It is as if the rain is simply passing her by, as if she is so old rain has simply forgotten her and given up…read more
I have wandered a long way south. Back to here. Here is a town, a settlement on the coast, the other side of the plastic mountains. The rest of this tiny world hurries through the rain. I have taken respite in the coffee shop. It’s the middle of the day, but the world is grey and dreary. I remember coffee shops when they were bright airy things with art and biscuits. This is not like that.
Here the coffee is served in tins, mine – an old baked bean can with the top bent over and smoothed so you don’t cut yourself. A fire burns in an old tin drum in the middle of the ‘room’. It exudes warmth but not very far. The roof is old bits of cardboard and probably asbestos, probably killing us as we sit here. You can hear the rain smattering on it. It reminds me of my childhood. Where I came from that kind of roof had been common. It wasn’t here.
This place has no walls. Just a small group of tables under a roof. With a counter and someone who keeps the coffee warm. I can’t remember their name because I don’t care. This place has just the essence of coffee. Sometimes it’s better than others. It’s mined from the dregs of old coffee pods and half used jars and tins, probably somewhere east, past the plastic mountains. It’s cut with something, probably dirt. The grit gets in your teeth. The coffee isn’t pure. There is no sugar. No milk. No happy smiling barista by a machine. This is brewed in cold water, stirred with a spoon and heated afterwards in a fire. It is the semblance of coffee. The most it does is keeps my hands warm. Somewhere tucked away in my pocket, is the device, hidden. It has taken me a long time to get here. I have done two seasons in the north. I feel sure whatever my task has been it is long since forgotten by those who sent me.
My body aches with the cold and the fire doesn’t seem to ever warm it no matter how close I hover. I have friends here that I stay with, but friends are only ever the price you can pay for them. I can’t pay much. I paid much more the first time I came here, looking for my daughter. One of my ‘friends’ works out on the plastic mountains all day, making enough to survive. The other is ill, the ‘belly’ I think-but I can’t say it to her.
So it’s raining hard and I have taken shelter here in the coffee ‘shop’. The muddy floor is the same inside and out. Just dirt with flecks of plastic in it. The plastic is everywhere. It is inescapable. I perch with my elbows on a high table and watch everyone hurry by. I am in no hurry, I am looking for passage across the Med, back to the African continent. It’s a bit early in the spring for it. The tides are still wild and high. Half this town it seems has been under water last week and probably will be again this week. No one has enough left to care about. They just get on with it. They could live the other side of the plastic mountains but that has its own dangers. They’d rather clear out the water each week and start again in an endless cycle in winter. In summer it is perpetually dry, endlessly dry and the heat captures the plastic mountains in the sunshine. All that beautiful plastic glimmering in the distance, ever present, slowly killing us and everything else with it.
This place is dull and grey now, like London was sometimes but without the muddy, rich hues of deepest winter that I love and remember. Everyone here is dirty. The water is for drinking and not cleaning. People smell and that is simply eternal. We all smell and after awhile none of us smell. It is an assault on the senses to a newcomer. The water carries disease but worse it carries minute particles of plastic. It needed to be filtered to be used. We all have filters. Wash in it and you could find yourself covered with a fine film of plastic that you can’t see. From there you risk it getting into your food. Wash too often and you have plastic belly- the ‘belly’ from ingesting it.
There is no way around it. Plastic belly is not a nice way to die and I pity all the species we have killed that way. A large protruding bulge where the plastic is accumulating and you can’t digest it or get rid of it, there is simply too much, it clogs everything and you pass slowly and painfully from this world. It is of our own making of course.
There are so many things that don’t exist in this world anymore. On a day like today I think of umbrellas, of how they were banned at some point, on account of the regularity with which they pitched up on sea shores, thousands of miles from where they began. Some, a few, have coats, but not water proof ones, those are long gone. Some kind of chemical on them, it leeched into the water. It wasn’t good so they stopped making them. I can’t remember when. We have gotten used to wetness, to the delights of rain. People cover their heads or are drenched. Mostly the latter because it is a chance to be cleaner, without thinking of the consequences. Water from the sky has less plastic than any other kind of water. There are two kinds of water here now, plastic and non-plastic.
I watch as the world races past in the rain. I am absorbed in the nothingness that seems to occupy my brain these days. A total lack of direction, of motivation. And then I see her. She stands out. She has a coat. It is- her coat is bright blue. She is old. Even from here I can see she is old. Old is rare here, no one lives very long anymore. Her hair is short and neat. But what strikes me, what calls me to my senses, is –she isn’t wet. She is walking along and it isn’t raining on her. It rains around her as if she holds an umbrella none of us can see. I look around to see if anyone else has noticed her. No one seems to. They are all in a hurry, bedraggled but with more purpose than me.
She walks quietly. Softly, unobtrusively she moves from one side of my field of vision to the other. Relentlessly dry. Her grey hair sits untouched on her neck. Her shoes are bright and clean as if the mud is afraid to stick to them. It is as if the rain is simply passing her by, as if she is so old rain has simply forgotten her and given up. As if she is invisible to the rain.
I slug down my coffee and go out after her. I follow her. I watch as she walks on and on. Still she doesn’t get wet. Her coat is dry. Mine is drenched. I am walking behind her now, almost on her heels. She doesn’t notice. I can see her really closely. She IS dry. It is not raining on her. It’s like she is the past walking in front of me. I grab her elbow. The kind of thing that if it had been me I’d have turned around and plunged a knife in. She doesn’t. She turns towards me. Effortlessly. Artlessly- as if she’s come really here from a different age. Her eyes meet mine. The ghostly grey of hers meet the brightness, the confusion of mine. She smiles and there are a thousand wrinkles, a thousand lifetimes in that.
I speak, ‘You aren’t wet. Its raining and you aren’t wet?’
She smiles more widely. She reaches down to move my hand from her arm. I look around. I am not even certain anyone else can see her.
She simply answers, ‘You are alive, but not living.’ She brushes me away and is gone. I try to follow but she loses me in the crowd. I stand there, drenched, alert.
I look around me at everyone hurrying past. It was as if the past had stood in front of me. But I look around me and I am still here. The plastic mountains off in the distance, the murky grey monoliths to humanities vanity. My clothes are not tailored, my hair unkempt. My shoes lodged in the mud. The past is not here. I say it out loud. ‘The past is not here’. I look up and away. A man brushes past me. I am not sure, maybe he was trying to steal something. I focus. I must get passage across the Med, I must finish this so I can go on. I am alive but not living