Friday, 5 July 2013

Journey IV – Almost like heaven

Today Sonia and a friend of hers – Miguel, came over and made me lunch. He’s a lovely chap, Miguel, pleasant and cheerful but guarded somehow. After we’ve had something to drink – a fresh fruit punch made with papaya and lime and some other things, Miguel suggests they show me the garden, and with that they gently get me to my feet (the left one still pointing the wrong way I note with irritation) and guide me to that door I’d noticed around to the left, directly opposite the front door. Miguel puts his hand in the stirrup shaped handle and twists but it’s very stiff and he has trouble getting the bar to lift. With some forcing the door moves and I can see a little light coming in through the gap but he has to really put his shoulder to get it to open more. Through the crack we see a mass of leaf litter and other organic dross has accumulated in the small space behind it. Sonia gets a chair for me as Miguel finds some rubber gloves and a bucket from under the sink and then, crouching down, grabs great handfuls of the stuff and fills the bucket. All manner of frogs and worms and scorpions come out and Sonia shoos them out with a dustpan and brush. I begin to see out as the door can be opened more and more and then finally, with a little token Latino machismo, Miguel gives it a good hard shove and there’s sharp green light spilling in. Immediately on the other side of the door a set of six narrow mossy stone steps leads up between two walls and we struggle collectively to get me up them. I look around at the damp stone as I rise, not wanting to see what awaits me until I’m right at the top and I can catch my breath and look around properly. I note orange salamanders and sporeling ferns as I go, a huge white crab spider and a lot of tiny red and pink snails gathered together in a chink.
‘Cover your eyes’ says Sonia as we near the top and they guide me carefully up and onto flat soil. I can feel the sun on my neck again and a breeze.
‘Open them’ she says, and I look out upon a sunlit clearing, shaded with trees and divided up into beds, all edged neatly with pebbles, presumably from the beach, and with pebble paths between. A small round table sits off to one side on some slabs and several large pots stand around, overflowing with bromeliads and aloes. ‘Come and sit down’ she says and we head to the table. They say nothing more for the moment, smiling, letting me look around. I look at the soil in the beds, recently turned over but inexpertly weeded (I’ll have to have a proper go at that later, I think) and at the surrounding borders a few yards away and the trees spaced irregularly in them, and the walls beyond that, almost invisible for the vines and weeds festooning them and the dazzling sunlight spilling down, cutting through the shadows. I twist around as well as I can in my seat (I’m going to need a cushion) and behind me I recognise Hibiscus and Hedychium flowering, and Crinum and Fuchsia, all tangled and sprawling about where the weeds have recently been cut back off them.
‘Who did all this?’ I say, astounded. Miguel modestly half raises his hand. ‘Some friends and I. We heard you liked gardening. It’s been a bit neglected’ he says with a shrug. I don’t know what to say. It’s beautiful. In the pause that follows Sonia declares it’s time to arrange lunch and goes down to get things. As she does, Miguel goes and rummages around in the corner under the eaves and pulls out an ancient metal barbeque. ‘Ta-da!’ he says with a little bow and I give him a small round of applause. Soon Sonia reappears with fish and salad and bread and Miguel fetches wine. I watch them fussing over the charcoal, bickering light-heartedly over something, pausing to kiss and then grinning guiltily in my direction. ‘Don’t mind me’ I say, and turn away to look at my trees. At least, I assume they’re mine now.

