There is no way for me to measure how much time this day was coming, but it seems to have been destined to arrive to me since always. There are no means left to escape it, and I recognise that even if I had them, I would only be postponing what will never go away, and I accept the need to face it. There is nothing but my conscience and my self now left to live with. It is time to take account – this once and always. However as I start to take account I find it difficult to know where to begin, if not the fact of my forgetting what it was that I would like to come to terms with. For perhaps it is this very lack of memory that I need to take account of. Not the memory of my deeds – although those deeds may be remembered in the course of my account to cause me many hours of shame and wishful thinking – but the memory of the reason I was given this existence, my forgetting of which cause has been the cause of my regrettable behaviours.
An Introduction to Medieval Travelogues: A comparison of Ibn Fadlan, Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Fudayl
The act of travelling is as compelling now as it was in the past. It is one of the most powerful catalysts for change in all spheres of human society and possibly more so with Islamic civilisation, which has travel as one of its central themes. The Quran commands the faithful to perform the Hajj, here the pilgrim endures the hardships of travel in order to connect with God. But it also encourages travel in order for man to see what has become of previous nations; to take heed as it were. Whilst this author is no Mohammedan, I do believe in the latter proposition and Medieval travellers are of particular interest to me.
An old man used to sit outside my school every day, playing music on a traditional Chinese instrument. He would move a light wood stick over two pieces of metal. Most of the time the songs he played were slow, but some of the time he’d play ones that were real quick, and at those moments we kids would gather around. We had no problem making excuses to our teachers to leave class for five minutes, or take an extended lunch break.
One day, just another still, warm day in February, there was you… Sometimes I wonder why there wasn’t something to suggest the birthing pains of this love: a camel-shaped eyelash, a rainbow above my roof, frogs raining, a tree bursting into yellow bloom overnight, a snatch of a song. But there was nothing. Not even a twitching eyelid or a skipped beat of the pulse. And yet, now when I think of the time before you, all I think of is this grey and metallic sheen of the strangled day and the death-like silence of the night.
Last Sunday the neighbours brought me a glass of something tall, cold and sweet. They had a name for it: thandai.
Did I know there was opium in it? I did. Why didn’t I say no? Probably because I wanted to know where it would lead me. Opium. Melded into milk and almonds and chilled so the sweet creaminess could slide down my throat while a foot soldier in black crept through my veins to the silly point of my brain.
The driver announced that Hainault was the last station. The car was empty save for him and a foreign-looking bloke sitting at the other end. It had taken him ages to make it that far all the way from East Putney. Transport is a bitch on Sundays — engineering works, limited service, delays, replacement buses. He was quite late, at least half an hour. He stood up with the bag hanging from his shoulders, and waited by the doors until the train stopped.
He had never been in Hainault before and it sounded exotic to him. He got his mobile phone out and shot a picture of the station sign. He walked towards the exit and realised the other guy was still sitting inside the carriage. Perhaps he hadn’t understood the driver’s message; he himself had found it pretty hard to figure out: bad speakers plus accented English. Henry walked towards the train and knocked on the window.
“It’s the last station,” he said.
“Come this way, Luca,” Carlo says, reaching out for the boy’s hand.
“But I’m not finished looking.”
“Okay. Take your time.”
Carlo eyes one of the boys in the group next to them. There’s one in every crowd, always one other kid that somewhere in the deep recesses of his not yet developed frontal lobe who felt so inadequate that he must find fault in another. This is the kid who will one day start bullying others, the one who will become a complete douche bag by the time he reaches middle school. Okay, so Luca is a little off but that’s no reason to stare, no reason to snicker behind your hand and elbow the kid next to you to get him on your side. Because that’s the way it’s going to work in the future: so inept are you to think for yourself, even at this young age, that you will need to gather an army around you to, in essence, do your fighting for you. Leader of the Pack. The Alpha Male. Perhaps, but clearly a zeta brain in development.
A milkman delivered milk bottles to the house a couple of days a week, came into the yard through the side gate, white uniform, and cap so light and delicately placed we wondered how it stayed put, picked up the empties and left the fresh bottles of thick cadmium white milk on the back porch. We could hear the milkman coming in the early morning, his square truck, the door always open, pulling up to the side of the house, under the three carob trees, coming through the back gate, the milk bottles jostling in his wire milk bottle carrier.