March 26, 2009

No. She wouldn’t have wanted that at all. She’d wince ‘too much information’. I regret doing it now. No doubt, I’ll regret doing this even more.

But, BAM, what a debacle. I couldn’t believe it’d come to this. Was there foul play? I don’t know but I was sure we had let her down. Okay, I… had let her down.

In those desperate, angry moments I succumbed to my biggest character flaw; I lashed out at the world to shift focus from my own failings. It was plain to me she needed help. Despite all I’d gained from my experiences with her, I was negligent.

All of us striped, stray city cats happily clung on to her coattails during the turbulent time. When stability returned, we patronized the hell out of her. Oh, what a burdensome job we had. “In theory, should we trust her?” “Was she good?” “Was she bad?” “Did she want to take over the world?” “Who polices the police policers?” We favoured questions with a low barrier to entry. For a roaring trade, you need the mamas and poppas on board… block all the exits though.

That old saying ‘by their fruits shall ye know them’… it’s a good one. There were enough clues if we’d been of a mind to look for them. Intimidating, yes… threatening no. With all that power she didn’t engender fear, boys. Not in ordinary folk. Instead, she gave us hope. What a change from leaders of all… stripes.

Layla was contortingly radiant… even on her down days. The world changed when she was around. Plusher colours, sharper senses. Feelings would intensify. They’d be your own feelings, not hers. Selfishly or not, I used to love her melancholy. I’d snuggle into her and feel strangely powerful. On top of the world. There, I’ve said it.

But… it could be disconcerting. She appeared to displace the natural order. Situations and people would spontaneously turn odd… bizarre even. I found myself involved in absurd, dream-like scenarios. Once, I was surrounded by a brood of five-year-old girls. All these waifs doted on me, inanely clucking and chuckling at my every movement and utterance. They followed me around like a bridal train. That can’t be normal but that’s what it felt like.

My personality is such that I find comfort in my belief that the universe, and most of human behaviour, is governed by a set of rules… and that I’ve a basic awareness of them. Many times with Layla, I’d be trotting along on my comfort zone gee-gee, showing superb posture. I’d drive forward to jump the wall, when, all coiled and ready to spring, CZ would renege on me and skedaddle off to the side, leaving me to crash through the bricks and land on my backside. Propped up, I’d peer incredulously as CZ’s hefty rump, ungainly gallop and haughty snorting faded further and further into the back of my mind.

Layla was oblivious… no matter how crazy things got. That’s the way life was to her I suppose. In the end, I’d just surrender until programming returned to normal. I love remembering those times. Yes, that’s it. We looked at everything she did as NOT normal. A nice enough distraction before we’d drag ourselves back to reality. Especially that idea that world unity was useful and maybe even achievable. Today, I can’t for the life of me remember why we thought our calibration was the correct one. It’s a remarkable achievement that she shifted our idea of normal so far towards her own.

I’ll get to why my outburst let the cat out of the bag. First though, I have to tell you that I’m a fraud and I have to describe the episode connected to it.

My celebrated dissertation on ethics “Getting out of Bed is the Hardest Part”… it’s not, as my publisher touted, that “definitive victory of reason over impulse… enabling a coherent transition to a post-Layla order”.

It was, in fact, entirely inspired by Layla during an anarchic morning of awe. The graphic boldness that my peers gasped at… merely my eventual embrace of society’s cartoon character. I should have said that at the time but it didn’t align with the marketing message.

Way back then, as luck would have it, I was offered and accepted, an Associate Professorship at the University of Melbourne. Arriving in the city a week before the extended General Assembly meeting, I received an unexpected email from Layla saying she wanted to hook up.

“Melbourne is my alma mater you know. Wouldn’t mind if you took me on a tour though. Unfortunately, didn’t familiarize myself with it well enough when I had the opportunity 😦 Now that the eminent Naledi Jacob is here I might just sneek into a few lectures.”

