memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘creative writing’ Category

Dream

Dream.

Polly and me

Polly is five, like me. I’m five too.

Polly is my friend.

We’re playing on the beach

A game with little stones and shells in the sand

Drawing a house for us to live in when we’re big.

Sometimes a wave comes in and takes the house away.

So we build it again: the shells are the roof and walls and the stones are the windows and the door.

Another wave comes up over the wet sand and drags our little house back down with it.

I kiss Polly.

Later as mum is putting me to bed she reads me a story … and the prince and princess got married and lived happily ever after.

And I’m going to marry Polly I whisper as I drift into warm sleep.

 ***

She stood at the kitchen sink, staring out at the back garden with unseeing eyes; she automatically folded and refolded the damp cloth before eventually hanging it up in its usual place on the oven-rail. Angie, her friend and neighbour, was sitting at the kitchen table, smoking nervously and biting her nails. Neither women spoke. The situation was just too sad, too tragic – the only thing one could say about the accident was that Robbie hadn’t suffered much and people did say that after the funeral, clasping the cliché and hoping that it would comfort her. Angie broke the silence:

–          How are the children bearing up, Pol? Here, sit down and have a glass of wine; they’ve all gone now and your sister-in-law is with the two kids. You’ve got to slow down, you haven’t stopped all day … don’t beat yourself up about all this, it’s not your fault you know.

–          Chloe is being very adult about it all but poor little Josh doesn’t really understand what’s going on. I should be feeling grief or anger or something but I don’t feel anything, just numb. You do realize that we were going to separate, don’t you? The papers didn’t mention that, did they? Only the Other Woman.

TABLOID HEADLINES

Polly closed her eyes; most of the papers had run the story, the broad-sheets with a discreet paragraph on page two: PROMINENT MERCHANT BANKER IN CAR CRASH or SIR ROBERT MACKENSIE IN FATAL ACCIDENT, but the tabloids went to town on the front page WHO WAS BANKER’S BIRD or CRASH MYSTERY WOMAN!

–          Look Pol the funeral’s over, the guests have all gone and you’ve given Immaculada and Magda the rest of the weekend off. Everything went as well as could be expected and now you’ve just got to try and relax …

(The front door bell goes).

–          I wonder who that is; I thought all the Press had gone, oh of course Magda’s not here, I’ll go.

PORTRAIT OF POLLY - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

PORTRAIT OF POLLY – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

I hadn’t exactly forgotten Polly, far from it but we’d drifted apart in our teens. Her family moved away to a more expensive part of the city and she went to a posh boarding-school while I slogged on at the local comprehensive, and so we never saw each other again.

I heard about her from to time to time. After university she drifted from job to job before writing a best-selling cook-book, so I couldn’t avoid seeing her glamorous face on the cover – in fact I bought a copy in Waterstones.

(The recipes were not really to my taste, being a fussy reworking of traditional dishes in the Nouvelle Cuisine style).

Marriage to a highly successful business man put her completely out of my reach. The years went by and I pursued rather unenthusiastically my career as a teacher, eventually becoming the assistant headmaster of a school in the suburbs. I married another teacher but it didn’t work out and after about a year we parted, amicably enough.

There was no passion in my life.

I was loveless, childless and middle-aged.

Thus it was until last week when I read in the newspapers all about the death in a car crash of Polly’s husband. The effect on me was surprising. I was inordinately stirred and moved with empathy for my childhood friend. After brooding about it for several days, I decided to travel by the underground to her Chelsea address which was splashed all over the papers. The imposing house was in a discreet street just off the King’s Road. I loitered outside her door, dithering and wondering if she was there and what on earth I would say to her. I noticed some press photographers on the side of the road and beat a retreat with beating heart and eventually returned crestfallen to my home in south London. That was yesterday.

Now today I’ve come back again and plucking my courage, I climb up the steps and firmly press the bell. I hear steps crossing the hall (probably a maid, I think, or one her children) and the door swings open – it’s her. A neat stylish woman (but with the story of the last months written across her beautiful face) is standing there looking at me enquiringly:

–          Please excuse this intrusion on your grief, Lady Mackensie. I’m sure that you don’t recognize me but we used play together when we were children living in Hastings

–          I’m sorry I can’t quite place you … oh yes of course I remember, we used to play on the beach together?

