Tide (Babylon will always fall)

African-style bossa nova played from a sound system near the back of the pub. I keenly listened as I gave the room a good look. It was filled with men, young and old, merrily conversing with one another as they guzzled their pints. The pub was simple in decor. A few canvases lay hung on the walls, paintings of European landscapes, oil paintings of animals native to Africa, and one of Nelson Mandela hung high on the wall behind the counter. There was a pool table which six men gathered around. Small bands of men all ’round the pub under dim lighting, drinking to their heart’s content, I was the only one who happened to be alone.

The young men talked about leaving Cape Town, about women, politics. Furiously they spoke of the Purple Rain Protest which had occurred a week prior to the day I visited the pub. Thousands upon thousands of anti-Apartheid protesters joined in unison, setting out to march on South Africa’s parliament. The endeavour was short-lived and largely unsuccessful as South African police forces took immediate action, and hosed down masses of the protesters with a water cannon dyed purple. The police were relentless and at times needlessly aggressive. 52 journalists were arrested as well as the hundreds of protesters.

The old men, too, grunted over politics and the country’s state. Then they talked about the old days. And spoke of their wives and children, and how nice it was to get away from them for a few hours.

 

The barman approached me.
“Evening, sir. What can I get you?”
“One bottle of Budweiser, thanks,” I replied to him with a narrow smile.

The barman was of old age. He was a tall, hefty man with a large round stomach. Layers of lines and heavy bags hung beneath his big eyes, these same lines and wrinkles impressed across the rest of his face. He was in his late 70s perhaps, but he looked strong and active. He kept his face shaven clean, there was only grey stubble under his chin.

Once he set my drink down in front of me, I thanked him and took three huge gulps, then let out a long and loud sigh of pleasure.
“Never seen you around here before,” the barman suddenly said to me as he dried off a pint glass with a cloth. He raised his red eyes and looked me in mine after he said this.
With my glass in my hand, I replied,
“That’s because I’ve never been here before. I live locally, about seven or eight blocks down that way. Around my area there’s a bar I typically go to. But tonight, I went out of my way to find a new spot to drink.”

The barman nodded twice with his eyes on the pint glasses he was drying. I took a sip.
After 30 seconds or so, the barman asked me,
“So what do you think of the joint so far?”
“It’s decent. Has everything a pub requires, it has a nice communal air to it. The building is well looked after. And the people seem to be enjoying themselves.” I said this and enjoyed another gulp.

The barman nodded a few times again as he did before.
“Yes, the men really enjoy themselves. Especially the young ones. The old ones come mainly to get away from their troublesome spouses and because they have nothing better to do at their age except drink, chat and play cards. Most of them, say 90 percent, have been coming here religiously for over a decade. A few times a week,” he said in his dull, raspy voice.

The barman then gathered another batch of wet pint glasses which he’d washed, and continued his drying process. Randomly, he let out a small laugh.
“The young men, they are the entertaining ones. They talk about politics and women they’ve slept with or are trying to sleep with. A lot of the time, they have discussions, which turn to debates, which in turn become arguments. Occasionally, these arguments turn to fist brawls. That’s when I have to step in. Me, in my old age, can’t fight off these young men. So I simply threaten to stop serving drinks, and all the old men who want to continue drinking ward them off with shouts and aggression.
“The thing is, they get very passionate in these debates. Too passionate, I might say. All sides are trying to make their point clear, all at the same time. It’s fine if you’re out drinking and just debating, but there is a handful of them who want to be politicians, and they even have the potential. But what they lack is the ability to listen to others, and take on their point of view. And to execute their own argument with simplicity, comprehensiveness and gentleness.”

Looking over at a group of young men around a table, I think over his words.
“South Africa needs educated, fearless young men with a plan. Protesting is a voice, but entering the political arena, that, is their hands and feet. Working from the inside and deconstructing the oppressive system,” I throw out.
“Yes, but you see, for a young coloured man to get into politics takes hard work and something special. You have to convince them you’re not just another black democrat with half-baked ideas. They hate democrats and pay little to no mind for the coloured. You have to be geared. To push them into a corner. You have to show them you’re somebody.
“What needs to happen, I believe, is coloured people need to establish and support Black and Brown owned businesses. Coloured people need to build themselves financially and economically first before we think of challenging the political arena. We need to pull together and circulate our money around ourselves, rather than spending the little we have making the Whites richer. You see, economic and financial relevance gives you a political voice. Money talks. The Whites can’t ignore money. That’s why they came here and stole everything we owned. All the gold, diamonds. They can’t help it.”

