A Tale of Two Piers
2nd April 2002.
My morning musing passed with three catalysts on my desk -- the local magazine on my left, a little piece of paper on my right and in between the steam from my teacup. I have read the two words scribbled on the paper few times over. Those two items I had started my shopping-list with the night before. With hope of adding a few more this morning, I had left it on my desk. Nothing came to mind that would be of any urgency, seems my effort to add new items had been merely to maintain the routine of shopping every Saturday.
Most convenient shops are at the town of Nowe Warpno; ten miles from my door. Apart from my weekly shopping, there is never a need to leave the area. So only on Saturdays the car goes for a drive with me, the rest of the week primarily her task is to sit on the driveway with her 1830kg of weight. She has been a faithful company for many years. A 1971 release W109 with a 6.3 litre V8 motor, 55,000 miles on her wheels and all the grace Mercedes-Benz has ever offered. She was built to cruise as gracefully as she was to sit on driveways for adornment.
The second-half of my musing was mostly surrounding this incomplete shopping list. My thumb constantly rubbing its edge, while I gave it more than due consideration. With a final rub I brushed it aside and left my desk. Without a substantial shopping list, my exoneration of this week's trip has evanesced. Another thought that prolonged this over-consideration, is how fond I have become of this drive to the town. When I first moved into this area, this very drive had been the painful chore of my week. Today, without it, my Saturday is undone.
The road itself has been always well maintained. Its picturesque qualities would be incomparable; -- that is if you manage to be on it on the rare occasions when the fog is not engulfing it. For the regular heavy fog, your eyes and memory are strained to their limits; both equally to do the navigation. With sharp bends and twists and turns, the road gets more attention than what sceneries one might seek. Not until the third year, did I manage to enjoy this long and winding road through the hills….. fog or no fog.
My Saturday trips are not just a matter of being out for the change. There is this affair between a man and his car. And to crown the event -- some music. The choice of music is most often limited to Gunter Noris, Klaus Wunderlich, Mantovani and James Last. A secluded whimsical self-indulgence for an old man. Such music I choose, quite incoherent with the local weather, and that very deliberately so. Music and sceneries can always be both appreciated anywhere, but on this road, it is the driving that puts some barriers when you wish to be consumed by music.
Even after so many years, the road is not to be taken lightly. Often when I showed any laxity, I have tried rather audacious coalescing, and played the likes of March Slav. The blood-boiling reaches overwhelming limits for my old veins, driving on that road does not allow such truculent exhilaration. For some reason, my old veins yearn for it every now and then. What stimulation and craving seduces me with what frisson, shall remain forever silenced between a man, his car and the long and winding road.
The first time I drove alone on that road, feelings were different. In the misty, murky visibility of an unfamiliar land, human mind can go through all dubious imaginations if we let it wander. If we wish, we may add a bit of music of our own. Life would be too boring without such follies.
Hence on my first trip on that road, appeared the vision of a ghostly figure. His lavish 18th century clothing hidden beneath his black cloak, and most of his long hair beneath his black hat. He is sitting at the front edge of a boat His body turned towards wherever the boat was heading, but his head bent down staring at his lap. The boat is moving at the rhythm of the slow, lengthy, stolid oar-strokes. The fog is too heavy to see any more than the outlines of shapes and figures. But from what I could see, I was certain, he was the only one on that boat.
At first observation, it seems to be an eerie vision considering the scene, but not quite so if you make his staring the focal point, and possible emotions there to be the key turning-point for all renditions. It could be simply discerned if one would wish so, but more amusing if we leave some gateways open to invite more enigmas. Also allowing more variegated portraying of all other details in the scene. The expansion of the renditions depend on these gateways. Not only how and where they are planted, also how many, and how those all together would coincide or contradict, and what effect together would have on the final layout. It is like one circle, having many smaller circles in it, all having different designs on them and all in different speed or movement. All together the commingled projection is the vision, but any one or group of circles never the lesser considerable. And more elasticity in their individual renditions, if to enrich adjacent circles and finally the bigger circle, .. the more amusing the vision.
He could be staring at a red rose laying on his black gloves, could be looking at a shiny blade through his eye-mask, he could be staring without a focus while he rubbed his hands together, or he could have his eyes closed with his fists clenched together. Any set of emotions or mixed emotions, except nonchalance.
