Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Returning Home #4: Of Banjul

It makes no sense to divide cities into these two species, but rather into another two: those that through the years and the changes continue to give their form to desires, and those in which desires either erase the city or are erased by it.

- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

His nightly walks. Starting at the Arch and ending at the 22nd July square, the beginning of the market. Something in him that makes him rove, a restlessness, an inability to sit in one place for any length of time. He is coming back from one of these one night when the power cut happens. It catches up with him as goes past Shell - all the streetlights and all the house lights going off, the darkness racing past him as the power cut propagates, he stands there and looks at it, or rather feels it, and it is as if some being whose power was beyond imagining had covered Banjul with black cloth, to isolate it from the world… and though this thought crosses his mind he feels no consternation - quite the opposite: he feels calm and at peace with himself and with the world, as if the darkness carried with it hypnotic power, causing all in its path to forget their world-weariness and their sorrows…

But once he gets home the reality of the waiting world catches up with him: it is hot, and the spiteful mosquitoes seize the chance. He takes mad swipes at them in the dark, always missing, he slaps his ears until they ring, he curses the power company and the temperature.

He has been thinking about writing an essay about Banjul, before he leaves it once again. But it is not as easy as he thought at first. First there is a problem of representation. The more he knows about writing the higher the standards he sets for himself to beat, the greater the length of the road he sees he must travel, on his apprenticeship. Only a year ago he would have written a clever piece, a look-at-how-smart-I-am essay describing the City, with many asides meant to be humorous. Perhaps using the tired trick of inserting himself into the narrative, attempting a feat of recursion, and then waiting in barely muted anticipation for the comments of his friends who read it, keeping score: the ones who liked it, and the ones who liked it very much. So in the end what he wrote would be more about him than about the City, yet another example of the modest vanity he has cultivated so well over the years. Now he has become more wary, has begun to see just how difficult a task it is he has set himself. He is no longer as sure of what he can and cannot do, the hard certainties which made him begin to write turned into brittle doubts.

How, then, exactly to go about distilling the essence of a City, of his City, of Banjul - distilling it and recreating it on paper: of what it feels like to live there, to grow up there and be a waa Banjul, a person on the other side of the bridge.

He thinks, I will write of the great struggle between the Island and the Sea. The Sea always on the verge of destroying the Island, a dream of rushing through its streets and byways in a great flood, in an ecsatic wrath, crushing and destroying all in its path. He thinks he will write about them without anthropomorphizing them. A centuries old struggle, the Sea and the Island old enemies, and like all old enemies with a bond existing between them, that held them together. He writes:

"What did I miss?", the Sea asked, yawning. He had been asleep for 200 years.

The Island shrugged, and did not speak. She was in a bad mood.

He stops there. The lines do not ring quite true to him - a good first line contains the story within itself, curled up and stowed away ready to be unfurled and released. But he cannot think of what to make of these lines, where to go with them.

The next day he is in a van on his way to work. Riding past the christian graveyard, he can see bits of the beach, in between the houses and the trees. The waves lapping at the shore in determination, hundreds of them, thousands of them, coming in and going out, only to come in again. There is a woman at the side of the road, three bags of rice in front of her. The apprentice stops the van and begins to negotiate with the woman, and he watches them and is filled with impatience. He hates waiting, in any form. From where the van has stopped he can see the beach again. Now the waves seem to be stroking the beach, a hand running over hair, a woman in bed next to him… how wrong he got the relationship. It is not an enmity, has never been that. It is a love story, one older than all the humans on the Island. He is excited at the idea, can see where it will go, though he does not have the lines he will write yet. He lets it stew all that day. And in the evening when he gets home and has dispensed with the social actions required of him, he sits down in his room and begins to write.