–          Yes, I’m glad you’ve remembered; it makes it less embarrassing for me.

–          Won’t you come in for drink, we’re in the kitchen.

–           No, I won’t bother you any further now, but maybe we could go out some time next week or something?

–          Yes OK, I’d like that.

Polly returns to the kitchen.

–          Who on earth was that?

–          Oh just a ghost from the past; we used to build sand-castles together when we were kids. We agreed to go out for a drink, sometime next week.

–          Surely you’re not going!

–          Why not. It’ll take my mind off all documents I’ve got to sign; besides he looked rather attractive in a pathetic helpless sort of way. There’s only one problem, though.

–          What’s that?

–          I can’t remember his name!

My new Kindle

PATTERN HAND-PAINTED by FRANCES MILNER

PATTERN HAND-PAINTED by FRANCES MILNER

I used to be a techno-snob

I observed each passing phase

With a tolerant disdain

Without worship or marvel

I bowed to its inevitability

I viewed the digital era as mass mediocrity

The mobile phone as a paradox

Of communication breakdown

My generation couldn’t type

Never saw the need

Shunned e-mail until

The last moment

 

Then my life suddenly changed

Radically, irrevocably

Fell into the pit

With the other losers

Equally decrepit

Scrabbling helpless

Feeling for the edge

 

Went into survival-mode

Had to relearn a load of stuff

In my solitary world

Can’t be squeamish

Sauve qui peut

 

Tech was my lifeline

Bought a laptop

Steep learning curve

Trained myself to the

Muscle of memory

Dash of culture

Bob’s your uncle

 

Began to tap the long climb back

Each word a painful hash

Each sentence a fatigue of correction

Each paragraph an exhausting triumph

 

Wrote a book

Fumbled ineptly through

The para-world of online

Self-publishing and

After about nine months

Gave birth to a pink

Wriggling little book

Like all parents

Inordinately proud

 

I have been reading

A book every day

For over 50 years

Though not the same book

Not the same book

 

Time was when I read voraciously

Long, squat dense paper-backs

With miniscule print

On cheap paper

Crime and Punishment

Look Homeward, Angel

Tristram Shandy

A Dance to the Music of Time

And so on

And so on

 

Of late my 60-year-old eyes are tiring

But not my 60-year-old mind

I still need to fuel my philosophy

Feed ideas into the gaping

Furnace of my being

 

So I, who have over two thousand

Books spilling out of every room

Of my little apartment

By the sea

And further hundreds

Spilling out of my room

Here at the Home

(What’s the best place to hide a book?

In a library, of course)

I have decided to go Kindle

 

Instant addiction

I love it

I love its lightness of being

The handiness of it

Above all I love its potential

The collected works of

Emil Zola

For a couple of Euros

Here I come!

Kindle_paperwhite_1 

Be cool

Go Kindle!

Thirty nine shades of grey

You’ve all heard of the grey areas of moral/ethical/sexual protocol in the bedroom (and how a certain book caused the sales of hand-cuffs to rocket by 400% in the UK alone) arresting stuff no doubt but let’s not go there.

Allow me instead to introduce you to the world of grey food.

Not rather grey, not quite grey, not fairly grey, not greyish but completely grey, utterly grey, absolutely grey – a dismal, dreary, drab, depressing grey.

The Chinese have a saying: may you live in exciting times.

 (Well we certainly do live in exciting times, what with our various crises – economic, ecological, socio and geo-political, moral and spiritual).

 But the Spanish greeting: may nothing new happen to you today is more to my taste, so the following incident took me by surprise.

 It was unexpected; it came at me from an angle low on my left flank when I was looking the other way.

 (It was a bolt out of the blue).

It’s dinner time. First there is the usual yellow soup which is OK if one is partial to that kind of thing – as for me I can take it or leave it but what the heck we eat to live here (not the other way round).

Then you can knock me sideways and call me Dick Turpin if the main course doesn’t turn out be more soup; but not just any old soup; this stuff is special; this stuff is grey!

Well I’ll be jiggered, I think, whatever will these inventive and resourceful people come up with next? Blue spaghetti, green potatoes … anyway grey soup was a «first» for me.