So there I was. University of Melbourne’s South Lawn. Sat waiting on a bench. In the distance I saw her approach down the long path. Coming for me. A shimmering stick figure in the hot haze… progressively morphing into the full-strength confrontation that I was so nervous about. I hoped she wouldn’t see through me. With a complete absence of self-worth I gazed upon her. She’s tearfully beautiful.

“Hi Naledi. So great to meet you at last.”

It is? Phew. We hugged… which was lovely. After some acclimatizing on my part, we got on really well. I was in shared accommodation at a University apartment until I could arrange a more permanent place. Layla had a couple of months left on her Coburg basement lease. She demanded that I move in with her so we could keep each other company.

You know I kind of saved the world? Yeah, yeah. On the opening day of the Layla meeting, as it’s now known, my alarm went off at seven. I turned my neck to see slumbering Layla with her drowsy scowling skin. Funny. On this momentous morning… from this position… I felt privileged and swollen to the point of nausea. It didn’t compute… matching this picture of peaceful, if sullen, inertness beside me with the kind of authoritative power she would be expected to exhibit in the opening address to Presidents and Prime Ministers.

I kissed her lips and whispered “time to get up, Layls. Big day today, eh?” .

“Five more minutes. Gimme five more minutes.”

How cute. I had a shower. She was still in bed when I passed back for a bowl of cereal. ‘Getting up?’ I called out sharply. ‘I’m up.’ she immediately and curtly replied. ‘Alright then.’ I sighed.

I entered the little study and settled myself in front of the computer to read the news. Naturally, it was all about sleeping beauty next door. And it was all good (Yuck, I promised I’d never use that phrase). I heard the alarm yell out again and then get strangled. I assumed she must be up and getting ready. It was after eight when I emerged from my reading reverie… expecting to walk out the door with her. I was astonished to find her still in bed and heedless of how perilously late we were.

I shook her till I was sure she was listening. ‘We have to go right now, Layla. We’ll be late’. Note the ‘we’. Coattails even then. It was a few moments before her quizzical, hostile look quelled.

“Naledi. Hi. Do I have time for a shower?”

She didn’t but she needed one. Layla wasn’t stink… she had rose-tinted pores after all… but Melbourne was in the middle of an extraordinarily warm spell. Hadn’t got below 30C last night.

“Alright. Step in and step out again. Don’t do your hair.”

I had her at the No. 19 tram stop by eight thirty. We were late but, at least, making progress. Yes, absolutely. Friday morning rush hour and we were waiting on a tram to get us to the most important meeting in the history of the world. Trundle, trundle, stop. Trundle, trundle, stop. Ludicrous, a few leaves on the track could have scuppered world peace for months.

Goodo, we’re off. Security had evacuated large swathes of the CBD that day but, even here at the beginning of the line, we were lucky to get a seat.

Layla, on the wane? No, just a mite grumpy and trance-like initially. I suspected she was punishing me for severing her umbedical cord. Hah, she’d get over it.

Donato! Must be meds day at the Brunswick clinic. That explained the crush. Melbourne public transport was ten per cent insane at the best of times. Today, there would be no asylum from the battiness. Only protection was to maintain a steady look of bemusement. With Donato though, there was an upside.

A reality-challenged old man of unkempt and wild appearance, Donato reveled in his role as itinerant barista. Concealed about his person were a number of flasks… sufficient to service the diverse tastes of his clandestine commuting client base… Melbourne’s human beans. Superb line of crockery too.

“Bella ragazza, cappuccino for you this morning? For perfetto regina, an Expresso Americano, I think. What a charmer! He ornated a little chocolate flower on top of mine. Coffee! That did the trick. Perkier Parkin.

Seriously, it was pure slapstick all the way… as we shunted along Sydney Road, Royal Parade and Elizabeth Street. In retrospect, it was not surprising that the silliness began as we approached Batman Station stop. Yes, Batman. Batman is a very important figure in Melbourne history. I’m not making it up. Although, it’s never as simple as it sounds.

