The colour of the sky each day changes slowly from inky magenta to bland light to the softest hues of pink and orange. Then there is a moment when it seems to me as though all creation holds its collective breath while another change takes place. And then a golden glow starts on the eastern horizon, grows stronger and though one expects it there is still a surprise and a feeling of awe as the sun appears in golden glory.
I like to think that each morning God spreads out a canvas which is the backdrop for the masterpiece He wishes to make of each day. His invitation is to us to join with Him in painting this canvas. The finale is the completion of the dawn that happens at sunset when again our Father delights us with a majestic show that lights up the skies in a concert of colours and shapes that is breathtaking.
As the stars are switched on we are able to sit back and contemplate the success, mediocrity or failure of each day.
What strokes should we have added, and what might the picture have been if we had used a different brush, different colours or indeed if we decided not to take part? Will there be a gap, did someone else paint our portion for us, do our strokes bring harmony or do they jar?
As I struggle with this new, yet old, identity of being a writer I cannot help but wonder what the words are that I need to write to complete my portion of this amazing canvas.
There are many questions that I wrangle with. How fictional is fiction? What measure of truth must there be in the tale to make it credible. There are many questions to do with truth. What is truth, and how much of it should I be willing to write? Does it begin with me? If I am truthful how will it be viewed? Will it bring benefit or harm, praise or criticism? Will it make my readers trust me more or less? What is the yardstick for measuring impact? Do I actually have anything to say that will add value to those who read my words? Will it fulfil the mandate of my Creator?
The tide this morning is what I think of as a quiet high tide. This part of the coast has a rocky reef specifically designed, I am sure, to protect the bathers. Most times high tide sees breakers crashing over the reef seemingly vying with each other to see which one can shoot spray highest into the air. There is a vibrancy that the exuberance of the competition ignites in me and I open my arms wide to greet the day.
But that is not the case today. There is a quiet soothing swish as the swells flow over the reef. Further out it is a different story – many tiny white horses abound that can only really be seen through binoculars and it is hard to tell the splash of the whales from the tops of fretful wavelets.
So there is conflict, not huge vicarious conflict, but subtle almost invisible conflict. The flecks of white, to my imagination, are thousands of words and it is up to me which ones I choose and how I order them to bring the peace of the nearby tide to the larger ocean. It is an awesome responsibility and one that I am wary of misusing.
Och, but I am fanciful this chilly Monday morning!
Talking of words, before I leave you to ponder what strokes you will paint on today’s canvas, the peculiarities of prescriptive text amused when I received this message: “You can come cow time”. It proved prophetic as it was in response to an appointment to jetspray the underside of my car, which as it turned out, was well plastered with cow dung!
One of the institutions of beach life is Sunday morning coffee hosted by Chris, who currently lives in Scott’s House. Scott’s House is set on a dune surrounded by lush vegetation and a great view of the ocean. There are two ways to this house – a shady walk along the road or a somewhat warmer amble along the beach. Chris is endowed with a somewhat roguish sense of humour at times and one of the ways this manifests is when he tells new visitors that the easiest way to Scott’s house is along the beach. Now while this may possibly be a shorter route, what unsuspecting first time visitors do not know is the degree of the ascent from the beach to the house. Those of us in the know wait, I must admit a little smugly on occasions, for the heads to appear above the undergrowth at the top of the path. Silently we each assess the dazed look, the speechless shock of the face framed by the bush and then someone will callously call out, “Welcome – you made it!” People deal with this physical assault in different ways: some pretend that they are superfit and the climb was nothing; others are too blown to make any comment at all; then there are those honest souls who wheeze their indignation through beaded droplets of perspiration . If needs be introductions are made, otherwise the greeting of airkissing both cheeks, usually followed by a bemused silence until someone will either explain the ritual or start the ritual. Each person has their own single cup sized plunger so their coffee is made to taste. The coffee is dark and freshly ground served in a pretty blue pottery bowl. As this is a special occasion it is a little decadent so there is generally only cream available as a dilutant, but if no cream the milk is foamed and you can chose to have it hot or cold. Slowly conversations start up as people begin reaching into the paraphernalia on the table, some shyly at first, and soon the wonderful smell of freshly brewed coffee mixes with the sea breezes. The significance of this weekly meeting is not so much about the coffee as it is about community, about fellowship. In this unthreatening (apart from the hike up from the beach) environment conversation flows and ebbs. New friends are made and new knowledge is gleaned through the diversity of people that assemble there. Or it could be the comfortable companionship of the handful of residents. Sometimes the talk is serious, at other times amusing and maybe even a little heated in discussion as different views are expounded. Somehow for me this is community in its truest sense. A group of people getting together for no reason other than to interact with other people and being genuinely accepting of all the members no matter the differences between them and then being interested in all they have to contribute. More and more on this journey that I am undertaking in this almost remote part of the globe I am seeing how wonderful community is and the important lessons that can be learnt in an environment such as the one in which I find myself. Whilst everyone is aware of other’s weaknesses and failings, they are accepted because there is acknowledgement that each of us is imperfect. On the flip side there is recognition of strengths and talents, and each person here contributes willingly to the common good because this is us and we are what we have. Or as my friend Jane quipped when passing this theory by her: “You mean it’s because you think we’re all a little nutty!” No matter, each of us chooses which path we will take to go to coffee on Sunday mornings knowing it is not the route we take it is what lies at the end of the route that matters. It makes me remember that God uniquely made each one of us so that together we could make an extraordinary whole.
