Cities have never given me comfort. I find the visual arena less than compelling, a clear example of the human species’ inability to plan beyond a few years at a time. In the audible arena, it is overwhelming. The constant drone of traffic, sirens, and construction is enough to drive anyone to commit a heinous crime.
Yet, I realise, I am in the minority. Some ninety percent of the population of the planet lives within high density populations and not only survive, but apparently thrive.
We adapt reactively far better than we do proactively develop.
I am both enjoying my social interactions and at the same time lonely here in Cape Town, in a way that I am just now coming to understand. I enjoy direct human interaction, day to day, week to week. Yet, the conversations seldom last long enough to garner what I feel is a deepening relationship for any given topic. The pace of life in the city is one that forces us to carve a few minutes here and there into lumps which may or may not span an hour such that we press against the momentum of a machine of our own blind design in order to stand still long enough to simply … talk.
I miss corded telephones. I may have a mobile phone at my side, but the telephone was once a device which demanded a kind of concentration on conversations that found depth through time. In this African standard pay-as-you-go market, no one can afford that luxury. The mobile phone encourages multi-tasking, not good listening. SMS and WhatsApp are now the de facto means of communication, incomplete, written sentences with conveyed attempts at emotion have all but replaced the sound of a human voice.
I often return an SMS with a phone call, in order to conduct a proper conversation, only to receive an answerig service. I am successful in that I enjoy the recording of a human voice, but the thumbs which conveyed an SMS just moments earlier were apparently exhausted, unable to execute the required swipe and press of just one more virtual button.
I recall, as a child, staying up late into the night at the side of my childhood friend Chris Boernke. We were at her parents’ home in semi-rural South Dakota, not far from Rapid City. Our families, four and four, two sisters in their clan, two brothers in mine, would come together a few times a year for a long weekend.
After a day of hiking and home cooked dinner served between thick, wood beam walls whose sap, in places, yet ran, we talked. I could hear the murmur of my parents speaking upstairs from where I sat with Chris. My brother Jae and Chris’ sister Melissa were already asleep. Chris and I told ghost stories authored on the spot. We spoke of California sliding into the sea and of a future in which humans would live on another planet.
We sat side by side. I could feel the heat of her body, but as we were just kids, holding hands, even leaning against each other was not a consideration. We talked. For hours. In a darkness in which we could not discern other’s faces, we shared things we would never express if our eyes were visible to each other.
Sometimes it is the silent visual domain and opaque sound space that gives us the freedom to be present in a moment. Sometimes it is doing nothing that enables a future in which everything is possible.
I have too many times these past six months experienced days and weeks as though only hours had passed. Friends and associates claim this is age, that it happens to us all. I argue instead it is the age of expectation which drives time at the end of a whip, not a leash.
I know where one can return to that space and time, that domain in which time slows again.
Where asphalt and concrete are but reflections lost to a glow on the horizon and the rumble of traffic is replaced with the audible crumble of a gravity bound stream, falling over and over again, time too takes notice and relaxes its pace.
I may yet purchase a car while living here, if for no other reason than to visit a friend when the last train has retreated to the other end of the line. Or I will continue to call, at the expense of my mobile minutes, hoping for an answer.
But I prefer a night soon spent, side by side a nearly invisible partner, engaged in conversation in which time takes us to a multi-verse. California is an island retreat, ghosts are haunted by humans, and we return from an interstellar voyage with tales of far away places waiting to be explored.
There, in the silence of darkness unperturbed by the reminder of time, will the minutes become hours and hours days, and the city is but a relic of one’s fading memory.