The man is asleep. She gently squeezes his wrinkled frail hand, nudging him to wake up with her shoulder. They are seated outside their embroidery shop. They’ve been at this business for close to fifty years. Wake up, prepare for work, face traffic, arrive and open, work on orders, cater to enquirers who -mostly, ask a series of long questions and are never seen again – take a siesta in the afternoon and repeat the activities of that day on the next.
He could credit the traffic for having changed though – become dense and multicolored, with cars the shapes only a toddler could conjure up in an amateur coloring book. The sun still rose. The sun still set. Both their tummies got hungry after a few hours of staying awake. It rained on some days. It did not rain on other days. Every year the weatherman said the weather was getting warmer. Global warming they call it now. The sun today is a true testament to it – it scorches and burns unrelenting.
He wishes, but fails to give voice, she would get him a bag of ice-cubes. Her nudging comes with a sort of new unveiling of previously unfelt heat as a gust of hot dry air hits both their faces – but he thinks he feels it more. He is uncomfortable. His shirt is drenched wet with sweat. She has always claimed to sweat more. He has never disputed. He should have retired two decades ago -at two score. What adventures would he have embarked on these twenty years lost at this unfeeling shop… he wonders as his eyelids grow heavy again.
Skydiving has always been at the back of his mind. The thrill of free fall towards mother earth, with her vapid landscape staring right back at you, screaming silly, and it, almost rolling its cold eyes. The varying gusts of wind as one descends from the skies. The separation of land from sea with that toothpast-ey looking beach. The helplessness one feels up there, alone, with only your life-force and screams to keep you company. The cathartic relief as one’s feet hit solid ground – a slave to gravity.
He once did kayak, in a not so rough river in Zimbabwe. The instructor had half insinuated that said river empties into Victoria Falls. He had smiled and began visualizing his poetic death. How his life would have ended somewhere between the water’s surface and the rocky river bed beneath. How cool the water would be – almost fresh. How no one would have bothered to look for his body there as he hadn’t told a soul of his escapades into the heart and soul of Africa. On that journey, he had traversed borders, rivers, canals, lakes, Weetabix-dry plains and plateaus of Botswana and ended up at the top of one of those rigid-looking table mountains; but to his awe – the least rigid gusts of wind ever experienced on his skin. With his closed eyes he thinks back to Cape Town, atop the mountain. An almost perfect scent being blown into his nostrils by the almost perfect wind. He feels a little less hot for those few seconds. He never did quite know from whom the scent came from and all his life never smelt anything like it again.
Canvas and stone, spread along hundreds of metres of river frontage. This is the most resonant memory of home he has. He conjures it up, reliving the high whine of a million mosquitoes fleeing from the ripples created by his and Kwasi’s tiny feet. They had sat there on many afternoons sketching in their minds the future they’d have. How Kwasi wanted to sail the seas for an entire decade in his thirties. How he’d aspired to film sharks in action. But five years after their final dip in the river, Kwasi had relocated with his mother following his father’s demise – he’d drank himself to death.
He never did hear from him again. For close to sixty years the thoughts of Kwasi and those hot and humid afternoons had never been revisited. Why was he now, in this reverie, choosing to remember of past times, past places and of aspirations now only a shout into the void. Is it because, after fifty years of being in this business; the sum total of both his and her life, days have started becoming hazy and running together? He tries to remember what he did a week before this moment. It all seems a daze. Moments fade into and complement each other. Any day of the week seems to fit into any other day of the week. His life is a cycle, a bike’s chain. He sighs deeply and opens his eyes.
She is no longer there, having left to tend to a client. He looks at her face – all wrinkled and saggy, oily with age but smooth as the first day he lay eyes upon her. He heaves himself up on his walking staff, every joint cracking! He staggers gradually towards her, holds her chin in the broken cups of his withered hands and smiles faintly – two large clotting tears crawling down his wrinkled cheeks.