Brief description:

•             Name:   Farinho de pão

•             Colour:  Grey

•             Odour:  Fishy, definitely fishy

•             Shape:  Amorphous

•             Texture:   Viscose

We are served thus: a dose/dollop/splurge of the stuff/substance is ladled/sloshed onto our (not-soup-but-normal) plates, in such a way that there is a slight danger of the capillary effect coming into play in cases of plate-overload (which can be messy, very messy).

The buzz-word of the meal (farinho de pão) started at one end of the dining hall and spread/creaked/whined/rumbled from table to table like a mournful mantra.

 I calculate that these immortal words (farinho de pão) were repeated (in tedious succession) between 50 and 60 times.

Hey-ho, grey thoughts on a grey day.

Returned to life

Suddenly I heard the sound of someone whistling, a cleaner perhaps or a technician of some sort and something in me flickered back to life.

I gathered air into my lungs, help me!

Get me out of here!

But my voice echoed silently around my head; there seemed no escape from that grim chamber. After what seemed an eternity a small door opened in the wall of the cave and two nurses came in and transferred me onto a trolley and wheeled me into the subdued lighting of the intensive-care-unit, all in complete silence.

Now there was an attempt to insert tubes of various colours (blue, yellow, red) into my lungs   (colour-coding, I thought automatically) and fought it and worried about it for hours and days. Every now and then someone from my past life appeared at the door of ward and pleaded with me to accept the tubes, but I still resisted. Then a new rather forbidding-looking doctor appeared, a middle-aged woman dressed in a green smock, and said let me get at him I’ll sort this out and then managed to cut the right colour (blue) and I, the bomb, was defused, problem sorted what a relief!

I felt myself ebbing down and sideways and agonized and struggled with my demons. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. I was trying to run across a muddy field in winter but I could not move. I stared down at my feet – they were buried up to the ankles in clammy ooze; I changed direction towards a cliff to jump over – and thus wake up – but I couldn’t get near to the edge I just couldn’t get near enough to that edge to jump I just couldn’t get near the edge I just couldn’t …

I heard the clatter of a helicopter landing outside, bringing someone to visit me no doubt; who on earth could it be I wondered; but it was only some boring local politician whom I had never even heard of. The doctors urged him to try to make me speak but I wouldn’t, I was completely unimpressed by him and even refused to shake his hand. I was too busy trying to concentrate on a new voice saying my name, calling me to wake up. I want to but I’m still down here below the surface of the water … I tried to raise myself to the surface into consciousness but you know what it’s like, that sinking breathless sensation trying to stay in a dream, trying not to wake up … Tom, Tom the soft voice repeated, can you hear me? I woke up holding my sister-in-law’s hand, nodded weakly to various people and then went to sleep.

And dreamed and dreamed – terrible dreams.

One night in the ICU I heard a faint hissing sound. From my bed I could see the corridor to the left of the open ward and saw an extraordinary sight, a double figure gliding by on silent wheels, a male dwarf driving the contraption with his wife bolted to his back facing the opposite direction. Apparently they only came out at night (they lived in one of the private wings of the hospital). It was a tragic accident said one the nurses, impossible to operate, just imagine it, I thought, stuck together forever, what horror! One night I woke to find them at the foot of the bed staring intently at me, the man then wheeled round for the woman to have a look.

More macabre hallucinations followed. I used to wake from these with my bed soaked in sweat and my body thrashing about. Sometimes I used to cry out so loudly that the nurses, (back in the neurology-ward now) used to have to wheel me into a special room so as not to disturb the other patients. My paranoia persisted – I imagined that some of the medical staff were conspiring to do me harm, (probably because of that vision of the doctor in the crypt).

I suffered.

I did not endure it.

Every morning the doctor would make his rounds and at my bed he would read the report of my night’s delinquencies, glancing at me from time to time quizzically. I asked him for ever stronger medication to sleep.

One day after lunch a new doctor appeared beside my bed and talked to me gently and sympathetically. She evidently specialized in patients who were mentally disturbed or were suffering from drug-induced paranoia or post-operation trauma. She came every day for about ten days and patiently listened to my babbling rants. But she helped me to start rebuilding my shattered self-esteem and dismantled psyche. She said she found me an interesting person and that one day I should write it all down, which is what I have just done.

All this was over five years ago and I still survive, living in care, wheel-chair bound, fractious at times and obsessively neurotic.

I am an alien in this place and read much of the time.

At night I go elsewhere in my dreams but in the morning here I am again.

