Friday, May 1, 2009

One always wonders why the sea is not much dirtier than it turns out to be. In the afternoon sun it is very calm. Even the motion of it is quiet, ending by adding to the general sense of stillness. There is a feeling like the one that comes when one rides on the back of a motorcycle, or moves in any open way at a great speed. Thoughts of the past and the present, hopes and fears for the future, all come with the speed of the vehicle, and at the end a man is quite exhausted, having gone again into parts of himself not often visited. The thoughts rising from the sea all have a painful hopelessness, so the man rises himself and goes walking along the edge of the wharf, making for other docks. A harried man comes into sight, balancing himself on a raft of timber logs packed together on the water, calling out the names of timber laborers around him, also standing on floating logs, and marking everything down on a tally sheet pinned to a board in his left hand. He shouts a lot, and in the afternoon sun the veins on his neck glisten with sweat. Farther along, a small ship, looking very old with the red and black paint on it, flying a flag the man has never noticed in this harbor, is being filled with cocoa in brown sacks. The driver of the long truck on which the bags are piled sings a plaintive song, and the sound, coming from such a man, surprises the listener completely. The singer has taken off his shirt, and the back that lies exposed is brown and muscular. Kofi Billy used to love this kind of work. Up on the little ship there is a knot of black bodies waiting to direct the coming load, and now and then faint sounds of many people's laughter come curling over the side from the hold below. In the small rooms above the deck itself two white men in white shirts and white shorts, one of them very short, stand looking downward at all the men below, at all the shouting and the labor below. The man leaves the ship behind and walks out in the direction of the main breakwater swinging out into the ocean. The sound of violent work grow fainter as the wind rises past him, and keeping to the edge where he can see quite far down into the sea, he walks without any hurry, not having to think about time or going back, feeling almost happy in his suspended loneliness, until he comes to a flight of stairs built into the side of the breakwater, leading down into the sea. He leans over and looks at the steps. They descend in a simple line all the way down, dipping into the sea until they are no longer visible from above. The man sits down, and, feeling now a slight pain at the back of his neck, throws back his head. Small clouds, very white, hold themselves, very far away, against a sky that is a pale, weak blue, and when the man looks down again into the sea the water of it looks green and deep. A sea gull, flying low, makes a single hoarse noise that disappears into the afternoon, and the white bird itself flies off in the direction of the harbor and its inaudible noise, beautiful and light on its wings.

--The Beautyful Ones are not yet born, Ayi Kwei Armah (1968)



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