He knows a little about love. He has fallen into its current a few times himself. So he knows how it changes the blood to ichor, that burns through the veins with such passion that you stop being the center of your own universe, and the person you love becomes it. He knows too that the underside of love is sadness and sorrow, that if circumstances do not separate you from the object of your affection, then death will, sooner or later. But he is only a man. How could the Sea feel these things, how could an Island? And he thinks, perhaps love itself, the emotion, can be abstracted. Perhaps it need not apply only to humans (could a cat love? could a dog?). And with these thoughts in his mind he begins to write:

On Monday he came in slowly behind the tide. He found her with the winds, which excitedly blew about, bringing her news from their travels. He sat in a prim silence, pointedly not laughing at their jokes, not commenting on anything they said. And she continued to speak to them, hoping they would not leave, trying to draw him into the conversation. But finally in the face of his hostility the winds left, skipping off with light laughs, promising to return… She turned wearily to him, waiting… but he sat there still, in a moody silence, and did not speak. And her irritability changed, to a kind of sympathy, despite herself. Who knew what went on in his tortured brain? What is it, she asked him. Is everything well with you? He muttered a gruff reply, and then again was silent. They sat like this until the evening descended, the Sun a perfect orange ball framed at the horizon, in the space between the clouds and him. And she looked at this scene, the way he was laid out with the sun, its fire almost dead, hovered over him, taking its last few breaths, before it was submerged within him forever. And his grumpiness did nothing to spoil it, and she could not help but smile. He looked upon her face at that moment, and she saw the misunderstanding in his eyes. I was not laughing at you, she protested, but it was to his departing back, the foam rising angrily behind him. And all that night she thought guiltily about what had happened.

When he came on Tuesday she had prepared herself. She would let him shout, let him shed all his anger. And then they would speak normally again. She knew him, knew his moods passed as swiftly as they arrived - and then in a show of introspection he would apologize, analyzing his own behavior, promising to not repeat it in the future. But when he arrived he said nothing of the previous day. He was in high spirits - a large schooner had sunk early that morning, taking with it all its crew. He couldn't stop talking about it, and the deaths - how the men had wailed out at each other in the dark, and screamed when they bumped into any moving object. She found the topic rather too gruesome for her liking - how could someone swallow a living, breathing thing with blood in it, and bones. And so she tried to change it. But she met with no success, and after a while she just sat there, lost in her thoughts, muttering the occasional unhu. Finally he left, shouting out a cheerful goodnight.

On Wednesday when he came he was in a strange mood. He would not look her in the eye. After failing with several attempts to start a conversation, she finally asked him, what is it? She asked him, What did I do this time? It is nothing, he said. Only, and he stopped, but she was silent, not helping him, not hindering him. Only these….feelings, he said. What feelings?, she asked him, and her tone was stern, and brooked no nonsense. I am… confused, he said, still not looking at her. About what?, she said, and she was looking straight at him. About us, he blurted out. What is there to be confused about?, she asked, and her tone could have cut ice, would have cut him if he was frozen, We are two friends who spend the evenings in conversation. Oh, he said, never mind - I am not confused anymore - of course that is it. But she would not drop it - she wanted this to end here once and for all. What else could we be?, she asked him, have you seen in me any manner which would incline you to think that we are more than just friends? He looked up at her quickly, a look of confusion on his face - or perhaps it was panic - and then he was looking at the ground again. He shook his head no. Good, she said, then perhaps I can believe that nothing in your actions inclines me to either. Glad to have that settled. Now you must leave - I would like to be alone for a while. Of course, he said, and his voice trembled a little at the end. Then he was gone.

That night he returned, bringing with him a collection of shells, dragging it in with the tide and laying them out on her shores. They are beautiful, she said, smiling and looking at him. And he looked at her for a moment, and he was smiling too. And then he left, just like that, without a word.