The music I had added, (strangely) was almost a very slow third movement of Gran Partita. Certainly without any "obvious" joviality. In my music, I had used two oboes, two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons. The oboes and clarinets would basically remain with same notes, only a tad more of melancholy in their intertwining romancing. And the bassoons would be at a very low pitch as if diplomatically pouncing upon the horns. Their vibe interaction is not to hinder the musical coherence, but to add some more cream. The lower pitched instruments are adding an oblique hesitation in the flow of the music, yet eventually all to remain compliant. Certainly not suitable for a wedding (I hope).
Is it possible, we all have our own capturing of colours, shapes or shades? A tall man literally looks differently than a young child does. The body metabolism differs, as a consequence, some difference must remain between one's green and another's. One's B flat and another's, while both might be referring to the same on an instrument.
Hunger, the common feeling is not quite the same for all at the hungers' fringes -- as evident in the little difference within the choices of food they are assuaged with.
Maybe, that is how we live in the same world while compassing it from different points. Or maybe, we share some points while living in our different worlds. And along the way, some points seem more commonly acknowledged; some of them become the norms, and some of the norms become the piers. Most often we navigate our lives by the co-ordinates set by the norms and piers.
Should ever mankind resort to piers only, we might find ourselves at extreme distant piers and everything between shall be blinded by our own inconsiderate abrasiveness. To venture into possible consolidating neutrality, there is the risk of being abandoned or do the abandoning by oneself.
Through the years my feelings towards that road have gone through many changes, but boredom was never a part of it. Today without my scheduled trip to the town, I decided to keep myself busy with the pending tasks at home. My car deserved her monthly grooming and the fence could do with a new coat of painting. I have kept my car just as it looked the day it was produced. Very much against adding anything to it, not even a little ornamentation. There, you might call me a naturalist. I never use any polish or chemicals other than simple car-shampoo. And to preserve its shine, I use hot steaming towels to dry it after the washing; and minimize exposure to harsh sunlight as much as possible. This is a very serious romance!
As I left my room walking towards the garage, the sight of a hat on the dining table informed I was not the only one with an abandoned routine. My wife would not leave without it for her morning strolls. All possible questions answered when she walked in with her breakfast on a plate, of course on a tray. In our twenty-five years of marriage, I have never seen her eat a sandwich without a plate, or even chips directly from a packet; all had to be on the plate to be food. Speaking of norms and piers, I have given up breakfast for nearly three decades; mostly my morning well spent on tea or "café-de-sham".
She rushed back to the kitchen leaving her plate, taking her tray and returned with two cups and the teapot, of course on the tray. The previous occasion we were together at this table was last Christmas when her children were here for their holidays. She read my thoughts, and produced a big smile. Perhaps my day would not be so dull after all.
After our breakfast and tea, we sat on the veranda. She gave me all the details of conspiracy that usually keeps the local council lively. She has had her taste of the Chairperson's position, and I doubt she could be forced to be on it again. Yet she never misses any opportunity to get involved. All their encrypted conversations and diplomacy obscuring all the lethal minds, she adapts well to. I never dreamt of being in a position, but had once in my early thirties tried to socialize more to understand better why the lethality cannot be avoided.
I think it was a very necessary lesson and everyone should have a taste of it once at least in a lifetime. Little did I try to express myself, it came out more in the form of vociferous, candid hypocrisy. The prevalent etiquette, is mostly a guideline to assist in giving oneself a position to speak. But if one is not interested in a position, words and deeds are bound to be mis-interpreted. Being misunderstood, due to a pre-concept held by others, could lead one to be only more vociferous. My foolishness was not that I had tried to make a point, or how I tried, or my negligence towards etiquette. My foolishness was to believe, they might have had any intention apart from their own "position", official designation or otherwise. It would not be difficult to customize oneself to be a part of such a community. But how they manage to live like that day after day, and what taste they have in such a life, and with what self-vindication they beautify such quest to oneself, has always baffled me. I can imagine, a foreman of an engine-room beneath a well run ship, believes he is what makes the world go round.