The barman stopped here and took some orders.  I noticed for the first time he kept an eye contact with me for some considerable amount of time. I, too ordered another Budweiser. The barman placed my chilled drink in front of me, and then I said,

“So we build ourselves, which subsequently deconstructs, or at least changes the financial flow, giving us power and taking it away from them. How do you get a message like that out to coloured folk? And would they adhere?”

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I pray to God it happens someway, somehow, because… As long as we don’t have a real democratic government, a government whose concern of the people, all the people, is at the forefront of their decision making and actions, then there will be no future for South Africa. For Blacks, Asians, all of us. Only the Whites will have security and thrive in this land. And eventually, they’ll be swallowed up by their own greed. Babylon always falls. Always.”

 

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Gabby (A tale of two)

One.

There was a girl called Lea. She was brought up in an ordinary home with her fairly well-off parents and two older brothers. At her young age, Lea was quiet and tended to keep to her corner, though she knew how to socialise when the need arose. She loved to play piano and grow flowers. She was also intelligent and inquisitive, and these qualities sharpened as she carried them into her teenage years.

Lea excelled in her academics. She was an attentive, perceptive student, always asking questions to gain more understanding and trying to do that little extra. She was at the top of most of her classes, and was determined to go far. By the time she was 15, she convinced herself that she had to be at the top. Her older brothers hadn’t done so well academically, so she wanted to prove to her parents that she was not going to follow the same pattern, that she was better. This attitude began to fuel a type of competitiveness and arrogance in everything she engaged in. She had to be the best.

Lea dreamed of being a successful and prudent woman. She tried to embody this woman in her young age, choking the teenager she was supposed to be. She refused to engage in most common teenage activities and took a far more adult-like approach on things (which, in itself, isn’t a bad thing). Whenever she was with her friends, she was always the more serious one. She was controlling and figured she was far more mature than her friends. She even started dressing like women ten years her senior.

Lea wanted to order everything the way she saw fit. She detested making mistakes or failing or not being able to mentally grasp something. She felt she needed to be on top of everything and understand things around her. Lea wasn’t like this because she was a spiteful or haughty character, it was simply a deep-rooted insecurity that made her feel like she needed to be in control of all the things in her life. An insecurity stemming from the pressure to prove to her parents that she wasn’t just like her brothers.

*

Two.

Now there was another girl, Aria was her name. She was born in east Malaysia to an Englishman and her Malaysian mother. She was a happy child. Always outside, playing with her cousins out in the open fields. Her and her cousins would play many different games. At times they would assemble sticks and rocks, and build structures. They’d also play by the rivers and (unknowing to their parents) sometimes venture deep into the forest to marvel at the wildlife.

Aria went to a private school. Her grades were good, particularly in maths, music and of course English language. She enjoyed singing. Often, she’d go alone out in the fields, sit beneath a tree and sing to the butterflies and birds that glided around and above her. She liked the smell of the flowers, and was full of wonder at all the various colours they presented. To the flowers, too, she’d sing. When Aria turned 12, her mother bought her a harp.

The same year, Aria’s mother fell critically ill. Her father was convinced that there was better, faster treatment in England. He was terrified and erratic inside but he kept his exterior bold and assured. The trio packed all their belongings, as they didn’t know how long treatment would take. Aria had never been on a plane before. Malaysia was all she knew. She, too, was terrified. She held her mother and tried not to cry but to no avail. Tears poured and soaked the both of them. The mother was too weak to embrace her daughter. She died on the plane.

