Look Through

Original source material

Flash in the Pan: Independence Weekend and the Zambezi

I’m amazed at how repulsive they are collectively and individually.  Both the men and women square and bulky, the music was so loud and bland.  I just wanted to float in the lazy pool, but instead they had commandeered it like a group of aggressive giant seals, you know, the ones that are so big they often crush their own young. Darting in amongst them are three small blonde haired children who are clearly brothers or brothers and sister.  They grab the bottles of beer from the side of the pool and tip them in, which causes a rumble of consternation from the group.

‘Guess how old I am, Bernie.’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Thirty, thirty!  I’m still not married.’

U2 filters through the campsite, the Zambezi rushing below us, on the edge a bar, the door has to remain shut at all times to keep in the air conditioning.

It isn’t an album they are playing but the greatest hits, the second volume.  U2 love songs stimulate the same feelings within me as films like Steel Magnolias or Terms of Endearment.   Always aware of how painfully commonplace and predictable every line is, while at the same time a lump forms in my throat.  I get resentful.

But we’re getting free beer, at a price of course, small talk, but beer all the same.  I’m learning how to smoke without getting my fag wet, such empowerment.  ‘Yeah so I deal in coal.  Ok we all know it’s not clean or renewable but hell, if there’s a market someone might as well sell it.  What about yourselves?’

‘We’re volunteers.’

‘Wow, really?  Y’know that’s great, I envy people like you I really do.’

There’s a pool table in the bar, I’m thinking of switching to g & ts, hello cocktail hour.

Some hours and numerous sundowners later, they’re all pissed and have hijacked the stereo in the bar, the Dirty Dancing soundtrack is bursting out into the stuffy night air, drowning out most sounds but not their inane chatter, unfortunately.  I have always thought those people who claim that Dirty Dancing is there all time favourite film should have their eyes poked so they may no longer offend those of us with taste.  Love of the soundtrack justifies immediate extermination, this rule also applies to champions of Flashdance, The Breakfast Club and Moulin Rouge.

We’re all a bit pissed off.  This morning nursing hangovers, we tried to get hot water from the restaurant where the chalets are but we couldn’t because the kettle is for the chalet customers only.  I wonder if they think we’re part of the other group, I hope it’s obvious that we are not.

‘Liam!  Now is not funny I give you up to ten.’

‘Oh, Dorothy.’

‘One, two, ah!  Stop that.  You swim only up to here, I warning you.’  The puny little blonde guy is trying desperately to swim with his left arm, the one in plaster and wrapped in a Shoprite bag, elevated.  He can’t move in a straight line, he launches himself off the step and spins around.  In the end he gives up and just spits water and wanders out to the deeper water, the arm in its yellow bag bobbing over the water.  He’s pasty and his eyes are buggy, one bum cheek has slipped out of his trunks that are just a bit too small, the runt of the litter.

‘Liam, you know what happen if it get wet.’

‘Oh piss off.’  The other two, who aren’t twins, are trying to drown each other.

‘Fucking bitch.’

‘Dorothy tell him!’

I decide not to swim, I turn just in time to see Dorothy break a twig off a tree and try to hit Liam and the other two without falling in the water.  I know who I’m rooting for.

‘DO YOU GO TO CHURCH?’  He’s the biggest, tallest and fattest. A huge albino slug compared to the lean, detached, Zambian barman.  The barman bows his had tiredly but smile good naturedly, as he’s trained to do.

The music starts up again, is it running off a battery?  There’s some improvement, I have the pool to myself and they start to play Groove Armada, the greatest hits, not one of the albums.  I love ‘At The River’,  holding as it does so many memories of holidays, nights out. It seems somehow significant to me.  I float and think about all the places I’ve heard it, Livingstone, Pemba in Mozambique, Kendwa Rocks in Zanzibar, hammocks and cocktails and holiday makers.  There is little variation in the memories, different geography.  How many people were in those bars anyway, how many tourists have heard that song over and over?  How many memories do I share with them, how many Subway sandwiches have they eaten?  Déjà vu, I was walking around Manda Hill and I caught sight of myself in the Chemist window, I didn’t realise it was me at first with my pedal pushers and sunglasses, I was just like every other white body.  I feel no affinity with these people but there is little difference between us.

This pool is pretty small, those gorgeous trees full of red flowers are spread above me.  It’s so still, not a branch moves, not a leaf or flower quivers.  The Zambezi keeps on going, boats are borne on it, twigs are carried away, it could be conveyor belt.  It all seems fake suddenly, just put here for us, a film set.  I used to feel a kind of pride when I realised what a good film my life would make.

I’m starting to shrivel, I climb out to get a beer and trip a little through a pile of Mosi bottles.  It’s the 24th tomorrow, we’ll be leaving, going back to Lusaka, so will the other group and this place will be empty.  Bet the staff can’t bloody wait.


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Copyright: Elizabeth Watkin

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