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’
The virgin pages of an unopened notebook.
Time to write.
Time to savour new thoughts and words.
I think even if I was never to be published my notebooks would be a witness to my writing. More tangible than the digital word and more private in that they were never meant to be read by anyone other than me.
There were hardback books, soft books, large books, small books, exercise books and note pads. In the beginning I diarised and doodled, sometime I’d stick in a ticket or something meaningful – to me at least. Other times I’d try to draw something that I had failed to describe in words or had been unable to record in a photograph. Fragments of the story of my life.
Even after our first computer it still felt good to fill a page with words, especially the private words only I wanted to bear witness to. Over the years it wasn’t just one computer in the household, but laptops and other devices appeared. My digital efforts increased as the pen lay dormant. But I was always drawn to a beautiful notebook, I’d run my fingers over the blank page and feel the weight of quality paper.
Now I flit between both worlds. My writings are more capacious and based in fiction. The words often need rearranging, the pages change as the editing takes over and I find I need the speed of a computer. Those immediate thoughts or sparks of ideas I have to write down when I’m out and about, fill the small notebooks, leather-bound or fabric covered, chosen carefully for their beauty and size, that take turns to sit in my handbag. Sometimes these jottings are transferred to join the longer stories and manuscripts that build up on my computer, or they join the growing pile of memories and stories that line a drawer, a cupboard and a shelf of a bookcase.
On the way from one North Yorkshire village to another there are always a few spectators by the side of the road, or occasionally in the middle of the road.
I remember one heady teenage summer I used to cruise around the moors on the back of my boyfriend’s Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. The evenings were long and balmy and we often met friends for a drink in one pub or another. We were heading over the top of the moors to Rosedale Abbey and enjoying the sweeping turns of the open road, the feeling on the wind in our faces and the thrill of motorcycling, when a sheep ran straight in front of us. I remember my knee striking the sheep, then we were bouncing through heather before coming to a sliding stop. The peaty ground and heather afforded a more forgiving landing than tarmac. A few bruises; we were lucky. The sheep trotted off into the setting sun. After straightening the front forks we were able to continue on our way too, a little slower and a little wiser.
As the sun dipped behind the building
Peace settled on the gardens
The breeze dropped
The water stilled
Lily pads cluster
Amidst the reflections
Of the Palace of Dreams
Palace of Dreams, Kathmandu