My first few years in this area, I accompanied her regularly to all her activities, only to realize, how different we always have been. And gradually we have drifted further apart with our different interests. One might ask, why we still live in the same house. I think, despite all our differences we are still the most peaceful house in our area. And more importantly, neither of us could afford a move now.
The veranda is actually at the rear of the house. A small backyard slopes down to the lake. The lake is the reason why I chose this house. My wife had always wanted to live near the beach, but luck was on my side, we could not afford any such attractive location.
This lake is as blue as the sky above. There is hardly ever any wind, there is most often the pleasant breeze. Not a boring still picture. The breeze stimulates little tiny waves, but all are in simplistic similitude in shape and movement. There is motion without commotion. The waves do not splash on my backyard, they rather osculate. You hear the lake speak only if you pay attention, the lake does not talk, it whispers. In the sunshine the lake's fluorescent color does not shine, it glows. It has life, but never vibrant. It is calm but not solemn. It has harmony without regimentation. It has grace without exuberance. It has beauty and character, yet it never imposes and always modest.
This lake is everything I wanted to live by.
I could sit and stare at this lake and would never have enough of it. The forest on the other side looks no more than a green line across a blue wall - where the lake and the sky meet. Only once I had been close to the other side with my boat, the trees are no lesser than hundred feet tall. As the thought passed my mind, I remembered my little boat. I asked my wife, if she would care for a ride; she produced another big smile. We have not really done anything together for a long time.
My little boat has eight thwarts, each about a foot apart. Just like old times, my wife sat on the sixth. I always sat on the second. I had to do so, for the rowlocks were just above the third. First time we both sat near the rowlocks to be close to each other, the boat seemed unbalanced. Keeping the oars within reach, only other way we could sit together, was if we both sat near the middle, but that had us turn our backs to each other. The boat is not wide enough for two to sit on the same thwart. Finally this position of second and sixth, proved to be the most favorable after a few experiments.
Blue sky, blue lake, a clear day in mild sunshine and breeze. If a lady should accompany you on your boat, consider paradise not so far away. She in her long floral dress and her floral hat. Her smile has now spread all over her face. She is the only redhead I know who dyes her hair dark brown, maybe her hair is graying after all these years. Or maybe, to bring some coherence in our picture together. I am reaching my retirement age soon. She is senior to me by nine years, and still an attractive woman by our old-fashioned definitions.
This is a particular scene I have always admired. A lady in her decent casual summer clothing sitting on a boat with her one hand holding onto her hat from slipping off, and the other gently touching the water. All being reflected again on the water surface. If the water is still enough, and her hand is gentle enough to invite the reflection, the two worlds commingle together forgetting all borderlines. To put my wife on that scene, as she appears now and has been so many times before, she would be a perfect candidate. Unfortunately, I always had to imagine that picture, for I was always on the second thwart.
She was now in her most pleasant mood. Another big smile on her lips; she knew I had noticed the glitter in her eyes. She gently took her hat off and placed it on her lap. Her body now leaning back, eyes closed and she raised her face towards the sun right above our heads.
Nothing could replace, what is simply beautiful. This is where I wanted to live my life, unfortunately time passes fast in such a state of mind. When I looked around, I realized we had just about reached the centre of the lake. Thought of asking my wife if she would prefer to spend the afternoon at the Rowers' Club, or should we return home; both being about the same distance now. I do not think she would answer any question now, and I would not have the heart to ask any now. Most of our neighbors do their shopping on Saturdays. We were the only souls on the lake from what I could see anywhere. I decided to join her, drowning myself in the simplest charming ambiance she was bathing in. I stopped rowing, imitating her I leaned back closing my eyes, lifting my face towards the sun.
Feel the sun even with eyes closed, breeze all over our bodies. Now, I can clearly hear the lake whispering. I can hear some birds far away that I could not possibly see if I had my eyes open. The longer I kept my eyes closed, the stronger my instincts grew. Now I could feel every tiny wave that touched my little boat. I could feel my wife's presence more and more, her hair being brushed by the breeze, I could feel her every breath -- long or short, I could feel her lips have pushed her cheeks a bit further apart, a smile she is not aware of herself. I could feel her whole body.
This is a serious romance!!
Not sure how long we stayed like this, I wish it would last forever. I wish the world would stop at once. I wish I had the courage to lift the oars to release them from the rowlocks and slip them both off my hands. This is where I wanted to be.
