Friday, January 15, 2010

March 30th 2008

My friend Kurt was hosting a braai*. I went along and as the evening became colder and colder I huddled closer to the hot coals, ate more meat, and drank more beer. It was a sunday night and, at about 11pm, I suddenly realised that all the other guests had left. They all had work the next day. Being blissfully unemployed myself I hadn't given a second thought to staying late and getting drunk. Kurt had work the next day too so I thought it best to leave. He saw me out and I slowly, drunkenly, found my way to the bus stop.

Finding my seat on the bus I rifled through my bag to see what might occupy my mind for the journey. Selecting The Guardian Great 20th Century Poets T.S. Eliot booklet I slumped forward into a solipsistic bodily scrunch. The bus terminated at my destination so I had no worry of missing my stop. With dogged focus, then, I willingly dove into the booklet and became utterly engrossed. My poem of choice was The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. It was the first one in the booklet. I read it slowly, mouthing the words and perhaps whispering to myself. Never have I enjoyed a poem so much. I read lines again and again, dwelling on couplets, tasting rhyme, licking and flicking every word with my serpentine tongue. When my understanding failed me I enjoyed the rythmes and the rhymes. Sometimes I grasped Eliot's message (or thought I had) and cast my eyes sideways out of the window to mull it over. What a brilliant poem, what a wholesome meal, a perfect kebab to my drunkeness. Dubious meat and underfried chips didn't come into it. I forgot my cheap urges, Prufrock had me dazed and sated.

I had just finished the poem when, looking up, I saw the giant billboard that announces Elephant and Castle's tired commerciality. Clutching my little poetry pamphlet I tottered down stairs to alight. I had got off the bus at Newington Butts, one stop before the station where it terminates. This suited me well. Looking about me I caught sight of the London Eye Ferris Wheel looming over the skyline to the West. Each pod was brightly lit with purple lights and I considered taking a photo. These thoughts were interrupted by the smell of dog shit. Looking down I noticed I was standing in a large deposit. My photographic ambitions gave up the ghost and, cursing, I wandered over to step in a puddle. Walking to and from a puddle and scraping the sole of my shoe on the curb I managed to remove most of the offending substance. I started my tramp home.

The pooey misfortune that my shoe befell soon made its exit from the theatre of my thoughts and I noticed the poetry that remained in my hand. I opened the booklet and, recapturing some of the thrill of the bus journey, returned to the beginning - to The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. As my legs beat out the necessary rhythmes of travel on the pavement I found I could not read the poem on its own terms. Prufrock was going to have to submit to my beat. Narrowly missing a face-smack collision with a lamp post I glanced ahead for any forthcoming obstacles of like danger. Nothing: the pavement was clear for my ambulatory reading. Almost without volition I started to beatbox, something I often do carelessly while peeing, or walking. As the beats got going, in time with my steps, I leant a keener focus to the poetry. "Let us go then, you and I", came the first line, attempting a female RnB style vocal song that, I thought, was fitting to the area. No doubt it would have sounded awful but, as far as I'm aware, no one heard it. I barely heard it myself. The pavements were deserted but the road was busy and the loud traffic fortuitously drowned me out. I could sing out my fullest lungs, for better or for worse, with social impunity. And I did. The whole poem found a new life blaring from my lips. Interspersed with beatbox, I warbled and whined every last line of Eliot's poem vaguely noticing, at times, the presence of fellow pedestrians; but there were so few and so unobtrusive that I rarely noted them enough to check my extravagances.

My feet had carried me home and I extinguished the noisy fire in my throat. My brother could be asleep, it was midnight and he had work the next day. Still reeling slightly from my self-absorbed extacy, I crept up to my room and undressed. Moments later I found myself curled up in bed and a haphazard sleep overtook me. I felt at once log-heavy and restless. Half-dreaming, half awake, I began to sweat uncomfortably. I needed to urinate too. After some time I heaved my log of a body up and felt my way to the toilet, eyes half closed. As my bladder gradually lost weight I had a premonition. I saw my next act in my minds eye; it would be the final flourish of my wild evening, an act worthy of a poem, a ritual offering to Prufrock and Eliot, and poetry itself. Suddenly wide awake I shook the last lingering liquids from me and scurried upstairs to my room, where the magic was to take place.

For six months I had been collecting copper coins on the window sill outide my bedroom window. There, upon flaking paint and years of caked bird shit, I had cast my coppers whenever they began to burden my wallet with a weight incongruous to their value. Green with oxidation, and grey with London's various grimes, the collection of copper coins were in the slow process of blending into their new shit-caked home. I opened the window and began plucking up the coins from their bed of filth. When I had them all they filled my hand. A ball of coins ready to throw! I leaned out of the window and waited for the perfect moment. There was no one on the pavement as far as I could see in either direction but a few cars were passing. I waited until the cars had disappeared. Heaving a sigh of exertion I threw the coins up as high as I could out into the middle of the road. Spinning through the air they twinkled in the street lamp light and for a moment there was quiet as the coins seemed to stop in thick air. Then a roar as they fell in a wondrous clinking mess. It sounded like a thousand mice beating tiny tin drums in jarring confusion. The vast clinking died down to a single tinkle as all but one coin found rest. I watched this last surviving coin roll a long way from the centre of this central scatter reigon. The fugitive coin rolled on for a few seconds, in perfect parrallel to the pavement, just as a car would drive, following the road. In a moment the last coin gave up and fell.

In quiet awe I surveyed the patternless shapes of the dull glitter I had sprinkled in the street. Biting me out of my awe the cold gave me a shiver and the approaching growl of a car plunged the scene back into movement. I caught a final glance of the coins lying inert beneath the wheels and I ducked back into my room.

In the morning all the coins were gone.

*The South African term for a barbeque. Braai is short for braaivleis (pronounced "bry-flays") which is Afrikaans for "roasted meat".

No comments: