Hold On

It’s raining today, so I’m walking quite fast. It’s coming down in sheets and I imagine I’ve walked behind a waterfall. My face feels twisted and sore from having to spend the whole day hiding my emotions. My cat, Persephone, had died just before I left for school. She was my grandmother’s cat before she was mine, and she’d lived her nine lives to the full. It was the hardest thing, to let her go. Well, it was the hardest thing. That was until the hooded shapes, blurry in the rainfall, began to surround me.

Yes, my body remembers the blows that fell, the blows you took, for me. It’s like the bruises are still there, even now a language in my skin. You have no idea how proud of you I am, for surviving that day. Your heart got cut right open, so that today I can feel. I remember the absence of feeling back then, the reeling, shell-shocked numbness of it all. You were only fifteen. My God, if I could hold you, and tell you all the wonderful things I’ve been able to do because of you. Because you held on.

There is nobody to notice the blood on my face when I stumble through the door. Nor is there anything cooking, as the deep ache grows in my stomach. Dad’s eyes are rolled back; only his body is here. I am alone. All alone. I cook some instant noodles, and channel-surf aimlessly. Tears feel a lot different falling down beaten cheeks. I curl up on my mattress and pray for sleep, or death.

My love, the exclusion, the alienation, the isolation you went through – they are the only reason I know what inclusion means today. I saw someone at work today, someone like you. Do you know that I only had the words to reach her because you gave them to me? And you should see the smile of the guy I served dinner to tonight. You’re the one who made him smile, if only I could tell you. You taught me what great love it is, to prepare a meal for someone.

The grey skies are pale reflections in the puddles on the roadside. I’m walking back to school jittery, shaky, nervous, terrified. I feel like my organs got switched out; my lungs are tighter, and my heart rate scares me. Deep in my body, it feels like everything is about to go into catastrophic failure. The bus I can’t afford throws yesterdays rain all over me again.

My heart is forever broken over this time. You had no idea that this was going to go on for an entire year. Every day a struggle, a flurry of cowardly punches and dagger words. I wish I could tell you what healing feels like. But you will find out for yourself – because you survive to become me. I hope that you, too, would be proud of me. I’m writing the book you started to dream about back then. I smile at people and play peek-a-boo with the kids on the bus, because you told me what life without kindness feels like.

The days blur. There’s a kind of dark frame around even the brightest of days; psychological sunglasses. I’m as tortured trying to work out what makes me different as I am by the physical violence. The darkness seems to hide me from all who would help, but burn as a black beacon flame to anyone and everyone who would desire to hurt me. Sometimes, the blood I shed is not inflicted by another person.

Thank you for being stronger than you ever imagined you would have to be. You gave your strength to me. I wish I could tell you who you become. Who I am. I know how much the hope would have meant to you. And, because I know that, I try to pass on that hope now. A hope of immeasurable value, crystallised out of the awful, shadowy things that you went through.

Hold on, my love. It won’t stay like this.

Asomuprisma

It started with the rust.

Like cities decaying from the loss of manufacturing, a pervasive corrosion, a disease known as coffee rust, was settling upon many of the mountainous regions that supplied coffee to the world. Delicate coffee trees became almost metallic, as if to be a living metaphor for the times. Communities impoverished by corporate exploitation found themselves losing vast portions of their crop.

But the rust was only the start.

The climate was changing. It was easy to get fixated on how many degrees global average temperatures would rise by. It wasn’t this that killed the coffee, though. The weather just became too wild, too unpredictable. Heatwaves when it was meant to be cold. Deluge when it was meant to be dry. We lost so much of the land that could yield us coffee. At first, higher altitudes could sustain more crops, but who among the small growers and coffee co-ops could afford new land?

And at the start, most of us were unaware. Drinking our damn fine cups of coffee. We didn’t really notice the unfolding fate of our growers, or register the new research into the hybrid coffee that we were going to become totally reliant on. If we did, it felt more like big tech developing a new gadget than what it actually was – the entire future of coffee.

I’m writing this because I want to record a sad moment. I have only a few grams of my favourite Colombian arabica left. Enough for one coffee. You can criticise me for caring so much about a drink, when we look at the utter devastation that has befallen this world. But the coffee economy was huge, and dependent on people who have lost everything. And the fact remains that every day, that rose-gold cafetiere slowly brewed what was to me like captured sunlight, roasted and darkened. Most days it was the best thing that happened all day.

Now, most growers have been forced out of business, and the experts are still trying to hybridise the West African wild coffee, to become a realistic successor for the global coffee industry. Supply is scarce and prices are insane. So I’m raising my cup to the times when coffee was a daily ritual for most of us, when none of us could quite appreciate enough what we were about to lose.