My hands gripped on both oars firmly, to assure myself they were not moving an inch. Many minutes passed. If only I could remain so carefree....
But, I knew it would end. I knew, in a few minutes I would have to choose between the Rowers' Club and my backyard. I tightened my eyelids, trying to linger this moment, trying to bring a vision to avoid any thought leading to the reality.
Usually I am very much in control of my visions. I do the sketching myself. I choose how much unpleasant any scene would get. But at this very moment, I had a fear of something in my vision. A desire has always trickled in upon reaching the centre of the lake, to remain here for as long as I could. Where I was right now in reality, could hardly be improved, and no vision would better it. I think it is the fear of this moment ending, that would bring the unwanted elements in my vision. But for some reason, today the urge to remain here is stronger. It is not a yearning alone, there is something else, something that is almost a terror. What could cause a new fear, I failed to see. That started a complex dilemma, perhaps in my vision, my mind would fail to battle against the temptation of getting into a cerebral analysis of this unknown terror. Which would only strengthen my desire to stay longer. I let my mind loose, allowing it to wander freely, knowing it might reach for the reality and the scene might become something I would regret.
Heavy fog again, a large lake ahead of me, this is not my lake. It is hundred times larger than mine. On its nearest edge my little eight-thwarted boat tied to a pole. Just ten paces in front, two figures facing the lake, they stand side by side but staring at different directions. My boat was placed towards their left. I knew the significance. The figure on the left, supposedly supporting my stand here in the scene. I knew what roles both figures would play, but was unsure whom I had brought to play the roles.
I walked slowly placing myself next to the figure on the left, perhaps seeking some moral support when I entered the scene. I could see both faces now. I congratulated myself on my choice. I knew both faces, but could not quite put any name to either. Both at their late age. I am old myself, but these two ladies were nearing their hundred, if not more.
The figure nearer to me was of light-build. Her garments made me congratulate myself again. The lady on the right with equally admirable taste, appeared the senior in age, more lavishly garmented, some jewellery and a stature, perhaps the reason I had chosen to stand furthest from her. Both faces produced similar smiles. Both very motherly faces, and perfectly matching smiles. One would find no reason to be uncomfortable next to either. At a different place, different scene, I would have no difficulty changing sides. There was no sign of any guile in either -- whatever they stood for, they did with utmost pellucidity. I sighed in relief.
Hesitated a moment before proceeding towards my boat, unsure how they would react. After my first step, when I looked back, their smiles remained just as pleasant, and then both returned to their first posture looking at different directions, the smile never changed. The lady on the left appears to be looking at something across the lake. Myself, my boat and her stare on the same line. When I reached the boat, I could see now what she was looking at.
There was a lighthouse flickering on the other side. Not too far from it, on the other side, a second lighthouse. Which was the one being stared at by the other lady. All mysteries solved. I started rowing. Despite the fog, the flickering lighthouses did enough to row around comfortably. Many minutes passed before I had a better view of the lighthouses, the one on the left being much closer as I had nominated to be my destination.
When I reached the middle of the lake, suddenly, the light went off. It was not only the left lighthouse, both went off almost at the same time. I was left stranded in the fog, no chance of seeing any land at all. I gripped my oars firmly, unsure if I should row harder towards either lighthouse depending on my instincts, or row back to the ladies. The fog seems much heavier now without the lights. I doubted very much, I could find my way back. Not a scene I wanted my thoughts to sketch.
Few minutes passed, and there was light again. Not from the lighthouses I had seen before. These are much stronger, these are white beams of light bright as daylight. Judging by their source, they could not be from two lighthouses, possibly tens or more. The dazzling beams almost blind your eyes to see anything but the beams themselves; let alone where they came from. And they are not still beams. They moved, as if guiding you to the shore. I was not alone in the middle of the water now, there were many of us. All equally confused, some hysterical in the chaos.
I decided to follow a beam, losing all sense of courtesy bumping into some other boats. I rowed until I could see any land. There were many people, all in a chaotic rush to climb up to the pier not far from me. I could make out the words in the screams and shouts now. The fog is still here, but with the beams moving above, you could see the thousand figures all struggling to find some shelter. I waited for the crowd to grow thinner, drew a deep breath gathering some courage rowing gently towards the pier.
