My friend and I sometimes meet in the middle of a day, at that hour when working people everywhere are instructed to eat their lunches.
We linger inside the wide corridors of empty museums and art galleries, feigning interest in art and portraits of early settlers long dead.
They all look terribly stern and purposeful wearing their finery; a tall gentleman in high boots and a stiff black coat, a lady in an elegant rust-coloured gown trimmed with delicate lace. Their gazes are unwavering.
I wonder what they would have seen stepping of the boats for the first time; a windswept bay kneeling under the hills, a big round moon hanging closer to the shores than the one they left behind. Could they have foreseen the streets and alleys of the city they were yet to build? Imagined churches to which they will bring their new-born children, cemeteries in which they will be laid to rest. Or have they simply walked in wonder; ready to make new lives from whatever lay before them.
Strolling under the steady gaze of Victorian gentry, my friend and I exchange news, discuss current affairs and talk (a little) about our lives.
Troubles are brewing everywhere; wars and unrests, protests and slaughters … There is hardly anything new about that.
And writing is in no better state either; everyone is writing a novel, or a poem, or a play, but hardly anyone reads anything anymore, not properly anyway, not with so much on offer. Besides, anything that matters at all has already been written, and if it has not, somebody with access to the internet will write it soon enough.
The fact is; in a grand scheme of things we are just tiny specks of cosmic dust. Despite our prolonged and somewhat feverish claims to the contrary; we remain expiratory spices that suffer from chronic and apparently incurable delusions of grander.
He has Irish eyes that smile despite the desolate prospects, and my refusal to give up dreams amuses him. It is no small act of kindness on his part to listen to so much desperate hope; on wholesomeness of love as the only true condition of humanity, importance of selflessness, aims of generosity, beauty of tears, significance of poetry, warmth of a hug … it really is no small act of kindness.
As if on cue, he would always glance at his watch and we would slowly move towards the exit. It is time to return to our respective offices. Which is almost always before I had a chance to talk about ‘Under the Harvest Moon’ or Henry Miller or even Ana Akhmatova.
On my way, I thought about a young girl whose portrait I saw hanging in the gallery. Her long chestnut curls loosely confined inside a pale-lavender scarf. And I wondered whether she ever spoke to anyone of clean, well-lit salons where she will play piano and receive her suitors, and which only she could see while looking over the vast, empty and uncharted land.