This is easy – like riding a bicycle comes to mind – but it’s more like sitting down in front of a beloved well-tuned piano on a slow autumn afternoon, you’ve got a half-hour to spare while someone is doing something else and you lift the lid, thinking: “I’ll just mess around with one hand while I wait….” Ting, ting – plink, ting….let me play you a little song/story I once wrote…
Just after 6am, at the top of Adderley Street where the road curves past the entrance to the Company Gardens and then carries on up to the flank of Lion’s Head – April and it’s still dark, but a transparent kind of dark that signals sunrise.
Traffic is slow – only taxis and the odd sleepy motorist determined to beat congested highways – a few commuters and the early birds. Squirrels are asleep and there’s no wind – at least, not yet.
He watches, the way he always watches, and then he sees her.
He smiles inside because he knew she would come. He couldn’t testify to it in court because she hasn’t told him so, but he thinks that she is traveling early to miss the crush. Even though she looks a little tired, he can see that she takes pleasure in the waking city.
It has been a year since he first noticed her – he sees them all as they make their way up the stairs and escalators out into Adderley Street and St George’s Mall – and she caught his attention immediately.
She didn’t have any particular feature that made her stand out, it was simply the way she was. Among the chatting, jostling, hurrying crowds she was strolling and looking about her. Initially, he thought she must be a tourist and he felt a proprietal sense of pride as she studied the buildings, the skyline, and even the ficus trees with evident pleasure.
But then he saw her stroll out of the underground at the same time every day and realized that she was obviously on her way to work, like all the rest. He remembers the day that she encountered the horses of the mounted police in St George’s Mall – she stopped, her face lit up with a surprised smile that made one of the compact beasts take a second look – he swears that they recognise her now as she greets them softly in passing.
He remembers when she noticed that they’d given a beautiful, but battered, old building a facelift – she stopped, a sturdy little piece of driftwood parting the swirling crowd, to study it’s lovely façade.
He has time and so he thinks about these things; it’s difficult to put it into words, but she seems so have a sense of belonging, an air of respect for the city. Perhaps it’s simply that she doesn’t take it for granted.
But it’s not the only reason he watches her – she moves him.
He sees that she carries something heavy on her heart. Sometimes when she walks she is turned deep within, not seeing the street she is on, as if she is walking down some road in the city of her mind. Other times she is lighthearted, and he can see that she is smiling at a private joke, or some happy thought.
Even her clothes touch him – in this city with it’s many styles (and it demands that you fit into one of them) – she has no particular style at all. She is one of the few people he has seen who wears clothes because that’s what she has to do – all neat, but he can see that the coat is a hand-me-down, the shoes are practical for walking, the jeans have been shortened by hand, the shirt is beautifully pressed but not chosen for any other reason than that one should wear a shirt. It makes him think of a dutiful, but neglected child.
He sees that sometimes the long daily walk makes her tired – she isn’t always as strong as she makes out – and there are days when her steps are measured choices of pure will. On those days he cheers her silently on, sending her whatever strength can be carried from one heart to another.
Now and then she doesn’t appear at all; perhaps she has taken leave, or she has the flu. It’s hard on such days for him not to worry. But, when she appears again, the rush of relief and pleasure makes it worthwhile.
She is always carrying a book and she favours the classics – he has watched her sit and nurse a giant bowl of coffee at one of the open cafes on the square, completely absorbed in another place and time as she reads.
He has also watched her face change as she pulls out a notebook and writes and writes, looking up, unseeing, as she tries to find the right phrase. He regrets many things, but mostly that he cannot speak with her, or read what she has written down about herself, about their city.
But he can watch, as he stands – his broad shoulders a welcome pit-stop for pigeons in transit from square to square – his gentle marble face in perfect repose.
He can watch.