After he had left she sat alone.The night deepened. She looked at the Sea, its wide expanse, blanketed in blackness, and where the blackness met the Sea's surface it was a dirty gray. At some point she fell into a dream, in which he came to her, while she sat alone in the night like this. He came with a great roaring, and a fierce fury, and it excited her, and he came to her shores, and he did not stop, and he came ashore, and he did not stop, and she felt alarm, but her heart raced too, at this new boldness of his, how he did not stop, or ask her leave. And he covered her, and she gave herself in to him, in the dream, until she was almost submerged - and then at the last he stopped, and regarded her. And his eyes burnt with a fire she did not recognize, that she had never associated with him, or his kind. And then the night passed, and the Sun rose, and she shrugged off the dream and once more sat regarding the wakeful world.

He made good conversation, when he was not in one of his strange moods. He could be funny - some days he made her laugh so much she would still be chuckling as she remembered his jokes a week later. Yet as a lover how below par he would be. How cold his embrace, lap-lapping at her shores. Fumbling, containing no tenderness. A roughness, in the way he spoke, the way he held himself - excusable in a friend but unacceptable in a lover. And the chill that came off him, especially at night. So far from the warmth of other lands, a warmth she thought she remembered but that she might only have dreamt - she did not know how long she had been an Island, could not remember a moment when she was not. His salt and his spray. How unpredictable he was, how every day you could get either the most interesting friend in the world, or an irritable, lovelorn mood changer - and you never knew what you would get on what day.

And yet there was the way he looked at her, as if she were the greatest City in the world, greater even than the much larger cities the winds described to her in their stories. How increasingly these days she felt herself in a strange mood when he came. Not elated, not exactly, more a soothing calm which descended over her, as if everything in the Universe had a space perfectly matched to it, and she had found hers, and was content in it. She felt needed, she realized when she thought about it, that was it - she felt needed, and it was a feeling that filled her with a tingly sensation. And she thought about how he had said he was confused, how vulnerable he had looked in that moment, and she smiled to herself.

When he returned the next day there was a difference. In the way they spoke to each other. In the way their eyes met. A look, a shared space between them that only the other could see. A newfound gentleness, so at times their words seemed like caresses, almost, vessels of emotion loaded to bursting with desire… A fact each acknowledged only silently. Neither watched what they said - he not trying to be perfect for her, she not trying not to offend him, at something she said, at the way she looked at him. And so they spoke, and every word each spoke was just the right word, in that time and that place. Like two sisters, sharing a room from birth. Completely comfortable in each others' presence. They spoke about random things, inconsequential things, and yet the conversation was not uninteresting, to either of them. He said nothing about feelings now - there was no need for that - and she was glad. And she in her turn let her guard down completely, and spoke to him frankly, and with great intimacy. Was that affection in her voice, he thought, or was he only imagining it. So this is what he is truly like, she thought, how I have wanted and missed this all these years. And her heart softened toward him, and he grew in his boldness. He did not leave until late, until the moon hung over both of them in the night sky, its halo spreading outward in the darkness, but insufficient and barely lifting the darkness off her trees, and his waves. I must be going now, he finally said. Now? Must you?, she asked, and though she tried to make the sadness in her voice sound as if she were only mocking, pretending at sadness, he saw clearly in her expression that she must mean it, or at least a part of it. And for a moment he felt what it must be like, this moment expanded into decades, into centuries - what it must feel to be loved by her, to be looked at in that way every morning, a look that dissipated the night and was the Sun before the Sun rose, filling him with an energy which would take him through the rest of the day. And his heart was filled with such joy at the possibility that he shivered, the waves rising higher behind him. Then her expression was once more its old cast, one friend to another, revealing nothing. Yes, he said, turning, goodnight - I will see you tomorrow.

That night after he had left she did not sleep. One of the winds dropped by, but she was in no mood for conversation, and soon it left, flying off to the North to join its companions, leaving her in a pensive mood. She sat, deep in thought like this all night, an inscrutable expression on her face. The time passed quickly. And then it was dawn, and a pale light on the horizon announced the coming of the Sun. Can Islands cry? Or was it only the spray from the waves, carried to her eyes by the flippant sea breezes?

In the morning he had to stop himself from going to her immediately. But when the Sun was at its midpoint waystation in its journey across the sky, he could bear it no longer. He set out.

