This One Time, 91

This one time I was listening to the drums from the lot next door — “Mama”, with her deep voice, the alto tones of “Second”, the quicker rattle of “Bowl”, the insistent ting of “Organ” (these are the names as I heard them from someone whose accent put any certainty about what I was hearing just out of reach) — as the sun was going down. Technically the lot was a church, with a tent of stitched-together tarps covering the largest part of the open space. Tonight I’m sure the lot would be full of people dancing and singing and praying.

I couldn’t relegate the drums to background noise, so I put down my book. There was no way I could be annoyed, though. I’d lived next to a church once that insisted on chiming bells at the top of the daylight hours, and that cycle didn’t quite match up to mine. Also, the “bells” were some recorded nonsense, amplified beyond the true capacity of the system to deliver. The snap of the system turning on was louder than the bells, and the undercutting sixty-cycle hum from the poorly tuned amp made me grit my teeth. Not that any part of the thing appealed to me, but it was poorly done, bordering on the cheesy, and that was hard to forgive.

I’d considered complaining, or offering my help to smooth out the kinks, or starting a collection to get actual bells installed, even, but as things turned out I’m glad I didn’t interfere. Somewhere there was at least one person who was happy with it, satisfied that he or she or they did something they could be proud of, and who am I to suck the joy out of that? Besides, the best I could really have offered was an ancient tube amp that warmed up a thousand times more smoothly but looked like old worthless crap, and I’m sure they wouldn’t have appreciated that or seen the value. And I’d miss the old thing.

These drums were worth listening to, however. The rhythms were familiar, at least by now, but also as elements that had sneaked into music I’ve been listening to for years. And also that was somebody’s prayer of invocation. I might be an asshole sometimes, and not on good terms with too many gods, but I seriously didn’t have it in me to take issue with anyone’s approach to comfort or hope right now.

The sun gave us a whole day of nearly normal behavior today, and that was reason for some amount of celebration and giving thanks. And praying for it to turn into a lifetime streak.

I could get behind that.

I considered going down to see if they would let me join them, but I wasn’t sure how well that would go. I lacked the cultural background to know what was going on, and frankly I was worried that the color of my skin could be an issue. I know the islands range all over the map skin-tone-wise, but I’m pretty damn white. I know they’d rather not feel like they were some kind of spectacle, and I guessed I could hear well enough with the window open.

It feels really odd to think that things might be going back to normal — for a given value of normal. We’ve already had some pretty amazing storms and everyone expects those to go on for a while before they taper off. Power’s back on at least in places. Some of the satellites survived, even. But food’s going to be pretty tight worldwide. It’s going to take decades just to catalog everything we’ve lost.

And nobody trusts the sun anymore. Nobody knows if there’s going to be “aftershocks” or even what caused whatever that was in the first place. I expect all the churches will be full for the next few months, years even, while we sort this out. And out this window, what I have to think of as my own church was meeting.

I kicked the only comfortable chair in my apartment up to the window and sank back into it, closing my eyes and relaxing into the rhythms. My right hand worked along as usual, tapping on my knee and the arm of my chair, and my left? Well, with my eyes closed, my left hand was keeping up just fine. When I sneaked a peek, however, it was still missing. The aches came and went in waves that I could grit my teeth and get through.

Maybe if things had been normal they could have saved it. If the hospital had had electricity and phones, if surgeons and specialists had been able to travel to get there, If I hadn’t had to wait five hours to make the trip and wait an additional six hours to get into an operating room…. Who knows? There are a billion people out there who lost more than a hand.

But when my missing hand was drumming, the ache went away. That was good to know.

The service continued for hours. After a while, Mama and the rest of her ensemble were put away and replaced by Grobaka and Tibaka, and I worked to pick out the separate rhythms.

In just a few minutes I was keeping up and, once again, free of every kind of pain.


April 1, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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