Monday, 16 December 2013

Journey X – Sightseeing

Over the next few days we go back into town again, to eat, drink, see that band play, look at the sights, and generally wander around. The tall terraced buildings and the narrow stone streets winding among them, the tall windows with their shutters and curlicued railings and dangling geraniums, the little squares with their awnings and pot plants, the shade trees, the people sitting out on benches, nodding to passers-by, some in western dress, some in robes, black, brown, olive and white skinned, young and old, men and women – it could be anywhere in the Mediterranean or the Middle East or Latin America. Little house front parlours sell sweet or salty snacks, parasols, radios, flowers, shorts and tee shirts. Sonia buys me a tee shirt that says ‘I’m sure to go to Heaven because I’ve done my time in Hell’ on the front, and a picture of a mean looking marine. She thinks it’s funny anyway. I let her have her little joke. (It could have been worse. There was the one that said ‘I went to Paradise and all I got was this lousy tee-shirt’). Sonia and Miguel seem to know a lot of the people and we hang around endlessly chatting to almost everyone. She introduces me to everyone. It’s exhausting.
They show me around the sanctuary, a broad, massive building with the bell tower. It opens up inside into a vast airy space under a broad white dome. The coolness of the air makes me want to drink it in like water from a spring after the heat outside and the slow reverent tread and whisper of the people stills me and makes me wonder. People sit about on the floor or on chairs, meditating or maybe praying. I look up into the vault above. Stained glass windows around the rim of the dome make shards of azure and vermilion light on the pale marble floor. I see Sonia and Miguel wander off together, leaving me to look about in awe on my own.
Exploring some of the galleries and corridors that lead off from the main hall I find exquisite tapestries hung there, lively and intricate mosaics in the floor and stone carvings set here and there presiding over all who pass by. I wander at random up and down staircases broad and narrow, along corridors and across rooms of all shapes and sizes. Everything is fresh and alive and yet could be of immense antiquity. It is impossible to judge the age of any of it. Everywhere I look there are exquisite images and objects and yet none of it is ostentatiously displayed. Everything fits. Everything is at once a part of the whole and worth studying in its own right. I find myself alone in some remote corridor with arched openings along one side, high above the town. Several enormous moths rest as if pinned to the low arched ceiling. I look out and down into a garden. A person stands there far below in a broad sombrero with a hose, watering a newly planted tree. Beyond there are the rooftops and then the mountains in the distance, blurred and distorted by waves of rising heat. The sound of the people in the streets seems a very long way away. Looking down I see a face looking up at me from a window below, and then disappear. I spin around and immediately realise I have no idea how I got here. The stone figure there by the door seems to be watching. I look down at the gardener and he’s still there, watering as if nothing’s wrong. Of course, this is how they planned it. This is what happens. I run to the end of the corridor to a staircase I don’t remember. I turn right down another passage and hear the bells in the tower above, calling people – calling them to what? I dread to think. I keep running. I don’t recognise anything. What temple is this anyway? What kind of God do they serve?
Entering a gallery, in a frieze above a door I find a baobab above a mound of intertwined bodies. Then there is a tall stone figure guarding a door that is a reptile in armour and I realise it’s all been a sham. It’s all part of the same thing. How could I have been so stupid? I turn a corner and there is a large man in a white robe with a huge beard standing there and he is asking if I am lost and I know I am – completely. I look around for weapon.
I don’t remember the rest.

I come to on a grassy bank beside a stream. I can hear it chuckling beside me. I can feel the faint tickling of the grass on my hand. I look up into the branches of a tree with sharp rays of sunlight breaking through and I squint my eyes. I sit up suddenly and back away against the trunk. A girl in a blue dress is sitting there looking at me. It takes me a while to realise it’s Sonia. She looks different. She doesn’t say anything. I glance about hurriedly. There are other people here, sitting with their feet in the water or lying down in the sun. A girl hitches her dress up and paddles, looking at something in the water in front of her. What are they doing? Behind us, on the other side of the track an ancient looking wall rises up and obscures the view. Across the stream there are fields as far as I can see. I look at Sonia’s face and see her begin to cry. My first thought is that it’s a trick of some sort but then I realise she is really upset and I reach out to her. She draws back. My hand is bound with a very bloody rag. I have a deep gash across the palm. I don’t remember doing that.
It’s all so confusing.
Then Miguel comes along and he’s being angry and protective, like I’ve done something bad but I don’t know what.
‘Where are we?’ I say eventually. They just look at me. ‘What’s happened?’ They still won’t answer. I sit back and try to think. Beyond the fields are the mountains, like before, and behind me the bell tolls again. It does that several times a day I remember. Sonia told me – midday, mid-afternoon, dusk, mid-evening, midnight, dawn, mid-morning – just so people can arrange to meet and so forth. I like this system – it’s not about cold numerical hours and minutes. It’s about break times and mealtimes and rest times.
‘Are you feeling any better?’ says Miguel coldly.
‘What happened?’ I say and then notice a big bruise on Sonia’s cheek. I’d taken it for a shadow. ‘Did I do that?’ I say but the expressions on their faces tell me all I need to know.
Eventually Kevin arrives with his cart and I get in and they see me off. I sit silently in the back, among the nets and crates, letting myself get jostled about, letting myself get some bruises of my own. I don’t care about that. Poor Sonia. What have I done?

Kevin sits with me in my lounge. Apparently I went on some sort of rampage through the sanctuary. I hurt one of the monks quite badly – he’s in the infirmary but he doesn’t want to press charges. In view of this I’m amazed Kevin is prepared to be here with me. My knuckles and fingernails are broken and bleeding. He helps me bandage them up then sits me down with a brandy.
‘Tell me what happened’ he says, simply and I go back over it as best I can, until I get to the gargoyle in the doorway, and the tree of death. He sees me hesitate. I don’t know if I should tell him. I can feel a worm crawling in my belly deep down, telling me he’s one of them but I know it’s ridiculous. Really, I know that.
‘Tell me’ he says, kneeling in front of me. ‘I promise it’ll go no further’
I want to trust him. ‘Can you give me some time?’ I say. ‘Let me work it out. I think I need some time alone.’
He backs off reluctantly and nods. ‘But I will be coming to check on you’ he says giving me a warning wag of the finger. ‘Don’t think I won’t.’
‘Ok. That’s good. Thanks.’ He turns to go and already I feel so terribly alone. ‘Kevin’ I say.
He turns and waits. ‘Say sorry to Sonia for me will you, and to that other guy too, if you can. I am really sorry.’ He nods and leaves me to the bird song and the sun and the bobbing leaves in the suddenly empty doorway. I lie down and try not to fall asleep.

In the purple darkness I see terrified children, cowering down among the crushed plants. I have blood on my hands. Where did I get the blade? I must have brought it with me from the war zone, concealed in my clothes. They have turned me into a monster.

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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.