Aria’s father decided to stay in England for a few weeks, which turned to months. Aria missed her family, her home. That was her only connection to her mother, she felt. She began to play her harp more and more – feeling ‘in touch’ with her mother through it.
Aria and her father would visit Malaysia, but they decided to settle in England. She grew up and became stronger and happier as the years passed. She went on to study accounting and finance in Portsmouth university. Also, she became increasingly skilled at the harp. She started writing poetry and songs, and even performed at a number of open shows at bars and such.

*

“If you listen closely, you can hear whispers in the wind. And you can speak through trees, only if they were planted and grown with care,” she says, navigating her way through the forest with Lea close behind.
“Nature is like a portal in which the living can communicate with the dead. There are conditions, though. Both the living and dead participant must have a high enough spiritual energy. And that develops by first educating yourself about the spiritual portals, and then putting that understanding to practice. It takes–”
“Trees are just trees, though. They’re made up of atoms, just like everything else in the universe,” Lea interjects. “Just atoms bound together. That’s science. This spiritual stuff is hard comprehend with science, facts, in the way.”

She smiles.
“See, doesn’t that speak to already? Everything is made up of atoms, right? All things, nature, human beings, planets, stars, everything is connected. We’re all one.”
She stops here and points ahead.
“Just over there”, she says assuring Lea. Ahead of them is an exit to the forest, and a grassy plateau looking over a huge flowery plain.
“Wow.” Lea gawks in astonishment at the scenery.

An array of flowers flourish in front of them. Birds cruise beneath afternoon sun. A gentle breeze blows. The girls settle down on the plateau, and Lea opens her rucksack and withdraws the food they’d bought beforehand.

“So you can really communicate with your mother? Through trees? I just don’t get it,” Lea begins.
“I know it’s difficult. You grew up here. Although it’s apparently a Christian nation, Britain, the while West has a naturalistic world view. They believe in science. Knowledge is their God. Their God becomes bigger the more they discover. But that’s the thing, their God is only as big as information they have. They’ve sold their existence to their five senses and fail to see with their spiritual eyes. Because they feel in control with their knowledge and what they can comprehend. Everything else is myth and superstition.
“If it wasn’t for the frequent trips back to Malaysia, to my family and community who are far more spiritual and in touch with nature, I probably would have never grasped the true depth and reality of the spiritual. I thank the universe for opening my eye.”

Noon falls and the two are still out on the plateau sharing conversation and watching the moon take its’ place in the sky.
“Here, take this. Don’t swallow it, chew it. I’ve got some wine to wash it down.”
“What is this, a pill? Aria you know I don’t do these things,” Lea says reluctantly.
“It’s Xanax. There’s nothing to worry about, I’ve done it plenty time and I’m here with you.”

Without another word, Lea takes the halved pill which Aria ushers to her, and places it in her mouth, then takes it out again.
“It’s not a psychedelic, is it? I’m not going hallucinate and go crazy am I?”
Aria laughs. “You think doctors prescribe hallucinogenic pills to patients?”

Again, saying nothing, Lea places the pill in her mouth, this time she chews. Aria does the same, but a full pill. Some time passes and they both start to feel the effects. Lea is laid on her back, staring into the sky, Aria beside her laying on her side facing Lea. She slowly glides her right hand down Lea’s chest to her pelvis then back up. Lea flinches, and turns her head to Aria.

“Everything okay?”
“All good,” Lea responds. “Why did you just do that?”
“What, this?” Aria runs her hand down her body, this time lifting her top and thin jumper up.
Lea gently pulls Aria’s hand away. “Yes, that. Why are you doing it?”
“It doesn’t feel nice?”
“N–.. well it doesn’t feel bad, it’s just–”
“Strange? That I’m a girl? Or that you’ve never had some caress you like this?”
“Uhm… both?”
“Relax. Girls do these things together all the time. Trust me. And it’s about time someone touched you like this.”

Aria reaches for Lea’s stomach, and slowly slips her hand into her jeans. Lea flinches and lets out a heavy breath. It’s okay, Aria reassures. Feels good, doesn’t it? Lea gasps saying,
“I’ve never felt like this before,” She touches Aria’s faces, then pulls her closer to herself and kisses her intensely.

