close to the bottom

We agree to arrange a meeting. One evening this week, I say, adding, Perhaps. Yes, he says, One evening this week. Tomorrow, he adds, forcefully. And tomorrow comes, but he does not. He comes the following day, at dusk, and I offer Coke but he asks for beer. I provide the money, saying, Don’t make it too strong, please. And when he returns he has bought the strongest beer they sell. Several bottles. And our conversation begins. This is a man who belongs to the firm. He is part of them, very much. In fact, he is a leading member. He is, in fact, a leader. A recruiter. He talks about his fellow members as ‘one of my xxxx’ and ‘one of my best xxxxx’. And he smiles. Leans forward. And stares, with occasional blinks, over the upper rim of his spectacles. His speech is slow and considered. He licks his lips regularly between words. Halts mid-sentence. Stops. Breaths. Thinks. Returns to the start of the sentence and says something completely different. He says he wants to change groups. Switch sides. From This firm, to That one. The one he wants to join is smaller. Not as rich. Not as organised. But it has other advantages, he says. It has justice and principle on its side. He says he is switching to make more in order to live a little better. He says they pay better. We both know that’s not true, but neither of us say so. Instead, we talk about the improved conditions and salary, as if it were fact, and after an hour of more talking I start to believe what I have said, and become confused. We continue talking. We talk about the problems of switching just before the grand meeting is due to take place, when the citizens will decide which firm they want to take control of the company. He is sure that the new firm – the smaller, less rich firm, the one he says has the greater weight of principles although he also knows that is not true, and knows that I also know that it is not ture – will soon be chosen by the members to lead the company into the new era. This is not true. But because we are both nodding and saying it could be true, he is saying that it would be better if he began working for a different firm. For that new firm. Except that he does not know the names of the firm’s director, nor it’s deputy, or deputy vice. He asks me if I know those names so that he can be assisted in the switch. I say I do not. And I can’t remember now if I do or if I do not. I tell him I think he is brave. He asks me why. I tell him he knows why I am saying that. And I smile. Beneath his top, his outer clothing, a soft material made from natural fibres, I notice a small rectangular shape. Like a box, perhaps a box of cigarettes, but slimmer and slightly longer. Not as thin as an iPod though. It sits on his stomach. I think of pace-makers and boxes of blood. And tape recorders. I wonder what the rectangular shape is doing. It appears to be attached to a piece of string. After several bottles of strong beer, he leaves to relieve himself. When he returns the box on the string is no longer behind the natural fibre material. It is now lying, openly, on his stomach, lying on top of the top. It has become smaller. It is now a small card inside a plastic sleeve. It is much slimmer than an iPod now, and half the size of a cigarette box. I chuckle at myself for letting myself imagine silly things. He asks me if I won’t stay longer. He wants to show me special things. He estimates my age. He says I am much younger in his opinion than I really am. He really is much younger than I am. He is not saying what he really thinks. He says he cannot see white hair. He says he cannot see lines around the eyes. He says he wants to fight. He says he believes in the truth. He says he wants to make a contribution towards the improvement of the company. He says the only way this can be done is by joining the other firm. He says he knows that I can advise him well to help him take the right decision. I say I know that I cannot. I say I am surprised. He asks me why. I say I am surprised that someone working for This firm would want to work for That firm. He starts to speak slowly and carefully to try to explain his motives. His motives are not the same now as when we began to talk. His motives are to do with justice now. Not to do with money. Before his motive was money. His motive was having enough money for his family. Now it is justice. Justice and wealth, I say, are not good partners. He says he knows that. Of course, he says. And then he asks me what I mean. I tell him that there are good people in the firm who are very rich. I tell him that wealth can also mean you are a good person. I tell him many other things that I do not really believe. But we both nod in agreement. He says that he thinks it is good to be poor. He says that poverty is good for the soul. We both nod in agreement. Like puppies in the back window of a car that hold a box of white tissues in their backs. Our heads roll up and down. We nod in agreement. Soon I nod in sleep. I nod. And nod. And I encourage him to go home to sleep too. We agree to meet the following day. We agree, at the very least, to talk by the telephone. The next day comes. I do not call him. He does not call me. But I meet a man with sweat running from his brow who offers me advice to help me surive a long time. He wipes his brow with a wet blue handkerchief and shakes my hand. He tells me who I have had dinner with. He tells me who I have met with. He tells me, Politics is not good.


far away

I wonder where I am. A rare moment and I found myself looking through the blogs in the right hand column here. I looked at Tim Etchells’ notebook and then I looked at infinite thought. So much input out there. Before I came away, I was dependent like an addict on some of these blogs. They kept me alive, I felt, in a kind of way. Or they helped to provide an input I needed. And I think I still need. Reading infinite thought today, I realised that something had been missing in my head. I have been so far from all the thinking that goes on out there. So much thinking. Too much thinking, maybe, that I had forgotten how to think and how to let myself respond to what is there all around. Much more doing here. Much more watching. Much more listening. Less thinking. We live in very different worlds (I think). Globalisation, yes. But the worlds are very different. And from here, the world in which I normally live seems so incredibly far away, and in some ways, so very self-obsessed.

Someone told me today, in trying to help me understand what he believes is the difference between the European and the African, ‘The African is an idealist, the European is a materialist.’ A simplification too far, no doubt, for some, but with some raw truth in it nonetheless.

I met a lady the other day who asked me about my children. When I admitted to having none, at the age of forty, she simply said one word. Egoista! Just like that. Selfish woman! It´s hard to argue with that judgement, even though her snap judgement was a bit too quick for my liking. It seems to cut to the core of different ways of being.

In truth, I’ve been thinking much more about mermaids than children. I’m more interested in mermaids, and luckily there are many people here who like talking about mermaids, and who have seen mermaids, and whose grandparents have seen mermaids. There are less mermaids now, I’m told, because people have taken to having sex on the beaches. The mermaids don’t like that. Mermaids. Mermaids. Many mermaids. And mermaids also do not like women. And they are usually white. Might I be mistaken for a mermaid?

Thinking about cranes. Thinking about cranes and religion, spurred on by infinite thought. And how to say what I mean without saying anything at all. That is an art which has been perfected in some places, but certainly not in the place where I come from. It is an art I have failed to understand, or to learn, and one which I am always witnessing. It is an art. A real art. A real skill. Which takes years of practice.