As soon as he arrived he noticed how things had changed, how this day would not be the same as the previous one. It was not that any physical thing had changed - it was only that there was a new taste to the air, a tautness between them where before there had been a warm, affectionate space. Her eyes would not meet his. They sat in awkward silence for a while - he could not think what to say. And then she began to speak, softly, her voice like the wind. You know, she told him, I was not always an Island. And he looked at her, and her eyes were sparkling. Oh, he said. Once upon a time, she said, there were Lands all around me. And they kept me warm, and were my friends. We had such good times together. Oh, he said. Lands makes the best lovers, you know, she said, they are so gentle, and so kind. And he saw where she was headed with this, what she wished to say to him, and his heart sank - deep, deep to the Sea floor. And he would have turned then and left and never returned, but for something in him which hardened in that moment, that made him feel a flash of anger. Let her complete it, then, and then he would tell her his mind, and then he would leave. She was looking off into the distance with a wistful look in her eyes, and she saw none of this. I am betroth to one, you know, she said, and there was a strain in her voice, a different timbre, the slightest hint of a tremble, and he loved me deeply. I am sure he roams the world still, searching for me. One day we shall meet… And she stopped. Then he prepared to speak, and he looked into her eyes, and what he saw there shocked him. She remembered nothing, her whole story was a lie, a fabrication. Or perhaps, he thought, more charitably, a dream. Yes, a dream, her eyes seemed to confirm, and he felt the anger in his heart subside. And he said to her, I am sure he is. And he said, I must go now. Very well, she said, and he thought there was a little coldness in her manner, as if they were already proper strangers again. He looked back at her as he left. He will come - I am sure he will, if you only wait. Thank you, she said, and she smiled at him, and in her face was a sadness so deep, so profound, it seemed to originate from a place within her that no one could reach.

They never saw each other again.

He reads over what he has written. He does not like it. It has a few good sentences, but he is not happy with the way it turned out. Or the line about the underside of love being sadness and sorrow - it paints him as too much of a cynic, makes him look cold and unaffectionate. He had not known how it would end, but he had assumed it would be a happy ending, that the fumbling, inept Sea would get the girl (or the City, as it were). And they would be happy together. But man proposes, and the plot disposes, he thinks wryly, and the thought makes him smile.

But he does not give up. The next day he is at it again immediately after work, sitting in his bed, leaning against a pillow propped up behind him, the laptop open in front of him. He thinks, I will write a word-painting of Banjul. Descriptions of sights and sounds and smells, a recreation on paper of my experience. A description in which the City will be the main character, instead of a person:

The chsss of fish being fried on an open charcoal stove, a furr-noe. A blind man walks through the streets, loudly singing prayers and asking for money through a megaphone, the sound announcing him before he ever turns onto a street. The Sun is bright, so bright - there is not a cloud to be seen in the sky. And where the Sun goes life follows: young half-naked boys playing football on the streets, the kids at daara, yelling out the Arabic harraf after a teacher, who reads it from a board in a sing-song voice…

He stops. He does not know how to continue. The sentences are too loose, too disconnected - in all the best writing one sentence leads to another almost as if from natural consequence, brother-sentences and sister-sentences, all lined up, all connected. But this - it does not have the right… feel to it. When he reads it it is merely a collection of words, giving rise to no form, a body made of clay but lacking the breath which is the difference between life and non-life, successful writing and unsuccessful.

That night his walk is different, and not entirely enjoyable. He has abandoned Independence drive, and walked deep into the heart of the City. Streetlights at irregular intervals, half of them flickering on and off, the other half not being even on… The shadows are filled with a heavy menace, feeling somehow more *real* than the objects and people casting them… As if the shadows came first, moulded out of the darkness at the beginning of Time by a Creator who worked without illumination, and then the objects, the people - a tree, a house, a person passing by - came after, a product of the shadows and the way the light fell on them… The heat is stifling - he walks at a fast pace to get home, to his room and his bed, into the tender hands of sleep… He feels flustered, his skin itches. But when he goes home he thinks, this is as well an aspect of the City - its deep, dark, hidden interior. He thinks, Let me try writing about it. And though he is not in the mood he opens his laptop and begins:

But the night has many aspects, and takes many forms. The darkness is an oppressive presence from an adjacent World, seeping into the city through the gutters and the steaming pot-holes, spreading like night through the streets. And where it goes failure follows it, heat and mosquitoes follow it, electric lights go off as if snuffed out, televisions fall silent, their light extinguished, no longer reflected on the faces of the enraptured viewers in the rooms of the city; there is the occasional loud cry of dismay, the rare saaga ndey, but the spread of the darkness is marked principally with a silence, as at a wake, the city itself the corpse, all the men and women and children on it marking its passing, by now used to this; even the streetlights fall under the advance of the darkness - nothing can survive its passage. There is no moon tonight - when he looks up the sky is full of stars, pinpoints of light in the night, and they look old, balls of fire traveling across great distances and bearing the malevolent motive of their creator, part of a grand design which includes him but over which he has no control… an approach toward an abyss, an inability to turn, to even look away, for a moment… The air above him presses down on his shoulders, and it is a weight that has always been there, yet he is only just noticing it… shapes loom out of the darkness and turn out to be little boys… a man throws a shadow the size of a midget… He passes a street where one lone streetlight is on, and under it stands a bent old man, and on his face there is an expression that makes him shudder and walk on, thinking of suicides, the end of emotion… Men stand in consort with each other, waiting to rob and murder him - when he comes up close it is a group of children, who do not even seem to be with each other - lone walkers through the City in the dark - yet who knows what they are capable of? What was age after all - sidestepping what he imagines are holes in the ground he is filled with feelings that cannot quite manage to become sighs, so heavy are they with the knowledge of the futility of all things, a kind of anti-emotion… he sees blood, and how it has been spilt… men have died here, and women too. He thinks of the city, he thinks of a jealous man living amongst his brothers, one day in a fit of rage killing them all, one after the other. Afterward an Island, drifting alone through the waters of the world. Forever marked and cursed: slaves marching through marshy ground, mud on their cracked feet, a rotting smell in the air… furtive dealings in the darkness (which was much older than he had thought at first, so old it could be tasted, with just a little effort). A reaching out… an attempt at empathy: not jealousy, after all, on the brother's part, but only a fierce need to be needed… the beginnings of a faint hope, of the arrival of a savior, a messiah - but too late - the curse uttered: the Island's children wailing, its muezzins with terrible braying voices, cracked with sleep and hunger (or perhaps a tiredness, at faithful who never answered the call anymore, emptying mosques and emptier collection boxes)…. A future of dust, and sand, a great drought; or failing that water, a great drowning; or failing that man falling upon man, a great war… Arguments on the streets turning into fights as easy as night falling - brutish ugly fights involving shattered vimto bottles and exposed jugulars, screwdrivers and slender necks, knives and eyes… All who can have escaped, to Kotu, to Brusubi - for what is left here? Death and ruination, shattered dreams, youth grown old and impotent, and painfully aware of how badly it has failed - yet still holding on to one last hope, one last dream of an old toubab woman, descending from the skies, desiring only love, and in return ready to give the world and everything in it… A heat which burned everything it touched, yet did not consume it…

He stops. He is filled with gloominess - it infects him, it infects his thought and his writing. In the past he has discovered the seeds of essays and short stories in a certain controlled kind of melancholy - but always they have turned out in the end hopeful (or at least beginning to approach that), always they have made him feel better, that things are not so bad after all. But tonight he cannot seem to write anything else - he sees the inevitable doom inherent in all things, he sees it clearly and he can see nothing else. He thinks he will stop writing. He thinks if his pen can write nothing good then better not to write at all.

For some reason - perhaps the quality of the night, its restorative abilities - he feels much better in the morning. He is in a playful mood. In the shower he gets an idea - what if for the final attempt he subverted the language of a tourist information brochure, used it for his needs. He would set up the outward facing side of Banjul, and in a running commentary show the actual reality, a sort of side by side comparison. After his shower he goes to his room and gets his laptop, too excited to go eat some breakfast first:

Known as the smiling coast of Africa, The Gambia is one of the most peaceful developing countries on the continent. [A smile, to start with - evoking warmth, and happiness. Choose 'developing' over 'developed', the former continuous and active, the latter a stagnant state, self-satisfied, unmoving - and speak also about peace, our greatest strength. Note to self: revisit theme of peace later on. He debates whether to keep using the official-but-absolutely-detestable "The Gambia", or what Gambians actually call it: "Gambia". Finally he decides to let the "The" stay - he does not want to confuse tourists.]. Its people are warm and genuinely kind, and its cuisine one of the best in the World: from our famous mbahal bu tilim (with diwtirr added), to our delectable Domoda Yaapa (with diwtirr added). [Perhaps there was too much diwtirr here - perhaps it wasn't necessary to mention, a superfluous piece of information. But no - how could mbahal or domoda be complete without diwtirr, and adding it to the foods gives them a certain exoticness, he imagined, to a foreigner who could not speak Wolof, and did not know what "diwtirr" really meant.]

And at the heart of the smiling coast lies the most beautiful city in the world: Banjul, formerly known as Bathurst, formerly known as Banjulo. [He likes the idea of using all three names linked together - it seems sort of a condensed history of the Island, and he thinks it sounds rather poetic.] A lively but quaint [quaint presenting our old, in-need-of-reconstruction buildings as simply a beauty that has aged, and aged well too - tourists *love* that kind of thing… lively to show that age did not necessarily mean boring - to assure them that if they were the partying kind they would have plenty of places to go] Island located on the Atlantic Ocean [was it the Atlantic Ocean? He had to check] Banjul was originally known as Bathurst, and started out as a British guardpoint to intercept slaveships attempting to enter the ocean. So you could say it had humble but honorable beginnings. ["humble but honorable'. He liked that. But would "honorable but humble" have worked better? No, no, didn't sound as good]. As the main focal point for the fight against slavery, Banjul played a very important part in the eventual abolition of the practise. [OK enough about the slave trade - he might start sounding like he is on the attack, and if there is one things toubabs hate it is being reminded about a past in which they were not humane and did not act in a noble fashion - best to start a new paragraph, leave all the bad business behind us, where it belongs]

Home to a population of about 60,000 people [ people ends too quickly and ends the rhythm of that part - it needs an adjective in front of it to adjust the sound. He tries "beaming locals", but it sounds vaguely insulting (evidence of idiocy even). Finally he leaves people in, and makes a note to think of something later] Banjul is right next to the Atlantic Ocean, and as a result is much cooler than many other African cities [not an untruth exactly - he is sure there are at least *some* African countries is less hot than]. The Gambia is known for its hospitality - the inhabitants of Banjul are extremely hospitable and friendly. We defy you to see a frowning face. [? As in, excuse me are you trying to make this whole thing entirely unbelievable? Ah - doesn't hurt to exaggerate here and there - it is to be expected, after all].

At the center of Banjul there is a large, bustling market called "Marche Banjul", where you can everything from dried bonga fish (a great local delicacy - we urge you to try it) to new sandals (locally known as "nyamba" and very useful for playing football on the beach). [ Good, good - everything interlinked, one thing leading to another - let's see if we can maintain this tone…]

Because of the size of Banjul - neither so large that your neighbors are strangers, nor so small that everyone knows everyone else by first name - people often walk to places. The Sun does get a little warm sometimes though, so we advise you to stack up on suntan lotion [is it 'sun lotion' or 'suntan lotion'? He'll have to look that up] and umbrellas [the thought of a toubab walking around with an umbrella under the hot sun, peering shortsightedly at all these locals who look exactly alike makes him smile.] If you are in a rush you can grab one of the taxis that patrol the streets, painted in a bright yellow and green. There is a fixed rate for traveling to anywhere within Banjul [should he mention town trips? Would that be too much detail?]. In addition you get to share your ride with three bona fide Banjulians, exchanging smells and words as you travel to your destination. [Attempt at a joke - would it work? Is it too crude, too unsubtle? But then again toubabs would laugh at anything.]

