The sky might be blue, but there is something ominous about the clouds. They seem to promise violence. It’s hard to say whether the men of the rock are cowering away from whatever is coming or clawing at it. Either way, it seems to spell danger. The heat burns like the fires of hell, unforgiving and inescapable. The very air seems to press you down as if trying to force you into that flaming underworld.
People gather all around, seemingly unaware of what must surely be to come. They seem happy; laughter and chatter are matched by smiling faces and the kisses of lovers. They are drawn to this spot, as if by demonic intent.
That and the signposts. For some reasons this is a tourist hotspot, it is very beautiful I suppose. And the heat isn’t so bad in the shade. Perhaps the sky is just blue after all.
I feel so sorry for future archaeologists. As we stood, looking at the work of unknown builders from millennia ago, I couldn’t help wondering, what are we leaving them to discover? Will our towers of glass and steel still be there, or will they have been replaced by newer ones, built to be ten feet taller? Will it even matter anyway? We have photos and videos, news reports detailing their construction. What mysteries will be left to uncover? Bits and bytes don’t fade away, they don’t get eroded by the wind or carried off like some piece of stone to build another wall.
But that’s what we’re leaving. It’s is something more and something less. Something longer lasting and more fleeting. Not stone or brick, we’re leaving ideas.
You now play home to football, but for a few weeks, you’re back to what you were made for. The crowd is different, there isn’t one ball to look at, but a host of events with athletes competing simultaneously all within your cauldron. A roar from the shot putters near the start finish line, rhythmical clapping from the long jump pit to the side of the back straight, a moan as the bar gets knocked off at the high jump mat.
And then an explosion of applause followed by an expectant hush. The peacock is back to display his feathers. He’s returned to you, the place we all realised how bright and beautiful those feathers were.
Champion once more and even he pays homage to you. ‘Best in the world’ he says.
Soon you’ll be for football again, but tonight, you were triumphant in your true colours.
You could feel the silence, other than a few stray cheers, it was nearly complete.
“On your marks.”
The silence got louder, heavy with anticipation.
The last few shouts for luck.
Only the first half of the bang from the starter’s pistol could be heard as the roar of the crowd swelled to overcome it. The start was even, perhaps you were even behind, but within a few strokes of your arms, your front wheel was ahead. By 30 metres it was a chair length, by 50 you were clear. At 100, 17.18 seconds and a world record later, the crown rose to cheer your name.
This was the ‘easy race’ you said to the awestruck interviewer afterwards. Fastest time ever and a gold medal, I think we all wish for an easy day like that.
When I was a kid we used to spend summers playing in the woods behind my Grandma’s house. We’d make dens and trample down those secret paths that only children make. Over time, they became less secret and more dusty as the grass and moss disappeared to be replaced with the footsteps of an entire season. We left channels through the trees like ants in a farm.
When I look at you, pacing up and down behind the glass, wearing down a path for yourself, I can’t help but think back to those secret ways of my childhood. They meant excitement, they meant friendship, they meant freedom. Yours mean boredom, seclusion, confinement. You weren’t meant to live like this. You should’ve been running free; freer than even our childhood fantasies allowed us to be. You have no secret path, just a small world inside a small glass box.
The dust; the dust and the heat; the dust and the heat and the blaring sun. Even now, the conditions are nearly suffocating, when they were matched by the smell of blood, the shrieks of pain and roars from the crowd, it must have been overwhelming. With the stage at ground level and rows of seats rising upwards, you can almost see the ghosts of gladiators, dressed in bronze armor, stepping out into the cauldron, god-like with life and death in their hands. At night, the ghosts seem to come to life. The lights show the amphitheater is still imposing two millennia later, but they also cast shadows that shift and move, remembering all those who met their bloody end there. The Colosseum, almost a ruin, still very much alive.
It feels like our footprints should still be there. It was our beach after all. We claimed it with the marks we left like a flag on the moon or a scribble of a name on an old school desk: ‘we were here’. We walked along the beach at sunset, with no one else in sight. We weren’t going anywhere, just taking our time and letting the Andaman Sea lap at our feet. The water was warm, as was the sand, but the breeze was cool and drew us together. I tried to take a photo, I placed my camera and tripod on the sand and the sea came and lapped at that too. A little damp, but not ruined and an almost perfect shot captured. The only thing missing was the footsteps, the footsteps that marked it out as ours.
It’s a fast city, Amsterdam. Cyclists, on their battered bikes, weaving through pedestrians, bells ringing and crashes averted at the last second. If feels young, even though its old. And there’s no mid-life crisis in sight; it wears the tourists’ khaki shorts pulled up high and the socks in old leather sandals in knowing irony. The coffee shops and the red lights summon tittering people, alive with the feeling of freedom and not-quite-safe pleasures. It has what people call, an ‘atmosphere’.
But we took it slow. We were bullet time. Detached from the rest of the world as it revolved around us in a blur. We had our own world. We had each other. We were tourists yes, but we walked to our own tempo, following the rhythms of each other’s feet. And we haven’t stopped. We still walk to our own beat. We’re still bullet time.
She just wants to play, she’s only three. She has a favourite ball, it’s still just about yellow, despite all the scuffs and the dust. Really, it’s still only just about a ball, it’s certainly not round, it probably wasn’t designed for feet like hers. She throws it around anyway, up in the air, along the ground, towards anyone who she thinks might want to play too. And who wouldn’t want to? She’s beautiful. Her eyes sparkle with a mischievous intelligence and when she reaches out for you, it is as though you’re being blessed.
She throws dirt up in the air just because she can and she knows she won’t be told off, not with that smile. It looks like a smile anyway. It’s certainly easier for us to think that way. Because she’s chained. Tethered to a wooden post with metal links. Still, it looks like a smile.
I didn’t know I wasn’t normal until I was five. Until then I thought I was funny, I thought I was popular. I’d tell a joke, people would laugh. I’d make a rude noise, people would laugh. I’d pull a face, people would laugh. But then I realised they’d still be laughing even when I’d stopped. They’d laugh when I spoke. They’d laugh when I walked into a room. They’d laugh when I cried.
I looked in the mirror then. I let my eyes explore my face. I had a nose, two eyes and lips hiding some teeth. Not so different really. Except my lips didn’t cover my teeth, and my nose was off centre, and one eye wouldn’t open like the other.
Mum said it was a dog bite. That I hadn’t even been one and I wouldn’t remember.
True; but I still feel the pain.