The anguish of that time will never really leave me.

Babel (1)

INSPECTION – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

We are pleased to report to this Council that, on the planet under inspection, at the height of their Christian Era (some nineteen centuries after the birth of the prophet Jesus) their Inspired Scripture, (The Holy Bible) had been translated into most of myriad languages of that world.

Thus, for example, right at the beginning of the Scripture in the first Book (Genesis 11:1-9) all the after-mentioned languages (see list) would be able to enjoy the charming, quaint etiological conceit to explain the need for above-mentioned translation:

Everyone on earth spoke the same language. As people migrated from the east, they settled in the land of Shinar. People there sought to make bricks and build a city and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for themselves, so that they not be scattered over the world. God came down to look at the city and tower, and remarked that as one people with one language, nothing that they sought would be out of their reach. God went down and confounded their speech, so that they could not understand each another, and scattered them over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city. Thus the city was called Babel.

List of languages into which The Holy Bible was translated – circa 1860

I. MONOSYLLABIC

Chinese, Burmese, Arakanese or Rukheng, Peguese, Talain or Mon, Siamese, Laos or Law, Cambojan, Anamite, Karen, Munipoora, Khassee, Tibetan, Lepcha.

II. SHEMITIC

Hebrew (Old Test.), Hebrew (New Test.), Samaritan, Chaldee, Syriac, Syro-Chaldaic, Modern Syriac, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Maltese, Mogrebin or W Arabic, Carshun, Ethiopic, Tigré, Amharic.

III. INDO-EUROPEAN

Medo-Persian Family

Persian, Judeo-Persian, Pushtoo or Affgan, Beloochee, Ancient Armenian, Modern Armenian, Ararat-Armenian, Kurdish, Armeno, Hakari and Ossitinian.

Sanscrit Family

Sanscrit, Pali, Hindustani or Urdu, Hinduwee, Bruj or Brij-bhasa, Canoj or Canyacubja, Kousulu or Koshala, Bhojepoora, Hurriana, Bundelcundee, Harrotee, Oojein or Oujjuyuneee, Oodeypoora, Marwar, Juyapoora, Shekawutty, Bikaneera, Buttaneer, Bengalee, Magadha, Tirhitiya or Mithili, Assamese, Uriya or Oriss, Cutchee or Cachee, Sindhee, Moultan, Wuch or Ooch, Punjabee or Sikh, Dogura or Jumboo, Cashmerian, Nepalese or Kaspoora, Palpa, Kumaon, Gurwhal or Schreenagur, Gujerattee, Mahratta, Kunkuna, Rommany or Gipsy, Tamul or Tamil, Telinga or Teloogoo, Karnata or Canarese, Tulu, Malayalim, Cingalese, Maldivian,

Celtic Family

Welsh, Gaelic, Irish, Manks, Cornish, Breton or Armorican.

Tuetonic Family

Gothic, Alemannic or Old High German, German, Jewish-German, Judeo-Polish, Old Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, English, Flemish, Dutch, Surinam Negro English, Creolese, Norse or Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Faroese.

Greco-Latin Family

Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Indo-Portuguese, Italian, Daco-Romana or Wallachian, Provençal or Romaunt, Vaudois, Piedmontese, Romanese or Romansch,  Upper and Lower Enghadine, Catalan, Judeo-Spanish, Curaçao, Dialect of Toulouse.

Thraco-Illyrian Family

Albanian

Slavonic Family

Slavonic, Russ, Polish, Bohemian, Servian, Croation or Dalmation-Servian, Carniolan, Bosnian, Slovakian, Bulgarian, Wendish-Upper, Wendish-Lower, Wendish Hungarian, Lettish or Livonian, Lithuanian, Samogitian.

IV. UGRO-TARTARIAN

Euskarrian Family

French Basque, Spanish Basque or Escuria.

Finnish Family

Finnish Proper, Lapponese, Quänian or Norwegian Laplandish, Hungarian, Karelian, Olonetzian, Dorpat Esthonian, Revel Esthonian, Tscheremission, Mordvivian or Morduin, Zirian or Sirenian, Wogulian, Ostiacan or Ostjakian, Wotagrian or Wotjakrian.

Tungusian Family

Mantchou, Tungusian Proper.

Mongolian Family

Mongolian Proper, Calmuc, Buriat.