Standing on the pier a tall man, his eyes measuring every part of my body. In his eyes, a hint of suspicion. Someone from behind him, asked if I belonged to this pier. In my hesitation and confusion, I stammered, unsure if I knew any answer, if I should answer or if I should ask a question instead. Just at that moment a light-beam passed over our heads, from the light I could clearly see on the shore a cross about 20 feet tall.
What more I saw, turned me speechless. I have never had such violent and grotesque nightmare before. My fear was gone, it was replaced with a raging fury. On the cross a body hanging on its each side, both crucified. Both bodies I recognized instantly, both the faces still held the motherly auras, but the lips had been carved with the whimpers they had left the earth with. My rage blinded me of all reasoning, I released one of my oars from the lock, lifted and waved it straight at the man as hard as I could. Not sure if it hit him, as the lights nearby went off. Some more voices behind where that man had stood, it was too dark to make out the details. The same voice asked me again the same question, with a harsh tone this time.
Perplexity and senselessness. Whatever I wanted to know is forgotten, whatever they wanted to know, I was not interested. Somewhere deep inside, I regretted my attempt to hit the man, might have killed him. Then the two faces floated through my memory. And again, I lost all control. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, "I am not one of you, and I am not of them". But all I did was swing my oar hard in the darkness again.
My body stiffened in expectation of a return blow. There was none, instead I fell on my boat losing balance for someone had given my boat a vigorous push away from the pier. My boat glided away by itself for a while. No more lights came anywhere near me. Their response was clear now "you are with pier or against pier". I turned my boat and rowed away, hard as I could, until I could row no more with my body paralyzed by aching muscles.
I suspected, I was not far from the centre of the lake now. Far away I could see the beams still running wildly, the screams I heard no more. I am still shaking in rage. The two faces with whimper-carved lips appeared again , and my rage was flooded under a stream of guilt for my cowardly retreat. I gripped my oars harder, they are all I had. Lost and stranded, without any light I wanted to see. This is not a scene I thought my mind was able to sketch. This is what I was afraid of when the vision started. But, what triggered such a vision I could not imagine.
Minutes passed, maybe hours, I had little control on this vision now. A boat came floating close enough for me to see the shape in the fog. On it sitting my ghostly friend alone, as his boat sways on with the slow, lengthy, stolid oar-strokes. His face still staring at his lap. I released the oar on my right hand, stretched my arm towards his boat, if I could only touch it, if only I could invite his world and make the two commingle to end this vision. Anything to get out of this miserable scene. Even if to be only a reflection of him in the same picture. Anything but this. I tried to implant some music, something cheerful, tried everything that would obliterate any trace remaining of the previous scenes.
I am still trying.
22nd June 2002
A pile of magazines on my left, a completed shopping list on my right and my morning musing over the steam from my teacup in the middle. I have piled the magazines to see which I would bother to keep. While browsing over various articles from the older periodicals, I have found the two faces that played the motherly figures on my nightmare. It was the magazine that morning, that had planted the two faces in my mind. Our local magazine is monthly, it was on a page where the two photographs were. Both deceased.
From a certain perspective, the world could be imagined to be polarized by these two icons. There are other ways of seeing the world divided, but perspective of their divide will overlap and cover most. While we learn or choose to position ourselves between all the norms and piers.
One trying to drive the world to a newer, free world but failed to break the syndicate, And the other was herself a rose, innocent, but she was extolled by the very syndicate that protected her like the thorns protect a rose. The Rose is innocent, but those thorns could be blamed for most atrocities of the world my ancestors (and most others) have been suffering from for centuries if not more.
But somewhere, her innocence and the other icon had some good in common, and for that, the little hope we might have had for a peaceful world after some settlement, now at the absence of both has vanished. Now on both sides, it appears, the thorns have just conquered.. no Rose, nor no rose.
I have been trying to erase all traces of that nightmare from my memory. I have failed, the more I read the papers and magazines with my morning musings, the more haunts my nightmare.
Since then, I have not missed my trip to the town. During every drive, I have found my ghostly friend. My musing is always there venturing through the enigmas surrounding him. Few times I have sketched the scene planting nonchalance in his mood, and even at that what I have towards him often, ironically is envy.