Just close your eyes and enjoy the trip. You’re young. You’re not this woman you think you are. You’re not perfect. You make mistakes. You’re insecure and afraid that everyone is watching you to make sure you’re as well-adjusted as you portray yourself to be. But you’re young. Lea tells herself this in her head. Just enjoy the trip. And be young.

Dear Subconscious (Those were your words, not mine)

“Well, do you ever still think about us? About what we shared?” Her tone is somewhat insouciant, but a subtle curiosity clings to the back of everything she says. Her words settle for a few moments while I put a Marlboro Gold in my mouth and light it. My heart thumps against my chest slowly but powerfully. Not a combination I recall experiencing before. Each beat surges through my torso.

I let out smoke through my nostrils.
“Do you?” I eventually respond with my eyes on the potted areca palm in front of me.
She crosses one stretched leg over the other, swirling the water around her. I’m sat on the edge of the bathtub. We’re in complete darkness save for the candles she lit.
“I used to all the time,” she begins after a thought. “It’s because you left a deep, deep impression on me. Kind of like how an owner of cattle might press a branding iron onto the flesh of his livestock. You were the one who gave me my first taste of love. Or at least what I thought love was. How perfect was that summer we first met. When was it now?…”
“It was 2003.”
“Yes, that was it. Doesn’t feel like four years ago, does it?”

She raises her arms to the sides of the tub. Then she extends her right leg, drips of water and bubbles slithering down from her foot to her thigh, back into the water. She then bends the leg, bringing it close to herself.

“Anyway. Remind me again how we met exactly. I know you must have replayed that moment in your head over and over after I’d left you.”
I blow out smoke and say nothing. Without looking, I can feel her glaring powerfully at me. It’s difficult to tell whether she’s being playful with the remark, or if she’s being slyly devious. Despite her sustained nonchalance, though, I still feel those echoes of curiosity around the room.

“I ran into Adriana, and you were with her. It was a quick hi-bye but even within that small space of time, I was slightly awestruck by the look you gave me… your smile, your eyes, I thought you looked amazing.” I stop here, contemplating motionlessly. “So the same day, I insisted that she gave me your number.”
I toss the end of the Marlboro Gold out through the small window.

“It didn’t take two days for me to receive a call from you. What immediately interested me is that you saw what you wanted, and pursued it. You and I then met three days later. From the first day, everything was so natural. I felt I could open myself and not worry about what pours out in front of you. You gave me that kind of space. A space which I could share with you and be entirely myself, a space where I didn’t feel as though I needed to suppress parts of myself. And as much as I offered you the same space, you were hesitant, never wanted to pour yourself out. Though I hadn’t realised this at the start.”

I mull over her words. She’s right. Simply put, she was willing to give me all of her when, on the other hand, I gave her hardly anything. She continues.

“Our first months were as bliss as that first summer we spent together. Then problems between us started to arise, mostly due to your passiveness and lack of effort. We were so young. We could have grown together.”

She pulls in her other leg and submerses her body in the water, arms are crossed over the stomach I used to lay my head on.
Casually she asks me if I remember our first kiss. Amidst the dimness of the room, I know her eyes are low and her face bares a faint smile of pleasant reminiscence. She made me wait so long for that kiss. We saw each other almost daily through the summer, and it wasn’t until one mid-autumn evening that she eventually allowed me to kiss her. We’d gone to a restaurant. She wore a crimson red dress which made her stand out like a rose beneath the brightly moonlit sky. We were having so much that we’d lost track of time and her mother called.

Reaching the corner from where she stayed, we stood under the gleaming moon clutching onto one another, sharing a few last words and smiles. We both didn’t want the night to end. I could feel it in her embrace. We looked each other in the eyes and said nothing for a short while. She then drew closer to me slightly with narrowed eyes. I also drew close, and gently laid my lips against hers. It was all euphoria. My hands caressed her amorously as we kissed with flaming passion. We didn’t want to pull away. But she had to go.