After lunch Miguel brings out a garden mattress and a rug and some pillows and we all sit around drinking wine and Sonia tells me about the trees. ‘Guava, litchi, mango, lemon of course you know, bananas down the end...’ I peer through the tangle of undergrowth and spy the massive tatty leaves fifty metres away. ‘We haven’t dealt with that part yet’ she says.
‘Well, leave it for a while. I’d like to be able to help’ I say, not at all sure when that’ll be.
‘There are a lot of plants here we don’t recognise’ she says. ‘None of us are really gardeners. But there are books?’ she says, looking hopefully at Miguel who nods.
‘On your shelves. I had a look, while you were...’ I wait for him to finish his sentence but he looks away, confused. I look at Sonia but she is just smiling at me. I want to ask what is going on but politeness stops me again. It’s been a beautiful afternoon and I won’t spoil it. They’re evidently keeping something from me but I really can’t be bothered to work out what it is yet.
‘Show me’ I say. ‘The trees I mean. I could do with some exercise.’ And I move to get myself up off the rug. Sonia comes to help me and mouths something to Miguel. He nods and heads down into the house.
Tottering around, I have to say I feel like a very old man and I know this feeling. I call her Emily at one point, which is confusing. I wonder who Emily was. The path follows the line of an irregular, curving stone wall along the right hand boundary of the garden with a narrow border between it and the path. I recognise tomato and sweet potato vines and chilli and okra. It’s an amazing place. Everything is completely overgrown and muddled up and yet wildly productive. There are what look like African marigolds over six feet tall lined up further on with some sort of creeper among them sprouting red tubular flowers. We watch a hummingbird zipping about, in and out, and then a little orange bee taking its turn. Further down, where the path curves back toward the house we look at the crowd of banana trees standing dense and scruffy and hung with rotting fruit. The whole place smells ripe and fungal with just a trace of a high note of jasmine or lemon. Lemon blossom – that’s what it is. I look over the wall as far as I can at the surrounding woodland, then down at our feet where a tiny brook runs in a gully recently cleared of leaves. We follow it beside the path along the other wall under insane tangles of bean and squash and passion vine, disturbing all manner of flies and lizards as we go. Eventually (I am very tired again) the brook runs into a rectangular cistern with a long-spouted watering can perched on the edge and we’re back at the original clearing.
‘You should plant salads and herbs in these beds’ she says. ‘I think the man who was here before you enriched the soil here especially.’
‘I can tell’ I say.
‘Of course you can. Sorry...’ she says.
‘No, it’s ok. I didn’t mean... Maybe you’d like to help.’
‘I’d love to’ she says, gripping my arm tighter.
I sit, or collapse rather, down onto the mattress again and notice Miguel sat there propped against a log, his hat down over his eyes. There’s coffee waiting and some more fruit and we settle down for the rest of the afternoon, dozing in the sun, listening to the frogs in the cistern and the birds on the roof. It’s like paradise.
Why does that not seem like a good thing?

After they’ve gone and the sun has set I head indoors. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence but I definitely feel better this evening – as if I can move without thinking about it so much. I perch on a stool at the work surface and wait for the cafetería to do. A disturbingly large marbled grey gecko has pressed itself flat into the angle between the window frame and the wall. I thought it was a stain at first in the twilight, or some sort of fungus. I watch it lick its outsized fractal eyeballs. A red and purple moth flutters across the window but the gecko doesn’t move. It has all night I guess. I combine the hot milk with the espresso in my cup and, without too much trouble, make my way across to the sofa.
I sit there and look at the window. It takes me a moment to realise something. This feeling I didn’t recognise is growing, this buzzing in my head, behind my eyes, making me agitated and impatient.
I’m bored, that’s what it is, and perhaps lonely too.
Well that’s got to be progress. Up until this morning I didn’t care what happened. I could stare at the leaves making shadows on the whitewash all day long unless someone came in and made me get up and do something. And now I’m really bored, and irritable to boot. And I’m not sleepy either. It’s going to be a long old night.

I shuffle around the back of my favourite sofa to look at the books on the shelves there. I find an eclectic mix of art and poetry and books on wildlife and gardening interspersed with what appear to be slushy romantic novels and some fairly serious erotica. The pages of the latter are not stuck together, in fact they appear very well cared for, but it does make me wonder who lived here before and what became of them.
I still have very little feeling in my groin so I settle for the gardening books. I like the pictures.

