Friday, April 14, 2006

Imaginary Roads 1:2

He was travelling to a place called Guyana, an English-speaking country on the north-eastern shoulder of South America, reaching from the Atlantic inland along the lengths of three or four great rivers to the border with Brazil.

The flight lasted perhaps an hour. Later he wouldn't remember any view out the window of the airplane until he was descending over a river called the Demerara. Below was what looked like an unbroken forest canopy, a monotonous expanse of trees, not a hill in sight.

He realised at that moment that he knew almost nothing about Guyana, despite the reading he'd done to prepare himself, the guidebook information he'd memorised. He didn't know what he was getting himself into. Then among the trees he saw tin roofs, then clearings, the untidy evidence of human settlement, and then the runway, and the plane's engines roared.

It was early afternoon and the heat felt not quite familiar. This was South American heat, with the slightly sweet scent of a bonfire.

He told the immigration officer he was on his way into the interior.

He'd arranged to be met by a taxi, and as he stepped into the front arrival hall he saw the driver holding up a piece of paper with his name written on it in ballpoint ink.

The road to the city was lined with houses, shops, Chinese restaurants every fifty feet, pedestrians, animals. He couldn't make out where one village ended and another began; the blur of buildings on either side of the car seemed a single continuous settlement. He found the bustle reassuring. He saw policemen in tunics of a shade of pale blue too delicate to be practical; a Hindu temple like a pagoda, built of white-painted fretworked wood; a donkey-cart loaded with vegetables under a burlap sack. He had a sense that water was near, then saw the Demerara to the east, its bank demarked by sentinel kokers, Guyana's famous sluice-gates.

But what did the taxi driver talk about, was the car comfortable, did its air-conditioning work, what did he think of the people they passed on the road, their clothes, the way they walked or stood, the signs painted on their shops, the shrubs in their small garden plots, the little wooden footbridges leading to their houses, was this anything like the story he'd told himself, why had he imagined arriving and driving along this road at night?

"You been to Guyana before?"

He told the driver this was his first time. The driver asked why he was here.

"You come for business? Not the best time to be here, you know. You heard 'bout the floods?"

A few weeks before, the strip of low-lying coast where most of Guyana's people lived had been devastated by floodwater, after unseasonable rain overtopped the conservancy dams that protected the settlements, and the old system of drainage canals and sluice gates collapsed. Some villages had been flooded eight feet deep, drowning livestock and destroying crops, and even parts of the capital city were five or six feet below water. Bacterial diseases broke out, and there were fears of epidemics.

"Yes, it flood round by my house too. Four foot in my patch of greens. You could still see the mark on the side of the house where the water reach."

1 comment:

Dylan said...

I really like Imaginary roads part one and two.

Is it your book?

its style is great, full of detail but light in consumption.