One of the eternal arguments here at the beach revolves around how many bats are co-residents in each home. All the houses in this part of the world are made of wood and have thatch roofs. They are quaint and gorgeous – I call mine the “The Gingerbread House” – and I love the comfy feel of being housed in natural materials, I love that it is not even because the walls have to follow the dictates of the poles and the wood. There is one drawback, however, one blot on perfection. These houses are perfect batboxes. One gets used to the constant rustling and shuffling that goes on in the walls – even the trills that ring out imam like on a regularly basis, and loath as I am to admit it, one even becomes inured to the odour. Well, maybe not totally. Afternoons are particularly difficult at this time of the year as the main focus of the sun is on the west wall, and as it heats up so does the aroma. My first step in the Battle against The Bats was to buy an air freshener. The nearest town is Xai Xai, and while it has grown enormously over the past five years and there is a much wider availability of products, the only air freshener I could find was a determined yellow announcing the soothing aroma of lemon. Donna Alda, my paragon who assists this domestically impaired woman three times a week, grabbed it from me with great glee and delight and flew upstairs to place it in what she felt was the most strategic spot. It works, but somehow the inference is that of disguising the smell of a public toilet. Many plans and schemes have been hatched and executed to rid us of The Bats. Come sunset we all take up vantage points to pinpoint where they are all coming from, where exactly is the hole. The how many comes into play here too, because if the squadron is in single digits, not worth fussing about because the staple diet of these bats is mosquitoes, and given that this is an area where malaria is pandemic this is a good thing. What I cannot understand is how something as flimsy as a mosquito can smell quite so dreadful after passing through the digestive system of a bat. So we go through miles of shadecloth, we hang buckets of water under their escape hatches to drown them, we fill our walls with silicon which sometimes expands so much it makes the walls look uneasily pregnant. My neighbour got a plan for building a batbox off the internet – his bats said “Thanks, but no thanks we are quite happy in this house!” A team of students here for a short visit created a Wimbledon massacre killing 25 of the hapless creatures with their tennis rackets. Our resident batproofer is a cheerful chap called Arlindo. After his last sealing off of any and every apparent nook and cranny he gave us strict injunction to keep watching at sunset to see if he had missed any gaps. Jaime and I duly took guard and for the next couple of nights there was no bat activity of note. Feeling well pleased that we would soon be able to breathe normally again now that the bat numbers were once again manageable, I forgot about the batwatch until a bloodcurdling yell a couple of evenings later had me elevating a substantial distance from the floor. With heart rat-a-tatooing merrily, mouth dry I ventured to the window fully expecting to find Jaime surrounded by a gang of machete wielding hooligans only to find him shaking his fist and yelling invective at the crowd of bats that had swooped out of the wall of my bedroom! I suppose all we can say is Aluta Continua!
I stood in the kitchen surrounded by suitcases, cooler boxes, bags and piles of books and papers. “So this is it’” I thought, “me alone after fifty years of being someone’s something or other.”
Despite the cramp in my diaphragm that had persisted for the hours it took to get here, I had made a few decisions about how I was going to behave in my alone status. It is amazing to me that my mother, who was widowed at the age of 34, insisted on sitting down to a properly cooked lunch at a table that was correctly set with the willow pattern china and family silver every day.
She was quite right I now realise. It is important to set standards even alone in your house. So I had decided on two things: my bed would always be properly made and the dishes would be washed. Now this might not sound like much but for a woman brought up in Africa who since birth had servants to perform these menial functions, this was A Decision. Oh, and I also decided that I would eat properly and not degenerate into snacking and “junk fooding”. Lofty ideals indeed.
The next major decision was that I was going to take the week off. I was not going to get straight into writing, my purported reason for being here and alone, I was going to spend time with the Lord first of all, walk on the beach, read the books I needed to read as research for my novel, and generally chill as my younger son would say.
I had to get used to not being in a hurry, not pushing deadlines that were set by no one but myself, and most of all I had to find a place of peace and acceptance where I can live with myself and with those nearest and dearest to me if the creative genius that is in me is going to be released.
And so for the first time in as long as I could remember, I did not get everything unpacked within an hour of arriving. In fact some bags are still unpacked and it is fine.
I took time to reassure poor Snatch who was still immobilized with shock at her unceremonious removal from the car, and then unpacked what I needed to and thought about some food. I was ravenous having had only a “pao” (Portuguese bread) and some cashew nuts the entire day.
It was great being able to do everything in my own time, at my own pace and not be dictated to by another person’s needs that moved to a different clock to mine.
This journey had really begun…
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