Turkish Family

Turkish, Karass or Turkish Tartar, Orenburg-Tartar, Karait-Tartar, Tschuwaschian, Trans-Caucasian Tartar.

Caucasian Family

Georgian.

Samoiede Family

Samoiede.

Dialects of the Islands of Eastern Asia, and of Corea

Japanese, Loochooan, Alentian, Corean.

V. POLYNESIAN OR MALAYAN

Malayan, Low Malay, Formosan, Javanese, Dajak, Bima, Batta, Bugis, Macassar, Hawaiian, Tahitian, Rarotongan, Marquesan, Tongan, New Zealand or Maori, Malaguese, Samoan, Feejeean, Aneiteum, Lifu, Nengoné, Australian.

VII. AFRICAN

Coptic, Sahidic, Bashmuric, Berber, Ghadimsi, Mandigo, Jalloof, Susoo, Bullom, Sherbro-Bullum, Yarriba or Yoruba, Haussa, Timmanee, Bassa, Grebo, Accra, Fantee, Ashanti or Odjii, Dualla, Isubu, Fernandian , Impogwe, Sechuana, Sisuta, Caffre, Zulu, Namaqua, Galla, Kisuaheli, Kimbamba, Kinika.

VIII. AMERICAN

Esquimaux, Greenlandish, Virginian, Massachuchusett Indian, Mohegan, Delaware, Cree, Chippeway, Ojibway, Ottawa, Pottawattomie, Micmac, Abenaqui, Shawanoe, Mohawk, Seneca, Cherokee, Chocktaw, Dacota or Sioux, Iowa, Pawnee, Mexican, Otomi, Terasco, Mistico, Zapoteca, Mayan, Mosquito, Peruvian or Quichua, Aimara, Guarani, Brazilian, Karif or Carib, Arawack.

Killing goldfish softly

My physiotherapist has developed an idée fixe over the years that whenever I think about any goldfish, it dies.

I think that she is making a rather drastic confusion between cause and effect.

A GOLDFISH TRYING TO ESCAPE

I dearly wish I had that mental power – there would no flies on me anymore.

I wouldn’t restrict my zapping powers to mere goldfish;

I would have other fish to fry.

I would extend it other creatures;

I would attend a Harry Potter-style academy and work my way up the food chain.

I would achieve a BA (Black Arts)

then an MBA (Master of the Black Arts)

and finally a PhD (What’s it All About, Alfie?)

I would then change my identity and appearance but I wouldn’t go for the George Clooney/Brad Pitt look, rather I’d choose that guy in Patrick Susskind’s novel Perfume (must reading, by the way) you know, the pervy little alchemist who could become invisible at will.

(Oh, and while you’re at it, lop off a couple of decades from my age, will ya?)

Then I would sally forth and hire myself out to all the Presidents, Prime Ministers, Chancellors, Dictators, Czars, Sheiks, Kings, Absolute Monarchs, Autocrats, Nutters and Sociopaths with cash to spare.

I would become all the rich and powerful megalomaniacs of the world’s worst enemies’ nightmare. I would become a millionaire, a billionaire, a trillionaire.

I would become The Lord of Darkness.

THE LORD OF DARKNESS

I would be taken up to a high place and shown all the leafy mansions, lobster dinners, Aston-Martins, Rolex waches, private yachts, trophy wives, (trophy mistresses), Armani suits, i-pads, i-phones, i-gots, i-buy-therefore i-am hand-me-down religions in the world and ask Him:

–          OK, now what’s the deal?

But all this is predicated on the hypothesis that I am the man who kills goldfish with his thoughts.

I’m not.

So you  can stand down and relax, goldfish.

Naked in Gaza

ALEPPO – NORTHERN SYRIA, 1979.

Jamilah – meaning in Arabic, beautiful, graceful, lovely – lives in a small apartment building in an unfashionable district of Aleppo, with her parents and younger sister.

She is an obedient Moslem girl, living according to the guide-lines laid down by the Sharia; she never appears in public without her burka and is scrupulous about her diet and hygiene habits; she washes herself at least twice a day as prescribed by Koranic law. Unfortunately there is a shortage of water in their part of the city and so she only manages to have a bath once a week.

She makes a ritual of this, waiting till the rest of the family have gone out to the market on Saturday mornings, and then filling up the tub with water, taking off her robe and stepping delicately into the cool liquid; with her long black hair and her olive-toned skin she ressembles a painting by Ingres.