A Moment Of Your Time

The foyer of Frances & Reeves Solicitors was busy, as always. A nexus of dispute. With everyone in a suit, on the phone and striding purposefully across the atrium, one man stood out. He wore what could once have been called a suit, if it was some time back in the Great Depression. Now it was tattered, threadbare and full of patches. His hair was no better; thick, wild, and grey. The pools of his eyes betrayed his anxiety.

“I’m looking for Robert Frances. My name is Maxwell Heit” he told reception. His voice was hoarse, and he was asked to repeat himself. He shifted his weight self-consciously. “I said, I’m looking for Robert-”

“Mr Frances is not available today, sir” said the receptionist. He looked barely twenty. Almost certainly fresh from university; ambitious, naive. “You really need to book-”

“Yes, thank you, I know, but this is not a usual request. Can you call him for me?”

“Listen, if you’re in some kind of trouble, this isn’t the right method-”

“Please. Surely he can spare a couple of minutes?”

As the receptionist began again to offer kind words of rejection, Maxwell looked to the heavens for strength. A chime sounded nearby, and the lift which served this towering structure of legal commerce emptied into the atrium. There was no mistaking Robert Frances. Close-cropped black hair, steely-grey eyes, a confident stance, and a bespoke suit probably worth a year of Maxwell’s rent.

“Mr Frances, Mr Frances!” Maxwell called, tired, weak legs propelling him towards the lawyer.

Robert stopped at the sound of his name. A name he had built an empire around.

“Yes?” he said, curtly.

“My name is Maxwell. Could I please have a moment of your time?”

“I think my current rate for a ‘moment’ is about five hundred dollars” Robert laughed. “Do you have that kind of money?”

Maxwell stared at the floor, ashamed, filled with unbearable sadness. “Please…”

“Homeless people can get free legal advice down the road at the Community Centre” Robert said. He grimaced. “I think they have showers there, too”.

This was Maxwell’s moment of defeat. He knew it with a terrifying certainty. Fighting tears, he nodded his head. Maxwell watched his son turn from him and walk away.

Red Eyes In The Morning

It was so hot, that night. I remember the tarmac felt like wax. The moon was full, and the sky was abuzz with some kind of dark, reddish glow. We had plenty of time, so we got coffee at the airport. It was a late flight, but the airport still drifted with its human flotsam and jetsam. It was strangely hushed, as if people had mistaken the architecture of the airport for some kind of church.

We sat there, talking – as usual, the conversation ranging as far and wide as a migrating butterfly. You smiled at me over your espresso, and it suddenly hit me how much I was going to miss you. It couldn’t be any other way, though. We knew that. This was your moonshot.

Eventually, your flight was called, though our words hadn’t nearly run out. There was still so much to say, but that’s what technology is for, we said. Words had always come easy between us, an ocean couldn’t wash them away. Somehow though, when we said goodbye, I felt less like a man and more like the scared little boy you met when we were ten.

Standing in the oppressive heat, from the car park I watched several flights take off, not knowing which was yours. When the last blinking light had merged with the stars in the red sky, I went home, heavy and thick with emotions I couldn’t name.

Of course, I couldn’t sleep. I had three cold showers, it still didn’t help much. I didn’t mean to, but I found your letters that night, as I stumbled around the apartment seeking to cool myself.

I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.

I sat there reading, sweat mingling with the flow of tears, your blurry handwriting a vehicle of uncanny revelation. I started reinterpreting the last few months through the mirror of your letters. You were in so much pain, more than I ever realised.

I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.

Around 3a.m. I couldn’t read any more. I desperately wanted to call you, but you were still in the air. I threw on some clothes and I started running, as if I could leave your words behind, or gain enough speed to cross the ocean and be waiting for you when you landed. I ended up down at the lake where we always used to camp out. The full moon glimmered on the water, still tainted red. I screamed at the stars, and you, somewhere up there – ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t know’.

I didn’t know I would never see you again.

Orange Grove

A small girl splits open a juicy orange, dropped ripe from the grove. The sun is risen to its zenith, and her father, all weathered-skin and cracked palms, watches from a worn deckchair. The sky is an improbably deep blue, one of those really special days where you can’t look up or down, left or right, without seeing something wonderful. The father knows his girl is the most wonderful of all. As she enjoys the orange, the fruit of a complex array of natural systems and not a little hard work from him, he wonders about her future. What lies ahead for her, beyond the grove?