Yes. Flaming passion, she says after a long silence. I sigh and reach for a cigarette, and she asks me for one.
“You don’t smoke.”
“I do, actually.”
“That’s a shame. You hated that I was a smoker and said you’d never become one.”
“That was a whole four years ago. I’m not the same young girl anymore. Times change, people change.”
I edge closer to her, she sits up and sticks her neck forward. Then, struggling to make out any details of her face, I put a cigarette to her lips, and light it saying,
“I guess the real shame is the fragility of human consistency.”
She exhales and retorts with,
“Humans are bound to change though. It’s something we can’t afford to see as a shame because it’s a human condition. Maybe what the shame is, is the existence we are born into without choice of condition. We grow, and our perceptions widen. As time moves on and as we find ourselves in different situations, we all go through our own personal natural metamorphosis which is likely to contradict or drastically alter from previous natures of ours. Whether its’s our opinions and views, the way we carry ourselves, our character, habits, likes, dislikes, whatever it is, we change.”

A quietness follows. The burning candles flicker. She appears to be brooding over what she said with just as much regard as I am.  Raising herself to a standing position, water and bubbles stream down her slender form. She gives her light brown hair a backstroke, then drains the water and steps out of the bathtub. I stare at the areca as she carefully dries herself down next to me with fine grace. Placing the towel back, she loosely wraps herself in a bathrobe.

“Thanks for coming over, by the way. It’s been a pleasure,” she mentions with her back turned to me and her hand on the bathroom door. She opens it and light pierces through the dark of the room. I look up and see her silhouette.
“Wait. Before you head off, tell me what you meant by you used to think about us. When did you stop?” This utterance flows from my mouth half consciously.

“What I meant? Those were your words. Not mine.”
“What?” I have no clue what she means by this. She walks through the door and the beam of light slowly thins until it’s completely gone.

Now the room is pitch black. I can’t see a single thing. For some unknown reason, my shirt feels damp. I sat right on the edge, no water got on me, I say to myself confused. Feeling down my shirt, I realise it’s not just damp but in fact drenched. I begin to smell the distinct odour of blood. At this, my stomach sinks into itself, and my heart restarts its’ violent thumping, only much faster. What could have possibly happened, I’ve been sat right here. Questions hail in my mind as I try to stand up. My head throbs and spins that I can barely balance. My entire body feel weak, and it burns. Loud ringing in my ears. I clutch my stomach with one hand and feel around with the other in the darkness. I can’t see a thing.

“Cheers for blowing out those candles, I forget!” I hear her shout from another room. Candles? I didn’t blow out her candles. My brain throbs with more intensity at my puzzlement. I begin to feel myself slowly slipping into unconsciousness, too much blood is being lost. I fall to the ground with a thud. Then I try to call for her, but my voice and chest are too frail to produce any sound above a mumble. My breathing becomes lighter and more painful. Those were your words. Not mine. What? I think of death, but refuse the notion of it taking me in such an unexplained way. If only I could see, if only I had some light. Immobilised and dying, I give up, putting both of my arms across my stomach. I now feel a chill. I’m cold and wet.

*

I open my eyes and I am darkness. Turning myself over in my bed, I read the digital clock on the desk next to me. 04:22AM. I drop my head back onto the pillow and let out a sigh. My mouth is dry. And my t-shirt is cold and wet. I remove the covers and head to the bathroom. I’m soaked in sweat, what kind of dream was I having, I think to myself.  I place my t-shirt and night shorts inside the washing basket. Then I look at myself in the mirror, then to the bathtub, at which I pause curiously. Those were your words. Not mine. I begin to recall a bathtub having some significance to the dream I just woke from, but I can’t figure out why. The dream is gone from me now.

Unable to sleep I stay up trying to remember my dream. After some forced contemplation I recall very few details, but I at least remember who was in the bathtub. She was sat cosily in the tub, and I sat at its’ edge.

Why did I  dream of her though? I haven’t seen her in years. I don’t even think about her anymore. I used to all the time. She left a deep, deep impression me.
I guess though even though times and people change, the subconscious will always store away memories and desires that you once experienced. No matter how much you change, every once in a while, maybe a long while, the subconscious – through dreams or random recollections or whatever – will remind you of what you once were, once had, once lived.

Those were my words, not hers.

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Thanks for reading. Criticisms and feedback are very welcome. Some recent works in the drafts that needs editing, I promise I won’t always muse my love loss, haaa