Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Yesterday when he was walking along here they were taking a body off a boat and into the building. He knew to look at it that it was dead, that it was probably a drowning. There was something about its silence, a feeling that this was something he had witnessed before, something he already knew. He saw the limp, wet shape, the grey clothing and thought of where it came from, who it was. Then he put it from his mind.

It is a strange spot this; the top of the Westerdoksdijk. Normally he approaches it coming from de Ruijterkade, rounding the bend and moving past the water's edge, crossing the bridge and then caressing the wall under the rail tracks, the old harbours. He likes the sounds of the waterfront in his ears. Sometimes he has his saxophone with him, sometimes not.

It is bleak really. Empty. It has a feeling of having one time been busy, of having been useful, now it looks... just decrepit, forgotten. Yet he likes that, likes the way the mist sometimes creeps in across the open space, the way it comes in off the Ij.

Once he went and sat at the end of one of the rickety old piers when there was a full moon. To his left was a tall, deserted warehouse and in front of him only the lapping of the black water. It was a November night and he did not feel lonely then, did not feel like he did now. Not that he feels all that lonely, only, now it is different.

This morning he steps off the pavement and onto a disused rail siding. As he passes the spot where yesterday they were taking the body from the water he is thinking of the south and feels it pull at him. Through the sunlight of the morning, the warmth of mid-August, it is as if hearing a voice and it is close, whispering into his ear.
Coming over the water, it sings lightly and he is leaning against a balcony next to another balcony and when he looks across there is a woman standing there. She looks at him and her eyes are brown, her hair long and black, on her lips a smile.
He hears a fountain tinkle, a door open and footsteps cross a square. Then the singing is quiet and getting quieter yet blocking out the other sounds, until he feels that it is inside him.

The strands of wild grass sway in the breeze, the voice seems to fill him and for a moment all the other things, the water, the harbour, the rise of a bridge over a quay, the coruscating motion of a train entering the station, are gone. Burnt away as if in a flash. Pushing back the edges of the day like flame eating paper. Like a guitar someone has struck, so that with each vibration, each resonating string he is caught, feels himself swept into another world.

His ears catch the smack of a sudden wave from the waterfront and then he understands it is this day, this moment, and here, standing, he is within it and it runs like a line, twists like an artery through his every action, his every step. Until it is evening and the woman stands beneath a tree on a long avenida, perhaps an olive tree, or any tree, like there are everywhere; trees, night, women.
She is waiting for him, and the straps of her light dress hang loosely from her shoulders, a saffron scarf holding up her hair. And this action is repeated. So that he touches it again. Only the moment passes and then he sees the disused warehouse, the line of the harbour, the blades of grass bending in the breeze and feels that the morning suddenly is smiling at him, that the sun is curling upwards and where he passed the quay of the Water Police is only an empty space, that every body that drowns does so endlessly and with the touch of a woman, the sunlight in her hair, the scent of jasmine from her skin.
Every body that drowns is the body of a sailor, its drowning a return and each return the drift of all moments onwards and onwards.

Looking up, he walks on wishing he had his saxophone with him.

Copyright (C) Peter Millington. August 1998.

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