The man sat on his haunches deep in the shadow of the stairwell. The lights in the block of flats had been turned off, and darkness and silence prevailed all around. He had been here for some time, but the Zanzibar night was dark and still and he remained undetected. Occasionally a dog could be heard barking in the distance to be answered by another close by. The town slept. Only the scrawny dogs and rats scurried about in their search for sustenance among the stinking, smouldering rubbish heaps that struggled to burn.
Kassim waited for his moment. All doors were now firmly closed for the night. Except for the dogs and rats, he was alone. He remained squatting for another half-hour, immobile, watching and listening. He knew that the building across the street had an askari who was possibly still awake. On previous evenings when Kassim had checked on him, the watchman had been peacefully snoring under a tree. If anyone were to attempt to steal the vehicles he was supposed to be guarding, they might well get away with it.
Judging the time to be right, Kassim silently ran barefoot across the street. He found the man fast asleep, as expected, and headed round towards the balcony side of the flats. There was little cover, just a dusty grass verge and some straggly trees. Most of the streetlights were long since broken and there was no moonlight. He knew where he was going, even in the dark; he had done his research well. For days he had watched the white woman with the orange hair coming and going. She was staying with the other mzungu, in a first-floor flat — luckily for him. The ground floor would have been preferable, but this, he felt confident, would not present too many problems.
A drainpipe running down the wall beside the balconies made for easy climbing. In a couple of minutes he had pulled himself up making barely a sound. He squatted behind the small balcony wall to hide himself from the street and quieten his breathing. No lights were on inside and all was quiet. He tried the door. It was locked. The louvred windows were partially open, backed by a thin mosquito screen. Grasping the glass he pulled one of the louvres up and the other panes followed suit. Kassim drew the knife from his waistband and tried to prise a piece of glass from its metal frame.
An excerpt from a novel ‘The Tanzanite’
Staring through the window I sit
nursing a mug of tea.
The swish of tyres after recent rain
and the squawks of parakeets
foraging in the flame tree
are background noise to my thoughts.
Thoughts of disbelief.
Thoughts of anger.
Colours mute as the sun descends.
Long shadows fall across the yard.
My phone beeps, more news.
I don’t look.
Enough bad news for one day.
‘Atrocities believed to have happened on Nauru.’
How can a government be so callous,
so lacking in compassion?
I don’t want news.
I want answers.
But I don’t get answers.
All we get are platitudes
It’s almost Sunday here. Saturday morning seems a long way away. It turned into a good one. I live a fortunate life for which I remind myself frequently to be grateful for. I woke very early knowing that I had to get up. Those sensations again, difficult to describe: singing in my ears, a vague far away feeling, confused thoughts. I raise my head then swing my legs off the bed and head for the kitchen. I know I’m shaking and open the fridge. Juice. I need sugar. I don’t bother with a glass and drink straight from the bottle. Then I check to see how bad.
The small bead of blood forms on my finger tip moments after I felt the pin prick. I push my finger to the strip that sticks out of the small machine and hear the beep. Seconds later a number flashes on the screen; 2.8, too low. I grab a mini-Snicker out of a tin. It’s gone in seconds. I need food. My body craves it. Everything tells me to eat except my logic; that tells me have a banana and go back to bed, you’ll be fine. I don’t because the urge to eat more is stronger, much stronger. I open the tin again and this time it’s a mini-Twix. Now, banana or bread? The bananas look a little green; bitter. I choose the bread; fresh home-made, brown and filled with seeds. The shaking has already stopped and I’m not sweating, but I eat it anyway. Over the years I have become familiar with how my body works now that it no longer produces its own insulin.
Outside it would have been light for at least an hour already. I stand undecided. Should I make a cup of tea and sit recovering, watching the day begin, or go back to bed for an hour? My eyes and head feel heavy so I head back to the bedroom. Minutes after my head sinks into the pillow I’m asleep.
The alarm wakes me. I shouldn’t have gone back to bed. Now I feel sluggish. I’m supposed to be at the beach in half an hour. I’m meeting a friend and we’re walking our dogs. If I hadn’t already made the arrangement I’d go back to sleep, but that would be giving in to this thing that has tried to rule my life for so many years, and I won’t let it.
Blue, blue, blue. The sky is cloudless and the sea is broken only by the thin white break at the reef. I step off the path onto the pale sand and feel it hot beneath my feet. Waves gently lap on the hard sand of a low tide. I can make out the patches of weed and reef as the water is like glass. My dog bounds off in sheer joy to boisterously greet her friends. They cavort around in the shallows, blending sand and water. I breathe in the air, look out at the ocean and feel my shoulders drop and my rib cage expand. Each day the beach is a little different, but in these long hot summers I nearly always swim and whatever the weather, I walk. There is a smile on my face already as I look for my friend who can’t be far away and I let my mind forget the start to the day for I have this, my new beginning. Me time.
Another beautiful morning on the beach with my dog
Branches sway. Leaves rustle. Above, the brown flash of macaque moving through the green. Another movement. Brown. Smaller. Then another and another. I look down at my phone. The emails take me back home. Flick through them quick. Don’t interrupt my day. I’ll be back home soon. Writing 101. When was it going to start? I highlight with a purple star.
Sunlight bounces off the pond. Lilly pads, pink blooms, emerald moss, dragonflies. A small stone Buddha statue, orange flowers in a woven basket. Offerings to the gods. The drone of motorbikes, cicadas clicking; their intensity increases as the day heats up. The heady perfume of frangipani flowers, white bold and perfect, fallen from the trees. Drowsiness sets in. My hand drops. The phone lies by my side, forgotten.
My blog. Who am I writing it for? Me. But the audience. Who do I want to read it? It still seems too personal. Baring my soul, my thoughts, my life. Do I really want to do this?
Bali would be a peaceful place to write. Be a writer. Live cheap, eat wonderful food and immerse in the spirituality.
Another monkey moves through the treetops calling out. A soulful sound. The troop he’s searching for call back and he leaps away. Swing. Jump. Grab.
What would it be like to move so freely through the trees? Does he think with each movement or is it automatic.
Movement without thought.
Writing without thought.
I don’t often listen to advice, unless I intuitively feel deep inside it’s something that I really should do. I’m sure I have been given some great advice in the past that I have acted upon. I know some suggestions have had a profound impact on who I am and what I do, but it was a rebellion to advice that was undoubtedly responsible for changing my life path.
When I was younger I was told to remain in a teaching job in a depressed Britain during the height of ‘Thatcherism’ in the early 1980s. Unemployment was high and I had a ‘good job’, had a car and owned a house. Instead I turned my back on that so called stability and went to Zanzibar, East Africa as a volunteer teacher trainer.
I would never have been able to imagine from my tiny terraced home in Sheffield, the amazing things that I have been able to do since getting on that plane, in the days when communication home to family and friends meant writing letters and one phone call a year; when all food came from somewhere on the island, except for the limited allowances of imported rice, sugar and flour; and when my transport was my bicycle.
Of course I started that journey in a place with some hardship, but also so many positive and incredible experiences, and it is these and the following adventures that form who I am today.
I look back and smile.
Fishermen East Coast of Zanzibar