You can't sleep.
The wind is blowing. Somewhere in the house there's a door that's not shut, and it's creaking and banging and rattling, and you might as well get up and try to get the words out.
About a month before you came here, a woman, drunk and suicidal, drove her car into a streetlight pole just down the street from the house where your girlfriend stays. Then, apparently upset to find herself still alive, she backed-up and accelerated right through the wall in front of your girlfriend's house, right up to the door, where she was stopped by the front steps.
She survives, and you assume she is arrested, though you do not know. She is not heard from again.
It took a month, but the wall's back up. Everyone's got a wall here. A month without a wall in front of your house in Port Elizabeth is a month without a front door in the States. Everyone's got a wall, and everyone's got something on top of the wall: little spikes, electrical wire, something. A lot of them have something behind the wall: hulking, ferocious guard dogs that bark at everyone they see.
The house's backyard walls have the spikes, and your neighbor has electric wire that runs above the spikes. You are completely protected from your neighbor breaking into the house.
The front wall of this house, now freshly replaced, has nothing on top of it. It's about six feet tall. Yesterday some punk kids were tossing a rugby ball around and one of them threw it over the wall. One kid, about 13, just boosted himself over the wall, grabbed the ball, and went back over it. He didn't mean any harm, but it's not making you sleep any easier.
Nor is the woman who came by earlier this day. She looked nice, and she had a clipboard. ("Normally I have a laptop," she said, oddly, more than once.) She asked your girlfriend some survey questions about radio stations or music or something.
Then there were other questions.
"How many TVs do you have in the house?"
"How many laptops?"
"What about other electronics?"
The girlfriend said, over and over, "Oh, no, we don't have any." Smart. You're stupid. You'd have said, "Oh, there's two TVs in here, but most of us watch movies on our laptops."
You can't sleep. Some house down the street had its alarm go off last night, when you couldn't sleep. A minute went by and they didn't turn it off. You remember when you heard that 99 per cent of the time home security alarms go off by homeowner error. "Not here," you think.
The alarm wailed for five minutes. Then five more, and five more after that. The homeowner is either deaf, dead, or out of town. The alarm finally stopped, and yet you were not comforted.
There was a free shuttle bus that just started to take students from around where you stay to the campus and back. It ran a few weeks. The taxi drivers--the one's you'd seen as funny characters, written about them jokingly--were not happy. A couple days ago one of them walked into the road in front of a free shuttle. When it stopped, the taxi guy crooked his finger and thumb so that they looked like a gun, and pointed at the driver. The free shuttles stopped running.
You can't sleep because a couple weeks ago, when you and the girl were off on your little safari trip, some guys walked through the non-wall in front of the house and took a baseball bat to one of the girl's windows. Then they left. They were probably just drunk kids, vandals, though you don't know. They are not heard from again.
Another alarm goes off tonight, somewhere down the block. This one stops after just a minute, and you wonder what that means.
Wind whips against the house. The birds make the most haunting noises here, and light raindrops can sound so much like footsteps.
. . .
You try to let go.
There's not much difference, really, when you look close. You drive through an all-black part of East London and you look close. The old men sit down and look tired, and one lights the other's cigarette. The young guys stand on corners and stare at you over their shoulders and try to look hard. The girls show a mile of leg and laugh, hard. You've seen all this, more or less.
You try to let go of "normal." First world, third world, the developing world. . . There is no juxtaposition, just position.
The BMW drives by the goat farmer who lives in a little aluminum rectangle. And maybe the driver thinks "Poor bastard," and the goat farmer thinks, "Rich bastard." Or maybe the driver thinks, "I wish it were that simple," and maybe the farmer thinks "I'd rather have a Lexus."
Maybe you just think too damn much and they're both thinking the same thing: "Beautiful day, inn'it?"
Let go of the fact that the best piece of local nonfiction you've read since you got here was a stunner of an essay in the Sunday Times by a journalist who's paranoid because a few years ago someone showed up at his bedroom window and shot at him and his wife. And he was a local, a native, a lifer here.
Could you really--do you really think that, as you've said a number of times in your own head and maybe even once out loud--do you really think you could move here?
Yes, you think you could, and you think you could let go.
You can't sleep because there's something blowing in your head, and it'll keep banging and rattling until you get up and get the words out.