He was nineteen years old and staring at a field. The field was golden with a crop of something. And although this guy had grown up on a farm, he couldn’t have told you what it was. Maybe it was wheat. Yes, that makes sense, it was probably a field of wheat, tall and golden.
He was standing on the bank of a mud coloured river. The river was shallow and surprisingly small; a fallen tree almost spanned it. On the other side was a chain link fence, and then there was the field, flat to the horizon under a big blue sky.
Behind him, a few steps up a little slope and through some brush, there was a city. There was the gravel lot of the pop factory where he’d parked his van. Tree lined streets with nice houses and embassies, children inside playing with My Little Ponies on the living room floors. Ice cream boys walking with holes in their shoes, lice in their hair, faces blank from sniffing glue. The OK Bazaar where bag boys hustled for tips behind the cashiers and beggars waited outside with the Bz Bz Man in his coat of many colours. The sandwich cafe where World Bankers in suit jackets sat on their lunch break, on the commercial strip, soldiers walking with slung rifles. Minibus taxis pulling up, doors sliding open to disembark women hefting big plastic checkered bags. Women on sidewalks vending crafts and vegetables minding toddlers with running noses. The marketplace bus stop square teeming with pedestrians and banged up buses, the bus boys accosting travellers, fires burning inside oil drums topped with grills of smoking meat. Township jive blaring from portable stereos and from inside bars crowded with men drink, home from the mines, some scarred or half blind with names like Spider. Dirt roads and paths fanning out in many directions winding up hills dense with cinderblock cubes and tin roofs. Dirt capillaries alive with boys and girls in maroon uniforms and black shoes and bookbags, hills noisy with schoolkids’ chatter. An orphanage on hilltop serving koolaid in plastic cups on a plastic tablecoth, a young man on the outside reciting poems he’s written with passion, could be wise or madness. And back down the main road, past the commercial strip of soldiers and beggars and World Bankers, down the road towards the river, a line of men, hundreds moving on foot towards the river, buses and taxis depositing more men at the back of the line. Hundreds of men moving slowly in line down the road to the river and a bridge with a police guarded gate, men showing documents for inspection then passing through the gate over the bridge, then men being collected and taken away by buses and taxis waiting for the men on the other side.
He had parked his van in the lot by the pop factory, and before moving on with his errands, some impulse had prompted him to step down the little slope through the brush to the riverbank where he found himself alone. The city of school girls and ice cream boys and mining men and checkered bag women and blocks and towers and hills and roads was all there and moving behind him. And then facing him across the surprisingly small river was – just this field, with nothing in it. Just a field of probably wheat, stretching flat and golden to the horizon on the other side.
The guy was nineteen years old and he was staring at the field. And it’s not an easy thing to say what was happening in his mind.