Helicopters tut-tutting overhead… news vans nuzzling our tram and poking cameras into it. They didn’t observe tram etiquette either. They pulled up beside us at stops and the driver had to remonstrate with them to maintain their distance behind… so that people could get off and on. No problem. They just got on. And then, to an unlikely applause, they got booked by the ticket police. (It was no joke either. I’d forgotten to get tickets too but, mercifully, they didn’t ask).

Each stop the driver had to ask the question: Anyone for Barkly Square? Or Melbourne Zoo? University anyone? Vic Market? Must be someone for Vic Market? No takers. Once a passenger became aware of the extraordinary circumstances they had stumbled upon, they were in for the long haul. The tram was like a bag of nails… riddled with interlocking limbs. The poor man couldn’t bring himself to look at the people, many of them regulars, who sought to get on the packed vehicle by clattering on its closed doors.

All we needed to top it off was Yusuf Islam to start up a round of “Peace Tram”. I know… corny word play… but that’s what went through my mind and that’s what happened! Yusuf, originally planning to spend his day at the legendary IISCA centre on Michael Street, had been keeping to himself on the seat opposite.

Suddenly, his demeanour changed and he reached for his back pack. Bodies hurriedly backed away giving him enough space to extract a miniature guitar and launch into the folk favourite. We shook our shoulders to the rhythm… and hummed. Yusuf pointed to each of us in turn, round-robin style, to belt out the vocals. I had private hopes she couldn’t sing… thems were dashed.

At the end of Elizabeth Street, this entanglement of humanity gingerly disembarked and headed for Flinders Street Station. There, we were motioned through the security perimeter. Our motley procession of rags and penguin suits swaggered along Flinders Street and turned right into Batman Avenue (honest guv’nor) till we attained our destination… the Rod Laver Arena.

As we entered the specially constructed auditorium, the tram load of us detached from diva Parkin and took possession of some pews on the periphery. An anxious UN Secretary, struggling to articulate yet another historic sounding sentence during the thirty minute overrun, was interrupted by our tumult. Relieved, he immediately and eagerly introduced the lady of the moment.

Afforded her customary rousing reception, Layla sauntered down the cat-walk to the podium, poised and delightful. Her bed head of tangled hair, menacingly alluring. Her MY mandarin blouse (open at the belly button) fashionably fetching.

That first sight of her was the signal for the tremendous anticipation that had built up around the world to be ecstatically released. Inside, we quickly quieted as the scary bellow from the city crowd outside reached us. On screens, we could see the hysterical reaction from venues through-out the globe.

In my heart, I cradled my family… far away in Cape Town… watching this unfold. Ostrich or ostracize… let bygones be bygones. I thought of the silent euphoria of those billions observing alone or in small groups. And I thought of you. As if consumed in a fiery crucifixion, my brain and body, overstrained with elation, dissolved. Whatever was left… spiritual me maybe… floated round a happy pole.

Not so transformed though… that I could avoid feeling responsible for that crumb of crusty sleep hanging from our darlings eye. As she shaped to make a very brief statement… aargh… I threw up my meaty spiritual palms and slapped my ethereal forehead in horror.

Minutes later, with the ruckus subsiding, she posed the following question to the distinguished assembly.
“Welcome to Melbourne. Hot enough for you?”

Beautiful. We’d paid to hear more but who cares? I was spinning. Now, whenever I see a ‘Welcome to Melbourne’ sign… I fall in a heap. I leaned over to Donato and whispered “Batman never achieved any of this, eh”.

[Donato, puzzled]:
“But Batman didn’t have superpowers. Did what he could. All any of us can do, right? It’s not a competition, young lady.”

Oops. Donato stealthily drew out his chequered flask followed by a ‘couple of cups, mate’. Awkwardly, and a magnet for suspicion, he checked the vicinity as he topped us up. “Not enough to go round”. The Chancellor of Germany pretended not to notice.

Aah, unsurpassable moments. But back to that cat.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: