Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Extent of the Sea


By any measure it seems a disproportionate response to a soft, distant and unthreatening sound. Jolting awake she sits up in bed for a while and then walks to the window of her room. The sound is too real to have emanated from her dream and also too incongruous; but neither does it fit here. In a cheap motel, on the outskirts of a city deep in the hills - the sound of waves?

She throws on a windbreaker - here she sleeps with the clothes she would go out in - and heads downstairs, then out onto the deserted street. The source of the sound is not very far away, as is the river that feeds and winds itself around most of this city. But rivers gurgle on unceasingly, they do not surge and withdraw; and anyway this river is silent here, there are no rapids or shallows.

So what is it? By the time she re-enters the motel her exit has been noted by the lady boss, who now watches her with a smile from behind the counter. She is not carrying any luggage, she has no intention of running away without paying tonight's fee - or she thinks that is the evaluation of her being carried out now. She wants to ask about the sound of waves, but there seems no appropriate way of framing such an inherently absurd question.


She wakes up at seven thirty, greets and thanks the lady boss for her hospitality and free, strong coffee, and then enters the streets. Last night's interlude she puts down to first-night jitters - it just happens.

Nonetheless she walks toward the river, and where the road meets the water she sees the large flat space, like a parade square, now crossed with long lines on which all the clothes of the city seem to be arrayed to dry. Under brilliant sunlight the colours look even more pronounced, and their movements in the breeze renders her speechless.

Across the road from the washing square, middle-aged women throng the coffeeshop; these must be the washer women. Some of them wave at her, and then laugh when she waves back. With her fair complexion and camera she is obviously foreign, something inherently distant like the sea whose sounds they replicate night after night. She, whose life was mostly spent much closer to the sea than they would ever be, tries to recall when the last time she saw and heard waves was to no avail.