Some days I feel that the earth is veering from its normal path as it swirls around the sun. That things are tilting in a way they haven’t before. On other days, I feel everything's the same. Tick-tock, tick-tock. That the river of time isn't dangerously in flood at all; it's merely a miserable stream in a meadow.
I look around my room. The cupboards, light brown wood from floor to ceiling, hold their own in the fading afternoon light. The curtains are pulled back; cream cotton drapes and a white lace with embroidered leaves. There is no breeze just the night's cold and damp settling in.
I’ve been holed up for over a month. I did step out once, when milk ran out, to a gas station a block away. The streets were completely empty. I didn’t even see a cat or a dog. A lone minibus, standing at the traffic light seemed forlorn, friendless. The driver, ignoring regulations, wasn’t wearing a mask. He looked and right, and then steered his vehicle forward: no point waiting for green. I crossed the road. At the gas station, the teller behind a security glass signaled to me to hold up the milk carton so she could scan it. It seemed too much effort — for her and me — to say anything more than a muffled “Hi”. Unlike supermarkets and many other stores, there wasn’t any sanitizer available. These are the thoughts that like drift like dandelions in my head.
Now back at my room, I boil the kettle water. I take out some old calligraphy pens and ink. I can hear my breath as I complete a line of letters. ABCD abcd. Good practice, heavier downward strokes, lighter and thinner upward strokes. Then I write some names, random names ‒ Sally, Nomsa; then names of my late brother who died of cancer in 2013. Michael. Again, the strong downward strokes. My breath deepens. I remember my brother’s physical strength. He was always working; willing to pave the driveway at my parent's home, sometimes loaning a pliers to fix a neighbor’s gate. Then I write the name of my late mother, Dorothy, taking extra care with that D; making it especially ornate. Her love was like a thread joining me and my siblings. As I execute the strokes I comes to me that, in these unusual times, those who have gone some years ago feel as close to me as my living friends. I put the pen down and closed my eyes. I inhale and exhale. Mentally, I try to connect. I imagine writing the word connected, the C with an extra curl that reaches back over the entire word.
I make Rooibos tea, it's a reddish tea that has been drunk by the Khoi, the first nation groups that lived in the Cape Province when the first colonizer, Jan van Riebeeck, came. I take a sip and feel the warmth percolating in my mouth and down my esophagus. I can hear the hadedas give their trademark squawk. I step closer to the window. I've just missed their v-formation flight ‒ which is usually in the direction of the setting sun. Ah, well … there’s always tomorrow.
I sit again at the brown wooden desk with its drawers flanking the chair’s position. A BIC pen lies in a random position on an exam pad. My mind wanders to the end of lockdown; what will it be like? That coffee from Motherland, that piece of cake from VovoTelo, that beer from Radium. I smile as I think about that old Portuguese pub cum restaurant, about the dark-wood cladding that dims the interior, about the barman Sonnyboy and about the owner’s constant lament, long before lockdown, that ‒ "these days” – business was tough and customers too few. I think about my friends, and how they’d be happy to be out sipping on tumblers of beer and engaging in what they call “kakpraat”. And I wonder whether the homeless will be delighted to back on the wintry streets, whether the volunteers will shut the soup kitchens and whether the government, now appreciating how many people live on the edge, will keep rolling out the R300-a-month grant for ultra-poor.
I pick up the ballpoint pen. Writing doesn't come easy. During the lockdown, the similes hide and the metaphors shrink away. Yet I manage, on the A4 page that holds the calligraphy letters of mother’s name, to pen these lines:
You just have to relate with pencil and pulses of the heart;
utter the words taking shape in your mouth
even if no-one is listening
These are visceral times
the sky wants nothing more then
little pieces of cloud, slivers of silver light
to hang over a hillock
Seeking connection; the sharing of pollen
tiny threads on flowers
the dust of the leaves
the taste of mulberry on the tongue
I’m aware of my breath
on the pathways
of the body
Loved ones by the river;
a bygone picnic,
the turning of the days,
and lifted by the wind into nothingness
31 May 2020