Monday, 12 December 2005


Muscle pushes against water, chlorinated limbs working their way from one end of the garden to the other. To my right, Venus, cupped by an Arabian sickle-moon. Left across the Prussian-blue sky glares Mars, hot orange. I lift my arm out of the water to turn, droplets trail and the planets switch sides.

Dragonflies bounce off hot bricks as a canopy of fruit bats flies low overhead into the dusk, scalloped wings outlined against the thumbprint-whorled clouds. Lights buzz into life; immediately the winged termites blizzard round them, a malevolent snow.

The heady wafts of potted basil trigger memories, a train of scents - parmesan, sweet tomatoes, garlic.

An arc of light from a car's headlamps sweeps over the gravel; a dog's plangent barking is echoed from one gated enclosure to the next. And in that space what I love is what I also don't. What is fenced out? What fenced in? A curlicued prison.

There is of course the delicious freedom of nakedness in the water; not here the sudden appearance of screeching hordes of children, nor a thousand eyes intrigued by every move you make. But not here either the laughter of those children, nor the giggling gossip from know-all neighbours. Silence, save for the changing of the guards. Toughened vehicles zip out of gates and zip into other enclaves.

The prisoners do not even think to use their feet to exit, say hello to workers tending lawns, buy some roasted groundnuts from the street vendors. Behind the walls you are anywhere. Behind the walls you are nowhere.