By Richard Boughton
Sitting at the patio table at the front of my yard I watch two boys ride by the open gate on bicycles. One boy is bigger; one is smaller; but both bikes are the same height. They are simple bikes – no gears, just handlebars, a frame and wheels.
I think the boys are brothers. One boy – the bigger – pedals along easily, long legs pumping in even stroke, like a swimmer in air, while the other reaches with his tiptoes for an elusive grip on the twirling pedals, ever redoubling his efforts to catch the long shadow of his companion.
And at once I am transported to another time – a different time and yet somehow the same. I am the smaller boy, my brother the bigger, separated by two years, and yet separable by nothing short of death. My bike is a Cadillac, his a Ferrari, or so we say. My father had bought them somewhere – a garage sale, a secondhand shop. We didn’t have much money. No one did back then. On my block, in my town, everyone was equal, and seemed happy enough at that.
What Proustian cake is this that my soul has suddenly imbibed, extracting such a magic of transport from a moment? Two boys, two bikes, two score and 10 years in the balance?
It is the magic of the Developing World; it is the magic of Bali, an island arisen from a warp in time. It is the magic of standing still, or at least seeming to, and then catching up long after I’m gone.
In the dark of evening a woman passes by alone. She turns her head to look my way. Her eyes meet mine and she smiles. She is not fearful, not worried. She is merely walking, going somewhere, going home, as any man or woman ought to be free to do – and yet would not be in my time, in my place, in my country. Not now, and not ever again.
I know the street – I know it suddenly once again – removed now from a place five decades in the past to reappear outside my gate on the far side of the world, on an island which, as foreign as it is, may as well be my life and my home.
And I marvel at this miracle of regression, this device of displacement; marvel, yes, and also inwardly wince at the sadness of an old world lost. I lament, as once the poet William Carlos Williams lamented. We have to get back to the beginning and do it over again.
In the dark of night I take a walk, down the street to the alley, down the alley to the bypass. Up ahead a group of young men becomes apparent in the darkness, standing by motorbikes parked by the wall. I am wondering whether I should continue or turn back when one of the men sees me, beckons, speaks.
“Where are you going? Where are you from? How long will you stay?”
What, no knives? What, no guns? What, no threat to life and limb?
Where am I now, other than where I came from? A kinder time, a world and an eon away.
I was one evening on the beach at Ketewel, just to watch the waves. One other man there was on that beach. I might have thought from all I had learned in a life lived in another place that we would turn our backs, that we would walk away, and yet it seems we are metal and magnet and must therefore attract. It seems we have something in common after all.
It happened then as we conversed that two other men walked by. They were speaking together, discussing the day, and I noted that they were holding hands in simple, brotherly way. One might have been my father, one might have been his bosom friend – but for all the years in between and the decease of such innocent things.