Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Not quite Smyrna

I stood on the deck leaning against the rail and watched. The dock was heaving with life,  people arriving or departing or just there to look for some lucky break. There were two other boats tied up along the quay. I smoked a cigarette. (I don't smoke in reality but it feels right that I should smoke for the purposes of this little memory). The sun beat down hard on my head. Three bulky, black water buffalo ambled onto the quay. Their long, curved horns were coated in red lacquer that gleamed in the fierce sunlight like bloodied scimitars. Children cried. This wasn't Smyrna quay that Ernest wrote about but it could have been.

I felt uncomfortable in my clothes. I'd slept in them all night on top of a bale of tarpaulin on the deck and watched stars appear in the late sky then fade a few hours later. At the same time the land on the port side of the boat had faded into the night as we headed south then it turned up again in the palor of a cold morning. In no time the temperature had risen again and by mid-morning waves of shimmering heat lifting from the land was distorting my vision. There were only a few shacks clustered around the quay, no town to speak of. A dusty track ran back from the sea across the narrow plain and I could see a road zig zagging up into the hills in the distance.

I could see nothing lush about the landscape. Ruth said it was lush country but it wasn't. The air smelled dry even when it drifted a mile or so out to sea to meet us in the cold morning. There were no trees. There was no grass. We stayed tied up at the quay that had no name for two hours. The sea was slack and silent and the boat hardly rose and fell at all against the land as boats usually do. The people were noisy, the sky and sea were quiet and it was too hot to go inside to the small dining room and bar and lounge. It stank of sweat and stale beer. Ruth was nowhere to be seen.

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