16 August 2013, Car bomb, 16 killed
Slim and strong, she walks with an exaggerated caution as if trying not to sound a creaking floor. She has lived alone for many years, separate from a husband who she has lost track of, a shiftless father, a selfish man, drifting finally far enough away to be discounted. When her children were young she carried them close to her in mitigation for her own insecurity, caused by the frailty of her marriage. But once the husband’s absence was a certainty she grew in confidence and switched tack, taught her children implacable independence, nurtured in them the ability to nurture themselves.
She has one lingering fear, breast cancer, examining her small breasts nightly, searching for the small, hard mark of betrayal.
A pale young man, lacking the confidence to be ambitious but with the imagination to invent dreams of his success. He has worked hard and carefully, has gained some ground. Internally his dreams of success bubble and grow, move like lava. Externally a solid wall of quiet revolved slowly around him, shielding his dreams from the cooling air of reality.
Her clothes are too large, comfy, her small body nests within the disparate selection of gathered items. Patterns never meant to be formally introduced jumble uneasily in each other’s company.
I am old, she thinks, with a sense of wonder rather than regret. All of her life her thoughts have been dusted with this wonder at being here at all, head in space, feet on the ground.
He loves a girl, she loves him in return. He wants to marry her, to carry her across rivers and build walls to protect her. He wants the world to end if he can’t share it with her. And though she feels the same (she wants to build protecting walls around him, protect him from wolves) he can’t cross the turbulent river of his own doubt and ask her.
He is young, nineteen years old. In the dark of evening he sits on a wall in front of his house, a pale spill of light borrowed from a window, falls weakly on his back. He looks down at his night-shadow, tries to coach himself in the courage he needs to ask for her hand.
In the evening when the sunlight scoops long shadows he steps out of his neat house, picks up a large galvanized watering can and tends to his plants – all exaggerated, elaborate flowers of highly bred cultivars. He talks to his wife through the door as she either prepares or clears a meal, or sits at the kitchen table with lists and bills. He tells her how the plants are doing in some laborious detail; she appears bored or indifferent but cherishes this time, and the knowledge that he wants her to be part of the things he loves.
Nobly kneed, skinny legged, when not racing his posture is tensed as though for entering cold sea, fingers star-fished at his side, the two small knots of his shoulders raised. A slight boy constantly agitated by anticipation and excitement. He exhausts himself and his mother every day. Every night he sleepwalks to the verge of her bed and they lie side by side in deep slumber until he wakes them with the dawn, a sudden burst of energy at odds with the slowly waking day.
She walks with a stick, one heavy leg full, swollen with ancient disease. When she stops to rest or chat she leans, one hand on the stick, the fingers of her other hand resting lightly on top as if to steady the load.
On her grandchildren’s visits, they squeeze oranges for juice, then gleefully spin the empty peel bowls on the table top. The game is that if one falls to the floor she makes a stagy labour of trying and failing to pick it up, with much huffing and blowing until the grandchildren pretend to notice her difficulty and dive down ‘just in time’ to be the one to save her efforts.
She drives a car that is as untidy on the inside as it is battered on the outside. She carries a bag that even she regrets having to search too deeply. She is busy, devoted, capable and harried, retreating from a hectic life to bed linen of the highest quality and obsessive care; dense cotton, a pristine, ironed surface, soft and smooth as a petal.
His world is too small, his resources too meagre, his courage low and pragmatism high. His female self exists only in his imagination and in the lingering touch of his hand passing over certain fabrics.
Once, this girl collected fallen leaves and arranged them chromatically, a blended snake, a necklace for her neighborhood, each leaf held in its infinitesimal colour ranking by a small stone. She ranks colours, counts chimney pots, cups flowers in her two hands, journeys into the miniature world of pollen brigades and the taut, pale towers of stamens.
He sits outside his house on a stout chair, legs open as if guarding a large box with the bracket of his knees. He is a man of sixty-seven, he has a loud voice and startled eyes in a sack-cloth face. He booms exhortations of a playful nature at passing children, terrifying the living daylights out of them. He is a great player of games, especially cribbage and rummy. He thinks that nothing invented by man will rival the beauty of the steam locomotives, seeing an engine whose valiant power is expressed in every aspect of its design.
He moves in curves, fluid but slightly ungainly as if made of animated pipe cleaners. His clothes, in snuggly fitting his narrow torso, are always too short for his long arms and legs. He has long, dark eyelashes, a nice smile. He is funny, a teller of tales, the pilot light for his friends merrymaking. He rides a large bicycle, a strip of brown back always showing as he bends forwards over the handle bars, a trailing shoelace flirting dangerously with the chain.
She is compact, solid, long wavy hair streaming behind her ferocious directions. She yells, she punches, tougher than all the boys. Her uncle has a bruise from when she ran to him, grabbed him round the knees in a joyful fighting hug of greeting and let fly a right hook to the outside of his thigh. He laughed to cover how much it hurt.
She tries to fill a space with action and movement, ricocheting noise into the gaps that her motion cannot fill. She doesn’t yet read or write very well but can climb trees like a leopard. The only time she is quiet is when she is in a glowering sulk, sitting on an unreachable branch of a tree.
He was a beautiful boy who became a chubby, ill-defined man, his features and his habits pettish. He is vain, fusses over his plain wardrobe and high-street style, dabbing at himself.
He takes two weeks off work every year to visit and care for his parents and an aunt who lives near them, filling his clean, unremarkable beige car with two beige suitcases of pressed clothes and a number of gifts – replacements, items of use and value to his older relatives. He feels a sense of cheerful purpose and of satisfaction in this care, glad to return that which was given to him so abundantly as a beloved boy. He replaces panes of glass, changes plugs, buys ornamental shrubs, planting them inexpertly, sweeps yards and re-ties boiler lagging. In the evening he plays backgammon with his mother.
She is a middle-aged woman, her face has deep lines, a square determined jaw and a bulwark forehead. Her voice rasps, sent deep into her chest by years of smoking. She wears bright colours, conscious of her age but not forsaking the gaiety of her youth. Her hair is short and dyed a brutal brown.
She was a dancer in clubs and shows for a few flamingo years, her bright personality and beautiful movement at home in the glamour of after-show parties and night clubs. On falling pregnant at the thin end of a relationship she gave it up for babies and the minimum wage. The relationship thickened into a durable, unromantic marriage, life ticked over happily enough. She is still a wonderful dancer, surprising people, abandoned and thrilling to watch, when the rare occasion arises.
A boy of twelve learning by rote the disdainful swagger of his older peers. He wears a baseball cap, practices not saying hello, shoves a hand into his front jeans pocket if asked to help with meals at home and will only do it with one hand and a look of boredom that would be dismay if it could be bothered. His mother feels smiling tenderness for her son, wisely expressing it only to his back.
He affects disdain for his younger brother but cannot keep it up, reverting gratefully to well worn strategies of play, carefree in a back garden happily not overseen, he feels, by the mysterious arbiters of cool that draw him in so successfully when away from his home.