Celebrating East African Writing!
The morning is patched with low-level clouds here and there. I am looking through the window of a Boeing 747. From the air, the famed City of London lies like a gigantic uncompleted mosaic parchment. It appears languid. But the scattered chimneys spewing white smoke indicate a city that is preparing its breakfast.
Coming from Africa to Europe for the first time, I am like a lover, initially infatuated and intimidated. My heart beats faster. This is the City of Newton, Bacon and Wren! I seem to recall and add…and the Beatles too!
I squint my eyes. If I will be lucky, I may catch the sight of those famed personalities as they hurry to their offices.
My view is enhanced by the slanting wings as the aircraft circles and hovers over Heathrow. It is waiting for a landing spot. If it rolls over, I won’t be able to tell for I am completely captivated by the creative view of this legendary city.
There are arterial lines in this artwork; some little dot moving along those channels. Perhaps I am dreaming and this is all an illusion. Those dots are running watercolors.
However, this cannot be a dream, I conclude after feeling my heart beating, counting 90 and rising. I am descending into that City where the real Cinderella lives outside of children’s books, and those dots are not running colors; they are cars trapped in a flow of their own.
Soon, I am in the city and have joined its currents. I feel its secret turbulence in the clinking and crackling on the railway platform. Coming from the tropics where more than rain is a stormy affair, I thought I had come to a place where precipitation is a lullaby. What could that crackling be if not a gathering storm?
Later, I laughed at myself when it occurred to me that that storm was hurried shoes on the concrete. But to wash away my foolishness and to give myself the last laugh, I waxed philosophical and called the cranking an underlying tempest.
Standing on London Bridge, I am smitten by the grey depth of the Thames, and I start to sing that old kindergarten song:
London Bridge is falling down
Falling down, falling down
London Bridge is falling down
My fair lady
Built in wood and clay
Wood and clay, wood and clay
London Bridge is falling down
My fair lady
A flash of fear overwhelms me, and I rush to the northern banks of the river just in case the little rhyme finds reality while my feet are on the bridge. It is a wise decision for if that North-South link is shuttered, I am on what economically and historically is a safer side…the northern side.
Soon the rhyme recedes into the distant archives of my childhood and I cast my eyes onto Threadneedle Street which seems to hold even more distant memories than me.
On this street, the Bank of England stands like a silent sentinel into the annals of history. In its impenetrability, it seems to be guarding more than money. There is something Greek about it, something Roman and even Medieval English. Casting my eyes furtively about, I catch a hue of Alexander, Caesar and King Arthur in the bobby standing at the bank’s entrance.
Those are frightening warriors to someone like me who cannot tell a saber from a sword. I hurry on before Alexander comes from inside the building and issues an order or even hurls his awesome spear into my direction.
Around the Bank of England, there are myriads of financial institutions with tenterhooks on every continent and with mythical fame in Africa. I then realize that if the emperor must retain his power and perplexity, he must surround himself with his generals. There is the Sun Alliance, a five star-studded general in the world of insurance enjoying the company of its peers; General Lloyds Bank, Gen. Natwest, Gen. Barclays, General Royal Bank of Scotland, Gen Goldman Sachs, Gen JP Morgan Chase…all brazing five stars.
But perhaps they are not generals, they are the shareholders to this valuable plot and are gathered here this morning for an AGM. Perhaps, if I linger a little longer, I could sneak into their meeting, and enjoy the usual shouting match of AGMs or even learn the secret codes of their success.
But I counsel myself against the mischief, and drift about the city looking for a shimmer in its architecture; glass-clad, tall and futuristic. If that is what I am looking for, perhaps I had landed at the wrong airport. Blame my expectations on Hollywood; it depicts all that is glassy as progressive. In that aspect, London is more stone than glass and I am disappointed.
Soon I am back in Africa and the London dream is erased by the rising glass buildings in the mother of all mankind. But that was twenty year back!
Now I am back in London and I am looking for that old city which, without my awareness, had cast her old charm on me when I first set my eyes upon her bosom from the air. If London is reputed to have harbored witches, perhaps the witch-hunting was not that successful, and their spirits live in those crafted marbles and stones, silently casting spells on those with curious eyes. “Show me the body of my old lovely London!”I want to scream, but I know that no one will listen to me.
In opposition to the spacious and bright ambiance of yesteryears, which, I noticed when I first came here, a permanent eclipse seems to have descended on the ancient city. I am looking for the Old Threadneedle Street. It is now a needle lost in the haystack of tall buildings. I can hardly recognize it in the twilight of a long shadow. The fresh air of yesterday has been replaced with something vulgar and putrid, not to the nose, not to the eye, but to the mind.
I set out to investigate who this devil is, this vulgar and shameless being so daring to mask history with his dark and wide-winged span. “Lord!” I pray for once, “deliver him to me and I will deliver him to Caesar.” Soon I catch him. He is a wingless grey bastard, a ghastly and gleaming phallus with visible veins to keep it stiff as he prepares himself for an orgy that goes by an equally ghastly-sounding name: The Gherkin.
In my eagerness to see the old London again, I look at the skyline. It appears now a city of phalluses more than the City of Alexander, Caesar and King Arthur. Gherkin is not the longest phallus in town, but perhaps the most lustrous. In this guile and naked competition to penetrate the skies, the Canary Wharf Building has been the longest dildo sticking out of the banks of River Thames since Londonium began. Built on a vulva-shaped island back in the 1990’s, the old residential houses and tree-lined avenues now look like pubic hairs that have been pushed aside to allow penetration.
Standing on the now grey street in a grey mood of my own, some two men in dark suits hurry up the steps of the British monetary centre. I assume they are going for meeting at the bank. The bobby at the entrance gives them a respectful acknowledgment. If they noticed him, it is hard to tell. But before they passed me, I heard one of them say to the other, “Mine is bigger than yours,” as he cast his eyes eastwards. So, they are boys in suits after all! Perhaps they are going for a peeing competition.
But now, as I cast my eyes eastward, I observe a phallus labeled Barclays and another one HSBC; they are running neck and neck and it is difficult to tell which one is bigger than the other. Could those men have been alluding to them?
The majestic Bank of England now appears like an old mausoleum; respected yes, but only the dead live there. I see American tourists eager with cameras and taking pictures. “How beautiful!” one of them proclaims.
I am not going to let that pass, not because I degree, but I want to tell them that so much of that beauty has been lost in such a short time. I interject into their conversation, with tears streaming down my face. Had they come here twenty years earlier, as I did, they would be crying just like me, for the City of London, to whom we have come to pay respect, is now dead.
“This is a tragedy,” I said. A vivacious woman, bubbly and full in the American way said, “Boy, there is hope.” But can you really redeem the sacred once you profane it? Virginity cannot be regained by glowing back the hymen.
©DK Black 2014