Wind catches her hair and she laughs, and turns back at him with a grin. He could write every day for a thousand years, study with the greatest tutors of many generations, and never quite be able to capture what he feels inside when he sees that smile.


Destination

These rain-soaked streets are not my home. Sometimes my mind floods with memories as I walk, like I’ve had too much coffee. Fragments of familiar buildings and the ghosts of my friends, rearranged around me.
   
This place is like anywhere, there are all kinds of people, but the only ones who understand are the ones who are also not from here.
   
In the centre of town there’s a park – it has wavy grass, serene trees, a big stone cross. I sit underneath and feel whatever I feel. I’m on my way there now. Would you like to join me?

Shades

His silhouette casts a tall shadow on the bridge in the fading light. Fallen leaves kiss the ships below. Their autumn-burned colour mirrors the flecks of gold in his eyes. He puts his hand to his mouth and then remembers he doesn’t smoke any more. As a stark-white swan passes below, he wonders if it, too, has lost its mate. As if sympathising with the swan’s furious underwater paddling, he starts to pace restlessly. He absently pats the empty wallet in his back pocket.

He could just bring all his old camping stuff here, and winter with the birds, hoping maybe she will arrive with them. Yet the migratory route they have taken is nothing compared to the gulf of time and space between his split trainers and her restless shoes. Is her hair turning grey too?

A new apartment block towers over the riverbank. He looks up at the penthouse, and his eyes travel downwards as if each floor marks a layer of hierarchy in his world. His eyes linger on the steps leading down to basement area. He forces his hands into the pockets of his jacket, which is the colour of midnight on the water. He knows what that looks like. He has a catalogue of shades in his mind, if his memory was still reliable he could have visualised a 24/7 time-lapse of this bridge. The shades have got a lot dimmer recently.

He suddenly wonders when he last ate, or what it would have been. It feels like his stomach isn’t even inside his body any more. He glances at the road-marking on the bridge. “Give Way”. He wonders if it’s there to describe his feelings. A passer-by stares at him way too long, until he realises it is because a low moan has been escaping him without him really being aware of it.

“Are you ok, sir?”

“Oh yes, I’m sure she is, thank you.”

“Sir, your legs are shaking.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. If they stopped, well…that’s when I would worry.”

“Please go somewhere warm, sir.”

“That is precisely where I am going. Can you tell me which way it is?”

His breath plumes in front of him and he is transported to another place, a hazy cafe, full of cigarette smoke, caffeine and poetry, and barely containing the majesty of her personality. Clinking cups and that familiar smell of ground coffee, and oh, the brightness in her eyes, the sunniest day in mid-August, the glitter on the water, that was her shade.

The passer-by has his phone out. The one-sided conversation fades in.

“Yeah he must only be, like, fifty, but he seems so lost…bit of a beard, deep blue coat…yeah he is pretty tall…no I don’t think he’s wearing one of those…he looks like he last ate a week ago…oh, you do, do you? Are you going to send someone? …Great, I’ll wait with him then.”

How rude to stand there with his phone out.

“You know, I met her before phones took over this planet. We could talk for days, we didn’t need those things or the…cables…wires…screens…”

He suddenly feels tired, exhausted in fact. He lowers himself unsteadily onto the bench, and as the passer-by quickly comes to sit with him, he could swear he felt her touch on his shoulder, reaching across the gulf.

Desert Rose

“You just don’t understand, it was blooming! That’s, like, once every two years! You have to get it back.” His eyes darted around the room as if seeing after-images of all the burglar’s steps.

“Sir, with all due respect, your apartment is half-burned out and your front door is split, and you want us to… find your cactus?” the policeman said.

“Yes! I can’t be more clear on this. You have to find it. Do you have any idea how old it was? Who gave…” the tears suddenly welled up. Damn this policeman, could he not see the obvious value of such a cactus? “Do you hold anything to be universally sacred, officer?”

“Well…I have a wife and ki-”

“Yes yes, but what about the things that really matter? The deep things of the earth?”

“Please understand, sir, that with our limited resources we simply cannot-”

“Helicopters. I want helicopters on this. Right away.”

“Sir, please…”

“You, detective, are being completely unreasonable. I thought with all your training you would be prepared for such a disaster as this. Why are you looking at me like that?”

“OK, sir, this is what we’ll do. We are going to make every effort to find your houseplant. We will scour the town. You will receive the utmost dedication in resolving your case, truly. Now will you sit down?”

“Houseplant, my God, man, houseplant? I’ll pray for your soul.”

“Yes, sir, that would be most kind of you.”

The man sank to his knees. This guy was never going to get it back. The desert was going to completely take over now. Everything was lost.