Other cities have open-air fruit markets, in one destination you have to go to no matter how far away you live. In Banjul we have Peul (one of the local tribes, known for their hunting and cattle-rearing prowess, now the Invisible Hands of the Gambian Commerce) [casting the Peul as mythic - toubabs love mythic] who wander the streets with wheelbarrows, hawking whatever is in season. In the mood for a quick apple? Grab one from a passing Peul at a very reasonable price. (Super Traveler Hint: Never buy a thing at the price stipulated. Haggle over everything, even if it is free to start with). [OK - much better than the first joke, even made him smile. But enough jokes now - we want these people to take us seriously and start buying tickets and booking hotels.]

In addition Banjul has a beach which is one of most beautiful in Africa. Its glistening sands are soft and warm to the touch, as you walk there in the evening, looking out at the Sea and the Sun which has lost its fire, and floats there helpless and hopeless, looking out at a World about to be engulfed in darkness… [Alright, alright - enough of the corn. Too much darkness. Must remove that particular sequence when I edit - but leave it in for now.] The beach is at most a 15-minute walk from anywhere in Banjul, and affords a peaceful location to just chill, or play football with the locals. [He still has a problem with the word "locals" for some reason - maybe it's because in Wolof "local" meant a hillbilly?] Be sure to bring back a pair of shorts. [Should he say something about bikinis? He has never seen anyone in a bikini at the Banjul beach - does this mean it's a great taboo?]

He stops writing. He does not like it. It attempts to be too clever, it has deviated from his original goal of setting it up as a portrait of the difference between outward-facing Banjul (the heart of the smiling coast, the bush taxis and tourist market, the rides in coasters high than any other car on the road, viewing platforms and sunglasses, beaming smiles and digital cameras flashing…) and inner Banjul (the houses with corrugated fences which leant further and further to the ground every year, the houses that flooded during the time of heavy rains, the forgotten youth, finding solace in gaanja and Baye Faal, the women in their worn T-shirts and much-used malaans, selling ice on the street, everyone together on a vessel which travelled with them inside it through time, and they all held hands and lived and fought and loved and hoped that one day in the not-so-desperate future the vessel at last would land at its location, and they would all unboard, and then what? No one knows - that is what hope is). He gives a heavy sigh, and looks at his laptop screen. He cannot write about the City yet - he is not ready. He thinks it the best City in the world, deep inside him he has no doubts. But he cannot show this yet to another person, he does not yet possess the words for it, or even if he does he does not know how to wield them, bring them together in the correct configuration. He is not yet that good a writer. With time this will change. One day he will wake up in the morning and hear the calls of "Serekunda! Serekunda!" from the nearby road, he will go out onto the street dressed in shorts and an undershirt, completely un-self-conscious, he will say "Asalamu Aleikum" to the merr passing, on their way to the market and they will ask after his mother, he will see the kids from Gambia High buying Mburoe Pompiterr and Mburoe Omelette, joking and teasing each other, he will see the fitters in their garage, one beneath a car while the others pass him tools, he will see the Serers next door at their washtubs, washing clothes for the whole street. He will stop for a moment and breathe in the air of Banjul, Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide, Gutters and Rotten Fish, Fried Fish and Chicken, Thuyi Diwliin, Thuyi Diwtirr, Netetu, Gehja, the fragrances the women put on in their houses before they leave in the morning, this and a hundred other smells. And he will know he is ready, and he will go back inside and show Banjul to the world, as he and all the other people who live here see it.