She lies back and closes her eyes.

HAIR WASHING – P’AINTING by THOMAS MILNER

Suddenly there is loud crack, the whole building shakes and water slops out of the bath. Jamilah immediately realizes that a tremor has occurred that could pressage an earthquake. Terrified she starts to rise from the water … at that moment, a neighbour, Hassan, is passing the door of her apartment; he bursts into the hall then into the bathroom just as Jamilah is stepping out of the bath, her nude body gleaming in the half-light: instinctively, in her modesty and shame, her hands cover her … (can you guess what? … No, you’ve guessed wrong), her hands fly up to cover her face.

TWICKENHAM  – SOUTH-WEST LONDON, 1979.

Micky wakes up that Saturday morning and stretches luxuriously. His girlfriend Bella is sitting at the kitchen table, eating a slice of toast and reading the paper. In the background the TV is saying …. and we interrupt this program with some breaking news: there has been a major earthquake in northern Syria; the quake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, struck the city of Aleppo this morning; so far the authorities are saying that 250 people have been killed but the death toll is bound to rise …

–          Turn that thing off, will you please; don’t you realize Bel that today’s the big day of my demonstration.

–          What! You’re not really going through with that stunt, are you? People will just think you’re another exhibitionist, just one more mad streaker; they just won’t get it!

Look, let’s look it up in the dictionary: streak, streak of luck etc. here we are: Streak.ing verb intr. = the non-sexual act of taking off one’s clothes and running naked through a public place. Well you can count me out, I’m not going to be shown up in front of my friends …

–           I just want to get some free publicity for our stand on the Environment and the Green Party.

Not for the first time in their relationship does it occur to Bella that her boyfriend is a bit of a head-case; she is having serious doubts about his sanity – maybe it’s time to dump him.

So Micky goes alone to the game – a semi-final of the League Cup, Spurs v Liverpool at White Hart Lane, a classic confrontation. He passes innocently through the turnstiles and picks his way to his place on the benches near the edge of the pitch. He has chosen half-time to make his move; he feels completely calm and his face was impassive; only his eyes betray him, showing the rich glint of lunacy.

The whistle blows for the end of the first half; as the players are leaving the pitch Micky takes off all his clothes and runs naked on to the pitch.

The rest is history.

The TV cameras soon pick him up, streaking down the side of the field, to be quickly joined by the security team which flank him in a curiously protective tableau.

ICONIC PHOTO

And then CLICK – the famous iconic photograph is taken and syndicated throughout the western world.

Let us examine this image: the pose is heroic and sublime, the white naked man with his arms outstretched and his handsome bearded profile staring sideways at the face of the policeman who is covering his private parts with his helmet. The image is suggestive of a Renaissance painting – Michael Angelo could have drawn that pose, in fact it reminds one of The Creation of Man on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Man pointing limply at God (a bit gay)? Or it is redolent of a scene by Leonardo de Vinci – Jesus being helped by the Roman soldiers towards his crucifixion – forgive them Father, for they know not what they do… (Micky sees himself essentially as a martyr for his cause and, in his mad way, glories in the publicity – streaking is, after all, a form of perversion).

ALEPPO (two weeks later)

Hassan had managed to bundle Jamilah out of the building before the main quake struck, and both were saved. Her family was also safe in the market, but they had lost all their possessions.

They now live in a tent village provided by the Red Crescent. They are used to crisis-management and count themselves lucky to be alive (Allah be praised). About half the inhabitants of the poorly-built apartment block, including Jamilah’s uncle and aunt, had been killed. Two tents down the row live Hassan and his family. His parents regard Jamilah’s rescue by Hassan as a sign from God and both families agree that Hassan and Jamilah should be betrothed.

Out of tragedy comes joy.

What the betrothed couple thinks of all this is neither here nor there – the old traditional ways are best.

So tomorrow Hassan is going to be formally introduced to Jamilah. Hassan is curious about the girl; he hardly knows her – after all, he hasn’t yet even seen her face!

My life is a canvas

My life is a canvas, once painted with broad free strokes of the brush with a bold design of colour and movement, now become crabbed and petty, crouched into one corner, which is then enlarged to fill out the vacuum left by my lost physical freedom.