At some silent moment in the night I am awoken by a sound like a sharp little gasp. I lie still and try to focus. The whole kingdom of animals that is trying to mate outside my door every other night since I got here seem to have gone quiet. Can I hear someone breathing? Or is it my breathing? I lie back and wait for something to happen. A gust of wind passes around the house. The palm fronds across the way clatter woodenly. A bird or maybe a frog makes a whooping noise down by the water’s edge. Maybe that was it. As I lie there and glance about I wonder if the shadows are quite where I last saw them or if they’ve moved while I was looking elsewhere. Now I’m beginning to scare myself.
There it is again. A surprised little voice – like a clitoris surprised by a tongue. Maybe someone is having sex outside. The door is open. There’s no way I can run for it but at least I’m fairly sure it’s not in here with me now. I heave myself up as soundlessly as I can and make my way to the door, pausing occasionally to listen and look about. The gecko has moved. The moth has gone. I stand by the door frame, steeling myself before I lean and peer out. I hear the sound again. It’s just outside the door. It doesn’t sound like a woman any more. More like a bird. I wield my stick and lean out. I look quickly left and right. Nothing. I stand there feeling a little stupid (But that’s good. This morning I didn’t give a toss how I looked). The sound comes again from the undergrowth a little further away. An animal of some kind. I sit myself down on the stone bench to my right, under the front window and look at the night. The moon is long passed and everything is in shades of black and blue. Just the merest residue of moonlight clings, allowing me to just make out the running water and the rocks breaking the surface. Miguel said there’s been a lot of rain in the hills so we can expect something of a flood here some time. The cobble road outside my door is built about ten feet above the normal water level. I hope that’s enough. He mentioned there’s boards to fit into the doorway if not but they’ve not been used for a long time. I suppose this could be the reason they gave me this place – nobody else wanted to risk being flooded out on a regular basis.
Why the hell am I being so suspicious?
Because someone tried to kill me, that’s why, or to get rid of me at any rate, since I’m already dead. I try to remember what that means.
I think I had some sense of it out in the garden this afternoon, up at the end, near the banana trees. I haul myself up, plant my stick for support and go inside again. The back door opens easily and I look up the narrow steps into the trees silhouetted above me. There’s the rope Miguel fixed up before he left, using the old metal rings set into the wall presumably for just this purpose. I get myself up to the top more easily than before and look around. The mattress is still there, getting damp (but it’ll dry in the morning) and the barbeque still puffing away. I cross the cobbled area and pass the cistern, still trickling, then head into the shadows under the slumping hammock of vines, following the bright thread of water to a place I don’t recognise. I become aware of a fragrance on the air, burnt and spicy. I can’t see the path exactly but there seem to be tiny flickering lights on the ground ahead. I remember this – walking through the woods at a festival, tea lights in jars among the trees, marking the way, and the mellow sound of a guitar, and of quiet chatter. (Don’t want to wake the kiddies do we?) Happy, harmless hippy days. The smell is of wood smoke and patchouli and sandalwood, and of course cannabis.
Why does that fill me with horror now? I lose my balance and find myself sitting down hard on the soggy ground. The stream here is not luminescent. There are no tiny perfect white and pink flowers in the grass. There are a couple of glow-worms in the lower branches and dead leaves and sticks and the undersides of bushes, dusty and webbed, where the sun and rain don’t fall. In short, a real live garden. What was that other place?
I remember the people there, so untroubled, so at ease, looking at me with... What was that expression? Was it love? Well how could they love me? They didn’t even know me. What were their names? Did they tell me their names? Did they have names?
A man with lank floppy hair let his robe fall away and crawled toward me and kissed me moistly on the lips. I know he felt me flinch and he said everything was cool but I could tell he wasn’t happy about it. What had he been expecting? I looked at the others, the ones he was with. What was the expression on their faces? What was it telling me? There was a girl there too, very young, also mostly naked. She was watching me with that same inscrutable expression but with something else there too – something less completely blissfully happy. Apprehension.
I get myself up onto my knees facing away from the shadows at the end of the garden. I crawl forward a little until I find my stick then rise stiffly to my feet. I’ve given myself quite a knock and a wet bottom. I look around but see only the menace of an overgrown garden in the middle of the night. The smell is of nothing more than smouldering charcoal and left-over food getting to be past its best.
At the house I enter and hang the stick up. I stand up straight and look around. Who was the young girl? Why does she trouble me so much? What’s going to happen to her? What were they going to do to her? I know the answer but I can’t seem to find it right now.
I want to light all the lights in the place but then I won’t be able to see what’s going on outside. I want to lock the door but what if they’re already in here?
I walk almost normally across to the sofa and sit down, on edge, literally, not reclining. I look at the darkness and can’t wait for it to be daylight again.

No comments:

Post a Comment

A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.