce a better me (or so the hope went).
The first lesson passed without incidence, we learnt of the black ram tupping the white ewe and the lecturer expounded on what this meant for the play, for the deft characterisation and turn of phrase the author was so well-known for. I wondered of his contemporaries, of his hopes and dreams. I wondered what became of his loves and hungers, what his reaction would be if he knew that his plays would be enacted out four centuries hence whilst his fellow playwrights would lie largely forgotten in the lands that birthed them. But still, I had the break to look forward to where I would see her and think ashamedly back to my morning scene. I wanted to hold her hair in my hands and look deep into the blues of her eyes. This was a fantasy, the girl who I would later call my partner had brown eyes and curly hair, she wasn’t the person who I had dreamt of whilst I had lain in bed, regretting the passing of the minutes that I was powerless to stop.
This was the contract, signed by us both. Remaining friends but no more, the blushes of a late teenage crush hidden by a mop of hair. Instead I put aside my fantasy of my cheek against hers, my lips kissing hers, my body entwined with hers, and put our friendship on a higher plane. There was no underlying hidden moral heroism driving this, it was purely the shame of not trying and never asking for her hand. The joy of seeing her and sharing stories over drinks replaced this erotic dream of mine, one that I had subconsciously harboured since school and let blossom fully at college. Instead I focused on the give and take of friendship. The unsaid declaration of the fact that she and I were always willing to be there for one another, at the end of a text, a phone call or in person, that it remained hanging in the air never needing to be vocalised.
Taken by the author with a Pentax S1a camera using Lomography Lady Grey film. If reproduced elsewhere please credit as appropriate.