Spoken-word script originally conceived for the Anywhere Festival audio-based launch show 'Scavenger Hunt', March 2015. Parts could be heard in different configurations through headphones alongside a backing track composed by Isha Ram Das as audiences moved between locations.
We began our evening here. All giddy and off work, we rode those terrible City Council bicycles to the pool. We wanted to swim before they drained the water, and to wash off the sweat we had on us from riding across town.
But the pool was full of splashing sportsmen, and the fence was high, and the kiddy pool was empty. We didn’t stick around long. She and I ran, dashing around the park, sweating because we didn’t know what else to do. We laughed, and we found one of those terrible bubblers that don’t shoot high enough to actually drink from. I put my thumb over the nozzle to spray her and she tackled me.
When I said we were giddy, I meant it. We were also itchy with grass, but we didn’t mind. It’d been a long week—sweat and grass stains on the knees of our jeans were the least of our worries. In fact, the night was supposed to be worry-free. We weren’t worrying. It was one of those perfect early-Autumn nights, where the air is warm enough that you don’t need a jacket, but cool enough that you can sit close to one another.
“Isn’t it strange,” she said, over the distant sound of the waterpolo players, “that this can be so beautiful?”
I asked her what she meant, told her that maybe she’d been looking too hard at the chiseled abs of the waterpolo players.
“I think I was just talking about the park,” she said. And then: “What if one day the pool got turned into an aquarium? Everyone would show up for waterpolo practice, and there’d be an octopus in the pool with them.”
“Don’t be absurd,” I said. “Don’t be absurd.”
I wondered though. What if I’d been doing my laps next to an octopus this whole time, and I never knew because I hadn’t opened my eyes. Not just because of the chlorine either, but because of how I was looking at the world through a lens, a lens of assumed knowledge that didn’t take into account that a place may not be what you’re thinking of until you…
II. Bent Books
It was warm inside the bookstore, and the walls were lined with the spines of novels, and there barely seemed to be any shelves at all, just piles and piles of books, which reminded me of my father’s library.
Out back there were three people seated round the courtyard, sat on benches and chairs and talking to each other. Also like my father, they had probably been drinking.
We looked for a book she could use as a journal. She liked the idea of an old paperback that was double-spaced so she could write between the lines. Like the way she’d always been told to read—by her mother, her teachers, her most recent ex.
She looked in all her life for the meaning in faces, the potential in places, the symbols in spaces. Poetry. Like that. Like the book she held out to me in her hands.
“I think I like this one,” she said. “I can write in the margins, and between the lines.”
I tried to think what she could have meant by that.
I smiled and nodded and we wondered round some more. I looked at the books—Hemingway, Murakami, Nabokov. All these books with crinkled spines and secondhand smells. I turned and asked her:
“Do we leave things behind in spaces because we do not value them, or because we value them enough to pass them on?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “But I’m gonna write that down.”
The three people outside were still talking. We stood and recorded in her new book our own thoughts mixed with theirs, but we came to no conclusions. It was beautiful, though. All of it was beautiful.
In the back room we traced over the spines of books that stuck out unevenly. We rearranged some of them to line up, but we dropped some of the books on the floor and, embarrassed, we left.
But we wrote something on the doorway on our way out. Leaving a piece of ourselves behind.
A slice of paradise.
The first thing that hit us was the smell. No, that’s a lie. The first thing that hit us was the skulls peering through the windows, the oldschool lighting, the strange symbology on book covers. The incense only hit us when we went inside. She sneezed when she smelled it, but I only felt at peace. The place felt familiar to me, to both of us. The books on the shelves, the unusual jars and containers and—well, just all of it. It all felt familiar to us, like the back-room library of the place we housesat together a couple summers back—the strange skulls staring at us while we spent lazy afternoons trading touches between pages in the long, tome-like novels each of us had bought with us.
Neither of us finished our books, of course. We spent too much time at the beach, or underneath one another, or throwing ideas at walls and hoping something would stick. Brainstorming. Thinking. Watching each other.
And then we’d come back to the busyness of life. And it had felt like there was no time to think, no time to devote ourselves to our ideas. Which I guess is why we got out to West End in the first place. Which is why we were smelling (or sneezing) in the scents of Ecclectica. Because we could.
Because we needed to.
“Tarot reading,” she said. “I feel like I could use that round about now.”
I touched her arm. “Perk up, sunshine,” I said. “Look at this.” I handed her a book about internal happiness or something. “Start with regular reading first,” I said.
We both stared at the scale model of the human brain on the shelf. We stared at the fossils, and the antique magnifying glasses, and we breathed in the musky air.
The professor in there came up and told us some things. Introduced us to some things. Let us know some things. When he saw us looking even close to sad he built us back up. He reminded us why we were out here in the first place; he reminded us of the things we’d said to each other at the pool, or at the book store, or at the boxing gym. He was smart like that, the professor. He built us back up, reminded us what’s beautiful, and sent us rocketing out into the night.
IV. Boxing Gym
We watched a silent film through the bars. The man in there, punching some bag of sand for half an hour. We stood there, leaning on the red wall that shone so bright it looked like the paint could still have been wet, and we talked, and we watched the night get dark on itself. The city’s silhouette began to glow with late-night lights and we smiled.
“I read some magazine that said this is the eighth prettiest city in the world,” she said.
I said it was times like this I believed it.
She said we'd better not be late, but I said we’d better not rush either—we’d taken the night off for a reason. We both leaned against the concrete wall on opposite sides of the window where the man was punching and we chatted for a while, till we were both laughing. She said something really funny about guinea pigs. When I asked where the thought came from she said it was the kinda thing she spent thinking about while at work. It kept her sane.
I told her to do standup comedy.
The man through the window kept punching.
She said she’d think about it.
I told her she could do foreign political humour. Like that one joke about nutrigrain and about how you only get out what you Vladimir Putin.
She told me that was my joke, not hers, but I said she could have it for free so long as she said nice things about me at her gig.
“Speaking of which,” she said. “We really must get going. Being late’s a bad look.”
I checked my watch. “We can’t be that on-time.”
But she’d already started running, and I couldn’t help but follow.
V. The Box
In the overgrowth her and I watched each other, and our feet, and where we stepped, trying not to break ourselves on the uneven ground. We were already drunk. This was our last stop, after the bar. We took the time to rest and smile at each other. We used the torches on our phones to trace the outlines of graffiti, and we tried to guess what the acronym tags stood for.
Welcome to Paradise, the wall up the back yelled at us. Maybe it was the alcohol, but we couldn’t help but agree. The sweat on us wasn’t from the bikes and the grass from earlier, but from the drinks in our bloodstreams, the weeds between the bricks in the garden.
“How did we find this place?”
I don’t know which one of us asked the question, because neither of us could remember the answer.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said eventually. “We’re here. We’re here and it’s beautiful.”
We sat like that for a while, leaned up against the house, on the steps that led up to a door that looked like it had been closed for years.
It didn’t take long for me to get up on the raised stage platform in the back corner and start waxing philosophical. Start ranting about the beauty of all things, and the nature of the world, and then throwing in some stupid puns as well. She leant on the wall and watched me, and I smiled as I ranted. And as I spoke I wondered why it had taken a raised platform to get me up and performing—as she would later, and earlier, and always remind me: anywhere’s a stage.