Now and then the small things creep out from the shadows,

From under the damp stones,

Tiny lizards slithering out silently to bask in the warm sun.

 

Time, my lord, keeps a wallet at his back,

wherein he puts alms for oblivion.

(Troilus and Cressida)

The Fragment of Porcelain

The painter Tanaka stood back and studied his work. He was quite satisfied. The painting encapsulated all the delicacy and grace of Japanese art. The composition was perfectly balanced with the juxtaposition of the girl, the tree and the carpet of blossom.

The geisha was wearing a beautiful white kimono edged in red, with her slender waist bound by the obi and a shawl draped loosely about her shoulders. The eye followed the line of her right arm holding out her kimono to the branch of the cherry tree symbolically leaning over her and finally down the trunk of the tree to the ellipse of cherry blossom under her feet. He painted his signature at the bottom right-hand corner.

Tanaka came from a long line of artists and had at first trained with porcelain, going through every stage of fabrication from the modelling of the clay, the first glazing and firing in the oven, to the design and painting and then the second glazing and firing process. These days he specialized in painting stylized figures in a landscape.

Noriko, the model, timidly asked Tanaka if she could see the finished painting. She tiptoed round the easel and caught her breath in admiration. It was perfect. How well her mother’s kimono looked!

She had known Master Tanaka all her life, as her mother was one of his favourite clients and he always treated her with great courtesy, addressing her as «Noriko-San». He was very generous to them both, always bringing them little presents such as pieces of silk, little elaborately carved boxes and sugared apricots and chestnuts – in fact the kimono that she was wearing in the painting came from him.

Noriko hurried from the formal water-garden into the house, with its light timber-frame and paper-thin walls, its sliding windows which allowed a beautiful light to permeate every room, suffusing them with a white softness. She helped her mother prepare the tea ceremony for the Master, singing quietly in her high voice. She was happy on that early August morning in such a tranquil spot, set as it was in the centre of such a large city.

Across the world, the Enola Gay trundled out of her hangar in the Arizona desert and started to taxi to her take-off position. The huge lumbering B29 Super Fortress had a crew of twelve – these included the captain, the co-pilot, the navigator, the bombardier, a special weaponry officer, the flight engineer, radio operator and the two gunners – only one of whom, the captain, was over thirty. They all knew the historical significance of the mission but had only just found out the name of the target city. The Enola Gay reached the beginning of the runway and paused, before accelerating smoothly down the strip and at last taking wing with a long, slow curve towards the west. She settled in for her long flight across the Pacific.

Noriko’s mother and Tanaka knelt facing each other over the low table and bowed, each one holding a bowl of steaming fragrant tea. Noriko served them with delicate little appetizers and coughed politely her pretty little hand covering her mouth:

–              Noriko, honey, have you caught a chill?

–              Yes mother dear, I think I may have caught something while I was posing under the cherry tree for honoured Master’s painting …

–              I’ll make you some special tea then.

–              By the way mother dear can we discuss the final plans for my acceptance into the Guild?

 As mother and daughter chatted away in their high fluting voices, Tanaka studied them and thought what a charming picture they made; automatically he started to compose them into a design, the daughter leaning in towards the mother, the frame of a window sketched in as a backdrop and the low table with its cushions tapering down to a point could provide the foreground.

The Enola Gay was flying at maximum altitude over the outskirts of the Japanese city. Visibility was good. The pilot set his controls for the heart of Hiroshima, the plane riding the sky, the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, high above the doomed city. As soon as the bombardier released the Bomb the captain wrenched the plane away, her engines frantically clawing at the thin air desperately trying to gain as much height and distance as possible before the shock waves hit.

At the moment of detonation, the fusion created a great white light stronger than a thousand suns, radiating out at light-speed illuminating the thousands of people, houses, gardens and factories in a ghastly tableaux before the explosion blasted everyone and everything into oblivion.

Two weeks after the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, a young American soldier making his way cautiously through the stricken city, bent and picked up a little miracle of survival – a small, charred ceramic bowl, fired again by the intense heat of the explosion, on which could still just be discerned the design under the blackened glaze of a girl under a tree.

The atomic bomb dropped in anger on Hiroshima on that 6th of August of 1945, followed by a second one on Nagasaki a few days later, brought the Second World War to an abrupt end.

A sort of collective innocence went out of Humanity. The world had been changed forever.

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